Van Dyck & Rubens in Amsterdam

May 13 2011

Image of Van Dyck & Rubens in Amsterdam

Picture: Hermitage

This is worth a trip - an exhibition of some of the Hermitage's best works by Rubens, Van Dyck & Jordaens, at Hermitage Amsterdam. It runs from 17th September - 16th March. Included amongst the 75 paintings and 20 drawings will be Rubens' c.1614 Venus and Adonis.

People of Wales!

May 13 2011

Go back to bed! I shall not be addressing you at 8.30 am today, as advertised below. I've just been told (7am) that the item is to be 'stood down', so I guess Ivan Mcquisten (the editor of the Antiques Trade Gazzette, with whom I was to be on) and I needn't have got up extra early. Thanks BBC Radio Wales! Just as I was beginning to dream of the big time: Hollywood was next, I could feel it.

People of Wales!

May 12 2011

Image of People of Wales!

I shall be addressing you tomorrow morning, at about 8.30am, on BBC Radio Wales. I have been asked - quite why I don't know - to talk about investing in art. 

To sell or not to sell?

May 12 2011

Image of To sell or not to sell?

Here's a quick report on Tuesday's conference on deaccessioning at the National Gallery. The event was organised by Farrers. The conference was overall a success. The arguments for and against were well covered. One or two of the speakers went on for too long (one for far too long).

Simon Jenkins, the patron saint of common sense, spoke passionately for. He decried the acres of art left in storage in London whilst numerous National Trust properties (of which he is chairman) had bare walls. Nicholas Penny, director of the National Gallery, argued against, from the specific point of view of the National: as the national collection, it had inevitably to be the repository of some bad art, as well as the best. The duds were part of the collection's history. Gary Tintorow of the Metropolitan Museum demonstrated the benefits of relentless 'trading up' - selling the bad to buy better - but also highlighted the American approach to not being obsessed with keeping everything. How all the British curators in the audience must have envied his ability to regularly buy masterpieces at auction.

I was on at the end of the day to give the view of the art trade. But since this can be summed up in one word - yippee - I mentioned my plan to have an informal advisory committee of experts to help regional curators decide what to sell, what to keep, and how to prevent mistakes. I am optimistic that we will be able to establish something - and it is needed urgently, for like it or not, deaccessioning is already with us.

The speakers had a posh dinner at the Athenaeum Club, which was jolly. There was some talk of a new Culture Secretary, following the rumours that Jeremy Hunt might have to replace the perpetually ineffective Andrew Lansley. 


May 12 2011

Image of Happiness three Van Dycks arriving in one day (for our forthcoming loan exhibition, 'Finding Van Dyck'). The catalogue is finished, the pictures are arriving... touch wood, everything is on plan for our opening on 15th June. 

Heads, no body

May 12 2011


Ai Wei Wei's absence is felt at the opening of his fantastic new installation of Zodiac heads at Somerset House. 

25% off*

May 12 2011

Image of 25% off*

Picture: Sotheby's

*at least.

Jeff Koons' Pink Panther didn't live up to the hype at Sotheby's. The estimate was $20-30m, but it sold to one bidder for $16.8m with premium. This means the hammer went down at $15m. Sotheby's had an irrevocable bid going into the sale.

Still, that's a hefty price, and it was a clever move to lower the reserve by 25% - a failure to sell would have been disastrous. 

Christie's $301m vs Sotheby's $128m

May 12 2011

Image of Christie's $301m vs Sotheby's $128m

Picture: Christie's

Ouch - Christie's trounced Sotheby's last night in the New York post-war and contemporary evening sales.

Bloomberg has a video about the Sotheby's sale, which they call 'tepid'. It had the lowest total for two years. Contributor Katya Kazakina said that 'the estimates were too aggressive for the quality of works Sotheby's had'.  

The patchy results indicate continuing uncertainty at the top end of the contemporary market. At Christie's, some of the big ticket things went at around, or less, than the lower estimate. Warhol's 1986 self-portrait, above, made $27.5m, including premium, which means that bidding in the room didn't exceed the $30m lower estimate. On the other hand, the newly 'discovered' Rothko sold very well at $33.7m, against an estimate of $18-22m. I'd have a Rothko over a Warhol any day.

