Previous Posts: October 2017

Zoom in on the Ghent Altarpiece

October 30 2017

Image of Zoom in on the Ghent Altarpiece

Picture: Getty/Kikirpa

The Closer to Van Eyck website has allowed us to peer into Van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece in high resolution for some time, but now it has been upgraded with new functions, and before, during and after conservation photos. Above is a small damaged area on one of the outer doors, for example. From the Getty Foundation press release:

The Getty Foundation and the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA, Brussels) announced today the launch of major enhancements to the website ‘Closer to Van Eyck,’ which provides breathtaking details of one of the most important works of art in the world, the Ghent Altarpiece. Enhancements include new images of the work under various stages of conservation treatment, a larger range of technical images, and the ability to see and compare multiple views of the painting at the same time.

Located at St. Bavo’s cathedral in Ghent, Belgium, The Mystic Lamb of 1432 by Hubert and Jan van Eyck, also known as the Ghent Altarpiece, is a stunning and highly complex painting composed of separate oak panels. Since 2010, several Getty Foundation grants have supported the conservation planning, examination and training related to the altarpiece as part of its Panel Paintings Initiative. A collaboration among the Flemish government, the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage and their partners led to the first much-needed conservation treatment of the work in 2010. The panels and frames of the closed altarpiece were treated between 2012 and 2016 and the large-scale campaign now continues with the panels of the lower register of the open altarpiece. The “Closer to Van Eyck” website launched in 2012, and had yet to receive major updates until now.

Linda Nochlin (1931-2017)

October 30 2017

Image of Linda Nochlin (1931-2017)

Picture: Adam Husted, via Apollo

The art historian Linda Nochlin has died. ArtNews has the best obituary, here.

New Zoffany discovery

October 30 2017

Image of New Zoffany discovery

Picture: Lowell Libson

The London-based dealer Lowell Libson has discovered a sketch by Zoffany for one of his most famous pictures, Colonal Mordaunt's Cock Match (c.1784-6). The original is in the Tate, and the newly found sketch (above) was painted in preparation for an engraving. Lowell's new catalogue, available online here, has an essay about the discovery by the art historian Martin Postle. Another newly discovered work is this exquisite Macbeth and the Three Witches by John Martin. Bravo!


October 30 2017

Image of Guffwatch

Picture: Waldemar Janusczcak

Here's a label from this year's Venice Biennale, courtesy of the Great Waldemar. I think this one might be hard to beat?

Monet landscapes at Sotheby's

October 30 2017

Video: Sotheby's

Another good auction house short video - this time on Monet, featuring Sotheby's Simon Stock 

Lost Mary Queen of Scots portrait found?

October 29 2017

Image of Lost Mary Queen of Scots portrait found?

Picture: SNPG

Technical research of a 1589 painting of the Lord Chancellor of Scotland, Sir John Maitland, has revealed that it was painted over a portrait of Mary Queen of Scots, who was executed in 1587. The discovery shows what political hot potatos royal portraits could be; after Mary's execution it would have been risky to show her image. Rather than destroy a perfectly usable portrait panel, however, the artist Adrian Vanson simply painted over Mary's head. More here on the Scottish National Portrait Gallery's website. 

'Cezanne Portraits' at the NPG

October 29 2017

Video: Telegraph

The National Portrait Gallery's new exhibition of Cezanne's portraits has been greeted warmly by many critics. In the above video, the Telegraph's art critic Alastair Sooke talks to the show's curator, John Edlerfield. The show is open until 11th February.

Newly discovered £2m-£3m Constable at Sotheby's

October 29 2017

Image of Newly discovered £2m-£3m Constable at Sotheby's

Picture: Sotheby's

Sotheby's will sell in their London Old Master sale this December a newly discovered painting by John Constable, with an estimate of £2m-£3m. The picture, Dedham Vale with the River Stour in Flood, was painting between 1814-17. Says Sotheby's specialist Julian Gascoigne:

Dedham Vale with the River Stour in Flood was long mistakenly thought to be by Ramsay Richard Reinagle (1775–1862), a friend and contemporary of Constable’s, but recent scientific analysis and up-to-date connoisseurship has unanimously returned the work to its rightful place among the canon of the great master’s work and established beyond doubt its true authorship. It is without question one of the most exciting and important additions to Constable’s oeuvre to have emerged in the last 50 years.”

