Cleaning Rubens

July 22 2014

Image of Cleaning Rubens

Picture: Royal Collection

The latest Royal Collection annual report is out, and tells us that Rubens' Portrait of Don Rodrigo Calderon has been cleaned. Very fine it looks too. You can read more about the picture here.

Mauritshuis re-opens (ctd.)

July 22 2014

Image of Mauritshuis re-opens (ctd.)

Picture: AP

There's a good article by Laura Gascoigne in The Spectator about the history of the newly re-opened Mauritshuis, and how much of its collection is made up of works originally in the British Royal Collection. About 30 paintings were taken over to Holland by William III, who:

[...] sneakily transferred 30 paintings from Hampton Court to his new hunting lodge at Het Loo, including Holbein’s ‘Portrait of Robert Cheseman’ and Gerrit Dou’s ‘Young Mother’. Queen Anne later sued for the Dou’s return and lost, but Willem III got his posthumous comeuppance when the widow of his short-lived appointed heir, Johan Willem Friso, auctioned off 60 paintings from the royal collection, including masterpieces by Rubens and Van Dyck.

Willem IV tried to repair the damage by buying back Rembrandt’s ‘Simeon’s Song of Praise’ and acquiring the Mauritshuis’s biggest painting, Paulus Potter’s ‘The Bull’, and Willem V carried on the good work by spending 50,000 guilders on a major collection of 40 old masters including Rembrandt’s ‘Susanna and the Elders’ — only to have his gallery later denuded by the French, who swept off its treasures, ‘The Bull’ included, to the Louvre.

Boom (ctd.)

July 22 2014

Image of Boom (ctd.)

Picture: Sotheby's

If you haven't already seen it, Godfrey Barker's Financial Times article on the craziness of contemporary art prices is well worth a click:

According to Art Market Research, prices are up by 121 per cent in four years and by 634 per cent since 2000. This market shows enduring powers; it has survived plunges such as a 49 per cent crash in the year from May 2009, and leaps such as its 94 per cent recovery in 2010-12.

This is not the first time the market for living artists has seen such inflation. It happened in Amsterdam from 1620 to 1650, during the Napoleonic Wars, and most of all in Victorian England, when a 32-year boom saw prices for 13 homegrown painters pass that of Michelangelo in 1868. To assume that contemporary art is a 21st-century bubble that must collapse is an error.

The art market has long served the private purposes of the wealthy, from helping them park large sums of money to achieving quick resales of leading pictures, often at twice the original price. Art also offers secrecy and tax rebates when it is displayed to the public. It can be carried in yachts and private jets from one jurisdiction to another. And it is an alternative to cash when settling debts. Interest is strongest in China, Japan, Russia and the Middle East.

But funny numbers imply, at some level, false prices. If Alice in Wonderland were involved she might say: “When I go down to the car saleroom I hope my BMW will be as cheap as possible. When I buy a Warhol, I hope it will be as dear as possible.”

Contemporary art is, beyond doubt, an irrational market and its prices, both top and middle, are not always the result of unfettered competition.

The game played by sellers, buyers, auctioneers, dealers and, increasingly, artists is to start with sky-high values and lift them gradually until “the greater fool” joins in, upon which everyone collects their profits. To attract new buyers, publicity is essential, so Christie’s and Sotheby’s bombard the world with news of the record prices their auctions set, and details of private sales also leak out – $137.5m for Willem de Kooning’s “Woman V”, $140m for Jackson Pollock’s “No. 5, 1948”. All sides aspire to lift prices – most notably, auction houses that consult with sellers and guarantee them a tempting outcome.

This financial sport purports to have no victims; even today’s fool, it is supposed, will be tomorrow’s winner.

Yet we should be uneasy. Something about contemporary art echoes pyramid schemes – clubs that make money by recruiting evermore members. The members believe that the artwork they buy is a solid investment, but it is essentially worthless; art is an empty vessel, its value, like that of a $70m shark, solely the confidence that buyers repose in it.

