Previous Posts: July 2022

The NPGs 'Kit-Kats'

July 27 2022

Video: NPG

The National Portrait Gallery are restoring their 'Kit-Kat' portraits, the series of late 17th and early 18th century paintings by Sir Godfrey Kneller. There's a nice couple of videos about it, the first above, and the second here.

Hirst burns art

July 27 2022

News today that Damien Hirst will something something money burn spot paintings something something NFTs money something money money money. If you're still interested, more here.

Did Neanderthals paint too?

July 25 2022

Image of Did Neanderthals paint too?

Picture: New Scientist

In The New Scientist, Michael Marshall looks at the problems of trying to date cave art, and wonders - if we've got it wrong - whether earlier hominids might not have been artists too. It turns out that not only is something of the technical analysis of cave art questionable (carbon dating, and so on) but our cave art connoisseurship might have been out too:

If a lot of the given ages are spurious, our ideas about who made the art are also spurious.

A succession of hominins have lived in western Europe and might theoretically have made the region’s cave art. Modern humans are the most recent inhabitants, having permanently settled in the region around 45,000 years ago after emerging from Africa. Before that, Europe and western Asia were inhabited by Neanderthals for hundreds of thousands of years. And before that, other hominins like Homo antecessor were around.

If all the cave art in western Europe is less than 30,000 years old, it could only have been made by our species. But in the cases where researchers like Pike have managed to get reliable dates, that hasn’t always proved true.

Back in 2012, Pike’s team showed that a red dot on the wall of El Castillo cave in northern Spain was at least 40,800 years old. That was old enough to be borderline: Neanderthals were still around, so they could have made the dot.

The benefits of copying

July 25 2022

Image of The benefits of copying

Picture: The Times

The Times' new chief art critic, Laura Freeman, has written about the benefits of not just looking at art, but copying it, even with a simple pencil drawing. She went to meet one of the National Gallery's art handlers, Tom Hemming, who sketches the Gallery's masterpieces in his lunch break:

Copying used to be the foundation stone of an artistic education. Pupils copied busts, plaster casts and the works of men who came before. The 20th century put a premium on creativity, self-expression and originality and the copy fell from favour. Derivative, slavish, stale? Not necessarily. The National Gallery’s exhibition Picasso Ingres: Face to Face shows just how inventive a copy can be. Picasso’s Woman with a Book is an outrageous reworking of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’s Madame Moitessier. (“Lesser artists borrow; great artists steal,” said the quip master Picasso.)

Hemming describes the teaching at Byam Shaw as “quite . . . conceptual”. Many graduates from art school in the last 50 years would say the same. What then does copying give an artist? “Basic drawing skills,” Hemming says, “but probably even more, looking. It’s quite hard to sit for long enough in front of a painting to look as intently as you’d want to look to gain everything you’d want to gain without working through it. Drawing allows you to do that.”

More here.


Art & Protest (ctd.)

July 25 2022


Further to my post about activists gluing themselves to museum masterpieces, a Uffizi employee demonstrates a no nonsense approach, by just pulling them off.

Waldemar on the 'immersive experience'

July 25 2022

Image of Waldemar on the 'immersive experience'

Picture: Timeout

For the Sunday Times, the Great Waldemar has been to visit some of these new 'immersive art experiences' popping up everywhere. He tried the Van Gogh one, and didn't like it:

Reader, I fled. It was all so ghastly. Having read some positive reactions to Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience, which has been “wowing visitors” in a trendier corner of London, I hot-footed over to Shoreditch expecting an improvement. Foolish me. It was worse.

The reproductions of the paintings were even less in focus. The son et lumière was even more tremulously pointless. And the storylines peddled in the surrounding info-niches even less reliable, notably the sudden claim, announced in a film, that Van Gogh was colour blind! This ludicrous suggestion, presented as a recently discovered fact, will leave hundreds of bemused visitors believing yet more porkies about poor old Vincent.


A-Level art history at the Courtauld

July 22 2022

Image of A-Level art history at the Courtauld

Picture: Courtauld

The Courtauld Institute has launched a new course to support the charity Art History Link Up, which runs Art History A-Level courses for state school children. Only 8 state schools currently teach an art history course. Now, AHLU participants will be able to study at the Courtauld, and all for free. There will also be an online access too. More here, and apply here.

