Portland Collection opens new gallery

March 12 2016

Video: Portland Collection/Harley Gallery

We often hear about museums closing here in the UK, but every now and then some exciting new ones open. The latest is a new gallery at Welbeck Abbey, which will put treasures from the Portland Collection on public display for the first time. The video above tells you about the new space, while this piece in The Guardian tells us more about the decision to create it:

From 20 March, the extensive art collection, which to date has simply adorned the walls of the family stately home, is to be opened up in its entirety to the public for the first time.

William Parente, grandson of the seventh Duke of Portland, said his family had taken a decision 15 years ago that this priceless art should no longer be locked away.

“We’d been very private for 50 years and we wanted to open things up. We knew there was this fantastic collection, I’d grown up with it, and we all felt a bit uncomfortable that we were the only ones who saw it,” said Parente.

He said it had been “crucial” that the artwork, of the sort rarely seen outside large London galleries, remained in the local area. By making the public gallery – funded by an endowment from the family – a permanent home for priceless works such as the Michelangelo sketch and five Van Dyck paintings, Parente said he hoped this small corner of Nottingham could grow into a cultural hub.

“Keeping the art in Nottinghamshire was the most important part of this project for us,” he said. “This was once a rich mining area that suffered terribly from the closing of the pits, and still hasn’t recovered. We’ve had the thick end of 30 years of misery, so we were desperate to contribute in any way we could to get things moving and we were keen to use the art as part of this.”

The Welbeck collection is full of Van Dycks, so obviously I can't wait to go.

What makes a painting valuable?

March 11 2016

Image of What makes a painting valuable?

Picture: Sotheby's/TAN

Well, cats for a start. There's no hard and fast rule about what makes an Old Master painting desirable, but I've had a go at explaining the various elements behind value here in The Art Newspaper.

£20m-£30m Rubens at Christie's

March 11 2016

Image of £20m-£30m Rubens at Christie's

Picture: Christie's/FT

The FT kindly asked me to write about Christie's latest stellar consignment, an early-ish Rubens of 'Lot and His Daughters'. You can read the article here.

The picture has never been exhibited, and has been in the same collection since the 19th Century. Yet another picture to challenge the myth of 'supply' in the Old Master market. Well done Christie's for securing the lot. It's in the most exceptional condition - I saw it on Wednesday.


'Fake or Fortune?'

March 10 2016

Image of 'Fake or Fortune?'

Picture: Philip Mould & Co.

Apologies for the lack of action today. I've been in charge of the 'Fake or Fortune?' laptop again.

Come and hear me talk! (ctd.)

March 9 2016

Image of Come and hear me talk! (ctd.)

Picture: Eventbrite

I'll be moderating an evening of talks and debate at the Mall Galleries in London on Thursday 14th April at 6.30pm about Scottish Art. What is it, where does it come from - is there in fact such a thing as 'Scottish Art'? Speakers include the broadcaster and author Andrew Marr, Alice Strang (curator of modern art at the Scottish National Galleries), and Lachlan Goudie, the artist and broadcaster whose recent BBC series on Scottish art wowed us all. The Mall Galleries are also hosting an exhibition of works by Lachlan's father, Alexander. And of course, there'll be free booze. Tickets are available here.

Update - the event suddenly sold out yesterday, thanks everyone for your interest!

Come and hear me talk!

March 9 2016

Image of Come and hear me talk!

Picture: Earl of Wemyss/Gosford Estates

I'll be giving a talk at the Scottish National Galleries in Edinburgh on 4th April at 6.30pm on 'The True Face of Bonnie Prince Charlie'. It'll be all about the discovery of the above portrait of Charles Edward Stuart by Allan Ramsay, and how the Prince's iconography has changed as a result. I'm told that, somehow, over 150 people have already been persuaded to come, but doubtless this is due to the free glass of wine on offer. There are still some tickets left; more details here.


March 8 2016


Telly beckons for most of this week, I'm afraid, so apologies for the lack of action here...

"The Guerilla Girls"

March 7 2016

Video: CBS

I've only just come across The Guerilla Girls, who are (according to their website):

[...] feminist masked avengers in the tradition of anonymous do-gooders like Robin Hood, Wonder Woman and Batman. How do we expose sexism, racism and corruption in politics, art, film and pop culture? With facts, humor and outrageous visuals.

Here is one of their posters:

Earlier this year the Girls featured on a US talk show with Stephen Colbert (above), where they made many sound points, especially about the state of the contemporary art world. They argue that it reflects merely the needs and desires of mega-rich, male collectors - which of course is true. Of course, t'was ever thus, and by coincidence I touch on this point with regard to Old Masters in a new piece for The Art Newspaper. (It's not online, and you'll have to buy the print edition to read it.) 

While I'm not one for earnestly trying to correct any past male bias in art history (we are where we are), I like the Guerilla Girls' view that we should see the history of art as more of a history of power. But in a sense all history is that.

Update - my Art Newspaper piece is now online, here.

