A-Level art history saved!

December 1 2016

Image of A-Level art history saved!

Picture: Guardian

News is emerging that the art history A-Level will be back on the UK's national curriculum. It had been axed after the current provider, AQA, said they wouldn't offer the exam anymore. But now Pearson UK has announced that they will be offering a course and exam.

All of which is great news - well done to all those who campaigned to make sure 16 to 18 year olds were still able to study art history at A-Level.

We now need to build on this news and make sure the subject is more widely made available in schools, especially state schools. We must continue to ask the hard questions about why the A-Level is not offered in enough schools, and why only about 1,000 pupils took it last year.

More on the news as it emerges.

Job Opportunity!

November 30 2016

Image of Job Opportunity!

Picture: TAN

The director of the Prado museum, Miguel Zugaza, is to step down. He has been there for 15 years, and is now returning to lead the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum. More here

'Cover your members' - a history of the codpiece

November 30 2016

Image of 'Cover your members' - a history of the codpiece

Picture: Guardian

Here's a great article by Sotheby's Old Master specialist and costume expert Jonquil O'Reilly on the history of the codpiece. She explains that they may look odd to us today, but in the 1500s bulking out your 'package' (as she calls it) with vibrant cloth was considered perfectly normal:

Worn in courts across Europe primarily in the 16th century, codpieces were a potent symbol of their wearer’s masculinity and virility. Less than subtle even when in fashion, these flagrant accessories can be unsettlingly prominent to the modern eye. Yet in the context of courtly life – so steeped in honour, chivalry and romance – the adoption of codpieces was not so startling. At a time when continuing the family line was of the utmost importance, such embellishments were generally accepted displays of fertility and masculinity. And while codpieces stood out as blatant celebrations of men’s nether regions, the body parts themselves remained strictly unmentionable – they were usually referred to with colourful euphemisms instead. In fact in England, cod was everyday slang for testicles.

Having begun life as triangular flaps of cloth serving as humble flies, codpieces were first laced in place below the waist, covering the gap between the two legs of a gentleman’s hose or leg coverings. In the 15th century, men wore stockings with a loose gown, which King Edward IV’s parliament soundly decreed, in 1463, were to “cover his privy Members and Buttockkes.” Despite Edward’s appeal for decorum, however, gown hems crept ever higher. By the end of the 15th century, young men were commonly strutting around in cropped waist-length doublets, with tight hose and stockings that left little to the imagination. Whether to preserve men’s modesty or, conversely, to enhance their manhood, evolving fashions made it gradually acceptable for men to add a little extra padding to their package. And so before long, codpieces took on a life of their own, brazenly unfurling from the groin in scrolls or rising in unabashed satin salute, such as that modelled by the solemn Pietro Maria Rossi in his circa 1535 portrait by Parmigianino.

By the way, I must warn you not to do a Google image search for 'codpiece'.

Update - you couldn't resist it, could you? Ooph.

Sleeper Alert!

November 30 2016

Image of Sleeper Alert!

Picture: Lempertz

The above drawing made €80,600 in Germany recently and Lempertz auction house. The estimate had been just €800-€900. I thought it was rather interesting from the catalogue and scratched my head for a while; the characterisation reminded me of someone like Del Sarto or Pontormo. But I know little about drawings so soon gave up . What makes this case interesting is that the drawing had previously been offered in a London auction (so the Lempertz press release says) and had failed to sell. It's a good example of just how much a lottery selling at auction can sometimes be.

The last director?

November 30 2016

Image of The last director?

Picture: Edinburgh Evening News

In September this year Michael Clarke retired as Director of the Scottish National Gallery. He had been director since 2001 - and an excellent one - having first joined the gallery in 1984. Many notable successes were achieved during his time in charge, including the acquisition of the two Sutherland Titians for £100m in partnership with the National Gallery in London. 

