Previous Posts: March 2017

Raphael drawings at the Ashmolean

March 22 2017

Image of Raphael drawings at the Ashmolean

Picture: via Artnet

The largest exhibition of Raphael drawings since 1983 will open at the Ashmolean museum on June 1st. More here

Cleaning the Fitzwilliam's Madonnas

March 22 2017

Image of Cleaning the Fitzwilliam's Madonnas

Picture: HKI

Conservators at the Hamilton Kerr Institute in Cambridge spent almost 600 hours preparing a series of Madonnas for exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum. 'Madonnas and Miracles' opens on March 7th. More here

'CSK' to shut (ctd.)

March 22 2017

Image of 'CSK' to shut (ctd.)

Picture: via Apollo

In The Telegraph, Colin Gleadell has some good analysis on the decision to close Christie's South Kensington. The recent decline in sale totals has been astonishing:

As Christie’s focused more and more on the potential gain at the top end of the retail market, sales at CSK were run down. Turnover figures fell from £139.4 million in 2012, when it held 126 sales, to just £62.1 million last year when it held only 55 sales. The emphasis now is on building up services in China and Los Angeles, where a new branch is scheduled to open, and investing in the internet, with online only sales replacing the live sales at CSK.

'Michelangelo & Sebastiano' (ctd.)

March 22 2017

Video: NG

The new exhibition at the National Gallery, Michelangelo & Sebastiano, is very interesting, and worth visiting. In the video above, curator Matthias Wivel gives an introduction to the show.

The exhibition is beautifully presented in the upstairs galleries, in such a way that it almost makes you weep for the shows we have endured in the basement of the Sainsbury Wing. Where before, great shows such as Late Rembrandt and Leonardo have been hemmed in by crowds, bad lighting and airless gloom, in this new exhibition we are treated to seeing wonderful works properly lit, and in plenty of space. Let's hope we see more major exhibitions upstairs from now on. The last one I think was Velasquez some years ago. 

I won't review the show here, but in The Sunday Times Waldemar makes some good points on the relative merits of Sebastiano versus Michelangelo. It may not be considered academically appropriate to consider the exhibition as evidence of a competition, but it's nonetheless the inescapable conclusion as a general visitor. As Waldemar says, our appreciation of Sebastiano here is too often compromised by condition issues. 

Much has been made of the recreation, in 3D printed form, of a fresco from the Borgherini Chapel. Jonathan Jones was recently raving about how good it was, and the makers, Factum Arte, have made big claims about how accurate their creations are. I'm afraid I was underwhelmed. 

'Gallery B' at the National

March 22 2017

Image of 'Gallery B' at the National

Picture: NG

I was impressed by the new 'Gallery B' at the National Gallery in London yesterday. Good lighting and a decent space. The display of Rembrandt and Rubens pictures currently on is well worth a visit. Much is sometimes made of the apparent infuence of Rubens on Rembrandt. I'm not sure I could detect much of one in Gallery B, for what it's worth. More here

Stolen Guercino recovered (ctd.)

March 22 2017

Image of Stolen Guercino recovered (ctd.)

Picture: TAN

The stolen Guercino discovered in Morocco last month has alas been found to be very poor condition. It had been rolled up, but with paint facing inwards, and thus much flaking. More here.

If you must roll up a painting, always do it with paint facing outwards, and on a large cylinder.

Van Dyck's fingerprint?

March 22 2017

Image of Van Dyck's fingerprint?

Picture: JVDPPP

The Jordaens/Van Dyck Panel Paintings Project has discovered what may well be one of Van Dyck's fingerprints on a painting of St Thomas. If anyone has any other examples, let them know. I've seen two in my time, on a Henrietta Maria and a Flemish clerical painting. Whether they are Van Dyck's himself, or an assistant picking up a wet painting is hard to prove. It's Van Dyck's birthday today by the way - many happy returns Antoon. 

'Morning Walk' attacked

March 20 2017

Image of 'Morning Walk' attacked

Picture: National Gallery

Thomas Gainsborough's famous full-length painting, 'The Morning Walk', has been attacked at the National Gallery by someone with a screwdriver. The painting has been taken off display. The full extent of the damage has not yet been revealed, but from what I gather it's more like a series of scratches than slashes. 

The Daily Mail headline ran:

Priceless Gainsborough painting that featured in Bond film Skyfall is SLASHED [...]

'featured' is perhaps stretching it a little; Bond briefly had his back to the painting in a scene with Q.

