Painting Van Gogh by numbers

April 28 2011

Image of Painting Van Gogh by numbers

Picture: MSNBC

Here's an interesting series of photos from Dafen art village in China, where most of the world's fakes are made. From MSNBC:

A combination picture shows the half-hour process of painter Zhao Xiaoyong working on a Van Gogh self-portrait in his gallery at Dafen Oil Painting Village in Shenzhen, south China's Guangdong province April 24, 2011. Zhao said he has sold more than 70,000 pieces of Van Gogh's paintings, with the price ranging from 200 to 1,500 yuan ($30-$230) a piece. Dafen village, a suburb in Shenzhen, is believed to be the largest mass producer of oil paintings in the world. Artists here manufacture some 60 percent of the total global trade volume, according to China Daily. Thousands of artists and dealers rent shops or exterior walls on buildings to display and sell oil paintings, but they will soon need to find other places as the local government has pledged to ban the practice in an effort to brush up its image before the upcoming Universiade, local media reported.

'Prices have climbed back dramatically'

April 27 2011

Image of 'Prices have climbed back dramatically'

Picture: Christie's (detail)

Sotheby's and Christie's have been unveiling highlights of their forthcoming June modern art auctions. Picasso leads the way, and with estimates that seem to be climbing ever higher. From Bloomberg:

Owners of valuable 20th-century trophies have become more confident about selling after record prices last year. Picasso’s 1932 Marie-Therese painting “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust” fetched $106.5 million -- the most for any artwork at auction -- at Christie’s, New York, in May 2010. A simpler portrait of her may fetch as much as $35 million at Sotheby’s New York in May.

“Prices have climbed back dramatically,” David Leiber, director of the New York-based gallery Sperone Westwater, said in an interview. “For the classic works, collectors like the spectacle of buying at auction.”

Can the frenzy possibly last? Perhaps, but as I said a while ago, if you want to be sure of banking a good price for your Picasso, I'd sell it now. On the other hand, if you have an Old Master, I'd keep it - is anything pre-1800 beginning to feel seriously under-valued?

The most engaging picture coming up in June (at Christie's) must be Picasso's Jeune Fille Endormie. It will surely beat its estimate of £9-12million - at least, I hope it does, for, thanks to an anonymous donor, the proceeds are going to medical research at the University of Sydney. 


April 27 2011

Image of Puntastic

Picture: Christie's

Sub-editors reached for the puns when Christie's announced that a Francis Bacon triptych self-portrait would be one of the highlights of their 11th May contemporary art sale in New York. Here's two of my favourites:

'Triptych set to bring home the Bacon' - ABC

'Demand for Bacon Sizzles' - The Irish Independent

In the catalogue, the picture is marked 'estimate on request', which is auction-speak for 'if you have to ask the price, you can't afford it'. The picture has been guaranteed to sell by Christie's, with a figure of $20m being mentioned.

Caravaggio in Kentucky

April 27 2011

Image of Caravaggio in Kentucky

Caravaggio's 1595 'The Fortune Teller' is to be loaned to the Speed Art Museum in Kentucky, from 18th May to 5th June. The painting is being lent by the Capitoline Museums in Rome. More here

V&A's Constables cleaned

April 26 2011

Image of V&A's Constables cleaned

Picture: V&A

From Martin Bailey in The Art Newspaper:

Constable's iconic oil sketches for The Hay Wain and The Leaping Horse have been cleaned for the first time since they came to the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in 1862. They are currently on show at Stuttgart's Staatsgalerie (until 3 July), as part of a touring exhibition that travels to America next year.

Full story here.

China and art - the next bubble?

April 26 2011

Image of China and art - the next bubble?

Picture: The Atlantic

Derek Thompson in The Atlantic asks if China's phenomenal spending in the art market is taking the form of a bubble, and finds a potential answer from Vikram Mansharamani, author of Boombustology - Spotting Financial Bubbles Before they Burst:

Once again, China has surpassed the United States in a key economic number. No, it's not GDP. It's art. In four years, China has zoomed past us from the world's fourth-biggest fine art scene to the world's largest auction market for art.


In the last 20 years, Sotheby's mostly stable stock has experienced four sharp peaks. In the late 1980s, Japan had been "the center of gravity" in the international art market. But its economy imploded, sending Sotheby's stock reeling. Ten years later, the Internet bubble drove another auction boom among Silicon Valley newbies, and the bubble burst again. Ten years later, we watched the same film play out. This year could be deja vu, all over again ... all over again. 

