Previous Posts: May 2017

The Le Nain mystery

May 26 2017

Image of The Le Nain mystery

Picture: via TAN, Mathieu Le Nain, the Denial of St Peter, Louvre

The three Le Nain brothers, Antoine, Louis and Mathieu, were famous painters in the 17thC in Paris,a nd still highly regarded today. But identifying which brother painted what has been fiendishly difficult, not least becase what signed Le Nain works there are (16 out of roughly 75 in total) only bear the signature "Le Nain". A new exhibition at Louvre Lens seeks to work out who painted what, as Donald Lee writes in The Art Newspaper:

[...] the Louvre curator, Nicolas Milovanovic, has daringly and controversially arranged the works in differently coloured sections of the airplane hangar-like exhibition building by attribution, with galleries devoted to each brother. Because Mathieu lived on for nearly 20 years after his brothers' deaths, it has been slightly easier to distinguish his works, but Milovanovic's sifting of all three has been predominantly connoisseurial, with assays of circumstantial evidence such as it exists. 

His argument, grosso modo, is that the middle brother, Louis, about whom the least is known, is the most prolific and distinguished of the brothers. His work is characterised by cool, subdued and subtle colours (Allegory of Victory, around 1635), free but controlled brushwork, a tendency for classicising (Venus in the Forge of Vulcan, 1641) and a feeling for landscape (to be seen in the backgrounds of his religious canvases). To him is also given the main hand in several religious paintings (The Penitent Magdalene, around 1643) and, above all, the many peasant scenes. 

AHN congratulates Milovanovic for tackling this connoisseurial conundrum - bravo! 

More on the exhibition here

Koons' Ukrainian inspiration

May 26 2017

Image of Koons' Ukrainian inspiration

Picture: TAN

A new big shiny thing by Jeff Koons is drawing crowds in New York, but as The Art Newspaper reports, it is just a scaled up version of a porcelain trinket made in Ukraine some decades ago.

25 years of DCMS

May 26 2017

Image of 25 years of DCMS

Picture: DCMS

This week saw the 25th anniversary of the creation of the UK's Department for Culture Media and Sport. It actually began life as the Department of National Heritage in 1992 courtesy of Sir John Major, but then in 1997 New Labour changed it to the more modern sounding DCMS. I don't think there can be any doubt that the UK's cultural sector and creative industries are in a far better place thanks to the department; we've had billions in lottery money, relative protection from funding cuts (at least, at a national museum level, not regional), and many other Good Things. All this is due to the work of its civil servants, the benefit of having representation at Cabinet level, and the dedication of a series of usually good ministers, some of them excellent. I don't think all this would have been delivered had the arts and culture been berthed within different departments (like Education) as they used to be.


At Tate in 2018

May 26 2017

Image of At Tate in 2018

Picture: Tate

Tate has announced their 2018 exhibition line-up; highlights at Tate Britain include Burne-Jones, Bacon & Freud, and art in the aftermath of World War One, while Tate Modern will have 'Picasso 1932', and Anni Albers. I can find nothing for art pre 19th Century.

On de La Tour's name

May 26 2017

Image of On de La Tour's name

Picture: Neil Jeffares

In what he proudly calls 'the most boring post I have ever written', king of alll things pastel Neil Jeffares looks at how we should write the name of Maurice-Quentin de La Tour. He had two forenames, Maurice and Quentin, and the hyphen between the two we commonly see derives from Napoleonic legislation about such things, which, oddly enough, are still on the statute books today. And the 'de' is not to be mistaken for a noble lineage. More here

Incidentally, now is the time to confess that I don't know how to pronounce' Neil's last name.

Italian Museums (ctd.)

May 25 2017

Image of Italian Museums (ctd.)

Picture: TAN

Extraordinary news from Italy, where a court has effectively dismissed six museum directors. Their crime? They're not Italian.

Regular readers may have been following AHN's coverage of the Italian government's reform of the cultural sector, and in particular the appointment of a number of foreign museum directors in an attempt by the government to shake things up in the notoriously defunct museum system. It seemed to be going well, with new directors in institutions like the Uffizi.

But a court in Lazio has ruled that the appointments of foreign directors in six museums is illegal, dure to irregularities in the appointments procedure. The Culture ministry has said it will appeal the court's ruling, but the backlash from legions of government appointed museum workers who were used to their quiet and untaxing lives is obviously greater than expected. The museums affected so far are:

The Paolo Giulierini, National Archaeological Museum of Naples, Carmelo Malacrino, National Archaeological Museum of Reggio Calabria, Eva Degli Innocenti, Director of the National Archaeological Museum of Taranto, Martina Bagnoli, Director of the Modena Estates Gallery, Peter Assmann, Director of the Ducal Palace Mantua and Gabriel Zuchtriegel, director of Paestum Archaeological Park.

It's unclear if the ruling might be extended to the more major institutions who now have foreign directors, like the Brera and the Uffizi. More here

Selling Michelangelo...

May 23 2017

Image of Selling Michelangelo...

Picture: via TAN

In The Art Newspaper, Martin Bailey reports that the Royal Academy considered selling its famous tondo by Michelangelo for £6m. More here

How not to buy art

May 23 2017

Image of How not to buy art

Picture: Guardian

There's a curious article in The Guardian about buying contemporary art for investment. It reads like a PR pitch from an online art gallery (they feature in the piece) and gave the following advice on how to search for 'works that could triple in value':

When visiting a degree show Ryan [of online art gallery New Blood Art] recommends talking to art tutors (make an appointment in advance) and suggests having a coffee with the artists themselves to try and gauge their long-term commitment.


