Meanwhile, in Australia...

April 18 2011

Image of Meanwhile, in Australia...

Any work of art featuring nudity could be censored under new proposals before the Australian Senate. The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

Artists could be forced to have their work classified before being displayed and some work could be blacklisted despite being legal, if recommendations to a federal inquiry into Australia's film and literature classification scheme are accepted.

The Senate inquiry, launched by the conservative Christian Guy Barnett, has heard submissions calling for any film containing full frontal nudity to be refused classification; artworks and books showing nudity to be classified; and all artworks to be restricted to certain age groups. ''Artistic merit'' should be abandoned when classifying art.

Full story here.

Don't worry, it's only a replica

April 18 2011

Image of Don't worry, it's only a replica

Pictured is British Museum director Neil MacGregor handing over a replica of the Museum's Cyrus Cylinder to the National Museum of Iran. MacGregor was in Tehran at the closing ceremony of an exhibition devoted to the Cylinder, a 6th century BC Persian declaration praising the Achaemenid King, Cyrus the Great.

The loan had been the subject of some controversy, and was extended by three months. There had even been rumblings in Iran that the Cylinder should not be returned to the Britain. So it's a relief to read:

“Today, it is sad to see the Cyrus Cylinder departing from its homeland, but it should travel around the world, providing the opportunity for all nations to see it,” Presidential Office Chief of Staff Rahim-Mashaii said during the ceremony. 

More here

The new 'Turner Contemporary' in Margate

April 17 2011

Image of The new 'Turner Contemporary' in Margate

Brian Sewell doesn't like it.

Of Turner Contemporary, the words "elegant", "inspiring" and "spectacular" have been used by its protagonists, but this cluster of super-industrial sheds on the site of the Georgian boarding-house in which Turner occasionally stayed is an unsympathetic and abrasive assault on its neighbours. Lacking their occasional ventures into architectural whimsy and instead constructed in the idiom of the modern warehouse and the factory and seeming gigantic in scale, David Chipperfield's Turner Contemporary might be unnoticeable on the fringe of Heathrow or the outskirts of Slough, but in poor old Margate its featureless and gleaming bulk is alien, brutal and bleak. Its presence is as aggressive and threatening as that of a hyena in a sheepfold, nothing about it announces a benign purpose, nothing speaks of art and welcome; its only invitation is to the local graffitisti.

In The Sunday Times...

April 17 2011

Image of In The Sunday Times...

Picture: The Estate of L S Lowry

...are two intriguing bits of artworld news, which I shall liberate from behind the paywall.

Richard Brooks has both stories: the first is that the trustee of L S Lowry's estate has refused the Tate permission to copy a work by Lowry, in protest at the museum's refusal to display more of his paintings. Brooks reports that although the Tate owns 23 Lowrys it has only shown one, Industrial Landscape, and then only briefly.

Tate curator Chris Stephens is quoted as saying;

'What makes Lowry so popular is the same thing which stops him being the subject of serious critical attention. What attracts so many is a sort of sentimentality about him. He's a victim of his own fan base.'

I find this statement bewildering.

The other piece of news is gossip - that the favourite to become the new V&A Director is the German Martin Roth, 56, currently running the Kunstsammlung in Dresden.

Update - 21.4.11: Roth got the job - many congratulations to him.

A 'retro-academic soft-porn fantasy'

April 15 2011

Image of A 'retro-academic soft-porn fantasy'

Jonathan Jones has an interesting take on Holly, Louis Smith's head-turning picture shortlisted for the BP Portrait Award. Jones was one of the judges.

I wonder if the same assessment applies to Van Dyck's Cupid and Psyche, below? 

World first for Art History News!

April 14 2011

Image of World first for Art History News!

Picture: Me

I learnt at tonight's opening of Dutch Landscapes at the Queen's Gallery that from tomorrow visitors will, for the first time, be allowed to take photographs inside the gallery of any object they like. 

