'Aftermath' at Tate Britain

June 5 2018

Video: Tate

This looks like a must-see show - 'Aftermath: Art in the Wake of World War One' at Tate Britain. Says the Tate site:

Marking the 100 years since the end of World War One, Aftermath: Art in the Wake of World War One looks at how artists responded to the physical and psychological scars left on Europe.

Art was used in many ways in the tumultuous period after the end of the war, from documenting its destructive impact, to the building of public memorials and as a social critique.

This fascinating and moving exhibition shows how artists reacted to memories of war in many ways. George Grosz and Otto Dix exposed the unequal treatment of disabled veterans in post-war society, Hannah Höch and André Masson were instrumental in the birth of new art forms dada and surrealism, Pablo Picasso and Winifred Knights returned to tradition and classicism, whilst others including Fernand Léger and C.R.W Nevinson produced visions of the city of the future as society began to rebuild itself.

The show runs from 5th June until 23rd September. What an excellent trailer Tate has made, above. 

'The RA - a Chronicle'

June 5 2018

Video: Paul Mellon Centre

It's non-stop coverage of the Royal Academy at the moment, which is celebrating its 250th anniversary. At the beginning of the year we had the stupendous Charles I show. Last month we had the triumphant opening of their new buildings in Burlington Gardens (I went to see the new display of works from the RA collection and mighty fine it is too.) And this week the annual Summer Exhibition opens, curated - if that's the right word - by Grayson Perry. In case you missed it there was a documentary on the BBC all about the RA's history and how it operates today, available here. It's all a fine reflection on the energetic leadership of the RA's team, including the Chief Executive, Charles Saumarez Smith. In his more then ten years at the RA, Charles has transformed an organisation that was in danger of not only losing its way, but losing all relevance. In The Sunday Times last week, Richard Brooks said it was high time Charles was given a knighthood. AHN agrees!

Anyway, the point of this post is to make you aware of the latest exciting RA development; a new website charting the history of the Summer Exhibition. It has been put together by the Paul Mellon Centre in London. Chronicle 250 is a comprehensive database of of every exhibition held since 1769, with scans of the catalogues, and essays by art historians. It's well worth a look, and for many researchers will be indispensable.

It's also a great demonstration of the possibilities offered by digital art history. Not so long ago, this kind of overview of the RA summer show would have been a book, which would necessariliy have been limited in what it could contain (certainly no scans of all 250 years of catalogues) and stuck in stone, so to speak, once it was published. The new site can be constantly updated, a living work of scholarship.

Of course, digital art history has its limitations too. I'm told that the Paul Mellon Centre's bill for image fees was eye watering. Because their image licensing model is based on 20th Century realities (ie, book publishing) most insitutions view online publications as either cash cows, or something which must be 'controlled', usually by the imposition of licenses that limit the number of years an image can be used online. This is because in the old days, insitutions could issue licenses based on print runs. But in the online age, if something is online, it's reach is limitless. So they impose time restrictions instead. It's all very pointless. And it's really only because a few charities like the PMC have deep pockets that projects like the RA Chronicle are able to happen. Imagine how much richer digital art history would be if image fees weren't the barrier to scholarship that they have become. 

Art history sexism (ctd.)

June 5 2018

Image of Art history sexism (ctd.)

Picture: The Times

Regular readers will know that AHN has long taken a dim view of auction houses making their younger female employees pose in front of objects for press shoots. For examples of the practice, see here and my favourite here. And for a first hand account of what it's like to be asked to do it, see here.

But now, a victory - in yesterday's Times, David Sanderson reported that both Sotheby's and Christie's have decided to stop using 'art girls':

“We are moving with the times,” Sotheby’s said when questioned about the unusual publicity tactic.

Excellent news. I just have to get UK museums to abolish image fees, and then my work is done.

But wait - what's this?! The Tate gallery didn't get the memo. Here's a page from today's Times, promoting a new exhibition at Tate on paintings from World War One:

Come on Tate - take your lead from Sotheby's, and move with the times!

Update - a reader upbraids me:

It’s not sexist – and ageist – to assume that the young person included in the shot is not the relevant specialist, or in the case of a museum publicity shot, the relevant curator?  It sure is.

Although, in this case I'm fairly sure it isn't. And it's usually fairly evident, both in the posing and the captioning, when a specialist or curator is being photographed. 

