Prince Albert Papers to go online

April 24 2018

Image of Prince Albert Papers to go online

Picture: Royal Collection

Did you know that Prince Albert was a keen art historian, and was especially devoted to the study of Raphael? A new Royal Collection project will digitise and make available his papers, including his collection of over 5000 prints and photographs of works after Raphael. The project will take two years to complete. More here

Image fees - your stories

April 24 2018

Image of Image fees - your stories

Picture: Louvre

One of the things that has spurred us on to campaign for the abolition of museum image reproduction fees here in the UK is individual stories from art historians. They're probably more powerful than any arguments I and my colleagues make, so I'm going to start publishing more of them here on AHN. So if you've had to pay an outrageous fee for images, or have had work rendered unpublishable because of fees, please get in touch.

Here's one story from a recent Cambridge University PhD graduate:

"I've been told that my thesis (which is essentially a visual dictionary of men's fashionable dress in the restoration period, including the many variations of each garment and numerous details in close-up) deserves to be published, but the the copyright fees demanded by many of the museums involved - let alone individual owners - will be considerable if all the illustrations are included - and omitting them rather defeats the whole purpose of providing scholars with an easily accessible work of reference.  

Quite apart from inhibiting general publication, whether in print or online, potential liability for such fees also resulted in my greatly delayed graduation. Without consulting anyone, the powers that be in this great university suddenly imposed a requirement that all theses should be presented not only in the standard printed and bound form, but also in a digital version. While a fair usage provision allows the traditional printed thesis to be lodged in the University Library without liability for copyright fees, this provision does not apply if the material is produced in another medium, which then counts as publication, and complying with the new regulation would have put me at risk of being sued under copyright legislation [...]. This was a risk I was not prepared to take, but persuading the University to back down was a long and extremely stressful process. I might also add that the very idea that owners of paintings produced several hundred years ago still have copyright in that material is questionable to say the least. Altogether the whole subject is a minefield which desperately needs to be addressed."

No other academic discipline faces this problem. 

Sir Nicholas Penny on visitor numbers

April 23 2018

Image of Sir Nicholas Penny on visitor numbers

Picture: Apollo

There's an interesting piece in Apollo on visitor numbers; are they good or bad? Sir Nicholas Penny, the former director of the National Gallery in London seems to be no great fan of them, but accepts that they're necessary. He makes many good points, including:

Even if attendance figures were not presented as a league table, comparisons between different institutions would be inevitable. Trustees and directors are gripped by the vivid and simplified drama of the contest. They find it difficult not to see their institution in a competition with the others, as if it were a football club. It becomes surprisingly hard to recognise that there should be nothing worrying about the number of visitors to a different institution edging ahead because, for example, it has mounted an exhibition of the work of David Hockney.

Picasso - the Box Set

April 23 2018

Video: National Geographic

Here's a curious bit of casting - Antonia Banderas will star as Picasso in a new biopic on National Geographic, starting this week. 

'Rubens, Painter of Sketches'

April 23 2018

Video: Museo del Prado

This looks good - an exhibition at the Prado on Rubens' oil sketches. The show contains 73 works by Rubens, and runs until 5th August. More here

New versus Old (ctd.)

April 23 2018

Video: KHM

I wrote recently about the trend to exhibit contemporary artworks among Old Masters, both on AHN and in The Art Newspaper. In The New York Times, Nina Siegal looks at two more instances of this phenomenon, in the Frans Hals museums in Haarlem, and in the Kunsthistorisches Museum. The latter is perhaps the most high-profile demonstration of what is called in curatorial circles 'trans-historical display'. It's an ugly term for an ugly practice. 

The Frans Hals museum is trying trans-historicalism in a misguided attempt to make Old Masters 'fashionable'. But really it signals nothing more than a lack of ability to present Old Masters to new audiences on their own merits. It just makes the museum look as if it doesn't value its Old Masters, and doesn't know what to do with them. As I've written before, it's like going into a restaurant, seeing the menu, and then being told by the waiter that actually everything's pretty rubbish; you'd soon get up and leave.

