The Hitler market (ctd.)

February 21 2019

Image of The Hitler market (ctd.)

Picture: via The Times

As AHN has noted before, almost all the paintings offered at auction as by Adolf Hitler are fake. Now, another cache of 63 artworks up for auction has been seized by authorities in Germany. More here

Leonardo's UK tour

February 21 2019

Video: Royal Collection

Here's a video from the Royal Collection on their excellent nationwide drawing exhibition; most of us in the UK are within about 30 miles of a Leonardo drawing at the moment. For more details, see here

AI art (ctd.)

February 18 2019

Video: Sotheby's

Here's a Sotheby's video on what they say is an 'AI' first; "the first self-contained, generative work of AI ever to appear on the market". The piece, called ‘Memories of Passersby I’, differs from that pedestrian blancmange of a painting - 'Portrait of Edmond Bellamy' - sold by Christie's last year for $432,000, in that it is actually partly made by Artificial Intelligence, as opposed to just a vaguely clever computer programme. The estimate is £30k-£40k. 

The most interesting thing about all these AI works coming up for auction is how the people behind them rely on portraiture from traditional, Western art, the most conservative art form there is. You'd think they'd chose something more original. But then maybe it's a bit like early cars being designed to look like horse-drawn carriages; there's only so much modernity we can cope with.

Update - a reader writes:

In the Sothebys catalogue entry for Klingemanns work it says ‘ Unlike earlier generative art installations Memories of Passerby I does not contain a database. It is an AI "brain", "developed" and "trained" by Mario Klingemann’.

This seems to [me to] be a bit of a fib, of course there is some data in there somewhere.

Effectively Mario Klingemann wrote some code that is fed into the CPU unit which process answers and learns from itself thus creating new images… But, and I’m no expert, he must have entered some data to start with for the unit to process – or given it some metrics – as a point of reference.

In fact he calls himself an artist working with 'algorithms' and 'data' – but Sotheby’s refuse to use these terms, I assume as they see them as boring, and and instead they call the computer a 'brain' and use the words 'develop' and 'train' to suggests he is more of a Jekyll and Hyde type, thus bringing some magic to the equation...

Really it’s not very different to the previous AI art sold by Christie’s – but Sotheby’s seem at pains to try to make it seem so.

Richard Green vs. Gary Klesch

February 18 2019

Image of Richard Green vs. Gary Klesch

Picture: via The Times

The art dealer Richard Green is being sued by a US collector, Gary Klesch, over the sale in 2018 of two paintings at TEFAF in Maastricht. Klesch says that because the gallery did not list the most recent provenance of the painting in the cataloguing, he did not know that they had been recently acquired at auction. The Times has the details:

Mr Klesch, whose UK investments include a big stake in the AA breakdown company, claims that he and his wife attended the European Fine Art Foundation’s international art fair in Maastricht in the Netherlands last March, where Richard Green offered art for sale at a stand.

The defendant agreed to sell two paintings, River Landscape with Fishers and a Cart by Jan Brueghel the Elder [above], and Winter Landscape with Figures Skating and Sleigh-Riding Outside a Town, with the Utrecht Dom and Huis Groenwoude at Right by Salomon van Ruysdael, for €3 million and €2 million respectively.

In the particulars claim, dated last November, Klesch alleges that it became aware last May that the latter had been bought for $882,500 at a Sotheby’s auction in New York in June 2017 and the former had been purchased for almost €1.5 million at an auction at Lempertz Auction House in Cologne five months later.

Klesch alleges Richard Green knew each painting had been sold at auction in 2017 but assumes that it deliberately omitted this from the “provenance listings” in order “to minimise the likelihood of a potential buyer ascertaining the price at which the defendant’s [Richard Green] related companies had recently acquired the paintings and then using such information to negotiate a reduced purchase price”.

Mr Klesch wants to cancel the sale and get a refund. Richard Green has decided to defend the case in the High Court. I would expect Green to win. Although one can understand Mr Klesch's sense of surprise at finding out the pictures had recently sold at auction for considerably less than he had paid.

