Van Gogh's 'weave maps'

March 31 2011

Image of Van Gogh's 'weave maps'

An electrical engineering professor, Richard Johnson Jr., has developed an algorithmic programme to help authenticate Van Gogh paintings. The programme analyses the 'weave maps' of Van Gogh's canvasses. Johnson, who has been working at the Van Gogh Museum in the Netherlands, said;

'This is pretty extraordinary... What's happening is some doubted paintings are being authenticated, and some that had been placed at a funny date are now being moved.'

More here.

Church of England sells Zurburans for £15m

March 31 2011

Image of Church of England sells Zurburans for £15m

The Church of England has sold its series of paintings by Francisco Zurburan to a financier for £15 million. The twelve pictures have been at Auckland Castle, home to the Bishop of Durham, since 1756, and represent Jacob and his twelve sons (the 13th painting, Benjamin, is by Arthur Pond).

The financier, Jonathan Ruffer, has decided to immediately give the paintings back so that they can remain at Auckland Castle in perpetuity. This is quite an amazing gift. Read the Spectator's interview with him here. See more of the pictures here.

The happy ending should not, however, blind us to the fact that the Church of England Commissioners are prepared to sell off some of the most important parts of our national heritage. Have the Commissioners got the balance right between protecting the Church's heritage, and continuing the Church's mission?

PS - the paintings cost Bishop Trevor £124 in 1756. Clever Trevor.

Arts cuts - deja vu

March 31 2011

Image of Arts cuts - deja vu

Above is a Canadian cartoonist's take on arts cuts in British Columbia.

And, as I always like taking the 'long view' of events, here's Woodrow Wyatt's critique of an earlier Conservative government's cuts, in 1952:

Nothing like this has ever happened before in our history. Never before have so many museums and art galleries been compelled by any Government to impose restrictions on the public. And all this in order to save 84 people on the staff and £30,000 a year. When these announcements were made, there were, naturally, tremendous protests from those interested in the presevation of our culture. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury sought to justify these cuts in the House on 25th June by a very peculiar method of argument. He said that all museums and art galleries, taken together, had 59 more on their staffs today than they had before the war, and he went on to say that they had 277,000 square feet less of galleries to look after, because of losses due to enemy action, and that therefore there was no need whatever for them to have closed down any part of their premises.

The Financial Secretary looks at our heritage, our traditions and culture as a matter of arithmetic, and no doubt this Government would try to assess the artistic value of the Elgin Marbles by weight. In that case, there would be very little hope—if there are to be further cuts—for Magna Carta, because, although it is a very important document, it does not weigh very much.

New evidence on the 'Sanders Portrait'

March 30 2011

Image of New evidence on the 'Sanders Portrait'

Staff at the University of Guelph in Canada have published new evidence they say reinforces the claim of the 'Sanders Portrait' to show Shakespeare. 

The evidence is in the form of what is thought to be a direct link between the present owner, Lloyd Sullivan, and either William or John Sanders, who at some point may have acted with Shakespeare. More here, and the detailed genealogy here. If you really think the portrait is of Shakespeare, you can buy it here.

I'm a firm believer in the c.1610 Chandos portrait - so I still have trouble believing that the much younger 'Sanders' sitter, of 1603, is the same man. I also don't see that the Sanders sitter is 39, as he would have to be if the portrait was Shakespeare.

Restoring Matisse's 'Joy of Life'

March 30 2011

Image of Restoring Matisse's 'Joy of Life'

Picture: The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia.

Following the recent analysis of Van Gogh's faded sunflowers, scientists are now examining a 1906 work by Matisse, The Joy of Life.

Like Van Gogh, Matisse used a range of bright yellow pigments invented in the industrial revolution. These are now slowly fading, but by a combination of conservation and the right lighting levels it is hoped the process can be checked. 

Once the painting is in its own gallery in Philadelphia, the museum may use lights of a specific wavelength to minimize further oxidation [said Jennifer Mass, the scientist leading the project]. In the future, some chemical treatments might be considered to reverse the color changes, but that would be considered an invasive treatment and would be undertaken only with extreme care, she said.

"I think Matisse is not getting a fair deal at the moment," Mass said. "What art historians are looking at is not his original vision."

More here.