TEFAF 2016

March 7 2016

Video: TEFAF

TEFAF Maastricht opens this week, on Friday (with a preview on Thursday), and runs till Sunday 20th March. I'll be going for a nose around on Wednesday, well after all the canapé chasers have departed. Good luck to those exhibiting!

'The Renaissance Unchained'

March 7 2016

Video: BBC

The final part of the Great Waldemar's 'Renaissance Unchained' goes out tonight on BBC4 at 9pm; well worth watching.

Breughel's 'Birdtrap' at Dorotheum in April

March 7 2016

Video: Dorotheum

I like to keep an eye on auction house's social media efforts, so it's good to see that Dorotheum (Austria's pre-eminent auctioneers) are making videos now. The above looks at a Pieter Brueghel the Younger 'Birdtrap' on offer in their April Old Master sale. We learn the astonishing fact that there are apparently 46 versoins of this scene by the artist. 

No estimate is given in the video, alas. (Dorotheum folks, estimates are essential in videos like this!).

Update - a reader writes:

Brueghel estimate in the video on the label on the wall, bottom right €700-900k estimate.  Not clear I grant you!

The state of the Old Master market

March 6 2016

Image of The state of the Old Master market

Picture: Sotheby's/Getty

The Art Newspaper kindly asked me for my take on the state of the Old Master market, and you can read my piece either in the latest (excellent) print edition, or online here.


"Van Dyck" at the Frick

March 6 2016

Video: The Frick Collection

I greatly enjoyed the new Van Dyck exhibition athe Frick Collection in New York, 'Van Dyck, the Anatomy of Portraiture'. I will write in more depth about the show and the exhibits, but in the meantime, here is my review in The Financial Times

The show is open now, till 5th June. There is a superb catalogue available here.

"Botticelli Reimagined" at the V&A

March 6 2016

Video: V&A

Both Laura Freeman in The Spectator and Jackie Wullschlager in the FT were left scratching their heads at the V&A's new Botticelli Reimagined exhibition, which (as is the way these days) insists on mixing up anything vaguely old with hastily assembled dross from the world of contemporary art, presumably out of a fear that people are only interested in art that is 'new'.

Says Freeman:

It’s an oddly back-to-front exhibition. We begin with the art of the past few decades, move on to the rediscovery of Botticelli in the 19th century, and end in 15th-century Florence with the artist and his workshop. Co-curator Ana Debenedetti explains that the intention was to begin with the two most famous images and ‘peel back the layers of history’ to show how Botticelli has been made and remade. [...] It is counterintuitive and maddening to the visitor.

Happily, says Wullschlager, the old stuff knocks the new out of the park:

Vanquished by the power and sincerity of Old Master painting, the imaginatively bankrupt phantoms of conceptual art take flight, like the little devils scurrying away beneath the jewelled colours, verdant pastoral and giant Virgin in the foreground of Botticelli’s archaic, mesmerising “Mystic Nativity”. 

A Grand Tour at Chatsworth

March 6 2016

Image of A Grand Tour at Chatsworth

Picture: Chatsworth/"A Grand Tour"

There's a new exhibition at Chatsworth opening soon, which features many works usually not on the usual visitor route. The show focuses on the Grand Tour, and opens on 19th March-23rd October. More here on the Chatsworth website.


Other museums in the area are involved in a series of related exhibitions called "The Grand Tour". There's a not entirely satisfactory website, published by Experience Nottinghamshire, to tell you more here. The main feature on the site is a slow and clunky video that's generated just 317 views in eight months. I don't like to be too critical of regional museum efforts, but when you see logos on the site from major funding bodies such as Visit England and the Arts Council you have to wonder how and why the site could be allowed to be so bad. There is no excuse for a primary contact point for potential visitors to be a) so bad, and b) out of date. 

Paxman on Delacroix

March 6 2016

Video: Art Fund UK

Here's Jeremy Paxman's take on the National Gallery's new Delacroix show.

Test your connoisseurship

March 6 2016

Image of Test your connoisseurship

Picture: RA

Poor old Giorgione, his oeuvre steadily whittled away by art historians as they decide much of it is early Titian, to the extent that his agreed output is now so limited we must wonder how he was ever so famous in his day. Now, in the Royal Academy's news exhibition on Giorgione, visitors will be asked to decide who painted the above picture, Portrait of a Young Man; Titian or Giorgione?

This story in The Guardian covers the contrasting views between Prof. Peter Humfrey, who argues for Giorgione, and Prof. Paul Joannides, who plumps for Titian. 

Update - here is Alistair Sooke's review in The Telegraph.

French police seize Liechtenstein Cranach

March 4 2016

Image of French police seize Liechtenstein Cranach

Picture: TAN

Vincent Noce in The Art Newspaper reports on the extraordinary news that police in France have seized a painting by Cranach (above, detail) belonging to the Prince of Liechtenstein, after doubts have apparently been raised over its authenticity and provenance. From TAN:

The work came on to the market in 2012 and was sold in good faith to the Prince in 2013 by Colnaghi Gallery in London. According to information provided to The Art Newspaper, the gallery bought the painting from the manager of an American investment fund for €3.2m and sold it to the Prince for €7m.

