Previous Posts: April 2020

Five Hour Hermitage Tour

April 14 2020


Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

For those brave art-lovers out there, who are turning rather loopy staring at their four walls, then this video experience might be for you. Apple have published a rather epic five hour tour of the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia. They actually published the video before the lockdown begun, almost in anticipation of what was to follow. There are some rather nice shots of their masterpieces and galleries, including tonnes of Old Master Paintings.

Top tip - If like me you are rather sensitive to annoying soundtracks, mute the video and pick a playlist of your own choice (Scriabin is my pick, for the moment).


MET turns 150

April 14 2020

Image of MET turns 150

Picture: MET

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York turned 150 years old on Monday 13th April 2020. As part of their celebrations they are releasing sets of videos entitled Met Stories, focusing on various chapters of the museum's history.

As the museum is currently closed, the Museum are also asking its followers on Twitter to design some blooms for the flower niches in their Great Hall. The have provided a template here...

I know I know, these aren't strictly blooms, but here is my attempt of and Old Masters interpretation (using paintings from the Met's collection) mocked-up during my lunch break...

Hackers steal £2.4m payment for Constable

April 14 2020

Image of Hackers steal £2.4m payment for Constable

Picture: The Sunday Telegraph

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The Sunday Telegraph (paywall) have reported on hackers who tricked the Rijksmueum Twenthe into paying £2.4m into a fraudulent account for a Constable they had just bought from the London art dealer Simon Dickinson.

The Rijksmuseum Twenthe's claim against Dickinson was thrown out of the High Court London in January, however, it is yet to decide who should have ownership of the painting.

Update - A quote from the art dealer's Managing Director Emma Ward:

This unfortunate event highlights the dangers of cyber crime in the art world which is regrettable for both the Museum and Dickinson, especially when both are victims in this instance. Dickinson hopes that the case will result with an awareness of cyber threats and preventative precautions in the art community.


April 9 2020

Image of Thefts!

Picture: BBC

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The Arts Newspaper has published an worrying article about the increasing number of break-ins over the recent weeks. They have connected this to criminals who are using the current virus crisis as an opportunity to pillage galleries which are no longer adequately staffed and populated with visitors. 

The article quotes the loss-adjuster Philip Austin who placed further blame on;

…the furloughing of staff whilst operating a skeleton type of business. I can see the criminal fraternity thinking this is Christmas.

Bendor contributed an article in The Sunday Times last weekend on the theft of a Van Gogh from the Singer Laren Museum in the Netherlands. In addition, the recent robbery of several masterpieces from the Christ Church Picture Gallery in Oxford, including a superb Van Dyck (pictured), a Salvator Rosa and a Annibale Carracci, shows that Old Master Paintings are not immune to this worrying trend.

Many have been speculating on Twitter as to whether this particular job was ‘made to order’ by some Hollywood-inspired criminal mastermind with a penchant for Old Masters. Let’s hope these important pictures are eventually recovered, and that galleries do the best they can to keep vigilant.

Encouraging news for Old Master Paintings Sales

April 8 2020

Image of Encouraging news for Old Master Paintings Sales

Picture: Sotheby’s

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

Some very encouraging news to report from the Old Master Paintings auction world today. The London dealer Rafael Valls’s recent online sale with Sotheby’s brought in a total of £1,601,375 (inc. fees). This number was nearly four times the pre-sale estimate of £430,000, as Head of Department Andrew Fletcher reported via. his Instagram page.

Having a look through the results it seems that many paintings did extremely well against their estimates. The most impressive result, especially considering the current climate, was for a Portrait of a gentleman standing beside a framed portrait of a Lady – Italian Flemish School 17th century (pictured) which made £275,000 (inc. fees) against an estimate of £8,000 – £12,000.

Auctioning in collaborating with art dealers has always been something of a risky business, especially if they are generally perceived as a ‘stock sale’ by the trade (ie. pictures that dealers have not yet sold privately). I’ve personally never seen the shame in this at all, a good picture will always be a good picture. However, what auctions do provide is that all important factor of the urgency of time. Auction houses too can bring greater exposure than dealers can sometimes muster themselves. This is particularly the case online. Equally, in our age where the pool of finding good pictures is generally shrinking, finding attractive pictures for sale will always be of interest to the auction houses.


A message from the Deputy Editor

April 8 2020

Image of A message from the Deputy Editor

Picture: BG

Longstanding readers will know that the Deputy Editor (my daughter, Gabriella) plays a vital role in writing the blog. She would, like me, like to apologise for the lack of posts until recently, and points out that she has in fact been training to be a conservator. (So far, the signs are good.)

