UK Spending Review

November 25 2015

Image of UK Spending Review

Picture: AFP

Today the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, unveiled details of his five yearly spending review. This sets out what government departments here in the UK will get to spend over the next five years.

There had been dire warnings of 'massive' cuts to the arts. The Labour party said it would be 30%, many in the sector were claiming it would be 40%. In the end it was 5%. Other government departments have to deal with far larger cuts; Transport is down by 37%, Business by 17%.

The current DCMS combined budget (that is revenue funding and capital funding together) is £1.5bn. Next year it will be £1.6bn, the same the year after, but then it will be £1.5bn, and then £1.4bn. If the economy improves there will be scope for improvement towards the end of the five years. Inflation is low at the moment. The Arts Council budget will not be reduced. And Lottery funds, which the government increased, continue to roll in for arts and heritage projects across the country. Free entry for museums will be protected. Other annoucements included a new £150m storage unit for the British Museum, V&A and Science Museum. More details here.

In other words, the much vaunted 'cuts' are, while not ideal, not much to worry about. George Osborne evidently sees the value of state funding of the arts. Good for him. Those in the sector are now busy saying that their collective campaigning over the last few months has been successful, and while I applaud their efforts and enthusiasm, I'm not so sure it made a great difference. These decisions are taken by a handful of people at the top of government, and personally I think the likes of George Osborne see merit in the arts with or without a Twitter campaign. Above all I think we need to commend the effective messengers within government who have championed the arts; step forward Ed Vaizey (who I think must now be the longest-serving arts minister we've had) and, latterly, John Whittingdale. Those who said the Tories were philistines and don't care about the arts have been proved wrong - and I'm afraid I'll always be proud of having played a tiny role in making the Tories arts friendly. Of course, this hasn't stopped the likes of the Museums Association greeting today's news with gloom. 

There is one area of concern, however. Regional museums, those funded by local councils, are likely to face further cuts as a result of reductions to the budget for the Department of Local Government. Of course, it is up to local councils how they apportion their funds, and in too many cases excessive cuts to museum services are made because local councillors know they can get away with it. Library closures always generate protests. Museum cutbacks? Not so much. The government needs to think more broadly about how it can protect, with a national effort, the many wonderful regional museums we have in this country.

One policy announced by the Chancellor may not immediately help this cause, though. He said that he wants to encourage local councils to raise cash from asset disposals, and cited a headline figure of £255bn of local government assets. But I've just checked the figures, and of this £255bn (of which most is pretty fixed and unsellable) over £3.5bn is described as 'heritage assets'. I may be being unduly anxious, but we must all hope that asset stripping councillors don't start eyeing up museum buildings, and collections.

The best curatorial video ever?

November 24 2015

Video: British Museum

Great to see the British Museum developing its You Tube channel more, with some good new videos. Above is the legendary BM curator Irving Finkel, who shows us all how these things are done. Here's hoping he really does last the next 500 years.

Fred Meijer on Jan Davidsz de Heem

November 24 2015

Video: Museo Prado

I didn't know this - the Prado puts proper art historical lectures on You Tube. Above is Dr. Fred Meijer of the RKD on the Dutch still life artist Jan Davidsz de Heem (1606-1683/4). I am often in awe of both the RKD and Dr Meijer - two towering Dutch art historical institutions the likes of me would be lost without. 

Goya, or not?

November 24 2015

Image of Goya, or not?

Picture: Bonhams

There's an interesting picture coming up at Bonhams Old Master sale in London, in December, called 'Circle of Goya'. The subject is La Boda, and the estimate is £40,000-£60,000.

The catalogue note, however, lists an array of people who think the picture is actually by Goya:

Given the inevitable polemic which arises when a previously unknown work is proposed as an autograph work by a major master it has been held prudent for this catalogue entry to present the evidence and to catalogue this painting as 'Circle of Francisco José de Goya.' The case that the present painting should be regarded as an autograph work by Francisco Goya has been forcefully argued in separate articles by three leading Goya scholars. The painting was first published as a work by Goya by Professor José Gudiol in January 1982 in his lengthy article discussing the relationship between the cartoon of La Boda in the Prado and the present painting (it was unknown to him when he wrote his four volume catalogue of Goya's paintings in 1971). Gudiol wrote: 'After simultaneously analysing both the "cartoon" of "La Boda" and the recently discovered hitherto unknown version, we can confirm with absolute certainty that Goya painted both pictures without any collaboration whatsoever.' In the same year, Eric Young, a Goya biographer and the author of monographs on Bermejo and Murillo, wrote: 'its quality leaves little possible doubt of its being an autograph work of the master'.

