Frans Hals exhibitions

December 20 2022

Image of Frans Hals exhibitions

Picture: National Gallery

I hadn't seen that Frans Hals will be the subject of major shows at the National Gallery (autumn 2023) and the Rijksmuseum (early 2024). There's a conference looking ahead to the exhibitions at the Frans Hals museum next month (8 & 9 Jan). More here

Save Omai! (ctd.)

December 16 2022

Image of Save Omai! (ctd.)

Picture: FT

There's some intriguing news in the Financial Times - the National Portrait Gallery, in its bold attempt to save Joshua Reynolds' Portrait of Omai, has been considering a joint ownership deal with the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. John Gapper writes:

The National Portrait Gallery considered jointly acquiring Joshua Reynolds’ 1776 masterpiece, the “Portrait of Omai” — a life-size painting of a young Polynesian islander who sailed to Britain on one of Captain Cook’s ships — with the J Paul Getty Museum in California.

The institutions would have shared the rights to display the portrait, which is valued at £50mn, between London and Los Angeles.

However, this innovative plan was shelved after one of the NPG's main potential backers, the National Heritage Memorial Fund, said it would not be able to support a joint ownership plan, preferring instead for the portrait to remain in the UK permanently. So the race is now on for the NPG director, Nicholas Cullinan, to raise the full £50m ahead of the March deadline, otherwise the painting must - as far as I understand it - be given an export licence, and thus leave the UK permanently.

Given the sum of money required, and the extremely difficult fundraising environment right now, the shared ownership plan seems to me to have been a bit of a brainwave. The Art Newspaper reported some weeks ago that the NPG had already raised half the £50m, itself an impressive feat. Personally, I don't think I'd have minded if the portrait was shared between the UK and the US - it is, after all, something of an international image. And longstanding readers will know I've wondered if we sometimes fetishise the idea of 'saving' artworks for the nation, to the extent that we might not have been bothered at all if a painting was hidden away for centuries in a UK private collection, but the minute it's bought by an overseas buyer, even if it's an overseas museum, we want to 'save' it for a UK museum. 

Into this comes an interesting intervention from the arts minister, Lord Parkinson, who has wondered, in an interview in The Art Newspaper, if the UK export committee should consider the ultimate destination for an artwork when deciding whether to block an export or not. In other words, if Omai (for example) was being bought outright by the Getty Museum, would we be as bothered about it being exported as if it was going into a private collection (in this case, the Irish billionaire, John Magnier)? Should public access, even if abroad, be considered as part of the application? Lord Parkinson has said he is going to review the export process, and wants to seek views from the museum sector. 

Anyway, let's hope the NPG succeeds in finding a further £25m - if it doesn't, it might transpire that the Heritage Memorial Fund's well-meaning desire to keep the painting in the UK ends up contributing to its departure. 

Ruskin Spear

December 15 2022

Image of Ruskin Spear

Picture: NPG

There's a new book on Ruskin Spear (1911-1990), one of those British 20th Century artists who seemed to me to be unjustly overlooked. I've always like his portraits, like the one of Harold Wilson above. There's a new book out on him now, by Tanya Harrod, available here. It's reviewed in Apollo by Lynda Nead:

In recent years, 20th-century British art has been experiencing a significant revival in scholarship, curating and publishing, with outstanding exhibitions, books and catalogues that make it possible to teach and enjoy British art of this period more fully than ever before. With all this renewed attention, however, the painter Ruskin Spear (1911–90) has been overlooked. In spite of the high regard in which he was held in the 1950s, by the late ’60s his reputation was dwindling and he had fallen out of fashion. This book is a meticulous piece of art historical rescue; a bid to replace Spear in the new histories of British art.

£70k bid for Pope brothers

December 15 2022

Video: DFNA

I'm always glad to see regional auction houses upping their online marketing game, especially for Old Masters. Dreweatts made an effort for their 1606 English School portrait of the Pope brothers, and were rewarded by a £70,000 hammer bid (about £87,500 with premium) against a lower estimate of £40,000. They also set what I think must be an auction record for Henry Wyatt, a pupil of Lawrence, whose The Corsair made £52,000 hammer. These were the sort of pictures which might have got a bit lost in a London sale at the bigger auction houses, but stood out when in a regional sale. 

