Rockwell painting found on US Roadshow

June 6 2011

Image of Rockwell painting found on US Roadshow


Norman Rockwell's Little Model has surfaced on the US version of the Antiques Roadshow. The picture was painted in 1919 for the cover of Collier magazine, but had been in a private collection since. The value given was $500,000.

The man who said we should pay more for museum entry

June 3 2011

Image of The man who said we should pay more for museum entry

The Director of the Met Museum, Thomas Campbell, has taken the brave step of increasing the 'suggested entry price' for his museum. It's now $25 from $20.

Campbell points out that each visitor actually costs the museum $40, so something has to give. Personally, I think $25 is well worth it, especially as there are all sorts of concessions for various groups.

I wonder what the equivalent cost-per-visitor is for the National Gallery in London?

RA Summer Exhibition App

June 3 2011

Image of RA Summer Exhibition App

Picture: Royal Academy

The RA's Summer Exhibition opens to the public on 7th June. For a preview, there's a snazzy app to download, with videos, images etc.

Hirst statue in Bristol

June 3 2011

Image of Hirst statue in Bristol

Picture: BBC

People of Bristol, rejoice. Damien Hirst's 6.7m high statue Charity will be on public display in Clifton until May 2012.

The statue is based on the charity boxes seen in streets until the '80s. Hirst has replicated one the original boxes, but, according to the BBC has also:

'scuffed her appearance and burgled her charity box' as a comment on social injustice.


Dali debacle

June 3 2011

Image of Dali debacle

Picture: The Guardian

The Guardian has an interesting story about 'Dali sculptures'. The official Dali foundation says that bronzes being sold for more than £1m as 'by Dali' are in fact nothing to do with him.

The seller is the Italian dealer Beniamino Levi and his Stratton Foundation, 'dedicated to promotion of culture and the arts'. Levi says he bought the rights to produce sculptures from drawings and paintings by Dali in the 1980s from Dali's business manager, Enrique Sabater. So although the sculptures, such as the above Alice in Wonderland, are based on ideas in Dali's work, they are not actually by him, and are invariably cast long after his death. 

Of course, with scultpure, the lines of authenticity are more easily blurred than with paintings and drawings. The casting process effectively allows unlimited 'originals' to be made. But looking at the various websites that purport to sell Dali sculptures, there is something faintly disingenuous about the whole process. Take for example the video of Pope John Paul II being presented with what Levi describes as 'the Dali sculpture Saint George and the Dragon made by the Stratton Foundation' in 1995. One presumes the Pope thought the sculpture was actually made by Dali - but it isn't.

New Burlington and British Art Journal

June 2 2011

Image of New Burlington and British Art Journal

Picture: National Gallery, London

Plop onto my desk at once come new issues of The Burlington Magazine and the British Art Journal.

Treats in the former include:


  • A rare document on Giorgione (an inventory of his goods found in Venice after his death - in which his name is given as Georgio, not Giorgione).
  • Discussion of an alterpiece by Bartolomeo Montagna.
  • A freshly cleaned painting by Andrea del Verrochio in the National Gallery, London (above, and more details here).


And in the BAJ:


  • A theory on the possible identity of Anne Clifford in a lost portrait.
  • Lucian Freud's 'Scottish interlude' by Sandra Boselli.
  • The Belton Conversation Piece by Philippe Mercier.
Both are subscription only, but you can read for free the Burlington's editorial on Vasari's 500th birthday, here.


British paintings destroyed in Tripoli

June 2 2011

Image of British paintings destroyed in Tripoli

Picture: Art Newspaper

A number of paintings from the Government Art Collection appear to have been destroyed after the British Embassy in Tripoli was evacuated. Apparently, it was a priority to take computers and documents on the plane out, but not the art. 

The GAC had 17 pictures on loan to the embassy, including, from left above, Philip Reinagle's 1797 Harrier Killing a Bittern, Edmund Havell's William Stratton, and a landscape in the style of Salvator Rosa.

Hopefully they're all ok, and hanging in some enterprising Libyan's bedroom.

Together at last

June 2 2011

Image of Together at last


The two halves of one of China's most famous paintings have been re-joined for the first time in 360 years. From AFP:


The painting [by Huang Gongwang], which is more than 600 years old, was partly destroyed in about 1650 when its owner, a rich collector, ordered it burned.

This was shortly before his death, and experts have speculated he was hoping to take it with him to the afterlife.

The collector's nephew managed to salvage most of the painting, but not before it was torn in two, and for the next three and a half centuries they were never reunited.

Wednesday's event at Taipei's National Palace Museum came a little more than three years after China-friendly politician Ma Ying-jeou became the island's president, ushering in a period of warmer relations with the mainland.


