Previous Posts: March 2018

Slovak National Gallery makes 9,000 images free

March 21 2018

Image of Slovak National Gallery makes 9,000 images free

Picture: Slovak National Gallery, via Europeana

The Slovak National Gallery has put its collection online, in high-resolution, for anyone to use gratis. Wonderful. You can browse the Old Master collection here. And high-res photos are also available here on the Europeana site. Above is a self-portrait attributed to Jan Kupecky. Good, isn't it?

New identity for early Van Dyck

March 21 2018

Image of New identity for early Van Dyck

Picture: KHM

One of Van Dyck's best known early portraits has been identified as the artist, Pieter Soutman. The identity was cracked after some superb research by Justin Davies, the co-founder of the Jordaens Van Dyck Panel Paintings Project. More here

Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

March 21 2018

The scandal of the allegedly fake Russian Avant-Garde pictures displayed in the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent has taken another turn, with the Belgian police now getting involved. The museum director who staged the show has also been suspended. More here


March 21 2018

Image of Apologies...

Picture: Tern TV

Sorry for yet another quiet time - I've been on a marathon filming trip in Italy; Parma, Venice, Genoa, Florence, and many other places in between. It rained the whole time, except in Venice, when it was just arctic. Will this cold weather ever end?

National Gallery of Parma

March 18 2018

Image of National Gallery of Parma

Pictures: BG

I'm in Parma - what a beautiful city. We've come from Genoa, which by contrast is grim and brutal, though of course full of its own fascinations. I've never before come out of a major museum and immediately been propositioned by prostitutes, but in Genoa it seems anything goes. Parma by contrast is a city of complete civility, almost Swiss in its cleanliness and efficiency.

And of course there are many artistic treasures to see too. We went first to the National Gallery here, with its famous Leonardo sketch. In reproduction this has always struck me as rather odd, but in the flesh it's as exquisite as you would expect a Leonardo head study to be. 

I was dazzled by Cima's c.1507 Madonna and Child with St John (etc.), which in its details seems strikingly modern. 

7600 Munch images free to use

March 16 2018

Image of 7600 Munch images free to use

Picture: Munch Museum

More good image fee news (though of course, not from the UK) as Oslo's Munch Museum releases 7600 Munch images into the public domain. More here

Museum image fees (ctd.)

March 16 2018

Image of Museum image fees (ctd.)

Picture: Delacroix

I can't remember if I mentioned this already, but a few weeks ago we had a meeting with the new Arts Minister, Michael Ellis MP, to discuss museum reproduction fees. It was a good meeting, and we left feeling encouraged. One of the things we asked for was for the Intellectual Property Office to investigate whether museums can actually claim copyright in photos of out-of-copyright artworks (we claim they cannot). We suspected our representations would be too late to have any impact on the DCMS' latest 'digital culture' report. But I'm glad to note that there is (on page 40) mention not only of the IPO getting involved, but also that:

There is a need [for institutions] to maintain a balance between protection and remuneration of rights on the one hand and digital innovation and audience access on the other hand. 

In other words, the government's position is not that things like image fees should be used entirely to maximise revenue, which is what many have previously suggested.

'Western Civilisation'

March 16 2018

Image of 'Western Civilisation'

Picture: Via Spike 

My further apologies for the lack of news lately. I'm on the road in Italy for 'Britain's Lost Masterpieces'. The series' director, Spike Geilinger, and I are both mega-fans of the original Civilisation series with Kenneth Clark, and on our long drives between locations we often discuss our favourite scenes. Lately we've been comparing it to the new series, Civilisations, which you can watch on the BBC iPlayer here. Now that the new series has been launched, much is often made of the fact that Clark only looked at Western art and culture, and he's sometimes criticised for ignoring the rest of the world. But as Spike shows us with the above photo of an early clapper board from Civlisation (from a book written by the series' cinematographer, Arthur Englander), the series was originally called 'Western Civilisation'. Because someone decided to drop the 'Western', Clark has been getting it in the neck ever since.

