To sell or not to sell? Sewell vs. Deuchar on deaccessioning.

March 19 2011

Image of To sell or not to sell? Sewell vs. Deuchar on deaccessioning.

Picture: The Guardian

The Guardian today had an interesting debate on deaccessioning between the art critic Brian Sewell and the director of the Art Fund, Stephan Deuchar. Deuchar was against, Sewell for. I'm broadly with Sewell, but would limit funds raised to collection care or acquisitions. 

The problem with the deaccessioning debate is that it is increasingly irrelevant. Museums up and down the country are already selling on a large scale. The question should instead be - what are we going to do about it? [More below]

In May I shall be taking part in a conference at the National Gallery on deaccessioning. I shall argue, as I have done for some time, that we need a government sponsored body to manage deaccessioning on a national level. This body, which would be similar to the Export Reviewing Committee, would have two main functions: first, to ensure that the national collection does not suddenly lose, say, all its Girolamo di Carpos in one go; and second, to make sure no mistakes are made.

I'm particularly worried about the latter situation. As an art dealer (there, interest declared), I regularly see American Museums mistakenly deaccession what they think is a work by an unknown artist. I know of many good pictures languishing in UK museum basements that are miscatalogued - and I don't want to see them being sold by accident to dealers like me.

In fact, I'm going to start a regular feature called 'In the Basement', where I shall give some examples. Feel free to join in if you know of any yourself. 

Van Dyck discovered in Spain

March 18 2011

Image of Van Dyck discovered in Spain

This is exciting - a lost painting by Van Dyck appears to have been found in the stores of a Spanish Museum. The Virgin and Child Adored by Penitent Sinners is in the San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid. 

The news reports are sketchy and describe the painting as 'previously unknown'. I see from the 2004 catalogue raisonne, however, that there was a reference to a similarly titled work in the Spanish Royal Collection in 1681, so perhaps this is it. There is another version in the Louvre (below), in which the central penitent figure holds a different position. In 2004, Horst Vey described the Louvre version as being in bad condition. Perhaps the newly discovered version is in better shape - certainly, the hands and face of the central figure are more compelling than in the Louvre version. 

I've asked the Academy of San Fernando for a better photo - I'll put it up here if I get it.

Gainsborough 'improved' by Reynolds?

March 18 2011

Image of Gainsborough 'improved' by Reynolds?

National Trust curators are investigating evidence that a portrait by Gainsborough of Susannah Trevelyan (x-rayed above) was repainted by Joshua Reynolds. More here

Some gems amongst the crowds at Maastricht

March 18 2011

Image of Some gems amongst the crowds at Maastricht

It was a mistake to go to the European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht on the opening day - too many people. If you happened upon a swarm of freeloaders around a canape tray, it actually became impossible to move. 

Still, there were some fine pictures on display. Jack Kilgore had what I thought was the discovery of the fair, a work by the young Rubens. [More below]

Painted between 1597-1600, The Empreror Commodus as Hercules and Gladiator is a rare example of Rubens' early subject pictures from before he left for Italy in 1600. Most impressively of all is the fact that it is in really excellent condition. You can read more detailed cataloguing of the picture on Jack's website

Rafael Valls always seems to have a fine Kauffmann on display, and this year he had a bozzetto of Euphrosyne Wounded by Cupid, Complaining to Venus (above). Other highlights included Frans Francken's epic Man Choosing between Virtue and Vice with Johnny Van Haeften, and Thomas Lawrence's Mary, Countess of Wilton (below) with Richard Green, both of which are also in very good condition. Lowell Libson had the best collection of English works, including a trio of exquisite Gainsborough drawings, as well as George Romney's Titania and Her Attendants

There were also some not so good pictures, which I won't mention (at least not yet). The New York Times' review of the fair is worth reading, and entitled 'At Maastricht, the Great Art is Getting Scarce'. I can see their point. 

Get out the jet - it's Maastricht

March 16 2011

Image of Get out the jet - it's Maastricht

Excitement is building ahead of The European Fine Art Fair, which opens tomorrow in Maastricht. Last year, 171 private jets landed at the local airport. The event is a major showcase for Old Master dealers - but can they withstand the pressure from major auction houses? 

