Wentworth Woodehouse sold for £7m

March 28 2017

Image of Wentworth Woodehouse sold for £7m

Picture: Guardian

One of Britain's most extraordinary and important stately homes has been bought by a charitable trust for £7m. The house had been on the market for some years, but no private buyers were willing to acquire the property and all its risks and responsibilities. The house was severely structurally damaged, and the park destroyed, by open cast coal mining after the war, at the direction of Labour politician Manny Shinwell. Shinwell declared war on the then owners of the house, the Fitzwilliam family, and directed that coal mining be taken 'up to the back door' (below). 1320,000 tons of coal were removed just from the garden. Such vandalism would not be permitted today.

The Trust will now restore the building, use part of it (the South Wing) for flats, part for events and catering, and open the remainder to the public. The bill for all this is expected to be in the tens of millions, and AHN wishes the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust the best of luck in achieving their laudable aims. (They have already been given a grant of £3.5m by the Nationa Heritage Memorial Fund, so well done them too.) May the house's prosperous future be the finest two fingers to Manny Shinwell that his barbarism deserves. 

Gainsborough's 'Morning Walk' back on display

March 28 2017

Image of Gainsborough's 'Morning Walk' back on display

Picture: National Gallery

Following the sad attack with a screwdriver last week, the National Gallery have repaired the damage to Gainsborough's 'Morning Walk', and the picture is back on display.

Connoisseurship; a call to arms

March 27 2017

Image of Connoisseurship; a call to arms

Picture: Apollo

The editor of Apollo, Thomas Marks, has written a fine plea for greater advocacy of, and access to, connoisseurship, in light of the closure of Christie's South Kensington and the loss of some of the specialist positions once available there:

Now is the moment for those who lament the passing of connoisseurship to make the strongest possible case for what is at stake, and to work together to encourage its revival. We have already seen some of the younger Old Masters dealers give their field a shot of razzamatazz. At its best, that glamour acts as a grace note to expertise, taking exceptional paintings and sculptures and making us all feel involved in them.

That is not a model that will work in all fields, but the principle of inspiring or stirring people through an unprecedented intimacy with historical objects has many applications. I urge art dealers to do all they can to work with A-level and university art-history students, welcoming groups to discuss and handle objects; university art-history departments might even offer credit for researching them. And art fairs should set up formal programmes to host junior curators for handling sessions and workshops – after all, every fair has its lulls, and what more profitable way to fill them?

I encourage readers to send in further ideas that might help to revive connoisseurial knowledge. Then let’s turn them into actions.

Of course I entirely agree.

Giant gold coin stolen from Bode Museum

March 27 2017

Image of Giant gold coin stolen from Bode Museum

Picture: Toronto Star

Not an art history story this, but the theft of a giant, 100kg gold coin called the 'Big Maple Leaf' (worth about $4.5m) from the Bode Museum in Germany does make you wonder about their security. 100kg is the weight, apparently, of your average giant panda. It must have taken some effort to move. More here

Art fair news

March 27 2017

Image of Art fair news

Picture: Tefaf NY

A roundup of some news from the art fair world: 

First, the ATG wonders if Tefaf should move from Maastricht (to say Amsterdam)? Exhibitors seem to be split on the idea, but it seems to me like a good idea. The best argument in favour of keeping the fair in Maastricht is that, because it's relatively dififcult to get to, and because there's not much else to do when you get there, then the punters really come with a buying attitude. But it seems clear on the evidence of declining sales that such an approach doesn't work these days, and pays scant heed to the need to draw new audiences; if you're a millionaire vaguely interested in Old Masters, you're not likely to want to take three days out of your schedule to get to and visit an art fair. You go to the main auction houses in London or New York instead. For this reason, it was a shrewd move by Tefaf to open up two fairs in New York. For what it's worth, my ideal venue would be an art fair at the Royal Academy in London. Where would AHNers have their ideal art fair, and at what time of year?

Second, the new exhibitor list at Masterpiece (London's leading art and antiques fair) has been unveiled, and reveals a high turnover of exhibitors. I used to enjoy Masterpiece when I worked at Philip Mould. It's a good fair, and certainly creates sales, but appears yet to establish itself as one of the world's leading art fairs. I think this may be because it doesn't focus on one specific type of art or antique. It's fun, from a visitor's point of view, that you can buy a Riva boat there, and a souped up Harley Davidson, as well as a Picasso. But that diversity makes it hard to get a single message across in a media and marketing sense. 