The case that this is the modello for the Royal Cartoon of La Boda was further taken up by Professor Diego Angulo, then Director of the Prado Museum. He arranged for this to be discussed in an article which he fully endorsed and which was to be published in Archivo Español de Arte, of which he was editor, although his death resulted in its subsequent publication in the Boletin Del Museo e Instituto 'Camon Aznar' at Goya's home town of Saragossa in 1987. 

[...] an attribution to Goya has further been widely accepted by a number of very distinguished scholars: Professors Michael Jaffe, Federico Zeri, Justus Müller-Hofstede, Seymour Slive, P.J. van Thiel, Sir Denis Mahon, James Byam-Shaw and Xavier Desparmet Fitz-Gerald are all on written record as finding the attribution to Goya convincing. Furthermore, Dr. Jose Manuel Arnaiz of the Istituto Tecnico de Expertizacion Y Reastauracion of Madrid and author of the authoritative publication Francisco de Goya Cartones y Tapices has written 'en la boda de cuyo autor estoy mas convencido cada vez.'

Another leading authority on Goya, Juliet-Wilson Bareau does not think the picture is by Goya. It all seems to come down to the question of whether Goya did replicas or not. Many artists did, some did not.

The accepted version is in the Prado (here). And, thanks to the wonders of zoomable high resolution photos, you can compare the two online, and decide for yourself.

Regional museums - go find a footballer

November 24 2015

Image of Regional museums - go find a footballer

Picture: BBC

Art dealers Ivor Braka and Thomas Dane have donated six works of contemporary art to the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester - and have made some interesting comments in doing so. We are regularly told that there is no prospect of regional museums turning to local sources of private giving to help cover and state funding shortfall - apparently this can only happen in London. But not so, say Braka and Dane, and we need to be more ambitious in seeking new sources of giving:

"In America, pretty much every major city - Detroit, St Louis, Chicago, Dallas, Forth Worth, Houston, LA, San Francisco, Seattle - they all have museums which could virtually be national museums in terms of their scope and their quality.

"This situation just doesn't happen in England and there are very few museums that have got the ambition to emulate that sort of level of excellence." [...]

Donors will only have confidence to give to galleries if their buildings are up to scratch, he said. "Coming from Manchester, I knew that one day I always wanted to do something for Manchester.

"I didn't want to give until I was secure that the gift would be well looked after, and I didn't feel that the Whitworth in its old guise was a place would have necessarily given to.

"But having seen the new development and specifically its storage facility, you know that what you give to them is going to be well looked after. You'd be confident that in 200 years time it will be in good condition.

"And the gallery space is magnificent at the Whitworth - it's no accident that it won museum of the year."

There has not traditionally been the same culture of giving among wealthy individuals in the UK as there is in the US, Mr Braka added.

"There is a lot of money out there in Manchester - a lot of inherited wealth and self-made entrepreneurs, and you've got Manchester City and Manchester United footballers as well.

"I don't know whether they need to come to the museum or maybe there's just not been enough outreach in England to try and target people to take an interest ion the visual cultural life."

(More here.)

That said, we clearly need to do something about the patchiness of local government funding for regional museums. It seems to me that the model is no longer working, and some great museums with ambitious staff are left at the mercy of councillors who wouldn't know what an art gallery was if it hit them in the face. When I was last asked to look into all this by the Conservatives, as part of Sir John Tusa's 'Arts Taskforce', we decided that a relatively simple fix would be to put museum provision on the same statutory basis as library provision - in other words, there would be a legal obligation for councils to provide an adequate level of museum funding. But this has not happened.

Is it time for a more radical suggestion? It would seem clear that the major national and London galleries have coped well with the (somewhat forced) need to raise more money from private sources. Many of them, despite 'the cuts', are better off than ever before. They have been motivated to go anb shake the tin with new vigour, and have done a great job. So - should we therefore redistribute some of the money previously available to national museums, and send it out to the regions? This would, in effect, be a sort of nationalisation of regional museums, but at least it might work.

And we should also think of other more innovative solutions too. I'd like to see, for example, the better off national museums form partnerships with regional museums, to share everything from expertise to collections.

Update - the Spending Review will be announced tomorrow, with Labour predicting a 30% cut for DCMS.

Update II - a reader writes:

Given what has been happening to libraries lately, I'm not sure that would have constituted a vast improvement on the current position. 

The lack of donors surely also relates to what you have previously said about the likelihood of one's donation ending up unseen in a dank Victorian basement or, still worse, sold off to finance some other project....

True - library provision is indeed patchy, but generally it's better protected from councillor's whims than museum provision.