Carabinieri seize Artemisia

July 21 2022

Image of Carabinieri seize Artemisia

Picture: Carabinieri TP

The Italian Carabinieri's specialist art unit, the TPC, have seized a painting by Artemisia Gentileschi, which they say was exported illegally from Italy. The painting, Caritas Romana, or Cimon and Pero, was due to be sold at auction at Dorotheum in Vienna, and had been exported in 2019. It has now been returned to Italy, pending further investigation, after the intervention of Eurojust.

The Carabinieri allege the export process was illegal, through the owners 'concealing the painting's identity and value' on the export application. The owners, however, have issued a statement denying this.

The painting has long been known as a Gentileschi (in 2018 it was even on a poster for an exhibition in Italy, which gained media attention after it was censored by Facebook). So this cannot be a case of a newly discovered Artemisia (as so many are), where the attribution was only discovered after it had been exported. On the face of it, getting a well known painting by Artemisia exported by pretending it isn't by Artemisia, and then swiftly selling it publicly at auction as an Artemisia in neighbouring Austria sounds like a spectacularly dim thing to do. It appears from what I can glean in the Italian press that the information deemed incorrect on the export application was instead about its value, put at €200k, and provenance.

In The Art Newspaper, the Gentileschi scholar Ricardo Lattuada places blame on the export licensing office in Genoa, which issued the paperwork in 2019:

Lattuada argues that it is the state's fault for allowing the work to leave the country in the first place, arguing that the culture ministry's underfunding and inexpertise is partly responsible. “The Carabinieri TPC does fine work in recovering works like these,” Lattuada said. “But it would be better if such huge errors did not happen in the first place.”

Anyone who has ever tried to export a painting from Italy will know what a lengthy process it is; pictures have to be physically inspected by a qualified expert (I believe a local museum curator) before a licence is granted. Meanwhile, La Repubblica has a story wondering if another Artemisia sold at Dorotheum, Lucrezia, was also incorrectly exported from Italy.

Update - a reader writes:

The Artemisia thing is slightly strange.

Although it has been exhibited in Italy, it is by no means universally accepted [as by Gentileschi], and has not I think been exhibited anywhere else. It is clearly painted in Naples where you get this collaboration/copying going on, especially with Palumbo, Cavallino. To me it looks quite Cavallino like.

So given that I’m not sure the €200k figure is too far wrong, as a possible/maybe.

A £400k Picasso, or a worthless copy?

July 21 2022

Video: Euronews

Police in Ibiza have questioned a man on suspicion of smuggling in a Picasso sketch without paying import Vat. Spanish import Vat for artworks is 10%, and the sketch was being brought in from Switzerland, so outside the EU. Apparently, the man had two receipts in his luggage, one for the value as a Picasso, of about CHF450k, the other as a copy, for CHF1,500. Which suggests he hadn't really thought it through...

More here.

National Gallery - the Game

July 21 2022

Image of National Gallery - the Game

Picture: NG

The National Gallery has launched a computer game, on Roblox, designed to appeal to younger children. There are various museum-y quests you have to accomplish, as you try and rise through the ranks 'from Apprentice to High Keeper'. Says the NG:

Developed through the pandemic, the project utilised Roblox as a platform for developing ideas with the children remotely. As children played and shared, the platform became an integral way for the project team to enable children to enjoy the National Gallery’s content off-site - taking the magic of immersive storytelling beyond the Gallery’s walls and into children’s homes.

Lawrence Chiles, Head of Digital at the National Gallery, London, says: ‘We are always looking to extend the opportunity to take the Gallery’s collection to audiences in new and innovative ways. The fact that they can learn about the paintings on a platform they find familiar, fun and engaging is great to see. It takes the Keeper of Paintings into a World of Keepers environment that has huge potential and it’s lovely to now have the characters in both a playful app in the Gallery and within Roblox. The way the project has evolved with the children through the design process is also really special.’

I tried to have a go, but my ancient computer can't cope with Roblox. (AHN readers who've noticed the website has looked the same since its inception, over a decade ago, will not be surprised.) But it looks like fun. Download it here.

Also, it will hopefully further demonstrate that to engage with audiences online, museums need to stop trying to control use of their images.

Art & protest (ctd.)

July 21 2022

Image of Art & protest (ctd.)


