The 'most seductive image in British Art'?

July 4 2011

Image of The 'most seductive image in British Art'?

Picture: Sotheby's

It's a good line to spin, but I'm not sure I find Lely's portrait of Nell Gwyn (on sale this week at Sotheby's) that seductive. I don't think Lely could really do seductive...

'Fake or Fortune?' - The final verdict

July 3 2011

Image of 'Fake or Fortune?' - The final verdict

Above is my favourite Tweet in response to last night's programme.

Mizzoryguts, if you're still chuckling, think of my Dad: he's been laughing his nuts off for 33 years...

Connoisseurship in Crisis?

July 3 2011

Image of Connoisseurship in Crisis?

Picture: Courtauld Institute

The picture above, The Procuress after Dirck van Baburen (see the original here), belongs to the Courtauld Institute in London. It was donated to them in 1960 as a work by the notorious forger Hans van Meegeren. However, two years ago, the Courtauld's investigations revealed that it was in fact not a fake, but a 17thC copy. It was even suggested that the picture belonged to Vermeer, for the same subject appears in the background of two of his paintings.

The Courtauld's findings were first published in the Art Newspaper in September 2009:

A “fake” in the Courtauld Gallery, believed to be by the master forger Han van Meegeren (1889-1947), is a genuine Dutch Golden Age painting, new research has revealed. It is a version of The Procuress, a 1622 brothel scene by Dirck van Baburen, which is also depicted in the background of two works by Vermeer. It is now believed that the Courtauld’s painting may, in fact, be the work that Vermeer once had.

None of this sounded quite right to me, so we decided to investigate further for a possible episode of 'Fake or Fortune?'. The Courtauld kindly allowed us to see the picture in their conservation studio. It not only looked to me straight away like a fake, but a fake by van Meegeren. His style is distinctive, particularly in the way he constructs faces. 

The picture has now been conclusively proved to be by van Meegeren on 'Fake or Fortune?'. There is no doubting van Meegeren was a rogue and a wrong'un, but I feel rather drawn to him. I like to imagine him laughing with incredulity at the sight of leading art historians declaring his paintings to be originals, decades after his death. The intriguing thing is that although van Meegeren conceded he had owned The Procuress, he denied repeatedly that he painted it, claiming his wife bought it in an antique shop. The question is, therefore, how many more of his fakes are still out there?

Lucky Dave...

July 2 2011

Image of Lucky Dave...

Picture: Daily Mail/Getty

David Cameron has been given a portrait of himself with Samantha and their new baby, Florence, by Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari. It is taken from a press photograph.

As the Daily Mail says, one for the downstairs loo...

Agustus John's house...

July 2 2011

Image of Agustus John's house...

Picture: Bournemouth Echo

...has been badly damaged by fire. John lived there from 1927 until his death in 1961.


July 1 2011

Image of Sauce

Picture: Philip Mould Ltd

Behold – a newly discovered portrait of Nell Gwyn, Charles II’s most famous mistress. 

You might think that portraits of Nell abound, but in fact she’s a rare sitter. The vast majority of ‘Nell Gwyns’ you see are usually someone’s dull great-granny spiced up with a false label. 

This picture has not previously been known. It is the most sexually suggestive portrait of her, indeed probably of any English late 17th Century court figure. The likeness is taken from Samuel Cooper’s now lost miniature, which is recorded in a number of engravings (see an example at the NPG). Here, Nell is shown washing sausages, an act which would immediately have been known to a contemporary viewer as rather naughty (the allusion goes back to Brueghel). To add to the satirical raunchiness of the image, Nell is shown in virginal white. The portrait is the Stuart equivalent of a saucy postcard. It has, until now, been in the collection of her descendants.

'I would have liked to have been Poussin...'

July 1 2011

Image of 'I would have liked to have been Poussin...'

Picture: Dulwich Picture Gallery

So says Cy Twombly, the subject of a new exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, 'Twombly and Poussin: Arcadian Painters' (until 25th Sept). The show has good reviews so far: The Guardian gives it 4/5. See a selection of exhibits here.

