Previous Posts: May 2018

Thomas Baker of Leamington

May 8 2018

Image of Thomas Baker of Leamington

Picture: Robert Mulraine

Here's a wonderful development in the world of digital art history; Robert Mulraine has created an online database of the works of the British artist, Thomas Baker. Baker is not exactly a household name, but was a talented landscape artist of the early-mid 19th Century, and also a scrupulous diarist. He made a detailed record, usually with a thumbnail sketch, of every work he made, which has allowed Robert Mulraine to track down his works all over the world.

The latest example of a lost Baker re-discovered, as discussed on the blog of Robert's son, James Innes-Mulraine, was identified in a sale in the south of France, misattributed to Thomas Barker. By comparing it to Baker's diaries, Robert and James were able to confirm their connoisseurial hunch.

Art history trunks

May 8 2018

Image of Art history trunks

Picture: Sanfederico

Fancy hitting the beach in a pair of Michelangelos? Then click this way; but they're retailing for $142 - ouch. I'll stick to my poundland Speedos. Also in the range are trunks featuring Picasso's Guernica, Botticelli's Venus, and others. 

Update - Michelangelo is so on trend! Here's Ariana Grande wearing him at the Met Gala last night.

New home for Benin Bronzes?

May 4 2018

Video: BBC

Martin Bailey in The Art Newspaper reports on new developments in the battle over where to display the Benin bronzes, a series of bronze sculptures looted from Nigeria in the 19th Century. Many have ended up in the British Museum, and in the clip above from Civilisations, David Olusoga tells the story of how they got there.

The British Museum has always resisted attempts to reclaim items like the Bronzes (and most famously the Elgin Marbles). But now, news that a new museum is to be built in Benin has raised the possibility that many of the bronzes might be displayed there on long-term loan. And a new group of European and US museums which own many of the bronzes has been created to discuss a way forward, says Bailey:

The situation could soon change, thanks to an initiative by a group of European museums and Nigerian parties, known as the Benin Dialogue Group. It is now encouraging the return of some Benin objects to Nigeria on long-term loan.

The group comprises nine European museums, based in London, Cambridge, Oxford, Berlin, Dresden, Hamburg, Vienna and Stockholm, along with a consortium of four Dutch ethnographic museums. Berlin State Museums holds the most important Benin collection on the Continent, part of which will go on display at the Humboldt Forum when it opens in late 2019. (One of the Forum’s three founding directors is Neil MacGregor, the former director of the British Museum.) The UK institutions include the British Museum, Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum and Cambridge’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

A potentially transformative development was announced last month: a royal museum is to be built to modern standards in Benin City (see box). This would provide a building with the appropriate environmental and security standards to house international loans.

More here.

I do hope that the British Museum is soon able to send many, if not all, of the bronzes back to Nigeria. The 'long term loan' solution, recently put forward with vigour by the V&A's new director Tristram Hunt in relation to Ethiopia's Maqdala treasures, is a good way forward. Of course, the danger from an institution like the British Museum's point of view is that it could be a thin end of the wedge moment; if the BM took the same view as the V&A, there are some areas in which it soon wouldn't have much of a collection left.

'Old Masters, New Audiences'

May 4 2018

Bendor Grosvenor from CODART on Vimeo.

Video: Codart

Last month I was in Bruges, talking at the annual conference of Codart, the network of Dutch and Flemish art curators. I was invited to discuss how we can think about reaching new audiences for Old Master paintings. The conference talks are now online. Beware, the video above is me rambling on for about 40 minutes long, and not for the faint hearted. The other Codart presentations are here, including an excellent one from the Rijksmuseum's Jane Turner. 

Update - Some of you have noticed that I can't keep still when I do talks. I get too excited! I'm sorry if this induces motion sickness for some of you. 

Rubens' portrait of Clara Serena (ctd.)

May 4 2018

Image of Rubens' portrait of Clara Serena (ctd.)