More here

The perils of keeping art in storage...

October 29 2017

Video: via You Tube

The Mugrabi family are famous for cornering the market in Warhols. They keep almost 1400 works in a single storage facility in New Jersey. But now, because of a dispute with the owners of the facility over an allegedely unpaid bill, the family have had to go to court to stop their entire colection being 'held hostage' (reports The Art Newspaper). A judge has ruled that the Mugrabis must pay $1m, and then five works (three of which have been sold, two of which are being lent to exhibitions) will be released from the facility. 

Above is a video of Robert Hughes interviewing Alberto Mugrabi.

Monarch of the... Fen?

October 29 2017

Image of Monarch of the... Fen?

Picture: BBC

Big news up here in Scotland that Landseer's famous 'Monarch of the Glen' might in fact have been painted in, er, Cambridge. From the Scottish Sun:

The iconic beast in the world-famous Monarch of the Glen painting is regarded globally as a symbol of the Highlands. But now it’s been claimed the animal was in fact part of a herd in Cambridgeshire where it was painted.

The artwork’s misty mountain background was then added later – like a 19th century photoshop. The revered oil canvas was the work of English artist Sir Edwin Landseer who completed it in 1851 at the stately mansion Stoke Park.

The revelation about the stag’s nationality comes after the National Galleries of Scotland forked out £4m to “save it for the nation” by ensuring it stays north of the border.

Stoke Park – now a five star hotel – states on its website: “Sir Edwin often visited Stoke Park during Lord Taunton’s (Henry Labouchere) and later Edward Coleman’s ownership and it was at this time that part of the ground floor of the house was beautifully furnished as a studio.

“Sir Edwin painted many pictures of the herd of deer in the park including the famous ‘Monarch of the Glen’ and ‘Running Deer’.”

Stoke Park Head of Communication Nick Downie said: “Our information comes from the history books.

Trump's art history meme

October 26 2017

Image of Trump's art history meme

Pictures: via Twitter

These have been doing the rounds on Twitter. More here.

Moore's 'Old Flo' back in London

October 26 2017

Image of Moore's 'Old Flo' back in London

Picture: Guardian

Henry Moore's sculpture 'Old Flo', which had been at the centre of a years long deaccession dispute, has returned to public display in London. The sculpture's owners, the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, had at one point attempted to sell her for up to £20m. But as Maev Kennedy reports in The Guardian, a new mayor, John Biggs, saw sense, and stopped the sale. Old Flo is now on display in Canary Wharf. Bravo John Biggs!

Newly conserved Veroneses on show at The Frick

October 26 2017

Video: The Frick

The Frick has what looks to be a fascinating new, small exhibition on, featuring two newly restored Veronese paintings. Says the Frick site:

In 1566, the Venetian priest Francesco degli Arbori commissioned two paintings by the celebrated artist Paolo Veronese. The canvases—St. Jerome in the Wilderness and St. Agatha Visited in Prison by St. Peter—were destined to decorate a small chapel the priest had built just outside the church and convent of Santa Maria degli Angeli on the island of Murano, in the Venice Lagoon. To protect the paintings from the humidity of the chapel and the risk of theft, the nuns moved them inside the main church, and by the early nineteenth century, they had been relocated to San Pietro Martire, another church on Murano. This publication accompanies the exhibition at The Frick Collection of the two Veronese masterpieces—their first presentation outside of Italy—following their full restoration by Venetian Heritage.

The restoration was sponsored by the jewellers Bulgari. Bravo Bulgari!

Dates are October 24, 2017 to March 25, 2018. You can read sample pages in the catalogue here

Queueing for Leonardo (Ctd.)

October 26 2017

Image of Queueing for Leonardo (Ctd.)

Picture: TAN 

Back in 2011 I often reported on the queues to get into the National Gallery's Leonardo da Vinci exhibition. Now there are Leonardo queues in London again (reports The Art Newspaper) to see Salvator Mundi at Christie's. 

