Previous Posts: October 2017

Trump's fake Renoir (ctd.)

October 20 2017

Image of Trump's fake Renoir (ctd.)

Picture: BBC/Chicago Institute of Art

Last year I reported that Donald Trump had a fake Renoir hanging in his New York appartment - a copy of La Loge from the Courtauld Institute in London. Now it turns out he has another one, this time a copy of Two Sisters (On the Terrace) from the Chicago Institute of Art (above). Trump was said by writer Tim O'Brien to have claimed that his version (seen in the background of an interview with Melania Trump in New York, below) was real. Now, the Chicago museum has been obliged to tell the media that it is "satisfied that our version is real".


'Mystery' over Leonardo's 'Salvator Mundi'

October 20 2017

Image of 'Mystery' over Leonardo's 'Salvator Mundi'

Picture: Robert Simon Fine Art

There was a curious story in The Guardian yesterday about Leonardo’s ‘Salvator Mundi’. It was headlined, and began, thus:

"Mystery over Christ’s orb in $100m Leonardo da Vinci painting.

Crystal sphere in Salvator Mundi artwork lacks optical exactitude, prompting experts to speculate over motive and authenticity."

The story focused on the views of Walter Isaacson, who has just published a new biography of Leonardo. It looks good, and there's an in depth review of it here in The New Yorker. Isaacson was quoted discussing the orb in Christ's hand:

But in a forthcoming study, Leonardo da Vinci: the Biography, Walter Isaacson questions why an artistic genius, scientist, inventor, and engineer showed an “unusual lapse or unwillingness” to link art and science in depicting the orb.

He writes: “In one respect, it is rendered with beautiful scientific precision … But Leonardo failed to paint the distortion that would occur when looking through a solid clear orb at objects that are not touching the orb.

“Solid glass or crystal, whether shaped like an orb or a lens, produces magnified, inverted, and reversed images. Instead, Leonardo painted the orb as if it were a hollow glass bubble that does not refract or distort the light passing through it.”

He argues that if Leonardo had accurately depicted the distortions, the palm touching the orb would have remained the way he painted it, but hovering inside the orb would be a reduced and inverted mirror image of Christ’s robes and arm.

All of which might lead you to believe that Issacson did not think the painting was by Leonardo, or at least was raising serious questions. But on his Facebook page, Isaacson writes:

Just to be very clear, this article leaves a bit of a false impression. In my new book, I state clearly and unequivocally that this painting of Salvator Mundi is by Leonardo. And I explore the reasons that he did not show the crystal orb distorting the robes of Christ. I say it was a conscious decision on Leonardo's part. I do not say in my book, nor did I say in the interview, nor do I believe, that anyone but Leonardo painted this painting. I believe he made a decision to paint the crystal orb in a way that is miraculous and not distracting. All of the art experts I know agree, from Martin Kemp to Luke Syson.

So that’s that; nothing to see here. And please don’t be at all persuaded by the attempt, elsewhere in the article, to use Wenceslaus Hollar's engraving of the Salvator Mundi to cast doubt on the painting. It has been suggested that because the engraving shows some small, in some cases actually imperceptible, differences to the painting at Christie’s, then the painting at Christie’s might not be the painting which was engraved. This is fantasy art history. First, such differences reflect more on Hollar’s ability as an engraver than the painting. Second, compare other examples of Hollar’s engravings with the paintings to which they relate and you will see that he regularly altered aspects of the composition. Third, we cannot know how long Hollar had to study the original. Finally, Hollar saw the painting more than one hundred years after it was painted. Who knows what might have happened to it in that period?

Update - for more on the orb in the picture, see Martin Kemp's take here

Charles Rennie Mackintosh watercolour acquired by SNG

October 20 2017

Image of Charles Rennie Mackintosh watercolour acquired by SNG

Picture: NGS

The Scottish National Gallery has acquired a rare watercolour by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Says the press release:

An outstanding, rare watercolour by the world-renowned artist and architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) has been acquired for the nation at auction. The new acquisition will go on show at the Scottish National Gallery (SNG) for the first time this autumn.

The Road Through the Rocks, a beautiful view of a southern French landscape painted between 1926 and 1927, was purchased at the Edinburgh auction house Lyon & Turnbull for £65,000. It will feature in a display at the Gallery which runs from 20 October to mid-January 2018, coinciding with the 150th anniversary celebrations of the acclaimed artist’s birth.

The striking watercolour will be displayed alongside Mont Alba, the Galleries’ only other Mackintosh watercolour and three Mackintosh watercolours on long loan to the Galleries, including Palalda, Pyrénées-Orientales, an intricate view of a picturesque hill village.

