On Durer's 'Hare'
April 23 2017
Here's a short video from Sotheby's, with good, clear images, of Durer's famous Hare in the Albertina. Interesting that an auction house is making videos about museum pictures like this - and rather showing how it's done, too.
A new Velasquez for sale in Spain?
April 23 2017
Belen Palanco in The Art Newspaper reports that a portrait of a young 'immaculate' up for auction this week in Spain may be a previously unknown work by Velasquez. The picture has been adjudged by the auction house to be an early work, but no Velasquez scholars have been cited in the catalogue. An x-ray of the painting has revealed the subject originally had a halo of stars, and this has been compared to another early Velasquez in the National Gallery in London. From the photos, well, I can see where they're coming from. But Velasquez scholarship is not straightforward. It's a gamble for someone. You can zoom in on the picture here.
Selling Nazi looted art in Austria
April 23 2017
Picture: Im Kinsky
In The Guardian, Kate Connolly reports that an Austrian auction house, Im Kinsky, are openly selling a painting that is known to have been looted by the Nazis. The picture, by Bartholomäus van der Helst, was stolen during the war from the collection of the heirs of Adolphe Schloss in Paris. The auciton house say that under Austrian law, the current owners (who bought it in 'good faith' from an art dealer in Austrian in 2003) are not obliged to return the painting to the Schloss heirs. Which seems extraordinary, and for a painting valued at €15k-€30k you have to wonder why the owners don't do the decent thing. The painting is not likely to fetch much, for it can't in practice be taken outside Austria - other countries have far more stringent laws on looted pictures.
It's curious there's not an EU wide standard on these matters. But that's an unfashionable thing to say these days.
'Sebastiano & Michelangelo' (ctd.)
April 19 2017
Here's a short video from Andrew Graham-Dixon on the National Gallery's exhibition.
Is a fake hanging at the National Gallery?
April 19 2017
Picture: National Gallery
There are reviews of exhibitions, and there are reviews which say; 'this show contains a modern fake'. In the London Review of Books (paywall), the art historian Charles Hope has claimed that a portrait of Michelangelo thought to be by Sebastiano hanging in the National Gallery's new 'Sebastiano & Michelangelo' exhibition is a 20th century forgery. The exhibition dates the picture to c.1518-20, and labels the picture 'Probably by Sebastiano', which is like (but better than) the old 'attributed to' label. So there's some distance between the National Gallery's attribution and Charles Hope's.
I'm late to the story, which was reported last week in The Times. But I wanted to look again at both the picture and the evidence before writing about Hope's conclusion.
First, a few undisputed facts:
- The portrait shows Michelangelo.
- He is holding a book of drawings, showing a head study and a leg and hand. These relate to a drawing now attributed to Bartolomeo Passarotti in the Fitzwilliam Museum (above), which in turn is thought to be a copy of a lost original study by Michelangelo. The drawing is rendered as two seperate ones in the painting. The drawing was also engraved in 1777, in the same direction, when it was thought to be by Michelangelo himself.
- The painting, when it was sold at auction at Dorotheum in Vienna in 2001, was previously attributed to Passarotti.
- It is oil on panel, and x-rays show it is painted on top of a c.1518 Madonna and Child with John the Baptist by or after Andrea del Sarto. The original of this painting, which is slightly larger than that seen underneath the Michelangelo portrait, is in the Borghese Gallery in Rome. It is known in many copies.
- The sitter's pose is almost identical to Sebastiano's portrait of Francesco Arsilli (below) of about 1522.
- On the back of the panel is a wax seal permitting the painting's export from the Papal State in the latter half of the 17th Century, and not earlier than 1646.
- The picture is not in great condition, and parts of it have been restored and overpainted.
Second, case for the prosecution:
- The picture only emerged in 1960. There is no certain provenance for it before this time. Even then, the provenance for 1960 is only listed as 'documented', which suggests there is no photographic evidence for the painting at this time. It is quite easy to engineer a 'document' from the 1960s.
- Hope says it is 'inconceivable' that Sebastiano would have painted over the work of a 'prominent contemporary'.
- Instead, "Everything suggests that it is a modern fake, probably dating from just before its emergence in 1960, and that the forger took the standard precaution of acquiring an old panel on which to paint it."