The Wall Street Journal has a good summary here, but as ever, some reading between the lines is necessary.

Poussin & Hals stopped for export - total £22.75 million

May 11 2011

Image of Poussin & Hals stopped for export - total £22.75 million

Picture: Christie's

The government has issued two temporary export bars in two days; one on a Poussin (Ordination, above, one of the seven sacrament series) at £15m, and the other on a Hals (Family Portrait in a Landscape) at £7.75m.

Who are they kidding? How is any museum in this climate supposed to try and buy the pictures when there are no acquisition funds to speak of? The one body that could help, the National Heritage Memorial Fund, has been cut to just £5m - or one third of a Poussin.

We really are facing a potential crisis over the loss of such paintings - more and more are being sold, and museums have less and less money. There is still time to do something about it, but only if the government directs the Heritage Lottery Fund to look more kindly on acquisitions, a move which would cost nothing. 

The Poussin belongs to the Duke of Rutland, and was offered at auction in December 2010 at Christie's for £15-20m. It failed to sell on the night, but it seems has been sold since at the reserve.

Yale abolishes reproduction fees

May 11 2011

Image of Yale abolishes reproduction fees

Picture: Yale Center for British Art, 'Mr & Mrs John Gravenor and their daughters', by Thomas Gainsborough.

Hurrah! Yale University will abolish reproduction fees for everything in its museums and collections.  Amy Meyers, the director for the Yale Center for British Art, says:

'The ability to publish images directly from our online catalogues without charge will encourage the increased use of our collections for scholarship, a benefit to which we look forward with the greatest excitement.'

UK museums should really think hard about doing likewise. Our high reproduction fees are a great barrier to effective scholarship. And the small income museums earn from such rights (after the high administration costs) results in silly rules about not taking photos in museums, and secutiry guards jumping on you if you so much as reach for your phone.

So, let's all relax about copyright - it is never going to be the big earner people envisaged. Image reproduction should be viewed as part of a museum's core purpose of spreading knowledge - and be free.

Size isn't everything

May 11 2011

Image of Size isn't everything

Pictures: Sotheby's

A miniature by Frida Kahlo is to be sold at auction for £800k-1.2m.


May 11 2011

Colin Gleadell asks if the recent faltering sales in New York signal a double dip in the art market. He concludes 'no'.


Leonardo all nighters?

May 11 2011

Image of Leonardo all nighters?

Picture: EPA

Sarah Bakewell in the Guardian discusses all night opening to cope with the crowds at the National's new exhibition.

Let's do it. I'd rather go round an empty exhibition at 2am than a scrum at any other time.

A new Lowry record?

May 9 2011

Image of A new Lowry record?

Picture: Christie's

Christie's are aiming for a new record price for a painting by L S Lowry later this month. The Football Match (1949) is estimated at £3.5-4.5m. The current record is £3.7m, paid in 2007 for Good Friday, Daisy Nook

The Football Match was bought by Lord Walston for £250 in 1951. It was sold from his estate in 1992 for £132,000. Full catalogue details here.  

'Book early to avoid disappointment'

May 9 2011

Image of 'Book early to avoid disappointment'

Picture: National Gallery, London

The National Gallery released further details of their forthcoming exhibition, Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan. It will bring together the largest number ever of Leonardo's surviving paintings. The press' attention has been caught by the warning to 'BOOK EARLY', because of the anticipated crowds. The warning is written in capital letters in the press release, just in case anyone misses it. The exhibition will be open on New Year's day - an excellent idea.

Full details from the announcement below the jump:


9 November 2011 - 5 February 2012

Sainsbury Wing

This autumn the National Gallery will present a landmark exhibition, Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan examining Leonardo’s extraordinary observation, imagination and technique. The exhibition concentrates on his career as a court painter in Milan, working for the city’s ruler Ludovico Maria Sforza, il Moro (‘the Moor’) in the 1480s and 1490s. Bringing together the largest ever number of Leonardo’s rare surviving paintings, it will include international loans never before seen in the UK. Private and institutional lenders have proved exceptionally generous, taking full and proper account of the serious scholarly ambition of this project.

