Michelangelo at the Met

January 25 2018

Video: Met Museum

The Met's exhibition of Michelangelo drawings has been getting rave reviews. But today the turtle himself showed up. More here

Art history toilets (ctd.)

January 25 2018

Video: Golden Throne

Remember the gold toilet artwork at the Guggenheim, which visitors could actually use? Now the museum has offered it on loan to the Trump White House. More here

Graham-Dixon on the contemporary art market

January 25 2018

Image of Graham-Dixon on the contemporary art market

Picture: Royal Collection

There was an excellent edition of the BBC radio show Start the Week with Andrew Graham-Dixon, in which he said many wise things about the more absurd end of the contemporary art market. He was also joined by Don Thompson, an economist who has researched about the financial aspect of the contemporary market. Well worth listening to. 

Art history trousers

January 25 2018

Image of Art history trousers

Picture: Yizzam

If you'd like some tight trousers printed with works by Henri de Toulouse Lautrec, then step this way.

'Moving Pictures' (ctd.)

January 25 2018

Audio: BBC

Cathy Fitzgerald's excellent BBC Radio series 'Moving Pictures' is back, and well worth listening too. Each programme looks in detail at a single picture. More here

Italian Museums (ctd.)

January 25 2018

Image of Italian Museums (ctd.)

Picture: FT

Every time I read something from James Bradburne, the director of the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan, I am more in awe. Bradburne is essentially leading the charge to save Italian museums from themselves, and has just given a refreshingly candid interview to Richard Holledge in the FT. He says of his challenge at the Brera:

I am taking on the beast, a museum run as a department of a department of a Soviet-style state bureaucracy. [...]

In Italy people confuse an excellent collection with an excellent museum. Italy has superlative collections but very bad museums, while Cincinnati, Cleveland and Denver in the USA, for example, have far better museums than any in Italy but they don’t have such good collections. The Getty collection is second-rate — sorry if I offend my friends — but it’s a great museum. They do things with the collection that we are barely imagining.

And his new plan to get people to look at art for longer? Simple, a chair:

“If you want people to look longer and see more, you give them something to sit on because nobody learns standing up,” says Bradburne. “I have just ordered 150 portable stools for the Brera.”

The Leonardo magic show

January 25 2018

Video: BBC

Andrew Graham-Dixon's new Royal Collection programmes on BBC4 have been excellent. Here's a fantastic moment when UV light reveals some faded copperpoint drawings by Leonardo. More on the programmes here

The Otto Naumann sale

January 25 2018

Video: Sotheby's

Here's a Sotheby's film ahead of the sale of the Old Master dealer, Otto Naumann. As I've said before, Otto is the Obe-Wan of the Old Master trade, and it'll be strange not seeing him at fairs like Maastricht. I only met him a couple of times in my London trade days, but he was always generous to younger dealers. I hope his sale does well.  

Old Masters in new spaces

January 25 2018

Video: Sotheby's

I noticed in the front of Sotheby's latest Old Master sale catalogue a series of photos showing pictures in New York-style apartments. They looked good, and are evidently part of an attempt to persuade people that old art can look good in a modern setting. Of course, AHN agrees entirely. Above is a video Sotheby's have released showing how the designer Victoria Hagan put the interior scenes together.  

Happy Burns Night

January 25 2018

Video: Liverpool John Moores University

It's Burns Night, and here in Edinburgh we've done the full haggis supper. Newly released today is a new facial reconstruction of Robert Burns, based on his portrait by Alexander Nasmyth. Not entirely successful, I'd say. More here on the techniques behind the reconstruction. 


January 23 2018

No news today; on my way to London to see the Charles I exhibition at the Royal Academy. Excited!

Update - a BBC film crew ambushed me for my take on the exhibition, during the private view. My immediate reaction? 'This is one of the greatest feats of curation of modern times'.

'Peaks and Glaciers'

January 22 2018

Image of 'Peaks and Glaciers'

Picture: John Mitchell Fine Paintings

It may be because I'm half Swiss, but I've always had a thing for snowy pictures. So allow me to plug an annual selling exhibition in London, Peaks and Glaciers, put on by my friends William and James Mitchell on Avery Row, just off Bond St. William is an intrepid climber. The exhibition opens on 25th Jan, and runs until 9th March. Catalogue and further details here

Me on connoisseurship! (ctd.)

January 22 2018

Image of Me on connoisseurship! (ctd.)

Picture: Martin Postle

I'm glad to say that we'll be doing my short course on connoisseurship again at the Royal Academy in London, this time in the summer; Saturday 30th June and Sunday 1st July. This will coincide with the Old Master sales in London. It was wonderful to meet so many AHNers on the last one. I'll post more details when the RA site is updated.

