'Orff with their frames'
April 23 2013
The Grumpy Art Historian reviews a new book on the history of London's main galleries in the early 20th Century, 'Stewards of the Nation's Art' by Andrea Geddes Poole, and relates this interesting tale:
The future King Edward VIII was briefly a trustee of the National Gallery, and I'd heard that he was somewhat disengaged. But I had no idea that the NG acceded to his request to borrow a few pictures for his own house - which he proceeded to re-frame! It seems only by good fortune that the original frames were found in a bedroom. It's a great story that she tells well, highlighting the dereliction of duty by the board.
Picasso's Child with a Dove goes to Qatar
April 15 2013
The sale of Picasso's Child with a Dove, which I first revealed here on AHN, seems to have been completed. After no UK museums stepped forward to try and buy the painting, it will be heading, so The Art Newspaper reports, to Qatar.
A reader writes:
I find this extraordinary. Yes, dismissed by many as 'cute kitch', it is, in fact, one of P's most iconic paintings. Having just seen it in the (brilliant!) early Picasso show at the Courtauld, it simply is a phantastic image and the paint is beautiful. I suppose the response was negative due to over-exposure? A bit like Ravel's 'Bolero' we are all so sick and tired of?
April 15 2013
Picture: Der Spiegel
Interesting article in Der Spiegel about Robert Driessen, a Dutch forger who made millions out of fake Giacometti sculptures:
"Long, thin figures, and an amorphous, crumbly surface," says Driessen. "It isn't difficult to make Giacomettis." After a while, he says, he "literally had Giacometti in my fingers." According to Driessen, it took him 30 to 40 minutes for the small figures. But they weren't simply recast versions of the originals. Instead, Driessen just added to Giacometti's body of work. He made his own models, had them cast and stamped them with the stamps of the foundries Giacometti had used.
New acquisition at the Met (ctd.)
April 10 2013
Picture: Metropolitan Museum/New York Times
For more than 40 years Leonard A. Lauder, the philanthropist and cosmetics tycoon, has been diligently and deliberately putting together a world-class collection of Cubist art that rivals those of such institutions as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and the Pompidou Center in Paris. Consisting of 33 Picassos, 17 Braques, 14 Légers and 14 works by Gris, it has been promised to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Update - apparently the total value of the gift tops $1 billion.
Update II - Blake Gopnik in The Daily Beast says Lauder deserves not a jot of gratitude for the gift:
I don’t understand why collectors get the kind of praise and attention they do, unless it’s because of universal sycophantism. Collecting is just shopping, and when you have close to infinite wealth, and the money to pay for the best advice, nothing could be easier. Any decent curator with a few billion dollars in her pocket could build a collection like this with her eyes closed. (Or maybe I should say without breaking a sweat.) And of course it’s worth remembering that Lauder only has his pockets so full because the thousands of people who work for him don’t; give those workers a bigger slice of the American dream, such as they used to have, and Lauder starts hogging less of it – to spend on things like fabulous Cubist art.
The true heroes of yesterday’s announcement are the Met’s curators and their new-ish leader, Thomas Campbell. While managing the tricky courtier’s task of coddling a billionaire donor, they’ve also managed to play aesthetic Robin Hood, getting art from the rich and giving it to the rest of us poor slobs. They redistribute artistic wealth, and the wealthy don’t seem to mind.
This is what you call a well-balanced article - written with a chip on both shoulders.
Do you own this picture?
April 5 2013
Here at 'Fake or Fortune?' HQ we're looking for the above picture. There's a small chance it might be by Edouard Vuillard, but it was sold on Ebay some years ago for just £3000. If you know where it is, please get in touch. More details here.
Update - a reader writes:
Bendor, your supposed' Vuillard' looks like a meeting between the young David Hockey and Barbara Cartland in the Dorchester. I known his standards dropped as he aged & gained popularity, but surely not to that extent.
Not Your Paintings
March 25 2013
Picture: Bournemouth and Poole College/Your Paintings
An ungrateful higher education college is to sell off an important collection of modern British art bequeathed to it by a former principal, the artist Arthur Andrews. The Bournemouth and Poole College collection includes works by Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, and Ivon Hitchens (above). The oil paintings in the collection feature on the BBC Your Paintings website, and include a work by the donor himself. They are being sold to raise £4m for a new building project. More details here.
