Previous Posts: April 2018

'Civilisations - The Vital Spark'

April 26 2018

Video: BBC

The final episode of Civilisations is on BBC2 tonight at 9pm; well worth a watch, a powerful conclusion to an excellent series.

Sotheby's $150m Modigliani

April 26 2018

Video: Sotheby's

Here's the launch video for Nu Couché by Modigliani, which will be offered by Sotheby's in their May 14th New York Impressionist and Modern Art sale. At $150m, it's the highest estimated artwork at auction in history. The picture has been guaranteed, so will certainly sell on the night. But the real question is, will it take off, and make another mega price, like that seen for Leonardo's Salvator Mundi? I suspect so. 

The video above is fascinating for what it says about the art market these days; the picture was launched in Hong Kong, and introduced by bothEnglish and Chinese speaking specialists. The money for art these days comes as much - if not mostly - from Asia. But what's so fascinating, and in many ways unexpected, is that Asian collectors are focused as much on Western art as on Asian art. And while much of the focus has been on modern and contemporary work, there's also no doubt (though it is less reported) that Asian collectors are interested in 'old' Western art too. In its scale and potential it's similar to the US buying rush for European 18th Century art in the early 20th Century. 

All of this is great from dealers' and auctioneers' point of view. But it should also be good news for educators and museums. I don't see, unfortunately, many signs yet that museums in Europe have recognised the potential growth in their audience, both online and in person, from Asian visitors. British museums, in particular, are hopeless at offering more than one language option for online visitors. If we're to build on Asian interest for Western art, and embrace the possibilities in turn that can come from increasing our understanding of Eastern art, we need to follow the likes of Sotheby's in making our art more accessible to Asian audiences. Will museums follow where the market leads? 

New acquisitions at the National Gallery

April 25 2018

Image of New acquisitions at the National Gallery

Picture: National Gallery

The National Gallery in London has acquired two new pictures, a still-life by Juan de Zurburan (the first work by him in their collection) and an early outdoors scene, 'Wineglasses', by John Singer Sargent. The Sargent was allocated to the Gallery under the UK government's Acceptance in Lieu scheme, and so represents a wholly taxpayer funded acquisition. Here's the NG press release. 

My enthusiasm for bringing this news to you (and showing only the small thumbnail image above) is because of the ridiculous terms and conditions the Gallery asks people like me to sign up to, before downloading higher resolution image from the NG press site. A sample of these terms are:

The Board of Trustees of the National Gallery or the Lender owns the copyright in all Images. Reproduction of any kind (analogue or digital) is strictly forbidden except by the User in connection with the exhibition specified by the National Gallery Press Office.

If, like most legal opinion in this area, you believe that there is in fact no copyright in faithful reproductions of out of copyright artworks, then the National Gallery here is engaged in copyfraud.

Two more clauses:

The User acknowledges that digital images are the subject of copyright protection and hereby assigns to the National Gallery any copyright and similar rights throughout the world created by or for the User in the Images for the full term of such copyright and similar rights including extensions and renewals.

Duplication, storage or transmission in any form (analogue or digital) of any Image is strictly forbidden unless by separate written permission except where such is incidentally and wholly necessary to the reproduction process. At the conclusion of such reproduction all intermediate copies of the Image must be destroyed.

I don't agree to any of this, obviously.

And, most odiously of all:

14. Indemnification

The User agrees to indemnify the Image copyright holder (see 7) in respect of any claims or damages or any loss or costs arising in any manner from the reproduction of Images unless granted under the terms of these Terms and Conditions.

What a waste of everyone's time and money - all to protect the National Gallery's non-existent income from selling image licences. 

I'm reproducing the above photo anyway, because it was sent to me in an email from the National Gallery, soliciting me to publish it. 

'Heni Talks'

April 25 2018

Jacky Klein - Cézanne: The Father of Modern Art from HENI Talks on Vimeo.

Video: Heni

The publisher Heni has launched a new series of short educational videos on art and artists, called Heni Talks. The model is TED talks, but focused more on art history. Full list of the first 25 or so videos on Vimeo here, including Jacky Klein on Cezanne above, and Prof. Martin Kemp on the Mona Lisa. 

Update - just seen that Heni's privacy settings don't allow me to embed any of their films. Which is not what TED does.

Update II - I've been told of the reason I can't embed and share the videos with you; image copyright and licensing of course! How daft of institutions participating in this admirable project, which only wants to help spread the word about museums' collections, to then limit Heni's ability to do so on the basis of a false assertion of copyright. Another instance of museums shooting themselves in the foot.

Update III - the settings have been changed, just for you AHNers! A senior figure from the project writes:

We are learning all the time about the minefield of copyright and I believe this is one of the reasons why more art history films aren’t being created for online audiences. Many people are scared off even trying to make sense of it.