Rombouts exhibition, Ghent

December 15 2022

Image of Rombouts exhibition, Ghent

Picture: MSK Ghent

The museum of fine arts in Ghent is holding an exhibition on Theodor Rombouts (1597-1637), 'the virtuoso of Flemish Caravaggism'. Rombouts was a terrific painter, but much overshadowed by his non-Caravaggist Flemish contemporaries, such as Van Dyck. If he had been Dutch, like say Honthorst, he might be more remembered as part of the 'Dtuch Golden Age', but these are the idiosyncracies of art history, a discipline hooked on pigeonholing. 

The show runs till 23rd April, more here

Dickinson wins £9.1m Chardin case

December 13 2022

Image of Dickinson wins £9.1m Chardin case

Picture: Mail

The London dealer Simon Dickinson (inset, above) has won a court case in which he was sued by the owner of a Chardin - Le Benedicite - he had sold on their behalf. The owner, the Countess of Wemyss & March (right, above), maintained that the painting sold by her privately through Dickinson to another dealer, Verner Amell, as 'Chardin & Studio' for £1.4m, should have fetched a higher sum, closer to the £9.1m it made when Amell then sold it to his client, as a fully attributed 'Chardin', just over six months later. The picture (one of four versions of this famous composition) had been listed in Pierre Rosenberg's catalogue raisonne as a "copie retouchée", which I take to mean as a version made in the workshop, retouched by Chardin himself. 

The judge found in favour of Dickinson on all counts. I think, from what I've seen of the case, that this was always the likely outcome. There was a curious passage in the judgement which seemed to imply that Lady Wemyss' lawyer wanted to argue the case on the basis of the painting being either simply "autograph" or "non-autograph" - in other words, as Judge Simon Gleeson said in his judgement - 'that the art market as a whole would divide Chardin paintings as falling into only two classes – autograph and third party copies', and that "copie retouchée" meant the picture was still all by Chardin himself. Whereas Simon Dickinson's lawyers argued that it was better to think in terms of "wholly autograph" or "partially autograph". The latter is of course (as the judge agreed) correct, especially when we're dealing with so many artists who relied on studio assistants, and I'm surprissed the Wemyss' legal team tried to argue the case on this apparently flawed basis. 

We might also say that the final £9.1m figure for the painting could be said to reflect Verner Amell's skills as an art dealer as much as the merits of the painting itself. Amell's decision to purchase the painting involved a deal of risk, as he is quoted as saying in the judgement:

"When I bought the painting by Chardin and Studio, I took an enormous risk. Every single monongraph, Pierre Rosenberg, Phillip Conisbee at the National Gallery, Marianne Roland Michell, the Wildenstein Institute, and others all said the painting was an old copy or wrong. Not by the Artist…..But, I liked the painting and I thought it had a chance of being right….please remember, if we had not found the signature, we would have spent the rest of our lives arguing about the attribution and would probably have lost half our money…As you know, I have always been a gambler on paintings, and presumably that is why you offered me the Chardin, as it was a gamble"

The £9.1m figure was even described by Judge Gleeson as 'grossly inflated'. Much of the decision came down to the question of value, about which Judge Gleeson said; 'this is an exercise of the most unscientific and speculative nature imaginable'. Which I think is worth remembering, next time somebody confidently tells you what a picture is or is not worth.

Anyway, the main takeaway in all these cases is; think very, very hard about going to law about a painting. The second takeaway is, if you consign a painting to a dealer for private sale, make sure - if you don't want the shock of seeing it again for a different price - they sell it not to a dealer, but to a private collector, or, better yet, a museum.

You can read a summary of the case by barrister Michael Bowner at the Institute of Art and Law here, and the full judgement (which I have to say is really quite impressive in its grasp of all the art market issues) here

Update - I noticed this snippet in the judgement, and identify strongly with the last line:

Simon Dickinson is the key witness in this case. He is clearly, as he presents himself, a man whose life has been devoted to art. His track-record suggests that he has a formidable eye, and he has an extremely high level of confidence in his own ability to discern quality in a painting. He is not a keeper of notes, and, as he admits, his memory for anything other than paintings is questionable.