I hope Poole College (which, incidentally, offers a number of art courses) will reimburse the Public Catalogue Foundation for the cost of photographing and uploading the collection onto Your Paintings.
Update - a reader writes:
Pretty sure some of those acquisitions were funded by the Gulbenkian Foundation. The Sven Berlin paintings were donated by his widow.
Art pun of the year
March 14 2013
Spotted this great headline in the Evening Standard the other day. The exhibition is on at the Museum of London till 14th July. Definitely going to go - Caine's a legend.
Achtung! East German art online
February 21 2013
I've always been strangely interested in the (oxymoronically titled) genre of socialist realism. If you are too, then a new online database of East German art is worth a browse. The above picture is called 'Thalmann speaks to the People', and was painted in 1951 by Hans Juscher. Thalmann was the head of the German communist party, and was shot in Buchenwald in 1944, probably on Hitler's orders. Much was made of him in East Germany after the war.
A search in the database for 'mauer' (wall) doesn't bring up much, curiously...
February 7 2013
More high prices at this week's Impressionist and Modern sales in London, including £26.9m for the above Modigliani. Details at Bloomberg here.
January 31 2013
Picture: Mail/Newsteam/Mullock's Auctioneers
There's been lots of excitement in the UK press about a 'newly discovered' portrait of Goering. From the Mail:
A never-before-seen portrait of Nazi leader Hermann Goering painted by a Jewish artist during the 1930s is set to go under the hammer.
The oil painting by Imre Goth enraged the tyrant after it was completed, as he was furious that it depicted him as the morphine-fuelled drug addict he was.
Goering was so outraged by the artwork that Goth feared for his life, and was forced to flee Germany and seek refuge in Britain. The portrait never left the possession of its creator, and on his death 30 years ago he asked a friend to destroy it. But the confidante kept the unique work, and it is expected to sell for thousands of pounds when it goes up for auction next month.
I'm no Imre Goth expert, but from what I've seen of his work he was a much better artist than this. There's something rather disingenuous about the picture on offer here - its surface, colouring, and drawing all look most odd. Caveat emptor, as they say...
And in any case, why would you want to sell, much less buy, a portrait of such an odious figure. Check out this peculiar argument for buying the portrait from the auctioneer:
The portrait forms part of a war memorabilia sale to be held by Mullock’s auctioneers in Ludlow, Shropshire on February 14. Its reserve price is £8,000, but it has previously been valued by experts as high as £50,000.
'The historical significance of this portrait cannot be denied,' said Richard Westwood-Brookes of Mullock's.
'As opposed to the official Nazi portraits of Goering, this shows him exactly what he was - a depraved drug addict - and for that reason I personally think it should be displayed publicly to show successive generations exactly what the Nazis really were, as opposed to their now more familiar propaganda images.'
Update - a reader writes:
I agree who would want it. The sad reality though is that there are lots of people out there who are Nazi sympathers/fans/memorabilia collectors and all it really takes is two of them!
..If you Google nazi memoribilia there are even dealers!
Update II - another reader writes:
I too was bemused by Mullock's angle on the portrait. There's a faint sense like a bad smell in the back alleys of the auction world that shiny boots and swastikas are considered rather impressive.
Fakes everywhere? (ctd.)
January 20 2013
Ken Perenyi claims to be a master forger, and has been touting his new book, 'Caveat Emptor' quite widely recently. You can hear a new interview with him here on US public radio. He claims to have painted thousands of fakes, which have ended up in galleries and museums around the world. I'm afraid I don't entirely believe that Perenyi operated on anything like the scale he claims (for example, he does not point to any examples of his work on public display), but he does seem to be yet one more reason to be careful when buying modern works by less well-known artists. More AHN on Perenyi here.
The Mannerist Queen
January 20 2013
It's been quite a week for woeful royal portraits. Hot on the heels of 'Mona Kate', we now have a mannerist Queen Elizabeth II, as seen in a portrait that has only now gone on display some 61 years after it was painted. It has since been hidden because officials in Liverpool, where the picture was commissioned, thought the Queen's neck was too long. More details in The Telegraph here.
