New William and Kate portrait

June 24 2022

Image of New William and Kate portrait

Picture: via Twitter

A new portrait of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge has been unveiled at the Fitzwilliam Museum. It's by Jamie Coreth, and is perfectly respectable, even if the subjects appear to be waiting for their scores on Strictly. At the same time, it betrays immediately that the artist studied at the Charles Cecil Studio in Florence, and shows how the options for formal portraiture are these days quite limited. Still, it's infinitely better than the portrait of the Queen made by an AI robot. Small mercies, and all that.

NG200 (ctd.)

June 24 2022

Video: National Gallery

The National Gallery have put footage of their press briefing for their 200th anniversary plans online. In the presentation above you can see more details of the Sainsbury Wing plans I mentioned yesterday. There's also something about boosting digital outreach, but no mention of whether the NG will go for Open Access for their images. Which, if they're serious about reaching out to new audiences digitally, they would do in a heartbeat.

The element of the NG200 plans which has caught the news today is the proposal to rehang the gallery, with a more thematic hang. So Caravaggio's Supper at Emmaus, for example, will hang next to Wright of Derby's Experiment with an Airpump. There's coverage of the plan here in The Times. On Twitter, the Great Waldemar has voiced his opposition. I think it could be fun, as long it's not forever, which in the video above Gabriele Finaldi makes clear it isn't.

The price for all this, incidentally, is £95 million. Most of that will go on the Sainsbury Wing changes. But museum rehangs, once you get the registrars, and the conservators, and the art handlers, and the curators, and the interpretation teams involved, are also not cheap.

New Sainsbury Wing designs

June 23 2022

Image of New Sainsbury Wing designs

Picture: Selldorf Architects

I'm prompted by this piece on Charles Saumarez Smith's blog about the architect of the National Gallery's Sainsbury Wing, Bob Venturi, to seek out images of the proposed redesign of the Wing, above. The project has been given to the New York based architect Annabelle Selldorf, and I'm relieved to see that the ground floor at least is not too different. Part of the ceiling of the entrance hall is to be removed, to let more light in from the stairwell, which looks nice. Although it makes me appreciate again how impressive the current design is (below).

It also looks from the photos as if the intention is to leave the entrance space as just, well, space, with no shop or cloakroom. But then I daresay Bob Venturi's original Sainsbury Wing looked clear and spacious on paper  too. It's when the architects handover to museum management that the clutter, desks, shops, bad lighting and signage starts to come in. And before long, the museum says, we need to get an architect in to fix this.

The key thing, as Charles points in this quote from Bob Venturi, is not to inflict sensory overload on the visitor before they get to the art:

When you enter the museum you might wonder, are you in a museum or an airport? And by the time you reach the art, you are either worn down by the banality of the maze you have traversed, or jaded by the drama of the spatial, symbolic or chromatic fantasies the architect has ejaculated you through.  The art, when you reach it, has become a kind of anti-climax — in fact, dull as you perceive it with your, by then, constricted pupils, jaded sensibilities, and loss of orientation.

Whether leaving the visitor de-sensitized on entry is possible in these days of gift shops and constant marketing, I'm not sure. Perhaps Annabelle Selldorf can insist on some sort of covenant, that the space must stay as she designs it.

Update - In an interesting article in The Guardian, Rowan Moore has a more representative photograph of the proposed entrance space. Is it a bit... shopping mall?

Museums are good for your health (ctd.)

June 23 2022

Image of Museums are good for your health (ctd.)

Picture: Hyperallergic via Flickr

An article by Elaine Velie in Hyperallergic alerts me to a new paper in the Journal of Positive Psychology setting out how visiting a museum is good for your mental health. The paper is a reviewing paper, that is, it surveys existing studies, and has not made any new findings itself. But overall the picture is pretty clear that museums are good for us. But you and I knew this already.

