Introducing 'Pricasso'

September 27 2016

Video: ITV/This Morning

Ever wanted to have your portrait painted by a penis? This fellow in pink, Tim Patch, is happy to oblige. He goes by the name of 'Pricasso' - geddit? Apparently you can get a video of him painting your picture too, and there's too pay grades, one for aroused, and one for not. Guess which is the most expensive.

Incidentally, the 18th Century British portraitist John Astley used to do this - so it's nothing new. How long till the PhD thesis on penis painters?


2016 Turner Prize

September 26 2016

Video: AFP

This year's Turner prize features the usual load of whatever, and a giant bum with no hole.

'Britain's Lost Masterpieces' (ctd.)

September 26 2016


Video: Tern Television/BBC

Here are the pre-titles for Britain's Lost Masterpieces.

'Britain's Lost Masterpieces' (ctd.)

September 26 2016

Image of 'Britain's Lost Masterpieces' (ctd.)

Picture: Swansea Museum

I'm delighted to be able to tell you about the first news story from Britain's Lost Masterpieces. It's about the discovery of a beautiful and rare study by Jacob Jordaens, Atalanta and Meleager. Above is a post-restoration photo. Below is what it looked like when we first saw it. I've never seen such disastrous overpaint before. Fortunately, it was easy to remove.

The finished picture is in the Prado Museum, and can be seen here.

I'll be writing a much fuller piece on the painting and what it means for Jordaens' oeuvre (quite a lot, it turns out). But in the meantime, here is a piece I've written for the Art UK site, which was how we first came across the painting. 

There's been quite a lot of news coverage. Here's The Sunday Times. It's been interesting to see how the news gets repeated by other sources, who can then make the occasional mistake. One newspaper, for example, said that the discovery would be shown in a new episode of Fake or Fortune?. While Artnet news came up with something very curious about us proving the painting by dating the frame!

Update - alas, it looks like Swansea Museum is facing unprecedented budget cuts. Let's hope any renewed interest in their collections can help fend off the local authority axe wielders.

Brian Sewell sale

September 26 2016

Image of Brian Sewell sale

Picture: The Times

Just a reminder that the Brian Sewell sale is tomorrow at Christie's. I am very sad to report that I haven't been able to view the sale, nor can I make it to the auction. I'd really have loved to see his collection together. I will have to lurk in the auction room online to see what I can pick up. 


Auricular frames conference

September 26 2016

Image of Auricular frames conference

Picture: National Trust images

I've been asked to remind any framing fans that there'll be a conference at the Wallace Collection on auricular frames (often great works of art int heir own right) next month. Details here

Publishing art history digitally

September 26 2016

Image of Publishing art history digitally

Picture: NYU

There's an interesting conference coming up in New York in October about publishing art history digitally. It's at New York University - details here. The pitch says:

This event brings together art historians and publishing experts to share their views on the future of publishing digital art history. Combining a lecture and two roundtables, this symposium will be of interest to all those involved in, or wishing to embark on, digital publishing, as well as to those who are looking for solutions to publishing digital humanities research in compact online formats.

Organized by Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide, the event is funded by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and the NYU Center for the Humanities and is free of charge. It will be followed up by a hands-on professional development workshop at the College Art Association annual meeting in February, open to all CAA registrants at no extra cost.

Art history is, by and large, certainly behind the times when it comes to digital publication. But for me, the real change we need to make is not in the technology we use, but the attitudes we take. The printed page has primacy over everything, and there's a sense that really serious art history shouldn't be published online. If it is published online, then it's as an adjunct to a physical publication, like the Burlington Magazine with its £15-a-go PDFs: yesterday's technology at (what should be) yesterday's prices.

In other words, digital comes second. The publication of art historical research is still done primarily in a way that hasn't changed for centuries. You write it out, send it to a  publisher, and then they print it on paper, often with small and bad illustrations, and ship it out to institutions and shops in the hope that some people will buy it or read it. All of which is great - I love a nice book as much as anyone - but it's not necessarily the best way to get people engaged in the work art historians do. 

