Previous Posts: May 2022

Monet's mega May

May 31 2022

Image of Monet's mega May

Picture: Christie's

On the Live Art blog, Marion Maneker points out that in just one month, auction sales of paintings by Monet have achieved a record $310m:

More art by Claude Monet was sold in New York’s May sales than trades in even the biggest years for the artist. A full $310 million was traded for Monet paintings last month. That’s more than sold in 2019, a banner year for the artist. Though only a few of the works were bid above the estimates, one of the most prominent works sold in May was Anne Bass’s view of the Houses of Parliament (above) painted by Monet during a sojourn at the Savoy hotel in London during 1904. The Bass painting made $75.9 million.

The estimate for the Bass Monet was $40m-$60m. So what's going on? There seems to be a mini art boom happening. For NPR, Robert Griffiths looked at some of the recent prices, with a few comments from market observers (including me).

Tintoretto by Stanley Tucci

May 31 2022

Video: National Gallery of Art

Tintoretto died on this day in 1594, which gives me an opportunity to share this video from the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC about the artist. It's narrated by the great Stanley Tucci.

Go to bed with Frans Hals

May 31 2022

Image of Go to bed with Frans Hals

Picture: Muurmeesters

The Frans Hals Museum now sells large size reproductions of their works, profits of which go to support the museum. It all looks quite tastefully done, and certainly more worthwhile than selling NFTs. But then the Dutch just have innate good taste don't they. If you're interested, order here.

Sleeper alert

May 31 2022

Video: Dawson's Auctions

Art historian Michael Lobel has alerted me to a 'Follower of Filippino Lippi' Madonna which soared above estimate to make £255,000 hammer at a regional UK auction house. With trimmings that's around £300,000. The local paper the Maidenhead Advertiser has the story here, and the catalogue entry with images is here. The picture was once attributed to Dosso Dossi. 

An interesting aspect of the sale is the auctioneer's reaction to it. They've made a video of the sale, above, where the bidding started at £3,000. Back in the day, if you bought a 'sleeper' (that is, a potentially mis-catalogued painting) you generally wanted it to remain dozing until you'd done all the research and conservation required to suggest a painting's new attribution. But these days, with social media and auction houses keen to publicise any high price, that's more or less impossible. News of your purchase can be round the world before you've even collected it. I suspect sometimes that might actually depress bidding, since most dealers don't want people to know so easily what they paid for something - that's why sleepers are such a prize, because they don't 'look up' on the art sale databases. So the true sleeper these days is essentially one which only you bid on, and which the rest of us may never know about. It doesn't happen often...

Why are portraits of the Queen so bad?

May 30 2022

Image of Why are portraits of the Queen so bad?

Picture: Sunday Times

In the Sunday Times, the Great Waldemar looks back at the Queen's lifetime in portraits, and asks, why are they so bad?

The English monarchy has a decent record when it comes to commissioning paintings of itself. Henry VIII showed true perspicacity when he made Hans Holbein his court artist. It was Holbein who invented the extra-wide monarch without whom the Tudor industry of today would have had no monster to imagine. Elizabeth I may never have found a Holbein, but she did control a Tudor image machine that pumped out highly effective presentations of her as the Virgin Queen. Even as bad a king as George IV showed superior artistic taste when he got in Sir Thomas Lawrence to paint him.

The second Elizabeth has, alas, presided over a downturn in this story. Most of the painters she has turned to have come from that bleak institution: the Establishment School of Untalented Lackeys. The results have been bad likenesses or very uninteresting ones.

New Chair at ArtUK

May 30 2022

Image of New Chair at ArtUK

Picture: ArtUK

The British charity ArtUK, which, building on the work of the Public Catalogue Foundation, photographs and displays online digital images of every publicly owned oil painting and sculpture in the UK, is looking for a new Chair. It's a fantastic charity, the first of its kind in the world, and aims to connect the public to our fantastic national collections. I have benefited from it directly many times, as the first stage to finding discoveries made on the BBC programme I co-presented, Britain's Lost Masterpieces.