While numerous exhibitions have looked at Leonardo da Vinci as an inventor, scientist or draughtsman, this is the first exhibition to be dedicated to his aims and ambitions as a painter. ‘Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan’ will display more than 60 paintings and drawings by the great artist, as well as pictures by some of his closest collaborators. Nearly every surviving picture that he painted in Milan during this period will be exhibited. These include the Portrait of a Musician (Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan), the Saint Jerome (Vatican, Rome), The Lady with an Ermine (Czartoryski Foundation, Cracow), the Belle Ferronnière (Musée du Louvre, Paris) and the National Gallery’s own recently restored Virgin of the Rocks. These pictures show how Leonardo, benefiting from his salaried position, used his artistic freedom to find new ways of perceiving and recording the natural world - focusing especially on the human anatomy, soul and emotions. These investigations could take on their own life, but they also fed into the meanings and evolution of his paintings.

Leonardo da Vinci’s time in Milan was the making of him – both as an artist and as a public figure. It was in Milan that Leonardo executed his two profoundly different versions of the mysterious Virgin of the Rocks, as well as the almost uncannily perfect wall-painting of The Last Supper. This work will be represented in the exhibition by a near-contemporary, full-scale copy by his pupil Giampietrino (1500-1550),lent by the Royal Academy. Leonardo also painted a trio of portraits that were to revolutionalise the genre - pictures that will be seen together in London for the first time. Leonardo, a musician himself, worked closely with other musicians, designing musical instruments and devising settings for courtly entertainments. It was during this time that he painted his only portrait of a man – The Portrait of a Musician. The highly idealised Belle Ferronnière may be a portrait of Ludovico il Moro’s duchess or of one of his mistresses. But the most justly celebrated of the three is the exquisite portrait of Il Moro’s mistress Cecilia Gallerani, The Lady with an Ermine, arguably his greatest masterpiece of these years.

The portrait of Cecilia Gallerani, painted in 1488-90 has been acclaimed as the first truly modern portrait. The sitter's twisting pose and nuanced expression convey her inner life, mind, soul - and what we would now call psychology. Cecilia was renowned for her beauty, wit, scholarship, and poetry. Still in her teens in 1489 when she became Ludovico’s mistress, the painting of her portrait allowed Leonardo to demonstrate how a painter could capture a beauty that time would destroy. He portrayed Cecilia holding a white ermine, an enigmatic feature that has multiple meanings. It may be a visual pun on her surname since the Greek for ermine or weasel is galay . It could also stand for her lover, Ludovico Sforza, since he had been awarded the order of the ermine by the King of Naples and was known as ‘l'Ermellino’ as a result. The ermine was also written about by Leonardo as a traditional symbol of purity and honour.

More than 50 drawings relating to the paintings will be exhibited for the first time. Highlights include 33 sketches and studies from the Royal Collection. The many Leonardo drawings owned by Her Majesty the Queen were probably purchased during the reign of Charles II but were rediscovered by chance only in 1778, when writer, Charles Rogers wrote: ‘Mr Dalton fortunately discovered the album of drawings at the bottom of a chest at the beginning of the reign of his present Majesty [George III]’. UK collections are rich in drawings by Leonardo – and other graphic masterpieces will be lent by the British Museum, the Courtauld Gallery, the Fitzwillam and Ashmolean Museums and the National Galleries of Scotland. From further afield come drawings from Paris, Florence, Venice and New York. The exhibition will include all the surviving drawings which are connected to the Last Supper and the Madonna Litta, which will be lent by the Hermitage, St Petersburg.

About the artist: LEONARDO da Vinci, 1452–1519, Italian.

