Don't move Emmeline! (ctd.)

September 6 2018

Video: via You Tube

I mentioned earlier the misguided attempt to move a statue of the leading Suffragette, Emmeline Pankhurst, from Victoria Green beside Parliament to the campus of Regent's University in Regent's Park. The statue was erected by the Suffragette Fellowship in 1930 and unveiled by the then Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin. The video above shows the unveiling, and part of Baldwin's speech (the sound must be dubbed in).

The plan to move the statue is the brainwave of a former Tory MP Sir Neil Thorne. He wants to erect another statue of Pankhurst in Canning Green, a narrow strip of grass to the west of Parliament Square. And because you couldn't have two Pankhurst statues so close to each other, the argument goes, we need to move the existing one, which, incidentally could not itself be moved to Canning Green because 'it is too small'.

This is really the daftest possible idea. Pankhurst had no connection with Regent's University, and the Suffragette Fellowship specifically wanted the statue to be as close to Parliament as possible, and gave the government an endowment to pay for its upkeep. (They intiially wanted it to be in Parliament Square, but the government of the day baulked at the idea, and offered Victoria Gardens instead.) But Thorne's proposal seems to have a good chance of happening, almost by accident. A planning proposal is under consideration by Westminster Council. And for the plan to have got to that stage means it already has the approval of the owners of the current site in Victoria Green, the Royal Parks. 

Currently, objections to the plan have focused on the planning application. But I've found that the statue in fact belongs to the government, specifically the Department for Culture Media and Sport, as successor body to the Ministry of Works. It should be in the government's power to immediately veto the idea. Hopefully, political pressure can be brought to bear. Happily, the Houses of Parliament have opposed the plan, with the curator's office commissioning this excellent report, which states that moving the statue would do 'serious harm' to the site and area.

This is not the first attempt to move the statue. When Rodin's Burghers of Calais was due to be placed in Victoria Green in 1958, the then government wanted to move the Pankhurst statue further away from Parliament. A great protest was launched, and the government agreed that while the statue needed to be moved, it should be moved closer to Parliament, and the base enlarged with a memorial to Emmeline's daughter, Christabel. The then minister, Nigel Birch, gave 'the most categorical assurance to the Suffragette Fellowship that there is no intention of any kind of moving the statue again'.

What I find most troubling about the whole affair is the assumption that we, today, know best how to commemorate Pankhurst. The existing statue is not just a memorial to her, but, through its very creation and siting, to the wider Suffragette movement. Moving it to Regent's Park - in the centenary year of women getting the vote - would be a terrible act of historical and art historical vandalism.

You can make your own objection to the plans at Westminster Council's planning portal here. All AHN readers are urged to do so!

Tinder for art buyers

September 6 2018

Video: Obvious

The people behind the artificial intelligence portrait being sold at Christie's (see below) are also making an AI tool to help people buy art. The video above tells that searching for art online can be 'tedious and time consuming'. So their programme works by showing you a few examples which you either swipe to like or dislike, which is how Tinder works (I'm told). Then the programme learns what you like, and offers you a shortlist, which you can then buy directly through the app (with, I presume, a commission for the makers).

All of which I find rather dispiriting. If you're lucky enough to have the budget to buy works of art, then choosing for yourself is a rich and rewarding process. How can anybody find it 'tedious'?! 

AI art

September 6 2018

Video: Obvious

There was a great deal of press excitement over Christie's decision to sell a painting made by artificial intelligence. Portrait of Edmond Bellamy, made by the French art collective Obvious will be auctioned in October with an estimate of £5k-£7k. There'll be a lot of vested interest, so watch it fly.

The picture was made by feeding an algorithm 15,000 portraits from the 14th to the 20th Centuries. And the end result was a blurry smudge that looks like, well, 15,000 portraits from the 14th to the 20th Centuries mixed together. Above is a video from Obviosu which shows how the end result was made. The Baron had a wife, called Comtesse de Belamy, which you can see being made here

I'm not one of those to say 'this isn't art'. Sure it's art. But I think we're entitled to say it's not much good. There's a lot of talk at the moment about computers taking away human jobs. But I think artists can rest easy. As the AI painting shows, if you try and make art that can only ever look back, it's not going to be very successful. You need human ingenuity to create the art of the future.

More here in a well written and mercifully giff free piece on 

Installing Koon's 'Play-Doh'

September 6 2018

Video: Christie's

I wish the Deputy Editor was this tidy when using Play-doh.