Luke Syson, off to the Met

July 1 2011

The National Gallery's current curator of Italian Paintings pre-1500, Luke Syson, has been appointed Curator of the Department of Sculpture and Decorative Arts at the Metropolitan Museum, New York.

Perks of being an art dealer no. 42

June 30 2011

Image of Perks of being an art dealer no. 42

Picture: BG

Apologies for the lack of blogging lately - it's been quite busy at the Masterpiece fair. 

Today was the sort of day where you think - 'how lucky I am to be an art dealer'. First, we saw an ultra-rare acquisition at the gallery. Then my colleague Emma Rutherford sold two pictures at the fair (so that's Emma 3 - Bendor & Philip, 0), and we had what we call in the trade 'meaningful conversations' with other potential clients. But really, if you're an art evangelist like me, it's just nice to talk about pictures with people, whether they buy them or not. And today there was plenty of talking.

Finally, in the evening we had a charity gala in aid of Clic Sargent. There were cocktails, celebrities, a band fronted by F1 team boss Eddie Jordan (he's in the funny shirt, above, playing the spoons), and a silent auction with various enticing lots. One of them was a ride in the two seater Spitfire seen in the photo. And the winning bidder was... me!

There are few things I'm more obsessed with than art, but Spitfires are one of them. So although it was (gulp) not cheap, I'm now rather tragically excited. I was so keen to secure the lot that, as the clock ticked down, I inadvertently bid against myself. Which was a bit stupid, but as the auctioneer said, it's all for a good cause...

Now I just need to sell every painting on our stand to help pay for it. And I also need to check the small print - I'm assuming that 'a ride in a two-seater Spitfire' means it actually takes off...

Sotheby's 2 -1 Christie's

June 29 2011

Image of Sotheby's 2 -1 Christie's

Picture: Christie's

That's the score for this week's contemporary and post-war evening sales. Christie's made the headlines this morning with the sale of Francis Bacon's Study for a Portrait (above) for £18m. But when it came to the totals raised, Sotheby's triumphed by a long way - £108.8m vs £78.8m.

Sotheby's Campbell's Soup picture by Andy Warhold failed to sell at £3.5-4.5m, however.

The Masterpiece fair

June 29 2011

...opens today, so please forgive light blogging... my colleague Emma has just sold our first picture...

Only in Sweden?

June 28 2011

Image of Only in Sweden?

Picture: National Museum Stockholm. 'Kneeling nun, recto', by Martin van Meytens (detail).

Whilst looking at the National Museum of Sweden's website for the Elizabeth I story below, I came across the page for an exhibition there called 'Lust & Vice'.

The exhibition:

...shows examples of how sexuality, virtue and sin have been depicted in art since the 16th century – from an age when the Church preached that sexual contact was only permitted within wedlock to today’s questioning of who erotic art is created for. A total of 200 works are on show from the museum’s own collections, a mix of paintings, drawings, sculptures and applied art. You can also see a genuine chastity belt!

The exhibition includes paintings of women showing their naked bottoms.


There's also a rather disturbing photo called 'Alone in a Brown Room', by Annika von Hausswolf. It depicts a bloke on a chair with his trousers lowered, and his hand in a naughty place. You could click here to see it, but I don't recommend you do. You will though, won't you... Who ever knew that wallpaper could be such a turn on?


Swedes acquire Elizabeth I

June 28 2011

Image of Swedes acquire Elizabeth I

Picture: Bonhams

The National Museum in Stockholm has acquired this portrait miniature of Elizabeth I by Hilliard. It surfaced last year at Bonhams in London, where it made £40,800 (inc. premium).

The Swedes' acquisition of Elizabeth I marks a historical irony. In the early 1560s, the very mad king Erik XIV of Sweden tried desperately to marry her. He sent her his portrait by Steven van Herwijck [Gripsholm Castle], and had his ambassadors shower the populace of London with gold coins in a bid to win popular support. That plan didn't work, because the coins turned out to be fake. Erik was later deposed, and poisoned by a bowl of pea soup.

Art? Dance? Or in-flight entertainment?