Winterhalter back at Osborne House

March 29 2011

Image of Winterhalter back at Osborne House

Picture: Jennifer Burton

A fleshy picture by Franz Winterhalter given to Prince Albert on his birthday by Queen Victoria has returned to Osborne House. Florinda originally hung in Victoria's sitting room, but was taken to Buckingham Palace after her death.

This is a good move by the Royal Collection, who are increasingly lending pictures back to their original settings. You can zoom in on the painting here

PS - this is one of my favourite examples yet of the 'pointless use of white gloves' rule demanded by newspapers for art-related photoshoots. The improbably strong curator here is Michael Hunter.

Maastricht stats

March 29 2011

Some numbers from the world's biggest art and antiques fair, courtesy of Forbes. My favourite at the end;

Opening night: 144,000 flowers; 120,000 hors d’oeuvres dishes; 60 private planes.

Overall: 1800 bottles of Champagne; 3500 bottles of wine; 100,000 glasses; 78,478 visitors from; 55 countries; 181 museum representatives; 154 private airplanes; one airport runway converted to a parking lot to accommodate said planes; more than 30,000 objects valued at over 2 billion euros; 1 robbery.

Incidentally, the jet count is down from 171 last year.

£35m V&A extension design revealed

March 29 2011

Image of £35m V&A extension design revealed

A design by British architect Amanda Levete has been chosen by the V&A for their new Exhibition Road extension. The huge new underground space will be used for exhibitions, replacing the current exhibition court spread over three seperate rooms.

The V&A staff and trustees deserve great praise for undertaking such a project in these austere times. The work will be finished by 2015.

Half the £35m has come from an anonymous donor - who richly dserves all our thanks. This is the sort of gift that Polly Toynbee today laments as 'the whims of wealthy donors'.

Getty Restitutes Goudstikker Molijn

March 29 2011

Image of Getty Restitutes Goudstikker Molijn

Picture: Getty

The Getty Museum has returned a landscape by Pieter Molijn to the heirs of Jacques Goudstikker, the Dutch art dealer whose stock was seized by the Nazis.

The Getty bought the painting in 1972 at Sotheby's after it had passed through several hands, but have very honourably decided to surrender ownership. More on Bloomberg here, and at the Getty here. There is a fascinating website on Goudstikker's collection here.

Discovering Dou

March 28 2011

Image of Discovering Dou

Picture: Brooklyn Museum

These museum basement discoveries continue apace; now the Brooklyn Museum has discovered a 1631 work by Gerrit Dou, which had been languishing in their stores described as a contemporary copy. 

The museum's new curator of European art, Richard Aste, reviewed the gallery's holdings and decided to show the 4x6 inch panel to a number of colleagues and experts. Now that it is considered to be by Dou, further research is being undertaken to see if it is a self-portrait.

Interestingly, given the debate in the UK on deacessioning, the picture had been earmarked for possible sale.  

That Picasso - too expensive?

March 28 2011

Image of That Picasso - too expensive?

Picture: Tate

The Guardian's Jonathan Jones isn't sure if the The World's Most Expensive Painting (which I mentioned earlier) is really worth the money. Now that it's on display at Tate Modern, Jones asks:

...is it worth the money?

To my surprise, the answer is no. It comes as a surprise because I love Picasso. If money was just numbers (and in the world of high finance and art sales, perhaps it is just numbers), I would not blink at any price quoted for one of his paintings. But this is not la-la land. It is a troubled world with a troubled economy, and the blame for the problem, all sides agree, has something to do with bubbles, credit gorges, fantasy economics. And yet, ever more impossible prices are being paid for paintings.

For now, this Picasso is all about its price tag, and the display at Tate Modern is poisoned if you know its damned value.

I think I agree. However, I see that Jones has changed his tune since this reductionist rant when it was sold at auction in 2010:

The sale of Picasso's 1932 painting Nude, Green Leaves and Bust for a new world record price of £70m is a tragedy. Unless it turns out that the anonymous purchaser is a public museum – almost certainly not the case – what has happened here is a theft of world culture, art history and beauty from we, the people, by the super-rich. One of the last great surprises of 20th-century art has come and gone, photographed in the sale room on its journey from one private collection to another. If it appears in exhibitions in the future that will be the result of curators fawning to some billionaire for a peep at what, in reality, should be the cultural property of us all.