Scott Reyburn of Bloomberg has highlighted the growing battle between dealers and auction houses: [More below]

Works by Rembrandt and Renoir will be among 30,000 items worth more than 1 billion euros ($1.4 billion) offered at the world’s biggest art and antiques fair as dealers vie with auction houses to lure wealthy buyers.

Old Master dealers have been the mainstay of Tefaf. With auctions now usually the starting point for the limited pool of new buyers drawn to historic paintings, the event gives traders a chance to see fresh faces. 

“People go to the auctions first, then come to dealers when they feel more confident,” the London-based Old Master specialist Jean-Luc Baroni said in an interview. “If we’re going to meet new collectors, we’ll meet them at Maastricht.”

Recently, Sotheby's and Christie's have seen their own private sales grow enormously. In 2006, Sotheby's acquired one of the world's major Old Master dealers, Noortman Master Paintings, which exhibits at Maastricht every year. I'm going tomorrow (by train), and will report back on any excitements. 

Things to look forward to in New York

March 16 2011

The Metropolitan Museum has released dates of their forthcoming exhibitions.

Highlights include: 'Rooms with a View: The Open Window in the 19th Century' (5 April-4 July); 'Pastel Portraits: Images of 18th Century Europe' (17 May-14 August); and 'Frans Hals in the Metropolitan Museum' (26 July-10 October). More here

Recession? What recession?

March 15 2011

Image of Recession? What recession?

Picture: Cleveland Museum of Art

Hats off to the Cleveland Museum of Art for a really impressive piece of acquisitioning; they've just bought the above cabinet miniature by Isaac Oliver. Possibly painted for Anne of Denmark, it is one of very few large scale miniatures by Oliver to survive. 

It's not only a good buy, but a canny one. The picture was offered at Sotheby's in New York in January with an estimate of $200 - 300,000, which I felt was too high. However, it failed to sell, and presumably the museum were able to secure it for a good price post-sale. [More below]

No matter what Cleveland paid for it, the value today is probably a bargain compared to its original price. Cabinet miniatures were highly prized in the seventeenth century; in the sale of Charles I's collection in 1649 similar miniatures by Isaac Oliver's son, Peter, sold for the enormous sum of £50 each. By comparison, a Holbein sold for £30 and a Corregio for £40.

See Cleveland's other new acquisitions here. See their admirably comprehensive way of enlisting donations and supporters (no state funding) here.

Five Star Watteau

March 15 2011

Image of Five Star Watteau

Picture: Royal Academy. Detail of Nude Man Kneeling, c.1715/16, Louvre.

The Royal Academy's new exhibition of Watteau's drawings has been given five stars by Alastair Sooke in the Daily Telegraph.

The RA has a selection of the drawings in high-res here

The one third acquisition policy

March 15 2011

Image of The one third acquisition policy

A legal dispute between the contemporary art dealer Larry Gagosian and one of his clients has revealed a potentially novel approach to museum acquisitions. The collector Robert Wylde thought he was buying all of Mark Tansey's 1981 painitng The Innocent Eye Test in 2009, for $2.5m, only to find out later that the Met Museum in New York owns 1/3 of it. 

More here


March 14 2011

Image of Optimism

Picture: Peter Willott/St.Augustine Record.

Here's a strange one - a full-length portrait has gone on display at a museum in Florida because;

'...the owners have spent more than 20 frustrating years unable to sell it for what they think it is worth. By placing it at the Lightner [Museum], they hope to inspire new interest.'

The owners, one of whom is Mr Paul Partel, above, believe their portrait of Louis XVIII by Antoine-Francois Callet is 'worth millions'. However, it was offered at auction by Christie's in 1991 with an estimate of $60-80,000, before being withdrawn by Mr Partel because; [More below]

Partel is convinced a conspiracy has existed in the art world to suppress the price of his painting, which he too says is worth "millions." On several occasions, he said, buyers have been close to paying him a price he considered fair, only to lose interest after consulting advisers. When it is suggested that the auction houses should want to get the highest price possible since their profit comes from a commission on the sale price, Partel points to what happened in 2001.

That year, the heads of Sotheby's and Christie's were indicted by federal prosecutors for conspiring to fix prices and cheat more than 130,000 customers over six years. The two houses paid $512 million to clients - $256 million apiece - as part of a class-action lawsuit...