June 27 2011


You decide. From the US pavilion at the Venice Biennale

Check out the itchy bum routine about 1m30 in.

Those de Troy sketches...

June 27 2011

Image of Those de Troy sketches...

Picture: Sotheby's

...didn't exactly fly. Each one was estimated at EUR200-300,000 separately. But all seven sold for an identical EUR177,322. However, the good news is that they were bought by one person, and the set will remain intact.

I always think it's rather unseemly when auction houses break up a set of pictures into single lots, in the hope of getting a few more bids: art historical blackmail.

Google leads to restitution case

June 27 2011

Image of Google leads to restitution case

Picture: Boston Museum of Fine Arts

The heir of a Jewish art dealer killed at Auschwitz in 1943 has reached an agreement with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston over a painting by Eglon van der Neer. 

The heir, Fred Westfield, found out about the painting through Google in 2004. The painting had been seized from his uncle, Walter, in 1936. The MFA will keep Portrait of a Man and a Woman in an Interior, but has made an undisclosed payment to Mr Westfield.

More on the Van Dyck debate

June 27 2011

Image of More on the Van Dyck debate

Picture: Philip Mould Ltd (detail)

The Antiques Trade Gazette has a good summary of the debate over the Van Dyck study we bought at the Chatsworth Attic Sale.

To recap, we bought the study catalogued as 'Circle of Rubens'. We, and a number of experts, say it is by Van Dyck. Sotheby's, and their own experts (who haven't seen the picture), say it isn't. 

Speaking to the ATG, Sotheby's said that the picture was 'short on quality and uncharacteristic for a Van Dyck.' The quality point is moot. Look for yourself at the face, see how animated it is, and remember that this was intended to be no more than a rapidly painted sketch, for later reference in a finished work. But I readily agree that it is uncharacteristic.

It is uncharacteristic because nobody has properly studied Van Dyck's use of studies before. According to the 2004 Van Dyck catalogue raisonne, only 3 studies are listed from between Van Dyck's departure to Italy in 1621 and his death in 1641. This is so patently an under-estimate that we cannot use the 'characteristic' argument when judging potential Van Dyck studies. Instead, we have to look at all the available evidence with open eyes...

Below is my fuller discussion of the picture.

Winslow Homer trumps Monet?

June 27 2011

Image of Winslow Homer trumps Monet?

Picture: BBC

On the sunniest evening of the year so far, the second programme of 'Fake or Fortune?' netted over 4m viewers last night. The figure beats the 3.9m from the previous programme on Monet. Given that not many people in England are familiar with Homer, that tells you something about how people are interested in paintings with good stories, no matter who the artist.

The peak viewing figure was 4.5m. We even beat The Royal over on ITV - and it's not often that an arts programme gets more viewers than a drama. 

Welcome to Art History News

June 26 2011

Image of Welcome to Art History News

Picture: BBC

It being Sunday, some of you may have watched 'Fake or Fortune?' and are now visiting the site for the first time. So, hello and welcome. Bummer about the ending eh? Poor Selina. I guess life can be tediously unpredictable sometimes.... does pretty much what it says on the tin. It's written by me, Bendor Grosvenor (the one on the left above), but I hope it will become more collaborative over time. So if you have anything you'd like to contribute, add or disagree with, please get in touch. And if you like what you see, do spread the word...


An art dealer's weekend

June 26 2011

Image of An art dealer's weekend


Museum conservators, look away now...

This weekend we're setting up for 'Masterpiece'. Millions of pounds worth of art is being shuffled hither thither, as the carpenters, painters, cleaners and dealers put the finishing touches to what promises to be a fine fair. It's dusty, nosiy and exceedingly hot. But I love installing exhibitions and displays, from hanging the pictures to setting the lights. I guess it's the frustrated curator in me.

In this photo you can see our full-length portrait of Lady Frances Montagu, waiting to be hung. Behind me a clock specialist is setting the time on his stock, producing a delightfully somnolent sound. At the end of the corridor a two seater Spitfire has been wheeled into position (it's yours for £2m...). 

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