Previous Posts: October 2017

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

October 10 2017

Video: Christie's

Christie's have got Alistair Sooke to make a short video on the picture.

Leonardo's 'Salvator Mundi' to be sold at Christie's

October 10 2017

Image of Leonardo's 'Salvator Mundi' to be sold at Christie's

Picture: Robert Simon Fine Art.

Big news (via Eileen Kinsella at ArtNet) - the recently discovered 'Salvator Mundi' by Leonardo da Vinci is to be sold by Christie's in New York. The painting had been acquired by the Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev in 2013 for a reported $127.5m. The painting became a matter of some controversy, however, when the Russian discovered that the price he paid included a mark up of between $40m and $50m. Rybolovlev is currently suing his former art adviser, Yves Bouvier.

Rybolovlev appears to have fallen out of love with much of his art collection. He has begun to sell a number of 20th Century works through Christie's, some of which have earned him hefty losses. Earlier this year I had speculated on whether he would also soon sell his Leonardo.

Christie's are evidently pushing the boat out for the Leonardo sale - they're including it not in an Old Master sale, but a modern and contemporary sale. The painting will carry an estimate of $100m. Evidently, buy eschewing the Old Master auction, Christie's are signalling that it's not likely to be bought by any of the usual Old Master collectors, or even museums. The money is in the contemporary end of the market, so that's where they'll pitch the picture. If they sell the painting for something close to that amount, it will be a tremendous coup - one of the auctioneering feats of the century so far. This is, after all, a recent discovery, which has been the subject of some unjustly deserved but unwelcome publicity, and was last on the market only five years ago. In usual Old Master terms, that's not a good start. 

For more on the picture's history, put 'Salvator Mundi' into AHN's search box. I first saw it in 2011, and was impressed. It's now going on a worldwide tour.

New UK ban on antique ivory (ctd.)

October 9 2017

Image of New UK ban on antique ivory (ctd.)

Picture: V&A

The UK's on-off ban on Ivory sales has hoved back into view, with a new Department for the Environment consulation paper on a new ban. This would eliminate virtually all the trade in anything antique made with ivory. At the moment, there is an exemption for items provably made before 1947.

As AHN has said before, further restrictions on the trade in ivory products seems sensible, if it is the case that these 'antique' loopholes are being exploited by modern day ivory buyers/sellers/poachers, and their devastating effect on African elephants. But I've also written before about the unfortunate impact this ban will have on one important area of British art history; the portrait miniature.

One of Britain's few contributions to art history is the portrait miniature. From the late 17th century onwards, these were habitually painted on thin pieces of Indian ivory. British artists like John Smart produced some of the most extraordinary examples of the genre painted anywhere in the world (example above). Institutions like the V&A have extensive collections, as do many private collectors. The new ban will make it impossible to collect these, and will render private collections practically worthless overnight. 

Now I would agree that this is one of those 'first world problems' people like to point out on social media. But what's interesting about the government's proposed new ban is just how illogical it is. For example, there will be exemptions for:

  • Musical instruments
  • Items with only a 'de minimis' amount of ivory
  • Items of 'genuine artistic, cultural or historic value'.
  • And the 'continued sale of ivory to museums.'

Not much of this makes any sense, if you are into portrait miniatures. First, the exemption for musical instruments is not (though this surely cannot be the case) explicitly restricted to antique musical instruments. Second, the 'de minimis' exemption as suggested could not apply to portrait miniatures, since by proportion they consist of well over 90% ivory. Third, the exemption for 'cultural value' would be (says the DEFRA document) 'strictly defined to ensure that only the rarest and most important items are exempted.' If that is the case, then that by definition excludes the majority of portrait miniatures (and who will decide 'rarity' - a new government committee?). Finally, the exemption for museum sales is the most illogical of all. Here's the text from that part of the DEFRA document:

While we are clear that our proposed ban would not impact the display of items by museums, or prevent museum-to-museum loans, we recognise that there may be some cases where museums may want to sell or exchange items containing ivory to/with other museums. We also recognise that there may be some items owned by private individuals that are of such importance they may be valuable to museums. As such we could continue to allow sales between, or to, museums under the proposed ban.

Why should museums be allowed to buy, say, a portrait miniature by John Smart, but not you or I? What makes it ok for a museum to want something, but not the public? And can you imagine what a privately owned John Smart miniature will now be worth after the ban? A private owner may well be 'allowed' to sell it to a museum, but why would they? With only one or two institutions in the whole country likely to be interested in collecting such a work, and private buyers unable to buy it, such a miniature will be worth peanuts.  