Museum image fees - a call to arms (ctd.)

October 24 2017

Image of Museum image fees - a call to arms (ctd.)

Picture: Delacroix!

I want to look into what I think is potentially the most significant chink in the armour of UK museums’ image reproduction policies. A key element of their policy on charging for images has been that they somehow ‘own’ the copyright of works in their collection. But do they? And if they don't, what are the consequences of them claiming they do? [NB, as ever I'm only referring to images of 2D works - drawings, paintings, prints - which are themselves out of copyright, that is, made by an artist who died more than 70 years ago.]

First, let’s have a look at (for example) Tate Images' terms and conditions. This appears to make it clear that when they charge you to use an image of an historic artwork in their collection, they are doing so because they claim the copyright to the image.

For example, here’s clause 5.5 under the heading ‘Copyright’:

Each reproduction of an Image must credit the relevant artist(s) in full, the title of the work and carry the copyright notice (C) Tate, London 201[][]. 

This would appear to mean that Tate are claiming the copyright of any image they sell, wherever and however it is published.

And here’s more from clause 6, under the heading ‘Licence’:

6.1 Subject to Clause 5 above, Tate hereby grants to the Client a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty free, copyright licence to reproduce and store copies of the Images by any means or in any media (to “Reproduce”) for the purposes specified on the Form in accordance with applicable copyright law. 

In other words, it would appear that what Tate is selling under their terms and conditions is ‘a copyright licence’ to the image you may want to reproduce in your book.

But as I have mentioned in my previous posts on this matter, UK, US and European law on this area appears quite clear; making a new photograph of an out of copyright painting does not create a new copyright. 

Why is this important? Because it may be that the contracts entered into each time someone buys and image from Tate and other similar UK museums are in fact void.

And why is that? AHNers, let me make you aware of the term ‘copyright overreach’. This is when someone wrongly claims copyright where none exists. And it turns out that that’s a pretty serious thing.  

A reader has kindly sent me this 2014 article by Dr. Grischka Petri of the University of Glasgow, in the Journal of Conservation and Museum Studies. It is titled, “The Public Domain vs. the Museum: The Limits of Copyright and Reproductions of Two-dimensional Works of Art”, and makes for fascinating reading. 

Here’s the abstract:

The problem of museums and public institutions handling reproductions of works in their collections is not only a legal question but also one of museum ethics. Public museums are committed to spreading knowledge and to making their collections accessible. When it comes to images of their holdings, however, they often follow a restrictive policy. Even for works in the public domain they claim copyright for their reproductive photographs. This paper offers an analysis of the different interests at stake, a short survey of important cases, and practical recommendations.

It’s a long and detailed piece, and thoroughly examines all the various test cases and statue law around copyright. I cannot pretend to do justice to it here - I would urge you to read it yourselves. But I’ll attempt to explain what I think are the important bits. And Petri's most significant conclusion is very simple:

There is no copyright in photographic reproductions of two-dimensional works of art in the public domain. 

This prompts Petri to suggest that:

[…] current museum practice in view of copyright is to some extent unethical.

But can we go further than unethical? Is it just flat out wrong? For Petri also looks at the way in which UK museums have operated with regard to selling or licensing their reproductions. He explores whether museums are guilty of ‘copyright overreach’ - that is, wrongly claiming to have copyright in a work, and selling an image on that basis. He asks:

In view of these findings, what is the significance of museums’ and agencies’ disregard for the law?


Museums re-appropriate works in the public domain through their practice of claiming copyright protection for their reproductions, thereby arbitrarily extending the copyright term. […]

Does this practice therefore mean that UK museums are acting in breach of copyright law, when they sell an image under their current terms and conditions? Petri continues:

At present, however, the suggestion is that many museums’ practice in rights and reproductions does not comply with UK copyright law. Instead, it is a widespread practice to contract around copyright law with terms and conditions regulating access to works in the public domain and their reproductions […] notwithstanding that such contracts cannot legitimately be used to bypass copyright law but must respect it.