The new vogue for activists to glue themselves to priceless artworks has spread from Britain. In Bruges, a man glued himself to Van Eyck's in the  Groeninge Museum, or rather, to the safety glass in front of the painting. So happily no damage was done. However, it wasn't his first target; according to VRT, he'd tried to enter the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk in Bruges, home to Michelangelo's Madonna and Child. But fortunately the police were waiting for him; glue on the marble might have been quite serious. We've seen a number of these incidents so far, including at the National Gallery in London. Let's hope the craze passes before some serious damage is done.

New Gainsborough for Munich's Alte Pinakothek

July 19 2022

Image of New Gainsborough for Munich's Alte Pinakothek

Picture: SDZ

The Alte Pinakothek in Munich has acquired a portrait by Thomas Gainsborough; Thomas Hibbert (1744-1819) was painted in 1785. It is a pair to the museum's portrait of Hibbert's wife, Sophia, which it has owned since the 1970s. The portrait of Thomas was until recently on loan to Gainsborough's House Museum in Suffolk. The purchase price was €1.8m.

The acquisition is notable given the sitter's association with the slave trade. Hibbert was an enthusiastic slave owner and slave trader, as was his much of his family: the Hibberts were one of the leading slave factorage businesses in Jamaica, selling slaves as they were disembarked from slave ships. They were also, not surprisingly, leading critics of the abolitionist movement. I can't imagine a UK institution wanting to acquire a likeness of a sitter so involved with slavery, not least spending €1.8m on one. More here in the Sud Deutsche Zeitung.

Modigliani x-ray discovery

July 18 2022

Video: AP

Hot on the heels of the National Gallery of Scotland's Van Gogh x-ray discovery, the Hecht Museum in Israel has found three Modigliani portraits beneath the surface of his painting Nude with a Hat. More here.

A Hirst fake?

July 15 2022

Image of A Hirst fake?

Picture: via The Times

In The Times, David Sanderson has an interesting story about a Damien Hirst spot print said to by its owner to be a fake, and by its vendor - Sotheby's - to be genuine. In 2004, the novelist Ken Follett bought the print at auction for £4,000. He hung it on his wall cheerfully for almost 20 years until he had it reframed, but when the framer contacted Eyestorm, a gallery which produced Hirst's spot prints, it was suggested it might be fake. When Eyestorm then got in touch with Hirst's own company, Science Ltd, to get an official view of authenticity, they said it was indeed a fake. From The Times:

The email from the employee claims: “The design has all of the incorrect spots typically seen in fake editions, and the paper borders and material are not consistent with those originally produced by Eyestorm.“We don’t have this edition recorded in our old system, so I’m inclined to think that Sotheby’s never sent it to us for authentication at the time of sale, which is a shame.”

Not so fast, say Sotheby's, who requested the print back for examination, and then themselves got in touch with Science Ltd:

“Since a query was raised earlier this year Sotheby’s has undertaken appropriate due diligence to verify that this is an authentic piece by the artist and further to these inquiries is satisfied with the 2004 designation.”

All of which sounds unsatisfactory. Who is right? One of the great appeals of contemporary art for collectors is supposed to be that questions of authenticity never arise. But when you get artworks which are produced in such numbers, and with so little direct connection to the hand of the artist, then such confusion is probably inevitable. Add in fakes, because the 'original' is so easy to fake, then the dividing lines become almost impossibly blurred. Perhaps the most concerning thing here is that both parties could be right, or rather, wrong. In other words, nobody can be certain, even now while the artist is still alive and within twenty years of the artwork being sold. I wouldn't be wanting to try and sell these things in 50 years time.

Van Gogh self-portrait discovery in Scotland

July 14 2022

Video: NGS

Exciting news at the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh, where they've discovered a previously unknown Van Gogh self-portrait on the back of his Head of a Peasant Woman. The self-portrait was hidden beneath backing board and glue, and found when conservator Lesley Stevenson took an x-ray in preparation for their forthcoming exhibition Taste for Impressionisn. It was painted at a time when Van Gogh was more than usually hard up for materials, and making studies of peasant figures for his famous painting, the Potato Eaters.

The NGS say they are going to investigate whether it is possible to remove the backing board without damaging the picture beneath. I suspect it is, but will of course take time. If I had to guess from the photo above, I'd say the self-portrait is probably unfinished. If they can reveal it, it will only be the second Van Gogh self-portrait in public ownership in the UK. Unless of course we find another one - I'm sure the National Gallery in London will be x-raying their own Van Gogh Head of a Peasant Woman very soon.