Investment experts say modern art is an effective hedge against inflation – returns tend to be better at times when prices in the economy are rising, which is the case now. 

Remember, AHN says never buy art as an investment (it's very rarely a good one, in the short term), and only buy something if you actually like it. And if you want to determine an 'artist's commitment, buy them more than a coffee.

Dafoe to play Van Gogh

May 23 2017

Image of Dafoe to play Van Gogh

Picture: Wikipedia

The actor Willem Dafoe will play Van Gogh in a new film; more here

Waldemar at the Venice Biennale

May 23 2017

Image of Waldemar at the Venice Biennale

Picture: The Times

He's not overly impressed:

Multifacetedness is a Biennale theme this year. Hardly anybody makes art in a straightforward manner. The French have a pavilion devoted to music, in which you can watch a squad of assorted instrumentalists recording one of those unlistenable records that have become an art-world speciality. The Danes, in what I hereby nominate as the worst contribution to the entire Biennale, incarcerate you in a black room for 30 minutes, where you listen to the rantings of Kirstine Roepstorff, instructing you to imagine you are a seed growing under the ground. I tried to leave after a couple of minutes, but they wouldn’t let me. Seeds, it seems, no longer enjoy any basic human rights.

More here

Restitution news (ctd.)

May 23 2017

Image of Restitution news (ctd.)

Picture: TAN

A painting by Pissarro from the Gurlitt collection has been restituted to the heirs of a French collector - it was looted by the Nazis in 1942. It's only the fourth painting in Gurlitt's trove to be restituted, but there are thought to be another 150 works (out of 1200) that are known to have been looted. More from Catherine Hickley here in The Art Newspaper.

Canaletto at the Royal Collection

May 23 2017

Image of Canaletto at the Royal Collection

Picture: National Trust

The Royal Collection's new Canaletto show looks like another excellent exhibition - Ben Luke in the Evening Standard gives it four stars out of five. 

Incidentally, the portrait of Caneletto above is by an unknown artist, and belongs to the National Trust at Anglesey Abbey. It's small, and on panel, but looks rather Hogarthian in the characterisation, don't you think?

Picasso swap shop

May 23 2017

Image of Picasso swap shop

Picture: Rex Features via The Times

The Times reports that in the 1960s, Franco's Spanish government offered the US government its choice of any Velasquez they liked in return for Picasso's Guernica. Picasso's masterpiece was at that time on display in the US, the artist having stipulated that it could only return to Spain once democracy had returned. More here.  

Bull fighting with Picasso

May 23 2017

Image of Bull fighting with Picasso

Picture: Spectator

Picasso loved bullfighting; in the Spectator, his biographer Sir John Richardson recounts going to a fight with him:

‘I frequently went to bullfights with Picasso,’ Sir John Richardson remarked, quite casually, as he showed me around the exhibition Picasso: Minotaurs and Matadors, which he was installing at the Gagosian Gallery, Grosvenor Hill. He mentioned this by way of explaining why a large and splendid linocut was inscribed to him by the artist: ‘à mon cher ami.’

They saw many fights together in the 1950s, either in Nîmes or Arles. Picasso took these occasions seriously. ‘If the fight was going well he was silent, concentrating totally. What he couldn’t stand was people talking. He would sigh and say, “Oh, I wish they’d shut up.” All around him people were shrieking if something went wrong, but he was absolutely cool as can be.’

Incidentally, Sir John's grandfather was born in the reign of George III - isn't that amazing?

Leonardo's mother identified

May 23 2017

Image of Leonardo's mother identified

Picture: via Wikipedia

New research by Martin Kemp and Giuseppe Pallanti has revealed that Leonardo da Vinci's mother was Caterina di Meo Lippi, a poor orphan who was just 15 when she was seduced by Leonardo's father. More here

Is contemporary art to blame for Trump?

May 19 2017

Image of Is contemporary art to blame for Trump?

Picture: via Time

Yes, says Alex Melamid in Time, citing work by the likes of Warhol and Koons:

Whatever the intelligentsia nurtures and celebrates in our galleries and academic journals is bound to flow eventually into the nation’s cinemas, through its ballot boxes and toward the swamp of Washington, D.C. The last few months have proven that Trump is not out to drain that swamp. He is its progeny, and we on the left — the artists, the people of culture — have done our part in creating the conditions for him to thrive.

Alas, even AHN finds this argument unconvincing, but nice try.

Van Gogh lookalikes (ctd.)

May 19 2017

Image of Van Gogh lookalikes (ctd.)

Picture: via ABC

The rise of the hipster has led to a boom in Van Gogh lookalikes. The latest, Matt Butterworth in Australia, has been allowing visitors to a Van Gogh exhibition in the National Gallery of Victoria to a pose for a Van Gogh selfie, to great acclaim. More here

Prado Titian cleaned

May 19 2017

Image of Prado Titian cleaned

Picture: Museo Prado

The Prado has cleaned one of its major Titians, Philip II offering the Infante Don Ferdinando to Victory. The online catalogue still shows the pre-cleaning photo, but you can zoom in on a before and after image here

A proper hang

May 19 2017

Image of A proper hang

Picture: Museo Prado

I came across this photo of the Prado back in the days; when getting pictures out of storage and on display was considered more important than having oceans of space around a painting. Bring back proper picture hanging!

'The Battle for Basquiat'

May 19 2017

Video: Sotheby's

A painting by Basquiat made $110m dollars last night at Sotheby's in New York. The hammer was seconds away from falling at $68m, then a fierce battle commenced. AHN looks forward to commenting on Basquiat values in about 20 years time. 

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