I have been waiting to do a 'job opportunity' post for some time. But there has been no vacancy listed on the SNG website. This is unusual, and a few weeks ago I asked the SNG press office when the vacancy might be listed. I was told the following:

The Trustees and management at the National Galleries of Scotland are currently considering how best to replace Michael Clarke following his recent retirement.

I have since learned, however, that Michael may in fact have been the last director. A 'management restructure' is under consideration, which would see the role of director abolished. I am not sure what will replace it, but it seems it may become a more general collections manager type of position.

We should avoid rushing to judgement, but to be honest I can't quite see why the trustees are considering this suggestion even for one moment. It is essential for great institutions such as the Scottish National Gallery to have a dedicted director, a leader who can inspire staff, invigorate audiences, and act as a recognisable ambassador for the collection. Of course, directors must also be a respected scholar in their field. Such people are not always easy to find.

The situation is made a little more complicated here by the fact that the Gallery is only one part of the National Galleries of Scotland structure, which also runs the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. This organisation has its own leadership team, with a Director-General. Personally, I would prefer to see each individual collection have more autonomy, and having individual directors is surely essential to this.

Another thing to consider is the fact that the curatorial staff at the Scottish National Gallery will no longer be based in the gallery itself, due to a redevelopment to expand exhibition space. Instead, the curators will be given office space in the Modern Art Gallery (in the basement, I gather), which is about a ten minute drive away. More display space is always a good thing, but in the long-term it must be a shame for curators to be physically removed from the collections they're charged with looking after, researching, and promoting. Add into this dislocation the abolition of the post of Director, and one can begin to fear for the future vibrancy of this important institution. We cannot let it become something that is just 'managed'. It has to be led, with conviction, expertise and passion.

Art history miracles (ctd.)

November 30 2016

Image of Art history miracles (ctd.)

Picture: Observer.com

A Jeff Koons 'balloon dog' has been damaged at Miami Art Basel. Apparently “it just fell out of the display” , according to a witness. More here.

New Prado extension

November 29 2016

Image of New Prado extension

Picture: TAN

The Prado has selected British architect Norman Foster to build its new extension in the Buen Retiro pleasure palace. The project has been planned since 1995. Construction will start in 2018. More here.

A Manet study or a replica?

November 29 2016

Image of A Manet study or a replica?

Picture: TAN/Courtauld

The Courtauld Institute now thinks that its version (above) of Manet's famous 'Le déjeuner sur l’herbe' is not an autograph replica made after the original in the Musée d’Orsay, but a preparatory study for it. The evidence is outlined here in Martin Bailey's Art Newspaper piece.

Joos van Cleeve restitution

November 29 2016

Image of Joos van Cleeve restitution

Picture: New York Times

In France, a painting attributed to Joos van Cleve has been restituted to the descendants of Hertha and Henry Bromberg, a German-Jewish couple who were forced to sell the painting in Paris. It was then sold to the German government for Hitler's planned art museum in Linz. It was returned to the French government in 1949, but has most recently been in the Musée des Beauz-Arts in Chambéry. More here.

Picasso's early self-portraits

November 28 2016

Video: NPG

New video from the National Portrait Gallery in London, which is currently hosting an exhibition on Picasso portraits.

Brexit threat to Pontormo

November 28 2016

Image of Brexit threat to Pontormo

Picture: NG/ACE

The National Gallery's laudable attempt to raise £30.7m to keep Pontormo's 'Portrait of a Man in a Red Cap' (above) appears to have been stymied by the UK's recent Brexit vote. The fall in the pound means that the picture has now become up to £5m more expensive, because its overseas owner paid in dollars, when the £/$ rate was much higher.

To recap; the painting was sold by the Earl of Caledon (and or his trustees) to the US collector Tom Hill last year. Mr Hill, a US citizen, paid £30.7m for the painting, having reportedly converted his dollars into pounds. We don't know when Mr Hill actually paid for the painting, but for most of last year the exchange rate was about £1.50 to the $.