And here’s the really important bit:

Within the European Union, this means that contracts bypassing essential principles of copyright law can be problematic in view of the Council Directive 93/13/EEC of 5 April 1993 on unfair terms in consumer contracts (cf. s.6 (1) in the UK’s Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999). The museums’ ‘abusive practices’ with regard to reproductions of two-dimensional works of art in the public domain are in breach of copyright law, irrespective of these institutions’ dire economic situation, and irrespective of whether this practise is called ‘copyfraud’ or ‘copyright overreaching’. 

So here’s my question - if UK museums have wrongly been claiming copyright on historic artworks in their collections for all these years, and charging money for that, what are the consequences? Are those of us (whether scholars or publishers) who have paid for an invalid contract entitled to recompense of some kind? If UK museums had simply said; “here’s a high res image, we’re charging you for the provision of that image, nothing more”, it would be different matter. But by making their contracts about copyright, they have claimed to be selling something they actually had no right to sell. In America, the answer to this would be simple; a class action lawsuit. 

I would be glad to hear AHNers views on this, especially lawyers!

Museum image fees - a call to arms (ctd.)

October 23 2017

Image of Museum image fees - a call to arms (ctd.)

Picture: Tate

Further to my post below, it seems there's another case of Tate misbehaving when it comes to charging fees for out of copyright artworks. When the Art Fund provides funding for an acquisition it makes all manner of stipulations, right down to the logo that must be used on the wall label accompanying a painting. According to their current grant conditions, an institution must provide free images for scholarly and academic use. Here's the relevant passage (paragraph D.16.e):

Supply of images to third parties. The Beneficiary will not charge any copyright fee when it supplies images of the Art Fund-assisted Object to third parties to be reproduced in academic, educational or scholarly publications, provided that (a) the print run for the publication (including any reprints) does not exceed 3,000, and (b) images are reproduced inside the publication and not on the book jacket or outside cover. 

Let's pick a high profile case of an Art Fund supported acquisition at Tate - Turner's Blue Rigi (acquired for £4.95m in 2007, with £500k from the Art Fund). If we go to Tate's image licensing website it soon becomes clear that Tate is ignoring the Art Fund's stipulations. For example, to use an image of the Blue Rigi just in a single, free, academic lecture the cost is £20. To reproduce the image in an academic book with a print run of 500 is £45, with £57 for a print run of 1,000, and £61 for a print run of 'up to 3,000'. That is explicitly contrary to what the Art Fund demands.

This is just one example of how iniquitous current museum policies are when it comes to image reproduction fees. It also shows how much museum time and money must go into organising and policing current fee structures. Far better to just allow free image use, as other insitutions are increasingly finding. If the Art Fund were to stipulate that from now on the images all artworks they fund must be made freely available, I'm sure we could make progress towards abolishing fees altogether. Come on Art Fund!

Update - The Art Fund conditions mention 'a copyright fee' as if it relates to all works. But as I  point out in the below post, there is of course no 'copyright' in most works the Art Fund helps institutions acquire (ie those paintined by an artist who died more than 75 years ago).  

Museum image fees - a call to arms (ctd.)

October 23 2017

Image of Museum image fees - a call to arms (ctd.)

Picture: Tate

Further to my various posts (here and here) on UK museums and their increasingly absurd reproduction fee policies, a reader has investigated in detail the exact wording of the Creative Commons licences that many UK museums rely on. He has found that museums are in fact acting against the spirit and letter of the licences, and have wrongly changed the terms of the licence to specifically make it easier to charge extra fees - especially in regard to academic use. And by doing so these museums are actually forfeiting their ability to use Creative Commons licenses.

First, a quick word on what a Creative Commons license is, from the CC website:

The Creative Commons copyright licenses and tools forge a balance inside the traditional “all rights reserved” setting that copyright law creates. Our tools give everyone from individual creators to large companies and institutions a simple, standardized way to grant copyright permissions to their creative work.

Now for the details - the reader writes:

Have you looked much at Creative Commons licences? Tate gets to sound all open and liberal by using one, but actually they don’t abide by either the spirit or the letter. [...]