'The Black Gardener'
December 19 2012
Picture: The Garden Museum
Congratulations to the Garden Museum and its director Christopher Woodward, who, with only ten days notice after seeing it in an auction catalogue, successfully raised £127,000 to buy the above 'Black Gardener' (dated to 1905) by Harold Gilman. The amount needed was more than twice the upper estimate. Our new best friends, the HLF, contributed £60,000. Well done to everyone involved. More details here.
Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)
December 13 2012
A reader writes, astonishingly:
With all this talk of modern art fakery (which, as you say, is so rife that I've already experienced an extraordinary amount of it during my relatively few years in the trade), I thought I'd share you my favourite personal experience. In my naive collecting days (not that long ago...) I purchased for a modest sum of around £100 a watercolour on Ebay purporting to be by the hand of Kyffin Williams - the main reason for this acquisition was the fact that I found the work had been offered as a genuine some years previous by Bonhams.
It had failed to sell but I thought the estimate was a touch high and thus I approached them to see if they'd consider re-offering the piece at a more conservative price. They confirmed it was the same work but said that they'd have to get an 'external specialist' on the artist to inspect it first hand to reconfirm the attribution. I felt this was probably a bad sign and thus was amazed when they came back and said the expert had proclaimed it to be right. Hence they re-catalogued it in one of their forthcoming sales [now withdrawn].
However, the catalogue had not been live long when I received an e-mail from Bonhams informing me that it had been brought to their attention that the work was a fake as its source had been revealed as former genuine sketch by a completely different artist, the notable but less expensive Alan Lowndes [below].
Someone had cut of Lowndes' signature, added a 'KW', some Williamsesque splodges, and crosses on the spires of a North of England pavilion to make it look like Venice!!
Quite how this fooled Bonhams, twice, and an apparent expert of the artist's work is beyond me but I guess the story acutely demonstrates much that's wrong with the murky world of modern art - and why I now almost exclusively stick to old masters/pre-1900 pictures which thankfully are infinitely more interesting both academically and aesthetically...
All most peculiar. One hopes that Bonhams have called in the Old Bill, with regards to the first consignor.
Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)
December 8 2012
In the New York Times Philip Mould (my boss), has an interesting piece on not only how to find lost Old Masters, but how to avoid fake new ones. As regards the latter:
It is with heavy heart that I report that a good 20 percent to 30 percent of 20th-century paintings up for sale these days online and at certain provincial auction houses are “trappers” (shorthand for cheese in the trap). This is a term I have coined by necessity for works that cleverly “suggest” themselves as the work of recognized artists but not cataloged as such — paintings purportedly by people like Jack Vettriano, Augustus John or Francis Bacon, placed in oldish frames, and often with fake exhibitions labels on the back. They are sold as by “unknown artists” and priced with tantalizingly low estimates in the hope of getting two rival bidders, thinking they are onto a winner, to fight it out. The vendors normally disappear into dust when you try to track them down, but could be anybody from the faker himself, an intermediary or even the auctioneer.
I bought one of these, a putative Picasso representing four abstract reclining nudes, for £120 at auction earlier this year (for research purposes only I might add) and had it resting on the floor of my West End gallery in London for a couple of weeks before I took it home. How depressing is this? One of my better clients spied it on the ground among the Van Dycks, Gainsboroughs and Sir Thomas Lawrences and drawn by the zeitgeist ruggedness of the forms, turned to me and said, “God I love this stuff. So pleased you are getting in to it.”
Note to HM Treasury
December 5 2012
Picture: National Portrait Gallery
More gloomy economic news in the UK means that it's time for one of my periodic reminders (for AHN's readers in government) of what John Maynard Keynes looked like. Here he is depicted by the great cartoonist Sir David Low, in a drawing first published in 1932.
Putting on a Francis Bacon exhibition
November 27 2012
Video: Gallery of NSW, via ArtDaily
Is harder than you think, according to this video from the Gallery of New South Wales. Their new Bacon show, Five Decades, is open till 24th February.