More here.

A Guido Reni upgrade

October 20 2017

Image of A Guido Reni upgrade

Picture: National Gallery

The National Gallery in London has recently cleaned a painting thought to be from the studio of Guido Reni, and has found that it is in fact by the man himself. The Toilet of Venus has now gone on display, and the NG's website says:

Several versions of this composition are known and this painting was long thought to be a copy made in Reni’s studio. However, recent conservation treatment has revealed far more of Reni’s hand at work than had previously been visible. The feathery brushstrokes on the central Grace’s arm, for example, are typical of Reni’s style. Visible changes to the picture’s design, such as the traces of pink drapery on Venus’s belly, show the artist working out his design. Infrared reflectography revealed more substantial changes, such as the addition of the putto at top left over a previously painted architectural scheme. These substantial changes, made during the painting process, not only strengthen the argument that this is the original composition on which other versions are based, but also tally with contemporary accounts that Reni delayed delivery of the painting in order to add in an entirely new figure.

An astute Twitter user has noticed that the painting was given to the National Gallery by King William IV along with another painting, Perseus and Andromeda. This painting, now very dirty and hard to make out, is also regarded as 'after Reni'. Might a clean reveal something new?

'Britain's Lost Masterpieces' (ctd.)

October 18 2017

Video: BBC

Tonight's episode of 'Britain's Lost Masterpieces' is the last in this series. We investigate a possible painting by Anthonis Mor. BBC4 9pm!

There's a Brueghel in our public library? Sell it!

October 18 2017

Image of There's a Brueghel in our public library? Sell it!

Picture: ArtUK

There's been yet another move here in the UK to sell paintings in local public collections. In Arbroath, in North East Scotland, a Liberal Democrat councillor has suggested two large paintings by Peter Brueghel the Younger should be sold to plug holes in the council's budget. The pictures, The Adoration of the Magi (above) and Saint John the Baptist Preaching in the Wilderness, were given to the people of Arbroath in the 19th century and hang in the local library. They are worth many millions of pounds.

The Times covered the story yesterday, quoting yours truly in full on how dare you sell these pictures! mode. But Councillor Lawrie had this to say:

“I’m sure they’re of significant cultural value but I don’t see how this benefits the average Angus resident,” Mr Lawrie said.


By coincidence, the pictures will be featured on tonight's episode of 'Britain's Lost Masterpieces', on BBC4 at 9pm. We will be visiting a fascinating local arts centre in Arbroath called Hospitalfield, to look at a mystery 16th Century portrait. It so happens that there are plans to build a new gallery at Hospitalfield to display the Brueghels - but if I was involved in these plans I'd be alarmed by any indication that the council might sell the paintings instead. What would be the point in building a new gallery?

Update - Councillor Lawrie tweets in response to my comments:

I’m a proud philistine if that means trying to find all options to fund health and social care.

Does he not accept that museums and art have proven health and social benefits?

Update II - in response to the story, here are some wise words from the director of Hospitalfield, Lucy Byatt. 

'The Vermeer Phenomenon'

October 18 2017

Video: NGA

Here's an interesting lecture from Arthur K Wheelock Jnr of the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC about the NGA's momentous Vermeer exhibition in 1995 - how the show came about, how it was put together, and how it changed public perceptions of Vermeer. The lecture was given in 2015, but has just now been put on the NGA's You Tube page, probably in connection with the opening of a new Vermeer exhibition there, Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting (till Jan 21 2108).

Bowes Museum show in London (ctd.)

October 18 2017

Video: Wallace Collection

Here's Wallace Collection director Xavier Bray on some highlights of the Wallace's new exhibition featuring loaned Spanish paintings from the Bowes Museum.

More museum directors should do this - five minutes and a iPhone is all you need!

Dobson's mystery sitter?

October 16 2017

Video: ZCZ Films

Regular readers will know that Waldemar Januszczak is an expert on English 17thC portraitist William Dobson - and in the video above he proposes a new identification for a mystery sitter in one of Dobson's best group portraits, Sir William Russell.


October 16 2017

Image of ArtUK

Picture: ArtUK

The invaluable ArtUK website has had over 3 million users since it launched in February last year. Director Any Ellis's newsletter says:

Since the website’s launch in February 2016 we have had over three million unique users with half of this traffic coming from overseas. Average time on the site is running at about 4½ minutes, which is high compared to most museum sites. Traffic in the last few months has been running about 10% up on equivalent months last year.