Museum of London buys c.1815 view of London

September 6 2018

Image of Museum of London buys c.1815 view of London

Picture: Sotheby's

I missed the excellent news that the Museum of London managed to buy at auction in London the enormous c.1815 panorama of London taken from beside Westminster Abbey by Pierre Prévost. Over six metres long, the panorama records the city in astonishing detail - for example, you can even see the restoration of the Henry VII chapel at Westminster Abbey in progress. And of course the picture gives an excellent view of the Houses of Parliament before the fire of 1832. 

I remember standing in front of the painting at the Sotheby's view saying to people; the Museum of London should buy this! And wonderfully, they did, which was no mean feat. The estimate was £200,000-£300,000 and the final price was £250,000. Well done to everyone involved.  

How to make copies interesting

September 6 2018

Video: Sotheby's

Sotheby's has a new online auction category; Old Master copies. In the above video, Georgina Eliot explains why we're wrong to often be so dismissive of 'copies'. Bidding ends on 13th September, and the sale catalogue here. I love the memorial portrait of Charles I, which looks like a very early copy after Van Dyck, not least because it's on panel. Was it the sort of thing produced illicitly during the Interregnum?

'Old Masters, New Perspectives'

September 6 2018

Video: Sotheby's

A nice video from Sotheby's highlighting their recent attempts to take Old Masters to new audiences. Where the art market leads, will museums follow?

'How the internet changed the art world'

September 3 2018

Image of 'How the internet changed the art world'

Picture: CNN

There's a good piece on CNN by the former Christie's CEO, Steven Murphy, on how the online age has changed the art world. Including this take on museum attendance:

Similarly, museum and gallery attendance has not flagged since the digital revolution. As with music, art becomes more coveted the more it is experienced. New York's Museum of Modern Art has around 4 million Instagram followers. At the same time, there has been an exponential increase in museum attendance worldwide. That's not a coincidence. The availability of information about museum exhibitions and about art online is driving people to see the actual original work in the flesh. 

Of course, access to this enormous new potential audience relies on museums not being so restrictive with their images, and not shouting at people who take photos. 

Leonardo sketchbooks in high-res

September 3 2018

Image of Leonardo sketchbooks in high-res

Picture: V&A

The V&A has put its five Leonardo sketchbooks online in high-res. Flick through 'em all here

Salvator Mundi unveiling delayed

September 3 2018

Image of Salvator Mundi unveiling delayed

Picture: via Twitter

You wait ages for a Salvator Mundi post on AHN, and then three come along at once...

It's just been announced that the picture will not go on display this month as planned. No reason was given, and no new date has been announced. More here.  

Salvator Mundi - not Leonardo, but Luini? (ctd.)

September 3 2018

Image of Salvator Mundi - not Leonardo, but Luini? (ctd.)

Picture: TAN

There was a flurry of excitement last month when the Oxford art historian Matthew Landrus said he could 'prove' that Bernardo Luini painted 'most' of the Salvator Mundi now in the Louvre Abu Dhabi. In The Art Newspaper, Landrus now sets out some of that proof. And I must say I'm not entirely convinced.

Landrus' case relies in part on the fact that if (using Photoshop, above) you overlap the head in the Salvator Mundi with a copy of the painting (called the 'De Ganay' version) and the head of Christ in Luini's Christ Among the Doctors, all three faces 'compare remarkably well.' But since Luini's Christ Among the Doctors was almost certainly painted after the Salvator Mundi, such analysis only tells us that Luini, like so many artists, was highly influenced by Leonardo. Landrus also now writes that the Salvator Mundi is 'by Leonardo da Vinci and his studio'. And even if we accept that as the basis of the case for Luini's involvement in the picture, we need first to address whether Leonardo would have left the most significant part of the picture to assistants. 

Landrus' new book on Leonardo is published later this month by Carlton.

New provenance for the Salvator Mundi?

September 3 2018

Image of New provenance for the Salvator Mundi?

Picture: Christie's

There's an interesting story from Alison Cole in The Art Newspaper on some possible new, early provenance for Leonardo's Salvator Mundi; it may have been in the collection of the Duke of Hamilton before it was acquired by Charles I. It all sounds quite plausible. More here.

Fire destroys Rio's National Museum

September 3 2018

Video: AFP

Fire has destroyed Brazil's 200 year old National Museum. Some 200 million items are feared to have been lost. More here from The Guardian, including this sad observation:

At the scene, several indigenous people gathered and criticised the fact that the museum containing their most precious artefacts has burned down seemingly because there was no money for maintenance of hydrants, yet the city had recently managed to find a huge budget to build a brand new museum of tomorrow.

