A new Bellotto discovery?

July 12 2015

Image of A new Bellotto discovery?

Picture: Sotheby's

I had a long look at the above picture at Sotheby's last week - a newly discovered work by Bernardo Bellotto (above). Auction houses like Sotheby's are more modest about making discoveries than tarty art dealers like me, and there was no mention in the catalogue that the picture had been consigned to them as a work by an unknown Italian vedute painter. Sotheby's sharp-eyed specialists soon spotted, however, that the composition matched (with minor differences) a drawing by Bellotto, below, made when he was between 13 and 16. The painting therefore seemed to fit as an early work by this important artist.

I'm no expert in this area, but the technique seemed to fit perfectly for early Bellotto, and, a few condition issues notwithstanding, I thought the cataloguing was spot on. Thinking that the estimate of £80,000-£120,000 was a little cheap, I advised a collector to bid on what appeared to be something of a bargain.

But at the last minute a saleroom notice was put up, which read:

Please note that, following first hand inspection, Bozena Anna Kowalczyk is of the opinion that this work is by a follower of Bernardo Bellotto.

In other words, the picture was a copy. Kowalczyk has curated exibitions on Bellotto and his uncle Canaletto, and evidently carries considerable authority. But Sotheby's (rightly I think) stuck firm to their cataloguing. The picture made £473,000.

Italian Museums (ctd.)

July 12 2015

Image of Italian Museums (ctd.)

Picture: TAN

Regular readers will know that Italian mu frequently bangs on about the sometimes appalling state of Italian museums (for example; lax security, arbitrary closures, zero online presence, bad conservation practice, weird attributions).

Now, for the first time in many years, the Italian government is trying to do something about it. The country's top museums have been forced to open nominations for new directors, even (gasp) from overseas, while new funding arrangements are proposed to make museums less dependent on corrupt and parsimonious local governments. More here in The Art Newspaper

Ashmolean campaigns for Turner (ctd.)

July 12 2015

Image of Ashmolean campaigns for Turner (ctd.)

Picture: Ashmolean

Congratulations to the Ashmolean museum, which has successfully raised enough money to acquire a £3.5m view of Oxford High Street by Turner (above). More here

New Daniel Gardner record

July 12 2015

Image of New Daniel Gardner record

Picture: Sotheby's

'Daniel who?', you say? Daniel Gardner was a leading proponent of pastel in Britain in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. He also taught John Constable to paint portraits. Until recently, his pictures have not made huge money at auction, but in 2013 a large group portrait (Mary Sturt with her three eldest children) made £133,875, against an estimate of £50,000-£80,000.

The same estimate was also carried by a portrait sold at Sotheby's last week, of Mary Whitbread, Lady Grey (above), which I thought reasonable enough. The picture made, however, £233,000, establishing a new record for the artist by some margin. The picture was in extremely good condition, which must account for the price I suppose. But nonetheless it seems to me to be something of a breakout price for a category which has hitherto been rather under-appreciated. 

Blockbuster exhibitions - what's the point?

July 12 2015

Image of Blockbuster exhibitions - what's the point?

Picture: RA

The Royal Academy's announcement of a new exhibition next year called Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse has prompted a new round of angst about blockbuster exhibitions. Another Monet exhibition, went the cry?

Here is The Guardian's Jonathan Jones:

This week the Royal Academy’s announcement of its January 2016 blockbuster Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse was greeted with groans. What, more Monet? The editor of the Burlington magazine confessed a “fatigue” with the same famous names being trotted out again and again because they “draw people in”.

Personally, I can take a lot on Monet – what’s not to like about his shimmering contemplative bottomless water garden? – but the really irksome thing about the way our big museums and galleries now operate is right there in the dates. This exhibition opens next January. Why is it even news six months in advance? Why the press breakfasts, pumped-up interviews and remorseless cavalcade of advance publicity?

And here in The Times, is more from Burlington Magazine editor Richard Shone :

Art historians suggest the academy is in thrall to the artist’s power to pull in audiences and there is a danger of “Monet fatigue”. Richard Shone, editor of The Burlington Magazine, says there is a hint of desperation about the show.

“I think there is some fatigue with Monet,” he says. “It’s a name that exhibition organisers almost automatically put on to a title even if the artist is hardly represented. It’s the same with Caravaggio. It just draws people in.

“It does seem a little late in the day for the Royal Academy to be doing this. It’s coming at the end of many Monet shows. I think they’re a bit desperate for their historical shows. Getting these works costs a fortune, but it does put money in the coffers of the RA, which has no government grant. But it’s going a little far.”

