Previous Posts: February 2017

'Old Masters are back in Fashion'

February 6 2017

Image of 'Old Masters are back in Fashion'

Picture: Irish Times

So says the Irish Times!

Ok, it's not Vogue. But small mercies, and all that.

Copying Old Masters

February 6 2017

Image of Copying Old Masters

Picture: BG

I'm often asked if I know any artists who are good at copying Old Masters. My advice is always to not commission a painted copy, but, if you must, get a good photograph printed onto canvas. In a decent frame and from a few feet away you can't immediately tell the difference. Prudence Cuming in London do good ones.

I have noticed a trend, however, for hotels displaying painted copies. Alas, they're generally pretty poor, as I noticed this weekend (above). I wonder if they come from China, where there is a whole village dedicated to making copies. The cheap repro frames don't help. It's an odd decision, as a hotel chain could easily afford to buy the real thing, which would add gravits, as well as looking infinitely better.

Update - by coincidence, the copy above is of a Raeburn that we sold when I used to work for Philip Mould in London. The sitter is Elizabeth Campbell.

Update II - a reader from Chrisite's points out, quite rightly, that even good, older copies of masterpieces can be had quite reasonably:

Update III - artist John Parker writes:

I enjoy copying old masters for the immense challenges posed by the activity.  Before the 20th century and the ascent of the cult of the trivial novelty masquerading as art, it was always among the recommended ways to learn how to paint.   I also enjoy paying my way through life by selling my copies to grateful customers. 

As long as they don't then attempt to manufacture a fake provenance and pass them off as originals (highly unlikely) I see nothing wrong with that?

In future, I should be more than grateful if you would pass such enquiries my way!  But yes, do advise people to steer clear of the Chinese copies.  They are getting better all the time, but at present, disappointment is guaranteed in my humble opinion.

Terrorist incident at the Louvre

February 3 2017

Image of Terrorist incident at the Louvre
Picture: via Evening Standard

A French soldier has shot a knife-wielding man with a bag in the Louvre. It is being treated as a terrorist incident. The museum has been evacuated. More here.

Update - above is a photo of the moment the man was shot. As far as I can tell, the area shown is not in the museum itself. Which suggests he had not yet got past the security checks. Readers with a better memory of the museum layout may know more.

Update II - The Evening Standard reports that some visitors were kept in the museum for about an hour before being let out. 

Update III - President Trump comments:

Update IV - a reader writes, regarding the location:

Regarding the exact place of the Louvre terrorist incident this morning, the photograph is taken at one of the commercial mall entrance, exactly the one near the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel  (stairs), with the stairs at right leading to a big corridor itself leading to the subterranean entrance of the Museum (again a big corridor leading to the zone under Pei's Pyramid. So we are in the non commercial zone of the mall, itself connected to one of the entrance of the museum.The statues on the left are, if I do remember well, rests of a pediment of the long ago burnt Tuileries Palace I do not know when the accident exactly took place, but if it is around 9-10, the are only people going to the museum in the mall, so not too many as it could be later in the day or in the week-end.

Antwerp - 'Year of Baroque' in 2018

February 3 2017

Image of Antwerp - 'Year of Baroque' in 2018

Picture: KMSKA

Regular readers will know that Antwerp is one of my favourite cities; we even managed to get it into two out of three programmes for our BBC series, 'Britain's Lost Masterpieces' (for films on Jordaens and Brueghel the Younger). I was glad to hear, therefore, that 2018 was to be a special 'Year of the Baroque'. And particularly that one of the projects planned to celebrate this was an extraordinary recreation of three altarpieces by Rubens, Van Dyck (above) and Jordaens painted in 1628 for the masterpiece of baroque architecture, the Church of St Augustin. The three altarpieces are currently in storage at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp (which is closed and undergoing restoration). The church is no longer used for religious practices, and is instead a music venue. 