For me, it comes down to why art historians do what they do. Do they research new facts and make new discoveries for their own pleasure? Or do they do it because they want to be able to share their research with others, to communicate their passions, and inform wider audiences? If it's the latter, then surely digital publishing is the way forward. Not digital in the sense that an online version might be made available of a hard copy, in either a PDF or a clunky flipbook. But real, shareable, interactive, connected digital publishing. Art historians deal in images, primarily, so why don't we publish our research in such a way that allows us to easily click from one image to another, in glorious high-resolution, or x-ray or infra-red? 

If we assume that only a small audience of already academically minded readers want to read our research, which is how most art historical publications currently operate, then we shouldn't be surprised if fewer and fewer people are interested in what we do. We must let other people into the conversation - and the digital door is the easiest one to open.

'Moving Pictures'

September 23 2016

Video: BBC

Radio programmes about art, as paradoxical as it sounds, can often be really stimulating. Of course, nowadays digital media means radio programmes have evolved somewhat. 'Moving Pictures' is a fantastic new series on BBC Radio 4, which looks at one painting in detail, and combines the commentary with high-resolution digital photographs. In the clip above, Cathy Fitzgerald looks at Breughel the Elder's 'The Harvesters'. More here

I hope programmes like this can encourage more close-looking in arts programmes. Too often, we're only allowed to see art on the telly through wide shots, with someone waving their arms in front of a painting. We've tried to avoid this, of course, in Britain's Lost Masterpieces.


September 23 2016

Image of #ArtforHillary

Picture: Jeff Koons

Artists are lending their support to Hillary Clinton by selling works under the hashtag #ArtforHillary. Marvellous. But probably Jeff Koons' effort, Gazing Ball (da Vinci Mona Lisa), above, is the sort of thing Donald Trump would have on his wall. 

More on Koons' Gazing Ball series in this guffy video here.

Update - perhaps I'm being too harsh. It seems Trump doesn't like any art at all, according to this piece in ArtNews by M. H. Miller. The article is well worth a click, but here are a few gems:

Commenting on a work by Chris Ofili, he said:

“It’s not art. It’s absolutely gross, degenerate stuff.” Note the word “degenerate.” There was, of course, another politician who used that adjective to describe works of art that offended him.

Not surprising from the man who allegedly kept a book of Hitler's speeches by his bed.

And Trump was once taken to Moma to look at a Warhol:

Trump arrives in a foul mood, and tosses his overcoat and some binders onto a Donald Judd floor piece, apparently mistaking it for a conference table.

Update II - by the way, AHN predicts a Trump victory in November. 

An audience with Henry Wyndham

September 22 2016

Image of An audience with Henry Wyndham

Picture: China Exchange

This looks like fun - an interview with Henry Wyndham, the great auctioneer much admired (as regular readers will know) by AHN. It's on Monday 3rd October, Gerrard St, London, 6.30pm. Tickets here

'How the Mona Lisa became so overrated'

September 22 2016

Video: Vox Almanac

A video by Phil Edwards from Vox says the Mona Lisa only became a masterpiece in the late 19th Century. Well, it's a view.

Wildenstein trial begins

September 22 2016

Image of Wildenstein trial begins

Picture: CTV news

The art dealer Guy Wildenstein is being tried for over the non-payment of death duties relating to the estate of his late father, Daniel. The trial is expected to last a month. More here.