A Derick Baegert for Dallas

June 3 2018

Image of A Derick Baegert for Dallas

Picture: Dallas Museum of Art 

In 2013 the Dallas Museum of Art was given a $17m endowment to buy works made prior to the 18th Century. Five years later, the museum has made its first major purchase with the money, a large Descent from the Cross by the late German Gothic painter Derick Baegert (around 1440-1509). More here in The Art Newspaper. 

Walk through a Jan Brueghel

June 3 2018

Video: Sotheby's

Sotheby's have done one of their whizzy videos, walking through a picture by Jan Brueghel the Elder (Est. £2.5m-£3.5m). I love these videos. I think the fact that works by the likes of the Brueghel family and Hieronymous Bosch have consistently performed well in the Old Master market over the last decade or so, is because - in their exquisite and engaging details - they lend themselves perfectly to close looking in the digital age. They're full of wonder, which translates well onto a screen. 

Van Dedem collection at Sotheby's

June 3 2018

Video: Sotheby's

Sotheby's has the collection of the late Baron Willem van Dedem for sale in their July London Old Master sales. George Gordon tells us about the pictures in the video above. Van Dedem was for many years the chairman of Tefaf, the great Old Master fair in Maastricht.

Boilly in London

June 3 2018

Image of Boilly in London

Picture: via The Guardian

I've always liked the French artist Louis-Léopold Boilly, so I'm glad to see that the National Gallery will put on the first UK exhibition of his work next year (in February). The paintings to be shown - including the above - come from the collection of the late Harry Hyams. More here


Might Caravaggio's 'Nativity' be found?

June 3 2018

Image of Might Caravaggio's 'Nativity' be found?

Picture: Guardian

It's unlikely, but there's been some excitement in the news at reports that an aged mobster has told Italian police the painting was offered to a Swiss art dealer after it was stolen in 1969. Reports The Guardian:

The new lead on the whereabouts of the 17th-century painting – a depiction of the newborn Christ on a bed of straw, painted in the chiaroscuro technique – came from a former mobster-turned-informant, who revealed to Italian investigators that it had once been held by Gaetano Badalamenti, a Sicilian “boss of bosses” who was known as one of the ringleaders of an infamous heroin trafficking network in the US called the Pizza Operation.

Investigators announced this week that Gaetano Grado, the mafia informant, said Badalamenti had been put in touch with an art dealer in Switzerland after obtaining the work – also known as The Adoration – from another mafia boss.

Never trust a Swiss art dealer.


May 28 2018

Image of Apologies...

Picture: BG

Sorry for the lack of news lately, it's been too hot and balmy to do anything other than be in the garden. We don't often get Mays like this in Scotland, so we're making the most of it. Above is a view down the Leader Valley in Berwickshire.

And I'm afraid there won't be much news tomorrow either, as I'm heading to London to carry on the campaign to abolish image reproduction fees. We're meeting one of the national museum directors tomorrow. But actually at the time of writing I'm not sure I'll make it, as I'm stuck in Edinburgh airport waiting for a much delayed Easyjet flight. And now the fog is coming in... 

I hope you've all had a good Bank Holiday weekend, or for US readers, a Memorial Day weekend.

Update - I finally got into London at 2.30am. But we had the meeting today - at the V&A with Tristram Hunt - which was 'full and frank', as they say in political parlance. But it was also encouraging and positive, and I hope to be able to bring you good news from the V&A on image fees in the not too distant future. 

Now I'm waiting in another airport for another delayed flight back home. The things I do for art history!

Tudor and Jacobean miniatures at the NPG

May 23 2018

Image of Tudor and Jacobean miniatures at the NPG

Picture: NPG

Excellent news - the National Portrait Gallery in London is mounting the first major exhibition in decades on Tudor and Jacobean miniatures. The portrait miniature is one of the few areas in which Britain can genuinely claim to have contributed to the evolution of art history. And it all started in the Tudor and Jacobean era. Says the NPG press release:

Elizabethan Treasures: Miniatures by Hilliard and Oliver, 21 February - 19 May 2019, is the first major exhibition on Tudor and Jacobean portrait miniatures in the UK for over 35 years. The exhibition will bring together key works from the National Portrait Gallery and major loans from public and private collections, including miniatures that haven’t been seen in public in the UK since the early 1980s, to showcase the careers of the most skilled artists of the period, Nicholas Hilliard (1547? – 1619) and French born Isaac Oliver (c.1565 – 1617).