But now it seems that this laudable project is to be axed, according to the boss of Flanders' tourist office Peter de Wilde (more here, in French). And to make matters worse, it seems (according to Tweets by the Great Waldemar) that instead of the 1628 altarpieces, the church will be turned into a contemporary installation by the artist Jan Fabre. Waldemar has a particular dislike of Fabre's work, having had a trip to the Hermitage spoiled by Fabre's 'interventions' amongst the various baroque pictures there (see one of Waldemar's photos below, and for more on the 'dead animals' concept behind that exhibition, here). 

Let us hope that this rumour is not true, and that the original plan to celebrate Antwerp's baroque heritage goes ahead. As anyone who has seen the magnificent Titians and Bellinis in the Frari church in Venice can tell you, there's something magical and powerful about seeing paintings like this in situ. You can read more about the history of the altarpiece here. 

Update - a reader connected to the Royal Museum of Fine Arts writes:

I understand that the reason for reconsidering this project is not budgetary, but due to legitimate concerns of safety for the art works.

At the moment they are stored in the underground storage facility of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts. The Museum is a huge and complex construction site at the moment, so the works are not readily accessible. They are also of an enormous size (especially the Rubens), so transporting them is a very difficult operation in itself.

In the St-Augustin church, the original altarpieces are currently replaced by rather excellent copies. So it would just be a matter of replacing the copies with the originals. Although I greatly prefer looking at originals compared to copies, the question can be asked if this risky operation would really significantly enhance the visual experience in the church. Especially when some of the copies are in a better condition than the originals, and the originals will be back on view in the museum in 2019, hardly a year after the event.

I do hope the St. Augustin church will play a significant role in the Year of the Baroque event, it is a baroque gem in itself and not enough known. The detailed program will be published at the end of this month.

One would hope that with a little imagination and ambition the museum could do better than just display copies. There is always a reason for not doing something...

Anyway, what this situation would appear to reflect is the fact that the museum has been shut since 2011 for a renovation, and won't re-open again until 2019. It's always a mistake when museums close entirely for renovations, rather than do it stage by stage. Inevitably the closure period grows and grows, as has happened in Antwerp, and pictures that are for whatever reason too complicated or expensive to take out of storage ust stay there.

Update II - another reader from Belgium tells me the following: the distance from the museum storage depot, where the paintings are, to the church is about 800 metres; opinion within the museum is divided on whether the planned display should go ahead; and that the paintings belong to the City of Antwerp, and not the museum. 

All of which suggests again that what we're dealing with here is a lack of imagination and ambition. 

New Sotheby's UK chairman

February 2 2017

Image of New Sotheby's UK chairman

Picture: Sotheby's

Congratulations to Lord Dalmeny (Harry), who has been made Sotheby's UK chairman. The Sotheby's press release sets out his top 5 auction moments:

 ·        The sale of Ava Gardner’s personal collection (November 1990): “My first project was handling the legendary actress's collection, which taught me about the enduring power of celebrity.”

·         The Stansted Park Country House sale (October 1999): “My very first performance on the rostrum, selling Lady Charlotte Schreiber's ceramics collection in a marquee; I was whiter than the porcelain, and yet gripped by this newfound power.”

·         The Grimani Tables (December 2015), a stand-alone sale of two of the grandest pietre dure table tops ever made. A white-glove, two-lot sale: “Small is sweet!”

·         The Chatsworth Attic Sale (October 2010): “Pumping out the River Derwent, which threatened to flood our marquee, I felt like Noah the Auctioneer.”

·         The game-changing Damien Hirst sale, “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever” (September 2008): “While Lehman Bros and the banking system seemed to be collapsing, I was selling a zebra in a tank of formaldehyde. It was an epic contrast.”

Can craquelure determine attribution?

February 2 2017

Image of Can craquelure determine attribution?