'Frieze 2017'

October 9 2017

Video: Vernisaage TV

It's been Frieze week in London. Above, Vernissage TV shows us what we have (or have not) been missing. 

'Monarch of the Glen' on tour (ctd.)

October 9 2017

Video: National Gallery of Scotland

There's much excitement up here in Scotland about a nationwide tour of Ladnseer's 'Monarch of the Glen', which was recently acquired by the National Gallery of Scotland. Inevitably, the first stop on the tour (Inverness) sees the picture hung beside a 'contemporary response' (below). A far more interesting 'response' to the picture is I think explained in the video above by Sir Peter Blake, who made a copy of the picture for Sir Paul Macartney.

More on the tour locations here.

$78m Bacon fails to sell

October 9 2017

Video: Christie's

Does this mean anything? A Francis Bacon 'Pope' painting failed to sell at Christie's contemporary and modern evening sale in London last week. The picture had been hailed as a discovery when unveiled to the press last month, having not been exhibited for 45 years. The catalogue carried the mystical 'estimate on request', but in The Guardian, Christie's boss Jussi Pylkkänen said:

“We’re talking about £60m,” says Pylkkänen. That’s actually quite a bit less than Bacon’s record of £89.3m for Three Studies of Lucian Freud, so the estimate may be exceeded if bidders get excited enough by the painting’s intense combination of aesthetic and human drama.

“It’s got all the elements that collectors are looking for,” says Pylkkänen.

Still, as Artnet News says, the sale was 'Christie’s second highest total for a contemporary art sale in Europe, and the highest ever for Frieze Week.' A Hirst at £1.2m - £1.8m failed to sell. A Basquiat 'Red Skull' made £16.5m. A Doig made £15m. An excellent Auerbach painting after Rubens' 'Samson & Delilah' made £3.7m against an estimate of £1.8m-£2.5m. 

Incidentally, here's a piece in the FT on whether you should buy art as an investment, quoting yours truly saying 'nope'.

Hockney - rubbish!

October 9 2017

Image of Hockney - rubbish!


The co-curator of Tate's recent Hockney exhibition has said that while the artist is a great draughtsman, he's not all that when it comes to painting. Speaking in The Times Chris Stephens says:

“I don’t think he’s a terribly highly skilled craftsman when it comes to paint,” said Chris Stephens, co-curator of David Hockney, which became the second most successful show in Tate history after Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs.

“He’s one of the most brilliant draughtsmen of all time, but the painting is less accomplished.”

Mr Stephens, who was lead curator of modern British art and head of displays at Tate Britain, added that Hockney was “brilliant at capturing people’s psychological aspect, their psychological demeanour”.

Shrewdly, Stephens has waited till after the Tate show is finished to say all this. In Britain, we call this kind of thing a 'Gerald Ratner' moment.

More here and here

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

October 5 2017

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

Picture: Tate

Further to my post on excessive reproduction fees charged by UK museums, here's some more image fee daftness. Tate will even charge academics to use an image in a lecture. For one free lecture, given by an academic, the fee is £20 (see above). If you want to give the same lecture more than once, it doubles to £40 (but that fee only buys you one year's use). If you were giving a lecture for which people paid an entrace fee (but for which you might not be paid yourself), then the fee is £30 (or £80 if you give the lecture more than once).

All of which is excessive. A single lecture could end up costing hundreds of pounds to assemble. 

Defenders of the practice (well, the one that I've heard from) say, 'but Tate state in their Creative Commons licence that image use is free for academic lectures'. But not so fast. First, that only applies to lower resolution images, which is really quite limiting. Why can't we talk freely about the detail in paintings? And second, look at the restrictions:

Use it in a Non-Commercial (NC) context only. 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.

Not everyone who gives a lecture for educational benefit is an academic. I regularly give lectures (for which I am not paid) for things like the Art Fund, museum 'friends' groups, or other similar events to help raise money for good causes. Of course, people pay to buy tickets to my lectures, so these count as 'charged entry' in the eyes of Tate, and you'll have seen that Tate has no sympathy for charities. Tate may say they cut academics a break, but they give no concession to 'educators' in general. What mean spiritedness from a public institution.

I've also heard tales of how institutions like Tate are wilfully ignoring the realities of digital life. In the old days, an academic lecture was just something you gave to students physically, with a projector. Now of course they can be distributed and stored online. But again, not so fast. That's a publication nowadays, for which you must pay.