Update II - thinking further about this case, and associated cases like the Thwaytes Caravaggio case against Sotheby's, it seems to me unfortunate, to say the least, that questions over attribution and art market practice which on the surface seem quite straightforward to those operating within the art world, can take months and millions of pounds to resolve in a court of law. Moreover, some of these cases seem to be launched on the basis of one set of lawyers beginning from a weak position built on a failure to understand some pretty basic art and art market matters. Perhaps there is a need for a kind of art market tribunal, where these questions can be referred without costing so much money. But then, as they say in the legal world, 'all good things end in litigation'.  

Update III - looking further at the judgement, I do think there is one area where the judge has erred (paras 163-167), and that is in his estimation of the likely value of the painting had it 1) been accepted as a fully attributed Chardin at the time of the Wemyss sale, and 2) been subjected to an export licence stop. He calculates the former to have been £5m, but subject to the latter, reduced £4m. But the benefit of the UK export licence system is that it has very little if any impact on the value of a painting. The judge seems to have calculated his £1m export licence-related discount on the basis of someone - in this case an overseas buyer - taking a risk and buying and paying for the painting before they knew if an export licence would be granted. Whereas the UK system allows someone to apply for an export licence without first paying for an object. So there is no chance of, say, a US collector, ending up with their picture stuck with it in the UK. He also accepted the erroneous evidence of one of the expert witnesses that the fact that a painting might be subject to an export licence would affect a dealer's ability to market the painting, which is simply not true. In any case, this part of the judge's reasoning was moot, since he did not find Dickinson has been negligent at all. 

Acceptance in Lieu report

December 12 2022

Image of Acceptance in Lieu report

Picture: ACE

Regular readers will know what an admirer I am of the UK's acceptance-in-lieu scheme, which allows museums to acquire important works of art if the government agrees to forgo an amount of tax equivalent to their value. This year's report is out, here, and details some major new acquisitions, including a Wright of Derby self-portrait for Derby Museum (which I've reported on before, here); a Hogarth portrait for Strawberry Hill; a Veronese portrait for the National Gallery; a Canaletto for the V&A; and the above Lo Spagna of Christ Carrying the Cross (above), which was previously in the Sutherland Collection, but has now been allocated to the National Gallery, which has its pendant, Christ in the Garden of Gethsemene. The total amount of tax foregone was over £27m. 

The Parthenon Marbles (ctd.)

December 12 2022

Image of The Parthenon Marbles (ctd.)

Picture: BG

Liam Kelly in The Times reports that George Osborne, chair of the British Museum, has been having secret talks with the Greek Prime Minister, over the possible return of the Parthenon Marbles. This feels like a significant moment. I don't think such high levels talks would happen if there hadn't been progress further down the chain of command, so to speak.

I note also that 10 Downing Street, under Rishi Sunak, has stopped short of declaring outright opposition to any repatriation, as Liz Truss did in her brief, inglorious premiership. Instead, they've gone back to the 'it's up to the British Museum' formula.

So, my best guess is we could see a development soon, probably to coincide with the announcement on a major refurbishment of the British Museum. Where better to move the Marbles while the Duveen Galleries are rebuilt than the Parthenon? And after the move has been seen to be a success and the British Museum isn't emptied of everything (as opponents of returning the Marbles like to claim), then who will object to most of them staying in Athens on long-term loan? Not many, I suspect. 

Incidentally, I see also that Lord Parkinson, who was arts minister under Boris Johnson, has been reappointed to the post under Rishi Sunak. He was replaced as arts minister under Liz Truss. A good reappointment, I think, he has always been interested in the arts and culture brief. 

£1000 fine for Just Stop Oil protesters

December 12 2022

Image of £1000 fine for Just Stop Oil protesters

Picture: Guardian

The Just Stop Oil protesters who stuck themselves to Constable's Haywain the National Gallery have been fined £1000. More here

Fitzwilliam Museum funding cuts

December 12 2022

Image of Fitzwilliam Museum funding cuts

Picture: Apollo

When the Arts Council announced its funding settlement last month all the hoo-ha focused around cuts to institutions like the English National Opera. But there were some savage and needless cuts in the museum sector too, especially for the Fitzwilliam Museum, which lost half its funding; £637k from £1.2m. No reason was given. By contrast, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford didn't lose any funding. 