London Old Master sales

July 21 2014

Video: Sotheby's

The main auction houses' post-sale videos are sometimes a little like estate agent pitches; everything is 'quite simply stunning', and the market is only ever going up and up. But on this occasion Sotheby's celebratory tone in the fabove ilm is entirely justified, for their £68.3m total for the 9th July evening sale (while still chicken feed compared to modern and contemporary) was their highest ever for an Old Master sale in London. Auctioneer Henry Wyndham was in superlative form, as ever.

It's an old cliche of the Old Master market that 'there's always a lack of great works' available to buy. That it's largely phooey is demonstrated by Sotheby's superlative gathering of works from a number of eminent collections, including from the Duke of Northumberland and Earl of Warwick. From the former we had the left wing of a diptych by Giovanni da Rimini, which made an energetic £5.7m (all prices include buyer's premium) against an estimate of £2m-£3m. I'm not (I'm ashamed to say) much of a fan of gold ground paintings, but even I could see the appeal of this one. Equally energetic was the bidding for the Duke's Garden of Eden by the Jan Brueghel the Elder, which was in excellent condition, and made £6.8m against an estimate of £2m-£3m. These days, if it's a work by any Brueghel in semi-decent condition, you can expect fireworks; apparently they are much admired by Russian buyers.

The Northumberland collection has a number of fine Van Dycks, and I was interested to see their 'Frances Devereux, Countess of Hertford and later Duchess of Somerset' up for sale with an estimate of £400,000 to £600,000, which I thought was a little on the cheap side. I'd seen the picture a couple of times at Syon House, in London, but it was always hung high above a door in a roped-off room and difficult to see, even with my usual limbo-like, binocular-holding contortions. Up close, Frances Devereux revealed herself to be in the most immaculate condition, with all the original glazes intact in the face and hands. In terms of condition, it was one of the best English-period Van Dycks I've seen. When you see pictures in such good state, it makes you weep for what we've lost over the years. In this case, it seems that the superb condition in the face, which helped convey powerfully Frances' somewhat stern characterisation, put some people off the picture, and it made a relatively low £662,500. There were also mutterings about the drapery, 'studio' said some. Perhaps it was, but it was par for the course with Van Dyck's later English portraiture. 

Another fine picture sold from above a Syon House door was Gilbert Stuart's Portrait of the Mohawk Chieftain Thayandanegea, known as Joseph Brant, which made £4.1m (est. £1m-£1.5m). The Stuart price, against the more finely painted Frances Devereux, highlights the subjectivity of portrait valuations.

Other highlights from Sotheby's evening sale included George Stubbs' 'Tygers at Play', which made £7.7m (est. £4m-£6m, Stubbs is hot at the moment); a Benedetto Gennari formerly in the Royal Collection (£506k); Joshua Reynolds' Boy with a Portfolio (£506k, another picture in great condition); Jacob Huysman's Portrait of the salacious Restoration poet, the 2nd Earl of Rochester (£602k); and George Romney's flamboyant Portrait of Edward Wortley Montagu, which set a new record for Romney at £4m (est. £2m-£3m). These last two pictures came from the collection of the Earls of Warwick, and were bought by the same buyer. As important British historical portraits, we may hopefully see them in a public gallery soon.

Sotheby's sold 80% of their lots, which was something of a contrast to Christie's, who only managed to get 35 of their 70 lot sale away. The Christie's total was a respectable enough £44.2m, and I believe they still hold the record for a London Old Master sale at £85m in 2012. Their headline lot was of course the Vermeer copy of a work by Ficherelli, Saint Praxedis, which made £6.2m. It seemed to me in the room that there was only a single bidder at around the £5.5m reserve. The buyer was seated in the far right hand corner of the room, and was attended to by one of Christie's Chinese-speaking staff. He was whisked out of the room by a side door as soon as the hammer came down. The top grossing lot at Christie's was a Guardi view of the Doge's palace, which made £9.8m. A Brueghel the younger Road to Calvary in almost mint condition made £5.5m. As a purveyor of English portraits I was very pleasantly surprised to see Joshua Reynolds' full-length Portrait of Lady Francis Marsham made £4.8m, having thought that the estimate of £3m-£5m was already too high. It shows how estimates are so often just best guesses.  