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, miniature painting was regarded as an art form at which the English excelled above all others, and Hilliard and Oliver gained international fame and admiration. The exhibition will explore what these exquisite images reveal about identity, society and visual culture in Elizabethan and Jacobean England. Termed ‘limnings’ at the time, with their roots in manuscript illumination, miniatures were prized by monarchs, courtiers and the rising middle classes as a means of demonstrating favour, showing loyalty and expressing close relationships. They could be set into ornate jewelled cases and worn around the neck, pinned to clothing or secretly concealed as part of elaborate processes of friendship, love, patronage and diplomacy.

Described by Hilliard as ‘a thing apart from all other painting or drawing’, miniature painting was regarded as a particularly refined and expressive art form, capturing, in the words of Hilliard, ‘these lovely graces, witty smilings, and these stolen glances which suddenly like lightning pass’, as well as the rich and elaborate costumes and jewellery of the time. These tiny portraits, many in exceptional condition, bring their sitters before us, four hundred years after they were painted, with astonishing freshness and vivacity. In the words of a later commentator, ‘The art of the master and the imitation of nature are so great ... that the largest magnifying glass only calls out new beauties.’

Catharine MacLeod, Senior Curator of Seventeenth-Century Portraits and Curator of Elizabethan Treasures: Miniatures by Hilliard and Oliver says: “I am thrilled to be able to bring together the miniature masterpieces of Nicholas Hilliard and Isaac Oliver in this major new exhibition. In addition to exploring the exquisite technique of the artists, portrait miniatures from this period express in a unique way many of the most distinctive and fascinating aspects of court life in this period: ostentatious secrecy, games of courtly love, arcane symbolism, a love of intricacy and decoration.”

If you can't wait till next February to see these early miniatures, then there's always the excellent galleries of portrait miniatures at the V&A, one of the wonders of British museums.

Mantegna discovery in Italy

May 22 2018

Image of Mantegna discovery in Italy

Picture: Academia Carrara & Corriere.it

A painting by Mantegna has been discovered in Italy, at the Accademia Carrara. The painting (left, above) was in the museum's store rooms, and thought to be a copy. But sharp eyed curators noticed that it was actually the top part of another painting by Mantegna, the Descent into Limbo (above right), which was once part of the Barbara Piasecka Johson collection. The crucial detail was part of a cross on the top of a rod held in the Piasecka Johnson painting, of which the tip can just be seen at the bottom of the Carrara painting. More here (in Italian), and you can zoom into the painting here, on the Academia Carrara's excellent website.

'Prized Possessions'

May 22 2018

Image of 'Prized Possessions'

Picture: National Trust

This looks like a good show - the first loan exhibition of works from the National Trust in over twenty years. 'Prized Possessions' opens at the Holburne museum in Bath on 25th May (till Sept 16th), and will then travel to the Mauritshuis, before coming back to the UK at Petworth House in West Sussex. Above is Pieter Saenredam's Interior of the Church of St Catherine, which normally hangs in Upton House in Warwickshire.

More here

'Canova's George Washington'

May 22 2018

Video: Frick

Here's a good video from the Frick Collection, on their new exhibition devoted to Antonio Canova's portrait of George Washington. The film tells us that Washington had been dead for 14 years before the commission. Which may explain why the sculpture looks more like Canova himself than Washington. 

The exhibition opens tomorrow, and runs until September 23rd. More here. Remember, children are not allowed.

Van Dyck before and after - Royal edition

May 22 2018

Image of Van Dyck before and after - Royal edition

Picture: Adam Busiakiewicz

Back in 2015, I reported on the rather sad news that the owners of Warwick Castle (the listed company, Merlin Entertainment) were flogging off some of the Old Masters that have hung in the castle for centuries, including a full-length Van Dyck of Henrietta Maria. The portrait was offered at Sotheby's in London, and now belongs to a private collector in the USA. The painting was originally, when painted by Van Dyck, a half-length and was added to in the 18th Century to make it into a full-length.

The present owner has now removed the additions, which might sound shocking but actually I think it was the right thing to do. The additions weren't especially competent, and in getting the proportions slightly wrong made the Queen look as is she was wearing stilts. We have to consider that had Van Dyck originally conceived the picture as a full-length, he would have adjusted the foreshortening to account for the fact that the Queen would have been viewed from a different height and perspective. There was a suggestion that Sir Joshua Reynolds had made the additions, but for what it's worth I wasn't persuaded by that myself.

Anyway, the picture is now on loan at the Yale Center for British Art (but not spelling) in the USA. On his blog, Adam Busiakiewicz - who used to work at Warwick Castle - sets out the picture's story.

Restitution news (ctd.)