'The Last Van Vianen'

April 24 2018

Image of 'The Last Van Vianen'

Picture: Christie's

A Dutch silver ewer by Adam van Vianen, thought to be the last example of his work in private hands, has been sold at Christie's in New York for $5.3m. More photos and the catalogue note here

Prince Albert Papers to go online

April 24 2018

Image of Prince Albert Papers to go online

Picture: Royal Collection

Did you know that Prince Albert was a keen art historian, and was especially devoted to the study of Raphael? A new Royal Collection project will digitise and make available his papers, including his collection of over 5000 prints and photographs of works after Raphael. The project will take two years to complete. More here

Image fees - your stories

April 24 2018

Image of Image fees - your stories

Picture: Louvre

One of the things that has spurred us on to campaign for the abolition of museum image reproduction fees here in the UK is individual stories from art historians. They're probably more powerful than any arguments I and my colleagues make, so I'm going to start publishing more of them here on AHN. So if you've had to pay an outrageous fee for images, or have had work rendered unpublishable because of fees, please get in touch.

Here's one story from a recent Cambridge University PhD graduate:

"I've been told that my thesis (which is essentially a visual dictionary of men's fashionable dress in the restoration period, including the many variations of each garment and numerous details in close-up) deserves to be published, but the the copyright fees demanded by many of the museums involved - let alone individual owners - will be considerable if all the illustrations are included - and omitting them rather defeats the whole purpose of providing scholars with an easily accessible work of reference.  

Quite apart from inhibiting general publication, whether in print or online, potential liability for such fees also resulted in my greatly delayed graduation. Without consulting anyone, the powers that be in this great university suddenly imposed a requirement that all theses should be presented not only in the standard printed and bound form, but also in a digital version. While a fair usage provision allows the traditional printed thesis to be lodged in the University Library without liability for copyright fees, this provision does not apply if the material is produced in another medium, which then counts as publication, and complying with the new regulation would have put me at risk of being sued under copyright legislation [...]. This was a risk I was not prepared to take, but persuading the University to back down was a long and extremely stressful process. I might also add that the very idea that owners of paintings produced several hundred years ago still have copyright in that material is questionable to say the least. Altogether the whole subject is a minefield which desperately needs to be addressed."

No other academic discipline faces this problem. 

Sir Nicholas Penny on visitor numbers

April 23 2018

Image of Sir Nicholas Penny on visitor numbers

Picture: Apollo

There's an interesting piece in Apollo on visitor numbers; are they good or bad? Sir Nicholas Penny, the former director of the National Gallery in London seems to be no great fan of them, but accepts that they're necessary. He makes many good points, including:

Even if attendance figures were not presented as a league table, comparisons between different institutions would be inevitable. Trustees and directors are gripped by the vivid and simplified drama of the contest. They find it difficult not to see their institution in a competition with the others, as if it were a football club. It becomes surprisingly hard to recognise that there should be nothing worrying about the number of visitors to a different institution edging ahead because, for example, it has mounted an exhibition of the work of David Hockney.

Picasso - the Box Set

April 23 2018

Video: National Geographic

Here's a curious bit of casting - Antonia Banderas will star as Picasso in a new biopic on National Geographic, starting this week. 

'Rubens, Painter of Sketches'

April 23 2018

Video: Museo del Prado

This looks good - an exhibition at the Prado on Rubens' oil sketches. The show contains 73 works by Rubens, and runs until 5th August. More here

New versus Old (ctd.)

April 23 2018

Video: KHM

I wrote recently about the trend to exhibit contemporary artworks among Old Masters, both on AHN and in The Art Newspaper. In The New York Times, Nina Siegal looks at two more instances of this phenomenon, in the Frans Hals museums in Haarlem, and in the Kunsthistorisches Museum. The latter is perhaps the most high-profile demonstration of what is called in curatorial circles 'trans-historical display'. It's an ugly term for an ugly practice. 

The Frans Hals museum is trying trans-historicalism in a misguided attempt to make Old Masters 'fashionable'. But really it signals nothing more than a lack of ability to present Old Masters to new audiences on their own merits. It just makes the museum look as if it doesn't value its Old Masters, and doesn't know what to do with them. As I've written before, it's like going into a restaurant, seeing the menu, and then being told by the waiter that actually everything's pretty rubbish; you'd soon get up and leave.

The Kunsthistorisches Museum at least has put contemporary and modern works in its famous galleries as part of a structured exhibition, called 'The Shape of Time' (as previewed in the video above). Some of the pairings of new and old art actually make good sense, and are built around tangible relationships between the exhibits, such as hanging a Manet beside his hero Velasquez. I also like the pairing of works that have been specifically commissioned for the show, such as the painting by Kerry James Marshall made in response to, and hanging beside, a work by Tintoretto. Others are, as the show's curator Jasper Sharp says, 'more intuitive', which sounds as vague as it looks; a Rothko hung next to a Rembrandt seems to be simply random, although I can't help but celebrate the way in which Rembrandt effortlessly crushes the Rothko beside him. 