£5m Michelangelo drawing at Christies

June 1 2011

Image of £5m Michelangelo drawing at Christies

Picture: Christie's

Christies will offer this drawing by Michelangelo, a preparatory study for the abandoned Battle of Cascina fresco, on 5th July. The upper estimate is £5m. Lovely - but a lot of money for a fragmentary sketch.

Contemporary at Versailles

June 1 2011

Image of Contemporary at Versailles

Picture: AP/Bob Edme

Bernar Venet is Versaille's guest artist this year - from today until 1st November.

Scottish National Portrait Gallery

June 1 2011

Image of Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Picture: John Mackenzie

The SNPG will re-open soon after an £18m refit. Tim Cornwell in The Scotsman has a preview:

About 15 years ago the portrait gallery tottered on the brink of closure, until plans to transfer key artworks for a new Scottish gallery caused wholesale revolt in Edinburgh. Yesterday, director James Holloway could stand on its showcase top floor and declare its new galleries among the best in Scotland, if not the UK.

"What we have got on this floor are fabulous spaces for showing art," he said. The gallery, he suggested, represented "Scotland's family objects. It's Scotland's DNA. It's thrilling that we are going to be back, and firing on all cylinders."


Exhibitions in main gallery spaces will run for about four years, drawing on the portrait gallery's existing collections with some loans. The small galleries will change 18 months or two years, while the photography gallery will stage three exhibitions every year, exploring "what in many ways is Scotland's greatest art form," said Mr Holloway.

I wonder what Ramsay, Raeburn et al would say about photography being Scotland's 'greatest art form'.

Sketches by Jean Francois de Troy

June 1 2011

Image of Sketches by Jean Francois de Troy

Picture: Sotheby's

An important set of seven sketches by Jean Francois de Troy will be offered at Sotheby's in Paris later this month. Brilliantly painted, they were the artist's initial designs for a series of Gobelins tapestries. They mostly carry an estimate of EUR200-3000,000. An eighth is catalogued as 'Studio of de Troy', tho' frankly you'd be hard pushed to tell the difference. 

The sketches will be sold under 'Faculte de Reunion' rules: each one will be auctioned in the normal way, but at the end the opportunity will be presented to buy the group by offering them all at the cumulative price. If nobody bids for the lot, then the previous seperate sales go ahead. 

Maybe size is everything...

June 1 2011

Image of Maybe size is everything...

Picture: Sotheby's

I mentioned earlier a 2 inch high miniature by Frida Kahlo, estimated by Sotheby's at a hefty £800k-£1.2m. But it turns out it didn't sell. 

'Now, lot 32 - the really rubbish fake. Do I hear €500k?'

June 1 2011

Image of 'Now, lot 32 - the really rubbish fake. Do I hear €500k?'

Picture: Der Spiegel

German police have smashed a highly succesful forgery racket. Believed to be Germany's largest ever forgery scandal, the victims included Hollywood actor Steve Martin, and Christie's. 

The above painting, 'Landscape with Horses', was sold as a genuine work by Heinrich Campendonk at Christie's in 2006 for €500,000. (I would link to it on their website, but, mysteriously, the lot has been removed). It had in fact been knocked up by Wolfgang Beltracchi, and his accomplice Otto Schulte-Kellinghaus. They had been producing high-quality fake modern and contemporary art since 2001, and possibly earlier. From Der Spiegel:

The accused allegedly attributed almost all of the forged works to artists from the first half of the 20th century, including Campendonk, Max Pechstein, Fernand Léger, Max Ernst and others. Most of the works were sold with now 60-year-old Beltracchi's story that they were part of the art collection of Cologne businessman Werner Jägers, who was the grandfather of the two female suspects in the case. Jägers was said to have bought the works from the renowned art dealer Alfred Flechtheim and hidden them on his estate in the Eifel Mountains of western Germany during the Nazi years. Schulte-Kellinghaus allegedly used a similar ruse, claiming the paintings, which were supposedly lost, originated from the collection of his grandfather, the master tailor Knops from Krefeld.

I've often heard it said that buying modern and contemporary art is a safer investment than old masters, because there are never any doubts over authenticity. But, alas, that's a load of old phooey. And it's practically impossible to fake an old master.

RMS Titanic

May 31 2011

Image of RMS Titanic

Picture: Christie's

Today is the 100th anniversary of the launch of the Titanic, and there has been great excitement in Belfast

I've always been fascinated by the story of the doomed liner, and still regret not bidding higher on the above watercolour by Charles Edward Dixon. It was auctioned at Christie's in 2007, and sold for £19,200 (against a £8-12,000 estimate). Since it was claimed to be 'the only conventional portrait painted from life' of Titanic, the price was probably a bit of a bargain. 

What are museums for?