One interesting snippet was the effect museums had on stress:

Several studies have examined the effects of visiting the art museum on clinical and self-report indices of mental and physical health. A common focus has been on the ability of art museum visits to reduce stress. Cortisol, a hormone associated with stress responses, is commonly used as a biological marker of people’s stress levels (Clow, 2004). Several studies have observed changes in cortisol after visiting an art museum (Clow & Fredhoi, 2006; D’Cunha et al., 2019; Grossi et al., 2019). In nonclinical samples, cortisol reductions were observed after a single art museum visit (Clow & Fredhoi, 2006; Grossi et al., 2019); Clow and Fredhoi (2006) also observed reductions in self- reported stress levels. Researchers have also examined stress responses to art museum visits in people living with dementia and found that repeated art museum engagement, involving both weekly art viewing and art making for 6 weeks, resulted in more dynamic cortisol responses (D’Cunha et al., 2019). Further, engaging in art museum activities has been associated with feeling restored in an elementary school student sample (Annechini et al., 2020) and in decreased emotional exhaustion and depersonalization in medical residents (Orr et al., 2019).

You can read the full paper here.

New art store in Edinburgh

June 23 2022

Image of New art store in Edinburgh

Picture: NGS

The National Galleries of Scotland have launched a consultation on the development of a new art facility in Edinburgh. The plan is to develop a site they currently use for storage into a conservation and research centre. From the photos, though it is not explicitly stated, it looks as if the plan is to make the storage an accessible site, so the public can visit any time. The Glasgow Museums Resource Centre would presumably be the model, where anyone can go and see works in storage. It used to be that you didn't need an appointment, but I see now you need to book at least four weeks in advance. Still, it's better than institutions like Tate in London, who won't let most people in at all.

Canova virtual tour

June 23 2022

Image of Canova virtual tour

Picture: Christie's

Christie's have made a virtual tour of one of their star lots in the forthcoming Old Master sales, a lost Recumbant Magdalene by Antonia Canova. You can zoom around it here. The statue will be auctioned on 7th July, estimated at £5m-£7m. It was discovered in 2002 in a garden statuary sale, for about £5,000. Literally, a sleeping sleeper!

New Moretti gallery

June 23 2022

Image of New Moretti gallery

Picture: FT

The Financial Times reports on the opening of Fabrizio Moretti's new gallery in St James' in London. He's joined two buildings together in Duke Street. As he says, it's quite a bet on the future of London as the centre of Europe's art market:

Moretti is not impressed by Brexit, which he describes as “an own goal”, but, he says, “England will make it. I don’t see a city that can replace London as the marketplace for Europe. Right now, the customs situation is bad — what used to take three hours now takes three weeks — but hopefully there will be changes that make it easier.”

The FT also reports that Moretti will be joined by Letizia Treves, currently head of the curatorial department at the National Gallery in London. AHN wishes them all good luck!

'NG 200'

June 23 2022

Video: National Gallery

The National Gallery in London are making plans to celebrate the 200th anniversary of their opening in 1824. On the Today programme this morning there was an interview with director Gabriele Finaldi, on plans to loan 12 of the Gallery's most important paintings to regional galleries over 2024. Which is a nice way of stressing the National element of the institution. One of them will be the Wilton Diptych, which has never left Trafalgar Square before. More here.

€1m Solimena in Paris

June 23 2022

Video: Tajan

A modello by Solimena went some way above its €500k-€70ok estimate in Paris yesterday to make €1m hammer. That's an impressive price for a picture the Old Master naysayers might have said was yesterday's taste. Nice video from Tajan to promote it too. Catalogue entry here.


June 22 2022

Sorry for the lack of posts. I'm writing my monthly Art Newspaper column. The previous one has just gone online, here, in case you're interested.