UK blocks export of £4.4m Titian drawing

September 22 2016

Image of UK blocks export of £4.4m Titian drawing

Picture: ACE

A rare drawing by Titian has had a temporary export bar placed on it by the UK government, in the hope that a museum can raise £4.4m to acquire it. More here

Naughtiness at the V&A

September 22 2016

Image of Naughtiness at the V&A

Picture: V&A

In The Spectator, Laura Freeman discovers the best places in the V&A for an illicit rendezvous. The trick is to go for somewhere subtle:

Thomas Hardy, while still married to his first wife Emma, but arranging assignations in London with Florence, his second-wife-to-be, used to ask her to meet him at the Victoria and Albert Museum by the great, towering plaster cast of Trajan’s column. Really, Thomas? Trajan’s column? How obvious can a man be?

Serota - a Medici or a Disney?

September 22 2016

Image of Serota - a Medici or a Disney?

Picture: Spectator

The post-match analysis of Sir Nicholas Serota's 30 year tenure at Tate has begun, and here's Stephen Bayley's verdict in The Spectator. He says Serota will be remembered as more of a Disney figure than a Medici:

And now he leaves for the Arts Council. Experts in large-scale pattern-recognition will detect something here. Namely, the delusion that art flourishes in bureaucracies and can be systematically administered by committees. Of course, historic exhibitions of Picasso, Matisse and Hopper were rightly huge successes for Tate, but they would have happened without Nick Serota. His shoes will be difficult to fill, the huge spaces he leaves behind more difficult still. His legacy? A set of visitor targets to drive his successor to a delirium of anxious frustration. Nick will never be described as a new Medici, but he might be remembered as a new Disney.

All of which is perhaps a little harsh. Ultimately, if museum directors are judged (and invariably they are, for better or worse) on how they transform and expand their museums, then Serota must be viewed as one of the greats. Tate today means something very different from Tate 30 years ago. In a rapidly changing world which, for now at least, loves to celebrate the new, it's likely that had Serota not dragged Tate into the shiny, brash world of contemporary art, the institution and its historic Millbank home might have gently faded from public consciousness, and with it too the perception that our greatest museums deserve more public support, not less. Just look at the Wallace Collection for a contrast.

That said, it's possible to admire Serota for this achievement, and at the same time think that he stretched the elastic too far - that Tate Britain and it's historic collections have been too eclipsed by the brightness of Tate Modern, indeed almost to a scandalous degree. But perhaps the pendulum will soon swing back, and the bedrock of Tate's collections can be 'rediscovered' by a new generation of directors and curators. Ok, that might be an optimistic view - but here's hoping.

Incidentally, I don't much like the sound of being Stephen Bayley's mistress:

Indeed, in nearly 30 years at Tate, he [Serota] has grown a pleasant Millbank backwater gallery with a nice collection of English art admixed with a polite smattering of international modernismo, the sort of place you would take your mistress on a wet afternoon in Pimlico after a kebab and before some hanky-panky, into a roaring, multi-site, premium-branded visitor experience.

Update - here's Waldemar on the awkwardness of Tate Modern's hang, one of the legacies of Serota's approach to museum management:

One of the most noticeable features of the new £260m Tate Modern is the instinctive trust placed by the building and its hang in what we might call the “deconstructivist” approach to art. It’s the approach where you lay down the pieces and the visitor is tasked with the effort of putting them together.

The building encourages this approach by consisting so prominently of foyers and staircases — a giant 3D board game across which the public can merrily scamper in a building-wide game of snakes and ladders. The hang encourages it by saying nothing specific about anything. Split into thematic groupings of exemplary vagueness — Artist and Society; Materials and Objects; In the Studio; Media Networks — the Tate’s collection of modern art has dispensed with isms and national schools, with intentional contexts and the aims of the artist, with notions of quality and a meaningful chronology, and replaced them all with a game of cultural snap that involves noticing how one thing looks next to another.

The artworks themselves are remarkably consistent in adopting the same approach. Whether it be Marina Abramovic’s laying out of “72 objects of pain or pleasure” on a trestle table or Rebecca Horn exhibiting the props she used in her 1970s performances or Meschac Gaba displaying scores of pretend exhibits for his “Museum of Contemporary African Art”, what all this art has in common is long-windedness. These are narratives without conclusions: beginnings without ends. Given the task of making sense of them, the viewer is forced to join up dots that have no connection.