I note that in the job spec, there is this:

The successful candidate will be very familiar with the UK museum world and the visual arts scene and have a good understanding of the potential for digital to connect the public with the art they own.

Which indeed goes to the heart of ArtUK and all it does. There is one thing which I hope the new Chair might think about, however; British museums' adherence to an outdated model of selling images means ArtUK can only ever show lower resolution images, because museums restrict the size of image ArtUK can use. This means that using the ArtUK website will always be of limited use, because you can't truly enjoy the art.

And sadly, ArtUK doesn't challenge this model, but reinforces it. It recently submitted a report to the body aspiring to look again at how we promote our national collection which accepts image restrictions. And, by selling image licenses through its website, it directly profits from image fees, even for academic publications. I struggle to see how any of this fulfils the mission of 'digitally connecting the public with the art they own'.

The deadline is 1st June.

Mona Lisa caked

May 30 2022

Video: YouTube

Someone threw a cake at the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. Some sort of protest. She's behind bulletproof glass, so the cake came off worse. More here.

Update - I was on BBC News about this, though I can't link to it, because they don't archive news anymore. I'm afraid I only thought afterwards of saying she had been 'ambushed by cake'. One of the questions was what cake might the perpetrator have used, which of course I didn't know, but it gave me an opportunity to show off my knowledge of La Biscuit Joconde, a type of thin sponge made of almonds. It seems to have no connection to Leonardo, or Mona Lisa, but is thus called because French pastry chefs rate it so highly. I'd never heard of it before, but one of our Ukrainian guests made one on Sunday.

The Parthenon Marbles

May 27 2022

Image of The Parthenon Marbles

Picture: BG

When I went to the British Museum to see the new Stonehenge exhibition (cramped, and not really about Stonehenge), I looked in at the Parthenon Marbles. Many years ago, before I grew up, I used to think the Marbles should certainly stay in the British Museum. But now that I've changed my mind, I was struck by how different the Duveen Gallery (built to house them in 1938) felt as a space. Slightly oppressive (like so much classical architecture of the 1930s it feels like the sort of place Mussolini could stride through at any minute) and as an exercise in museum display, utterly hopeless. Most museums would have at least somewhere in the gallery a representation of the Parthenon itself, to show the connection between the Marbles and the structure from which they came. But evidently here it would serve as an obvious reminder that that is where they should always be. So there's no context. It's all slightly embarrassing.

It's also tempting to see the Gallery as a reflection of the contradictions which make up the modern British story. Where once we were so confident of our place in Europe that we effortlessly plundered it, now we have withdrawn from it. We have a government a little too deeply interested in the cultural and historical purity of Britain, and which wants to send at least the people who it thinks don't belong here back whence they came. But the Marbles, or the Bronzes, and everything else we stole from around the world? We'll keep all that, and just hope nobody notices.

Anyway, let me know what you think.

Update - a reader writes:

Thoughtful paragraph and thank you for sharing your opinion. I fully agree with you, the marbles that the 7th Earl of Elgin “bought”  from the Ottoman guards, ( Greece was occupied by the Turks at the time) should be returned to the Acropolis museum.

Another adds:

I so very agree with your post just now. The Parthenon Marbles story joins a lot of other items in the multifarious soup of our imperial (and plundering) past….. there are constant awkwardnesses cropping up in the path but in all cases the need to - move on / acknowledge the overbearing behaviour / make amends -  indicates that modern diplomacy and ‘right-thinking’ need to have their way.

Your 30’s museum display comments can also be expanded where the context of an item gets unnecessarily and unhelpfully obfuscated in a lot of circumstances.

The Times today reports on some remarks made by Stephen Fry at the Hay Festival, also urging the Marbles' return:

“It would be as if our Stonehenge and Big Ben and the Stone of Scone all in one had been missing from our country for hundreds of years and was finally returned to where it belonged,” Fry told the Hay Festival.