The Kunsthistorisches Museum at least has put contemporary and modern works in its famous galleries as part of a structured exhibition, called 'The Shape of Time' (as previewed in the video above). Some of the pairings of new and old art actually make good sense, and are built around tangible relationships between the exhibits, such as hanging a Manet beside his hero Velasquez. I also like the pairing of works that have been specifically commissioned for the show, such as the painting by Kerry James Marshall made in response to, and hanging beside, a work by Tintoretto. Others are, as the show's curator Jasper Sharp says, 'more intuitive', which sounds as vague as it looks; a Rothko hung next to a Rembrandt seems to be simply random, although I can't help but celebrate the way in which Rembrandt effortlessly crushes the Rothko beside him. 

When the KHM put the above photo on its Instagram page, Jaspaer Sharp said; “Half them were saying ‘this is absolutely abysmal." What do you think?

Museum image fees (ctd.)

April 19 2018

Image of Museum image fees (ctd.)

Picture: Bridgeman

Terrible news - Bridgeman has signed a deal with the Italian government giving it the exclusive right to sell and licence images for 439 Italian museums, including all the major ones like the Uffizi, the Brera and so on. As demonstrated above, Italy's masterpieces are now to be seen only as 'assets', to be ruthlessly exploited by a commercial organisation. Says the Bridgeman press release:

We are excited to announce that we have signed an agreement with the Ministero dei beni delle attività culturali e del turismo (MiBACT), allowing us to acquire and license images from 439 Italian museums and cultural sites belonging to MiBACT.

MiBACT includes some of the world’s most prestigious Italian museums including the Uffizi, Pinacoteca di Brera, Cenacolo Vinciano, Pantheon, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, and Pompei.

Bridgeman is grateful to MiBACT for this agreement, which is the first of its kind and presents an amazing opportunity for the museums and Bridgeman to be able to distribute and license these remarkable images worldwide. We are working with each institution to add content and images that will be available for all editorial and some non-editorial uses.

Bridgeman is proud to be able to provide additional income for these important institutions and to enable investment in the protection and enhancement of their cultural heritage.

I like the contradiction in terms at the end of the press release - in a digital age, how does limiting the dissemination of images 'enhance' Italy's cultural heritage? Doubtless the Italian government has thought about the bottom line, and is excited about the prospect of 'additional income'. But at what cost? By effectively making inaccessible Italy's masterpieces to scholars, school kids, and the public alike?

To publish an image of Botticelli's Venus in a low print run (less than 2,500 copies) 'educational publication' will cost you £158. 

A grim day for art history.

Turner's 'Walton Bridges' to be sold at Sotheby's

April 15 2018

Image of Turner's 'Walton Bridges' to be sold at Sotheby's

Picture: Arts Council

Sotheby's has another major Turner to offer in the July sales in London, according to the Arts Council's 'Notification of Intention to Sell' pages. This means the painting, 'Walton Bridges', is conditionally exempt from capital taxes, and so UK institutions get a heads up to see if they'd like to acquire the work, with the relevation tax advantages. The guide price is listed as £6m. 

Job Opportunities!

April 15 2018

Image of Job Opportunities!

Picture: Scottish National Galleries

The National Gallery is looking for a Curatorial Fellow in Spanish Paintings. The salary is £26k-£32k. Closing date 25th April. More here.

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery is looking for a new curator, with a salary of £22k-£24k. For that, you'll need at least a degree, and preferably a masters, as well as specialist knowledge in the field, and some museum experience. It's yet another example of low curatorial pay in the UK. The job specification for the SNPG post comes complete with a 'Department Structure' diagram (above), which reveals that there are a lot of chiefs, and not many actual curators. There are in fact two chief curators, which is somewhat confusing, and above the existing director of the SNPG itself is another director, a newly appointed 'Director of Collections'. He in turn of course sits below the overall director of the Scottish National Galleries, Sir John Leighton. Perhaps there would be more money to pay the actual curators if the management of the Scottish National Galleries wasn't so top heavy. (More on the management stramash in Edinburgh here.) 

Update - a reader writes:

We pay our clearner more per hour than the SNPG pays its curators.