The Tate calls this “interaction”. What it really is is “distraction” — keeping visitors busy by giving them claw cranes to play with. It’s a process so hit and miss that the misses are no longer relevant. If you never encapsulate, you can never be wrong.

Update II - here's an episode of BBC Radio 4's 'The Reunion', about the building and opening of Tate Modern. Serota is joined by others involved at the time. 

Update III - a reader writes:

Serota saw the future and grabbed it for The Tate. That's worth a lot.  The next Tate director must have a plan for the Milbank galleries. 

In most enterprises one tries to launch the new product, The Tate Modern in Serota’s case,  while updating the old product with its narrow focus on which the reputation was built.  Otherwise you have M&S where I still buy my socks but little else except in their mini groceries.

The quality at the Tate Britain is quite high and the restaurant often more full than the permanent collection galleries.   Its location however is less than convenient with few other attractions nearby while the Tate Modern thrives in the midst of a newly fashionable Southwark which it helped to revive jammed with trendy restaurants and near The Globe.   The area’s Dickensian smoke scarred buildings having given way to vast new if undistinguished apartment blocks and offices and people like going there.  The art is an attraction with contemporary works drawing large crowds of visitors who want to see the art and visit the area.

So Serota did well latching on to the emerging trend and putting the Tate brand on a sweet new contemporary art center that wins in the public taste test.  And he got the project funded with the help of some City folk, and then building on its strength added an exciting new wing.  These are major accomplishment worthy of praise and a handsome bonus.   Yes, more might be done with old product but that is difficult to design and even more difficult to fund the type of needed renovation and reworking of the building.  The V&A has done that splendidly but with a better location and a broad product range.   The National Gallery by contrast to Tate Britain has an iconic location on its side and benefits from a well developed online presence, a more extensive range, and a series of major international exhibitions.

'The Train'

September 22 2016

Image of 'The Train'

Picture: Wikipedia

If, like me, you are fan of a) art b) war films and c) steam trains - and I know that must be a fairly small demographic - then allow me to recommend the 1964 film, 'The Train'. I saw it for the first time last night, and it's great. Paul Scofield plays a Nazi officer trying to transfer hundreds of French masterpieces to Berlin from Paris, by train. Burt Lancaster is a French railwayman and resistance fighter trying to stop him (albeit with a fine American accent). And the whole film is peppered with steam trains that get blown up and crash into each other (real ones too, not models).

Britain's Lost Masterpieces - trailer

September 21 2016

Video: BBC

Starts Wednesday September 28th, 9pm, BBC4. Pray spread the word...

Update - thanks for spreading the word, well over two thousand views on the link above so far. Can't all have been my mum.

'Exhibition on Screen'

September 21 2016

Video: Exhibition on Screen

These 'Exhibition on Screen' shows look quite good. From the end of this year we can expect films on Bosch, Monet and Michelangelo. More details here.

New UK ban on antique ivory

September 21 2016

Image of New UK ban on antique ivory

Picture: V&A, John Smart, Portrait of Edward Raphael

The UK government is set to announce a new crackdown on the trade in antique ivory. The fear is that much new ivory is being sold around the world masquerading as 'antique' ivory, with obvious ramifications for dwindling African elephant numbers.

But it seems the new measures, as set out in The Times this morning, are akin to a sledgehammer to crack a nut. I'm no fan of carved ivory tusks, antique or not, but something that always gets unfairly caught up in ivory bans are portrait miniatures, which from the late 17th Century onwards are invariably painted on wafer thin pieces of ivory. Previously, dealing in and transporting portrait miniatures for exhibition was made possible under CITES rules, which dealt with the ages of the ivory in question. But now these rules are being dramatically tightened. According to The Times;

'Under the rules to be announced by ministers, dealers will be told to prove the age of items or face having them confiscated or destroyed. Without documentary proof, they may be forced to use costly radiocarbon dating'.