It's interesting to see how the sale totals fluctuate for both auction houses. Here are the totals for all July evening sales (the summer sales are usually seen as the more important ones) in London since 2006 (the furthest back I can easily get comparative results for):


2014 £44.2m
2013 £23.8m
2012 £85m
2011 £49.9m
2010 £42.3m
2009 £20.5m
2008 £24m
2007 £40m
2006 £27.4m

2014 £68.3m
2013 £35m
2012 £32m
2011 £48.3m
2010 £53.5m
2009 £32.6m (incl. approx. £6.5m Pisasecka Johnson pictures)
2008 £51.5m
2007 £25.5m
2006 £22.8m
I make that 4-5 in Sotheby's favour. The overall total since 2006 is pretty even, but again Sotheby's just nicks it with £369.5m, while Christie's have £357.1m.

The Kardashians play 'Fake or Fortune?'

July 21 2014

Image of The Kardashians play 'Fake or Fortune?'

Picture: E!, via Artnet News

More here. Sadly, their 'Modigliani' was a fake. Quelle surprise... 


July 18 2014

Sorry for the lack of posts lately - I've been installing new IT up here. Windows 8 (which is the Devil's work) has finally driven me to Apple, and I am now the proud owner of a glistening iMac.

Happy Birthday Sir Joshua!

July 16 2014

Image of Happy Birthday Sir Joshua!

Picture: Yale

I try to avoid 'on this day' things, but today being Sir Joshua Reynolds' birthday gives me a chance to recommend a new book on Reynolds by Professor Mark Hallett, formerly of York University and now Director of the invaluable Paul Mellon Centre in London. The book is, says the Yale site:

A deeply researched and elegantly written study on Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792)—Georgian England’s most celebrated portraitist and the first president of the British Royal Academy of Arts—this lavishly illustrated volume explores all aspects of Reynolds’s portraiture. Mark Hallett provides detailed, compelling readings of Reynolds’s most celebrated and striking works, investigating the ways in which they were appreciated and understood in his own lifetime. Recovering the artist’s dynamic interaction with his sitters and patrons, and revealing the dramatic impact of his portraits within the burgeoning exhibition culture of late-18th-century London, Hallett also unearths the intimate relationship between Reynolds’s paintings and graphic art.  Reynolds: Portraiture in Action offers a new understanding of the artist’s career within the extremely competitive London art world and takes readers into the engrossing debates and controversies that captivated the city and its artists.

Update - it's also Andrea Del Sarto's birthday apparently.

Update II - and Corot's.

Where are the women in art history? (ctd.)

July 16 2014

Image of Where are the women in art history? (ctd.)

Picture: via

They're mostly listening to men, according to this list compiled by Mallory Ortberg.

The value of the 'certificate'

July 14 2014

Image of The value of the 'certificate'

Picture: Telegraph

Here's a more than usually bonkers story from the world of contemporary art: the owner of a genuine Damien Hirst spot painting cannot sell it because it is 'worthless' without a certificate of authenticity, which Hirst is refusing to issue, even though there is no dispute that he made it. In other words, all the value is in the certificate, not the work itself. Which pretty much sums up the contemporary art market. 

The Telegraph has the story:

Hirst [...] painted the artwork [called 'Bombay Mix'] directly on to the wallpaper in a house in Fulham in London, which was then lived in by Jamie Ritblat. [...]

When the four-bedroom house was subsequently sold, the painting remained in situ. The property changed hands again, in 2005, when Jess and Roger Simpson bought it for £471,000.

In 2007, they employed specialists to take Bombay Mix off the wall, and have had it mounted on an aluminium backing board. The couple now want to sell the painting.

But when they came to cash in on it – “as it is not really to our taste” – they hit a major sticking point.

The painting is valuable only if it is sold with an accompanying certificate of authentication issued by Hirst’s company, Science Ltd.

Science Ltd, however, insists Bombay Mix should have been painted over years ago, when Mr Ritblat moved out of the house. The company insists that Mr Ritblat was given an alternative version of the painting on canvas in exchange for its taking back ownership of the original.

Science Ltd retains ownership of the original and the corresponding authentication certificate.

