Van Dyck - or Rubens?

June 11 2011

Image of Van Dyck - or Rubens?

Picture: Sotheby's

Sotheby's announced today a highlight of their forthcoming July Old Master sales. Portrait of a Carmelite Monk (oil on panel, 62.3 x 48 cm) is being hailed as a new discovery of an early work by Van Dyck. The estimate is £600-800,000.

It is an exquisite painting, and looks to be in fine condition. Colours on panel tend to last better than when on canvas, and here one senses the freshness of the painting, as if it was made only recently. One also sees how the paint has been physically worked up with layers of impasto, in an almost sculptural manner. 

Traditionally, the painting has been attributed to Rubens. But Sotheby's has given it instead to Van Dyck, and dated it to c.1617-20. George Gordon, Sotheby's co-Chairman, observes:

...that while Rubens’ portraits are always formally composed, the current work, especially the way the young monk’s head is turned to one side, creates an impression of spontaneity. In addition, the brushwork in the present picture, which is painted in oil on oak panel, is clearly legible throughout most of the painting and is more reminiscent of Anthony Van Dyck when he worked in Rubens’ studio, than of his teacher. Specifically, the use of thick paint to denote highlights in the sitter’s habit is a characteristic of Van Dyck’s personal style at this date, and can be seen in a series of paintings the artist made of the Apostles.

It has become something of a fashion to re-attribute Rubens's made between c.1616-21 to Van Dyck, who was by far Ruben's best pupil. I haven't seen the painting myself, but to be honest my initial hunch from the image is that this leans more towards Rubens. 

Either way, it looks like a bargain at that estimate, and will surely sell for more. 

New York Old Master sales results

June 11 2011

Image of New York Old Master sales results

Picture: Christie's

There were some reassuringly solid prices at the main Old Master sales in New York this week. Christie's cover lot, an enticing Mary Magdalene by the Master of the Parrot (above), sold for $1,426,500, beating its estimate of $600-800,000.

Sotheby's star price was the  $872,500 realised for Jacob van Ruisdael's Ruined Castle Gateway. This was estimated at just $100-150,000.

There were strong prices in all areas. The sudden craze for Napoleon portraits continues, with a full-length by Alexandre Dufay sellling for $236,500, against an estimate of $60-80,000. It is of middling quality. Not so long ago, portraits of Napoleon (which abound) where not stellar sellers. I wonder who is buying them now?

Stolen Pissarro will go back to France

June 11 2011

Image of Stolen Pissarro will go back to France

Picture: Sotheby's

A US court has ruled that a painting by Camille Pissarro stolen from the Faure Museum in France must be returned. The picture, Le Marche de Poissons, was stolen in the 1980s, and only surfaced when it appeared at auction at Sotheby's in 2003. It has taken since then to resolve various legal disputes.

Museum Charging - the view from New York

June 10 2011

Image of Museum Charging - the view from New York

Picture: New York Times

The Metropolitan Museum's decision to increase its 'suggested' entry fee from $20 to $25 has provoked soul-searching even in the US over the question of museum charging. Randy Kenedy in the NY Times writes:

Do sizable admission prices, even suggested ones, discourage lower-income visitorship? (Of course.) Should museums that receive taxpayer money charge for admission? (A lot of people say no, even though many museums receive relatively little in the way of public subsidies.) Do museums have a kind of moral obligation, like libraries, to be free? (Museum directors are divided on the subject. Some, like Philippe de Montebello, the former director of the Met, point out that almost all cultural goods come with a price. “Philosophically, what is it about a work of art that makes it mandatory that it should be available for nothing?” he has asked.)

Sewell on the RA's Summer Exhibition

June 10 2011

Image of Sewell on the RA's Summer Exhibition

As ever, Brian Sewell's review is worth a read. He begins:

Last week, on entering the Royal Academy's courtyard to see its annual Summer Exhibition, I chanced upon a column of Academicians, their doxies, catamites and hangers-on (no 11,000 virgins there) embarking on their yearly pilgrimage to St James's Piccadilly, there to pray for a pox on hostile critics.

It was once a charming and colourful ritual but now even dour members of a Bible Readers' Union might make a gayer occasion of it, for the sense that these pilgrims still think of themselves as smocked Augustus Johns with their polka-dot Dorelias of a century ago has entirely gone. The fedoras were far fewer, the motley drab, and in this shabby crocodile not one woman shone with artifice and no man played the aesthete exquisite.

Sewell goes onto to highlight some of the works he likes, and indeed there are many fine ones. But the wider point, surely, is that the RA is in danger of losing its relevance when it comes to contemporary art.