- Hope says the wax seal allowing the picture's export is damning, and relates only to the painting when it showed a copy of the Andrea del Sarto Madonna; "It is easy to see why permission would have been granted to export a copy of this kind, but much less easy to believe that a portrait with the well-known features of Michelangelo could have been exported. In other words, the portrait itself must have been painted after 1646. and that the forger took the standard precaution of acquiring an old panel on which to paint it."
- The composition was copied by the forger from the Arsilli portrait; "[the forger] simply borrowed the composition from a rather obscure portrait by Sebastiano of which photographs had been published"
- The Passerotti drawings are explained thus; " [the forger] reproduced a drawing said to be by Michelangelo and available in an engraving."
- The costume troubles Hope: "Michelangelo is shown with a type of collar not worn in Italy until the middle of the 16th century."
- Hope makes no comments on the technique of the painting, or why he thinks stylistically it is not by Sebastiano (or someone else from the period like Passerotti).
The case for the defence:
- The x-ray is said to 'bolster' the paintings origins to the 1510s.
- The fact that Sebastiano painted over the Andrea del Sarto composition could relate to the fact that a patron of both del Sarto and Sebastiano, Pierfrancesco Borgherini, was unhappy with a del Sarton Madonna in early 1517, and Sebastiano offered to execute a substitute if Michelangelo provided a drawing (which he did, for another Sebastiano Madonna on show at the National Gallery, cat. 20). Sebastiano then may have painted over Andrea del Sarto's to 'cancel his Florentine rival's composition'.
- The 'enamel-like layering of paint is consistent with Sebastiano's method, and unlike Passarotti's looser handling'.
- The catalogue makes no reference to any further technical analysis on the paint layers, which would help rule out any allegation of forgery. But the curator of the show Matthias Wivel told me via Twitter that "Everything in original paint layer consistent with 16th century. Cracking and thus oil solution consistent with confirmed Sebastiano".
- The collar that troubles Hope is all or partly re-touched.
My thoughts, for what they are worth (I am certainly no Sebastiano, Michelangelo or Passarotti scholar):
- The manner of the craquelure is unusual in some areas of the painting, which may give cause for concern. But it is consistent in my experience with a picture that has been painted over another picture.
- I did not think, from my admittedly brief assessment of the picture, but at reasonably close distance, that the technique indicates this is a modern forgery.
- If the unpublished technical analysis did conclude that the paint layers were consistent with those seen in 16th Century pictures, then this, from a forgery apparently made pre-1960, is impressive on the part of the forger. Forgers at this time, before the widespread adoption of paint analysis, were not usually dilligent enough to use pigments and ground layers that would entirely withstand modern testing. (These days, of course, it's a different matter).
- The collar: whether it is a re-touching or not, the collar is such a small part of the picture, and so barely visible, that it is surely not possible to reliably date the picture on the basis of the costume we see in that area.
- If it is a forgery, then it is interesting that the forger was not diligent enough to scrape off the Andrea del Sarto composition on which they painted. This is curious, for even in 1960 they were x-raying paintings. At the same time, however, this forger was dilligent enough to find a panel which, through the apparent composition of the del Sarto Madonna, happily coincided with the proposed date (of the late 1510s/early 1520s) of the painting they were intending to create.
- Hope's argument about the Papal States allowing the export of an Andrea del Sarto copy (but not a portrait of Michelangelo) strikes me as unduly speculative, and ignores the fact that a) people have been exporting great and not so great art from Italy for centuries, by fair means or foul, and b) there were even by the 17th Century many, many portraits of Michelangelo in circulation.
- The lack of certain provenance before 1960 will always be an issue. And how reliable is the 1960 'document'?
- As to whether the picture is by Sebastiano or not - if it is period (which I am inclined to think it is) - I am not qualified to judge. It is true that the comparison with other Sebastiano portraits in the exhibition, especially the Portrait of a Man (cat.19) next to it (below) is not a happy one. The portrait of Michelangelo looks pastey and stiff by comparison,while the shoulder and drapery are really quite weak, even allowing for the picture's condition issues. The repetition of a pose by Sebastiano, for a portrait of someone supposed to be his hero, is curious. It seemed more likely to me to be the work of a less able artist. Mind you, one of my (unfashionable) conclusions from the show is that Sebastiano was quite capable of being a 'less able artist'.