Without the certificate, the Simpsons’ painting is effectively worthless. In an email sent from Science Ltd to lawyers acting for the Simpsons as long ago as 2012, an employee of Hirst’s company wrote: “The owner of this artwork at the time your client purchased the property, I understand, was James Ritblat. However, the owner of the certificate is now Science Ltd (Damien’s company), and therefore your client has no right of ownership of the artwork.

“Damien has requested that this particular artwork is returned to Science Ltd in order that it may be destroyed.” [...]

A spokesman for Mr Hirst said: “The ownership of a wall painting in the series titled 'Wall Spots’ always resides with the owner of the 'Wall Spots’ signed certificate which accompanies the art work.

“The certificate certifies ownership. Someone being in possession of the painted wall surface without the certificate does not have any entitlement to the work.

I think someone needs to tell Damien, and his spokesman, the difference between a work of art and a 'certificate of authenticity'. What is particularly odd is that in this case we are dealing with that rare thing, an undisputed early work by Damien Hirst which he actually made himself. So it should really be far more important, and valuable, than all the later spot paintings, which are made by Hirst's assistants. But here we're getting into the topsy-turvy world of art attribution: if a c.1630 religious picture made in Rubens' workshop, under Rubens' supervision, following his design, and with his own intervention in parts, appeared in an Old Master auction, the specialists would have to catalogue it as 'Studio of Rubens'; but if one of a thousand Hirst spot paintings, which Hirst might never have seen or thought about until he signed it, appeared in the same auction house's contemporary evening sale, they'd unhesitatingly catalogue it as 'Hirst' in full.

Update - a reader writes:

I have had modest experience of contract law and I was struck by the wording in the “certificate”.  I would have thought that, at best, this creates a contract between Hirst and Jamie Ritblat but cannot bind any future owner of the house.  Possibly Hirst might want to sue Ritblat for breach of contract but I fail to see what right he has against the Simpsons.  Nor do I see how he can assert that an original painting which is acknowledged to be by him is not by him unless accompanied by the certificate.

Curiousness in Reading

July 11 2014

Video: BBC, via YouTube. Pictures from and

I think this ranks amongst the most optimistic attribution 'heists' I've yet seen: a man from Reading claiming to own a Van Gogh 'unveiled' the picture in a local cafe, and got the local news in to film the event. Cue headlines, 'Van Gogh painting worth millions hung in Reading cafe'. The picture's owner, one Markus Lawrence (below), claimed (according to the BBC) that the picture had been in his family's possession since being bought for 300 francs in Paris in the 1920s:

Mr Lawrence, from Reading, inherited the work and the collection, started by his family 200 years ago, when he turned 18.

His grandfather Vivian Wetten, an architect, died in 1980, and left them to his daughter's eldest son who turned out to be Mr Lawrence.

Other artists in his family collection, which is in storage, include Rembrandt, Picasso, Degas, Cezanne, Henry Moore and Dali.

As you can see on the video above, it appears bodyguards were posted outside the door to protect the painting, and as the BBC's reporter, Dave Gilyeat, said:

There's a great buzz with people laughing at how outrageous it is that a painting worth millions is adorning the wall.

Then, one by one, each punter breathlessly approaches it to take in its glory up close.

Some customers actually need it pointing out to them. One man responds with a "Crikey!" before remarking that it's a risky venture putting such a prized artwork in such a vulnerable position.

On the local news site,, we were given more information:

The collection was left to Mr Lawrence, 27, in his grandfather's will, with the condition that he would not sell any of the work, or take finance out against it.

It has been kept in high-security storage but he is now hoping to share it with Reading by creating a community gallery.

Mr Lawrence, who works as a professional art collector and is also a charity trustee for Support U, says: "My grandfather was a big art collector but the first members of my family who collected art were back in 1763.

Mr Lawrence has a website for his collection, which he calls the RG, or the 'Reading Gallery - Bringing art to Reading'. The collection claimed to own works by the ikes of Picasso and Rembrandt, and even a possible 5th version of Munch's Scream. Because Mr Lawrence said he wanted to share his collection with the people of Reading, but didn't have the funds to do this himself, he started a Kickstarter page seeking £50,000 in donations from members of the public to help him create a public art gallery in Reading. Mr Lawrence was nominated for a 'Pride of Reading' award, and the scheme even got the backing of Reading Borough Council:

Councillor Sarah Hacker, who is chair of the Reading Arts Forum, said: "I think it is amazing to bring art like this to Reading.