As procedure dictates, Mr Hill applied for an export licence. But now the rate is about £1.24, which means that although the National Gallery has raised the required £30.7m, Mr Hill is sitting on a potential dollar loss of many millions. Quite reasonably, Mr Hill has (it has been reported) asked that the National Gallery increase its offer if they want to buy the picture from him.

I think the case is without modern precedent, and at the moment it's not clear what will happen. The UK's export guidance states that museums can stop works from being exported overseas if they raise a 'matching offer'. But there is nothing specific in the guidance or the legislation, as far as I can see, about how that matching offer is defined. In other words, should it be a matching offer in GBP, or in the currency they paid? 

It's a general rule of the UK's export system that owners should not be financially disadvantaged by any part of the process. So on the face of it I think Mr Hill is entitled to ask for the matching offer to be a properly matching one, as far as he is concerned. That said, the legislation gives the Secretary of State for Culture (Karen Bradley MP) considerable leeway over these matters, and it will I suspect be for her to decide what happens next.

If she decides that the National Gallery's £30.7m offer is indeed 'matching', then Mr Hill can either accept it (highly unlikely, you'd imagine) or refuse it. If the latter, he retains ownership of the painting, but cannot export it from the UK, nor re-apply for a licence within ten years. 

If the Secretary of State decides that the matching offer must fully compensate Mr Hill, then the NG will be obliged to seek another £5m (it is thought). Which will of course be difficult. It's interesting that no public campaign has yet been launched for this painting - might we see one now? But that said, it could be difficult to ask the public to cough up more money on the basis that it's due to the Brexit vote. Hardly an easy sell.

And that's the wider point here. The vote to leave the EU, and the subsequent decline in the pound (which looks set to be stay in the short-term at least) has made UK heritage assets cheaper for overseas buyers. Now is therefore a historically advantageous time for those wanting to snap up important British works of art, and we can expect to see an increase in export licence applications. But due to the various economic and fiscal pressures the UK is facing in the years ahead, can we also expect an increase in the money required to 'save' these works? I doubt it. So much for 'Vote Leave, Take Control'.

More on the Pontormo story here in The Art Newspaper, and here in The Sunday Times (with a quote from me).

Update - a reader writes:

This has happened before, sort of.  It was one of the arguments put forward by the Prince of Liechtenstein for upping the value of the Coello portrait of Don Diego after it had been held by UK authorities for a couple of years while HMRC investigated the Simon Dickinson deal. When the National Gallery refused to meet the new price. The application for an export license was withdrawn – temporarily as you know. An application was then submitted again a few years later with the work re-valued upwards even more.

 It is rather surprising, given the time these events take, that this hasn’t happened more often  And I suppose if the increase now is agreed to, then the reverse situation must also come in to play – ie when currency fluctuations disadvantage the buyer.

Update II - a reader writes:

In your piece on the Pontormo you suggest that there is ambiguity at what represents a matching offer. If you look at the case hearing, it would seem to me that the  system and the nature of the written undertaking given as part of it are entirely clear:

"The Committee recommended the sum of £30,618,987 (representing the private sale price of £29m plus £1,618,987 commission of $2.5m converted into GBP at the date of the meeting at the rate 1.5441756581) as a fair matching price."

and

"The applicant confirmed that the owner would accept a matching offer at the price recommended by the Committee if the decision on the licence was deferred by the Secretary of State."

The issue is not, I think, that there is ambiguity about the sterling value of the matching offer, but rather that there is no legal mechanism to force an applicant to honour their undertaking regardless of any currency issues. The system relies on applicants playing by the rules, which they are increasingly disinclined to do. The result is that on the rare occasions when galleries go through the difficult process of trying to put together the funding for a major acquisition it is becoming increasingly frequent that all the effort proves to be in vain. As far as I'm aware Rembrandt's Portrait of Catrina Hooghsaet and the Pontormo would have represented the second and third largest purchases  in the National Gallery's history (treating the Sutherland Titians as one deal) - not minor deals.

