When is a Holbein not a Holbein?

January 27 2011

Image of When is a Holbein not a Holbein?


When the museum label next to it says 'Netherlandish Painter, 1569'. 

One of the joys of viewing the Old Master sales in New York over a weekend is being able to go to the Met early on Sunday morning - it opens at 9.30am, perfect for the jet-lagged. I was amused to see one of my favourite Holbein's demoted, and tried to tell the museum staff. They must get hundreds of people trying to tell them 'your label is wrong', so I don't blame them for not taking me seriously. 

You can see a better photo of the portrait, properly catalogued, here

Judging the Last Judgement

January 27 2011

Image of Judging the Last Judgement

Picture: Doyles

One of the pictures that caught my eye in New York was a grisaille of a Last Judgement 'attributed to Frans Francken' at Doyles. Beautifully painted, but with some losses, it was estimated at just $2-4,000. 

Not mentioned in the catalogue was the apparent Salander O'Reilly Gallery provenance, according to a sticker on the back. It was perhaps this unfortunate recent market history (Mr Salander is currently in jail) which led the picture to make just $3,750.

Which is puzzling, because when it came up at auction some years earlier, at Sotheby's, it made £35,000. 

Lot 403: An English 'bubonic' country scene.

January 26 2011

Image of Lot 403: An English 'bubonic' country scene.

...or should that be 'bucolic'?

See for yourself at May Auctioneers, 28th January

From Sleeper to Museum Wall

January 24 2011

Image of From Sleeper to Museum Wall

I was interested to see this fine portrait of a gentleman by Quentin Metsys in the Metropolitan Museum in New York on Sunday. Not so long ago it had appeared in an auction in Switzerland with a very low estimate and called something like 'Flemish School' (I can't remember exactly). 

I had it eagerly flagged up, but the picture was withdrawn from the sale. It then reappeared at Christie's in London correctly described and with an estimate of £700,000 - £1m. Now, it hangs happily reunited (on loan) with its pendant, which has belonged to the Met since 1931.  

The New York viewings

January 23 2011

Here are some of the pictures I liked and didn’t like in the Christie’s and Sotheby’s sales. Generally a good offering, with Sotheby’s having the better pick of the two. If you have queries about anything else, please get in touch.

In catalogue order, pictures I liked were;


Lot 8 – Portrait of the Duke of Suffolk. This is a first-rate Tudor portrait, in good condition, by the ‘Master of the Brandon Portrait’ and painted in c.1530. I’ll be delighted if it sells, but at $300,000-$500,000, the estimate is a little high. 

Lot 9 – Studio of Cranach the Elder, portrait of Frederick III. One of many replicas, but well painted, nice condition, and a low estimate.

Lot 18 – A newly discovered Van Dyck portrait. Rather ‘topped’ in parts, but at an estimate of $20,000-$30,000 you can’t go wrong, even with that sitter.

Lot 34 – John Constable, copy of a Ruisdael. Rare thing. Interesting that he signed it ‘Ruisdael’. High estimate. 

Lot 35 – Wright of Derby, portrait of Charles Heathcote. Wright at his impasto best. Incredible condition. Not that dissimilar to the portrait of Robert Shore Miles, which went way above estimate at Sotheby’s NY in 2008, selling for $7,208,000.

Lot 24 – Pompeo Batoni, Venus Caressing Cupid. A rare mythological painting by Batoni. Good condition. Reasonable estimate. 

Lot 118 – Portrait Attributed to Michael Sittow. Great image, beautifully drawn head, probably a low estimate. 

Lot 161 – A gem of an early Romney. Good condition, cheap estimate.

Pictures I wasn’t so keen on;

Lot 4 – Jacob van Ruisdael; condition appeared to be a little problematic.

Lot 44 – Canaletto; great picture, but at $2,500,000-$3,500,000 on the steep side.

Lot 121 – ‘Attributed to Van Dyck’; strange picture, far from Van Dyck, I’d say, and probably not even 17th Century.

Lots 163-167 – the set of Romney portraits. There is something not quite right about these. Have they all been badly restored some time ago?



Keen on;

Lot 109 – Girolamo da Carpi Madonna and Child. This is a strange looking da Carpi, and the catalogue entry says as much. Personally, I think it looks more like a knackered Parmigianino. 