But the question is, should Mr Klesch have been surprised? It takes less than three seconds to find out that the Breughel had sold at Lempertz in Cologne in 2017. You just need to highlight the artist name and title with your mouse, then right click and select 'search Google for...'. The first page that comes up is a link to the Lempertz sale, with the price there for all to see. 

It is this ease with which collectors can look up art prices that has done so much to change the Old Master art market over the last two decades. It is almost impossible to be a retailer of Old Masters. As a priceable commodity, Old Masters (indeed art in general) are extremely easy to find, because there are a number of identifiable attributes; artist, title and nowadays even by reverse searching the image. Anyone with a smartphone can now visit a gallery, or a stand at TEFAF, and know within seconds of leaving it what the dealer paid for their stock. (Hence, dealers now spend most of their time trying to buy works privately, or make discoveries of mis0catalogued pictures at auction, which potential collectors cannot Google). 

I suspect that the Greens would have assumed that this is what Mr Klesch would have done. I can also understand the Greens' reasoning; that as retailers, they are not bound to disclose where they bought their stock, and at what price. After all, when we go to buy milk, the supermarket doesn't tell us how much they paid the farmer. No one likes to feel they're over-paying for things.

And yet, the auction price for the Breughel at Lempertz is not necessarily an indication of what the picture is 'worth'. An auction price depends on so many variable circumstances: was it a well publicised sale; did the auction house do a good job with the cataloguing; did even one possible bidder forget to register in time, thus meaning the picture was sold cheaply?

But, there is a danger in the Greens' case, from the art trade's point of view. It's possible the High Court will rule that 'the provenance' should in fact include a complete, recent sale history. That is to say, dealers must always disclose where they bought something, and how much they paid for it. Such a ruling would change the way many dealers operate, and even auction houses (for example, if a lot has failed to sell, and is then re-offered in a subsequent sale, auction houses don't tend to advertise that fact in the provenance listing). As ever in this business, caveat emptor

Update - a reader writes:

What a lovely picture! If I had €3 million I’d buy this, enjoy it, and shut up.

Another reader says:

To comment generally on provenance, suppose an auctioneer or dealer gave a complete provenance from the artist’s studio up till just before a recent auction sale, ending with say, ‘Scottish Private Collection’ and left out the sale, might a buyer not reasonably conclude that the picture was fresh to the market? As we know a recent auction sale can substantially reduce the value of a picture.

Auctioneers’ terms usually provide that they  ‘accept [no] liability for the correctness of [our] opinions ... whether relating to description, condition or quality of lots... representations to....provenance.. involve matters of opinion’. This may protect auctioneers. Do dealers have similar terms I wonder, and should they do so? One might in innocence expect that paying the higher price a retailer of goods asks gives a guarantee not available at auction, which is why one might go to a dealer rather than bid ones-self?

Update II - another readers adds, on the auction point:

'Provenance' is principally a record of previous ownership; auctioneers are generally not the owners of the stuff they sell, so it would be misleading to list them as part of the 'provenance', except to emphasise a continous history of an item.

Update III - Alex Parish writes:

“Caveat Emptor” doesn’t begin to describe the challenges to art sellers and buyers. To protest (after inspection and purchase) paintings (bought prior at auction and) sold for what a client later feels is inappropriate shows a profound naiveté of the “food chain” that supplies the painting market, particularly Old Masters. Those familiar to “equities” or “orange juice futures” see art connoisseurship like alchemy. Mr. Klesh apparently bought himself exceptional paintings despite the obvious lack of understanding of market forces which brought him to his choices. I am proud to sign my name to this note, knowing the gallery in question does extraordinary diligence, and work tirelessly to acquire the very finest examples available.


New Giorgione drawing

February 18 2019

Image of New Giorgione drawing

Picture: via The Australian

Exciting news that a previously unknown drawing by Giorgione has been discovered in Sydney. From The Australian:

The red-chalk drawing by Giorgione was found at the University of Sydney library, inside a 1497 edition of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy.

University of Melbourne emeritus professor Jaynie Anderson, an international expert on the elusive Renaissance painter, ­described the find as “astonishing” and estimated its worth to be “in the millions”. She said the discovery “transforms our understanding of ­Giorgione’s life and his relation to other artists”.

Sydney University librarian Kim Wilson made the discovery. She promptly asked Professor ­Anderson for advice on the red-chalk drawing in the light of its ­accompanying handwritten inscription in black ink.