The Deputy Editor would also like to congratulate Adam on his appointment as Assistant Deputy Editor.

BBC Newsnight: Pandemic told through Art

April 8 2020


Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

BBC's Newsnight ran an interesting interview with the art historian and broadcaster James Fox last night. The subject was discussing art works that we turn to during such troubling times. Fox picked pictures by Barbara Hepworth, Andrew Wyeth and George Frederic Watts.

I've been thinking about which three consoling paintings I might have picked. Those in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries might have gone for a more melancholic Vanitas still life, which brings to mind the transcience of all worldly things. However, I'm not sure this would suit modern tastes, where death is pushed away as much as possible.

Maybe readers of AHN have some good suggestions?


The Royal Hospital 'Greate Peece'

April 7 2020


Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

In December last year, during this blog's hiatus, the Jordaens Van Dyck Panel Paintings Project (JVDPPP) uploaded a very interesting video detailing new research and visual analysis of a painting in the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

This picture was long believed to be 'an important copy' of Van Dyck's group portrait of Charles I and his family in the Royal Collection, more widely known as the 'Greate Peece'. However, questions have always remained, is it or is it not good enough to be by Van Dyck himself?

The lecture is delivered by the project's co-founder Justin Davies and researcher James Innes-Mulraine.

Mystery Painting acquired by Art Gallery in Toronto

April 7 2020

Image of Mystery Painting acquired by Art Gallery in Toronto

Picture: The Star 

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, Canada, are appealing to experts to find out more about one of the gallery's recent acquisitions.

The mid-eighteenth century painting entitled "Portrait of a Lady Holding an Orange Blossom" is believed to have been painted by a European trained artist living in some part of the globe. Currently, absolutely no information is known about who the sitter was or where it was painted.

As the AGO's assistant curator of European Art Adam Levine explains;

'Portrait of a Lady Holding an Orange Blossom' is an extremely rare work because few depictions of people of colour by European-trained artists from the 18th century have survived.

Given the scarcity of works that are like this painting, it really ecnourages us to cast a wide net with our research and talk to experts all around the world.

Update - Bendor here, adding my two pence worth;

When this picture came up for sale at auction, there was mention of traces of a signature, 'J Schul.. fec.' This was linked tenatively to names such as Johann Caspar Schulz (1735/50-1846), Joachim Christian Schulz (1721-1786), and Johann Christian Schulz (active circa 1750). I can't make any convincing matches to these names myself, and I wonder if J. S. C. Schaak (active 1759–1780) might be a name to consider. He's principally known for painting General Wolfe, on a small scale, but he did larger works, such as these and these

British Baroque: Power and Illusion

April 7 2020

Image of British Baroque: Power and Illusion

Picture: Tate via. The National Trust

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The Tate’s outstanding new exhibition British Baroque: Power and Illusion was one of the recent casualties of the corona virus lockdown. Although the show was due to run until 19th April 2020, it seems unlikely that it will reopen before any lockdown is lifted. This is an enormous shame, as all images I have seen of it make it appear like a true feast for the eyes. 

One of the most intriguing projects associated with the exhibition was the restoration the famous eight Petworth ‘Beauties’. These seven full length paintings by Michael Dahl, and one by Godfrey Kneller respectively, were reduced in size by the 3rd Earl of Egremont in the 1820s. The National Trust, who now care for the paintings, decided to embark on an ambitious programme for their restoration. Fortunately, the Courtauld Institute have shared a lecture recently given by Richard Ashbourne and Katya Belaia of the National Trust detailing this fascinating work.

If like me you didn’t get the chance to see the exhibition before the Tate shut its doors, then there is some consolation to be had. Due to the power of social media, the exhibition’s AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award researcher Amy Lim has been posting daily virtual tours of each room via her Twitter page. These also include behind the scenes images that you wouldn’t usually get to see. Well worth flicking through if you enjoy sumptuous baroque works of art as much as I do.

The Arts Society goes online

April 7 2020

Image of The Arts Society goes online

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The Guardian have reported today that The Arts Society have recently announced that they will be online streaming a series of free lectures and Q&As for the over-70s over the upcoming months. This is in response to the current virus crisis, which sensibly prevents the gatherings of large audiences in lecture halls during these troubling times.

This organisation, who I happen to be an accredited lecturer for, coordinates with 380 societies consisting of 90,000 members across the country and beyond to stage lectures related to the arts. The standard of lectures are usually very high, mostly due to the lengthy and intense application process for speakers. 