Shone, albeit perhaps reluctantly, points out just why the RA (and other institutions) indulge in the crime of putting on exhibitions people are actually keen to see - because they pay the bills, and bring in the funding needed to put on less popular but more academic shows. I see nothing wrong with that; indeed, I applaud it.  

Here is the RA's blurb for the show:

In January 2016, the Royal Academy of Arts will present Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse, a major exhibition examining the role of gardens in the paintings of Claude Monet and his contemporaries. With Monet as the starting point, the exhibition will span the early 1860s to the 1920s, a period of tremendous social change and innovation in the arts, and will include Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Avant-Garde artists of the early twentieth century. It will bring together over 120 works, from public institutions and private collections across Europe and the USA, including 35 paintings by Monet alongside rarely seen masterpieces by Paul Klee, Emil Nolde, Gustav Klimt and Wassily Kandinsky.

'Fake or Fortune?' plug!

July 10 2015

Video: BBC

In my humble opinion, this weekend's episode of 'Fake or Fortune?' is the best we've yet made. The artist in question is Renoir - and in particular a painting (below) said to have belonged to his friend Claude Monet. Above is a clip of the film, where the picture's owner goes to Monet's famous home at Giverny.

BBC1, Sunday, 8pm!

More here

Sleeper alert!

July 10 2015

Image of Sleeper alert!

Picture: Kahn

The above sketch by Jordaens, an early work, made €260,000 in Paris today, against a €600-€800 estimate.

Sleeper alert!

July 10 2015

Image of Sleeper alert!

Picture: Bonhams

This picture, which was displayed unframed in two pieces on a table, soared above its £7,000-£10,000 estimate at Bonhams to make £230,500. The picture was catalogued as Follower of Francesco Furini, but the name of Jacques Blanchard has been whispered to AHN. I looked at it during the viewing, but couldn't make head nor tail of the likely artist. Way off piste for me...

Poor OMP sales

July 10 2015


I am sorry for the lack of posts these last few days. The story of the Old Master sales this week is one of patchiness and disappointment. I'll look at why over the weekend.

London Art Week

July 3 2015

Video: Sotheby's

If you like Old Master paintings, then London is the place to be next week. There are the main sales from Christie's, Bonhams and Sotheby's, as well as special exhibitions from the major dealers. More here

Above, Sotheby's Alex Bell talks about two full-length portraits coming up in their Evening Sale, a Romney and a Batoni.

And there is an interesting introduction to London Art Week from Dr Nicholas Penny, which makes some subtle but important points:

It is a pleasure to write again in support of London Art Week in July because I can tell readers (who can tell their friends and clients) that the National Gallery will remain at the heart of this event, its curators among those moving eagerly from gallery to gallery, from viewing to viewing, opening to opening.

My successor as Director, Dr Gabriele Finaldi, well-known to so many of you, will be conspicuous in the future among them. And will receive you as I have done within the Gallery itself, because we want all collectors, not just of Old Master Paintings, but of Old Master Drawings and Sculpture to support the National Gallery – as all (or almost all) dealers of Old Masters already do of course.

We believe in the pleasure to be obtained from the close scrutiny of a work of art, of looking at it in different lights and seasons, again and again.  And yes, we all believe in the pleasure of possession. Of course dealers generally get over this and sell what they love – although frequently retaining some secret emotional investment in it and planning one day to retrieve it for a while. And we curators and curator-directors (the category to which I belong) have to learn to welcome the rest of the world into our galleries. During this festive week in particular we will, I’m sure, all try to share as well as covet and compete.

Update - Monday: I'm in London viewing the sales, so I'm afraid there might not be much from me today.

Update II - neither full length sold. Curious.

Update III - It's Thursday, so many apologies for the absence of blogging. It's been a busy time up in London. Thanks to all readers who stopped to say hello. 

'Fake or Fortune?' series 4

July 3 2015

Video: BBC

Here's a trailer for the forthcoming series of 'Fake or Fortune?'. The artists under consideration this time are: Renoir, Lowry, Sir Winston Churchill, Alfred Munnings, and an unknown Venetian Old Master.

A Picasso in a suitcase? (ctd.)

July 2 2015

Image of A Picasso in a suitcase? (ctd.)

Picture: Scotsman/Fife Free Press

The story about the apparent discovery of a 'Picasso' in an attic in Scotland has gone around the world. As Maggie Miller, who first broke the story in Fife Free Press, reports:

Within hours of the Fife Free Press’ story, Dominic was interviewed by BBC and ITV news.

The following day, his astonishing discovery was featured in print across the UK and on the internet it went viral reaching Europe, Canada and the United States, followed by South America, Pakistan, China and Japan the next day.