Bag searches have been in operation at the NG for some time now. We don't yet know how large the screwdriver was, but of course such searches can only ever be a minor deterrence. Clothing and pockets are never searched. Perhaps it's time for the NG to start following the example of the Louvre, where all bags (and indeed people) are put through airport-style scanners and detectors. Such a move would certainly be a shame, and a last resort. But there is a pattern now of people targeting paintings at the National Gallery. 

Update - the Sun has a photo of the damage. Terrible. At least it wasn't on the dog's head or the heads of the sitters, nor did it go wholly through the canvas. With careful conservation it'll effectively disappear. But there will be much original paint loss. What an idiot.

'3 minutes, 40 seconds'

March 20 2017

Image of '3 minutes, 40 seconds'

Picture: Van Gogh Museum

That's how long it took a burglar to steal the above Van Gogh and one other from the Van Gogh museum in 2002. The burglar has confessed to his role in the operation for a new documentary. More here

John Hamilton Mortimer self-portrait discovered

March 20 2017

Image of John Hamilton Mortimer self-portrait discovered

Picture: Lowell Libson

One of my favourite stands at TEFAF in Maastricht is always that of Lowell Libson, who specialises in British art. Lowell has exquisite taste, which is always an underappreciated pre-requisite for being a good dealer. I was glad to see he and his colleague Jonny Yarker had discovered, in a minor London saleroom, an unfinished self-portrait by John Hamilton Mortimer. More details here

'CSK' to shut

March 20 2017

Image of 'CSK' to shut

Picture: Apollo

Sad news indeed that Christie's South Kensington site, where they hold their less important and regular 'Interior' sales, is to close. The move is part of a wider headcount reduction across a number of Christie's sites, including Paris and Amsterdam. The news drew a sharp reaction from Susan Moore in Apollo.

Christie's say the decisions is due to increased bidding online. To the extent that people are placing their final bid online, that might be true: the last few sales I've been to a South Kensington have been almost embarrasingly empty - the poor auctioneer doing his stuff in front of one of two people - but with plenty of bids online and from the phone. But of course that's not to say that these online bidders don't want to first view the items in person. Christie's say that more sales will now be held at their main King St premises in St James.

Sotheby's closed their equivalent site, at Olympia, many years ago. That was a much less accessible location. The South Kensington site, however, seemed to be benefitting from Christie's new 'Interior' sales, which I loved, and which helped promote antiques to a new audience. Some of the stuff on offer was, of course, fantastically cheap, so the margins cannot have been great. 

Personally, I shall miss what was a useful source of 'sleepers'. The fact that Christie's main specialists were based in King Street sometimes led to some gems slipping through the net. Often these were picked up before anyone had the chance to buy them (for example, the £5m Claude seascape of St Paula, and the Saenredam view of Assendelft). My own favourite discoveries from when I used to work for Philip Mould (and sorry if this sounds like boasting) included: a Van Dyck head study of St Joseph; a Van Dyck portrait of Henrietta Maria (massively overpainted, and later featured on an episode of 'Fake or Fortune?'); a Reynolds of the Earl Fitzwilliam; and a fine half-length early portrait by Ramsay now in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Finally, if I hadn't discovered a lost portrait of Cardinal York at CSK, then I would never have begun my investigations into Jacobite portraiture, which means I wouldn't have met my wife, be living in Scotland, and be typing this now. One way or another, I owe Christie's South Kensington a lot. 

'Paris Tableau' moves to Brussels

March 20 2017

Image of 'Paris Tableau' moves to Brussels

Picture: ATG

The 'Paris Tableau' Old Master fair will no longer take place in Paris, but in Brussels. It will still be called 'Paris Tableau'. So there's a marketing challenge. 

The fair will be held in La Patinoire Royale, above. For the line up of dealers, see the ATG here

"The place is politically, totally insane"

March 20 2017

Image of "The place is politically, totally insane"

Picture: Met

William D. Cohan in Vanity Fair has an overview of what might have led to Thomas Campbell's resignation from The Met. There's much speculation, and it seems there's little by way of defense from Campbell's point of view. But the concluding paragraph of the piece seems believable enough:

“It’s not a very complicated story,” says a source close to the Met. “Tom was a curator. He was plucked out to run a big job—not just director but director and C.E.O. He forged an agenda with the board. He had some management issues. They together made all these decisions to get ahead on digital. Tom wasn’t on his own. They together decided to invest in modern and contemporary. The place is politically, totally insane. Along the way, whatever is going on among the board members about who’s up and who’s down, Tom obviously lost enough support there and he obviously lost curatorial support—the curators run the whole culture. And because he wasn’t a good manager, they urged him to leave and he resigned and that’s the story.”

