Previous Posts: January 2017

Long live Charles III!

January 31 2017

Video: BBC

I don't usually go in for 'on this days'. But on 31st January 1788 Bonnie Prince Charlie - Charles III to us Jacobites - died in Rome. Oddly enough, the Prince has played a significant role in my life, and above is a film I made in 2013 about a portrait of Charles painted in Edinburgh - where I now live - in 1745.

(NB, it's an illicit You Tube version - not made by me! - so has been broken down into 15 minute sections. Parts 2, 3 and 4 are here, here and here.)

'Once in a lifetime' Picasso show at Tate

January 31 2017

Image of 'Once in a lifetime' Picasso show at Tate

Picture: Guardian

Tate Modern is planning a new Picasso blockbuster, for 2018. 

"Picasso 1932 – Love, Fame, Tragedy" will start at the Musée National-Picasso in Paris, 10 October 2017 to 11 February 2018 and then come to Tate Modern, London, 8 March to 9 September 2018.

More here.

Have you seen this picture?

January 31 2017

Image of Have you seen this picture?

Picture: Codart

The above self-portrait by Ferdinand Bol, last seen at auction in Zurich in 1984, is being sought after by the organisers of an exhibition on Bol and Govert Flinck. More here

Conservators, look away now.

January 31 2017

Image of Conservators, look away now.

Picture: Maaike Dirkx

This unsettling piece of plumbing was spotted in a church in Bucharest by by the Dutch art historian Maaike Dirkx (here on Twitter).

Waldemar on Bosch's 'Garden of Earthly Delights'

January 30 2017

Image of Waldemar on Bosch's 'Garden of Earthly Delights'

Picture: Museo del Prado

The Great Waldemar has recorded an Art Detective podcast with Dr Janina Ramirez on Bosch's 'Garden of Earthly Delights'. Well worth a listen, here

Van Dyck restituted

January 30 2017

Image of Van Dyck restituted

Picture: Dr Oetker

What appears to be one of Van Dyck's best '2nd Antwerp' period portraits (that is, painted between 1627-32) has been restituted to the heirs of the Jewish art dealer, Jacques Goudstikker. The portrait, of Adriaen Moens, had been seized at one point by Göring. Later, it ended up in the collection of the food conglomerate, Dr Oetker, who have recently begun a full audit of their art collection and found a number of works that were looted by the Nazis. 

The pattern with previous Goudstikker restitutions has been that the pictures end up back on the market relatively quickly. I would expect this to carry an auction estimate of at least £2m-£3m, and probably much more. Although much will depend on the condition. 

A cumulus of Constables?

January 29 2017

Image of A cumulus of Constables?

Picture: BG

I had a very enjoyable visit to the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven last week. Shamefully, it was my first. I highly recommend a visit. I was treated to a sneak preview of their new 'Enlightened Princesses' exhibition, which opens on February 2nd (till April 30th).

The Center has recently renovated and re-hung their top floor collections, and very nice it looks too. The long gallery has just the sort hang I like to see - no space wasted, and thus fewer works left in storage. The hang is also not too formulaic, so there's an element of discovery as you wander along. 

One of the many treats on show was a gathering of cloud studies by Constable. On Twitter, I asked what the collective noun for these should be. The best suggestions were 'a cumulus', 'a scud', and 'a cirrus'. 

Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

January 29 2017

Image of Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

Picture: Sotheby's

There was interesting follow up piece in The Times on the latest fake news (following Sotheby's declaration that a St Jerome - above - attributed to Parmigianino by numerous scholars is a modern forgery). The previous owner of a number of the pictures, Giulano Ruffini, denied to The Times that the St Jerome could possibly not be a 16th Century work, and cast doubt of the technical analysis carried out so far (though no details were given). 

Mr Ruffini, 71, who lives on an estate in northern Italy, is a mysterious figure who has been reluctant to talk to the press. This week, however, he spoke out to dispute technical analysis of the works and noted that it was not he but renowned scholars who had attributed the work to Renaissance artists.