Items must be more than 70 years old. The net effect of this will be to more or less kill the market in portrait miniatures. The market was already suffering from new US rules, which affected the transit of miniatures between Europe and the US. But now the market within Europe and the UK will be affected too, because in practice it is very difficult to 'prove' the age of a portrait miniature in a cost-effective and non-interventionist way. The nature of such small, portable things is that they rarely come with reams of paperwork attached to them, so there won't be 'documentary proof' of age. And in terms of value they're generally traded, even the good ones, for above the low thousands of pounds, so it's impractical to go around regularly commissioning carbon dating. It so happens that portrait miniatures are painted on Indian ivory, but 'proving' that to the benefit of a customs officer is impossible without destroying the object in the first place.

So while I'm all in favour of doing everything we can to protect elephants, it seems to me that a lack of imagination risks damaging the trade in, interest in, and exhibition of, British portrait miniatures. These were, as it happens, one of the few genuine areas of artistic development in which Britain led the world. British portrait miniaturists, from Samuel Cooper through to John Smart (above) were the best the world has ever seen. The reasons for this were many, but one was the dispersion of families across the globe during the days of the British Empire, when it became a tradition to send small images overseas.

Update - it looks like a certain amount of spinning has been going on by the government here. If you read the official announcement on the Defra website, there is no mention of seizure or destruction if the age of objects cannot be proved, as suggested by The Times. Instead, the government will begin a consultation with those involved as to how the age of items can indeed be proved. So it's far from certain that radio-carbon dating, also suggested in The Times, will be the only means of testing for age. The Antiques Trade Gazette has been told by a government source that;

the government is “supportive of the trade in historical objects” and that it will be made clear the target is modern poaching of endangered species. 

Tate acquires rare Joan Carlile portrait

September 21 2016

Image of Tate acquires rare Joan Carlile portrait

Picture: Tate

Joan Carlile was the first British professional female painter. She was active in London in the mid 17th Century, though only a handful of works are recognised today. Perhaps the best known is a group portrait of The Carlile Family with Sir Justinian Isham at Lamport Hall in Northamptonshire.

The Tate has today announced the acquisition of a whol-length portrait by Carlile, above. The picture, I'm rather proud to say, was discovered by me, and was my first museum sale as an independent dealer. Although her oeuvre is small, her style is quite distinctive, so when the picture came up at a regional auction described as 'English School' the old connoisseurial connections whirred away and I was confident enough to place a bid. You can compare the Tate's new picture to other examples here and here.

The sitter alas is unknown; I was able to discern no meaningful provenance, and the only tantalising contemporary reference I could find was in Carlile's will, which mentioned a portrait of a 'princess in white satin'. Who this was and whether it related to the Tate's picture I don't know, so for now she is just a 'Lady in a White Dress'. Maybe we'll get there one day. 'Princess' could have been one of Charles I's daughters or perhaps even one of Cromwell's daughters during the Protectorate.

Update - more here in The Art Newspaper. Martin Bailey has cunningly found out what I paid for it, £4,500 hammer, or £5,300 with premium. The Tate bought it for £35,000. Subtract from that all manner of taxes, and a bill for conservation and framing, and your left with... well, not a great deal it turns out. But enough to keep going!

Update II - delighted to see that in Tate's press photocall there was no sight of the 'leggy girl walks past a painting seductively' shot. Instead, we have (says the Rex Features site) "Stella Cartwright (aged 8) sketches the painting - Portrait of an Unknown Lady 1650-5 by Joan Carlile (1606-1679)". Bravo all round.

Update III - thanks for all your kind emails!

Update IV - the consensus amongst my dealing colleagues is that the Tate got a bargain. Which I think is probably true, but it was the best possible home for the picture.

Update V - well this is a surprise; the New York Times has covered the story.

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