Tate uses a "CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0" licence. On the Creative Commons website it says ‘you may not apply legal terms or technical measures that legally restrict others from doing anything the license permits.' But that is the very thing Tate has done when they state what 'a commercial' use is.

The original CC licence itself (section 4.b, here) states merely that “You may not exercise any of the rights granted to You in Section 3 above in any manner that is primarily intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or private monetary compensation.” But Tate’s version of the licence’s non-commercial stipulation goes further: “Creative Commons defines commercial use as ‘reproducing a work in any manner that is primarily intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or monetary compensation’". Tate further defines commercial use as ‘use on or in anything that itself is charged for, on or in anything connected with something that is charged for, or on or in anything intended to make a profit or to cover costs.’ “ (here).

Also Tate say: “The image can be used only in contexts that are free from monetary gain or commercial value. Images cannot be used to sell or promote something; they cannot be used in or on something that is charged for or associated with money; nor can they be used in advertising or design contexts. Images cannot be used by commercial companies, charities or organizations that charge entrance fees, membership, or subscription to a service.” (on this page) and on the same page they clarify that a “commercial context [is] (anything that has a monetary value, is promotional or related to a commercial company or charity)”.

So they’ve gone from ‘primarily intended for… commercial advantage’ to entirely ‘free from monetary gain’; and from ‘monetary gain’ - profit or income - to ‘monetary value.’

Associating commercial use with economic gain is fair enough - we can debate its limits of course. But leaping from gain to mere value is huge and bonkers. Literally everything in our world has economic value. We live in a massively commercialised society: how can Tate’s images be used in any context not ‘associated with money’, ’in contexts that are free from …commercial value.’?

Bonkers indeed. But the major point here is that in their actions institutions like Tate have forfeited the right to use Creative Commons licences. The whole basis of their policy for distributing images and charging fees is actually invalid. Here is the relevant part of the Creative Commons rules, from CC's FAQ page:

Can I change the license terms or conditions?

Yes—but if you change the terms and conditions of any Creative Commons license, you must no longer call, label, or describe the license as a “Creative Commons” or “CC” license, nor can you use the Creative Commons logos, buttons, or other trademarks in connection with the modified license or your materials. Keep in mind that altering terms and conditions is distinct from waiving existing conditions or granting additional permissions than those in the licenses. Licensors may always do so, and many choose to do so using the CC+ protocol to readily signal the waiver or additional permission on the CC license deed.

As our reader here concludes (not least because institutions like Tate and the British Museum use the Creative Commons name and logo on their websites)

It’s clear, then, that both the BM and Tate are breaking the terms of Creative Commons licences.

Update - another entry on the Creative Commons FAQ page reveals that institutions like Tate should not be claiming copyright on the vast majority of works for which they are selling licenses:

If I take a photograph of another work that is in the public domain [ie, a painting hanging on a museum wall], can I apply a CC license to my photo?

That depends. You can apply a CC license to your photograph if your photograph constitutes a work of original authorship, a question that varies by jurisdiction. As a general matter, your photograph must involve some creative choices, such as background setting, lighting, angle, or other mark of creativity. In the United States, an exact photographic copy of a public domain work is not subject to copyright because there is no originality (even if there is effort or “sweat” exerted in its creation).

Although there has been no definitive ruling in Europe, it's highly unlikely that a test case would arrive at a different rulling than in the US. 

Me on connoisseurship! (ctd.)

October 23 2017

Image of Me on connoisseurship! (ctd.)

Picture: Martin Postle

I've been meaning to post this link to a discussion I was involved in on BBC Radio 4's 'Front Row' programme, about connoisseurship. The premise was 'is connoisseurship in crisis?', and I argued that it was, because sadly it's not taught enough in art history courses. Therefore, not enough art history graduates leave university knowing the basics of how to tell who painted what, when. Slightly to my surprise, my felow guest, Professor Alison Wright, head of the art history department at UCL, said that "connoisseurship is a tool amongst many, and it's not one we do teach in that sense, partly because to some degree it's not teachable...". 