Porn alert! (ctd.)
November 26 2012
Last week we saw how Christie's, in their Old Master Drawings catalogue, felt the need to print a large warning notice before showing two 'sexually graphic' drawings by Thomas Rowlandson. But it seems that in the modern British department, anything goes. Or at least, anything goes if you subtly title the above drawing by Duncan Grant, 'Two men Wrestling'.
Looks a bit below the belt to me...
Update - a reader writes:
When I was at Bonhams I was portering a Vertu sale with some Edwardian enamelled porno cufflinks. There were four separate 'close-ups', all very Triple X.
Of course, a client rang up wanting someone to describe what was happening in each one. 'Wrestling' wouldn't do, and I was in the middle of a public view saying things like 'double penetration' down the phone.
That's enough filth for now, I think.
Say no to the sale of Old Flo
November 21 2012
Picture: Art Fund
What a contrast between two councils - in Glasgow, we see the city council joining forces with the National Galleries of Scotland to buy a 'Glasgow Boy' picture for £637k. But in Tower Hamlets, it's full steam ahead with the sale of Henry Moore's sculpture Draped Seated Woman, commonly known as Old Flo. The piece, which was bought by the London County Council at cost in 1962 for the new Stifford housing estate, will be sold at Christie's in February. The money raised will go into general council expenditure - so it's a deaccession of the worst kind. At the moment, the sculpture is at the Yorkshire sculpture park after the demolition of the estate. The Art Fund has launched a campaign to stop the sale.
Over on the Museum of London's website, curator Pat Hardy has helpfully set out the history of Old Flo's arrival in Tower Hamlets:
The LCC felt that such new estates should have works of art in them and they set about sourcing and buying artworks for these new spaces and also for schools and colleges. This was not for purely aesthetic reasons as they made clear ‘the Council has no authority to encourage art for art’s sake or to encourage national art except insofar as it benefits London art’. It was part of the policy to improve Londoners lives and living standards. The new Stifford Estate was a prestigious site and a suitably prestigious sculpture was therefore required to put in it. A work by Henry Moore, at that time an artist of international fame and prestige, must have seemed very appropriate The LCC in 1962 therefore acquired Draped Seated Woman (Old Flo) and it was installed outside one of the tower blocks called Ewhurst Tower in the Stifford Estate in the spring of 1963. It remained there until the Stifford Estate was demolished in the late 1990s.
The Museum of London has offered to house the sculpture, but the mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, has spurned the suggestion, and says the sale must go ahead:
We are faced with a stark choice in these times of recession.
Meanwhile, a group of councillors has tabled a motion to stop the sale, to be discussed at the town hall on 28th November at 7.30pm. The meeting is open to the public.
Glasgow boy goes home
November 21 2012
Congratulations to Glasgow City Council and the National Galleries of Scotland for buying Sir James Guthrie's The Orchard. From the Art Fund website:
The unprecedented partnership of Glasgow City Council and the National Galleries of Scotland bought the work for £637,500 from an auction at Sotheby's in London. The purchase was made possible by grants from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund, who gave £423,358 and £62,983 respectively.
John Leighton, director general of the NGS, said: "Guthrie's In the Orchard is a key masterpiece in the story of Scottish art and, at a time when funding is obviously very scarce, it is entirely fitting NGS and Glasgow City Council should join forces to acquire this iconic work for the public.
"We are immensely grateful to the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund for their rapid and very generous support, which has allowed us to move quickly to secure this extremely important work at auction."
It's rare for a UK museum to buy something at auction for such a large amount - so it's a great effort, especially if you consider that the NHMF had only 14 days notice to contribute their £423k:
Dame Jenny Abramsky, Chair of the NHMF, said: “This is wonderful news. Guthrie’s In the Orchard is universally acknowledged as one of the most powerful paintings of the Glasgow Boys Movement, which directed the course of modern art in 19th century Britain. When news reached the National Heritage Memorial Fund just fourteen days ago that this seminal work was at risk, we were able to act extremely fast and pledge our support in record time to secure this important part of our heritage for future generations to enjoy.”
Well done and a large round of applause to everyone involved.