I asked if I could jump the deadline - and behold, above is the first photograph legitimately taken by a member of the public inside the Queen's Gallery, and published online for your viewing pleasure. The picture is the Royal Collection's Cupid and Pysche by Van Dyck. [More below]

It may sound trivial, but I think allowing photography is a really significant decision, and I hope other galleries follow suit. It doesn't make sense to stop, say, a young visitor sending a picture message of a painting they like to all their friends, if that is the very audience galleries are trying to target. At the National Gallery, the staff practically sit on you if they think you might be about to take a photo, which can make for a rather oppressive atmosphere.  

I won't write a review of Dutch Landscapes here, but will simply say that it is exquisite, and that you should go. Desmond Shawe-Taylor, the Queen's Surveyor of Pictures, has written another exemplary catalogue, which is available for a bargain £10. Royal Collection exhibition catalogues have long been the best of their type, and this is no exception. The newly refurbished Queen's Gallery (surely one of the best small galleries in the word) also has a superbly chosen, and varied selection of treasures from the Royal Collection, which is also worth a visit.

More details of Dutch Landscapes here. Buy the catalogue here

Rembrandt heads East

April 13 2011

Image of Rembrandt heads East

Picture: Hyde Collection

A Rembrandt rarely seen in Europe will be lent to the Louvre's forthcoming exhibition, Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus. Christ with Arms Folded belongs to the Hyde Collection in Glenns Falls, NY. The exhibition runs from 21.4.11 to 18.7.11.

'The one that got away' - a newly discovered Rothko at Christie's

April 13 2011

Image of 'The one that got away' - a newly discovered Rothko at Christie's

Christie's will offer a previously unknown painting by Mark Rothko on May 11th, proving that you can even make discoveries with modern art. 'Untitled No.17', painted in 1961, was bought directly from the artist, and had never been heard of or seen since:

“It’s one of the very few that got away,” said David Anfam, London-based art historian and the author of “Mark Rothko: The Works on Canvas.” “It went to a private collection soon after it was made and those collectors just kept a very low profile.”

The estimate is $18-22m. More here. Earlier this year, another newly discovered work by Andy Warhol made $17.4m. Sod finding lost Old Masters - I need to make find me one of these lost modern things. 

BP Portrait award shortlist announced

April 13 2011

Image of BP Portrait award shortlist announced

Guess which one the media have picked up on? Yup - the one with the naked model handcuffed to a rock (aka, Holly). More here

Art Fund to the rescue (again)

April 13 2011

Image of Art Fund to the rescue (again)

The Art Fund has announced a dramatic 50% increase in the money it gives to buy and display art in the UK by 2014. Three cheers for the new director Stephan Deuchar and his staff for helping fill the funding gap for acquisitions.

Surely the government should now follow suit, and match-fund the increase? Ministers don't even need to find new money - they could simply issue an instruction to the Heritage Lottery Fund (whose income will soon shoot up to £300m) to look more kindly on acquisition applications. If, like me, you think the HLF should fund more acquisitions, you can tell them via their online consultation on how to spend all that new cash (closes 26th April).

The Art Fund has also announced a new National Art Pass - £35 a year gets you into 200 museums and galleries. Sign up here

Leonardo loan to London still at risk?

April 13 2011

Image of Leonardo loan to London still at risk?

Picture: AP

In Poland, some conservation experts are still advising against letting Leonardo's Lady with an Ermine travel to London for the National Gallery's Leonardo exhibition. They believe it is too fragile to be moved. They don't seem to be bothered about the flimsy case they carry it about it, however.

A final decision on whether it can also travel to Berlin and Madrid is expected soon. 

Extremely rare object offered by Christie's

April 13 2011

It's a job! Not many of these in the art world at the moment. If you're fluent in another language, and interested in Old Masters, there's a vacancy in Christie's OMP department in King St - one of the best places to work in the art market. Closes 15th April.