Picture: Rubenshuis

I've recorded a short podcast on Rubens' portrait of Clara Serena for the Financial Times, here if you're interested. We discussed the Met's response to the reattribution of the picture, which I've said before wasn't exactly grown up. I think it's interesting to see how politics and egos can still colour the acceptance of attributions from the world's leading museums, to whom the public rightly look to for an impartial and authoritative view. Similar to the Met's response to the reattribution of the Clara Serena was the Louvre's refusal to comment on the news that a painting by Hals they tried to buy was later judged to be a fake. There's really no shame in being wrong, and making what at the time were understandable mistakes. As one of my heroes, Sir Nicholas Penny, says; 'the picture comes first'. Everything else should be irrelevant.

Charles I collection conference

May 4 2018

Video: Paul Mellon Centre

The conference papers from the conference on the Royal Academy's exhibition of Charles I's art collection have gone online. Above is Justin Davies of the Jordaens Van Dyck Panel Paintings Project. Others can be seen here

Everett Fahy (1941-2018)

May 2 2018

Image of Everett Fahy (1941-2018)

Picture: New York Times

Sad news that the former Met curator and director of the Frick, Everett Fahy, has died. The New York Times has an obituary here, albeit with an unfortunate misprint at the end, describing an early 16th Century Italian painting (which Fahy had concluded was by Michelangelo) as a work by Velasquez.

The article concludes with a quote art history would do well to remember:

“With attributions, it’s not the number of people who agree with you, it’s the quality of their judgments.”

Missing: a Bernini finger

May 1 2018

Image of Missing: a Bernini finger


Bernini's sculpture of St Bibiana, which belongs to the Church of St Bibiana in Rome, has lost a finger. Only, nobody knows quite where it was lost, or indeed where it is now. Speculation suggests it may have been in transit from the recent Bernini exhibition at the Galleria Borghese. More here

Major Raeburn portraits acquired for Scotland

May 1 2018

Image of Major Raeburn portraits acquired for Scotland

Picture: Scottish National Galleries

The Scotish National Galleries has acquired a pair of portraits by Henry Raeburn, through the UK government's Acceptance in Lieu scheme (meaning, effectively, that the acquisition has been funded entirely by the taxpayer. The portraits show William Stuart Forbes, elder son of Sir William Forbes of Pitsligo (1802–26) and John Stuart Hepburn Forbes, later 8th Baronet of Monymusk and of Fettercairn and Pitsligo (1804–66).  

It's not clear whether the portraits will be part of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery on Queen Street, or the National Gallery on the Mound. More here on the SNG press page.

Update - here's a photo of the pictures hanging at the National Gallery of Scotland on the Mound. Which is all the more puzzling, because in the press release, it was the Director of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Christopher Baker (seen in the photo), who gave the quotes and welcomed the paintings. Of course, thanks to the recent, misguided management changes at the Scottish National Galleries, there is no 'Director' of the National Gallery of Scotland any more. Christopher Baker is in charge of all things portrait, whether the paintings are part of the National Portrait Gallery, or the National Gallery. Confused? (Not as confused as the poor people who have to work there...)

Image fees (ctd).

May 1 2018

Image of Image fees (ctd).

Picture: Wellcome Collection, via ArtUK, 

Europeana has an interview with Tom Scott, head of digital engagement at the Wellcome Collection, on why the Wellcome chose to abolish image reproduction fees, and put their images (some 36 million of them) in the public domain:

[...] we wanted to make it as easy as possible for researchers and others to use and reuse the material and because we wanted to reach as many people as possible, not just on our own website but also elsewhere - on Europeana Collections, Wiki Commons, the Internet Archive and elsewhere.

This is the choice museums face: do they want their objects to be seen by as many people as possible, or do they want to control them, for the chance to make a tiny bit of income, if they're lucky? It's as simple as that.