New Met Director

April 15 2018

Image of New Met Director

Picture: Guardian

Congratulations to Max Hollein on becoming the new director of the Metropolitan Museum in New York. More here, and disquet here that a female director was not chosen (all ten Met directors have been white men to date).

Re-creating lost masterpieces

April 15 2018

Image of Re-creating lost masterpieces

Picture: Guardian

There's a new series on Sky Arts in which those clever 3D art printers Factum Arte re-create various lost masterpieces, including works by Caravaggio, Monet and Van Gogh. More here in the Guardian, and a trailer here

'Diary of an Art Historian'

April 15 2018

Image of 'Diary of an Art Historian'

Picture: TAN

My latest Art Newspaper column is online here

Waldemar on American Art

April 15 2018

Image of Waldemar on American Art

Picture: Waldemar

The Great Waldemar has announced on Twitter that his new series on American Art will be shown on the BBC in May. Looking forward to it.

Stolen in France...

April 15 2018

Image of Stolen in France...

Picture: Telegraph

...a reliquary containing the heart of Anne of Brittany (1477-1514), from the Thomas-Dobrée museum in the western French city of Nantes during the weekend. More here.

'Monet & Architecture'

April 14 2018

Video: National Gallery

The National Gallery have made one of those whizzy art animation videos for their new Monet & Architecture exhibition. 

Old Master sales

April 9 2018

Video: Christie's

There's a spate of Old Master sales at the moment. Christie's New York Classic Week begins on 19th April, with Part one here, and Part two here. There's a full-length Titian at a bargain $700k-$1m, if you fancy it. In the video above, Christie's Jonquil O'Reilly (formerly of Sotheby's New York) talks about the fashion in some of the pictures on offer. On 25th April Bonhams in London has a mid-season sale, here. On May 2nd, Sotheby's in London has its mid-season sale, catalogue here. There will also be an online only Old Master sale at Sotheby's, which will be available here

New Artemisia self-portrait (ctd).

April 9 2018

Video: Drouot

Remember that previously unknown Artemisia Gentileschi self-portrait which surfaced at auction in Paris last year, for €2.3m? On Twitter, one French art historians suggests that it was bought by the National Gallery in London. Bravo the National Gallery, if so.

'Artists in Paris'

April 9 2018

Image of 'Artists in Paris'

Picture: Artists in Paris

This is very cool - a digital map showing where artists in 18th Century Paris lived and worked. The map is here, and an article outlining the project is here, on Journal18


April 8 2018

Video: BBC

What do you all make of the new BBC's new, 'Civilisations'? It was commissioned as a major BBC 'landmark' series, as a successor to the 1960s series 'Civilisation' fronted by Kenneth Clark. I've seen more than half of the nine films now. The series got something of a drubbing from the BBC's Arts Editor, Will Gompertz, who rated it 2 out of 5, and said;

It turns out adding that extra "s" has gone and over-egged the pudding. For all its faults (partial, dogmatic, occasionally dismissive), the Kenneth Clark written and presented originals had a clarity, structure, and coherent argument that made them fascinating to watch and easy to follow.

In contrast, from the programmes I have seen, Civilisations is more confused and confusing than a drunk driver negotiating Spaghetti Junction in the rush hour.

Ouch. To make matters worse, the ratings haven't been great, as reported by Richard Brooks in The Sunday Times:

The initial episode fronted by Simon Schama was watched by 1.9m viewers. The second, with Mary Beard as presenter, fell to 1.2m. In the latest figures released by Barb, the official collator of audience numbers, ratings have fallen to 966,000.

Richard concludes that:

The consensus from critics and viewers is that the new version is muddled and seems to have been produced by a committee.

I think the weekly ratings may have something to do with the fact that the BBC have also put all nine programmes on the iPlayer at once, so - a la Netflix - you can binge watch them all at once if you like. 