There'll be more on the drawing in next month's Burlington Magazine

The drawing represents a rare addition to poor Giorgione's ever-shrinking oeuvre - but will it be long before this too is attributed instead to early Titian?

The Burlington and Brexit

February 18 2019

Image of The Burlington and Brexit

Picture: Burlington Magazine

In an editorial covering the National Portrait Gallery's new exhibition on Nicholas Hilliard (who, while of course British, spent many years in Europe), the Burlington Magazine offers some thoughts on Brexit - and sounds a bit Leave-y in the process:

His [Hilliard's0 anniversary could therefore hardly be timelier, coinciding as it does with the United Kingdom’s struggle to reshape its relationship with Europe. One reason why it is helpful to reflect on the way that art of the past might relate to ideas of British identity is that contemporary artists have played such a disappointing part in the debates that have followed the referendum. It is not surprising that artists overwhelmingly wish that the vote had gone the other way, but their response has tended to confirm a belief that ‘remainers’ are experiencing a prolonged period of post-traumatic stress, evident in anger and denial. It is perhaps unfair to single out Anish Kapoor, but his comments on last month’s crushing parliamentary defeat of Theresa May’s Brexit proposals sum up why this debate is so stuck. Brexit, he claims, ‘seems to have brought out the very worst in us – Britain is more intolerant, more xenophobic, more insular than I have known it to be since the 1970s’.5

The problem about such remarks is that there is no attempt to see the issue from the point of view of those who think differently. Those who voted in favour of leaving the European Union are likely to regard such an attitude by a wealthy and successful artist as just another example of entitlement and privilege. They might also reflect that the diversity that is constantly held up as an ideal in the spaces of contemporary art does not seem to include diversity of political opinion. But Kapoor is right to say also that ‘it is our duty as citizens to find ways to come together and overcome the deeply sad and disorienting effects of Brexit’. How this is to be done is a question that should be asked most forcefully of those who when asked why they voted leave, reply that they want to leave the European Union, not Europe. How do they propose to reinforce Britain’s European identity? If quiet reflection on how to advance beyond this impasse is wanted, two good places for the historically minded to start are the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition and Goldring’s book.

New Paintings in Pompei

February 17 2019

Image of New Paintings in Pompei

Picture: via BBC

Archaeologists in Pompei have announced the discovery of a mural showing Narcissus admiring his reflection in the water. What an impressive picture, with its pose like a Titian. The announcement follows the discovery in November of a Leda and the Swan painting which, with its contorted pose and exquisitely painted head, rivals many things painted between 1200 and about 1650. Those Romans! And to think that these were fairly ordinary house paintings in Pompei.   

Tracy Chevalier's hunt for Vermeer

February 17 2019

Image of Tracy Chevalier's hunt for Vermeer

Picture: Guardian

There's a lovely piece in The Guardian by the author Tracy Chevalier on her quest to see all of Vermeer's paintings, and how they inspired her to write 'Girl with a Pearl Earring'. It all began with a poster:

In the autumn of the previous year, 1981, I first saw a poster of Vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring at my sister’s apartment. Smitten by the lovely girl with her blue and yellow turban, her wide eyes and her enigmatic expression, I bought myself a copy, which I have to this day. While knowing nothing about Vermeer, I decided to seek out more of his work.

Update - Tracy is not the only person to have made a Vermeer bucket list. A reader writes:

My own "see all the Vermeers" project, which also benefitted from the two large Vermeer shows at the National Gallery in Washington, then in both NY and London, included a visit to Kenwood around 1989, while the interior was being painted and refreshed. I went to the Director's office and explained that I had come from America to see "The Guitar Player" by Vermeer, and although the room in which it hung was being painted and closed to the public, it must be somewhere. Could I see it. I was taken to an adjacent closed gallery where the painting, protected in a layer of bubble wrap, rested sitting on the floor and leaning casually against a wall, along with other major works. An assistant picked it up, and I peered at it through the plastic. I've seen it at Kenwood since, but without the plastic.

Fortunately, my Vermeer project included a visit to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1987, when it still was in possession of its Vermeer.    I've seen all 35 plus the two recently attributed to Vermeer, both of which have appeared in exhibitions.