By the way - another reason to live in Edinburgh (for which I'm an evangelical advocate) is that it has one of the best public art libraries in the country. You can borrow from it too.

Take a Turner to school

November 24 2015

Image of Take a Turner to school

Picture: National Gallery of Wales

Here's a nice story from BBC Wales - a painting by Turner, Dolbadarn Castle, has been loaned to a primary school in Wales. More here.

Warhol market takes a dive

November 23 2015

Image of Warhol market takes a dive

Picture: Artnet

Art Market Monitor covers Jonathan Yee's analysis of recent Warhol prices - and it's starting to look a little shaky. The graph above, you could say, reflects the bizarre state the top end of the modern and contemporary art world has got itselft into; plodding pretty well until the world went sub-prime crazy in 2006/7, then nosedived after the 2008 crash, then bounced back in a frenzy of speculation (and perhaps quantitative easing).

Where next? Down, I guess - but the question is how far, and how fast. 

Update - Michael Savage, aka The Grumpy Art Historian, writes:

I think analogies between art market and financial market are overdrawn, and often take up the weakest ideas about financial markets. Trying to read the future from charts has always seemed a fool’s errand to me, but trying to read the future from a graph with so few data points is meaningless. The term ‘bubble’ is generally over-used, and has come to stand for ‘looks a bit expensive’. But the volatility in the graph you’ve reproduced is just changing supply. The other charts in the linked post show a more consistent pattern of rising mean and median prices. I don’t see any correlation with QE or evidence for speculation here. Not saying there isn’t speculative interest, but it takes two to make a market – why don’t we use the terms for sellers, who may be speculating that prices will fall.

Personally I think Warhol insanely expensive by any comparable metric I can imagine, but then I thought that in 2001, too.

Picasso's lost 'Woman in a Fuzzy Hat'

November 23 2015

Video: NBC

In the US, NBC goes on the trail of a man hoping to prove that his copy of Picasso's Woman with a Cape is in fact another version by the artist. More here.

Heir claims Matisse from National Gallery

November 23 2015

Image of Heir claims Matisse from National Gallery

Picture: National Gallery

Dalya Alberge in The Guardian reports that the heir of a former owner of Matisse's portrait of Greta Moll, which the National Gallery bought in 1979, is legally hers. She says it was stolen after the Second World War in 1947. The National Gallery says they bought the picture in good faith. More here.

The picture, says the story, has been on loan to the Tate for many years - and, quelle surprise, is 'currently in storage'. Is there no regional gallery out there who could do with a Matisse on their walls?

How to wrap a 6m high painting

November 23 2015


Pretty impressive. This video comes from a new online magazine called 'Art Handler', which you can read all about here.

Beit Collection pictures sold

November 20 2015

Image of Beit Collection pictures sold

Picture: Christie's

Two of the Beit Collection paintings controversially withdrawn from Christie's at the last minute earlier this year, are to be transferred to the Irish state. Under a tax incentive deal, the Rubens (above) and an Adoration by van Ostade have been bought for a combined approx. EUR3m. They will be transferred to the National Gallery of Ireland. More here.

Still some way to go before the Beit Collection reaches its EUR15m target. 

Guffwatch - The Movie

November 20 2015

Video: Prima Musa

This is fantastic: 

The use of “Artspeak”, the often incomprehensible language used by many curators, writers, critics, and other art insiders, has alienated much of of the art-viewing public.  The film follows New York artist Bill Claps discovering everyday people’s thoughts and feelings about contemporary art as he develops a video installation and a series of artworks that comment on the phenomena of Artspeak.  The film follows Claps at work in his studio, in the streets, galleries and art fairs of New York, and through several countries in Europe.

AHNers - we are not alone!

More here.

Major art theft in Italy

November 20 2015

Image of Major art theft in Italy

Picture: Museo di Castelvecchio

Disturbing news coming in from Italy, where last night thieves have made of with 15 important paintings from the Castelvecchio Museum in Verona. The pictures include works by or attributed to Rubens, Mantegna, Pisanella and five by Tintoretto.


(Another case of art-napping?)

Update - Corriere Della Sera has the story in English, and a full list of the works:

“Madonna and Child” or “Our Lady of the Quail”, by Antonio Pisano, better known as Pisanello; “St. Jerome Doing Penitence” by Jacopo Bellini; “The Holy Family with a Saint”, by Andrea Mantegna; “Portrait of a Child with a Drawing” and “Portrait of a Young Benedictine”, by Giovanni Francesco Caroto; “Madonna and Child”, “Transport of the Ark of the Covenant”, “Belshazzar’s Feast”, “Samson” and “Judgement of Solomon”, by Jacopo Tintoretto; “Portrait of a Man”, by the circle of Jacopo Tintoretto; “Portrait of a Venetian Admiral”, by Domenico Tintoretto; “Portrait of a Venetian Admiral”, from the studio of Domenico Tintoretto; “The Lady of Licnidi”, by Peter Paul Rubens; “Landscape” and “Seaport”, by Hans de Jode; and “Portrait of Girolamo Pompei”, by Giovanni Benini.