- Finally, I am very pleased that the exhibition included this fascinating picture, which, as it happens, now belongs to a commercial gallery in Germany. We need to be less neurotic about exhibiting newly discovered and supposedly 'controversial' pictures, and it shouldn't matter a jot who owns it. The picture is still the picture.
Lost and found (ctd.)
April 19 2017
From Australia comes news of another rare re-discovery:
A painting by renowned Australian landscape artist Eugene von Guérard, which has not been seen by art scholars for almost 150 years, has been rediscovered.
The work, titled View of the Granite Rocks at Cape Woolamai, depicts wild waves crashing over Cape Woolamai on Phillip Island along Victoria's coast and was last seen in public in 1873 at the Vienna World Exposition before it "disappeared".
Sotheby's Australia chairman Geoffrey Smith said the painting had been held by an international collector for the last 40 years, who was not aware of the work's significance.
How to make an equestrian statue
April 19 2017
Video: Getty Museum
Here's a terrific film from the Getty, showing how Edme Bouchardon made his large-scale equestrian statue of Louis XV. The process took 15 years. The statue was destroyed in the French Revolution, and now all that remains is half of Louis' right hand. What's clever about the video is that it uses historic images to explain the casting process.
'The Mysterious Landscapes of Hercules Segers'
April 19 2017
Video: The Metropolitan Museum
I'm often asked how to make Old Masters 'relevant' and engaging to moderning audiences. Well, the above video from The Met, shows us how you di it. What a great video; well narrated, no guffy theories or explanations, good graphics, nice music. It's really very simple; even the most obscure artist (and let's face it, Segers is not a household name) can be made interesting if you tell their story simply, with context, and in a way that modern audiences are used to finding out about things.
The Met's Segers exhibition runs until May 21st.
Update - the video was I'm told originally commissioned by the Rijksmuseum, so well done them too. The Rijksmuseum is of course leading the way in making Old Masters exciting, and unashamedly so. Look at their multimedia efforts with the Late Rembrandt exhibition for example, and also their Rijksstudio website, where you can use their collection images for anything you like.
More female artists at the Uffizi
April 19 2017
Hannah McGivern in The Art Newspaper reports that the Uffizi gallery is to display more pictures by female artists, including, for example, works by Suor Plautilla Nelli (above, 1523-87), a nun who was Florence’s first-known female Renaissance painter. More here.
Restored Veroneses go on tour
April 19 2017
Picture: via Artnet
Two paintings by Veronese that have never left the waters around Venice have been restored, before a trip to the Frick. The restoration bill was met by Bulgari, the jewellers - bravo to them. More here.
Lost and found
April 19 2017
A lost painting by the Finnish artist Albert Edelfeld has been discovered in a Russian regional museum. The two children shown above are the sons, Boris and Kiril, of the Grand Duke Vladimir, the Tsar's brother. The sitters had been thought to be girls, and the identification of the picture was lost some time after the Russian revolution in 1917. It was discovered online by the art historian Sani Kontula-Webb. More here.
April 15 2017
The Deputy Editor and I wish those AHNers who celebrate it a very Happy Easter. May your baskets o'erflow with chocolate eggs.
Trump's new threat to the arts?
April 15 2017
Picture: Met Museum, detail of Rubens' 'Atalanta & Meleager'
Much has been said by the US arts community about President Trump's first budget, and its proposal shutting down the National Endowment for the Arts. I haven't written about it, for the sums involved are quite small; the total NEA spend per year of about $148m is tiny by US government standards, and in any case represents only a fraction of total US arts funding. In the US, healthy tax incentives and a culture of personal giving mean it's possible to rely on private philanthropy. The abolition of that annual amount would be a shame, but for most arts institutions in the US not terminal.
But I had lunch with a US curator this week who told me that the proposed closure of the NEA presents a more alarming threat to the US museum sector, thanks to the NEA's indemnity programme. Currently, the NEA provides billions of dollars a year of free government-backed insurance to US museums, which significantly facilitates loans for exhibitions. The only cash cost to the government comes in the very rare event of a claim, so the liability does not figure in the NEA's annual $148m total. But if the NEA goes, then so too does the indemnity programme. And thus by extension, many international loan exhibitions in the US will cease, or become too expensive to stage. Institutions simply cannot afford the insurance cover themselves.