Although Partel was not part of the class-action suit, he says the scandal is proof that his conspiracy theory makes sense.

Or it could be that the conspiring art advisers saw that the auction record for a work by Callet is just £145,000, and that the corpulent Louis XVIII is perhaps the least commercial of all the French kings in history. 

Museum of London new exhibition

March 14 2011

Image of Museum of London new exhibition

Picture: Museum of London. Detail from 'Buy a Rat or a Mouse Trap?' by Rowlandson.

This looks like it's worth a visit; a new exhibition at the Museum of London of rarely seen paintings, drawings and prints showing how London's poor were depicted from the 17th to the 19th century. Exhibition curator Francis Marshall said;

'The Museum of London’s extensive art collection contains many items which are rarely displayed for conservation reasons.  This show offers the chance to see some of our gems: delicate watercolours and prints depicting gritty London subject matter.'

Entry is free, and the show runs from 25th March to 31st July 2011.

Koons to set new record?

March 14 2011

Image of Koons to set new record?

Picture: Sotheby's

A sculpture by Jeff Koons, Pink Panther, is set to sell for up to $30m at Sotheby's Spring Contemporary auction in New York. Sotheby's press release said:

'Representing the highest tier of Jeff Koons' artistic achievement, Pink Panther is immediately identifiable as a masterpiece not only of the artist's historical canon, but also of the epoch of recent Contemporary Art...

In Pink Panther, the display of the woman's semi-naked body is sensual. However, with the bizarrely incongruous cuddly Pink Panther toy clinging to the literal embodiment of carnal desire, Koons strikes an outrageous contrast between the competing powers of adult and childhood associations. 

The artist's painstaking selection of media is central to the conceptual project, contributing directly to the importance of the work. The terms of its execution are flawless: the contrasting textures of the porcelain surfaces are rendered in dazzlingly vivid colours that reinforce the object's artificiality, while the transparent glazes simultaneously evoke the fragility of thin glass and the ethereal nature of a reflective liquid.'

I rather like it. But if it's still worth $30m in 50 years time, I'll eat my trousers.

Friday amusement

March 11 2011

Image of Friday amusement

Picture: Spike Milligan

More Caravaggio in Rome

March 11 2011

Image of More Caravaggio in Rome

If you're a Caravaggio fan, it's a good time to go to Rome. Not only is there the exhibition of Caravaggio documents in the State Archives, but now a new exhibition at the Museo Diocesano brings together sixty masterpieces by Caravaggio and his contemporaries. It opens today, until 3rd July.

Fraudulent dealer's 'Mission from God'

March 11 2011

Image of Fraudulent dealer's 'Mission from God'

More details are emerging about Lawrence Salander, of the Salander O'Reilly gallery in New York, better known as the Bernie Madoff of the art world. He had a habit of selling multiple half shares in paintings, and then never telling the owners when he had sold them. He pleaded guilty last year and was jailed, but by doing so avoided a full trial. Now, in the trial of his staff, the full workings of his business are starting to emerge.

No less than Robert de Niro is to testify at the trial of Leigh Morse, Salander's former gallery director. Salander sold a whole batch of paintings by de Niro's father, not only without the actor's permission, but without ever paying him. Andrew Kelly, Salander's former assistant, is also testifying and said his former employer was 'on a mission from God to enlighten the world' whilst busily 'cooking the books' with fraudulent invoices. 

You can keep tabs on the trial via Bloomberg, here.

The £100m/£20k Leonardo - its implications for auction attributions

March 10 2011

Image of The £100m/£20k Leonardo - its implications for auction attributions

There’s an interesting piece by Simon Hewitt in this week’s Antiques Trade Gazette on the Leonardo/not Leonardo drawing, above. The article isn’t online, so I can’t link to it. 

Christie’s sold the drawing for $19,000 in 1998, but recently Martin Kemp, a leading Leonardo scholar, said it was by the great master. If it’s ‘right’, some say the drawing would be worth £100m. If it isn’t, then the original valuation is probably right. There’s nothing in between. 