Jones is evidently a man of good taste, and doubtless has some nice art of his own. But I bet he wouldn't like it if I walked into his living room, nicked a painting off the wall, and said 'this belongs to the people!' 

Murillo returns to Tyntesfield

March 27 2011

Image of Murillo returns to Tyntesfield

The National Trust has announced the return of a Mater Dolorosa by the studio of Murillo to Tyntesfield House in Somerset, where it once hung. 

The Trust bought the picture for just over $80,000 at Christie's in New York, against an estimate of $30-50,000.

The real lost Picasso?

March 27 2011

Image of The real lost Picasso?

Police in Turkey have seized a painting being touted as a 'lost Picasso' stolen from the Kuwait National Museum in 1990 by Iraqi forces.

However, this tale seems strikingly familiar to an attempted con in 2009, when Iraqi police seized a similarly described painting (illustrated above) being offered for $10million. There are in fact no records of the Kuwait National Museum losing such a picture, and nothing like it is listed with the Art Loss Register.

Is this the artworld equivalent to those 'you've won the Nigerian lottery' emails?

Friday Amusement

March 25 2011

Image of Friday Amusement

More optimism

March 24 2011

Image of More optimism

The Daily Mail reports:

 A man who bought a painting because he 'liked the frame' and then stored it in his attic ever since has been stunned to discover it could be a £40m masterpiece.

Auctioneers have examined the painting thought to bare the signature of renowned French post-impressionist master, Paul Cezanne.

If it is proved to be authentic, it will be the earliest known work to have been created by the painter and could be worth a fortune, experts claim.

'It wasn't until I was reading an art book [the owner said] that I started to compare it to Cezanne and then I carefully unravelled it so I could see the markings. I realised that I could be looking at the first-ever Paul Cezanne painting.'

'I'll be keeping it very safe until an expert can confirm what I believe.'

I fear he may be keeping it safe for a long time...

22,503 times the estimate - or, why I wish I could speak Chinese

March 24 2011

Image of 22,503 times the estimate - or, why I wish I could speak Chinese

Picture: Sotheby's

Bit off beam this one, but I love these Chinese vase stories. A vase estimated by Sotheby's at $800-1,000 has sold in New York for a whopping $18,002,500. The auctioneers believed the vase to be 20th Century, but up to seven bidders saw the mark at the base and thought otherwise. 

More here. You can read the latest about the £51.6m vase sold in West Ruislip in November, here

Art History Trivia - Hollywood Edition

March 24 2011

Image of Art History Trivia - Hollywood Edition

In 1969 Richard Burton bought for Elizabeth Taylor the famous pearl 'La Peregrina', which she wears above right. It had first been given by Philip II to Mary Tudor before their marriage in 1554. Almost all of Mary's portraits as Queen show her with the pearl.

In 1971 a small portrait by Hans Eworth of Mary was offered at Sotheby's (detail, above left). It was bought by the National Portrait Gallery with substantial help by Taylor and Burton, who remain credited on the NPG website to this day.

You can read a full account of the tale on Hope Walker's Hans Eworth website

Mid-Season sales online

March 23 2011

Image of Mid-Season sales online

Picture: Christie's. Detail of lot 60; View of the Thames at Wesminster by Gabriele Ricciardelli

The mid-season Old Master sales (traditionally where they offer the not so good stuff) have gone online. If you have the patience to navigate the tortuous 'eCatalogues', Sotheby's is here, and Christie's here. There are some nice things - check back nearer the auction date (14th April) for my pick of the sales. 

The Renoir's in the post...

March 23 2011

Image of The Renoir's in the post...

This is a novel way of cutting down on shipping costs - someone in Poland has dropped a Renoir into a post box, to be sent to the USA.

The picture, valued at about 700,000 Zlotys (about £155k), was discovered in the mail by Polish customs officials. It is believed the sender was trying to circumvent Poland's stirct export process, and the 25% levy charged on exported paintings. Prosecutors are trying to ascertain who the sender was. The destination was a US P.O. Box.

I suspect this sort of thing happens quite often...

Better photo of that new Van Dyck

March 22 2011

Image of Better photo of that new Van Dyck

Picture: RASF, Madrid

A slightly better image of the newly discovered Van Dyck I mentioned earlier

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