It is fair to feel sorry for the American buyer, though the structure of the deal seems to have been designed to make a matching offer harder, and the currency exposure resulted from that structure. On the other hand, our system already gives more weight to the rights of owners and less to the rights of society in relation to heritage items than many other countries. If owners seek to undermine the system it must surely be right to respond by rebalancing the system to ensure that galleries retain some chance of "saving" at least occasional major works. 

Your analysis on the effect of Bexit is probably right. There appear only to be two viable solutions:

1) Provide increased acquisition funds to galleries.

2) Simply ban the export of major heritage items, which would result in lower prices for items that could only be sold to UK buyers.

Without one or other the result will clearly be that the existing flood of great artworks out of the country will become a deluge. In cultural terms our descent to third world status will be more or less complete. Can the last one out please turn off the light (unless it was a Tiffany - in which case it will already have gone).

It's interesting to read that the buyer accepted in principle the prospect of a matching offer being made, and of accepting it. Of course, the system means that if at that stage the buyer says they won't accept a matching offer then the application is effectively rejected. So in one sense, from the point of view of buyers, there really isn't much alternative to saying they will accept a matching offer. Many cross the fingers and hope like hell that one won't be made. We can certainly say that buyers aren't playing fair by doing this. But the fact is it happens, and we need to address why. Previously, I have sugested that the effective penalty for declining to accept a matching offer should be increased; we should raise the ten year period in which owners cannot re-apply for a licence to even longer, say 20 or 30 years. 

And evidently, at this stage of the proceedings (in late 2015) the buyer or their agent was not anticipating the sharp currency change as a result of Brexit. They must have been prepared to accept some change in the exchange rate at around the 1.544 £/$ rate. If I was the buyer (Mr Hill) I'd want to know two things; why didn't my adviser secure a better committment from the committee on the exchange rate question or make sure I'd hedged the currency, and whether the dramatic change in the rate triggered by Brexit doesn't in effect mean the deal has to be re-visited.

Update III - a reader responds:

Pace your reader who says that it is fair to feel sorry for the American purchaser of the Pontormo, it is fair to feel nothing of the kind. The purchaser must have known that the National Gallery would want to buy the painting, he must have known that it was loan on there and that his deal involved removing it suddenly from the Gallery's walls, forcing the Gallery to raise a matching offer in great haste. 

I do think various people have behaved badly in this affair, but I don't think Mr Hill is one of them. He liked a picture, wanted to buy it, and bought it. So far, the UK's export system is performing its part of the bargain in such cases, which is to give UK institutions every chance of keeping the painting in the country and on public display, but without penalising, financially, either the buyer or the seller. 

Update IV - Change needs to take place at the other end of the process too. I think it is imperative that the requirement for owners of conditionally exempt works of art to notify the government before a sale is completed - thus giving museums more notice and time to raise funds - is made legally binding.

Re-framing Sebastiano

November 28 2016

Image of Re-framing Sebastiano

Picture: Peter Schade

I'm enjoying Peter Schade's updates (on Twitter) on his work re-framing the National Gallery's Raising of Lazarus by Sebastiano del Piombo. It's an entirely new frame; quite an achievement. It's fascinating to see how the gilding begins life with the full Donald Trump (as below) before being aged, and to speculate on just how blingey such frames might have been originally.

The frame will be finished for the National's new 'Michelangelo & Sebastiano' show opening in March.

"Painting Stars"

November 28 2016

Video: National Gallery

The National Gallery has a new video series on how the star has appeared in art. Because, they say, 'you can trace the entire history of European painting through this one element; the star'.

Waldemar in Conversation

November 28 2016

Image of Waldemar in Conversation

Picture: BBC

The Great Waldemar will be giving a talk on Caravaggio alongside Letizia Treves at the National Gallery on Friday 2nd December at 6.30pm. Tickets here.

Apollo Awards (ctd.)

November 28 2016

Image of Apollo Awards (ctd.)