Update II - the painting by Caroto is apparently the only known depiction of a child's drawing from the period. I didn't know this picture - what an amazing drawing; timeless.

Vermeer's 'Little Street' identified

November 20 2015

Image of Vermeer's 'Little Street' identified

Picture: Codart

Frans Grijzenhout, Professor of Art History at the University of Amsterdam, has identified the location of Vermeer's 'The Little Street'. Reports Codart News:

new research has enabled Professor Grijzenhout to identify the exact address: it is Vlamingstraat in Delft, at the point where the present-day numbers 40 and 42 stand. Various other addresses in Delft have been suggested over the years, but none was convincing. The new source Frans Grijzenhout consulted for this research, which led to the conclusive findings of his investigation, is De legger van het diepen der wateren binnen de stad Delft (the ledger of the dredging of the canals in the town of Delft) of 1667, also known as the Register op het kadegeld (quay dues register). It is a record of how much tax everyone in Delft who owned a house on a canal had to pay for dredging the canal and maintaining the quay outside their door. The register provides a detailed account, accurate to within around 15 centimetres, of the width of all the houses and of all the passageways between them that lined Delft’s canals in Vermeer’s day. He was able to establish that on the north side of Vlamingstraat, a quite narrow canal in what was then the poorer eastern quarter of Delft, there were two houses where numbers 40 and 42 now stand. Each house was approximately 6.3 metres wide, and between them were two immediately adjacent passageways, each around.1.2 metres wide. Further research into the position of the houses and the small gardens behind them confirmed that the situation on the spot corresponds exactly with the painting. There was no other place in Delft during that time where this constellation was found.

Great sleuthing, Prof. Grijzenhout!

Update - a reader writes:

Did you hear Prof Grijzenhout on Today this morning about 'The Little Street'?

"Q: Who, other than people who are interested in Vermeer, will be excited about this?

Prof: Well, 'people who are interested in Vermeer' is quite a lot of people..."

Just the sort of daft question you get on the Today programme these days.

Museum storage - the future?

November 20 2015


A new 'fully accesible' museum sotrage unit is to be built in Rotterdam, to house the collections of the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen. Above is a video from the architects MVRDV. It is due to open in 2018.

The concept looks great, though we must wonder whether the public will be freely allowed to roam around the racks at all times, as indicated. But some form of access to works in storage is better than none at all, so well done Rotterdam for going ahead with this new scheme. Let's hope the prison-like enmeshed staircases don't make it through to completion.

On one level, this would appear to be the way forward for the problem of having so many works of art in storage. In the UK, over 80% of our public collection of oil paintings is in storage at any one time.

And yet, I do worry that if we see more buildings like this, then the wider problems of keeping so many works in storage won't be addressed. Surely it would be better (and cheaper) to think more creatively about getting works out on display, first by looking again at how we hang works in museums (single row hangs with acres of space around each picture), and secondly by considering sending stored works on loan to regional museums, or even schools and other civic spaces. We should also relax a little about new, zero-tolerance conservation strictures that say all paintings must be kept hermetically sealed in conditions of constant temperature, humidity and light. - which, for the most part, pictures survived pretty well without for centuries.* Part of me fears that once we start accepting the principle of keeping works in storage, even if it is 'accessible storage', then there they will remain. 

More here.

* Generally, it has not been not fluctuating temperatures that have harmed paintings over time, but the attentions of those charged with 'restoring' them.

New research on Joseph Blackburn

November 20 2015

Image of New research on Joseph Blackburn

Picture: Portrait of Colonel Atkinson by Joseph Blackburn, Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, Massachusetts.

Resarchers at Worcestershire Archive service here in the UK have unearthed fascinating new details about the life of Joseph Blackburn, a British painter who was one of the most successful portraitists in Colonial America. 

Here is how the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography begins its entry on Blackburn:

Blackburn [is] of obscure origins: nothing is known of his birth, parents, geographical area of origin, or education. His career is documented primarily by about seventy signed portraits painted between 1752 and 1777 in Bermuda, New England, Ireland, and the west of England. An equal number of portraits, mainly of New England subjects, are attributed to him. [...] Nothing is known of Blackburn's death or burial.