He said the return of the statues from Britain “would be an act that uses a word that we haven’t been able to use of Britain’s acts lately, much: it would be classy”.

Munch at The Courtauld

May 27 2022

Video: Courtauld

An exhibition of works by Edvard Munch has opened at the Courtauld Gallery in London, comprised of loans from the Kode art museum in Bergen, Norway. The show is part of a new partnership between the two institutions. In The Guardian, Jonathan Jones gives it five stars.

Bond's Picasso makes £17m

May 27 2022

Image of Bond's Picasso makes £17m

Picture: The Times

A Picasso painting bought by Sir Sean Connery a few years before he died has made £17m at auction in Hong Kong. The proceeds will go to the Sean Connery Philanthropic Trust. I see from the catalogue entry that Christie's had guaranteed it, and that before the sale it was heralded as 'the most valuable work by Picasso to be offered in Asia'. All of which is an interesting reflection of where the market for these things is heading. More here from Stuart MacDonald in The Times.

AI does the Queen

May 27 2022

Image of AI does the Queen

Picture: Guardian

A robot has painted a portrait of the Queen and as you'd expect it's not good. More from Harriet Sherwood in The Guardian here.

Raphael cartoons digitised (ctd.)

May 26 2022

Image of Raphael cartoons digitised (ctd.)

Pictures: Factum Foundation / BG

Last year, Adam reported on the Factum Foundation making digital scans of the Raphael 'cartoons' at the V&A. The giant works on paper were all photographed in ultra high resolution, from which Factum could make their 3D printed facsimiles. Yesterday, I went to see the Raphael exhibition at the National Gallery, and got to see one of the facsimiles (Paul Preaching at Athens) up close, where it was hung beside the tapestry of the same scene on loan from the Vatican. And I've got to say it is an extroardinary recreation; even from inches away, in the dim light of the exhibition, you'd struggle to tell it was made last year. The surface texture is amazing, right down to the tears and ridges in the paper.

I've written before for The Art Newspaper on how such facsimiles will change the way we value and display artworks, especially contentious ones like the Parthenon Marbles.

Australia repatriates aboriginal art

May 26 2022

Image of Australia repatriates aboriginal art

Picture: Sotheby's

An important painting by the celebrated aboriginal artist William Barak has been acquired by the state of Victoria in Australia from an auction in New York. The state contributed AU$500,000, to add to a fundraising campaign to buy the 1897 painting, 'Corroboree (Women in possum skin cloaks)', at Sotheby's. A wooden parrying shield was also acquired. More from Benita Kolovos in The Guardian here.

Turner 'between the sheets'

May 26 2022

Image of Turner 'between the sheets'

Picture: Turner's House

Turner's House museum in London will soon open an exhibition dedicated to Turner's 'erotic' drawings. The drawings are on loan from Tate. More here.

A recovered $7m Titian?

May 26 2022

There was a story doing the rounds a few days about Italian police seizing a 'lost' Titian worth $7m. The picture was unveiled to the press in Italy, and with much fanfare 'returned to the Italian state'. It seems the picture was not stolen, but illegaly exported to Switzerland in 2004 without a correct export licence (any picture worth more than €13,500 and over 70 years old requires an export licence in Italy).

And yet, the picture doesn't really look like a Titian, even from the available photos. So I don't see how it could ever be worth $7m, and to be honest I'm not sure it would even be worth more than the threshold required for an Italian export licence. And even more curiously, the picture was 'recovered' in Italy. So it may never have been permanently exported in the first place.

What's going on? Who knows, but in the Italian press, the politician and superstar art historian Vittorio Sgarbi has waded in, saying the whole thing is a bit of a 'scam'. He also says the picture is certainly not by Titian. And best of all, he's  recorded a You Tube video on it here, which was filmed in a motorhome being driven on the motorway. I'm envious - AHN needs its own chauffeur-driven motorhome.