Picture: ArtUK

The Apollo Awards were announced last week, and I was delighted to see that ArtUK won the award for Digital Innovation of the Year. A fitting result for an extraordinary achievement. Other winners were:

  • Acquisition of the Year: The Virgin of the Pomegranate, by Fra Angelico at the Prado
  • Book of the Year: The Print before Photography by Antony Griffiths
  • Exhibition of the Year: Bosch at the Noordbrabants Museum
  • Museum Opening of the Year: National Gallery Singapore
  • Personality of the Year: Sir Nicholas Serota
  • Artist of the Year: Cornelia Parker.

Congratulations to all. 

The young connoisseur (ctd.)

November 28 2016

Image of The young connoisseur (ctd.)

Picture: BG

The Deputy Editor had fun in the National Gallery of Scotland yesterday, as part of her ongoing connoisseurship training. Here she is admiring a Veronese. Or, more specifically, the babies therein.

Update - a reader writes:

It looks as though the Deputy Editor is not so much admiring the Veronese as offering her thoughts on it.  Has she been watching the box set of Civilisation, perhaps?

Fake art history news

November 28 2016

Image of Fake art history news

Picture: Headlines & Global News

Fake news has been in the headlines this past few weeks. Above is an entry for fake art history news; apparently a painting Ventura Salimbeni in a church in Tuscany proves that God came to earth on a Sputnik, 400 years ago. More, if you can bear it, here.

Happy Thanksgiving

November 24 2016

Happy Thanksgiving to all American AHNers. 

And apologies to to the rest of you - no posts today, as heading to London. 

Dispute over Leonardo's 'Salvator Mundi' (ctd.)

November 23 2016

Image of Dispute over Leonardo's 'Salvator Mundi' (ctd.)

Picture: Getty Images/Bloomberg

Bloomberg reports that the ongoing dispute between the Russian collector Dmitry Rybolovlev and his one time advisor, Yves Bouvier, has been widened to include Sotheby's and the consortium of those who discovered, restored and authenticated the painting. Sotheby's brokered the deal between the consortium and Bouvier for a reported $80m, but then Bouvier sold it on for a reported $127.5m.

The painting was sold in 2013 to a company controlled by Bouvier for $80 million by a consortium of dealers that include Warren Adelson, president of Adelson Galleries, New York art dealers Alexander Parish and Robert Simon, Sotheby’s said. Bouvier flipped the painting to Rybolovlev for $127.5 million. The dealers’ group is now threatening to sue Sotheby’s for the difference, claiming they were shortchanged on the sale, the auction house said in a filing in Manhattan federal court Monday.

The international battle is being watched closely by the art market. The Russian fertilizer billionaire accused the freeport mogul of overcharging him by $500 million to $1 billion during the course of a decade for works by da Vinci, Mark Rothko and Pablo Picasso. Rybolovlev sued Bouvier in Monaco and Singapore, claiming he was the victim of fraud.

Rybolovlev declined to comment on the Sotheby’s filing. Simon also declined to comment on behalf of the consortium.

Sotheby’s had nothing to do with the private deal Bouvier struck with Rybolovlev and it didn’t make any money on the sale, the auction house said in the court filing.

Update - more on the story here on Art Market Monitor.

3D printing Old Masters

November 23 2016

Video: Factum Arte

There's an interesting article in the New Yorker about a company called Factum Arte, who are pioneering the field of making 3D printer reproductions of art, from Egyptian tombs to paintings by Rubens, as above. I've never seen one (at least, not knowingly) but would love to one day.

Update - a reader writes:

Factum Arte exhibited at Masterpiece 2016 and among their exhibits was a facsimile of a painting & its frame, originally painted for Strawberry Hill. The quality of reproduction was mindblowingly good - truly amazing.

I see from the news story here that this painting has been given to Strawberry Hill in time for the tercentenary in 2017, and that Factum will be making copies of other significant items from Horace’s collection, also for display at Strawberry Hill.

From the photos on Factum's site, the quality does indeed look amazing.

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