Happy Easter!

April 1 2018

Image of Happy Easter!

Picture: Wadsworth Atheneum

Happy Easter everyone. May your weekend be as rocket powered as Van Dyck's Resurrection

Bayeux tapestry comes to Britain (ctd.)

April 1 2018

Image of Bayeux tapestry comes to Britain (ctd.)

Picture: Bayeux Tapestry

Since the news that President Macron of France is to send the Bayeux Tapestry on loan to the UK, the British government has been wondering what British treasure to send to France in return. I understand that the Rosetta Stone was considered first, but this idea was shelved after ministers feared its message might be mistaken for another attempt to break the Brexit negotiation deadlock; a source said, 'since the EU don't know what our position is on Brexit - and frankly neither do we - we didn't want them thinking the Stone's text was another negotiating stance.' Then, I gather, the Foreign Office suggested the Parthenon Frieze, but these were ruled out after No.10 baulked at the inevitable 'Britain loses marbles' headlines. Finally, Theresa May broke the deadlock by suggesting we send our own tapestry, and to get around any conservation issues, a new one will be specially made, reflecting Britain's post-EU future. Already dubbed 'the May-EU' tapestry, it will be weaved by a crack team of spiritually pure Brexit leaders, including Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Mogg. A source close to the Prime Minister said, 'it's one in the eye for Boris Johnson'.

More here

Museum image fees (ctd.)

March 31 2018

Image of Museum image fees (ctd.)

Picture: Louvre

A curious development in the issue of museum image fees in the UK - the head of Tate Images is canvassing members of the Association of Historical and Fine Art Photographers on copyright in photographs of out-of-copyright artworks. Here is his email:

Hello everyone.

I'm new to this group so please let me introduce myself.  I'm Clive Coward and for the last 10 years I've managed Tate Images, the image library of Tate.  Prior to this I managed British Museum Images and have worked in Wellcome Images (where I know Richard Everett, AHFAP Chair, from and who pointed me to this group), the Royal Geographical Society and Bridgeman Images.

I hope you don’t mind but I would like to canvas opinions from professional fine art photographers (and anyone else) on the matter of the copyright status of the photographs they take of out-of-copyright artworks.  Given the current climate; Brexit, free images being supplied by European galleries and museums, the reduced funding for art-history publishing etc. I thought it would be good to hear from the professionals who create this photography in the first place.  

So if you don’t mind…

1) Do you regard the photography you create of out-of-copyright artworks as being protected under UK Copyright Law? 

2) Do you think UK Copyright Law is clear enough on this matter?

3) Do you think the photography of out-of-copyright artworks is protected under some other law, for example contract law? 

4) Do you support the charging of fees for the reuse of the photography?

It would be greatly appreciated if you could send your thoughts by April 13th.

Thank you and Happy Easter

Clive Coward

Tate Images Manager.

Since Clive is asking for the views of 'anyone', you can login and reply to him here, on JiscMail, which is the email discussion forum for UK education and research communities.

I'm not entirely sure how to read Clive's request. Does it signal a softening in Tate Image's position in favour of free images, or perhaps their uncertainty on copyright? Or is it an attempt to gain support for a tightening of copyright law, in favour of those who own paintings? When the UK finally leaves the EU and the transition period (in about 2021), charging museums will be able to rely on English law's definition of copyright, which is more in their favour than EU law.As a recap of the copyright issues, see Ivan MacQuisten's article in The Art Newspaper here.Copyright is, of course, the glue that holds the whole image licensing operation together. If there is no copyright in a new photograph of a painting which is itself out of copyright, then museums can no longer demand payment from publishers and scholars in the way they currently do. Might expect Tate Images expect the people whose very job it is to take photos to support anything that generates income from those photos? 

Anyway, I'd be interested to know your views. And hurrah for the first respondent, a photographer who refers Clive to this British Art Journal editorial, strongly in favour of free images. 

Chatsworth before & after

March 31 2018

Image of Chatsworth before & after

Picture: Chatsworth via Tatler

They're undertaking a £33m renovation at Chatsworth, the great stately home of the Dukes of Devonshire. Among the artworks being cleaned is Maria Cosway's painting of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. More here

'Michaelina, Baroque's leading lady'

March 31 2018

Image of 'Michaelina, Baroque's leading lady'

Picture: RKD

Here's an exhibition I've been looking forward to - the first ever show dedicated to Michaelina Wautier (1614–1689), whose self-portrait is above. The show will be at the Rubenshuis in Antwerp, and is part of that city's 'Year of the Baroque'. Regular readers will know that Antwerp is one of my favourite places, and not just because Van Dyck was born there. I highly recommend a visit. 