Lot 113 – Perino del Vaga, Holy Family. Fine image, nice enough condition. There’s a bit of a buzz about this one, so expect it to go over estimate. 

Lot 120 – Jacob Jordaens, St Andrew. Beautifully painted, Jordaens at his early best. 

Lot 135 – Greuze portrait. Greuze at his best. Worth the $400,000 - $600,000 estimate. 

Lot 137 – Giampietrino, Madonna and child. Fine image. As close as you get to a late Leonardo for under a $1million. 

Lot 225 – “Attributed to Corneille de Lyon”. Surely right. 

Lot 302 – Venetian School, portrait of an Old Woman. No idea who painted this, but it’s stunning. 

Lot 309 – Perronneau portrait. Unusual to get these in good state. Cheap at $40,000 - £60,000

Not so keen on;

Lot 131 – Attributed to Parmigianino and Workshop portrait of Charles V. Curious picture. I think it tends more towards the Workshop end of the attribution. 

Lot 156 – Titian, Sacra Conversazione. Amazing history, glorious overall image. And yet… strangely underwhelming. Is it the cursory drapery? Is it the misunderstood features of the restored St Catherine, which makes her profile seem incongruous? I’m not sure what it is, but I struggle to like it as much as the estimate tells me I should. 

Lot 193 – Kauffmann portrait. I’m a great Kauffmann fan, but at $250,000 - $350,000 this is too expensive. 

Lot 269 – “Studio of Van Dyck”. Probably a later copy instead. 

New Director for the Wallace Collection

January 22 2011

Congratulations to Dr Christoph Vogtherr, who has been appointed the new Director of the Wallace Collection. He takes over from Dame Rosalind Savill later this year. More here.

Off to New York...

January 22 2011

Image of Off to New York...

6.30 am. BA aren't on strike. My excellent colleague Sara has swung me an upgrade. All is well. 

I'll post some thoughts on the sales tomorrow.

'Lot 31 - The Stolen Degas'

January 21 2011

Image of 'Lot 31 - The Stolen Degas'

A c.1870 painting by Edgar Degas stolen in 1973 has been returned to the French Government by US authorities after it was spotted in an auction catalogue. The picture, estimated by Sotheby's at $350,000 to $450,000, had slipped through a check on the Art Loss Register. 

U.S. customs officials, working with authorities from Interpol, said the painting was consigned to French art collector Ronald Grelsamer. 

Grelsamer said his father gave him the painting as a gift, but was unaware it was stolen, the statement said.

'Lost Rubens' faces Export Ban

January 18 2011

Image of 'Lost Rubens' faces Export Ban

Picture: Sotheby's.

A portrait believed to be by Rubens has been stopped for export by the government's Reviewing Committee. The picture was offered at Sotheby's in December 2009 with an estimate of £4-6m, but failed to sell and is now priced at £1m.

The 'striking portrait of a very real, although unidentified, woman', according to the Committee's Chairman Lord Inglewood, must have presented the panel with a tricky dilemma. The so-called Waverley Criteria, by which a picture is judged to be of national importance, are;

  1. Is it so closely connected with our history and national life that its departure would be a misfortune?
  2. Is it of outstanding aesthetic importance?
  3. Is it of outstanding significance for the study of some particular branch of art, learning or history?

Now, the picture failed to sell at Sotheby's because some experts doubted it as a work by Rubens. The current price of £1 million must reflect continuing uncertainty over the attribution, for with a certain Rubens endorsement the picture would comfortably make the Sotheby's estimate. 

So, if it is not a Rubens, could the Reviewing Committee really decide that it met any of the Waverley Criteria? This was a picture which had been almost entirely unknown, thus ruling out Waverley 1. As a non-Rubens of a not particularly compelling unidentified sitter it does not meet Waverley 2 either. And it certainly would not meet Waverley 3.

When it was offered at Sotheby's as a Rubens the picture suffered from an enthusiasm amongst some experts to be overly exclusionist, which often happens when a new picture emerges from leftfield with no pedigree.

Personally, I thought the portrait (which is unfinished) was by Rubens when I saw it in 2009, and that Sotheby's had done an excellent job to discover it and catalogue it. In any case, the new overseas owner has, at £1million, surely got a bargain, for it will doubtless be accepted once the initial doubts have died down. These things usually are. 