New Van Dyck oil sketch discovered

March 6 2017

Image of New Van Dyck oil sketch discovered

Picture: Artcurial

A newly discovered study by Van Dyck of the infant Christ will soon come up for auction in Paris on 23rd March. It's an early work, and wonderfully painted. The estimate is €50k-€70k, which strikes me as quite reasonable. Until recently, it had been added to on all four sides in an attempt to make the picture seem more 'finished'. This is a common fate of studies by the likes of Van Dyck. Now the additions have been removed, to good effect I think. I had the chance to see some high-resolution photos from before and after conservation, and had no doubt that it's by Van Dyck. Congratulations to the finder (whom I do not know) - I hope it does well. You can zoom in on the image here

Update - it made EUR100k hammer.

Vetting at TEFAF

March 6 2017

Video: TEFAF

The annual 'TEFAF' art fair at Maastricht opens on Thursday (9th March). The above video shows you some of the gadgets that the vetting committees at Tefaf now use, including an amazing portable x-ray system. There's no doubt that the vetting at Tefaf, already the toughest in the world, has had to increase its diligence in the light of various fake scandals. I must say I've always been impressed enough with the vetting there, and the tales of woe I hear from dealers (some of which I know are justified) are if nothing else evidence of the very strict systems the fair has in place. I suppose you could say that 'safety first' is the approach. I do recall being extremely suspicious of one work, an Old Master, on a previous visit. But it was an exception. I was also once obliged to tip-off a vetter about a suspect picture heading for the fair. It was not exhibited.

In a new article on, Arjen Ribbens highlights that the terms and conditions at TEFAF remind visitors that ultimate liability for items lies with the exhibitors themselves, and not the fair. I suppose this is required in case visitors are tempted to think that the extensive vetting means there is a general TEFAF guarantee, which alas there is not. In the NRC piece, Ribbens mentions a possible fake Adriaen Coorte still life that was exhibited at TEFAF in 2009. The article also suggests this painting was linked to Giulano Ruffini.

I'll be at Tefaf on Friday & Saturday 10th & 11th, so hope to see some of you there. I've been invited to talk at a CODART 'salon' on the state of the Old Master market. This is a great privilege for me.  

'The Lost Museum'

March 6 2017

Video: NGA

Here's an interesting lecture by Julien Chapuis looking at the destruction of most of the great large-scale paintings and sculpture from the Gemaldegalerie in Berlin at the end of World War Two. 

Detroit Titian to be restored

March 6 2017

Video: TEFAF

Every year the TEFAF Museum Restoration Fund pays for a museum painting to be conserved. This year they have selected Titian's Judith with the Head of Holofernes at the Detroit Institute of Arts. 

Baselitz - 'the greatest living painter'

March 6 2017

Video: Sotheby's

So says Sir Norman Rosenthal.


March 6 2017

Video: Smartify

I haven't noticed the new Smartify app. which allows you to photo an actual painting in an art gallery, and then via imaging recognition software find out all about it. 

In The Guardian, Jonathan Jones is not impressed:

[...] in reality, Smartify and all similar attempts to provide instant on-screen art history, including those by museums themselves, just encourage people to gawp at phones instead of looking at paintings. As if we needed any more encouragement.

It seems like a great idea to me, and should help engage new audiences. For better or worse, things like smartphones are just too integral to people's way of living these days. It's better that museums and art lovers harness their potential rather than harrumph about it. In any case, it's really no different to going around with a guidebook.

Of course, the image-recongition software element sounds like the sort of thing that'll put people like me out of a job. 


March 2 2017

Image of Apologies...

Pictures: BG

... Sorry for the lack of posts, I'm on the move at the moment. Leeds first, then London to value a portrait of the Duke of Wellington (above). Since he was a relative (well, that's where I like to claim the nose comes from) I may have to declare an interest. The painting is by Lawrence, and the National Portrait Gallery are trying to buy it.

I dropped into the National Gallery to look at some pictures by Rubens this morning, and would believe it but every painting by him bar one is in storage. But the picture on show is his early and rarely seen Judgement of Paris (below) so I was glad to see that. I wonder if there has ever been a time when only one Rubens was on display at the National.

Tomorrow I'm heading to the North-East, then Wales.


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