The exhibition is curated by the Rubens scholar, Prof. Katlijne Van Der Stighelen, and runs from 2nd June till 2nd September. Here's some info on Wautiers from the exhibition website:

Glass ceilings have been around for years: it was an almost impossible task to make a name as a female artist in the 17th century. Despite being a good match for her fellow male artists, Michaelina's work still ended up being forgotten. We currently know of around thirty of her works. These bear witness to challenging topics and a superior pictorial technique.

Very little is known about Michaelina Wautier herself. Her life is barely documented. Born in Mons, this artist moved to Brussels soon after 1640, together with her older brother, the painter Charles Wautier (1609 -1703). Both remained unmarried and lived in a stately town house near the Chapel Church (Kappellekerk).

Wautier distinguishes herself from her female counterparts due to her focus on many different genres. Besides taking on portraits and genre paintings, she also turned her hand to large format historical pieces – a challenge that even many male painters resisted. She effortlessly portrayed religious themes and mythological scenes. She observed everyday reality and painted both poignant children's portraits and astonishing and interesting figures. She mastered all the genres from her era, both in a small and large format. In doing so, Michaelina Wautier was not only unique, but also unusually versatile.

Royal Collection's Leonardo's on tour

March 31 2018

Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing from Royal Collection Trust on Vimeo.

Video: Royal Collection

I've been meaning to mention the Royal Collection's excellent initiative to take some 144 Leonardo drawings on the road next year, to mark the 500th anniversary of the artist's death. The drawings will be shown at 12 locations across the UK. I wonder if there's a prize for the first person to see all of them.

A Royal Collection source tells me that by a rough calculation, more than half the population will be within an hour's travel of a Leonardo show.

More here

Image fees (ctd.)

March 30 2018

Image of Image fees (ctd.)

Picture: AAH

Roll up - I'll be talking about museum image fees at the Association for Art History's annual conference next Friday, 6th April, in London. It'll be between 13.45 and 14.45 at King's College London, and I'll be discussing the various issues with Jacqueline Riding and Caroline McCaffrey-Howarth. More details here

Warning: I may get rather worked up.

Actually, while on the subject, here's a sorry tale: I met last week a Cambridge PhD graduate who has just completed many years of research into 17thCentury British portraiture. I had better not go into any identifying details here, but the thesis was on a fascinating aspect of our national art history, which deserves to be far better known about. But guess what, we'll never get to share in the knowledge, because, with 650 images, the student could not afford to even think of publishing the research, or putting it online. Due to licensing restrictions, only one printed copy can ever be made. What a ridiculous, daft, maddening, idiotic system we have in art history. It is the only academic discipline which shoots itself in the foot like this. Actually, it's worse; it shoots itself in the head. And all because some museums want to protect the fantasy that they can raise income from images. It's so utterly selfish!

Art history dishes (ctd.)

March 30 2018

Image of Art history dishes (ctd.)

Picture: British Museum

Following on from my mention of 'Peposo', a reader alerts to some recipes in a sketch book (at the British Museum) by the British landscape artist Thomas Jones. One is for 'a meagre soup', another is for 'an excellent dish' of anchovies and eggs on toast. 

Francis Towne online catalogue raisonné

March 30 2018

Image of Francis Towne online catalogue raisonné

Picture: Paul Mellon Centre

Feast your eyes on this - an online catalogue raisonné of the work of the British 18th Century artist Francist Towne (1739-1816). There are over 1,000 works, of which some 800 are shown in high resolution. The catalogue was written by Dr Richard Stephens, who regular readers will know is the force behind another wonderful online resource, The Art World in Britain 1660-1735

Constable discovery at London auction

March 30 2018

Image of Constable discovery at London auction

Picture: Rosebery's

A delightful and unknown oil sketch by Constable has ben sold at a minor auction in London. The picture wasn't a sleeper, and was fully researched and catalogued by Roseberys in London - but it made a hefty price of £305k against an estimate of £20k-£30k. More here

Art Newspaper Podcast - Prof. Martin Kemp

March 30 2018

Sound: TAN

Here's an excellent podcast from The Art Newspaper, featuring an interview with Prof. Martin Kemp, the renowned Leonardo scholar. Prof. Kemp has a new book out on his experiences in the world of Leonardo, called 'Living with Leonardo', which you can order here. The interview is conducted by The Art Newspaper's Martin Bailey, who, being one of the best in the business, holds nothing back and tackles Prof. Kemp immediately on the case of the Bella Principessa drawing, which has not yet received universal acclamation as a work by Leonardo. I was particularly interested to hear Prof. Kemp's take on the politics of attribution, which rang true to me - the way some can take a hostile view to a new attribution purely because of the circumstances of its announcement, and who may own it, and so on. 