May 31 2011

In the Art Newspaper, Maurice Davies tries to find the answer in three new books on museums and collections. They are:

  • Contesting Human Remains in Museum Collections: the Crisis of Cultural Authority, Tiffany Jenkins, Routledge, 174 pp, $95 (hb)
  • Under the Hammer: Iconoclasm in the Anglo-American Tradition, James Simpson, Oxford University Press, 204 pp, £25 (hb)
  • The Best Art You’ve Never Seen: 101 Hidden Treasures from Around the World, Julian Spalding, Rough Guides, 288 pp, £14, $22.99 (pb)
To be honest, the first two sound a bit of a yawn. There's a lot of navel-gazing in the museum world when it comes to deciding 'what we're for'. Nothing beats the British Museum's founding mission statement: 'for the entertainment of the curious'.

Nevertheless, Julian Spalding's book is a timely plea to his museum colleagues to stop bein so retentive, especially over things like climactic controls. He argues that: [More below]
“while claiming to be the custodians of art, nearly all museums bury countless treasures in storerooms.” Spalding challenges the orthodoxy that leaves most works on paper “hidden in boxes in museum print-room stores.”


Spalding says: “This book is a plea for the right to see the great art of the world” and enthusiastically encourages his readers to travel to see an eclectic selection of works of art from countries including China, India, Peru, Papua New Guinea, Cambodia and Japan, as well as Europe and North America.

He directs travellers to lesser visited places such as the Portinari Chapel in Milan and the “tiny” Sculptured Stone Museum in Meigle, 15 miles north of Dundee. He highlights rare survivors of entire traditions of art, such as life-size funeral effigies housed at Westminster Abbey Museum in London. He promotes less fashionable artists, especially ones overshadowed by abstraction, such as Norman Rockwell: “Sadly, there are ­virtually no Rockwells in public collections, though they were, in their time, far and away the favourite modern paintings of the American public”. Spalding reckons “popularity made it suspect: modern art was supposed to disturb the public—not bring them with it.”

He is particularly dismissive of conceptual art, instead praising the work of artists like Peter Angermann, who suffered under the tutelage of Joseph Beuys at art college in Düsseldorf in the 1960s, eventually in 1986 taking the step “by then bizarrely radical, of painting in the open air…The contemporary art world has become a self-referential court sustained by public funds and a few rich dealers and collectors."

Restitution? No thanks

May 31 2011

Image of Restitution? No thanks

Picture: Armin Kuhne

Here's a curious restitution case: a Jewish heir is fighting to stop the restitution of his ancestor's collections. 

In 1937 Georg Steindorff (above) sold his collection of antiquities to Leipzig University, where he worked, for 8,000 Reichsmarks. But because before the sale Steindorff valued his collection at 10,260 Reichsmarks, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany has ruled that the sale was forced, and the collections be returned to Steindorff's heirs. The heir in this case, Steindorff's grandson Thomas Hemer, says the collection should stay in the collection of Leipzig University's Egyptology Institute, about which his grandfather was passionate. Full details on Bloomberg here.

The case highlights once again the varying standards across Europe when it comes to restitution. The Conference has authority in Germany and Austria, and evidently takes a very favourable line towards restitution cases (rightly, I think). But in Britain the threshold for restitution is set much higher, as shown by the recent Herbert Gutmann case.

Online Sir John Soane archive

May 31 2011

Image of Online Sir John Soane archive

Picture: Soane Museum

The Soane Museum has published online drawings from five of Soane's London projects: Pitzhanger Manor, Dulwich Picture Gallery, the Royal Hospital Chelsea, the Bank of England, and the Soane Monument in St Pancras Gardens.

The design for the latter inspired Gilbert Scott's prototype for the telephone box.

Looking for the perfect man?

May 30 2011

Image of Looking for the perfect man?

Picture: Daily Mail

Then head to the museum. From the Daily Mail:

If you’re looking for a man who’s healthy and contented, perhaps your first date should be at a museum or art gallery. That is because men who regularly  indulge in cultural activities are likely to be in better shape, both mentally and physically, than those who do not, according to a study. 

Going to the theatre, concerts and even the cinema results in a range of benefits for men, including less depression and anxiety. Women also benefit, but not to the same degree, says the largest study of its kind.

I guess that means art dealers are immortal - yippee!

Read more of the science behind the findings in Time, here.

Straight in at No.1 - it's Van Dyck

May 30 2011

Image of Straight in at No.1 - it's Van Dyck

Picture: Daily Mail/Bridgeman Art Library

Sir Roy Strong ranks the ten greatest portraits ever painted. No.1 is Van Dyck's Lord John and Lord Bernard Stuart [National Gallery, London]. 

Although I too would be tempted to put Van Dyck at No.1 in any list of great portraitists, sadly, the compromised condition of the Stuart painting rules it out for me. Over-cleaning and and a harsh re-lining has left it with a slightly hard-boiled look. See for yourself by zooming in here - and compare it with one of Van Dyck's best portraits still in good condition, here.

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