Stolen de Kooning returns to US museum (ctd.)

May 26 2022

Image of Stolen de Kooning returns to US museum (ctd.)

Picture: Silver City Sun News

Here's a PS to a story AHN first reported on back in 2017; a de Kooning painting stolen from Arizona University by a retired schoolteacher (simply because he liked it) will now be the subject of an exhibition at the Getty. More here on CNN, and exhibition details here.

Italian Museums (ctd.)

May 26 2022

From the National Gallery of Art in Rome, exciting news that they have launched an online collections site. The images are tolerably good, and there are even photos of pictures in their frames, and the reverses. You can search here. Illustrated above is their Holbein of Henry VIII, which some Holbein scholars now doubt, but which I'm sure is right.


May 25 2022

I've been in London a few days, seeing Raphael, and cleaning a picture. Or rather, watching Simon Gillespie clean a picture. I'll catch up on AHN tomorrow.


The 'Ugly Duchess' at the National Gallery

May 20 2022

Image of The 'Ugly Duchess' at the National Gallery

Picture: National Gallery

Next year there'll be an intriguing exhibition at the National Gallery in London, based around one of their most curious pictures, the so-called 'Ugly Duchess' by Quentin Massys. Says the NG:

This exhibition looks again at one of the best-known faces in the National Gallery: Quinten Massys’s 16th-century depiction of an old woman, a painting known as ‘The Ugly Duchess’. For the first time, this work is displayed with a related drawing after Leonardo da Vinci, showing their shared interest in fantastical, ‘grotesque’ heads and the vibrant artistic exchange between Italy and Northern Europe in the Renaissance.

‘The Ugly Duchess’ is reunited in the exhibition with her companion, 'An Old Man', on rare loan from a private collection. Massys shows us a woman whose age, appearance and deportment are noticeably different to other women represented in the collection. This is a deliberate choice by the artist. Her exaggerated facial features, devil-like headdress, low-cut dress and wrinkled bosom were used by Massys to parody the traditional marriage portrait: this is an old woman acting like a maiden and offering her partner – who is more formally and soberly dressed – an unrequited token of her love.

You might think that this painting served only as a cruel joke, where we are invited to laugh at this woman’s self-delusion. However, when you look beyond the surface you may discover a Duchess who is also subversive, fierce, and defiant – brazenly flaunting the conventions of her day. The painting captures the rise of secular and satirical art during the Renaissance, two areas that Massys pioneered.

It's free, and runs till 11th June, more here.

Marble Hill House

May 20 2022

Image of Marble Hill House

Picture: English Heritage

The great Palladian villa outside London, Marble Hill House, has been closed for years, but is now reopening after a major restoration. The house was home to Henrietta Howard, best known as George II's mistress. Nadia Khomami has the story in The Guardian:

The major reformation by English Heritage, supported by funding from the National Lottery, has reversed decades of disrepair. The charity has reinstated the interior paint scheme that existed at Marble Hill during Howard’s lifetime and conserved the fine collection of early Georgian paintings, including portraits of Howard’s circle.

It has also restored and recreated some of the house’s furnishings including crimson silk wall hangings and an intricate carved peacock motif table (peacocks were the symbol of the ancient Roman goddess Juno, the protector of women). Also on display are a number of Howard’s personal items including a Chinese lacquer screen bearing her family’s crest and her prized collection of paintings by the Italian artist Giovanni Paolo Panini.

There's just something so perfect about Georgian architecture and interior design, isn't there? Look at this dining room, doesn't it make you instantly feel calm and contented?

Details on visiting here.

Notice to "Internet Explorer" Users

You are seeing this notice because you are using Internet Explorer 6.0 (or older version). IE6 is now a deprecated browser which this website no longer supports. To view the Art History News website, you can easily do so by downloading one of the following, freely available browsers:

Once you have upgraded your browser, you can return to this page using the new application, whereupon this notice will have been replaced by the full website and its content.