Chardin at the Prado

March 4 2011

Image of Chardin at the Prado

Picture: The Louvre

The Prado has an excellent micro-site for their new Chardin exhibition (ends 29th May). You can zoom into the paintings in great detail while listening to commentary in English. There is also a charming video with Pierre Rosenberg, Deputy Director of the Louvre. Worth a click.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the museum...

March 4 2011

Image of Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the museum...

Tate Modern will host a Hirst retrospective in 2012 as part of its plans for the Cultural Olympiad.

Cuts, cuts, cuts

March 3 2011

There was a strange piece on the Today programme this morning about cuts in arts funding. Ed Vaizey, the Arts Minister, was 'grilled' by leading arts practitioners. But the whole discussion (between five people) was edited down to just three and a bit minutes, so it was rather confusing. Ed said there was only an 11% cut; the arts gurus said 30%.

Which is true? Would you believe me if I said that the arts are being cut less than the police? Here's a handy guide to those arts cuts figures: [more below]

  • The DCMS budget has been cut by 25% from £1.4bn to £1.1bn over the next four years.
  • National Museums and Galleries, the 21 directly funded by the DCMS, will see a 15% cut in their annual revenue. This means that national museum funding in 2015 will be what it was in 2007.
  • The Arts Council England annual revenue has been cut by 30%. This cut has come with an 'instruction' that 'frontline' arts bodies will be cut by 15%, as with the national museums, and that ACE admin is reduced by 50%.
  • The ACE budget is now £449.5m. In 2014 it will be £349m. This means that by 2014, ACE will be providing revenue to arts organisations at the level it was in 2004, in real terms.
  • From 2012, capital funding from the National Lottery (the money to build extensions, galleries etc.) to the Arts will go up by £50 million a year. Heritage will also get £50m a year extra. This is thanks to changes in the distribution of good cause money, which Labour had reduced from 20% to 16.6%. 
  • The overall cut to arts spending, therefore, is, as Ed Vaizey said, 11% over the next four years in real terms - that is, the combined figure for grant-in-aid and Lottery capital. To put that into context, policing and criminal justice will be cut by 20%

Under the last government, the total arts spend (lottery capital plus government revenue) went down. Revenue went up, but Lottery went down by more. However, such is the reliance amongst arts bodies on government revenue that few complained. Now that the revenue is going down, it seems not to be noticed that the Lottery money is going up.

Vaizey has done well so far to get the spending package through without too much complaint - the arts could have been a very awkward constituency for the coalition last year. But now the tendency of the government to perform u-turns is giving heart to increasing protests amongst the arts sector. Personally, I think it would be a mistake for the arts to become overly politicised on this - they have an opportunity to widen their funding base, and thus their audience. Will too much whingeing merely alienate that audience?

New V&A Extension Shortlist

March 3 2011

Image of New V&A Extension Shortlist

Picture: Snohetta & Hoskins

The V&A has revealed the shortlist of architects for the Exhibition Road space. More on the V&A site here and images on the BBC site here. I like the Snohetta & Hoskins option, above. Cool, eh?

National Gallery Podcast

March 3 2011

Image of National Gallery Podcast

This month's National Gallery podcast is worth a listen. Susan Foister and co discuss the new Gossart exhibition and also the zippy Google Art Project, which features Holbein's Ambassadors in super high-res.  

A new Mabuse?

March 2 2011

Image of A new Mabuse?

A reader has kindly sent me this image, which is an old photo of a painting stolen from a Croatian monastery in 1972. The Madonna and Child was believed by the Franciscan monks of Dubrovnik to be by Mabuse, or Jan Gossart, the star of the National Gallery's new show.

Of course, it is impossible to tell at this distance, but the painting is certainly Mabuse/Gossart/Gossaert-like. The composition is similar to that seen in the c.1520 Mauritshuis/Rijksmuseum Virgin and Child with the Veil, which is no.10 in Maryan Ainsworth's splendid new monograph.