Their first lecture will be on Velazquez’s Las Meninas, by lecturer Jacqueline Cockburn, and will be available through their new digital platform The Arts Society Connected. It seems that you must be a member of the Arts Society to watch the lecture for free.

The future of such events is a very interesting and mildly concerning one. Like many professionals involved with presenting to live audiences, including musicians, actors and performers, I wonder how long it will take for people feel safe enough to gather in enclosed theartres and halls again?

Treasures Sold Off to Raise Millions for Councils

April 6 2020

Image of Treasures Sold Off to Raise Millions for Councils

Picture: The Sunday Times

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

Worrying article in The Sunday Times yesterday (paywall) reporting on cash-strapped Councils in Britain that are selling off works of art to fund various projects and shore themselves up in testing times.

Several freedom of information requests were placed by the newspaper with hundreds of councils across the country to reveal that £27 million has been raised over the past decade. This has included the selling off of important paintings, ancient sculpture and collections of ceramics.

Their findings revealed;

A total of 2,280 pieces of art have been sold since January 2009, according to FoI responses and public record searches, which cover about 70% of the UK’s 408 councils.

The five local authorities with the highest sales are Northampton borough council (£15.8m), Croydon council (£8.2m), Ealing council (£713,000), Cambridgeshire county council (£688,000) and Hertfordshire county council (£469,282).

Amongst the works that the newspaper highlighted included an Italian Landscape by Joseph Wright of Derby, sold by Kensington and Chelsea Council for £240,000, and featured in a recent series of Britain’s Lost Masterpieces.

The reasons for the sales listed are various, from paying for residential care to helping to build new art storage facilities (which wouldn’t be needed if more effort was put into putting their art out on display).

This of course sets a rather worrying precedent, and raises the question of whether more councils will start reviewing their deaccessioning policies in wake of the recent economic fallout affecting the globe.

The Gestingthorpe Choir - Reidentified

April 4 2020

Image of The Gestingthorpe Choir - Reidentified

Picture: The Telegraph

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The Telegraph have a published a fascinating news story today regarding the reidentification of a group portrait of musicians.

The said picture belongs to London art dealer and Fake or Fortune? presenter Philip Mould, who purchased the large scale painting at an auction several decades ago. Over the past few days Philip has been presenting a brilliant daily series exploring his private collection kept in his Oxfordshire home, all in response to the #ArtInIsolation that is sweeping social media during the present lockdown.

Andy Craig, a local historian and chairman of his village’s history society, watched Philip’s video online when he realised that it matched a long lost painting described in Notes on the Parish of Gestingthorpe, published in 1905. The painting’s naïve feel, identified in the pamphlet as The Gestingthorpe Choir, indicates that it is likely to have been produced by a local provincial artist.

Most curiously, and as Philip discovered when he had the painting cleaned, the canvas bears the names of each of the musicians and servants (including the dog). Speaking as someone who pays a lot of attention to musical subjects in paintings, its also quite rare to see a struck dulcimer in pictures of this period (!). They are still quite popular in places like Hungary, where they are called a Cimbalom.

Perhaps this lockdown presents the chance for galleries and museums to highlight some of their more puzzling pictures online. Who knows who might be watching.

Click here to read the article (behind a paywall, unfortunately)…

Art history in the age of Covid

April 3 2020

Image of Art history in the age of Covid

Picture: via Pixabay.

Hell everyone! It's been a while since I've tended to the blog. Life rather overtook me, and I increasingly found I didn't have the time. But now of course many of us find that we have more time on our hands than we know what to do with. And so I thought it was time to bring the blog back.

This time, to help things tick along, I will be ably assisted by my friend and fellow art historian, Adam Busiakiewicz. Stories posted by Adam will have his name at the top of each post.

But the most important thing to say is that I hope you - dear AHNers - are all well and keeping as safe as you can. I have missed our blogging acquaintances. For all of us, our daily lives are now radically different, and over the coming weeks, Adam and I hope to keep you informed and amused with any art historical stories that are around. But we also want to hear your stories; what you're up to, and how you're coping. Are you a curator missing your collection? Are you an art historian missing access to a library? Are you a security guard all alone in a museum? Are you an art lover who's missing your weekly wander around your local gallery? Please let us know. 

In the meantime, best wishes to you all, and stay safe. 

Sleeper Alert! - Old Master Drawing Special

April 3 2020

Image of Sleeper Alert! - Old Master Drawing Special

Picture: Drout Digital

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

Interesting news via. Twitter (from @Claudia05086940) that an Old Master Drawing depicting the History of Adam and Eve ascribed to 'German School 17th Century' sold for €82,200 over an estimate of 600-800 earlier today. The online only sale was held by the French auction house Aguttes.