Here's a case study from the New York Times:
Similarly endangered, advocates say, would be many art exhibitions that entertain the country, sometimes stopping at small and large museums. The cost of insuring the art shown in these exhibitions can be offset by a federal indemnity program administered by the National Endowment for the Arts. So when the Taft Museum of Art in Cincinnati staged “Daubigny, Monet, Van Gogh: Impressions of Landscape,” the most expensive project it had ever put on, the indemnity program paid for most of the insurance cost of bringing 54 on-loan paintings (out of 55 in the entire exhibition) to Cincinnati.
We have a similar indemnity programme here in the UK. Fortunately, nobody has suggested abolishing that. Yet.
Restitution news (ctd.)
April 15 2017
Picture: TAN (showing the construction of the Berlin Wall)
The Art Newspaper reports that the German government is to launch a new restitution project aimed at dealing with all the art looted by the Stasi in East Germany. As Catherine Hickley reports, the DDR authorities helped themselves to anything left behind by those who fled to the West:
At the end of 1961, just a few months after the Berlin Wall had been built, the East German minister for state security, Erich Mielke, gave orders for a secret operation to force open abandoned, privately rented bank vaults, safety deposit boxes and safes at around 4,000 locations across the country and empty them of their contents.
The operation, known as Aktion Licht (Operation Light), ran from 6 to 9 January 1962. It was a state-sanctioned mass theft of assets from those who had left the country. The seized treasures belonged to East Germans who had escaped to the West, but also to Jews forced to flee or deported to concentration camps during the Third Reich.
'Sir Anthonio Van Dyck'
April 15 2017
Research for the Jordaens/Van Dyck Panel Paintings Project has confirmed that Van Dyck was christened 'Anthonio'. I prefer to call him Antoon, though.
Art history handbags
April 11 2017
Video: Louis Vuitton
Louis Vuitton has launched a range of Old Master handbags, created with Jeff Koons. You can have a Rubens, Titian, Fragonard, or a Leonardo one. I want them all. Van Gogh has crept in too.
New Titian portrait at Christie's
April 11 2017
This is exciting: a newly discovered portrait by Titian being offered at Christie's in New York. Estimated at $600k-$800k, the portrait shows Gabriele Giolito de' Ferrari (c. 1508-1578), a publisher in Venice (hence holding a book, I suppose). Wisely, the catalogue entry for the painting makes no secret of the last time the picture appeared at auction, in 2013 in a small sale in Geneva. There it was catalogued as 'Follower of Titian', and was being sold from the estate of a Swiss collection. I went to see it, and remember having a good, if surreptitious, look at the painting under a tree in the garden. I believed in an attribution to Titian then, and though I have only seen the online image of the cleaned painting, can well believe it now. Many congratulations to the sharp-eyed buyer in Geneva - I hope it does well now. The estimate seems to me quite reasonable. The painting is signed.
Re-framing Del Piombo's 'Raising of Lazarus'
April 11 2017
Picture: The Frame Blog
I've mentioned every now and then the progress of the National Gallery's reframing of their major Sebastiano del Piombo, The Raising of Lazarus. The finished frame, above, is quite magnificent, and a testament to the skills of National Gallery framing director Peter Schade. You can read more about the project here in The Art Newspaper, and here on The Frame Blog. The new frame is a composite of antique parts and newly recreated additions. After close inspection recently, I couldn't begin to tell which bits were old and which were new.
The Uffizi's new 'Super Director'
April 11 2017
In Apollo, editor Thomas Marks has an interview with the Eike Schmidt, one of the new generation of often foreign-born directors brought into try and shake up the Italian museum sector. One of Schmidt's first challenges is to fix the way visitors enter the museum:
Crowd control is inevitably one of Schmidt’s highest priorities. This begins with the chaotic ticketing system, whereby visitors can queue for hours in high season or pay a premium for a timed ticket, the revenue from which goes to the private contractor that (mis)manages the system. ‘It’s virtually the same way of people purchasing tickets as they did when the Uffizi first opened to the public in 1769,’ Schmidt says.
An early attempt by Schmidt to help fix the queues saw him being fined €295 by the City of Florence; he had used loudspeakers to warn visitors about ticket touts, but was prosecuted by city officials for illegal broadcasting. Which tells you all you need to know about the enormous challenge Schmidt faces...
We were just in Rome recently, and the ticket touts at sites like the Colloseum are a menace. Those at the Vatican Museums are even worse.