When the KHM put the above photo on its Instagram page, Jaspaer Sharp said; “Half them were saying ‘this is absolutely abysmal." What do you think?

Museum image fees (ctd.)

April 19 2018

Image of Museum image fees (ctd.)

Picture: Bridgeman

Terrible news - Bridgeman has signed a deal with the Italian government giving it the exclusive right to sell and licence images for 439 Italian museums, including all the major ones like the Uffizi, the Brera and so on. As demonstrated above, Italy's masterpieces are now to be seen only as 'assets', to be ruthlessly exploited by a commercial organisation. Says the Bridgeman press release:

We are excited to announce that we have signed an agreement with the Ministero dei beni delle attività culturali e del turismo (MiBACT), allowing us to acquire and license images from 439 Italian museums and cultural sites belonging to MiBACT.

MiBACT includes some of the world’s most prestigious Italian museums including the Uffizi, Pinacoteca di Brera, Cenacolo Vinciano, Pantheon, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, and Pompei.

Bridgeman is grateful to MiBACT for this agreement, which is the first of its kind and presents an amazing opportunity for the museums and Bridgeman to be able to distribute and license these remarkable images worldwide. We are working with each institution to add content and images that will be available for all editorial and some non-editorial uses.

Bridgeman is proud to be able to provide additional income for these important institutions and to enable investment in the protection and enhancement of their cultural heritage.

I like the contradiction in terms at the end of the press release - in a digital age, how does limiting the dissemination of images 'enhance' Italy's cultural heritage? Doubtless the Italian government has thought about the bottom line, and is excited about the prospect of 'additional income'. But at what cost? By effectively making inaccessible Italy's masterpieces to scholars, school kids, and the public alike?

To publish an image of Botticelli's Venus in a low print run (less than 2,500 copies) 'educational publication' will cost you £158. 

A grim day for art history.

Turner's 'Walton Bridges' to be sold at Sotheby's

April 15 2018

Image of Turner's 'Walton Bridges' to be sold at Sotheby's

Picture: Arts Council

Sotheby's has another major Turner to offer in the July sales in London, according to the Arts Council's 'Notification of Intention to Sell' pages. This means the painting, 'Walton Bridges', is conditionally exempt from capital taxes, and so UK institutions get a heads up to see if they'd like to acquire the work, with the relevation tax advantages. The guide price is listed as £6m. 

Job Opportunities!

April 15 2018

Image of Job Opportunities!

Picture: Scottish National Galleries

The National Gallery is looking for a Curatorial Fellow in Spanish Paintings. The salary is £26k-£32k. Closing date 25th April. More here.

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery is looking for a new curator, with a salary of £22k-£24k. For that, you'll need at least a degree, and preferably a masters, as well as specialist knowledge in the field, and some museum experience. It's yet another example of low curatorial pay in the UK. The job specification for the SNPG post comes complete with a 'Department Structure' diagram (above), which reveals that there are a lot of chiefs, and not many actual curators. There are in fact two chief curators, which is somewhat confusing, and above the existing director of the SNPG itself is another director, a newly appointed 'Director of Collections'. He in turn of course sits below the overall director of the Scottish National Galleries, Sir John Leighton. Perhaps there would be more money to pay the actual curators if the management of the Scottish National Galleries wasn't so top heavy. (More on the management stramash in Edinburgh here.) 

Update - a reader writes:

We pay our clearner more per hour than the SNPG pays its curators.

New Met Director

April 15 2018

Image of New Met Director

Picture: Guardian

Congratulations to Max Hollein on becoming the new director of the Metropolitan Museum in New York. More here, and disquet here that a female director was not chosen (all ten Met directors have been white men to date).

Re-creating lost masterpieces

April 15 2018

Image of Re-creating lost masterpieces

Picture: Guardian

There's a new series on Sky Arts in which those clever 3D art printers Factum Arte re-create various lost masterpieces, including works by Caravaggio, Monet and Van Gogh. More here in the Guardian, and a trailer here

'Diary of an Art Historian'

April 15 2018

Image of 'Diary of an Art Historian'

Picture: TAN

My latest Art Newspaper column is online here

Waldemar on American Art

April 15 2018

Image of Waldemar on American Art

Picture: Waldemar

The Great Waldemar has announced on Twitter that his new series on American Art will be shown on the BBC in May. Looking forward to it.

Stolen in France...

April 15 2018

Image of Stolen in France...

Picture: Telegraph

...a reliquary containing the heart of Anne of Brittany (1477-1514), from the Thomas-Dobrée museum in the western French city of Nantes during the weekend. More here.

'Monet & Architecture'

April 14 2018

Video: National Gallery

The National Gallery have made one of those whizzy art animation videos for their new Monet & Architecture exhibition. 

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