The graph they use is a little silly - you could draw the same conclusions from a vast array of stocks that went up when the economy was booming and went down when it wasn't.

There may well be a bubble in China at the moment, judging by the government's increasingly desperate attempts to bring prices under control. But it doesn't take many people to make a bull market in the art world (witness the pre-Raphaelite boom in the 1990s), and I reckon there are enough new Chinese millionaires to keep prices rising for a while yet. 

Looking for Lowry

April 26 2011

Image of Looking for Lowry

Sir Ian McKellen's excellent documentary of Lowry is available here for another month or so. If you can't deal with the slow loading speed and adverts, order the DVD here

'Interdit de photographier'

April 26 2011

Image of 'Interdit de photographier'

Picture: AFP

The debate on photography in museums continues - in France. The Musée D'Orsay has banned it altogether. But the Fédération Française des Sociétés d'Amis de Musées has passed a motion saying it should be permitted everywhere. I agree with Les Amis. More here

I recently mentioned the Royal Collection's most excellent decision to allow photography in the Queen's Gallery.  

Happy Easter everybody

April 24 2011

Image of Happy Easter everybody

Picture: Gainsborough's House. 'The Descent from the Cross' by Thomas Gainsborough, after Sir Peter Paul Rubens.

Have a nice holiday. Normal blogging again on Tuesday.

Austrian Klimt restituted

April 23 2011

Image of Austrian Klimt restituted

Picture: Salzburg Museum der Moderne Kunst

The regional government of Salzburg has announced the restitution of Gustav Klimt's Litzlburg am Attersee. It was acquired in 1941. From Bloomberg:

The 1915 picture belonged to Amalie Redlich until she was deported to Poland in 1941 and murdered. The Gestapo cleared her apartment after her forced departure. The painting will now return to her grandson and heir, Georges Jorisch, Salzburg said.

More here

Cowdray collection to be sold

April 21 2011

Image of Cowdray collection to be sold

Picture: Daily Mail

Another aristocratic art collection bites the dust - this time that of the Viscounts Cowdray. The house, Cowdray Park, has been on the market for a while (asking price £25m), and now the pictures are going too, at Christie's. The highlight will be a full-length Gainsborough of Miss Read (above the piano), with an estimate of £6m.

It's all part of a process of 'rationalisation', apparently. Lord Cowdray describes the house as a 'noose around his neck.' Nice noose.

Pastel exhibition at the Met

April 21 2011

Image of Pastel exhibition at the Met

Picture: Metropolitan Museum. Viscount Boyle by Rosalba

Here's a rarity - an exhibition of 18th Century pastels at the Metropolitan Museum, New York. The Met says:

Pastel Portraits: Images of 18th-Century Europe—on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art beginning May 17, 2011—will feature about 40 pastels from the collections of the Metropolitan Museum and other museums, and from private collections in Boston and New York. At the core of the exhibition will be a group of French works, and the Italian, Swiss, German, and English schools will also represented.

Closes August 14th.

The Leonardo loan...

April 21 2011

Image of The Leonardo loan... definitely on. After months of indecision, Poland's ministry of culture has agreed that the picture can travel to London, Berlin and Madrid. Some conservationists had argued against the loan, but the picture's owner, Count Czartoryski, had appealed for it to go ahead. The picture has been in the possession of the Czartoryski family since the late 18th Century. 

Finding Van Dyck

April 20 2011

Image of Finding Van Dyck

Picture: Philip Mould Ltd

I try to avoid plugs on this website, but here's a shameless one; at Philip Mould Ltd this summer we'll be having a loan exhibition called 'Finding Van Dyck: newly discovered and rarely seen works by Van Dyck and his followers.' It runs from 15th June - 13th July.

In a nutshell, the exhibition will look at why paintings lose their attributions and identities, becoming in the process art history's orphans. We'll explain the steps involved in finding these lost pictures, and demonstrate how, for example, you can tell the difference between a Van Dyck and a copy. Above are four portraits of Van Dyck. Pat yourself on the back if you can guess which one is by him.

I'll post more details nearer the time. A catalogue will be available. 

Hockney sale at Bonhams

April 20 2011

Image of Hockney sale at Bonhams

Picture: Bonhams

The top price today was £66,000 for An Image of Celia, above. One of the other anticipated works, George, Blanche, Celia, Albert and Percy, didn't sell (est. £15-20,000).