Leonardo was born in or near Vinci in Tuscany and was trained in Florence by the sculptor-painter Andrea del Verrocchio. In about 1482-3 he moved to Milan, slightly later finding work as a court artist for the ruling Sforza family. He remained there until just after the city was invaded by the French in 1499. He may have visited Venice before returning to Florence in 1500. A second period in Milan lasted from 1506 until 1513, and it was then that he finished the London Virgin of the Rocks; this was followed by three years based in Rome. In 1517, at the invitation of the French king, Leonardo moved to the Château de Cloux, near Amboise in France, where he died in 1519.

There are two works by Leonardo da Vinci in the National Gallery’s permanent collection: The Virgin of the Rocks (about 1491–1508), and The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist (also known as The Burlington House Cartoon) of about 1499–1500. The Virgin of the Rocks was bought in 1880 by the National Gallery.


This exhibition has been conceived and organised by The National Gallery. Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan is curated by Luke Syson, Curator of Italian Paintings before 1500 and Head of Research at The National Gallery. Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan is sponsored by Credit Suisse.

Publication - National Gallery Catalogue

Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan

By Luke Syson with Larry Keith and Antonio Mazzotta, Minna Moore Ede, Scott Nethersole, Arturo Galansino and Per Rumberg

Paperback £25.00 (304 pages)

Hardback £40.00 (304 pages)

Due to the high public demand of the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition, visitors are advised to

BOOK EARLY and/or online to ensure that they can view the exhibition and avoid disappointment.


Press view: Tuesday 8th November 2011 

Open to public: 9th November 2011 

Daily 10am–6pm (last admission 5pm)

Fridays and Saturdays until 10pm (last admission 9pm)

Sunday 10am-7pm (last admission 6pm)

Open until 10pm for the last 2 weeks

Open New Year’s Day 10am – 7pm


For advance tickets to ‘Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan’ please call 0844 248 5097 (booking fee) or visit (booking fees). You can also book tickets by post and in person from the Gallery.


In the basement

May 9 2011

Image of In the basement

Picture: Victoria & Albert Museum

I said recently that I would post the occasional ‘in the basement’ story, to highlight the risks of deaccessioning. Tomorrow (Tuesday), I will be a panelist at a conference on deaccessioning at the National Gallery, London. Speakers include Culture Minister Ed Vaizey MP, Chairman of the National Trust Sir Simon Jenkins, and the director of the National Gallery Dr. Nicholas Penny. My panel is at the end of the day, in the dying-for-a-drink slot.

I suspect most of the day will be spent debating whether deaccessioning is a good or a bad thing – but the fact is that the process has begun. A large number of regional and local authority controlled museums in Britain are already selling off works.

Above is a painting in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. It is catalogued on their website as ‘attributed to Joseph Highmore’, but is undoubtedly by Andrea Soldi. (See J. Ingamells: ‘Andrea Soldi—a Check List of his Work’, Walpole Soc., xlvii (1980), pp. 1–20 for other comparable examples.)

Who's Soldi, you might ask? True, he’s not a well-known artist, and it’s a not a particularly exciting painting  (and nor am I suggesting that the V&A would ever sell it). But the point is that you can’t decide to sell something until you know what you have to sell. There are many similar mis-catalogued paintings in museum basements across the country. And we need to have a structure in place to make sure no unfortunate mistakes are made. [More below]

Let’s look at what happens in America, where deaccessioning happens all the time. The great majority of disposals are handled well, and the funds used go towards buying more interesting pictures. But, in my day job as an art dealer, I quite often come across paintings that are mistakenly deaccessioned as copies or with the wrong attribution.

Picture: Philip Mould Ltd

Here's an example. The above illustration shows a painting by George Romney that was sold by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, at auction as ‘after George Romney’. The subject was identified as a copy after one of Romney’s most important full-lengths in the Frick Collection, Henrietta, Countess of Warwick and her Children (below). The estimate was £4-6,000. 

Picture: Frick Collection

We (Philip Mould Ltd) thought the Virginia Museum's picture was a bit better than a copy, and bought it. Cleaning and conservation revealed that it had been substantially over-painted, probably in the early twentieth century, and beneath lay Romney's first study or compositional arrangement for the Frick painting.