Dominic has been approached by various TV production companies hoping to document his journey as he goes about proving the painting’s authenticity.

The story so far is that the picture - which is strikingly similar to a Picasso in the art institute of Chicago (below, right) - was a gift to the mother of Dominic Currie (above, who found the picture in his late mum's suitcase) by his father, a Soviet soldier called Nicolai Vladimirovich, of whose existence Mr Currie only learned about late in life. Mr Currie's mother (whom, growing up, he believed was his sister) apparently had a romance with this soldier in Poland in 1955, when she was on holiday.

The Russian name given, however, is only a christian name and a patronymic - that is, 'Nicolai, son of Vladimir' - and seems to be missing the surname we would usually expect to see. This made looking into the story of how the soldier might have got hold of the Picasso a little difficult.

Nevertheless, I did a reverse Google image search of the photograph of Nicolai Vladimirovich seemingly provided to news outlets by Mr Currie himself (above), but with the frame cropped out. This search revealed that the original photograph is listed on a website called hdstockphoto.com, where it looks as below. It must be, with the same scratches and other details, the same photograph or original image. The hdstockphoto website, in turn, points to the source of that photo - what it calls the 'original website' - being Ebay.

Update - the medals shown, on the right, are Hero of the Soviet Union, and the Order of Lenin; two of the highest military honours of the Soviet Union. In other words, this Nicolai Vladimirovich should be easily identifiable. If he exists.

Update II - a Lynda Currie, who is listed on Mr Currie's Facebook page as selling some of his art on Ebay, has in the last six months bought more than one item from Ebay retailers specialising in Soviet memorabilia. I'm not saying there's anything in this. I'm just sayin'.

Update III - a video interview with Mr Currie is here

Update IV - all the photos used in the press coverage are captioned '(C) Dominic Currie/SWNS'. SWNS is a press agency, which has a website called www.sellusyourstory.com. These are the figures they quote for various stories:

Here is a loose example of what you can typically expect for a real life story (sold as an exclusive). Please remember that these prices can be higher or lower depending on availability of similar stories, quality of photos, the publication’s current budgets, and even the time of year (or other supply and demand factors):

£50 – Providing comment about a topic or issue, or appearing as a small case study.

£100 – Volunteering as a case study / part of a multiple feature.

£200 – Interesting or unusual story.

£500 –  Interesting or unusual story that is rare or related to current news agenda.

£1,000 to £3,000 – Extreme or sensitive story.

£3,000 to £10,000 – Extreme or sensitive story, rare story or unusual story involving a celebrity or public figure.

If you had a painting you thought might be a £100m Picasso, would you sell your story for this kind of money?

Update V - don't they teach the basic stuff in journalism school anymore?

Update VI - looking around Mr Currie's art online, he's actually quite talented.

Update VII - I haven't yet found the original listing for the photograph of 'Nicolai' on Ebay, but I have found what appears to be the frame in which it has been put (below). The Ebay listing for it was last updated on 1st April (inadvertently pertinent, perhaps), and it was bought by what appears to be the Lynda Currie Ebay account from someone called 'Bedfordbroker'. I say appears to be, because buyer details are anonymised on Ebay - but we do know that the Lynda Currie account bought something from the Bedfordbroker account at around this time, and her feedback rating star is both red and has the number 1383 beside it - and both these details appear on the buyer listing for the frame.

Update VIII - they also appear to have bought an 'Old Vintage Student Youth Festival Souvenir Book Russia USSR Soviet Union', for £2, and a Soviet 'Ticket for Wine Tasting' for $6.97.

Update IX - Oh, and a 'large blank canvas'.

Update X - Mr. Currie has confessed. It was a hoax all along. More here.

Sotheby's £130m contemporary sale

July 2 2015

Image of Sotheby's £130m contemporary sale

Picture: Melanie Girlis

There was a protest outside Sotheby's 'record sale' in London last night (I'm not quite sure which record, there's so many of them these days), as photographed above by The Art Newspaper's Melanie Girlis. Such is the way of the contemporary art world, it probably helped prices.

Marion Maneker of the Art Market Monitor has a breakdown of the sale here

The computer as connoisseur

July 2 2015

Image of The computer as connoisseur

Picture: Technologyreview.com

Scientists in Serbia say they have developed a way of telling the difference between an original work of art and a copy, even if they're by the same artist, as in the case of the two identical pictures by Magritte, above. They use 'machine-vision analysis techniques', and this is how they do it:

Their fundamental hypothesis is that the action of creating original art is part of a self-organizing process orchestrated by the brain. As such, it leads to a unique level of complexity in the way paint and colors are used and distributed.