The gallery says the painting was discovered “in a Belgian collection, wh ere it had been held since the middle of the 19th century”. The gallery could not provide any further details about this collection and would not comment on the seizure. The authorities are now investigating this provenance, reviving doubts doubts over the work’s authenticity that were raised when the panel first appeared on the market. According to documents, the work had been offered for sale to Christie’s, Sotheby’s and other galleries, and was declined.

Colnaghi says that three leading specialists—Werner Schade, Bodo Brinkmann and Dieter Koepplin—have attributed the painting to Cranach. However other experts have expressed reservations over the condition of the paint, the signature and the winged dragon from Cranach’s family seal next to it, as well as the state of the wooden panel.

A laboratory report, commissioned by Christie’s in advance of its 2012 Old Master auction found six “concerns” that required “further research”. The first of these is the “rather coarse nature” of azurite pigment in the pearls Venus wears in the painting, mixed with titanium white, which was not available until the 20th century. This anomaly could be explained by later restorations, however, the author of the report said. Other concerns include “the manner in which the surface paint is cracked and delaminating from the panel, the nature of the panel itself and the blackish appearance within these cracks”.

The Liechtenstein collection have no doubts as to the painting's authenticity:

The director of the Prince’s collection, Johann Kräftner, says: “We still believe in the authenticity of the painting and are not willing to respond to anonymous gossip.”

You can see the picture in detail on the Colnaghi website here. I am no Cranach expert, and I have not seen the painting in the flesh, so cannot reliably comment on the attribution.

But the point is, would the French police seize a painting that was just thought to be an optimistic attribution, say a picture that was really 'Workshop of Cranach' being upgraded to 'Cranach', especially not if the owner was happy about it? Since when id the French police ever care so deeply about art history? It seems to me, though the article in TAN doesn't make it explicit, that the French police might only be involved in this if there was some suggestion the picture was an out and out modern fake. And they must have some more substantive evidence, one would imagine, before making this bold move to seize the Prince's picture. Is it connected to the existing German police investigation into a claimed forger of Cranach (as covered on AHN here)?

I have, I must say, been aware of some rumours about this painting (and others) for a while. But the art world thrives on this sort of chatter, so it was hard to know whether to take it seriously, and to be honest in this case I didn't. I hadn't heard about Christie's and others rejecting the Colnaghi picture, and nor about the existence of any scientific report. I did hear a tale that some allegedly questionable paintings all came from the same source. But I don't know who that person was, with whom they were dealing, or what pictures they were involved with. Certainly, I have never heard anything about an American fund manager, as mentioned above. So I'm puzzled by this, and at first sight find it hard to believe that there's anything really serious going on.

But all I can say is that if some clever faker really is making fakes of the quality perhaps alleged, then they are the best faker there has ever been. Regular readers will know that on a few occasions I have raised an eyebrow, shall we say, about some new 'discoveries' that have been publicly offered at auction. But if the Liechtenstein Cranach is proved to be a wrong 'un (a massive 'if' at this stage) then we're talking about a whole different level. Of course, if the French Police's investigation widens and develops, then it could end up rocking the very foundations of the art world. Brace yourselves...

Update - Le Figaro reports that the investigation was begun after an anonymous complaint to police about the attribution. I cannot possibly think of any reason why the French police would get involved in a simple case of Old Master attribution. Only two scenarios spring to mind. First, as I suggested above, there is something more sinister going on, and the French police think it might be a case of fakery. Or is it possibly something to do with the curious system in French law whereby a vendor can unravel a sale if they sold something that was misdescribed? Ie, someone sold it as not a Cranach, for a relative trifle, and now wants a greater slice of the action. Maybe Belgian law is similar to French law in this area? 

As you can see, speculation in such cases is pretty pointless; though of course we all do it.

Picassos in the National Gallery

March 2 2016

Image of Picassos in the National Gallery

Picture: NG

Martin Bailey in The Art Newspaper has an interview with Dr Gabriele Finaldi, in which the new director sets out his thinking about how best to display works in the National Gallery. Up for discussion is the current, predominantly 'national' hang. And also the question of when the Gallery stops exhibiting works. At the moment it is 1900, which means that Picasso is out, even though the Gallery owns a Picasso already (above, it's on loan to Tate). It all sounds encouraging and positive.

Renaissance Shoes!

March 2 2016

Image of Renaissance Shoes!

Picture: Marc Allum

Hot on the heels (pun intended) of their "Hogarth" range, Dr Marten now has a range featuring the work of Renaissance artist Biagio D'Antonio.

Antiques Roadshow expert Marc Allum has bought a pair, above. Of course, I'm disappointed the Great Waldemar wasn't wearing them in his new Renaissance Unchained series. Maybe someone can buy him a pair for Christmas.

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