What is the RA for? Most people, I suspect, think of it as one of the best places in the world for mounting authoritative exhibitions, such as the current one of Watteau's drawings. In my view, the RA's exhibitions of what we might call historic art are unsurpassable. Arguably, it should build on this role and project itself as a guardian of all things art historical in Britain.

But as some of the second-rate offerings in the Summer Exhibition show, it struggles to fulfil its original purpose of promoting the arts in Britain, first by training artists and secondly by exhibiting the best contemporary works.

Instead, its offerings feel like the massed collection of a few humdrum regional art fairs, uncertain of their own meaning, and openly bewildered by their lack of skill. For an institution which was once headed by Reynolds and is decorated by Kauffman, one has to feel that the decline in standards is worrying. 

M F Hussain, 'the Picasso of India'

June 10 2011

Image of M F Hussain, 'the Picasso of India'

Picture: LA Times

The celebrated Indian artist M F Hussain has died at the age of 95. See a brief biography here, and a selection of his paintings here

The last exhibit...

June 9 2011

Image of The last exhibit...

... for our exhibition 'Finding Van Dyck' has just arrived. We open next Wednesday, 15th June.

Every time we do an exhibition I somehow manage to forget just how much work is involved in organising the loans. In this case, I'm enormously grateful to the staff at Manchester Art Gallery for their help.

Now, before we can hang the painting, I need to go and find my light meter. There are strict museum standards for light levels, usually 250 lux max. For comparison, the average office is lit at between 320-500 lux. 

Caravaggio in Canada

June 8 2011

Image of Caravaggio in Canada

Picture: Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City

If you're in Ottowa over the summer, the National Gallery of Canada's new exhibition Caravaggio and his Followers looks to be worth a visit (17th June - 11th Sept). And if you're in Ottowa on 18th June, then why not go to the day long symposium. Details here

Zoffany - call for papers

June 8 2011

Image of Zoffany - call for papers

Picture: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. 'Self-Portrait as David' by Zoffany.

To coincide with the Royal Academy's new Zoffany exhibition (10th March-10th June 2012, and before that at the Yale Center for British Art, 27th October 2011-12th February 2012), a conference on Zoffany and his International Contexts will be held at the RA on 14th May 2012. 

If you fancy giving a paper, send your proposal to Martin Postle by 30th September - contact details at the bottom of the page here

British landscapes - new conference

June 8 2011

Image of British landscapes - new conference

Picture: Yale Center for British Art. 'Wollaton Hall' (detail) by Jan Siberechts, c.1697

This looks interesting - a new conference on early modern British landscapes, organised by the Paul Mellon Centre on 18th November. It will:

...explore the origins of British landscape as a pictorial genre, addressing developments in the two centuries that followed Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries. It aims to re-examine landscape imagery in drawings, paintings and prints of the period, by exploring its relationship with other 'arts of prospect' employed to observe, record and moreover evaluate the country's transformations. Prospects assumed various forms, visual and verbal, and included maps, plans and elevations, as well as views and verse, pageantry and theatrical scenery, the collaborations of artists, architects and surveyors, patrons, poets and place-makers. A prospect was a far-reaching vision of the future as well as a survey of the present, if also oftentimes reflecting on the pasts that had shaped the national territory. Accordingly, a central theme of the conference will be to consider the relationship between landscape imagery and the making, unmaking and remaking of Britain as a nation state.

Speakers include Kevin Sharpe, Andrew McRae, Joseph Monteyne, Christine Stevenson, Paula Henderson, An Van Camp, and Julie Sanders. Sign up here for a very reasonable £20.


June 7 2011

Image of Nicked

Picture: Tribune De l'Art

The above works by Hals and Jacob van Ruisdael have been stolen from a museum in Holland. Two Boys Laughing, and Wooded Landscape were taken on 26th May from the Hofje van Aerden in Leerdam. More here

New acquisition at NPG

June 7 2011

Image of New acquisition at NPG

Picture: National Portrait Gallery, London

The NPG in London has acquired this very fine pastel by Daniel Gardner, The Three Witches from Macbeth. The picture shows Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, Elizabeth, Viscountess Melbourne and Anne Seymour Damer, the sculptor. It was acquired through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme. Says the NPG's catalogue entry:

This unusual group portrait depicts three of the most notorious women of the late 18th century. They were intimate friends sharing a common passion for Whig politics and the arts. Whereas Lady Melbourne had been friends with Anne Seymour Damer since the early 1770s, the friendship with Georgiana was fairly recent and this pastel may in part be related to Melbourne’s desire to publicize their friendship. While all three women are described as having enjoyed attending private theatricals and tableaux vivants, Gardner’s choice of the cauldron scene from Macbeth can also be related to their shared and shadowy political machinations as leading members of the Devonshire House circle. The composition has no parallel in Gardner’s oeuvre and it is assumed that either Damer or Melbourne suggested the design. 