Salvator Mundi & the Louvre

February 17 2019

Image of Salvator Mundi & the Louvre

Picture: via Christie's

The latest story to say Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi isn't by Salvator Mundi has been doing the rounds on social media; this time with the headline (in The Sunday Telegraph) saying that the Louvre 'would not show the painting' in its forthcoming Leonardo exhibition. The story is based on the opinion of one Jacques Franck:

[...] who has been a consultant to the Louvre on Leonardo restoration projects, told the Sunday Telegraph that politicians at the highest levels and Louvre staff, “know that the Salvator Mundi isn’t a Leonardo”.

He spoke of the growing realisation that France cannot afford the “humiliation” of its world-class museum displaying a painting when there are serious questions about it. He is among those who believe that it was painted primarily by one of Leonardo’s studio assistants.

And yet the story ends with confirmation that the Louvre has in fact requested the picture's loan:

On Friday, the Louvre confirmed that it had requested a loan, but declined to comment on doubts about the attribution or concerns among politicians and art historians. On Sunday, the museum said that it is awaiting a response from the painting’s owner on a loan.

Asked whether it would display it as a Leonardo or as a workshop production, a spokeswoman said: “The answer will be given in October”.

The Mail has picked up the Telegraph's story, with the headline:

"Is the world's most expensive painting a FAKE? Louvre snubs 'Leonardo da Vinci' painting"

And yet the subsequent piece contradicts the headline entirely, with the Louvre's response to M. Franck:

But a Louvre spokeswoman told MailOnline: 'The Musée du Louvre has asked for the loan of the Salvator Mundi and wishes to present it in its October exhibition.

'We are waiting for the owner’s answer.

'M. Franck was part of the scholars who have been consulted 7 or 8 years ago for the restoration of the Saint Ann.

'He is not currently working on the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition and has never been curator for the Louvre.

'His opinion is his personal opinion, not the one of the Louvre.' 

Both stories show the power of Leonardo as clickbait. Add to that the suggestion that some hapless Saudi prince has wasted $450m and you have the makings of art history's equivalent of the dream tabloid headline they used to teach in journalism school; 'Bishop in sex dash to palace'. 

The current spate of stories about the Salvator Mundi must also reflect the fact that its whereabouts are unknown; if it was on display at the Louvre Abu Dahbi, as was the original intention, I don't think the stories would have such traction. 

Update - The Louvre has told The Art Newspaper that the claims are 'fake information'. 

Update II - M. Franck writes to say that the Louvre are mistaken, and that he was actually a consultant for them up to 2016.

Gainsborough catalogue raisonné

February 17 2019

Image of Gainsborough catalogue raisonné

Picture: via Amazon

Tremendous news that Hugh Belsey's long-awaited two volume Thomas Gainsborough catalogue raisonné has been published, by the Paul Mellon Centre). It follows in august footsteps; to the famed names of Ellis Waterhouse and John Hayes (previous authors of Gainsborough catalogues) we can now add Hugh's name. As is customary for catalogue raisonné writers, AHN creates him a Hero of Art History. 

I've ordered my copy via the dreaded Amazon (for £121) here

Update - a reader writes:

I hate to do this to you, but Books Etc are selling the book for £90.33. British company, usually cheaper than Amazon (or anyone else), free postage on all books, usually send books more securely packed than Amazon do, I use them almost all the time. And Books Etc prices on Amazon Marketplace are usually higher than on the Books Etc website because of the fee paid to Amazon, so going direct is the best option. Of course, I understand that if you get a small payment for everyone who clicks through from AHN to Amazon and makes a purchase there is a reason for having the link (I don't know if this is the case, but I remember reading about this when I was thinking of having my own blog), but you might want to consider Books Etc for your own purchases. I have no connection with Books Etc apart from being a very satisfied customer.

For the record, I get no payment from Amazon, or indeed anyone else, for any links or content on this blog. 

Sotheby's 'Anatomy of an Artwork'

February 5 2019

Video: Sotheby's

I like this series of videos by Sotheby's on some of the world's most famous Old Masters. They're simply made, but informative and accessible. It's also good to see the art market doing its bit to build new audiences for Old Masters. 