Mid-season sales

April 12 2011

There are some nice things in this week's mid-season sales at Sotheby's and Christie's, but nothing as exciting as the forthcoming £20m Stubbs at Christie's main sale in July.

Sotheby's sale offers more evidence that the aristocratic sell-off continues apace, with part of the collection of the family of the Marquess of Ailesbury/Earls of Cardigan. The ancestral portraits on offer are of varying quality, however, and it always makes me sad to see centuries of collecting dispersed all at once for not much gain. [More below]

Personal highlights include this pair of early Lely portraits (lots 145 & 146 at £10-15k each). The historical portrait of the 2nd Earl of Cardigan is a chance for a bargain Reynolds at £5-7,000. I could not immediately see Kneller in this curious portrait of Lady Elizabeth Bruce - the drawing of the face appeared more like Dahl, and the handling more like Jervas. Indeed, it's not impossible that it's by Jervas copying Dahl - Jervas did that sort of thing. It has been extended on both sides. 

Elsewhere in the Sotheby's sale, I particularly liked this portrait by John Michael Wright, one of my favourite artists, a bargain at £6-8,000, and this full-length of Francesco de Medici by Sofonisba Anguisola at £60-80,000. As a closet Jacobite, I loved the Hugh Douglas Hamilton oils of Bonnie Prince Charlie (£7-9,000) and his brother Cardinal York (£6-8,000) - or Kings Charles III and Henry IX if you're that way inclined. They are repetitions of his finer pastels, but still autograph. I'm afraid I think the other Jacobite portrait of the Old Pretender, James III (£12-18,000), catalogued as by Antonio David, is rather weak, and perhaps a copy. 

There are some nice things down at Christie's, such as this trio of reasonably priced Lawrences (lots 5961 and 62).  Lot 62 I have seen before, and it would benefit from some judicious restoration - a previous attempt has mis-understood the area around the mouth and cheek. If epic horse portraits are your thing, lot 44(£50-80,000) might be of interest. I was quite struck by lot 1, a work enigmatically catalogued as 'attributed to the Studio of El Greco' (£15-20,000), which is really quite good, despite the seemingly off-putting condition. I also liked the small portrait attributed to Catharina van Hemessen (reasonable at £15-25,000), and the good contemporary copy of Van Dyck's portrait of the Duke of Hamilton, lot 42 (£12-18,000). I was not so keen on lot 51, catalogued as by Kauffmann, an attribution with which I disagree. Perhaps it was because of the condition, but I couldn't quite get my head round the portrait of Emma Hamilton by Romney, lot 63 at £30-50,000.

Stolen antiquities returned

April 12 2011

Image of Stolen antiquities returned

Four of the exhibits stolen from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo during the revolution have been returned. Three are in ok condition, one has been broken into 11 pieces. 

Exhibitions in the recession

April 12 2011

Image of Exhibitions in the recession

Picture: New York Times

There's an interesting piece by Robin Pogrebin in the New York Times about the impact of the recession on loan exhibitions in the US. Last year's Picasso exhibition at the Met was made up exclusively with Met-owned works. 

...many museum directors are finding virtue in necessity. Shows built largely from in-house collections have drawn well, they say, and curators are introducing the public to unsung treasures.

“If the recession has compelled us as museums in this country to focus even more intensely than we have in the past on our collections, that’s a good thing,” said Glenn D. Lowry, the director of the Museum of Modern Art. “Because they’re our primary responsibility.”

Ex Met director, Philippe de Montebello, demurs:

“No collection, no matter how large and rich the museum, is ever deep enough and rich enough in any single area that it can be explored in depth...” 

Is part of the problem the prohibitive expense that has built up around loans? I remember an exhibition here at the gallery in 2007, which included a number of museum loans. One item had to be flown business class with a curator (who needed to be put up in a pricey hotel) - while another arrived in the handbag of someone who came on the tube. The latter object was far more valuable, and to be honest had travelled far more safely too. 