Sotheby's Evening Old Master sale

June 20 2022

Image of Sotheby's Evening Old Master sale

Picture: Sotheby's

The catalogues for Sotheby's London Old Master sales are online. Their evening sale is led by a Willem van de Velde the Younger, of The surrender of the Royal Prince during The Four Days' Battle, 11–14 June 1666. The estimate is £4m-£6m, and the cataloguing states that it's being sold by a Dutch cultural institution 'to fund the acquisition of the 1718 Stradivarius violin'. If you have to sell a picture as fine as the van de Velde, then I guess buying a Stradivarius is a good enough reason. The picture was at Sotheby's a decade ago, where it made £5.3m all in, against an estimate of £1.5m-£2.5m. It looks like it has been cleaned since then.

The evening sale has 22 lots, which might speak to issues of supply in the Old Master world at the moment, though Sotheby's also has a British art 'Jubilee' sale, which contains works by Gainsborough, Constable, Turner, and a major £2m-£3m Richard Parkes Bonnington. These works would normally go into an Old Masters sale. The Jubilee sale is on 29th June.

The Sotheby's Day Sale has some very interesting lots, including a long lost self-portrait by David Martin (which I'd expect to go some way above its £20k-£30k estimate) and a rare still life by the deaf British artist Benjamin Ferrers.

A bit of Tefaf magic

June 20 2022

Video: Tefaf

Here's a lovely video from Tefaf, from 2020 in fact, but which I hadn't seen before: it tells the story of how the director of the Chateau de Versailles museum bought a bust at the fair which had once been at Versailles, of Louis XIV's surgeon Georges Mareschal. The museum didn't know of the bust's whereabouts until they saw it on Stuart Lochhead's stand, where a quick deal had to be sealed with a handshake. The acquisition is all the more impressive when we consider it was about the time Covid began.

The disappearance of Gauguin's chair

June 20 2022

Image of The disappearance of Gauguin's chair

Picture: via TAN

In The Guardian, Donna Ferguson reports on research by a Dutch academic on why Van Gogh's painting Gauguin's Chair (above right) became much less well known than his painting, Van Gogh's Chair (left), even though the two were originally painted by Van Gogh as pendants. The answer lies with Johanna Bonger, the widow of Van Gogh's brother, Theo, who took a great dislike to Gauguin:

“Johanna never showed Gauguin’s Chair, while Van Gogh’s Chair was promoted as a really important piece of art,” said Louis van Tilborgh, senior researcher at the Van Gogh museum and professor of art history at the University of Amsterdam, who published his research in the Dutch art journal Simiolus.

He thinks that the reason Bonger did not want to exhibit the painting was that she disliked Gauguin after the French artist publicly belittled his former friend. “Gauguin, very early on, spread the word that Van Gogh was not only mad but also that he, Gauguin, had to teach Van Gogh how to paint. I think Bonger knew that and my conclusion is that, for that reason, she didn’t want to put those two pictures together.”

Back in 2020, Van Gogh scholar Martin Bailey also wrote about the history of the paintings, examining how Van Gogh's Chair came to be sold:

One of the mysteries, which does not appear to have been addressed in the Van Gogh literature, is why the two paintings were split up: Van Gogh’s Chair is now at the National Gallery in London and Gauguin’s Chair is at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

On Vincent’s death in 1890 both pictures were inherited by his brother Theo, and after he died the following year they passed to Theo’s wife Jo Bonger and her son. In 1923 they lent Van Gogh’s Chair to an exhibition at the Leicester Galleries in London. A few weeks later it was bought by the National Gallery for just under £800, with funds provided by Samuel Courtauld. In 1926, Courtauld suggested that Van Gogh’s Chair might be sold, in order to buy one of the artist’s landscapes, explaining that “we ought not to have too many Van Goghs”.

Fortunately, A Wheatfield, with Cypresses (1889) ended up being acquired without the sale of the chair painting. Considering that Theo’s wife Jo then owned around 200 paintings it is surprising that she chose to sell one which was quite so personal. It also meant splitting up what the artist very clearly regarded as a pair.