The Arts Council says it was responding to the government's directions on 'levelling up', that is, redistributing funding from London to the regions. But this appears to be mainly cover for overall cuts. The Arts Council is supposed to be an 'arms length body', and retain some independence from the government. However, its actions lately suggest it is doing too much of the government's bidding. For example, previously its two main funding streams - the National Lottery and grant-in-aid - were supposed to be clearly demarcated as separate sets of accounts. But now the two sums are lumped in together, which masks the fall in grant-in-aid from the government. But the main problem is the Arts Council was never set up to deal with museums - this used to be a different body, the MLA (Museums Libraries and Archives) - and is inherently more focused on performing arts. 

There's an interview here in Apollo with the Fitzwilliam's director Luke Syson (above), responding to the cuts:

For the past three years, the University of Cambridge Museums group has received £1.2m. This year, in one of the most reviled funding rounds in the history of the ACE, it was announced that the group would receive just over £600,000. According to the most recent annual report publicly available (2019– 20), ACE contributed 12 per cent of the museum’s income. For an institution of the Fitzwilliam’s size, this reduction in income is crippling. Reading between the lines, there are hints in the same report that ACE was concerned that the Fitzwilliam hadn’t fulfilled its targets of diversifying the audience. Cutting its money won’t help it achieve this.

Syson is clearly in shock when we discuss this. At the time of our interview, he still hadn’t had an explanation. It ‘was announced on Friday [4 November] and we didn’t have any warning that we were going to be cut to that degree. Obviously, we’re extremely disappointed,’ he says. It is a decision that seems particularly odd in light of the fact that the work the outreach and education teams did during lockdown resulted in the Fitzwilliam being ‘consulted by legislators to find out what best practice in this in this area looked like.’

Apologies (ctd.)

December 8 2022

Sorry for the lack of posts - I was in London looking at the Old Master sales. And I'm on a deadline for Scottish Field, who I started writing a regular column for lately. (The most recent article, if you're interested, is on Esther Inglis, the first British female professional artist, preview here.)

l'll post a review of the Old Master sales and some more news stories in a couple of days. 

National Gallery Sainsbury Wing extension (ctd.)

December 1 2022

Video: The Shanghai Museum

Westminster Council has granted planning permission to the National Gallery for its rebuilding of the Sainsbury Wing, as part of a plan to make it the main entrance. The move comes despite a last minute plea from Denise Scott Brown, who designed the original Wing, to leave it alone. Let's be honest, the permission was a done deal - the National Gallery would not have already shut up the Sainsbury Wing and dispersed the pictures that used to hang in it if it hadn't been very confident of being able to get its way on planning.

Was a deal done? Perhaps. The Council makes a lot of money from licensing events in Trafalgar Square, events which make it difficult for the National Gallery to use its main entrance. 

Anyway, I noticed that the Shanghai Museum has been promoting a loan exhibition of some 52 masterpieces from the National Gallery. I wonder how much the National Gallery is being paid for the loans. While I'm not averse to the National Gallery lending works to institutions like the Shanghai Museum, the figure of 52 works being exhibited contrasts with the 12 being sent around the UK as part of the National's 200th anniversary celebrations. 

The Shanghai show opens January 17th to May 7th 2023. 

Update - I was told by The Highest Authority that there no deal was done, with regards to Westminster Council. 

I also asked the NG whether it could disclose how much they were being paid for the Shanghai loans:

[...] we can’t comment on confidential contractual matters. But the Gallery is committed to generating additional income to support its ambitious strategic plan (2021-2026) which is for the nation and for the world, and to be as self-funding as possible in these difficult times.

In other words, the Shanghai loan is no ordinary loan, but is a commercial venture. Does the National Gallery really need the money though? Every now and then I like to keep an eye on its reserves, that is, the reserve ammounts in keeps in various trusts and funds, but which it doesn't include in its main annual accounts. The American Friends of the National Gallery's latest publicly available accounts report that as of December 2020 it had net assets of $283m. The National Gallery Trust, which is UK based, had as of March 2021 total funds of £110m. 

'New wing' for the National Portrait Gallery

November 29 2022

Image of 'New wing' for the National Portrait Gallery

Picture: The Guardian

The National Portrait Gallery in London has been given a generous and significant £10m donation by the Blavatnik Foundation. The news stories said this will mean a 'new wing', called the Blavatnik Wing, to open with the rest of the newly refurbished Gallery in 2023. But as far as I can see it means the existing first floor will be renamed 'The Blavatnik Wing'. But if renaming galleries is what we need to do to get these kinds of mega donations, so be it. 