Tefaf drops art market report

January 22 2018

Image of Tefaf drops art market report

Picture: via FT

Surprising news from Melanie Gerlis in the FT that the Tefaf fair in Maastricht will no longer produce its annual art market survey. This was always big news ahead of the fair, and generated significant news coverage. But last year a new author was commissioned to write the report, and the numbers might not have been to everyone's liking, at least from the market's point of view. Gerlis writes:

In truth, their future hung in the balance after 2016 when economist Clare McAndrew, their author since 2008, said she was instead crunching numbers for the Art Basel franchise. Maastricht University professor Rachel Pownall ably took the reins for Tefaf last year but there were differences between her methodology and McAndrew’s, which led to vastly different results. Pownall revised the art market’s 2015 value to $44bn from McAndrew’s $63.8bn and for 2016 had a total of $45bn, while McAndrew had $56.6bn — even the direction of travel was different.

More here

Tefaf recently signed another lease with the NEC centre in Maastricht, committing the fair to the city for another ten years. Personally, I agreed with those dealers who wanted to see the fair move to a larger, ideally capital city. At least somewhere that was easier to get to. A number of well-established Old Master dealers have decided not to do the fair this year.

Charles I's Titian in New York

January 22 2018

Video: Sotheby's

Another picture at Sotheby's in New York is this 6ft tall religious picture by Titian and his workshop, of St Margaret. It once belonged to Charles I, and when valued after his death was deemed to be worth more (at £100) than Leonardo's Salvator Mundi (at £30). Today the estimate is (by comparison with the Leonardo) a modest $2m-$3m.

As The Guardian reports, it was offered to a plumber, in part exchange for repairs carried out at the royal palaces during the Cromwellian regime. 

It's one of two versions, the other is in the Prado.

A Velasquez two for the price of one

January 22 2018

Video: Sotheby's

Here's a Sotheby's video on a portrait partly by Velasquez in next week's  New York Old Master sale. The head is all by Velasquez, but the rest was completed by another artist, Pietro Martire Neri. The catalogue entry is here

When I was teaching a course on connoisseurship at the RA last month, we were lucky enough to spend some time with this picture. It was a great way to practice connoisseurship, seeing where Velasquez stopped, and where Neri began. 

Two new Van Gogh discoveries

January 18 2018

Image of Two new Van Gogh discoveries

Pictures: via TAN

When the Van Gogh museum was asked to give a view on the authenticity of a previously unknown Van Gogh drawing (above) it prompted them to reassess a work in its own collection. Now, the museum has declared that both works are indeed by Van Gogh. The picture above is The Hill of Montmartre with Stone Quarry, and is in the collection of the Van Vlissingen Art Foundation. The picture below is The Hill of Montmartre, and belongs to the Van Gogh Museum, but had been rejected by curators there as a pastiche. Both works were drawn in 1886. More here from Martin Bailey (himself a Van Gogh scholar) in The Art Newspaper

The $250 Rembrandt (ctd.)

January 18 2018

Image of The $250 Rembrandt (ctd.)

Picture: AHN

Remember the story of the discovery at auction of one of Rembrandt's Senses? It surfaced at auction in the US, with an estimate of just $250, and is now in the Leiden Collection. Now the three brothers who inherited the painting from their mother have described their decision not to sell it in a 'yard sale', and how they found out it had actually sold for $1.1m:

After their mom died in 2010, the three brothers cleaned out her house and decided to sell the items that they didn’t have a need for.

“We had a garage sale, but there were a few things like the china and silver that looked very nice and we thought, well, we don’t really want to just give them away,” [...]

The small painting was unsettling to Ned Landau during his childhood, and he recalled “As a kid I thought, ‘why did we have a painting like that in our dining room?'”

Their mother’s nicer items lived in Roger Landau’s basement for four years before approaching an appraiser, John Nye, who gave them an estimate of a few hundred dollars for the painting.

More here

Another Tate Britain re-hang

January 18 2018

Image of Another Tate Britain re-hang

Picture: Tate 

In an interview in The Art Newspaper, Tate Britain director Alex Farquharson reveals that he's going to re-hang the entire gallery. This is just five years after the previous director, Penelope Curtis, unveiled a much vaunted chronological rehang, which did away with the previous social and thematic one. Now - guess what - Tate Britain is going back to a thematic and social hang.

We must wait to see the finished result (in 2020), but this seems to me reflective of an institution which doesn't really know what it's about. Shackled to the mother ship of Tate Modern, Tate Britain seems to see itself not as a museum, but a giant exhibition space, one that's almost embarrassed by what it has to show. Consequently, the exhibition space - and what goes in it - must be changed every five years or so. A museum which was comfortable in itself, and happy to celebrate its collection, wouldn't do this. 

There is of course one thing a new re-hang could achieve, and that is a significant addition to the hanging space by making use of the central Duveen Galleries. These walls are just left empty, above. A similar space exists at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, which is used much more effectively. Given the amount of great art Tate Britain has in store, the under-use of the Duveen galleries is a shocking waste of hanging space.

'Stop reading, start looking'

January 18 2018

Image of 'Stop reading, start looking'

Picture: TAN

Here's my latest diary column for The Art Newspaper. I discuss the time I asked a group of final year art history students if they could identify a Titian - only one of 40 got it. Are our art history students being sold short?

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