Any suggestions for a possible attribution? We might assume that the buyer is hoping it to be the work of an early sixteenth century German Master.

It is quite something that such high prices can be achieved during such a period of crisis. But, such is the inestimable attraction of securing a sleeper.

Click here for better images...

The Art Newspaper - Diary of an Art Historian

April 3 2020

Image of The Art Newspaper - Diary of an Art Historian

Picture: via The Art Newspaper

Here is my most recent Diary piece for The Art Newspaper. Included are brief accounts of escaping Italy during filming the new series of BLM and the early closure of The European Fine Art Fair at Maastricht.

(Was it wise to keep Tefaf going? I hear alarming tales of large numbers of people having contracted the virus there. If you were there, or affected, please let us know. Anonymously if you prefer!)

I also contributed to an Art Newspaper podcast examining Van Dyck's portrait of Martin Ryckaert hanging in the now closed Prado. Click here to listen...

Home-made art - #ArtInIsolation

April 3 2020

Picture: Getty Museum

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz

Despite the current crisis that faces the world, these troubling times have not managed to quash the creative and comedic ingenuity amongst lovers of art. Several challenges have been put forward to recreate scenes from famous paintings and artworks with whatever means you have available at home. Both the Getty Museum (@GettyMuseum) and an Instagram account @tussenkunstenquarantaine (who have no less than 121k followers) have been regularly posting examples of these homemade recreations.

Here are a few of our favourite reinterpretations;

@17centurygirl - & friends recreating a Caravaggio.

@sandrineatmospheriste -  channelling a Petrus Christus.

@Saschaloske – reinterpreting a Whistler (with authentic frame).

@_saar_W – restaging a serene Raphael.

Here at AHN we are still pondering what to do. By the standard so far, it's going to have to be good...

National Gallery of Art DC - Virtual Tours

April 3 2020

Video: National Gallery of Art, Washington

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz

Continuing on the theme of how galleries and museums are continuing to share their collections during the current lock down, here is a video from the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

It shows Northern European paintings curator Betsy Wieseman unravelling a rather dashing picture by Johannes Cornelisz Verspronck of Andries Stilte as a Standard Bearer (1640).

The NGA are currently running a virtual tour series on their Facebook page, highlighting one work of art from each of their rooms every day.

Never before has it been so easy for videos of this kind to be made. Click, point and go (whilst keeping at least 2 metres apart, in our current climate).

Curator Talk - Titian: Love, Desire, Death

April 2 2020

Video: The National Gallery via. Facebook

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz

The current lock down of museums across the world has led to some wonderful examples of how social media can help bring art into peoples homes through sight and sound.

Over the next weeks we'll share lots of the fantastic virtual tours that museums and galleries are uploading to Youtube and other platforms.

First off, and related to the previous post, here is Italian paintings curator Mattias Wivel introducing the National Gallery's Titian exhibition. Although it was posted before the lockdown, it is still an excellent introduction to this significant reunion of Old Master Paintings.

BBC2 - Titian Behind Closed Doors

April 2 2020

Image of BBC2 - Titian Behind Closed Doors

Picture: BBC

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz

Exciting news for UK television licence fee holders that the BBC has made a special hour long programme celebrating the National Gallery’s important and historic exhibition Titian: Love, Desire, Death.

A feat of curatorial engineering, this exhibition reunites for the first time in four centuries six works commissioned from Titian by the future King Philip II of Spain. The Venetian painter’s ‘poesies’ inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses are considered amongst his most original works, yet were dispersed during his lifetime. Most notably, the Wallace Collection had only recently ‘reinterpreted’ their 1897 bequest ruling so that their Perseus and Andromeda could be part of the show.

The exhibition opened to the public on 16th March, but had to close just two days later as a precautionary measure against the spread of COVID-19. The National Gallery on Trafalgar Square was one of the last museums to close its doors, with the Vatican Museums having closed on 8th March, the Prado on 12th March and the Louvre on 13th March.

The gallery’s website explains that the current plan is for the exhibition to reopen when the rest of the gallery does on 4th May. This, we might imagine, will be subject to developments and advice from the government. The exhibition is due to run in London until 14th June 2020, after which it will travel to Edinburgh, Madrid and Boston.

The programme entitled Titian - Behind Closed Doors will air on BBC Two on Saturday 4th April 2020 at 21.45 (GMT).

The programme will be available on BBC IPlayer after the show is broadcast (click here for the link).

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