Picture: Philip Mould Ltd

As you can see in the cleaned picture above there is an extra male hand in the bottom right hand corner, and a tiny sketch of a man in a brown coat. It appears that the original picture was to have included Lord Warwick, but this was then changed by Romney, and the young boy was moved further apart from his sister. The later restorer, when confronted by so many hands, had decided to turn Romney’s study into a less visually confusing ‘finished’ picture, and so added in the column and shrubbery, and made it appear as if the boy was holding his sister’s hand. There aren't many Romney studies like this that survive, and it's quite an important picture.

That is why at tomorrow's conference I shall suggest again that we need to have some sort of central panel of experts to help manage deaccessioning in the UK. The sad fact is that in some regional museums there is a dearth of specialist knowledge – the job of a curator is nowadays more about administration than scholarship. 

The panel could be formed along the lines of the government’s reviewing committee on the export of works of art and the acceptance in lieu panel. These are made up of a range experts and call in others with specialist knowledge depending on the nature of the case they are looking at. The panel would help prevent items being mistakenly sold off, and ensure that the full value of a work was realised. The committee can also help manage the disposal process nationally, for, thanks to Fred Hohler and the invaluable Public Catalogue Foundation, we now have the ability to consider individual museum collections as part of our national collection of art. 

The committee need not require legislation. It could operate rather like the Spoliation Advisory Panel, who’s decisions are not legally binding, but are by convention adhered to. Or, you could even go down a 'Big Society' route, and form a less formal, more voluntary body. 

'Pricey Warhols make lousy investments'

May 9 2011

Image of 'Pricey Warhols make lousy investments'

Picture: Christie's, 'Diamond Dust Shoes' by Andy Warhol (1980-81), est. $1-1.5m, 11th May 2011.

So says Bloomberg, in a story which nonetheless contains this piece of financial advice:

“If you can buy a 90-by-70 Warhol shoe painting for $1 million, it’s better than owning Google, Microsoft and Facebook together,” said Alberto Mugrabi, New York-based collector and dealer in Warhol. 

So don't buy just 'cos you like it.

In love with a Monet

May 9 2011

Image of In love with a Monet

Picture: 'Bathers at La Grenouillere' by Monet, National Gallery, London, one of the pictures used by researchers to study the effect of art on the brain.

At last, a link between the study of art history and sex (sort of). From the Daily Telegraph:

The same part of the brain that is excited when you fall for someone romantically is stimulated when you stare at great works of beauty, researchers have discovered.

Viewing art triggers a surge of the feel-good chemical, dopamine, into the orbito-frontal cortex of the brain, resulting in feelings of intense pleasure.

Dopamine and the orbito-frontal cortex are both known to be involved in desire and affection and in invoking pleasurable feelings in the brain.

It is a powerful affect often associated with romantic love and illicit drug taking.

Top tip...

May 6 2011

Google translate have now added Latin to their list of languages. It isn't very good, but handy for a getting the gist of old inscriptions etc. 

Royal Collection Diamond Jubilee exhibitions

May 6 2011

Image of Royal Collection Diamond Jubilee exhibitions

Picture: The Royal Collection

The Royal Collection has announced a series of exhibitions for 2012 to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. They've put on a fantastically ambitious programme, and it looks like we're in for some real treats, including:

  • the largest ever exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci's studies of the human body (Queen's Gallery, 4th May - 7th October);
  • a 'highlights' exhibition at Holyroodhouse (16th March - 16th September), with Rapahels Rembrandts, Holbeins etc.;
  • an exhibition of diamonds at Buckingham Palace (August & September)
  • and a touring exhibition of ten of Leonardo's finest drawings, which will go to Birmingham, Bristol, Belfast, Dundee and Hull.

The director of the Royal Collection, Jonathan Marsden, said:

‘Our exhibitions celebrate The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee through many of the finest works of art in the Royal Collection, and we are particularly delighted to be sharing, on behalf of The Queen, some of these great treasures with museums and galleries across the UK. This is a fitting tribute to Her Majesty’s commitment over the past 60 years to the care and conservation of the Collection and to increasing public access.’

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