"Reading has an excellent arts culture, there's so much going on, but can you imagine if we had a Van Gogh in the town? Can you imagine how many people would be inspired to take on a bit of art?".

But alas, as you can see from the high-res photos on the getreading site here (and below), the pictures are duds. The Van Gogh is just a copy (as Van Gogh specialist David Brooks pointed out to the BBC). And of course you can't build much of a museum these days for £50,000.

So inevitably the wheels started to fall off Mr Lawrence's very curious claims and ambitions. The old black and white photos on his RG website of what were claimed to be earlier generations of his family turned out to be stock images lifted from the web, according to getreading's follow up piece, and have since been taken off the RG site. The Kickstarter page has also been deleted (see the cached page here), though not before some folk had already pledged £6,960. And as the BBC investigated further, it transpired that the 'Van Gogh' had actually been bought by Mr Lawrence (whose name has changed in the interim to simply 'Mark Lawrence) himself for £1,500 'about two years ago'. 

Getreading spoke to Mr Lawrence after the whole affair was exposed:

He told getreading: “I very stupidly didn’t correct the [initial] statement after it had been published.

“I didn’t have much confidence in myself in finding pieces and anyone taking it seriously. I made a mistake.

“And I didn’t want the [BBC] person who recorded it to get into trouble.”

He added: “I wanted to be honest about the mistake and they’ve turned that against me. In my belief it’s by him [van Gogh].” [...]

“When it was on display I never said it was 100 per cent authentic, I hadn’t said it had been authenticated; we would be working with the Van Gogh Museum,” he said.

“They even said I wouldn’t comment on how much it was worth. They [BBC] just wanted the ‘£million van Gogh in the cafe’ story.

“They are destroying my character. I’ve dedicated hundreds of hours of my life to charity work and I’ve worked my a*** off to build this gallery and they’re turning everyone against me.”

Mr Lawrence says he didn't set out to deceive anyone. We're not told exactly what he had intended to do with his £50,000, had he raised it. 

Update - a reader alerts me to one of Mr Lawrence's previous acquisitions.

Update II - the Reading Gallery website has been taken down, and replaced with this message:

We are currently updating the website to represent only pieces which have been authenticated by art bodies and are currently cataloging the collection. We will relaunch the website with only pieces which have been authenticated by independent third party recognised bodies. We thank you for your patience.

Might be a while.

An art dealing fortnight in numbers

July 10 2014

Image of An art dealing fortnight in numbers

Picture: Lawrence Hendra

Thought you might like a numerical summary of the last couple of weeks here at Philip Mould & Co, as a little insight into what I've been getting up to during the Masterpiece fair and Master Paintings Week:

  • Pictures (and drawings) viewed: 867
  • Trips to the library: 2
  • 'Sleepers' identified: 4*
  • Bids placed: 5
  • Successful bids: 0 (drat)
  • Pictures sold: 16
  • Miniatures sold: 13
  • Sculptures sold: 1
  • Talks given (above): 2
  • Blogposts written: 22 (below average, apologies)
  • 18th Century clocks acquired: 1 (always wanted one)**
  • Autograph requests: 2 (most curious)
* A very slim ratio: excellent cataloguing everyone!
** and it's amazing how little such things cost these days. Can 'brown furniture' get any cheaper?

Turner's 'Bridgewater Sea Piece' to be sold?

July 9 2014

Image of Turner's 'Bridgewater Sea Piece' to be sold?

Picture: National Gallery

It's potentially ominous when a picture that's been on long-term loan at the National Gallery suddenly disappears from view. When Constable's 'Salisbury Cathedral from the Water Meadows' was taken down it was because it had been put up for sale. Happily, Tate bought that picture with handsome support from the Heritage Lottery Fund. But should we be concerned that Turner's celebrated 1801 'Bridgewater Sea Piece' (commissioned by the Duke of Bridgewater as a pendant for a c.1672 picture by Willen van de Velde) is no longer on display at the NG, and has been taken off their website? The picture has been on loan there for at least 27 years. It was last sold, by the Duke's family, in 1976.