Artemesia heads for the National Gallery (ctd.)

September 3 2018

Video: National Gallery

The National Gallery conservation team has finished cleaning the Gallery's newly acquired Artemisia Gentileschi self-portrait. Despite the odd ding, it's in very good underlying condition. It's been trimmed a bit at the top. 


August 28 2018

Video: BBC

Sorry for the lack of news lately - I'm writing some catalogue entries, and am a bit tied up in the 17th Century.

The last episode of 'Britain's Lost Masterpieces' will be shown tomorrow (Wednesday) on BBC4 at 9pm. Is it a case of 'Titian Impossible'? You can see the rest of the shows on the BBC iPlayer here.

If you're outside the UK, I'm afraid the iPlayer doesn't work for you, and it would be quite wrong for someone to have put the programmes up on You Tube, so you certainly can't watch them there either.  

'Good place for a rummage'

August 21 2018

Video: BBC

Here's a clip from the second episode of Britain's Lost Masterpieces, which airs on Wednesday, 9pm on BBC4. Emma Dabiri and I are in Manchester, looking into a painting which I think is by Zoffany.

In case you missed the first programme, on Rembrandt, it's here

Don't move Emmeline!

August 20 2018

Video: UK Parliament

There's a very strange proposal to move a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst from beside Parliament. Something called the Emmeline Pankhurst Trust has lodged a planning appeal with Westminster Council to be allowed to move the statue to Regent's University in Regent's Park in London. This would be a travesty to the memory of Pankhurst and the struggle for women's suffrage, and I cannot quite believe the idea has been taken seriously by Westminster Councel even for one second.

The statue was erected beside Parliament in 1930, and unveiled by the then Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin. In the video above, made last year, the art curator of the Houses Parliament, Melanie Unwin, reveals that this is not the first time people have had to fend off attempts to move the statue away from Parliament. A key part of the statue's meaning and purpose is that it is beside Parliament, as the people who originally erected it demanded - and there it must stay.

You can read more about the proposals here on the blog of Elizabeth Crawford and through her site you can also lodge a protest with Westminster Council. 

Oxford Art Journal prize

August 20 2018

Image of Oxford Art Journal prize

Picture: Oxford Art Journal

Entries are open for this year's Oxford Art Journal essay prize. It's for those who are early on in the art historical careers, and needs to be between 6,000 and 10,000 words. The prize is prestige, and £500 of OUP books. More here

Art history jewels

August 20 2018

Image of Art history jewels

Picture: via Two Nerdy History Girls

Here's an interesting blog post by Loretta Chase & Susan Holloway Scott, looking into the history of some famous pearl earrings worn by English Queens, including Henrietta Maria (below). They now belong to a private collector, having last been sold at Christie's in New York in 1979 for $253,000. 

Why museums should abolish image fees (ctd.)

August 20 2018

Image of Why museums should abolish image fees (ctd.)

Picture: BMT

I recently brought you the news that Birmingham Museums Trust was planning to abolish fees for most images of its collection. On Europeana, the Trust's Digital Development Manager, Linda Spurdle, sets out the reasons behind the move in clear logic that I hope other UK museums will study closely. She begins by saying that restrictive image licenses:

[...] deflected people who wanted to use BMT’s images in ways that would have increased the visibility and knowledge of our collection. Academics, in particular, felt like we were acting as gatekeepers, blocking the use of images in research and academic publications. It was also very difficult for us to enforce this licence as we don’t have the resources to pursue people who use images commercially without permission. [...]

BMT has much in common with other cultural institutions worldwide who have released their images into the public domain. We want to make our collection accessible to as many people as possible, and this includes extending the reach and use of its digital assets worldwide.

She then lists a number of reasons why Open Access is good for Birmingham Museums, but the first is quite interesting:

[it] meets legal requirements of the Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2015

The RPSI regulations might yet be our strongest tool for helping abolish museum image fees in the UK. They're quite complex, and little known about, but the essence of them is that they prevent publicly funded bodies from commercialising public assets. And of course images of publicly owned paintings are public assets. The rules do allow image fees to be charged, but only to cover the actual costs involved, and a very small 'profit'. There's little doubt that most UK museums who charge image fees are breaching these rules. Many museums don't even know about them. 

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