April 20 2011

Image of Superlative-itis

Picture: Sotheby's

How many hyperbolic superlatives can you fit into an opening paragraph? In their catalogue entry, Sotheby's goes for the record over Jeff Koons' $20-30m Pink Panther:

Representing the highest tier of Jeff Koons' artistic achievement, Pink Panther from 1988 is immediately identifiable as a masterpiece not only of the artist's historic canon, but also of the epoch of recent Contemporary Art. It conflates the classic themes that define Jeff Koons' output - materiality and artificiality, eroticism and naivety, popular culture and rarefied elitism – and is, quite simply, the model expression of one of the most innovative and influential artists of our times. The elite edition of three plus one artist's proof is immensely illustrious: one version is housed in the Museum of Modern Art, New York and another resides in the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Following the spectacular successes of major exhibitions at Versailles; Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; and the Serpentine Gallery, London in the past two years alone, Jeff Koons' critical reputation today is virtually unmatched. As one of the salient works from a period of astounding development within his career, Pink Panther is a sculpture of enduring art historical significance, and its appearance at auction affords an exceedingly rare opportunity.

Someone should write a Google Translate programme for this sort of thing. 

Compare the above with Sotheby's more restrained and readable opening paragraph for their catalogue entry for Titian's Sacra Conversazione, which holds the auction record for a work by Titian at $16.8m: [More below]

This painting is one of the most important multi-figural compositions by the artist remaining in private hands and is the finest work by the artist to come onto the open market for two decades. It is a mature work, painted circa 1560, when Titian was at the height of his powers and had established his reputation as the leading artist in Europe. It is a composition that is at once monumental but also extremely tender and as Titian's last known Sacra Conversazione it is the culmination of his lifelong exploration of this theme in Venetian art. The painting also has a remarkable provenance: during the almost half millennium since it was painted it has only changed hands six times, moving from one illustrious private European collection to another and rarely appearing in public at exhibition or at auction.

Meanwhile in Australia... (again)

April 20 2011

Image of Meanwhile in Australia... (again)

Picture: Sydney Morning Herald

The Australian equivalent of the UK's BP Portrait Award is called the Archibald Prize, and very prestigious it is too.

There is, however, an antidote to the seriousness of the Archibald Prize, a parody called the Bald Archy Prize, worth $5000AUS. This year's winner is 'Bad Ass...ange' by Xavier Ghazi, above, showing Julian Assange... well, see for yourself. View the other entries here.

I think we really need to have an equivalent in the UK - the PB Portrait Award anyone? Suggestions for what PB could stand for please...

Does this painting 'accost' you?

April 20 2011

Image of Does this painting 'accost' you?

Picture: Robert Tong

Last week, Sylvia Goodman's nude painting, above, was removed from display in a civic centre in California, over fears that it 'created a hostile work environment'. One employee had complained 'about being accosted by the painting every day in the work environment'. 

After the predictable row, the picture is now back on display

'Miro's Turds'

April 20 2011

Image of 'Miro's Turds'

Picture: Fundacio Joan Miro

If you thought my earlier post on Miro's Pubes was in bad taste, try Martin Gayford's entertaining review of Tate's new Miro exhibition, titled, 'Miro Tate Show Has Fanciful Blobs, Squiggles, Earthy Turds'. It begins:

There’s a certain amount of crap in the new exhibition, “Joan Miro: The Ladder of Escape,” at Tate Modern in London.

That doesn’t prevent it from being a fine show, which not only contains many of the artist’s most celebrated works, but transforms your ideas about him.

Indeed, the crap is part of the point. It appears unforgettably in the title of the 1935 painting “Man and Woman in Front of a Pile of Excrement” [above]. As the critic Robert Hughes pointed out in his book “Barcelona,” that’s an extremely Catalan subject. Miro (1893-1983) was a most Catalan artist -- industrious and anarchic, mystical and earthy.

Art History Futures - Iran

April 20 2011

Image of Art History Futures - Iran

Picture: Global Post

Opponents of the regime in Iran are finding ways to criticise the government through art, according to the Global Post, despite the tough censorship rules.

In the nearly two years since the June 2009 presidential election, artists say that it seems fewer and fewer permits to produce art — be it music, photography or painting — have been granted to applicants. In Iran, artists are officially required to have permits from the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance to work professionally.

But many have ignored these restrictions, creating and exhibiting their work underground.

Despite this effort to control freedom of expression, there is a flourishing of art in Iran, some of it pointed in its critique of the government and the clerical establishment. This kind of dissent is also often delivered with a flourish of humor that pokes fun at the ruling clerical establishment.

Full story here. Worth a click.

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