By contrast, the process of copying is much more methodical and leads to lower levels of complexity. And this difference should make it possible to distinguish originals from copies.

But how to tell the difference? Rajkovic and Milovanovic contend that this is possible using wavelet analysis that transforms a two-dimensional image into a time-frequency representation which captures information about the painting at various scales. These scales can be thought of as looking at progressively more blurred images of the paintings.

Rajkovic and Milovanovic perform this analysis using the red, green, and blue channels of a conventional RGB image of each painting. and they repeat the analysis for patches of each painting.

Sure enough, they say a difference in complexity is clearly visible between Caspers’s originals and copies. “For all patches and all the paintings, the mean global complexity of an original painting is larger than the corresponding value of a copy,” they say.

Is this now what we should call connoisseurship (for that is the process the scientists are describing): 'human-vision analysis techniques'?

More here.

Sotheby's Institute of Art

July 2 2015

Learn the Business of Art at Sotheby's Institute of Art from Sotheby's Institute of Art on Vimeo.

Video: Vimeo

I've given quite a few lectures for the Sotheby's Institue of Art, and have been an admirer of what they do (it's one of the few places to teach anything about connoisseurship for a start). It's expensive, but worth considering if you want to work in the art world. 

New law to protect art historians?

June 30 2015

Image of New law to protect art historians?

Picture: Connoisseurs by Honoré Daumier

There has for some years been a trend for people to sue art historians and scholars who do not give the 'right' opinion on a work of art. An academic or curator says your picture is a copy? Sue them.

Some famous cases have involved works by Andy Warhol, where lawsuits (or merely the threat of them) from disgruntled owners ultimately obliged the Warhol Foundation to shut down some of its activities. In France, the owner of a putative Monet (which we featured on 'Fake or Fortune?') sued the Wildenstein Foundation after they refused to list the work as a genuine Monet. And even I've had threatening letters and emails after expressing a view on the attribution or identification of a painting. 

To protect those who merely seek to give an opinion on works of art, and to freely publish that opinion, the New York legislature has now passed "An act to amend the arts and cultural affairs law, in relation to opinions concerning authenticity, attribution and authorship of works of fine art”.

The bill is not yet enacted, and for more details read Kevin P. Ray's blog here. But it's evidently a step in the right direction. For although those who give opinions on authenticity can sometimes be bone-headedly wrong, it seems to me absurd that anyone should be allowed to sue an art historian, and oblige them, via a court, to change their mind. So - well done New York, and I hope other legislatures follow suit. 

New Hermitage website

June 30 2015

Image of New Hermitage website

Picture: Hermitage

The Hermitage in St Petersburg has a new website, and very good it is too. Some of the images are available in high resolution, and the search function is easy to use. The Hermitage was one of the first to have an online collection, many years ago. I'm still baffled, however, by the number of major European museums which still don't have good online databases; the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and the Uffizi in Florence, to name just two.

New Gainsborough drawing discovery

June 30 2015

Image of New Gainsborough drawing discovery

Picture: Bainbridges Auctions

A newly discovered drawing by Thomas Gainsborough is to be sold at auction, with an estimate of £20,000-£30,000. More here

Re-assembling Charles I's art collection

June 29 2015

Image of Re-assembling Charles I's art collection

Picture: Louvre

Here's an exhibition I can hardly wait for: the Royal Academy will, in 2018, bring together a large number of works from the former collection of Charles I. Although many pictures were brought back into the royal collection by Charles II - after the great Commonwealth sale of the collection in 1649 - a large number of works escaped overseas, and these are the ones the RA (working with the Royal Collection Trust) hopes to bring back.

Another little-known loss to the royal collection came in the late 17th Century, when William III took a stack of pictures with him to Holland, to furnish his palace at Het Loo. The British government tried to get them back after William's death, but the Dutch resisted. Eventually some of them were even sold, after the Dutch government ran into financial trouble. 

More on the 2018 show here, where the Surveyor of the Queen's pictures, Desmond Shawe-Taylor, discusses the show's aims in further detail. 

A Picasso in a suitcase?

June 29 2015

Image of A Picasso in a suitcase?

Picture: Scotsman

An artist here in Scotland claims to have found a painting by Picasso in an old suitcase of his mother's. The picture had lain undisturbed for decades, says Dominic Currie, above, but was opened after his mother's recent death. Apparently, Mr Currie's mother met and fell pregnant to a Russian soldier whilst on a holiday to Poland in 1955, and the picture was a gift from him. More here

Update - some doubts raised here in the Mail, by some who think it looks to be a pastiche based on another work by Picasso in Chicago, his portrait of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (below right).

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