New Ricci discovery at Tefaf

June 20 2022

Image of New Ricci discovery at Tefaf

Picture: TAN

In The Art Newspaper, Osman Can Yerebakan has news of a fantastic Sebastiano Ricci discovery to be unveiled at Tefaf in Maastricht. The picture, Diana and Endymion, was spotted by dealer Christopher Bishop in a Florida auction house, where it was catalogued as a work from the 19th Century. According to TAN, when Bishop saw the painting online, he was particularly struck by Diana's... anatomy:

From the light’s focus on Diana’s breasts to her somber expression and the hint of arousal conveyed in Endymion’s horn, the codings of autonomy and desire reveal a painter eager to push his era’s boundaries. It was in fact this trait that encouraged dealer Christopher Bishop to bid $200,000 to fetch the painting in a Florida-based auction house’s online sale, which had listed the work as dating from the 19th century.

Bishop will also unveil a newly discovered Jan Lievens drawing, of Admiral Maarten Harpertszoon Tromp, which came up for sale in a Massachusetts auction estimated at $300, eventually making $514,800. The Ricci will be offered at €1.35m, and the drawing at €1.4m, both at Tefaf (25-30 June).

National Gallery of Scotland extension delayed

June 17 2022

Image of National Gallery of Scotland extension delayed

Picture: SNG

And not just delayed, but delayed again. The new galleries (to replace the 1970s space for displaying Scottish art, which resembled a hastily decorated NCP car park) were due to open in 2018, then 2021, and now it's going to be late 2023. The budget has gone up too, from an initial £15.3m, then to £22m, and now they won't say what to (which means quite a lot more than £22m). What's gone wrong? From The Times:

The project has involved excavating beneath the building, which dates from 1859, but it has been held up by the discovery of “unexpected remnants” of previous developments, including “deeply buried layers of concrete”, as well as damp penetration and asbestos.

All of which is unimpressive, really. Who could have imagined that digging down from a 19th Century building towards a 19th Century railyway line would reveal 'deeply buried layers of concrete'? One wonders again at the ability of the management of the Scottish National Galleries to pull off this project (and to be honest, much else, as long suffering AHN readers may remember).

But those looking to be generous, the SNG aren't alone; there is a tendency for museum refurbishment projects to go horribly over time and budget. The Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp closed in 2010 for a restoration, due to open in 2017. It's still closed, and the latest date is the end of this year. We'll believe it when we see it.

Anyway, following the Edinburgh news, I thought I'd check in on the National Portrait Gallery in London, which closed in 2020 for an overhaul, and was due to reopen in Spring 2023. The good news is they're still due to open in 2023, but they won't confirm exactly when. Which suggests a possible delay. But given Covid, I think we can probably forgive them that. (Though I still wish they hadn't closed entirely!)

Boom time for female Old Masters

June 17 2022

Image of Boom time for female Old Masters

Picture: FT/Weiss Gallery

Here's a good article by Breeze Barrington in the FT on the rise in values for works by female Old Masters. In part, this is due to a very belated realisation by institutions that they need to look again at the representation of female artists in their male-dominated collections. But it also represents a shift in taste among collectors. Within the article, there's news of an interesting discovery at the Weiss Gallery, of a sketch of Charles Beale by Mary Beale (above). 

It's been bugging me for a while, incidentally, the awkwardness of the term 'female Old Master'. Can we do better? Old Mistress obviously doesn't work. But would de-gendering the collective noun for painters before 1800 give us a chance to come up with a more appealing name anyway, one without the perjorative 'old'? I am, at this moment, stumped. 'Classic art' hasn't really taken off. And 'female classical artists' conjures up violins. Can you think of something? Let me know.

Update - a reader writes:

It says a lot about the industry that it uses ‘old masters’ for any work produced before c.1800 in the first place, and ‘master/mastery’ of course implies maleness. I don’t really have an offering for an alternative term, but I can usually get away with ‘renaissance women artists’ (although I also usually only write about things pre-1700), but that has its own problems, especially given the different meanings of the word ‘renaissance’. But I do think that if we focused on eras or styles that might help. If you call Artemisia an ‘old master’ you need to specify her gender, but if you call her a baroque or 17th century painter you don’t.