Finally, the vexed problem of vetting at art fairs was highlighted with The Art Newspaper reporting that the entire vetting committee at PAD (Pavilion of Art and Design) Paris and PAD London has resigned. As ever, it seems vetting ahs become a political issue. While I understand some fairs feel the need to have things 'vetted', it often creates a false sense of security from a buyer's point of view. Vetting is, let's face it, rarely done well, or objectively. Caveat Emptor is always the best approach - do your own homework, rather than relying on someone else. 

'Rogues' Gallery'

March 27 2017

Image of 'Rogues' Gallery'

Picture: BG

Here's my review of Philip Hook's new book, 'Rogues' Gallery - A History of Art and its Dealers', for Apollo.

Peeling away a 'Rembrandt'

March 27 2017

Image of Peeling away a 'Rembrandt'

Picture: UVA

At the Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia, new conservation and analysis that a painting once called 'Rembrandt' appears to have been a forgery. Another painting was discovered beneath the 'Rembrandt', and has now been partially revealed. More here

New Corpus Rubenianum volumes published

March 27 2017

Image of New Corpus Rubenianum volumes published

Picture: Rubenianum

In The Art Newspaper, Prof. Theodore Rabb writes on the publication of two new volumes from the fabulous Rubenianum, the research centre in Antwerp established to catalogue Rubens' output. The volumes cover Rubens' collaborations with Jan Brueghel the Elder & Younger, and also the first of three volumes on Rubens' Mythological subjects.

The full details of the volumes are:

Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard Part XXVII (1). Works in Collaboration: Jan Brueghel I & II, by Christine van Mulders

Harvey Miller/Brepols Publishers, 360pp, €150 (hb)

Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard Part XI (1). Mythological Subjects: Achilles to the Graces, by E. McGrath, G. Martin, F. Healy, B. Schepers, C. Van de Velde and K. De Clippel

Harvey Miller/Brepols Publishers, two vols, 944pp, €275 (hb)

Rabb writes of the Rubenianum:

Few would deny that amidst the mass of publications devoted to the history of art during the past century, one undertaking stands out as the most monumental of them all: Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard. With more than 40 books published since the 1970s and another ten or so planned, the enterprise towers over even massive encyclopedias. Nor is the comprehensiveness of the effort inappropriate, for the subject was one of the world’s most prolific artists and also a colossus who has few equals as a creator and shaper of Western art. The Harvey Miller imprint may sponsor multi-volume complete surveys of the work of other figures, such as Cassiano dal Pozzo or Carlo Cesare Malvasia, but none has the standing or the wealth of materials that underlie the treatment of Rubens.

You can read online and for free earlier editions of the Rubenianum here.

Final Howard Hodgkin portrait

March 27 2017

Picture: NPG

I'm late to note the news that the celebrated British artist Howard Hodgkin has died. Is it de trop to point out that he went with almost perfect timing and in some style, for a painter? An exhibition of his portraits is has just opened at the NPG in London to critical acclaim, and includes his last painting, a self-portrait created specifically for the exhibition (below).

More on the self-portrait here, and his last interview here

Australia's 'earliest oil painting'?

March 27 2017

Image of Australia's 'earliest oil painting'?

Picture: Guardian

What may be the earliest oil painting from Australia, at least by a Western artist, has been discovered in the Royal College of Surgeons in London. They're by John Lewin, and are believed to have been painted between 1800 and 1807. Although George Stubb's painting of a kangaroo predates Lewin's painting, the latter's would be the first taken from life. More here

The Mother of Parliaments

March 22 2017

Image of The Mother of Parliaments

Picture: ArtUk/Parliamentary Art Collection

Today's terrorist attack on Parliament must have been terrifying. Four people died and many more were injured, for no reason at all. Our hearts go out to all those affected. When, many years ago, I used to work there I was often struck by how many paintings in the Parliamentary Art Collection depicted the Palace under some form of attack. Many works showed the aftermath of a bombing raid during World War Two (as above, in John Piper's view of the House of Commons in May 1941 during the Blitz), or when much of the old Palace was destroyed by fire in 1834, or during the various events of the Civil War. The story they told, of course, is that Parliament - not just the place itself, but the ideals that made it and the values that it projects - can never be defeated. 

New Tate trustee sought

March 22 2017

Image of New Tate trustee sought

Picture: Tate

Tate needs a new trustee. You've got until 24th March to apply. The ideal post is to be the Tate's liaison trustee with the National Gallery. Then you get the best of both worlds, as well as 'Freedom of the Gallery', the best perk the museum world has to offer.

Raphael drawings at the Ashmolean

March 22 2017

Image of Raphael drawings at the Ashmolean

Picture: via Artnet

The largest exhibition of Raphael drawings since 1983 will open at the Ashmolean museum on June 1st. More here

Cleaning the Fitzwilliam's Madonnas

March 22 2017

Image of Cleaning the Fitzwilliam's Madonnas

Picture: HKI

Conservators at the Hamilton Kerr Institute in Cambridge spent almost 600 hours preparing a series of Madonnas for exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum. 'Madonnas and Miracles' opens on March 7th. More here

'CSK' to shut (ctd.)