But thanks to the new research we now know:

  • He died in 1787 in the parish of St Nicholas in Worcester, England, where his family is recorded as living from 1768.
  • He was an active member of the church there.
  • We now have his will (which reveals he was wealthy).
  • He had two daughters, Henrietta and Elizabeth.
  • He was buried in St Nicholas Church in Worcester on 11th July 1787.
  • The church is now a pub, called the Slug and Lettuce.

More details of this excellent work here. Many congratulations to Angela Downton, Julia Pincott and Teresa Jones, archivists at Worcestershire Archive Service.

Van Dyck discovery at the Rubenshuis

November 19 2015

Image of Van Dyck discovery at the Rubenshuis

Picture: Rubenshuis

That sketch by Van Dyck of the Brussels magistrate, first shown on The Antiques Roadshow, has gone on display at the Rubenshuis in Antwerp. It was recently bought by a private collector. More here.

Update- I hadn't noted that the newly discovered portrait of Clara Serena Rubens by Rubens (below, and on which see earlier AHN here) will also be going on long term loan to the Rubenshuis. Marvellous. More here.

The Chinese are coming!

November 19 2015

Image of The Chinese are coming!


Last week it was reported that a 'Hong Kong based' investment group has agreed to buy Britain's longest house, the Grade 1 listed Wentworth Wodehouse, above, ofr in excess of £8m. The same week we learnt that another Hong Kong property mogul, Lu Yiqian, bought a Modigliani at Christie's for $170m. Some are nervous that art and heritage assets are being bought by the Chinese.

But we shouldn't be. Anyone who forks out either £8m for a house, or $170m for a painting is likely to look after it. To suggest they're not just because they're Chinese is daft. I think it's good that the Chinese, rich or not, are taking a wider interest in western heritage.

The Modigliani will soon be heading to China. And we can expect more things to head east, for Mr Liu says (in the New York Times):

“The message to the West is clear: We have bought their buildings, we have bought their companies, and now we are going to buy their art.”

This is little different from the likes of Carnegie and Huntington buying Western art in the early 20th Century, and shipping that to the US (in the days before export controls too). In many cases they even moved entire buildings. But I think we can be sure that Wentworth Wodehouse isn't going anywhere.

That said, the sale of Wentworth to a private buyer produced a succession of anxious letters in The Times that somehow this was a heritage 'disaster', that the house should have been 'saved' by being bought by a charity or some other public sector body.

But there is little evidence to show that such houses are better off outside private ownership. In my experience, the best 'stately homes' to visit are those that are still owned or lived in by private owners. They tend to take better care of things, and present the collections more meaningfully (even if, sometimes, with a degree of eccentricity). You won't find them replacing original furnishings with beanbags at Chatsworth.

Incidentally, it is becoming something of a scandal that the National Trust still has not revealed what caused the fire at Clandon Park.

Update - apparently Mr Liu is paying for his Modigliani on American Express. This will get him enough airmiles to fly first class return between London and New York 733 times. Sensible fellow.

Update II - a reader writes:

As you say, no known cause revealed and so far as I know, no published list of losses.

Update II - the Wentworth sale has fallen through. Apparently, Lake House Group were worried about the subsidence. Since this was widely known about for years, one wonders if they were ever that serious about buying.

NPG acquires Freud archive

November 19 2015

Image of NPG acquires Freud archive

Picture: NPG

The National Portrait Gallery has acquired Lucian Freud's archive. It has been valued at £2.9m. More here.

The announcement comes in Archive Appreciation Week. Which is an excuse to show you my favourite document from the NPG's archive - a list of rats killed in World War 2 in the Gallery, and how they were killed. THe second one down is the best.

How to buy an Old Master drawing

November 17 2015

Image of How to buy an Old Master drawing

Picture: Christie's

More clever marketing from Christie's - here, drawing specialist Benjamin Perronet offers a seven step guide to buying an Old Master drawing (which, even for big names, can be relatively cheap):

Works we have sold range in price from £700 to £26,000,000. Yet over 90 per cent of drawings have a market value of less than £10,000 — only a very small proportion are worth a fortune. It is absolutely possible to find very good drawings from good, well-known artists for £4,000–5,000.

You can find a perfectly nice little drawing executed by Fragonard during his early days in Italy when he was copying the Old Masters for £4,000 to £6,000 (see above), or even a little Jean-Louis-André-Théodore Géricault. The students and followers of Ingres working in the 19th century such as Alexandre-Jean-Baptiste Hesse, Savinien Petit and Félix-Joseph Barrias were gifted technicians whose beautiful drawings sell for around £1,000 to 1,500, sometimes less.

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