I've written a piece for the ArtUK's blog on how useful the site was for our second series of Britain's Lost Masterpieces

Running ArtUK is an expensive business, and they need all the help they can get. If you're minded to donate, you can do so here

Waldemar on Basquiat

October 16 2017

Video: Barbican

The Great Waldemar is on form in this review of the new Basquiat exhibition at the Barbican in London, which he describes as:

[...] a noisy hagiography at the Barbican that bills itself as “the first large-scale exhibition in the UK” of Basquiat’s work. In language that the Maezawas of this world would understand, the show airily describes him as “one of the most significant artists of the 20th century” and promises a radical new reading of his achievements.

I went into it chuckling in avuncular fashion about the hype. But I came out angry. OMG. This really is what the art world has become: a shallow, uneducated, disingenuous, over-moneyed, rapacious chewer-up of proper artistic values.

I like Basquiat as much as the next person - but I'll eat my trousers if, in ten year's time, his work is still selling for as much (in real terms) as it is today. AHNers, hold me to it.

TAN podcast no.5

October 16 2017

Audio: TAN

The latest Art Newspaper podcast is out, and it discusses the forthcoming auction at Christie's of Leonardo's 'Salvator Mundi'.

Birmingham's 'haunted painting'

October 16 2017

Video: Birmingham Mail

A pyschic in Birmingham has declared his painting 'haunted' after 'strange things' happened to people who owned it. Apparently one woman fainted, and dogs certainly don't like it. The thing is, he doesn't know who painted it, or what the subject is. Can anyone help? 

More here

'The Audacity of Christian Art'

October 12 2017

Video: National Gallery

This looks good - a new series of videos from the National Gallery in London on Christian art, with Curator in Art and Religion, Dr Chloe Reddaway. More here

'Britain's Lost... Galleries'?

October 12 2017

Image of 'Britain's Lost... Galleries'?

Picture: TAN 

Martin Bailey in The Art Newspaper reports that in Leeds Art Gallery, they've discovered a whole new gallery they didn't know about! More here

Leonardo's 'Salvator Mundi' to be sold at Christie's (ctd.)

October 12 2017

Image of Leonardo's 'Salvator Mundi' to be sold at Christie's (ctd.)

Picture: Robert Simon Fine Art

Sarah P. Hanson in The Art Newspaper reports that the Salvator Mundi has been guaranteed by a third party. This means that the painting is effectively sold - if the painting makes more than the reserve (I presume something near the $100m estimate), then the guarantor gets a slice of the upside. If nobody bids, the guarantor gets the painting. So Christie's have already pulled off quite a coup here - bravo. I think this must explain the confidence with which they're launching the picture into a contemporary art sale in November. This was a bold and risky move, and had the painting completely 'bought in' it would have been an epic fail.

Now, it's clear that the potential sale to the guarantor represents a sizeable loss to the vendor, Russian collector Dmitry Rybolovlev, who is believed to have paid around $125m for the painting in 2013. But that said, I think many would argue that $125m was a 'full' price, and in any case, we now know that it's a long way from the about $70m-$80m which Mr Rybolovlev's adviser, Yves Bouvier, allegedly paid for the painting. 

Of course, it's possible the painting may spark a bidding war, and prove us all wrong.

Half 'n half

October 12 2017

Image of Half 'n half

Picture: The Saleroom

Do not adjust your set - this picture is coming up at auction soon, with both the frame and the painting half cleaned! Yours for £30. More here

Tarnya Cooper joins National Trust

October 11 2017

Image of Tarnya Cooper joins National Trust

Picture: NPG

Congratulations to Tarnya Cooper, who has been appointed the National Trust's new Curatorial & Collections Director. Until now she has been Chief Curator at the National Portrait Gallery. Says the NT press release:

Tarnya will join the Trust’s newly expanded cohort of curators led by Director of Curation & Experience, John Orna-Ornstein. She will help shape and deliver the Trust’s ambitious new curatorial strategy, including high quality research, inspirational engagement, and excellent care for collections and buildings.

This means that the National Portrait Gallery will now be looking for a new Chief Curator.

'Britain's Lost Masterpieces' (ctd.)

October 11 2017

Video: BBC

In tonight's episode of Britain's Lost Masterpieces, Emma Dabiri and I are in Wales, at the Carmarthenshire County Museum. Two 17th Century portraits catch our eye...

Tonight, BBC4 9pm. More clips here

'The Last Da Vinci'

October 11 2017

Video: Christie's

Here's another video from Christie's on their forthcoming sale of the 'Salvator Mundi'. Some may not like the fact that Christie's are giving the picture as much contemporary kudos as they can. But there aren't many people trying to make Old Masters relevant to new audiences, so it's worth a go. One thing is for sure, if Christie's don't sell the picture there will be many people lining up to question their handling of it. Personally, I admire their courage in taking the risk of this innovative approach.

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