The features and drapery in the Dubrovnik picture seem rather hard, and the pattern was quite widely copied. Nonetheless, it is worth a closer look - so if you know where it is, pray tell...  [More Below]

Robert Edge Pine

Jadranka Beresford-Pierse, who kindly sent me the Mabuse image, is particularly keen to know where this painting by Robert Edge Pine is. It is a portrait of Roger Boscovich, a Croatian polymath who was painted by Pine in London in 1760. This painting was also stolen in 1972. Please spread the image far and wide, and send any hints to Jadranka at the International Trust for Croatian Monuments

Antiguos Maestros Europeos!

March 1 2011


Rare good news for the museum world - the world's richest man, Carlos Slim, is sinking $34m into a museum to display his 66,000 piece private collection. The Soumaya Museum, in Mexico City, will feature an impressive art collection, with works from Rubens to Rodin.  

Unlocking Constable's 'Lock'

March 1 2011

Image of Unlocking Constable's 'Lock'

Picture: Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection.

It seems John Constable's 'The Lock', currently part of Baroness Carmen Thyssen's collection, may be sold. The Baroness' collection of 240 paintings (which includes works by Canaletto, Monet, Picasso etc.) has been valued by Sotheby's at up to EUR700 million.

The collection is currently on loan to the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid. The loan term is set to expire in 2012, and the Baroness and her step-daughter, Francesca Habsburg, disagree over the future of the collection. The Guardian reports that Francesca Habsburg has vetoed the removal of the Constable.

The Museo Thyssen is home to a painting that represents one of the greatest losses of English artistic heritage; Holbein's only surviving panel portrait of Henry VIII. It was sold by Earl Spencer in 1933/4.

Leonardo's 'Lady with an Ermine' cannot travel

March 1 2011

Image of Leonardo's 'Lady with an Ermine' cannot travel

Poland's chief arts conservator has refused permission for Leonardo's 'Lady with an Ermine' to travel to Berlin for an exhibition in August.

Earlier, concerned polish art historians had hoped to prevent the picture going to London for the National Gallery's Leonardo show, which opens in November. However, it appears that the London journey is still on. 

Tyntesfield Unwrapped

February 28 2011


The National Trust have released this splendid time-lapse video of Tyntesfield House being 'unwrapped', following a multi-million pound restoration. 

I was lucky enough to visit Tyntesfield shortly before it was acquired by the Trust. The present Lord Wraxall gave me lunch and a guided tour soon after he inherited from his brother. The place was chaotic, but inestimably charming. Lord Wraxall's reclusive brother had locked the doors to the 20th Century, and under his long ownership the house acquired a uniquely ancient patina. The effect of stepping back in time was spoiled only by the tiny Christie's tags that hung from every moveable object.

Thanks to the Trust, and the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the dreaded tags were removed. I can't wait to see it again.

Gainsborough goes to China

February 28 2011

Image of Gainsborough goes to China

Is this a first? Gainsborough's 'The Marsham Children' will go on display in Beijing as part of 'Art of the Enlightenment' from 2nd April 2011 to 31st March 2012. The exhibition will be in the National Museum of China, and is made up of loans from a trio of German museums. Exhibition website here

All Hail Maryan Ainsworth

February 26 2011

Image of All Hail Maryan Ainsworth

Of the many positive reviews of the excellent ‘Jan Gossaert’s Renaissance’ at the National Gallery (Guardian, Telegraph, Independent), none mention the driving force behind the show, Met Museum curator Maryan Ainsworth. I am in awe of what she has achieved. [More below]

Not only has she put on a first-class display in both New York and London devoted to a relatively unknown artist – not easy in this age of blockbuster shows – but she has compiled a monograph catalogue to accompany it. I thought monographic exhibitions were dead and buried, but happily not. The catalogue even has a section  called ‘Paintings previously Attributed to Gossart’, which immediately suggests thoroughness, and, whisper it, connoisseurship. Finally, the acknowledgments reveal that the exhibition and catalogue were first proposed only in 2007. What an undertaking.