I find the last suggestion a little odd - Gardner was a pretty good artist, and his compositions are varied enough. I don't think it would have been beyond his powers to come up with the grouping himself. He need only have read Shakespeare's stage direction for the scene (act IV, scene 1), which states - 'A cavern. In the middle, a boiling cauldron. Thunder. Enter three Witches.'

Today's announcement was twinned with news of an exciting exhibition at the NPG this autumn; The First Actresses: Nell Gwyn to Sarah Siddons runs from 20th October 2011 to 8th January 2012. More here.

From £3m to £12m to £17.5m - Watteau continues to Surprise

June 7 2011

Image of From £3m to £12m to £17.5m - Watteau continues to Surprise

Picture: Christie's

The government has put a temporary export bar on Watteau's La Surprise. The picture, which was an exciting new discovery when first sold at Christie's in July 2008, is priced at £17.5m, should any public galleries be interested in raising the funds to buy it.

Thought to have been lost for over 200 years, the picture was estimated by Christie's at £3-5m in 2008. It sold for £12.3m (inc. premium).  

Of course, with today's non-existent acquisition budgets, you have to wonder whether the whole process is something of a charade. I'll eat my trousers if any museum raises the money to buy it - so what, really, is the point in pretending we might be able to stop the picture being exported?

Repin it in

June 7 2011

Image of Repin it in

Picture: Christie's

Forgive the rubbish pun, but yesterday Christie's set a new record for a work by Ilya Repin (1844-1930). A Parisian Cafe, 1875, had been estimated at £3-5m, and sold for £4.5m (inc. premium). The strong price is - thankfully - a sign of the continuing strength of the Russian market.

Sotheby's also sold a fine Repin yesterday, a portrait of his wife, Vera, for £1.1m. And they too set a new record for a work by the Russian artist Vasilya Vereschagin. His The Taj Mahal, Evening sold for £2.28mIt had been estimated at just £250-450,000.


June 6 2011

Image of Cocteaup

Picture: Guardian

There's a bit of an odeur in France ahead of the opening of a new museum devoted to the work of Jean Cocteau. One Cocteau expert says a large number of the exhibits are fakes, while another says they're genuine. As is often the case with a recently deceased artist, it seems to come down to a battle over who has the right to be seen as the sole 'expert', with the power to pronounce on authenticity. From the Guardian:

Art expert Annie Guédras, who was designated by Cocteau's heirs as the only person legally authorised to "evaluate, authenticate and index" his paintings and drawings, examined the Wunderman collection. She concluded that dozens of works were copies or fakes.

However, the Cocteau committee, set up to manage the artist's estate, headed by Pierre Bergé – co-owner of Le Monde and partner of the late fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent – disagreed.

... Bergé called in another art expert, a decision that infuriated Guédras, who accused him of calling into question her professional judgment as well as breaking the legal agreement designating her as the only person authorised to authenticate Cocteau's work. She promptly resigned from the Cocteau committee and sued. Last year she won unspecified damages equivalent to three years' salary, a decision that Bergé immediately took to appeal.

Lowry self-portrait

June 6 2011

Image of Lowry self-portrait

Picture: Bonhams

There's a touching self-portrait of L S Lowry coming up for sale at Bonhams. In Group of People with the Artist, 1961, Lowry is seen on the left, in profile, very clearly standing apart from the group. Says the catalogue:

[Lowry] is the only figure not physically connected on the picture plane to any of the other people. It is almost as if he has been rejected by the assemblage and is staring into a lonely abyss. This is no coincidence as it is surely symbolic of Lowry's state of mind and how viewed himself within society.

Yours for £100-150,000, on 29th June.

Art History Futures - 'She paints like Picasso'

June 6 2011


Meet Aelita Andre, who has her first solo show in New York. Aelita is four.

Says Angela Di Bello, director of the Agora Gallery:

'She's special in that she really knows what she's doing... if you look at her paintings you'll see that they're balanced... it's one painting after another, she's very very consistent in her work, so she's already developed a style that is hers. What's interesting about her work is that it's abstract impressionism but it's also surrealist in the way she includes objects in her works, and how she includes objects.'

Dubbed 'the youngest professional painter on the planet', Aelita's paintings are priced at up to $9,900 each. Of 24 paintings in the exhibition, 9 were sold by the end of opening night.

Only in New York?

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.

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