Picture: Chemistry World

Not really, but someone has designed a computer programme to let us try, reports Chemistry World:

Understanding how cracking patterns develop in desiccated surfaces like old oil paintings or dried mud is surprisingly difficult. Now a Chilean scientist has established the first mathematical model of cracked surfaces that could help conservators preserve old paintings or give geologists information about the thickness of cracked clay or salt layers, and the stress they’ve been subjected to.

In oil paintings, the varnish becomes less flexible with age and when the canvas shrinks and expands in response to humidity and temperature changes, the paint starts to crack. As the cracks are hard to forge, art experts often use them, among other factors, to determine a painting’s authenticity. ‘Crack networks are like fingerprints,’ says JC Flores from the University of Tarapacá, who has developed a series of equations that give a theoretical insight into cracking patterns. 

I think 'fingerprints' is overstating it, and suggests that craquelure can determine attribution. But it should certainly be able to help determine age.

A free Hockney for everyone!

February 2 2017

Image of A free Hockney for everyone!

Picture: The Sun

Tomorrow's Sun newspaper will contain a 'free Hockney' for everyone. The great man has doodled on the masthead. And that's it.

Update - a reader writes:

At last, a reason to buy The Sun.

Update II - here's some wonderful Guff from Jonathan Jones in The Guardian:

Hockney has let the light in on the Sun. He has transformed the bold, brassy title that glares from newsagents into an optimistic vision of the world’s beauty. His drawing reminds us of the joy of living on a planet warmed by that yellow star. As he prepares for the opening of his retrospective at Tate Britain, he must be reflecting warmly on the achievements of his life, for this perky drawing manages to distill the utopian essence of his greatest works.


February 2 2017

Image of 'Besotted'

Picture: BBC

When an antiques dealer from Crewe became 'besotted' with a 19th Century religious icon in Chester cathedral he stole it. Police found it in his house with a hoarde of other religious imagery, above.

Some of us will know the feeling.

More here

How do we combat fakes?

February 2 2017

Image of How do we combat fakes?

Picture: TAN

There's an interesting piece in The Art Newspaper about a prolonged discussion on fakes, mainly centred around the Knoedler scandal, at New York University symposium. The various speakers suggested all manner of ways to clamp down on the problem, mainly involving legal contracts and government regulation. 

The solution to rooting out fakes, however, is really quite simple; we just need to focus on the basics. The first of these is provenance, which the art trade is collectively too relaxed about. All the Knoedler fakes came from a 'Mr X', whom even Knoedler did not know the identity of. They should have refused to sell them without being told, privately, who Mr X was. The fact is, he didn't exist. For older works, we must collectively no longer accept mysterious provenances such as 'European Private Collection' when there is no proveable, prior history. Provenance will always be the most vulnerable point in any forgery. If a painting's history doesn't stack up, walk away.

The next step is science. We know from the various lawsuits so far that the Knoedler fakes were not at all sophisticated. Basic scientific testing would have identified them. The Old Master fakes that have recently been unmasked are certainly much more sophisticated. But again, close scrutiny by analysts has raised concerns about them for some years now. 

The greatest thing we need to guard against is wishful thinking. If something is too good to be true...

Crushed - $134m's worth of Picasso, Matisse, Braque etc. (ctd.)

February 1 2017

Image of Crushed - $134m's worth of Picasso, Matisse, Braque etc. (ctd.)

Picture: Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

The trial of those involved in the 2010 theft of five masterpieces by Leger, Modigliani, Braque, Picasso and Matisse (above) from the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris has finally begun. Reports The Art Newspaper:

Three men have been charged in the case: the professional burglar, Véran Tjomic, nicknamed the Spider, the antiques dealer Jean-Michel Corvez and the watchmaking expert Yonathan Birn. 