The picture is now the subject of a lawsuit between a previous owner, Jeanne Marchig, and Christie’s. Mrs Marchig claims that Christie’s were negligent in selling the drawing as ‘German School, 19th Century’, when in fact it was by Leonardo. However, Christie’s are sticking to their guns, and say that although Martin Kemp believes it is a Leonardo, many other scholars do not, and neither do they. [More below]

However, Simon Hewitt points out that so far Christie’s are winning the legal battle only because Mrs Marchig’s claim is outside New York’s six year statute of limitations. The question of is it or is it not a Leonardo has yet to be discussed in court. Mrs Marchig is appealing the latest decision, saying that the statute of limitations does not apply. In which case, as Simon Hewitt points out;

‘The case also raises the question as to whether a disclaimer in a consignment agreement (to the effect that an auction firm makes no representations or warranties as to the authenticity of an object) relieves the firm of a duty to attribute the object correctly; and whether the statute of limitations should still apply if fresh evidence comes to light, however late, that shows due diligence was not performed at the time of sale’.

In which case, all bets are off on auction attributions. 

If the case does proceed to a full trial, the precedents for a Leonardo attribution being discussed in court in New York are not good from Christie’s point of view. In 1920 the celebrated art dealer Lord Duveen lost a libel case when he stated publicly that a replica of Leonardo’s ‘La Belle Ferronniere’ was not another version by Leonardo, but a copy. The picture’s owners, the Hahns, sued Duveen, and even though the picture was universally accepted to be a copy by scholars, an emotionally swayed jury found in the Hahns' favour, who were portrayed by their lawyer as plucky Americans standing up to snobbish European 'experts'.

The Hahn picture was finally sold in 2010, as ‘Follower of Leonardo’, for $1.5m (by Sotheby’s). 


Landseer in the Highlands

March 10 2011

Image of Landseer in the Highlands

Picture: Mallams

This small and rare landscape sketch by Landseer, estimated at £8-12,000, sold for £70,000 yesterday.

Update 20.3.11: it isn't the highlands, it's Devon apparently. I saw the picture at Maastricht. 

Rodin nicked

March 10 2011

Image of Rodin nicked

Picture: AP

A bronze statue of Balzac has been stolen from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The work, cast in 1892, was taken during renovations three months ago. The theft has only now been made public, which is perhaps rather late. Like the Henry Moores stolen in England recently, I suspect it has already been melted down. Who knows, bits of it may already be in the circuitry of your new mobile phone.  

Important Turners donated to Abbotsford

March 9 2011

Image of Important Turners donated to Abbotsford

Picture: Art Fund. Left, Abbotsford, right, Newark Castle. 

Two watercolours by JMW Turner have been donated to Abbotsford, Walter Scott's home. They were painted in 1831 to illustrate the 1833 edition of Scott's poems. The donor, Phoebe Barrow, chose to donate them through the Art Fund so that they were safeguarded in perpetuity - a smart move in this world of increasing deaccessions. More here

'The man who said museums should charge for entry.'

March 9 2011

Image of 'The man who said museums should charge for entry.'

Tristram Hunt has re-opened the debate on entrance fees for museums. He says that in an age of arts cuts, particularly for regional museums, it is unfair that London-based museums such as Tate get funds for free entry, but not the Potteries Museum in his own Stoke constituency. [More below]

Hunt is going firmly against Labour policy, and his willingness to debate the issue must be applauded. For too long there has been a sort of fatwa on the subject. I used to work for Hugo Swire, who, when he was Shadow Culture Secretary, was denounced by the Daily Mail, and later others, for daring to suggest that if some museums wanted to re-introduce charges, he would consider allowing them to do so. 

Personally, I think free entry is a Good Thing. But if a board of independent trustees wanted to charge because they thought it would be better for their museum, why should the government stop them? The money they receive from DCMS to supposedly make up for free entry is not nearly enough. And Hunt points out that 'when it came to broadening audiences for art and culture, free entry didn't achieve that much.'

Should British taxpayers be subsidising the over 15 million overseas visitors who benefit from free entry? If the British Museum could charge even half of its 3.7m overseas visitors the same as the Louvre, 9.5 Euros, it would raise an additional £14.4m. The equivalent figure for Tate would be £12.5m, and the National Gallery almost £7m.

I'm glad that the current government is committed to free entry, with 'no ifs and no buts' as Jeremy Hunt said. But I'll continue to be puzzled by the fact that in Paris, it's free to get into Notre Dame, but not the Louvre, while in London it's free to get into the National Gallery, but not Westminster Abbey.


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