“There is no way [Saint Jerome] could be a modern copy,” he told The Art Newspaper. “It might be another artist of that time but experts and curators from the Metropolitan Museum [in New York] did consider it as a possible Parmigianino.”

The Times also reported that two other minor works connected to Ruffini were being investigated:

A Sotheby’s spokesman told The Times that it had not finished its review of works linked to Mr Ruffini. “There are two other works that Sotheby’s sold, with a combined value of less than £40,000, that we are investigating in relation to the Ruffini matter,” he said.

And yours truly was quoted in the piece:

Bendor Grosvenor, an art historian, said that whoever created the works was a remarkably gifted painter. He said that allegations of fakery had shaken up the Old Master market. “What this affair does is plonk a rather awkward bomb under the whole system of how we in the Old Master world determine who painted what,” he said. “We need more scientific analysis and more rigorous connoisseurship.”

Bad lighting

January 29 2017

Image of Bad lighting

Picture: BG

Perhaps it's because I was spoiled by my recent visits to US museums, but when I visited Tate Britain on Friday I was struck by how bad the lighting is. There's not much daylight, despite the traditional, top-lit galleries, and instead you get a combination of spot lights and neon strip lights. These give off a dark and deadening light (except in the places where the spotlights strobe, which is unsettling) and make the whole experience rather gloomy. I gather that it's almost impossible to film in there too. Something must be done.

Leiden Collection goes online

January 29 2017

Image of Leiden Collection goes online

Picture: Leiden Collection

The Leiden Colleciton, the private collection of Dutch pictures assembled by the financier Thomas Kaplan and his wife Daphne Recanati Kaplan, has developed an excellent new website. It includes detailed and lengthy essays by leading scholars of Dutch art, including Arthur Wheelock and the late Walter Liedtke, excellent high-resolution photos, and videos too. The collection includes works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Lievens and Dou. Next time someone says there's a 'lack of supply' in the Old Master market, and that you can't buy top works by the big names anymore, just remember that Kaplan has proved them wrong.

In the image above you can see three of Rembrandt's early 'five senses' paintings, which Kaplan has assembled over the years (thereby demonstrating - along with his site and newly commissioned research - the value of collectors to art history). One of these - Smell - was completely unknown until it surfaced at auctiona as a work by an unknown 19th Century artist in a minor US sale back in 2015. One - Taste - is still missing. In an essay on the new website, Kaplan describes the moment he first found out about the picture, and decided that he had to have it:

Though amorphously classified by the auction house as being “Continental School” and estimated at $1,000-$1,500, it was nonetheless identified correctly as a Rembrandt by two parties who bid the painting to nearly a million dollars. At the time, nobody knew who had made this very clever purchase. Through a quirk of circumstances, an exceptionally talented alumna of The Leiden Collection, Ilona van Tuinen, now at the Morgan Library and Museum, came to learn the identity of the buyers. With the permission of her then employer, the Frits Lugt Collection in Paris, she relayed our interest to the new owners and we fortuitously were given the first look.

I could not wait to see it. I did so only a few short days thereafter, when Ilona accompanied Bernard Gautier of the Parisian gallery Talabardon et Gautier, French dealers with which we had never previously engaged, to meet me in New York. The moment Unconscious Patient was placed in my hands, I recognized it as genuine and one of the two pieces from the series that were missing and presumed lost forever. To my mind at least, it also was the most beautiful of the known suite. We bought it on the spot for a multiple of the purchase price. Talabardon et Gautier had taken a risk, even taking out a loan to pay for their speculation. Like explorationists in my businesses, I begrudged them nothing for deservedly profiting, and profiting handsomely, for their acumen.

We learn also that Smell is signed, and is thus the earliest signed Rembrandt (he painted it when he was about 18). 

Some local news...