It does make it easier if we are more period-specific, like Renaissance or Baroque. And these are more engaging terms too, than just 'old'. We probably do still need a catch all term though. Of course, the French just have 'tableaux anciens', and the Italians 'dipinti antici'. Which at least is non-gender specific.

Christie's Old Master evening sale

June 16 2022

Image of Christie's Old Master evening sale

Picture: Christie's

The catalogue for Christie's Old Master evening sale has gone online, and there are many nice pictures to see. I'll come back later for a more detailed look at the sale (and when Sotheby's put theirs up*). But my eye was immediately drawn to a Portrait of a Carmelite Monk, catalogued as a work by Van Dyck, estimated at £2.8m-£3.5m. This picture was largely unknown, until it was sold at Sotheby's in 2011, also by Van Dyck, for £713,250, against an estimate of £600,000-£800,000.

Back then, I thought it was probably not by Van Dyck (as I wrote on AHN here), but Rubens, which was its traditional attribution (the provenance was from a descendant of Rubens, and it was even traditionally identified as "Rubens' confessor"). Now, however, I think it is by Van Dyck, and I was wrong in 2011. I remember seeing it in the excellent Van Dyck: the Antomy of Portraiture exhibtion at the Frick in 2016, and realising, under the patient tutelage of curators Stijn Alsteens and Adam Eaker, that they were quite right, it was early Van Dyck. 

Either way, I remember there was general agreement back in 2011 that whether it was by Rubens or Van Dyck, the price then was something of a bargain. Now, an astute collector has seen their taste vindicated, for not only is the estimate much higher, but the picture is guaranteed by Christie's. It represents how much the market for Old Master pictures can change, even in the space of a relatively short time.

* Less than three weeks till the sale, and still no catalogue - tut!

Digitally preparing for the worst, in Ukraine

June 16 2022

Video: CNN

In Ukraine, teams are taking digital scans of heritage sites and monuments for potential rebuilding, should they be destroyed by Russia. More above from CNN, and here in The Economist.

Rembrandt in Wales

June 16 2022

Image of Rembrandt in Wales

Picture: Guardian

The latest iteration of the National Gallery's Masterpiece on Tour programme has seen their Rembrandt portrait of Saskia go to Powys in Wales. The scheme is very worthwhile, and I see from Andrew Dickson's Guardian story that it is set to be expanded:

“We wanted to try and take down some of the barriers,” says Susan Foister, the gallery’s deputy director when we speak. “People should have access to great art locally.”The scheme’s first iteration involved one painting spending around six weeks at three regional galleries each year. Now, the NG wants to build multi-year partnerships, working closely with spaces that haven’t borrowed works before to share expertise and select works that might resonate with their visitors. Last year, Oriel Davies and its collaborating galleries took temporary possession of Chardin’s tender 18th-century portrait of a boy, The House of Cards. Once Saskia has done her stint, she’ll be followed by a flamboyantly colourful Tobias and the Angel by the workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio (c.1470-5), which will tour in 2023.

NG's virtual Jubilee exhibition

June 16 2022

Image of NG's virtual Jubilee exhibition

Picture: National Gallery

The National Gallery in London has started doing excellent virtual exhibitions. You can move around with ease and even zoom in on the pictures tolerably well. There's even an augmented reality option, on mobile devices. Their latest celebrated the Queen's platinum jubilee:

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is the longest reigning monarch in British history. She has witnessed many changes of government and has advised no fewer than 14 successive Prime Ministers. This year, she became the first British monarch to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee, commemorating 70 years of service.

To mark this unprecedented milestone, we have brought together 28 paintings from our collection that shed light on the notion of queenship, including portraits of female rulers from different times and countries as well as images that relate to some of the attributes most frequently associated with female monarchs past and present.

More here.

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