Miro's Pubes

April 12 2011

Image of Miro's Pubes

Picture: Fondacio Joan Miro

If, like me, you're looking forward to the new Miro exhibition at Tate Modern (opens 14th April), then can I suggest you don't read the press reviews until after you've been? Since most of them adhere to the Guff Rule - the less paint on a canvas, the more guff a critic invents to describe it - you'll be robbed of the open mind necessary to appreciate Miro when you finally see the works yourselves. Check out Adrian Searle in The Guardian, describing Painting on White Background for the Cell of a Recluse, above:

There's nothing much to the three white canvases. No colour, no forms. Each enormous canvas is painted with a single black line over an unevenly primed white ground. You can tell where the slender brush has run out of paint, is recharged, then continues on its way with the same unknowable purpose, like the passage of an ant or a bird in flight, or the journey the eye makes along a horizon. Or like a long hair lost in the bedsheets, a memory of something or someone.

The attribution from hell?

April 11 2011

Image of The attribution from hell?

Picture: Sotheby's

Sotheby's must have been presented with a real puzzle when it came to cataloguing the above portrait for this week's old master sale, and I'm impressed by their solution. [More below]

The sitter is Charles Bruce, Earl of Elgin and Ailesbury (1682-1747) - and evidently the portrait was painted in the early 18thC. But the picture is catalogued as 'Attributed to Sir Godfrey Kneller and Sir Joshua Reynolds', which on the surface is unlikely, since Reynolds was just three months old when Kneller died. Sotheby's note states, however;

The costume would appear to date from the 1760s/1770's and is very close in style to the work of Reynolds who painted for the family.

I went to see the picture today, and I think they're right. The drapery is clearly painted in Reynolds' hand, and must have been added later. Perhaps this was done to make sure the sitter was wearing peer's robes, as many of the other Ailesbury portraits are. It seems, from the overall quality of the drapery, that Reynolds did not enjoy the task.

I didn't get a good look at the head of the portrait, but Kneller is probably right. Thomas Murray is another candidate - the flesh tones are quite smooth for Kneller. 

$79 million expansion at Speed Art Museum

April 11 2011

Image of $79 million expansion at Speed Art Museum

More evidence that it isn't all doom and gloom in the museum world; the Speed Art Museum in Kentucky is forging ahead with its mega-expansion.

More deaccessioning

April 11 2011

Image of More deaccessioning

The headlines today are that Bolton Council has decided not to sell a work by local artist Alfred Heaton Cooper (above). But they will press ahead with the sale of 36 other works deemed irrelevant to their 'core collection'. These will be offered at Bonhams over the next few months. The list includes:

  • Gaspard Dughet Classical Landscape
  • Richard Ansdell Buzzard and Ptarmigan
  • William Powell Frith A Dream of the Future
  • 18th Century French School The Finding of Oedipus
  • Arthur Ambrose McEvoy Madame Errasuriz
  • Walter Richard Sickert Pauline de Talleyrand-Perigord
  • Philip Wilson Steer The Falls at Aysgarth 
  • John Everett Millais The Somnambulis
  • George Romney King Lear
  • Edward Burne-Jones Danae and the Brazen Tower
  • Charles Ginner English Landscape
As you can see, there are some big names on the list. And this is just one sale by one council. Floodgates? Opening?

Yet more optimism

April 8 2011

Image of Yet more optimism

From the BBC news website:

A cobweb-covered painting found behind an old bureau in a Northamptonshire farmhouse could sell for a six-figure sum, an auctioneer has said. The picture of a French village is believed to be by Maurice Utrillo, an early 20th Century post-impressionist painter. Last December an auction of his work in Paris raised over $7m (£4.3m). ...

"We are attributing the painting to him. We have put it in with a conservative estimate of £2,000 to £3,000 but it is caveat emptor, buyer beware," he [auctioneer J P Humbert] added.

I'd be very beware. To see some Utrillos vraiment, cliquez ici

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