Update 23.2.11: The painting was submitted for export by the current owners - it has not been sold. See here for more details. 

The perils of not getting that export paperwork right...

January 17 2011

Image of The perils of not getting that export paperwork right...

Picture: Sotheby's

A US court has seized 'Leda and the Swan' by Lelio Orsi, after apparent irregularities in Italian export procedures. The picture had been sold at auction in New York for $1.5m in 2008.

This is not just a photo of some shoes...

January 15 2011

Image of This is not just a photo of some shoes...

Picture: Christie's

I'm fascinated by the language used by dealers and auctioneers to describe contemporary art, particularly when it's on sale with a hefty price tag.

Here's a good example from Christie's Spring 2011 'Highlights' magazine, describing a photograph by Andreas Gursky, 'Untitled V' (colour-print, no.2 of 6, estimate £800,000-£1,200,000):

Gleaming with spiritual beauty, the monumental scale and pure aesthetics of Andres Gursky's Untitled V makes this work one of the most powerful and arresting images. Based on the interioir of a luxury goods store, the work is a triumphal examination of consumer culture and the nature of global trade. Its strong architectural lines, muted, meditative lighting and row of sports shoes displayed like sparkling religious icons produces an almost sacred experience... The cool, crisp lines punctuated only by the brightly coloured footwear, are testimony to the enduring influence and Minimalism and to the work of Donald Judd in particular, whose transformation of what Peter Galassi has called 'the solemn majesty of infinite progression (...) into the aesthetic repetitions of the assembly line and the display case' has a particular significance here. 

Much more in the catalogue here.


The Holy Grail of Modern British?

January 13 2011

Image of The Holy Grail of Modern British?

A Francis Bacon triptych of Lucien Freud will be offered by Sotheby’s in London on 10th February. Painted in 1964, it should eclipse the £5.4m realised by Freud’s reciprocal portrait of Bacon, sold in October 2008 at Christie’s London. The Freud of Bacon had an estimate of £4m-7m. The Bacon of Freud has an estimate of £7m-9m.

Not William Gladstone...

January 12 2011

Image of Not William Gladstone...

Picture: Bonhams

...as catalogued, but John Bright. Still worth buying though.

Bright wasn't Prime Minister, but he was one of the most important statesman of the Victorian age. He said the famous phrase during the Crimean War; "The Angel of Death has been abroad throughout the land. You may almost hear the beating of his wings." 

Update 19.1.11; it made £1,440.

How much will it make?

January 11 2011

Image of How much will it make?

Picture: Christie's

A previously unknown self-portrait by Andy Warhol will be auctioned by Christie's London on 16th February with an estimate of £3-5m. It is the eleventh version on a 6ft large canvas, and newly authenticated. Previously there were thought to be only ten.

There are more than forty on the smaller 22 inch scale. 

Update 20.1.11; full Christie's catalogue entry here.

Brueghel bought

January 7 2011

Image of Brueghel bought

Picture: National Trust

Splendid news; ‘The Procession to Calvary’ by Pieter Brueghel the Younger at Nostell Priory has been bought for the nation after a campaign to raise £2.7m. The National Heritage Memorial Fund contributed £1m, and the Art Fund £500,000.

Public donations amounted to an impressive £680,000. The picture is a religious scene, by the younger Brueghel, and can in no way be described as specifically British. But that it still generated such a strong public response is testament to the appetite for good acquisitions.

Given the strong prices for anything Brueghel these days, I think £2.7m was a bit of a bargain. Well done to everybody involved.


The world's most coveted painting?

December 29 2010

Image of The world's most coveted painting?

A new book makes the case for van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece.

More baffling Contemporaryartspeak

December 28 2010

Image of More baffling Contemporaryartspeak

From artdaily.com, describing a new exhibition (featuring Turner Prize Winner Simon Starling) at the Camden Arts Centre:

"It aims to create a temporal cacaphony by orchestrating a series of collissions between spatially and historically remote works, that themselves push and pull at an understanding of linear time."


December 27 2010

Image of 9/11

The number one art event of the last decade, according to Robert Ayres. 

Go Rolf

December 26 2010

Rolf Harris wants to paint Wills n' Kate.

The Future of Art History?

December 23 2010

Image of The Future of Art History?

Picture: David Hockney

David Hockney paints on his iPad.

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