Does good conservation mask bad pictures?

March 16 2018

Image of Does good conservation mask bad pictures?

Picture: NG

In The Art Newspaper, Ben Luke looks into the complex question of condition, and whether good restoration can ever wrongly mask a picture's bad condition. One picture examined is Holbein's Ambassadors:

In 1890, just as the museum acquired The Ambassadors, The Times acclaimed the “faultless” condition of Holbein’s masterpiece, save for “old and perished varnish”. How wrong it was. The conservator Martin Wyld’s detailed record of its 1998 restoration explains its many troubles: as well as the varnish, that gorgeous green curtain we see today was covered in black overpaint; planks forming the support were warped by water damage; and the gaps between them were “filled with cement”. An image of the work after cleaning and before retouching is an alarming sight, especially with extensive losses around the famous anamorphic skull. But retouching has made the picture look better than at any time probably since Holbein first put down his brush.

'Diary of an Art Historian' ctd.

March 16 2018

Image of 'Diary of an Art Historian' ctd.

Picture: NG

My February Art Newspaper diary column has gone online here. I write about going round the Royal Academy's new Charles I show, and the curiously secret way in which the National Gallery runs its commercial operations.

My March column will be in the print edition shortly. 

Le Nain discovery in France

March 16 2018

Image of Le Nain discovery in France

Picture: Turquin

Specialists at Turquin in France have announced their discovery of a previously unknown painting by the Le Nain brothers. They're just not sure which brother (there were three), such is the confusion about which brother painted what. More here


March 10 2018

Image of Apologies...

Picture: BG

Sorry (again!) for the poor posting lately. I've been on a Britain's Lost Masterpieces roadtrip in Germany and Holland. And now I'm in Bruges, where on Monday I will be giving a talk at the annual Codart conference, a great privilege. Happily, the Deputy Director is here, and this morning we went to the Groeninge Museum. She was keen to know what was happening in Gerard David's Judgement of Cambyses, which, since it involved a man being flayed alive, was a tricky one to answer.

Rubens' country house for sale

March 5 2018

Image of Rubens' country house for sale

Picture: Engel & Voelkers

Rubens' country estate, Het Steen, is for sale - yours for €4m. Rubens lived there from 1635 until his death in 1640. It comes with about 20 acres. Just imagine!

The particulars are here. Rubens' own view of the castle is in the National Gallery, here.

I may be buying a Euro Millions ticket for the next few weeks.

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

March 5 2018

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

Picture: Philadelphia Museum of Art, head study by Van Dyck

More international museums are releasing their images into the public domain, meaning we can all use them gratis for any purpose. Well done the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Newberry in Chicago.

Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

March 5 2018

Audio: The Art Newspaper

This TAN podcast has a good overview of the strange situation at the Museum of Fine Art in Ghent, where an exhibition of allegedly fake Russian Avant-Garde art had to be hurriedly taken off display. The latest news is that a committee of experts brought in to investigate the authenticity of the paintings disbanded on its first day, after obstructions were put in its place. 

Jan Steen's hair

March 5 2018

Video: Mauritshuis

When conservators at the Mauritshuis restored a painting by Jan Steen, they found what was most likely one of the artist's hairs embedded in the paint layers. And of course many other interesting things. 

35% fall in visitors at the NPG

March 5 2018

Image of 35% fall in visitors at the NPG

Picture: NPG

In The Art Newspaper, Martin Bailey looks at the precipitous fall in visitor numbers at both the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery in London. The latter has really suffered:

The National Gallery had 6.3 million visitors in 2016, but this fell to 5.2 million last year, a drop of 17%. The NPG did much worse, with numbers decreasing from 1.9 million to 1.3 million—a fall of 35%. The data for May to December 2017, as reported in the Times newspaper, presented an even more dismal picture, with a decline for the NPG of 42%.