March 22 2017

Image of 'CSK' to shut (ctd.)

Picture: via Apollo

In The Telegraph, Colin Gleadell has some good analysis on the decision to close Christie's South Kensington. The recent decline in sale totals has been astonishing:

As Christie’s focused more and more on the potential gain at the top end of the retail market, sales at CSK were run down. Turnover figures fell from £139.4 million in 2012, when it held 126 sales, to just £62.1 million last year when it held only 55 sales. The emphasis now is on building up services in China and Los Angeles, where a new branch is scheduled to open, and investing in the internet, with online only sales replacing the live sales at CSK.

'Michelangelo & Sebastiano' (ctd.)

March 22 2017

Video: NG

The new exhibition at the National Gallery, Michelangelo & Sebastiano, is very interesting, and worth visiting. In the video above, curator Matthias Wivel gives an introduction to the show.

The exhibition is beautifully presented in the upstairs galleries, in such a way that it almost makes you weep for the shows we have endured in the basement of the Sainsbury Wing. Where before, great shows such as Late Rembrandt and Leonardo have been hemmed in by crowds, bad lighting and airless gloom, in this new exhibition we are treated to seeing wonderful works properly lit, and in plenty of space. Let's hope we see more major exhibitions upstairs from now on. The last one I think was Velasquez some years ago. 

I won't review the show here, but in The Sunday Times Waldemar makes some good points on the relative merits of Sebastiano versus Michelangelo. It may not be considered academically appropriate to consider the exhibition as evidence of a competition, but it's nonetheless the inescapable conclusion as a general visitor. As Waldemar says, our appreciation of Sebastiano here is too often compromised by condition issues. 

Much has been made of the recreation, in 3D printed form, of a fresco from the Borgherini Chapel. Jonathan Jones was recently raving about how good it was, and the makers, Factum Arte, have made big claims about how accurate their creations are. I'm afraid I was underwhelmed. 

'Gallery B' at the National

March 22 2017

Image of 'Gallery B' at the National

Picture: NG

I was impressed by the new 'Gallery B' at the National Gallery in London yesterday. Good lighting and a decent space. The display of Rembrandt and Rubens pictures currently on is well worth a visit. Much is sometimes made of the apparent infuence of Rubens on Rembrandt. I'm not sure I could detect much of one in Gallery B, for what it's worth. More here

Stolen Guercino recovered (ctd.)

March 22 2017

Image of Stolen Guercino recovered (ctd.)

Picture: TAN

The stolen Guercino discovered in Morocco last month has alas been found to be very poor condition. It had been rolled up, but with paint facing inwards, and thus much flaking. More here.

If you must roll up a painting, always do it with paint facing outwards, and on a large cylinder.

Van Dyck's fingerprint?

March 22 2017

Image of Van Dyck's fingerprint?

Picture: JVDPPP

The Jordaens/Van Dyck Panel Paintings Project has discovered what may well be one of Van Dyck's fingerprints on a painting of St Thomas. If anyone has any other examples, let them know. I've seen two in my time, on a Henrietta Maria and a Flemish clerical painting. Whether they are Van Dyck's himself, or an assistant picking up a wet painting is hard to prove. It's Van Dyck's birthday today by the way - many happy returns Antoon. 

'Morning Walk' attacked

March 20 2017

Image of 'Morning Walk' attacked

Picture: National Gallery

Thomas Gainsborough's famous full-length painting, 'The Morning Walk', has been attacked at the National Gallery by someone with a screwdriver. The painting has been taken off display. The full extent of the damage has not yet been revealed, but from what I gather it's more like a series of scratches than slashes. 

The Daily Mail headline ran:

Priceless Gainsborough painting that featured in Bond film Skyfall is SLASHED [...]

'featured' is perhaps stretching it a little; Bond briefly had his back to the painting in a scene with Q.

Bag searches have been in operation at the NG for some time now. We don't yet know how large the screwdriver was, but of course such searches can only ever be a minor deterrence. Clothing and pockets are never searched. Perhaps it's time for the NG to start following the example of the Louvre, where all bags (and indeed people) are put through airport-style scanners and detectors. Such a move would certainly be a shame, and a last resort. But there is a pattern now of people targeting paintings at the National Gallery. 

Update - the Sun has a photo of the damage. Terrible. At least it wasn't on the dog's head or the heads of the sitters, nor did it go wholly through the canvas. With careful conservation it'll effectively disappear. But there will be much original paint loss. What an idiot.

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