The court was told that Corvez had a Saudi buyer that was keen to acquire a painting by Léger and possibly a work by Modigliani. Tjomic said he had chosen the museum by chance after seeing some Cubist paintings through a window. He then surveyed the museum before breaking in to find the Léger, and prepared his future entry by unscrewing a window frame. He completed the job at about 3:30am on 20 May by simply climbing in. He grabbed Léger’s Nature morte au chandelier and was ready to flee, but since he heard no alarm or any other security, he took the time to explore the museum’s other rooms, easily removing Modigliani’s Femme à l’éventail and three smaller works—Picasso’s Pigeon au petit pois, a view of l’Estaque by Braque and a Fauvist Pastorale by Matisse. Tjomic said he made several trips back and forth to carry the paintings to his car and handed them over to Corvez a few hours later. The five paintings were worth an estimated €180m.

However, the accused men had not anticipated the media storm the theft would spark and found themselves burdened with five paintings they could not dispose of, since the supposed Saudi client had vanished. Corvez, who declined to give the prospective buyer’s name for fear, he said, of reprisals, also mentioned talks with mysterious Israeli lawyers. 

Those charged claim the pictures have been destroyed. But as I said back in 2011 (goodness, has AHN been going for that long?), when this theory was first mentioned, I'm not sure I believe it. 

Learn to navigate the art market - for free!

February 1 2017

Image of Learn to navigate the art market - for free!

Picture: Art Fund

The Art Fund is providing a number of bursaries for a course at the Sotheby's Institute of Art on how to navigate the art market. The bursaries are open to; 'museum and gallery professionals, but curators and others who work with public collections will be prioritised.' To get the gig you must write a 300 word essay on; ‘How would attending this course be beneficial to your professional development?’

More here.

Fakes, fakes everywhere (ctd.)

February 1 2017

Image of Fakes, fakes everywhere (ctd.)

Picture: New York Times

The art dealer who sold dozens of fake works of art through the Knoedler Gallery, in a fraud totalling some $80m, has been spared jail. Glafira Rosales, above, said that she had been violently bullied into the scheme by her boyfriend. He, Jose Carlos Bergantiños Diaz, is safely in Spain, his extradition to the US having been blocked. More here.

This seems to be another case of lenient sentences where crimes involving art is concerned. Rosales, whatever her boyfriend did, actively perpetrated the fraud on multiple occasions over many years, and evidently enjoyed the profits of her crime. But she avoids jail. Meanwhile, the faker himself, Pei-Shen Qian, is safely in China. And Anne Freedman, the director of the Knoedler gallery who sold these pictures, is now running her own eponymous gallery in New York. It's hard to see how justice has been done here.

Russian Revolution at RA

February 1 2017

Image of Russian Revolution at RA

Picture: Guardian

A new exhibition on Russian revolutionary art will soon open at the Royal Academy (11th February - 17th April). In The Guardian, Jonathan Jones says this is a Bad Thing:

The way we glibly admire Russian art from the age of Lenin sentimentalises one of the most murderous chapters in human history. If the Royal Academy put on a huge exhibition of art from Hitler’s Germany there would rightly be an outcry. Yet the art of the Russian revolution is just as mired in the mass slaughters of the 20th century.

I'm very much looking forward to seeing the exhibition. I'm fascinated by socialist realism (now there's an oxymoron), and regular readers will know that AHN is also partial to a bit of 'dictator art'. But that doesn't mean we approve of the people who promoted such art, or their motives. I think most of us are grown up to make the objective judgements about this kind of art that Jones thinks he needs to warn us about.

Del Piombo chapel recreated in London

February 1 2017

Image of Del Piombo chapel recreated in London

Picture: Sunday Times

The National Gallery's next major exhibition is called Michelangelo and Sebastiano, and opens on 15th March. The PR machine is already in full swing, and the most interesting story so far is that the National has commissioned a 90% scale reproduction of a fresco by Sebastiano for the Borgherini Chapel in Rome. The paintings are based on designs by Michelangelo. 

I'd love to be able to point you to more information on this story, but so far it's only appeared in the Sunday Times (here, but paywall), and is only available as 'exclusive content' for National Gallery members. (I am a member, but seem to have forgotten my password for the site, if indeed I ever had one.)

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