What is the problem here? It would seem, if both the NG and NPG are suffering, that there may be an issue with the location. Not with where they are sited, but with the chaotic mess of Trafalgar Square, with its aggressive Yoda buskers, and the like. The effect of these is to make the National Gallery, with its already somewhat imposing edifice, a less friendly place to enter. The NPG should suffer less from this effect, since its entrance is away from the noise of the Square, but it's clearly having an impact.

That said, I'm afraid the problem at the National Portrait Gallery goes deeper than its entrance. Now, portraiture can be a hard sell - I know this from having spent over a decade actually selling portraits, in my former life as a dealer. Portraits are often seen as arts' poor relation, less noble than landscapes, religous art, or history paintings. The NPG always used to be quietly mindful of this, and counteracted it by playing to portraiture's strengths - its ability, usually through sitters, to be a vehicle for telling great biographical stories. 

For some, however, this kind of individual-focused approach to art, which in the context of a national portrait gallery is also necessarily in danger of being nationalistic, is off-putting. And in its current exhibition programme, and indeed general day-to-day tenor, I get the feeling that the NPG is afraid of its own shadow. If the NPG wants to get people to come back and visit, it needs to celebrate its own collection again, and be proud of what it stands for. Trying to be an extension of Tate Modern won't work.

PS - Of course, all of this comes on top of the bizarre decision to close for a day.

PPS - I say all this with great regret, for the NPG is my favourite gallery - it's more or less responsible for much of my career.

A museum collecting crisis?

March 5 2018

I wrote a piece for the FT, looking at whether there is a 'collecting crisis' in museums. It was partly in response to the Art Fund report published recently called 'Why Collect?' I also asked whether museums should borrow more, if funds to actually buy things are tight - but might recent scandals such as the exhibition full of questioned Modigliani's in Italy make museums more cautious? 

AHN warmly encourages you to click here

New Old Master dealers

March 5 2018

COLNAGHI - TEFAF 2017 from Colnaghi on Vimeo.

Video: Tefaf, Colnaghi's 2017 stand

In the FT, Gareth Harris discusses the next generation of Old Master dealers, the shining stars of whom are the new owners of Colnaghi,Jorge Coll and Nicolás Cortés:

Coll and Cortés made their names selling Spanish Golden Age sculpture and painting to an audience inspired by the groundbreaking National Gallery 2009-10 exhibition The Sacred Made Real. They understood the appeal to a contemporary audience of the strong images of Ribera, Zurburán and El Greco, and recognised that for younger collectors familiar with prices in the contemporary art market, these works looked remarkably good value.

Since taking over Colnaghi and expanding their repertoire they have continued, in Coll’s words, “to try to open the eyes of collectors”. They host events, including “The Price Is Right” dinners during Old Master sales, to demystify the market. Their Tefaf Maastricht stand is dramatically lit — “after all, many of these works were made for churches” — and last year sculptures were hung by fishing wire as if flying. Coll believes that, “It is the role of the dealer to create a completely different value from the auctions — through research, publication, new discoveries.”

But as well as appealing to the confirmed collector, Coll, who is on the board of trustees at Tefaf, is determined also to create a new generation of gallery-goers. He has set up the not-for-profit Colnaghi Foundation, to which the gallery has donated the entire Colnaghi archive. The Foundation publishes new scholarship and has also announced a series of masterclasses, in collaboration with the Wallace Collection, which were advertised by a video starring an ingénue in a pink mackintosh. They will be attended by a group of young paying individuals, drawn from an international short list of applications, but will also then be available to watch on their website.

“We want to create art lovers: whoever loves art will not be able to stop themselves collecting,” says Coll. “And loving art is about knowledge. It is not cash and carry. You have to make a journey.”

The Mona Lisa on tour?

March 5 2018

Image of The Mona Lisa on tour?

Picture: Louvre

Zut alors! The French Culture Minister has floated the idea of sending the Mona Lisa on a tour of France. More here

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