January 29 2017

Image of Some local news...

Picture: L&T

I've recently joined the board of Lyon & Turnbull, Scotland's leading auction house. I live in Edinburgh and have loved going to their fine saleroom (above), which must be one of the best in the UK. It used to be a church (by coincidence, I was watching Chariots of Fire on the plane home on Thursday, and noticed that some of the scenes were shot there before it became an auction room). It's exciting to now be part of the company, and to learn more about the process of auctioneering (having been a retailer in my former life). 

You can read more here in the Antiques Trade Gazette, and more here at Lyon & Turnbull's site. And standby for more Lyon & Turnbull related plugs for me...

Update - my quote in the press release was the Antiques Trade Gazette's 'quote of the week';

“I have spent most of my career being a dealer, but I have always secretly wanted to be an auctioneer.”

'The Art of France'

January 29 2017

Video: BBC

Andrew Graham-Dixon's latest 'Art of...' show is on at the moment, and this time it's the art of France. Monday nights, BBC4 9pm, more here

New York Old Master sales (ctd.)

January 29 2017

Image of New York Old Master sales (ctd.)

Picture: BG

Thank you for your patience while I was away.

The New York Old Master sales seem to have gone well. With news of another exceptional Old Master fake emerging a week earlier, and the inauguration (followed by mass protests) of a new president, we might have expected a bumpy ride for Old Masters. But they performed as solidly as ever - nothing too exciting and nothing too disastrous. The overall sale total for Sotheby's Master Paintings week was $41.9m. We have no comparison for Christie's, who have moved their paintings sales to April. Christie's do however still have their Old Master drawings sale in January, and this also performed respectably, bringing in $6.1m. Here is The Art Newspaper's take of the week.

Sotheby's Evening Old Master sale totalled $27m, and was led by a newly discovered Rubens equestrian study making $5.1m against an estimate of $1m-$1.5m. The Adam de Coster depiction of a Young Woman holding a Distaff made $4.8m (est. $1.5m-$2m) while a previously unknown Willem Drost of Flora made $4.6m (est. $400k-$600k). 34 pictures were sold out of 55, which is to be expected these days when so few dealers are there to provide a 'floor' for prices. In the Sotheby's press release for the sale's top lots, no work is listed as going to a trade buyer. Even five years ago this would have been a different story. One of the pictures I really wanted to see, an Old Woman being sold as 'attributed to Rembrandt', was withdrawn at the last minute. The St Veronica called 'attributed to El Greco' made just $675k - I thought it would do better. It must be 'right'. 

Sotheby's day sale totalled $8.6m. The top lot here was a 15th Century English altarpiece of exceptional quality (the original polychrome still intact) which made $1.3m. A somewhat yellowed but very fine portrait by Raeburn that I admired failed to sell, to my surprise. Again, in recent years this would have been picked up by the trade.  

Christie's drawing sale featured a fine drawing by Rubens, based on a work by Giulio Romano. It made $1.56m, having sold in 2008 for about $250,000. A drawing I coveted, a series of characterful heads by Jordaens, fetched $52k against an estimate of $7k-$10k. Sotheby's drawing sale made $4.5m, and was led by a couple of good Turner watercolours. One of my favourites was the below cow by Thomas Gainsborough, which made $40k (est. $15k-$20k).

I think the overall lesson of the week is that the Old Master market still performs strongly enough overall, but that taste is continuing to shift towards works that are immediate; primarily non-religious; visually appealing; and in some way 'modern'. These factors are of course hard to pin down, and you may well point to the sale of a semi-naked and wrinkly St Jerome by Abraham Janssens at $492k as disproving my theory - but in fact this picture is rather 'modern', not least because of its Caravaggesque lighting. An example of a picture which has suffered from such the shift in taste (an incidentally, taste is always shifting) is a portrait of a mother and child by Romney, which bought in at $40k-$60k, despite being what was once thought to be an appealing image and in good condition. It was previously sold by both Colnaghi and Philip Mould, for whom such a picture would once have been a best seller. Perhaps there was something too sentimental about the image for today's taste. These days, image is everything.