The 484 page catalogue costs £60, but is well worth it. If only there was a cheaper paperback available at the National Gallery so that more people could learn about this great painter. Instead visitors have to make do with a £20 ‘Exhibition Book’ called ‘From Van Eyck to Gossart’, which includes only a handful of works by Gossart.  

Ps – I can’t help but feel sorry for Gossart. His name is changed so often, it is hardly surprising he is so little known. He preferred to call himself ‘Joannes/Johannes Malbodius’, or ‘John of Mabuse’. For many centuries he was therefore known as ‘Mabuse’. Now art historians call him ‘Jan Gossart’. In England, we persist in spelling this incorrectly as ‘Jan Gossaert’.

Looted Strozzi Refused Export Licence

February 25 2011

Image of Looted Strozzi Refused Export Licence

Picture: Philippa Calnan. 'Saint Catherine of Alexandria' by Bernardo Strozzi.

Title to a fine Strozzi seized in 1942 under Mussolini's anti-Jewish laws has been returned to its original owner's American heirs. But the picture itself cannot leave Italy after it was refused an export licence. It has been valued at $700,000. More here

Epic Guardi to be sold at Sotheby's - Aristo sell-off continues

February 24 2011

Image of Epic Guardi to be sold at Sotheby's - Aristo sell-off continues

Picture: New York Times

Sotheby’s have announced a highlight of their next Old Master sale in London in July; Francesco Guardi’s ‘Venice, a View of the Rialto Bridge from the Fondamenta del Carbon’. The nearly 4ft by 6ft 'about $30m' canvas belongs to the family of the 1st Earl of Iveagh.

The sale demonstrates what I have suspected for a while – that we are witnessing the last hurrah of aristocratic art disposals. The following families have recently put a number of masterpieces up for sale; the Earls of Clarendon (Van Dyck), Jersey (Van Dyck), Rosebery (Turner), Wemyss (Poussin), Spencer (Rubens), and the Dukes of Portland (Van Dyck), Rutland (Poussin) and Sutherland (Titian). Even the Duke of Westminster is selling (Claude), though why is a mystery - he hardly needs the cash… [more below]

The consequence is that the UK's museum acquisition funds are being exposed as inadequate. Many significant works, like the Getty's new Turner, may now be lost overseas. We are facing a national heritage crisis.

There is one simple solution. For reasons I have never understood, the Heritage Lottery Fund resists funding acquisitions. As a result, museums rely on the dwindling National Heritage Memorial Fund of just £5m a year. But now that the government has increased the HLF’s share of Lottery cash (already £205m last year, with an extra £40m after the Olympics), surely the time has come for the HLF to step in, and help secure our national collection? 


In Minneapolis...

February 24 2011

Image of In Minneapolis...

...they censor Titian.

A poster for 'Titian and the Golden Age of Painting' at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts has been covered up with graffiti. Apparently, some locals 'weren't comfortable seeing nudity outside of the museum.'

Rembrandt Research Project to close

February 24 2011

Image of Rembrandt Research Project to close

Picture: Otto Naumann Ltd. Detail from Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo, 1658.

The Rembrandt Research Project, which has been cataloguing the works of the great master since 1968, is to be closed down. This means that the final planned volume will be published in a reduced format. 

When the project started it set about drastically reducing the number of accepted works. The tally went down to less than 250, but has now gone back up to around 320 under the famous connoisseurship of Ernst Van de Wetering. Pictures once excluded but now back in favour include the Frick Collection's Polish Rider, and the Royal Collection's Self-Portrait in a Flat Cap.

This story was in the Art Newspaper print edition last month, but has just been put online today. 

The portraits always go first...

February 24 2011


Footage apparently from Fashloum, in Tripoli.

Going, going... Gone.

February 23 2011

Image of Going, going... Gone.