Prof. Kemp also comments on the Madonna Litta, which belongs to the Hermitage, and which was leant to the National Gallery's celebrated Leonardo exhibition in 2011. Kemp rightly points out that the Hermitage insisted it was catalogued as a Leonardo, when most Leonardo scholars ascribe it to his pupils, including those who curated the National Gallery exhibition. This has become a news story about museum ethics, but it wasn't news at the time, as I wrote about it at length in my review of the exhibition at the time.

Prof. Kemp is amusing about the price made by the Salvator Mundi, of which incidentally he says that 'the huge majority of it is utterly consistent with Leonardo.' 

There's also an excellent interview with the founder of The Art Newspaper, Anna Somers Cocks. It's the 300th issue of The Art Newspaper this month.

The Mona Lisa on tour? (ctd.)

March 30 2018

Image of The Mona Lisa on tour? (ctd.)

Picture: Louvre

Non, says the Louvre, in response to the French Culture Minister's suggestion

Who underbid the Salvator Mundi?

March 30 2018

Image of Who underbid the Salvator Mundi?

Picture: Christie's

There's new speculation in the Daily Mail as to who underbid the $450m Salvator Mundi. The story says that two Arab princes bid against each other unknowingly, and that the ultimate winner, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, later swapped the painting for a yacht:

Now DailyMail.com can reveal the de-facto United Arab Emirates ruler Mohammed Bin Zayed also sent a representative to bid on the painting at the Christie's New York auction, in an attempt to secure it for the $1 billion Louvre Abu Dhabi museum, the sources tell DailyMail.com.

But neither Arab ruler knew the other was bidding, instead they both feared losing the auction to reps from the Qatari ruling family.

Qatar is fierce Gulf rivals of Saudi Arabia and the UAE and its ruling family is well-known for its interest in high end art.

'The bidding started to get high, and each of them thought they were bidding against the Qataris, and didn't want them to get it,' said one source close to the Emirati leader.

So they gave their proxies instructions, saying 'you can go as high as you want, just make sure you get it'.

'It got to $450 million and the Emiratis gave up. Then s**t hit the fan when the record came out.

'MBZ [Mohammed Bin Zayed] told Salman: "That was us bidding for it, why didn't you tell me?"'

And so the Saudi prince then swapped the painting for the Emirati prince's yacht. The story then goes on to quote 'the Emirati palace source' as saying:

The Qataris were offered that painting one year before for just $80 million, and that's more in the ball park of what it's really worth,' said the source.

'But they looked at it, and they felt it was too Christian for their collection, so they declined… The Saudis paid way, way too much for it.'

I'm sceptical about this version of events. First, the source seems determined to prove mainly that the picture is somehow 'not worth' what it made - the figure of $80m is mentioned - when there were other underbidders up to the $200m level. Second, I've been told that the underbidder to $400m was not from the Middle East, from a source who would know. Anyway, it's all a good tale, and if the yacht is ever renamed Salvator Mundi, we'll know that someone has a good sense of humour.

Bray's 'Private Passions'

March 30 2018

Image of Bray's 'Private Passions'

Picture: Art Fund

There was a good episode of BBC Radio 3's series 'Private Passions' with Xavier Bray, the new director of the Wallace Collection (here). In it, Bray touches on the issues caused by the fact that the Wallace is a 'closed' collection; that is, it cannot acquire or lend anything, which in turn makes it difficult to borrow things too - or, in fact, to do anything 'new'. This stems from the will of Lady Wallace, who said that the bequest of her late husband's - Sir Richard Wallace - collection must remain 'together' and 'unmixed with other objects of art'. This is despite the fact that when he was alive Sir Richard was an enthusiastic lender of his works to exhibitions.

As I mentioned in my recent FT piece on how collections can grow and evolve even in today's challenging funding environment, some believe that, as the 19th-century US museum director G. Brown Goode said, a “finished museum ... is a dead museum.” 

Whilst there is of course a unique beauty in the Wallace remaining an unchanged reflection to its founder's wishes, change and evolution is crucial in helping keep institutions fresh and motivated. After all, the interiors of the Wallace are constantly changed, and not always to good effect. Personally, I can only see advantages in the Wallace having the freedom to lend and borrow as every other institution has. Is it time for Lady Wallace's bequest to be sensitively updated?

New versus old

March 30 2018

Image of New versus old

Picture: The Times

I enjoyed giving a talk at the annual Codart conference in Bruges earlier this month. I was asked to talk about Old Masters, New Audiences, as part of the theme of the conference, which was Old Masters, Old fashioned? Of course I argued that Old Masters weren't old fashioned, and for the most part I think the curators at the conference were optimistic about the future appeal of Old Master paintings.