May 22 2018

Image of Restitution news (ctd.)

Picture: CTV News

The Max Stern project in Canada has tracked down another painting, this time a Gerrit Claesz Bleter stolen by the Nazis in the 1930s. More here

'New Rembrandt discovery in Holland' (ctd.)

May 22 2018

Video: Reuters

Above is a short video by Reuters on Jan Six's Rembrandt discovery, including an interview with Jan himself. And here, on a Dutch TV chat show, you can see Jan unveiling the picture in front of a studio audience, and he gives a much longer and very revealing interview (with English subtitles). The host brandishes a copy of the Christie's catalogue in which the picture was described as 'Circle of Rembrandt' as Jan tells us how he went about researching the picture before the sale. He says two particularly interesting things: first, that he showed a photo to the leading Rembrandt scholar Ernst van der Wetering before the sale (I've always though that's cheating!); that van der Wetering had himself not been asked for an opinion by anyone else before the sale. Which is surprising.

Update - you can buy Jan's book on the discovery here. It sets out all the evidence behind the attribution. A wise move, for in this game there's no end of people determined to say you're wrong, merely on the basis of looking at a few photos on the internet. When it's a big discovery, the blinkers go on, and the knives come out.

Waldemar goes to America

May 21 2018

Video: BBC

The Great Waldemar has a new series on the BBC; "Big Sky, Big Dreams, Big Art: Made in the USA". It starts on Wednesday, 9pm on BBC4. I'll be watching! More here

'Diary of an Art Historian' (ctd.)

May 17 2018

Image of 'Diary of an Art Historian' (ctd.)

Picture: Titian's 'Pesaro Madonna', Frari Church, Venice, pre-conservation, via TAN

My May column for The Art Newspaper has gone online, here. My June column will be out in the printed edition shortly. 

New Rembrandt discovery in Holland

May 15 2018

Image of New Rembrandt discovery in Holland

Picture: NRC

Exciting news from Amsterdam; a newly attributed portrait by Rembrandt has been unveiled at the Hermitage museum. The painting was discovered by the art dealer, Jan Six, at auction in London in 2016. His hunch that it was by Rembrandt has been endorsed by subsequent research and conservation, and by a number of Rembrandt scholars, including Prof. Ernst van der Wetering of the Rembrandt Research Project.

More here at NRC (in Dutch), and there's also an interview with Jan Six. Jan is, incidentally, a descendant of the Jan Six painted so memorably by Rembrandt. How wonderful that four centuries later, the name Jan Six can still be associated with heralding new paintings by Rembrandt.

The painting was offered in London as 'Circle of Rembrandt', with an estimate of £15,000-£20,000, and ultimately made £137,000. For what it's worth, I was one of the underbidders. Although I'm absolutely not a Rembrandt specialist, I thought on seeing the picture that it had an excellent chance of being by Rembrandt himself, painted in the early 1630s. The brilliantly painted collar in particular I thought was almost as good as a signature, and entirely consistent with the collar on the painting by Rembrandt of Philip Lucasz in the National Gallery, which was painted in 1635. What was interesting is that from the photos, the painting did not look that impressive. But in person, it was almost as one was looking at a different painting. That's a common connoisseurial challenge these days of course; photos so rarely do justice to good paintings.

As you can imagine, the days before the sale were rather tense ones in AHN towers. But when the sale came, we soon ran up against our limit. There's always a feeling in situations like this that if only you'd gone for one more bid, you might have got it. But in the NRC interview, Jan Six tells us he was able to bid significantly higher, so we'd never have got it. I am so pleased that the painting has now found its rightful status. Many congratulations on the excellent sleuthing Jan!

Modigliani's 'Nu Couché' makes $157m

May 15 2018

Video: Sotheby's

A full-length nude by Modigliani became the most expensive painting ever sold at Sotheby's tonight. But AHN wonders if there's not a wider story here, for the painting sold only to the pre-sale guarantor, at a hammer price of $139m. Before the sale, there was talk of the painting 'setting a new auction record' simply by virtue of having a record estimate of $150m. In the event, the painting didn't reach its low estimate. 

Now, it's worth pointing out that the painting made seven times what it last sold for in 2003. But it follows on from a Picasso last week - 'Young Girl with a Basket of Flowers' - which was also expected to soar away at Christie's in New York, but also sold to a pre-sale gurantor at the low estimate. Are both pictures a case of optimistic estimating? Or is there now a lack of oxygen up at the dizzying heights of the modern art market?

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