Picture: Sotheby's

Excitement is building in LA, as the Getty prepares for the arrival on 7th March of J M W Turner's masterpiece, 'Modern Rome - Campo Vaccino'.

The picture is a great loss. It belonged to the family of the Earls of Rosebery, and was sold at Sotheby's last year for £29.7m. No UK museum could hope to match the price, and none tried.

Isn't it time to look again at the whole question of acquisitions and export rules?

How those Titians came onto the market

February 23 2011

Image of How those Titians came onto the market

NPR (National Public Radio, in the US) has a good five minute story on how the Duke of Sutherland's two Titians came to be in Scotland, and why they were put up for sale.

It includes an interview with John Leighton, the Director-General of the National Galleries of Scotland. He recalls how the Sutherland collection came to be on loan in his gallery in the first place;

"There's a very nice letter in our archives where the Duke of Sutherland writes to the gallery saying that he finds himself in the embarrassing position of not having enough room," says Leighton. "Would we be prepared to take some pictures by Rembrandt, Poussin, Titian, Raphael on loan?" the duke had asked.

Leighton goes on to say that at £50m apiece the pictures are 'a bargain', and probably half price. He's right. In many ways, the present Duke of Sutherland's handling of the sale is one of the great acts of modern arts philanthropy.  

'Now, for the Rubens estimated at £4-6m... do I hear £1m?'

February 23 2011

Image of 'Now, for the Rubens estimated at £4-6m... do I hear £1m?'

Picture: Sotheby's

Martin Bailey of the Art Newspaper has flagged up some astonishing developments in the case of the Rubens/notRubens portrait that was stopped for export in January.

I discussed earlier the difficulties the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art must have had when deciding whether to stop the painting being exported, given the uncertainty over the attribution. Now, however, the story has taken a bizarre twist. It reveals the immense power of the single acknowledged expert, and the potential pitfalls of submitting a painting to the Reviewing Committee.

The basic facts are; [more below]

  • The portrait was previously unknown, and was offered at Sotheby's in December 2009 with an estimate of £4-6m. 
  • It failed to sell. Most scholars accepted it, but some did not, most notably Hans Vlieghe, who is as emminent as they come.
  • The vendors then decided they wanted to have the picture in the USA, where they also have interests. 
  • The picture was submitted to the Reviewing Committee at a valuation of £3.8m. 
  • An expert adviser, David Jaffe of the National Gallery, recommended the painting be stopped for export, as being of outstanding aesthetic significance.
  • The Committee could not agree on the valuation for any interested museum to buy it, and so two independent valuations were sought. The owner's valuer proposed £2.8m, the government's £1m.

Now, here is where it gets interesting. Since nobody could agree between the £2.8m valuation and the £1m valuation, an arbitrator was appointed to establish a final valuation. When a work of art is submitted to the Committee, the owner has to indicate that they will accept an offer to purchase from a museum, at whatever valuation the Committee decides on. If they withdraw, then the picture remains theirs, but cannot be exported for ten years. It can place owners in a very difficult position.

But the arbitrator appointed was - Hans Vlieghe!

I cannot quite believe this. Of course, Hans Vlieghe, believing that the picture was not by Rubens, had no choice but to decide on the lowest possible valuation, which was £1m (indeed, as merely 'Flemish School', it is worth less than half that). 

Was it really a fair decision to appoint Hans Vlieghe as arbitrator, either to him or the picture's owner? The owners may now feel compelled to sell the picture at one quarter of the low estimate that Sotheby's originally valued the painting at. 

If you had a million quid, and you believed the picture was 'right' (as we say in the trade) you could buy it under the 'Ridley Rules'. These allow for a private buyer to step in and purchase the painting at the set valuation, as long as it is displayed on loan for 100 days of the year in a museum. You would then hold it for a number of years, and hope that scholastic opinion accepts the painting as by Rubens. In which case, could you not then sell it at something close to Sotheby's original valuation? You have until March 17th to signal your interest...

Full details of the case here.


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