When I saw the first programme ('The Second Moment of Creation' by Simon Schama) I have to say that I did come away with the impression that it was, if not TV by committee, then a case of too many cooks. I’ll be honest - it was disappointing. But maybe that's because expectations were so high. The programme had a fantastically strong beginning, and the central narrative was convincing. But things kept getting in the way of the programme's theme, to say nothing of Schama himself. The most obvious were the endless drone shots. Drones are all the rage in TV-land at the moment. But they are often over-used, as they were here, and can be too distracting. Equally distracting in the first programme was the presence of third party contributors - archaeologists, historians and so on - who kept halting Schama's flow. Normally, TV producers and directors put contributors in if you feel the need to bolster a presenter's knowledge with some outside expertise, or bring in other characters and voices. But since Schama is clearly expert enough, the contributors (whom, even more oddly, Schama didn't speak to, they were just talking off camera to someone else) had the effect of interrupting Schama's own personal view, which, after all, is what Civilisation/s is all about; Clark's series was famously subtitled 'A Personal View’.

Then I watched the second programme, ‘How do we look?’ presented by Mary Beard, and - here I’m going to be too honest for my own good again - was again disappointed. It seemed to lack energy, and I couldn’t immediately see its purpose. I’ll admit that I was probably hankering for a bit of good old-fashioned, Clark-ian chronology. I also began to wonder why the BBC couldn’t just have chosen one person to make the series, to get a compelling, single viewpoint, even if that viewpoint proved controversial, or ‘wrong’. There were fewer drones at least in programme 2, but a seemingly random succession of soft focus frames was no less interrupting. Someone enjoyed fiddling with the settings in the edit suite. As a programme maker, you have to ask yourself why you need gadgets to keep the audience interested. If you can't people interested with a good presenter and good stories, then you're doing something wrong. 

But then, wonderfully, the series got into its stride. Programme 3 saw Schama move onto landscape. Now the thematic approach began to make sense. The opening, in China, was fascinating. Things got even better with Schama’s next programme, ‘The Power of Art’, which sensitively explored artistic relationships between East and West, which Clark hadn’t been able to in Civilisation, with his brief to stick only to Western art. While I did know about Rembrandt’s re-workings of Mughal miniatures, I never knew there was a c.1615-18 Mughal miniature (by Bichitr) which included a portrait of James I of England, who was shown wilting in the presence of the Emperor, Jahangir. Finally, it became clear how this series was going to take Clark’s effort and build on it.  

David Olusoga’s first episode, ‘First Contact’, was exceptional. Civilisations needed to tell the story of how so much art history grows out of conquest and colonialism, and Olusoga not only did it well, but with just the right amount of personal connection. We saw this in his opening sequence in front of the Benin Bronzes, which, he told us, he had stood in front of for many hours as a child, wondering at the injustice of how the Bronzes ever came to be in the British Museum in the first place. 

I’m now at episode seven, ‘Radiance’ by Schama. I think this is probably the best arts programme I’ve ever seen. The great thing about Schama’s episodes is that he does make you work for it; nothing is spoon fed, you have to pay attention. That’s rare in TV these days. But the reward is a far more intense hour of television that one is often used to. Schama gives spellbinding performances on Monet, Goya and Matisse. I never actually thought anyone could take on Clark’s series and improve on it, but in ‘Radiance’ Schama does. I challenge you to watch it and not feel deeply moved at the end. 

So I've got three left to go, out of nine. There were originally supposed to be 12, but something happened, I'm not sure what. Maybe that explains why music and literature don't get a look in, which is a shame. 

Anyway, let me know what you think. On his blog, Charles Saumarez Smith has written that he has enjoyed the series so far. The Burlington wrote an editorial on Civilisations this month, and one senses the magazine is disappointed in the series. 

Update - a reader writes:

Totally agree with you on Civilisation / Civilisations. I personally thought David Olusoga was the most convincing, as he was firmly on his patch and not trying to be too flashy.  

The main difference is that Kenneth Clark was an esteemed art historian, whilst Schama, Beard and Olusoga are historians, without a specialist knowledge of art, and therefore do not connect you to the objects in the same way as Clark did.

Councillor, sell the lot!

April 8 2018

Image of Councillor, sell the lot!

Picture: Hertfordshire County Council

Grim news of another UK local authority deaccession; this time, Hertfordshire County Council want to sell all but 10% of their collection. More here in Apollo, and you can browse their paintings here on ArtUK. There's a full length called Studio of Thomas Lawrence, but I suspect it will be partly by Lawrence himself.

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