Update - a reader writes, in response to my first choice of image (don't click if you're easily shocked, I just thought it was interesting to show the range of the Wellcome's collection, apologies for any offence caused):

With respect, as I read you every day and share your posts with others, I was disappointed that, of the 36 million images in the Wellcome archive, you selected that particular one to illustrate your post. It is a bit jarring to be scrolling through first thing in the morning and not be forewarned of what is about to appear. If the story headline was about erotic art, or an artist known for such output, I could understand the image's inclusion. However, neither your post nor the linked article in question is about that piece, or even mentions it. If seeing it and being shocked makes me easily offended, so be it, but I am likely not the only one of your many readers who will be so.

Update II - another reader adds:

Regarding the image from the Wellcome Trust collection.

Surely no more shocking to see over breakfast that many other old master images such as Judith with the head of Holofernes?

Another says:

It’s not often that you read a snowflake comment on AHN however this morning, without warning, I was confronted by the reader comment about your choice of image. It’s hardly a jarring image and fortunately most AHN readers are made of sterner stuff!

'Memory' at Boughton

May 1 2018

Image of 'Memory' at Boughton

Picture: Boughton House

Regular readers will know that I'm a fan of Boughton House in Northamptonshire, one of the homes of the Duke of Buccleuch. Not only is the house full of treasures, but it's immaculately preserved - you really could be going back into the early 18th Century. It's not often open to the public, but when it is they always put on a new and fascinating exhibition. Last year it was about the Huguenots and this year it's partly about the house during the Second World War, when it was requisitioned by the army. Part of its use was to house German prisoners of war (no wonder none of them tried to escape). A highlight of the exhibition will be a triptych (above) painted for the chapel by one of the - alas unnamed - German POWs. The exhibition runs during August, when the house and gardens are open. 

Fakes, fakes everywhere (ctd.)

May 1 2018

Image of Fakes, fakes everywhere (ctd.)

Picture: Ville Elne

The Musée Terrus in the South of France is dedicated to the French 19th Century artist Étienne Terrus, and has about 160 works by him. But sadly it appears that half the collection is fake, as many news outlets have reported. The fake works seem to have been bought over the last 20 years, which would suggest that there's an enterprising faker on the loose somewhere in the South of France. 

Restitution news (ctd.)

May 1 2018

Image of Restitution news (ctd.)

Picture: Guardian

Last year I mentioned the restitution of a painting by Ochtervelt, which had been identified in the collection of the City of London by Anne Weber, who runs the Commission for Looted Art in Europe. The family to whom the picture was returned have now decided to sell it, and it will feature in Sotheby's Old Master sale in London in July, with an estimate of £1.5m-£2.5m. More here

Re-discovered: Rubens' portrait of his daughter (ctd.)

May 1 2018

Image of Re-discovered: Rubens' portrait of his daughter (ctd.)

Picture: Christie's

Rubens' portrait sketch of his daughter, Clara Serena, is to be offered by Christie's in London this July, with an estimate of £3m-£5m. Regular readers will remember that the painting was deaccessioned by the Metropolitan Museum in New York in 2013 as a copy, with an estimate of $20k-$30k (it eventually sold for $626k). James Pickford in the FT has the story, but what struck me most was the rather silly response from the Met, who said:

“The attribution of the picture has been debated in the past and we believe it will continue to be debated. Given the strength of our holdings in this area, we stand by the decision to deaccession the work.”

This is a classic example of how politics and egos get in the way in art history. The grown up thing to do would be to admit that the Met made a mistake, and that the picture was now recognised - after cleaning and further research - as a Rubens. But instead, in an attempt to justify their mistake, they attempt to cast doubt on the attribution, and suggest bizarrely that they would have been happy to let a Rubens go for just $20k (the lower estimate). Have a look at their collections site yourself, and judge if the Met is bursting with Rubens head studies (it isn't).

Update - a number of people have wondered if I am the owner of this picture; alas not! Nor am I connected to it or the owners in any way. I hope readers will know that if it were mine, I wouldn't comment on it publicly without saying so. I have championed the picture only because I think it deserved to be championed. For what it's worth, it belongs to private collectors, whom I only met once by chance, long after the picture was authenticated as a Rubens. They just liked the painting, and took a punt on it. 

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