'The year of Rembrandt'

February 5 2019

Image of 'The year of Rembrandt'


It's the 350th anniversary of Rembrandt's death. As a year of shows and events begins in Holland, Simon Schama writes about the artist's impact on him;

Yet another commemoration and yet another mega-show at the Rijksmuseum. Is it possible to have too much Rembrandt? Can you have too much love, wisdom, fine weather? No, you can’t.

His was the first art that properly caught my eye; or rather his eyes caught mine and wouldn’t let go. Those eyes, one lit, the other in shadow, belonged to the late self-portrait at Kenwood House. I was, I think, just nine years old, but even then I registered the transfer of the artist’s intense observation of himself as somehow a scrutiny of my own attentiveness. It was a gaze a small boy dared not break.

For more on the year's Rembrandt-ian events in Holland, see here. I love the way the Dutch make art central stage in their national narrative. In Britain we're too afraid of 'art' to do such a thing. Although in this year of Brexit, perhaps we should adopt that old curmudgeon Hogarth as our national figure.

Codart 22

February 5 2019

Image of Codart 22

Picture: Codart

I'm honoured to be chairing the annual Codart conference this year, in Berlin, 2nd - 4th June. Among the places we'll be visiting are the Gemaldegalerie. The theme is; 'What it means to be a curator'. The full programme is here. I hope to see some of you there!

TAN podcast; 'female Old Masters'

February 5 2019

Sound: TAN

Here's another good Art Newspaper podcast, this time on female Old Masters (can we come up with a better term? Surely), and how the art market tried to pretend their paintings were by men. 

White glove shot (ctd.)

February 5 2019

Image of White glove shot (ctd.)

Picture: Sky News

The Banksy that did the thing with the thing has gone on display on Germany. More here, if you can bear it. 

'Diary of an Art Historian' (ctd.)

February 4 2019

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

Picture: Christie's

Here's my latest 'Diary' piece from The Art Newspaper, and also here's one from last month, when the blog was on airplane mode. 

Is this a fake??

February 4 2019

Image of Is this a fake??

Picture: National Gallery

Almost certainly not, but The Guardian had a big splash on the suggestion it is by the art historian Christopher Wright. He produces not much evidence, save the haircut of the sitter, which is apparently from the 1960s. Judge for yourself on the high-res image here. Wright is best known for seeing fakes in many places, especially works claiming to be by Georges De La Tour (for example this picture in The Met). 

Update - a sharp-eyed reader makes this point:

I am puzzled by the wooden shutter with its studded nails that, totally by coincidence, form the monogram EH. 


Battle for the Battle of Anghiari

February 1 2019

Image of Battle for the Battle of Anghiari

Picture: Sotheby's

There was a fierce bidding battle for a drawing copy of Leonardo's Battle of Anghiari at Sotheby's drawing sale in New York. It made $795k against an estimate of $25k-$35k. The drawing had once been thought to be by Rubens, and had belonged to Sir Thomas Lawrence before entering the Dutch royal collection. But a long line of current Rubens scholars have said it's certainly not by Rubens. Does the market think it knows something else? Or was it just a combination of Leonardo's lure, some royal provenance, and a dash of speculation? See a high res of the drawing here

An undoubted Rubens drawing from the same Dutch royal collection made $8.2m at Sotheby's, a new record. 

The $1.7m Mona Lisa copy

January 31 2019

Image of The $1.7m Mona Lisa copy

Picture: Sotheby's

The above copy of Leonardo's Mona Lisa just made an extraordinary $1.7m at Sotheby's Old Master Day Sale in New York. The estimate was just $80k-$120k. There's quite a few of these copies knocking around - they're all suddenly rather more valuable...

Although it's always dangerous judging from photos, I can't immediately see what got people excited about this copy. It's not even on panel, like the original, but canvas, which generally suggests a somewhat later date. But maybe it's just the Leonardo effect. The catalogue entry is here

The sale results have been pretty strong. 


The Watercolour World

January 31 2019

Video: The Watercolour World

Here's a new project I've been keen to tell you about for a while; The Watercolour World. More in the film above (produced by none other than Ishbel Grosvenor), and here

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