Update - Colin Gleadell in The Telegraph reports that the three top lots in Sotheby's Evening Sale (the Rubens, the de Coster and the Drost) were all bought by the same collector. Whoever you are - bravo!


January 23 2017

Image of Apologies...

Picture: BG

Good morning from New York. Here's a photo of a cat asleep in a deli. 

I'm afraid blogging will be light to non-existent for the next few days. Too many meetings and trips to squeeze into a short period of time. This morning (Monday) I'm on my way to Minneapolis. Then I'm back to New York on Tuesday, before heading up to New England on Wednesday. I'll be posting various bits of news and pictures I've seen over on Twitter in case you're interested.

Yesterday I was at Sotheby's seeing the Old Master sales. There are no mega lots this year, as with the $30m Gentileschi last year. But still plenty of nice things (a selection of which I've put up on Twitter). I've also posted below some videos from Sotheby's. Christie's has a drawing sale, and the star of the show there is a wonderful drawing by Rubens after (or rather, on top of) a drawing by Giulio Romano.

Yesterday Sotheby's put on the most spectacular breakfast buffet I have ever seen. At first I thought it was a still life.

Willem Drost's 'Flora'

January 23 2017

Video: Sotheby's

Here's a previously unknown picture by Rembrandt's pupil Willem Drost. It's a homage to Titian, and is a remarkable fusion of northern and southern styles. The estimate is $400k-$600k, but I expect it will do better than that. 

Spanish pictures at Sotheby's

January 23 2017

Video: Sotheby's

I particularly like the El Greco, which, though called 'attributed to' looks like the real deal to me. A potential bargain for someone for $400k-$600k?

Gentileschi's 'Head of a Woman'

January 23 2017

Video: Sotheby's

This Orazio Gentileschi is on offer at Sotheby's at $2m-$3m. It used to be in Charles I's collection. More here.

National Gallery embraces the '4th plinth'

January 20 2017

Image of National Gallery embraces the '4th plinth'

Picture: TAN

The National Gallery (reports The Art Newspaper) has embraced the concept of the '4th plinth' programme in Trafalgar Square. This is the scheme whereby the vacant plinth beside Nelson's Column is temporarily filled by a contemporary work of art. For the last few years, the National Gallery has slightly distanced itself from the idea, not least because it has been (rightly in my view) concerned about the unruly playground Trafalgar Square has become. 

Auctionata insolvent

January 20 2017

Image of Auctionata insolvent

Picture: Auctionata

The online auction house, Auctionata, has filed for insolvency. It describes itself as 'the leading online auction house for art'. And the fact that it is no longer - and to be honest rarely offered any really good pictures - tells us all we need to know about how difficult online auctioneering is. While traditional auction houses have rightly rushed to embrace the opportunities presented by the digital world, it seems that both consignors and buyers still want the security, convenience and reassurance of an actual place, and the ability to actually see and handle the works of art themselves. Even for experienced buyers like me, it's still difficult to assess the true quality and condition of a painting if you only see it through photos.

Still, none of this seems to stop investors hosing money at online auction platforms, in a way that they would never do if an somebody wanted to found a more traditional auction house. Auctionata, who recently merged with another online auction house, Paddle8, got through tens of millions of dollars in financing. 

Velasquez or not?

January 20 2017

Image of Velasquez or not?

Picture: TAN

A much debated portrait of Philip IV of Spain in the Ringling Museum in Florida might have come one step closer to being accepted as a genuine Velasquez, after Infra-red scans revealed a number of alterations to the original. It turns out that the clothing, which has put off some experts in the past, was actually a later addition, and that Philip was originally wearing armour. Hence, I presume, his rather portly stomach. More here

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