Tous photographes!

July 9 2014

Tous photographes! Charte de l'usage de la... by culture-gouv

Video: French Ministry of Culture

Regular readers will know that AHN is not only an advocate of allowing photography in museums, but also abolishing reproduction fees. So it's good news from France, where (as La Tribune de l'Art tells us) the French culture ministry has declared that photography is allowed in all museums, and you can use the images for whatever you like (within the law). The ministry has published a five point code of conduct (sensible things like no flash, and don't get in other people's way), and there's even a zippy video (above). The DCMS should do the same here in the UK.

Constable's 'Sea Beach, Brighton' fails to sell

July 9 2014

Video: Bonhams

It seems not be a good week for pictures that have been on the telly; at Bonhams today, John Constable's 'Sea Beach, Brighton', which was featured on 'Fake or Fortune?', failed to find a buyer. Still, worth watching the Bonhams video above, to see Constable expert Annie Lyles talk about the painting.

'Rembrandt - the Late Works'

July 9 2014

Image of 'Rembrandt - the Late Works'

Picture: National Gallery

The National Gallery have released details of their forthcoming Rembrandt show. It opens 15th October, and runs till 18th January 2015. there will be 40 paintings by the great man. More here and here.

It looks like their newly elevated 'Portrait of an Old Man in an Armchair' (at least, elevated by the Rembrandt Research Project) won't be in the show, however. Which is a little strange. Why not hang it in the show next to other late works (perhaps as 'attributed to'), and see how it fits in? I had a good look at it the other day, and couldn't find myself disagreeing with Ernst van der Wetering's new conclusion.

For sale - 'the earliest Vermeer' (ctd.)

July 9 2014

Image of For sale - 'the earliest Vermeer' (ctd.)

Picture: Christie's

The 'earliest Vermeer' I reported on last month sold last night at Christie's for £6.2m (incl. premium). Congrats to them, and the new owner. A fuller update on the sales follows when the week is over. 

The vicar's Van Dyck (ctd.)

July 8 2014

Image of The vicar's Van Dyck (ctd.)

Picture: Christie's

The Van Dyck found on the Antiques Roadshow will be up for sale tonight at Christie's. What will it make? Send me your best guess. The estimate is £300,000-£500,000. I reckon it'll make between £400k-£450k hammer. I have no inside information.

Update - a reader writes:

I think it will top £500,000 since this is a rare opportunity to buy a Van Dyck at what many will view as a great discount over the normal offerings. Besides it’s a wonderful piece of art with a  great story.

Update II - another reader punts:

I think the head will sell for £350-385,000,beautifully painted,but due to it's state,it's appeal to buyers will be limited...

Update III - it didn't sell! I'm surprised. Maybe an after sale offer will be made. 

It's London Art Week!

July 4 2014

Image of It's London Art Week!

Picture: LAW

Today we start London Art Week, where all the major auctioneers and galleries open up for you to sample our delights. There are sales to view at Sotheby's, Christie's and Bonhams, and dozens of galleries in the St James' and Mayfair areas specialising on Old Master paintings, drawings and sculpture are putting on exhibitions with extended opening hours. More information here. Hope to see you around. 

Update - quite busy at the moment; two talks yesterday (Sunday) and viewings galore to follow this week. So there may be slow service on her for a couple of days - apologies!

Society of Antiquaries exhibition

July 3 2014

Image of Society of Antiquaries exhibition

Picture: SoA

The Society of Antiquaries of London has a little-known but excellent collection of portraits. This month, they're having a free exhibition in their plush Burlington House premises. Well worth a visit (Monday-Friday 10am-4pm). More information here, and there's also a programme of lectures, here.

Guffwatch - live

July 3 2014

Artbollocks Theatre (Sitcom Version) from Alistair Gentry on Vimeo.

Video: Alastair Gentry

A reader alerts me to Alastair Gentry's 'Artbollocks Theatre', where he gives:

Dramatic readings of the worst artist statements, gallery press releases and art criticism. Their writing is a tragedy, so I repeat them as comedy. All real, all bad, all by supposedly professional artists, gallerists and curators. (Series 2 compilation, with laugh track!)

More here

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