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: 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

Anne Boleyn needs YOU!

March 22 2011

Image of Anne Boleyn needs YOU!

Picture: The National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery needs help to begin urgent conservation work on their portrait of Anne Boleyn. The wooden panel is buckling and cracking, causing damage to the paint layers. This is happening because the picture was long ago 'cradled', a conservation practice that was all the rage in the early twentieth century, and which is preventing the panel from moving naturally.

You can donate online here - they have so far raised £2,500, and need to hit £4,000 before work can begin. Please pass this round if you know anyone else who might bung in a few quid.

The picture is probably the most important extant painting of Anne, and consciously presents her as the dark witch-like figure she was portrayed as after her execution.

But it probably doesn't look anything like her. In 2007 David Starkey and I argued that she actually looked like this - and that the old inscription on Holbein's drawing labelled 'Anna Bollein Queen' was valid. Previously, the drawing had been called simply 'Portrait of a Lady'. I'm pleased to note that the Royal Collection now definitively catalogues it as 'Anne Boleyn' in full, and says 'This is a rare surviving portrait of Anne'. Hooray! [Bragging note: to see another royal portrait in a public collection I have re-identified, click here.]

Mothers at Maastricht

March 21 2011

Image of Mothers at Maastricht

The picture I most coveted at The European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht was Thomas Lawrence's portrait of his mother (above left). I first saw it at Christie's, and was not in the least surprised when it soared above its estimate of £50-80,000 to make £373,000. Painted in 1797 shortly before she died, it is a dazzling display of Lawrence's genius in oil. I found it very moving.

I was surprised also to find in Maastricht Lucian Freud's similarly treated portrait of his mother (right), painted in 1972. I have no idea if Freud knew of Lawrence's portrait. But I was struck by the similarities between the two. Both are unfinished, and both show their sitters looking awkwardly to the side. Neither are painted with any obvious sign of affection. And yet in both it is the unusual intensity that reveals the deep bond between subject and sitter. 

British Museum Shakespeare Exhibition in 2012

March 21 2011

Image of British Museum Shakespeare Exhibition in 2012

Picture: National Portrait Gallery

The British Museum is to hold a major Shakespeare exhibition in 2012 as part of the Cultural Olympiad. There are few details at the moment, but I'm most interested in which portrait of him they will exhibit.

Above is the National Portrait Gallery's 'Chandos portrait' of Shakespeare - which for me is the best example. Quite a few newspapers, books and magazines these days illustrate the 'Cobbe portrait' which was recently proclaimed 'the only surviving portrait of William Shakespeare painted from life'. Alas, it is most definitely not him

PS - if you're really keen on the idea of the Shakespeare exhibition, you can apply here to be a project curator - £22,907 p.a. Entries close 1st April. 

An art dealer's Sunday afternoon

March 20 2011

Image of An art dealer's Sunday afternoon

After a smash and grab raid at a London auction house, I found that a framed 50x40 painting will just fit into my motor. And that it takes about half an hour just to get it out again. 

Vermeer will not be restituted

March 20 2011

Image of Vermeer will not be restituted

Picture: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (detail).

Authorities in Austria have ruled that the heirs of Jaromir Czernin cannot claim ownership of Vermeer's Art of Painting. The picture was bought in 1940 by Hitler for his Fuehrermuseum in Linz for 1.6m Reichsmarks, about $660,000 at the time. Despite the fact that Czernin was a member of the Nazi Party, and had written to Hitler after the sale saying, 'I ask that you accept my sincere thanks. Wishing that this picture may bring you, my Führer, joy always, I greet you, my Führer, with the German salute, as your devoted Count Jaromir Czernin-Morzin", Czernin's descendants claimed the sale was forced.

More on the latest developments here. A fuller history of the case is set out here

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