More here, and you can see a high-res image of the x-ray here.

National Trust unveils its Clandon plans (ctd.)

July 11 2022

Video: National Trust

Last week, on the morning of the Prime Minister's departure, the National Trust unveiled its plans for Clandon Park, the 18th Century palladian house gutted by fire in 2015. And its not quite what we were expecting.

In 2016, the Trust announced they would restore the state rooms on the ground floor, and leave the upper floors as flexible space. Which, as I wrote at the time, seemed like a sensible compromise between restoration and recreation. As the Trust said then:

Given their historic and cultural significance, and the fact so many original features have survived, we believe we should restore the magnificent state rooms on the ground floor – the most architecturally important and beautiful rooms.

The Trust's video setting out this plan has since been deleted. And now, however, the Trust has said it will only leave one room in its original state, the Speaker’s Parlour, which survived the fire largely intact. The house will instead be left in its fire damaged state, as part of a new visitor experience to apparently demonstrate how such houses were built, or as the Trust says, "offering people a unique ‘X ray view’ of how country houses were made”. Consequently, the magnificent marble hall will not be restored, but left as you see it in the photo below left.

From Harriet Sherwood's coverage in The Guardian:

Plans by the National Trust, which has owned the Grade I-listed house since 1956, will allow visitors to see the “raw power and poetic beauty” of the building after the flames stripped away panelling and plasterwork and brought down floors, said Kent Rawlinson, the project director.

The external walls and windows of the building near Guildford, Surrey, will be restored by heritage craftspeople, but the interior will be largely conserved in its fire-damage state.

Once the work is complete, in about five years, a series of interior walkways and roof lights will allow visitors to view the shell of the house up close and from new angles.

I think this is very disappointing. First, and most worryingly, the Trust’s primary purpose is to preserve the properties it has in its care. Its slogan is, ‘forever, for everyone’. But the decision not to restore the house, or at least part of it, means they’re turning their back on the ‘forever’ part. It represents a committed departure from the Trust seeing preservation and conservation as its most important role. Instead, the primary concern is to create what visitors are deemed to want to see.

Secondly, it appears the decision is being driven primarily by cost. I’m not sure quite why, but the house was under-insured. The £65m settlement the Trust received from its insurers is not enough to cover a proper restoration. The cost of the current plan will be met by the payout, but also from the Trust's reserves (which, during the pandemic, Trust management refused to dip into in order to avoid sacking so many staff). So far, the Trust has confirmed to me that all the £65m will be spent at Clandon, but not that it will all be spent on the building and contents itself.

I find the idea that the Clandon plan is a good way ‘to learn about how these houses were built’ to be quite childish. It should be possible to learn how houses are built without leaving them a ruin. In any case, we are not short of county house ruins in Britain. And what better way could we learn about how such houses were built than in trying to recreate them, by rediscovering and preserving the skills 18th Century craftsmen and women would have used in the 18th Century?

Will Trust members and visitors welcome the new Clandon? Personally, I think the idea of standing in a burnt out shell feels grim - a form of heritage rubbernecking - and will soon lose its novelty. Who would want to go back to Clandon for a nice day out, and spend money in the tea room and gift shop, once they’ve seen it?

But the most depressing part of all this is that it seems to me not enough questions are being asked as to how the Trust let this all happen. What lessons are being learned? Has, for example, the Trust overhauled its insurance policies, to fully cover the cost of reinstatement at all its properties? Because surely the really important thing is that it never happens again.

Let me know what you think.

Update - a reader writes:

The decision by the Trust to abandon what Pevsener called “one of the most important early Palladian rooms in England” and what Simon Jenkins, ex-chairman of the National Trust, described as “one of the great rooms of early Georgian England” should not be left unchallenged. 

The importance of the Marble Hall at Clandon was recognised by the Trust itself in 2017 when it revealed its initial restoration plans and to do a U-turn after seven long years is incredibly disappointing to all lovers of architecture, beauty and social history.