But there's no doubt that confidence has been shaken amongst many musem professionals as to whether 'people are interested' in Old Masters any more. Why is this? As I heard at the conference, it is primarily a reflection of the art market. We all see these huge sums being bid for works by Koons, Hirst et al, by which even a £50m Rubens seems somewhat 'unwanted' by comparison. So at the conference I found myself, as I regularly do, trying to explain that this is a false dichotomy. That what passes for 'the contemporary market' is only a relative handful of between 50 and 100 mainly American, male artists, who happen to be the subject of the greatest speculative market the art world has ever seen. Therefore, it is wrong to equate this financial phenomenon with genuine popular demand for contemporary art versus old art. It is a provable fact, incidentally, that more people visit Old Master exhibitions than contemporary art shows. 

But really, it's too late to persuade many in the museum world of this, so alluring is the narrative of big money in the modern and contemporary art world. And so we've seen in the last few years an explosion in 'contemporary interventions'. This is when curators and directors, lacking confidence in old art, and having lost the ability to make it relevant and interesting to new audiences, think the answer is to hang a Hirst next to a Hals. And that somehow, magically, people who like Hirst will like - and 'get' - Hals.

The thing is, there is no evidence that this works. At the Codart conference we heard with some refreshing frankness from a curator at the Frans Hals museum in Haarlem that their hanging of contemporary works among the Old Masters - also called in museum parlance, 'trans-historical displays' - had succeeded not one jot in attracting new or bigger audiences to the Old Masters. In fact, if anything the new displays only succeeded in alienating existing audiences. (No surprise there - but what was surprising was that the Hals Museum is going to press on with its trans-historicalism) We also heard that the V&A's 2016 show Botticelli Re-imagined, which was purposefully crafted to entice a younger audience to an Old Master artist like Botticelli by mixing his works with those by a range of contemporary and modern artists, only succeeded in lowering the age profile of the V&A's usual visitor demographic by about 10%. 

It's time for museums to find confidence again in 'old art'. In my experience of talking to museum-goers, the only thing these 'interventions' achieves is to demonstrate to visitors that museums don't have confidence - and thus don't value - their Old Masters. It's like going into a restaurant, seeing the menu, and then being told by the waiter that actually everything's pretty rubbish. You'd soon get up and leave.

All of this is touched on in a recent editorial for the Burlington Magazine, which is well worth reading. The editorial was written ahead of the unveiling of Damien Hirst's new exhibition at Houghton Hall in Norfolk, from which all that magnificent house's Old Masters were cleared for yet more spots. Although that show touches on a different phenomena that contemporary interventions - that is, the need for much contemporary art to seek legitimacy in the security of an established heritage setting - it nonetheless stems from the same basic question:

As with museums and galleries, the popularity of contemporary art as a strategy for drawing visitors to historic properties can suggest a patronising lack of confidence in both the innate ability of the art of the past to engage and excite and the skills of curators to interpret it. The insight of artists into the work of their predecessors is often of interest but is no substitute for historical understanding. Although this is a well-understood objection, less attention has been paid to the implications for contemporary art of using it as at best an instrument for interpreting historic art and at worst a marketing tool. As Damien Hirst for one well understands, if contemporary art is of value, it is of value for itself and not for what it can do to refresh the image of heritage organisations. 

Canaletto discovered at Aberdeen University

March 30 2018

Image of Canaletto discovered at Aberdeen University

Picture: Aberdeen University

A previously overlooked painting by Canaletto belonging to the University of Aberdeen has been unveiled. The painting caught the eye of the University's art history professor, John Gash, and he published an article about the work with the Canaletto expert Charles Beddington in The Burlington Magazine. More here.

Incidentally, John Gash runs one of only two art history courses in the UK with a focus on connoisseurship.

Museum image fees (ctd.)

March 21 2018

Image of Museum image fees (ctd.)

Picture: Louvre/Delacroix

Didier Rykner of the French art history blog, La Tribune de l'Art, reports that the question of museum reproduction fees was raised in a meeting between French museums and President Macron. There seems to have been desire on all sides to make it a reality. Which would be amazing.

France was a pioneer in putting images online of its art collections, with the Base Joconde, though they're only in low-res. More here.

'The Grand Tour'

March 21 2018

Video: The Grand Tour

Chatsworth in Derbyshire has joined forces with other local museums - including one of my favourites, Derby Museum - for an annual 'Grand Tour' programme of events. More here

Pirates ahoy!

March 21 2018

Image of Pirates ahoy!

Picture: National Trust

Research into a marine painting by Simon de Vlieger owned by the National Trust at Felbrigg Hall has revealed that the subject is a battle fought between the Dutch and a group of Chines pirates. More here

Looted Cranach re-discovered

March 21 2018

Image of Looted Cranach re-discovered

Picture: Christie's

A portrait of John Frederick the Magnanimous by Lucas Cranach the Elder looted by the Nazis in World War Two has been found, and will be sold by Christie's in New York later this month. The heirs of the owner during the War, Fritz Gutmann, will benefit from the sale. More here from Catherine Hickley in The Art Newspaper, and here at Christie's. 

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