One person working to publish an academic book got in touch to give another case of museum intransigence on this issue:

I am currently working on a book for a UK University press who publish their academic books online under an open-access policy i.e. they publish them digitally online and offer them free of charge. I have been picture researching a jacket image for them for an academic text, and wanted to use a painting by an out-of-copyright artist which is in the National Martime Museum’s collection. Despite the fact that the book is not actually sold, and that the nature of the book means that in the absence of a crystal ball, I have no idea what the ‘print run’ might be i.e. how many people might download it (free of charge), I could not persuade them to acknowledge that the book was ‘academic’ - it didn’t fit their institution’s assertion that academic books can only be academic if there is a print run of ‘less than 1,000 copies’. They therefore quoted us their commercial rate of £350+VAT. Needless to say, we had to refuse.

Some of those defending museum's charging practice point out that if you ring up and ask nicely, they'll often let you use an image for free. But - again! - not so fast. Another absurdity I've heard about is museums saying they are unable to give discounts to small print runs or academic journals because of something called the Public Sector Information Directive. This 'PSI', say museums, means that publicly-funded institutions are not allowed to offer preferential rates to any clients and instead must apply standard rates to everyone. So don't bother asking for a discount. 

And in any case, just imagine how much museum staff time is wasted dealing with individual enquiries from academics wanting to give a lecture? The whole system is an absurd aste of everyone's time and money. Which brings me onto this 2016 Smithsonian report on opening access to museum images published in 2016. The report makes many points in favour of open access, not least brand awareness and saving staff time, but also cites this unarguable conclusion from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation:

A recent Andrew W. Mellon Foundation study, “Images of Works of Art in Museum Collections: The Experience of Open Access, a Study of 11 Museums,” found that among the museums studied, none that enforced copyright restrictions made any significant surplus or profit against their expenditures. It concluded, “real and perceived gains far outweigh the real and perceived losses for every museum in the study that has made a transition to an open access approach.”

It really is time to extend the principle of free museum entry into the digital sphere. 

Anne of Cleves panel discovered

October 5 2017

Image of Anne of Cleves panel discovered

Picture: Hever Castle

Slightly old news this, which I missed, but in March this year Hever Castle announced the acquisition of a new panel made for Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII's fourth queen. It was discovered by the historian Jonathan Foyle, and was an auction 'sleeper'. He wrote more about finding the piece here in the FT. 

Art history toilets (ctd.)

October 5 2017

Image of Art history toilets (ctd.)

Picture: Waldemar Januszczak

Here's one from the Great Waldemar, who's in the US making a new series on the art of America. 

'Restoring the Armada Portrait' (ctd.)

October 5 2017

Video: National Maritime Museum

The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich are restoring their 'Armada Portrait' of Elizabeth I, and are making a series of videos about it. Excellent. Above is a video on the dendrochronology of the panel, with leading expert in this field, Ian Tyers. More films here

New Rubens portrait exhibition

October 5 2017

Video: Grand Palais

I'll definitely be getting on a plane for this; a new exhibition on Rubens' royal portraits at the Musee du Luxembourg. Here's the blurb:

Rubens was, in all likelihood a little reluctantly, a prolific court portraitist. With portraits of Philippe IV, Louis XIII and Marie de’ Medici and other royal figures by the artist and some of his famous contemporaries (Pourbus, Champaigne, Velázquez, Van Dyck, etc.), the exhibition introduces visitors to the stately environment of 17th century Europe’s most illustrious courts.

It's open as of yesterday until the 14th January. Open daily till 7pm, and on Fridays till 10pm. UK museums keen on closing before 6pm take note!

More here.

Update - a reader writes:

And Italian museums used to be notorious for odd and restrictive opening hours; some still are; but others are on the wave of the future: the fabulous Museo del Opera del Duomo in Florence is open every day from 9:00 to 19:00 (closed only one Tuesday a month for necessary deep cleaning), and the Palazzo Strozzi’s exhibitions are open every day from 10:00 to 20:00 and on Thursdays to 23:00. 

'Britain's Lost Masterpieces' (ctd.)

October 4 2017

Video: BBC

The second episode is on tonight at 9pm on BC4. This week we're at Derby Museum, one of my favourite regional galleries in Britain. If you missed the first episode it's here on iPlayer.