The real question is ‘why' and the Trust needs to urgently issue a statement to clarify its decision making,  There are at least four competing theories:

Reason 1 - the house speaks. The official line, per the glossy PR film issued by the Trust, seems to suggest that after 7 years everyone suddenly realised on reflection that the story of the house was best told if it was left as a ruin. As you say, it is a childish rationale and does not offer 'unique opportunities to tell stories', whatever the Trust says.  Witley Court, Nymans, Seaton Delavel plus dozens of English Heritage buildings are all presented in a partially ruined state.  There is no need for another.

Reason 2 - there is nothing left to restore. The pre-prepared responses from the NT Twitter feed take a different view, They say that insufficient historic fabric survived to complete a decent reconstruction yet in 2017 their website said ”Given their historic and cultural significance, and the fact so many original features have survived, we believe we should restore the magnificent state rooms on the ground floor”.  How can both views be true?

Reason 3 - follow the money. Your research indicates that insufficient insurance may be the reason for the volte face.  If this is the case then why hasn’t the Trust mentioned this in their announcements to date? 

Reason 4 - decolonisation. Clandon has historic links to the slave trade and Jenkins mentions “putti and slaves in deep relief’ on the stucco ceiling of the Marble Hall. Is it possible that the idea of recreating something with these associations was simply too difficult for the Trust to contemplate? If this is thecae, then what precedent does it set?

As a local resident, I have kept a keen eye on Clandon and despite a number of requests there has still been no inventory of items lost or saved following the fire.  It is as if the Trust has simply lost interest in the house.

Contrast the current spin and lack of ambition with the response of the Trust to the fire at Uppark in 1989.  Nearly 4,000 dustbins were filled with the fragmentary remains of the all the principal rooms and four years later the house re-opened,  The effort galvanised the community, enabled lost crafts to be re-learned, and the house today tells its story far better than if it had been left as a ruin.

Given the critical spotlight cast on the Trust in recent years, it seems to me that the Clandon fiasco is another own goal.  It does nothing to assuage those who believe that the Trust is increasingly ashamed of the buildings in its care.

Many good points. What I also find surprising is how the Trust made its U-turn without any wider public or membership consultation.

New Eric Ravilious film (ctd.)

July 11 2022

Video: via You Tube

It's in cinemas now, and above is the trailer. More here.

Hockney's life drawings at Bath

July 11 2022

Image of Hockney's life drawings at Bath

Picture: Holburne Museum

I like the look of the new exhibition at the Holburne Museum in Bath, devoted to life rawings by David Hockney. I think he's one of the greatest portrait draughtsmen in British art. In the FT, Jackie Wulschlager is similarly impressed:

There is no surface that David Hockney cannot capture in a few strokes: a café table crawling with ants in Luxor; sun-bleached, sharp-angled modernist facades on a Los Angeles boulevard; a French provincial hotel’s parquet floor illuminated as light falls across ornamental iron balcony railings. Jowly ageing poets — W H Auden, Stephen Spender — resemble weathered cliff faces. The exuberance of London restaurateur Peter Langan bursts out through his busy kitchen worktop — lobster, colander, grater, wine glass.

The show runs till 18th September.

How much do museums make from NFTs? (ctd.)

July 11 2022

Image of How much do museums make from NFTs? (ctd.)

Picture: Uffizi

The answer goes from 'not much' to 'none at all' - further to my earlier post about how little the Uffizi made from the sale of its €240,000 Michelangelo NFT (just €70,000), Gareth Harris and Ben Munster in The Art Newspaper report the Italian government has now stepped into stop the practice, citing concern over the way the contracts have been drawn up, especially the allowance for a €100,000 'production fee'. Which is a lot, for a jpeg.

Re-framing Segantini

July 7 2022

Image of Re-framing Segantini

Picture: via The Frame Blog

On the Frame Blog, Lynn Roberts has news of a not entirely successful re-framing of the Getty Museum's 1897 painting Spring in the Alps by Giovanni Segantini. The new frame is the plain white one, below. The trouble is, the gold frame (top) was designed by the artist himself. Lynn is not impressed:

This seems an astonishing misdirection of the spectator away from the artist’s work and intentions. Collectors in the past have often reframed the pieces they have bought or inherited as a way of imprinting their ownership on them, or marrying them with other works in their galleries, or as part of the redecoration and updating of an interior which has descended from an older generation [3], but a better, less subjective and more historically enlightened approach must be expected today of the world’s major museums.

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