Now I'm used to hearing the argument that connoisseurship is not worth teaching, because things like authorship and originality are not important. But I don't often hear leading teachers of art history say that actually you can't teach it at all. 

Of course, like any skill or process, connoisseurship certainly can be taught. I hope to give just a small taste of how to do it at the Royal Academy in December for one of the RA's short courses. We're in the final stages of planing how the weekend might work. Of course, we can't make people into connoisseurs in a weekend, but we hope to at least demonstrate the basics. If you're coming, thanks for booking - it's going to be fun! (The course is sold out, but we're likely to run it again next year.) We will be doing all the things that some of the more trendy art historians hate - including the sin of sins, making 'value judgements'. 

Update - a former head of a UK university history of art department writes:

At the risk of appearing completely obsolete academically, allow me to agree with you that connoisseurship can be taught.  Today universities are as concerned with teaching 'transferable skills' as they are with developing intellectual capabilities: for an art historian, the ability to examine works of art for authenticity and to make (or unmake) attributions is an essential professional competence which anyone with pretensions to knowledge should possess.  It is simply not the case that the essentials cannot be taught, which is not the same as simply not teaching them in the first place.  When I was a BA student we learned a lot of what has been thrown out of the art history curriculum today, including the basics of how to analyse stylistic information in conjunction with material and other evidence because it was assumed we might go on to work in museums, as academics or in the art market where we would develop and refine skills regarded as professionally essential.  Since then of course, art history has indeed broadened its intellectual concerns and expanded into important and enriching new approaches to understanding the contexts in which images are created, consumed and comprehended - all of them offering new and enlightening perceptions for interpreting visual culture which have transformed the subject from one in which scholarship prevailed to one in which theory predominates.  Art's histories are now more concerned with discourse and debate than with art's history - a graduate is more likely to know about Foucault than Fouquet.  

I would agree that connoisseurship is an acquired skill, but in my experience it is something which students appreciate learning about, not least because it is a fundamental practical application of what underpins their subject and its history.  I think I was probably the last person in a British university to teach a course with the word in its title: 'Objects as Evidence. Science, Connoisseurship and Art History'.  It introduced students to visual and material analysis, attribution and authenticity, provenance, collecting history, condition, conservation, forgery and what they had to teach art historians.  More than ten years on I still hear from graduates who say they use what they learned from it.  Of course, it was only a starter, but it had the merit of showing them that anyone can acquire and develop what it takes to be a 'connoisseur' with practice, and far from being something 'exclusive' it made the study and scholarship of art more accessible, not less.  And in an academic world increasingly expected to deliver employability, it had an additional benefit: as well as curators and art dealers, it encouraged several students to go on to become successful conservators.

One of those reader comments that I will treasure. Thanks!

Marc & Bella Chagall - art history's greatest love story?

October 23 2017

Video: Sotheby's

Sotheby's are selling an important Chagall in November, Les Amourex, and have interviewed Chagall's granddaughter, Bella Meyer about Chagall's relationship with his wife, Bella. 

Nicked: Stanley Spencer painting (ctd.)

October 23 2017

Image of Nicked: Stanley Spencer painting (ctd.)

Picture: BBC

A painting by Stanley Spencer, Cookham from Englefield, which was stolen from the Stanley Spencer gallery in Berkshire in 2012, has been recovered. It was found after two drug dealers were arrested for carryiing 1kg of cocaine in a car. Police searched a number of other connected properties, and found the painting. It belonged to a private owner, who had lent it to the gallery. Detective Inspector Andy Whitewood, of the Metropolitan Police’s organised crime command, said:

“A search of Fisher’s address revealed a stolen £1m painting. This demonstrates the link between drugs trafficking and serious, acquisitive crime. I am pleased to say that the painting has now been returned to the art gallery from where it was stolen. The guilty pleas entered by both men were due to the weight of the evidence against them and are a testimony to the depth of the investigation.

More on the case here.

It's often said that criminals steal valuable paintings to act as collateral in things like drug deals, and this must I presume be a case in point. For more on the phenomenon, see a 2013 piece in The Telegraph by Alistair Sooke here

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