Rubens' dodgy roof

October 3 2017

Image of Rubens' dodgy roof


New archival research by the Jordaens Van Dyck Panel Paintings Project has revealed that in 1615 Rubens was left disatisfied with his roofers. As he said in a legal complaint, they had not bonded the roof in the right way:

And he [Rubens] declarant had noticed that the above-mentioned joiners had put the above-mentioned covering without nailing it properly, so that he declarant had this same covering nailed again afterwards by the claimant, his slater, saying that the above-mentioned roof was not nailed as it should be, which he had also noticed and said that he would suffer ill effects from this work. And for the job to be well done he declarant has had this same covering remedied by the above-mentioned, his slater, for which this slater demanded no more than only that he declarant paid for the nails. 

It sounds like Rubens fell for a bit of a trick here.

Titian's 'Pesaro Madonna' restored

October 3 2017

Image of Titian's 'Pesaro Madonna' restored

Picture: via Maaike Dirkx

I learn via Maaike Dirkx on Twitter that Titian's Pesaro Madonna is back in situ in the Frari church in Venice, having been in conservation. When I was there last month they had a very tasteful full-sized photograph replica in its place. 

Dreweatts and Bloomsbury auctions sold

October 3 2017

Image of Dreweatts and Bloomsbury auctions sold

Picture: DNFA

Laura Chesters in The Antiques Trade Gazette reports that the on-off sale of Dreweatts & Bloomsbury auctioneers has gone ahead. This time the valuation firm Gurr Johns has acquired the company for £1.25m cash, with an additional fee of up to £.4m payable within the next two years. The existing chairman, George Bailey, will stay in post with his part of the current management team. Earlier this year another sale to another bidder (to include the antisues firm Mallett) was announced at £2.4m, but this fell through.

The vendor is the stamp firm, Stanley Gibbons. They went on an antique markt buying spree in 2013, and lost tens of millions of pounds. The sale of Dreweatts now gains them only a fraction of their initial outlay. For more on the history, see the ATG here

Like almost every regional auctioneer in the UK, the new Dreweatts will hope to capitalise on the closure of Christie's South Kensington saleroom. 

Constable restitution sought in Switzerland (ctd.)

October 3 2017

Image of Constable restitution sought in Switzerland (ctd.)

Picture: via AP

Last year I reported on the battle for the restitution of a painting by Constable from a Swiss museum, by the heirs of the Jewish collector from whom the painting was seized by the Nazis. The Swiss museum in La Chaux-de-Fonds agreed that the painting had been looted, but said that there was no legal mechanism to return the painting. Now, however, the museum has agreed to hand a Constable - 'Dedham from Langham', above - back to the heirs of Anna Jaffé. More here in The Times of Israel.

(Unless there's more than one Constable in the collection, it appears that my illustration last year was incorrect.)

Bowes museum show in London (ctd.)

October 3 2017

Image of Bowes museum show in London (ctd.)

Picture: Wallace Collection

What promises to be an exhibition of the year has just opened at the Wallace Collection in London. 'El Greco to Goya; Spanish Masterpiece from the Bowes Museum' runs until 7th January. The Guardian rates it highly and says that along with the big names:


One of the pleasures of the exhibition is the work by less well-known Spanish artists. Aside from the sensuous Immaculate Conception by Antolínez, with its Virgin reminiscent of a Venus rising from the waves, there is an intriguing full-length painting of St Eustochium by Juan de Valdés Leal (1622-1690), which once hung in a Hieronymite monastery in Seville. St Eustochium, daughter of a Roman senator, was a learned figure of the fourth century who read Latin, Greek and Hebrew, and assisted St Jerome in his translation of the Bible into Latin. St Jerome himself – a favourite subject for religious painters, with his friendly lion and his hermit’s cave – is here for once relegated to a little scene in the background and St Eustochium (scholar, housekeeper and nun) made the star. There’s also Antonio de Pereda’s Tobias Restoring His Father’s Sight, illustrating an episode from the apocryphal Book of Tobit. Tobias, according to the instructions of the angel in the foreground looking directly at us, beckoning us into the picture, is treating his father’s blinded eyes with the gall of the fish that lies on the ground, gutted. It’s a particularly splendid fish, since De Pereda, barely known in this country, was a particularly splendid painter of still lifes.

The show is free! More here

Restoring a William Kent chair

October 3 2017

Video: Wallace Collection

Here's a great video from the Wallace Collection, showing how they've restored a William Kent chair in its collection. We also learn that they raised the funds necessary to restore the chair by putting it on public display in its somewhat dilapidated state, and asking the public to chip in. And they did, to the tune of £7k - excellent.

This is a wonderful demonstration of modern museum management. A fascinating project, worthy of doing itself, but made even more interesting (and free!) by publicising it with a simple but highly watchable video. Bravo to all involved!

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