I was interested to see in The Guardian that they have what they say is a photograph (above) of the new first floor galleries - and happily it looks not too dissimilar to how it used to look. Phew! Just a little less of the 1970s brown...

The other development announced by the NPG was the acquisition of a patch of land outside the new entrance, which they will use as a ticket booth. I hope that works (will most people still expect to buy their tickets inside?), for it'll mean more space inside for art and visitor circulation. 

Restoring Michelangelo's 'Epifania'

November 29 2022

Image of Restoring Michelangelo's 'Epifania'

Picture: The Guardian

I'm glad to see the British Museum has embarked on a programme of conservation for their large Michelangelo cartoon, 'Epifania', so that it can go back on display in 2024. The drawing is one of only two surviving Michelangelo cartoons, and should by rights be almost as famous in Britain as Leonardo's 'Burlington Cartoon' in the National Gallery. More here

Sleeper alert

November 29 2022

Image of Sleeper alert

Picture: Christie's

This copy of Leonardo's Salvator Mundi made over €1m at Christie's online Old Master sale in Paris yesterday. The estimate was just €10k-15k. For a few glorious hours I was in the lead. But that was three days ago... 

I was bidding because I thought it was an earlier copy than 1600, as Christie's had catalogued it. How much earlier is of course now the €1m question. I'll be writing more about the picture, and how it fits into the Salvator Mundi production line, in next month's The Art Newspaper. 

Sleeper alert

November 26 2022

Image of Sleeper alert

Pictures: via Auction Radar

The Twitter account Auction Radar points to two huge prices for the above pictures: the panel on the left was offered as School of Ambrogio Lorenzetti at €10/15k, and made €590k. The 'Moses' on the right was offered as Bolognese School at €5k, and also made €590k. 

Job opportunity

November 26 2022

Image of Job opportunity

Picture: Codart

Three job opportunities, in fact; the Rijksmuseum is looking for new curators of 17th, 19th and 20th Century art. Deadline 4th December. More here

Titian's Venus & Adonis at Sotheby's

November 23 2022

Video: Sotheby's

Here's a video from Sotheby's on the £8m-£12m Venus & Adonis they have in their Old Master sale. You'll be able to see which market they're focusing on from how often the word 'contemporary' crops up.  

Jail for Just Stop Oil protestor

November 22 2022

Image of Jail for Just Stop Oil protestor

Picture: Guardian

A Just Stop Oil protestor who glued himself to a Van Gogh frame at the Courtauld Gallery has been jailed for three weeks. Louis McKechnie (above left) was jailed for three weeks, while his co-defendant Emily Brocklebank was given a suspended sentence. The Courtauld Gallery said the frame sustained about £2,000 worth of damage. The court case saw a curious attempted defence, that the protest had boosted the painting's value. From The Guardian:

A lawyer for the activists, who are part of a group waging disruptive protests until the government agrees to halt all new oil and gas projects, had asked a curator for the gallery if the action may have increased the value of the painting.

“Say the institute was to sell it on in 20 to 30 years, is it possible its value would now increase?” Francesca Cociani, defending, asked Karen Serres, a curator at the gallery.

Serres, who was the sole witness in the trial, replied: “Absolutely not,” adding that a work so famous as one by Van Gogh would not increase in value as a result.

Such works, which were owned by a trust which held items displayed at the gallery, could also not be sold and were intended for public display, she added.

The verdict and sentence probably gives us an idea of what will happen when the more high profile case of the National Gallery Van Gogh protest comes to court. I was interviewed on Radio 4's Front Row about the protests, along with The Art Newspaper's Louisa Buck, available here

New Gainsborough's House museum

November 22 2022

Image of New Gainsborough's House museum

Picture: BBC

The new extension to Gainsborough's House Museum in Sudbury opened yesterday. It makes it the largest art gallery in Suffolk, and looks to be a really exciting addition to the area. I was hoping to be able to point you to some video or pictures of the interior on the museum's website, but it hasn't been updated yet. More here on the BBC. 

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