Category: Heroes of art history

A new museum for Basra

September 29 2016

Video: You Tube/Ruptly

Some good cultural news from Iraq; a new museum in Basra has been opened. Much of the funding and expertise has come via the British Museum, and in particular Dr John Curtis, a former Keeper at the British Museum, reports the Art Newspaper:

The city’s old museum, in Basra’s historic centre, was looted during the first Gulf War in 1991 and damaged during the 2003 invasion. Fortunately, much of the collection had already been evacuated to Baghdad. The museum’s former director, Mudhar Abd Alhay, was shot dead amid communal violence in 2005.

Three years later, Alhay’s successor, Qahtan Alabeed, took up the dream of re-establishing a museum in Basra. The British Army and the British Museum agreed to help create a new museum with proper security, climate control, regular opening hours and modern displays. The plan was to take over the 1990 Lakeside Palace, which had been used by the British Army after the overthrow of Saddam.

Progress has been slow, largely because of fundraising problems in Iraq. At an early stage, the Basra Provincial Council promised a $3m contribution but, because of budgetary problems, the funds were never provided. Most of the funding has been supplied by the UK-based Friends of Basrah Museum. The charity, founded by John Curtis, a former keeper at the British Museum, has raised nearly £500,000, largely through contributions from the oil company BP.

The museum still lacks the funds to open fully. Alabeed has decided instead to launch the project piecemeal, beginning with a gallery dedicated to the history of the Basra region from around BC300 to the 19th century. The remaining three spaces—which cover Sumer, Babylon and Assyria—are expected to open in the next few years. The museum estimates the project will cost an additional £450,000 to complete. A grant under consideration by the UK’s Cultural Protection Fund would provide the necessary funds; a decision is expected in late November.

Bravo Dr. Curtis - you deserve a knighthood. In the meantime, AHN declares you a "Hero of Art History".

New Francis Towne catalogue raisonné

May 20 2016

Image of New Francis Towne catalogue raisonné

Picture: Paul Mellon Centre, 'Old Walton Bridge', 1785. Francis Towne, Oil on canvas, Yale Center for British Art

The Paul Mellon Centre has published another excellent online catalogue raisonné, this time on the British artist Francis Towne. Their most recent one was on Richard Wilson. The Towne catalogue was written by Richard Stephens, who will be known to AHN readers through his invaluable database on the Art World in Britain from 1660-1735. Says the PMC website:

The catalogue identifies 1080 works by Towne and his circle, doubling previously-described totals. Based on the author’s PhD thesis, it makes extensive use of the papers of Paul Oppé (1878-1957) whose pioneering researches established the artist’s reputation in the 1920s, after a century of neglect. Oppé had discovered the contents of Towne's own studio in the possession of the Merivale family of Barton Place near Exeter. Using the archives of Thomas Agnew & Sons, the Fine Art Society, Colnaghi and elsewhere, Stephens gives detailed provenances for hundreds of the Merivales' Townes that have circulated on the London art market. Towne's biography is established in greater detail than before, using much original research. Resources published alongside the catalogue include an edition of Towne's correspondence and a transcription of Oppé's Barton Place catalogue.

More than 800 works are illustrated with high-quality images, much of it specially commissioned by the Paul Mellon Centre. Towne's sketching tours in Wales, Italy, Switzerland, Savoy, the Lake District and around England are reconstructed with new clarity and detail.

Francis Towne at the British Museum

January 21 2016

Image of Francis Towne at the British Museum

Picture: British Museum

A new exhibition opens today at the British Museum on the work of watercolourist Francis Towne. Says the BM website:

Come and experience 18th-century Rome through an astonishing series of watercolours not displayed together since 1805.

British artist Francis Towne (1739–1816) made a remarkable group of watercolours during a visit to Rome in 1780–1781. They include famous monuments such as the Colosseum, the Palatine Hill, ancient baths and temples, and the Forum. These watercolours were Towne’s way of delivering a moral warning to 18th-century Britain not to make the same mistakes – and suffer the same fate – as ancient Rome. 2016 marks the 200th anniversary of their bequest to the British Museum.

Towne’s 52 views of Rome are among the great creative landmarks in the use of watercolour within British art. They played a central role both in Towne’s career, and in the revival of his reputation in the 20th century. They were his main claim for recognition in the London art world and he continued to revise and work on them throughout his life. The views of Rome were the centrepiece of Towne’s one-man retrospective exhibition in London in 1805, and have not been displayed together since. When Towne bequeathed them to the Museum in 1816, they became his permanent public legacy. In addition to the views of Rome, the exhibition will feature further views of Italy by Towne and other works on paper by his contemporaries in Rome, including the important recent acquisition A Panoramic view of Rome by Giovanni Battista Lusieri (1755–1821).

As a landscape painter based in Exeter, Towne’s work was not well known in London during his lifetime, and he failed to be elected to the Royal Academy on several occasions. The Victorians had written off 18th-century watercolours as unambitious and limited, but in the early 20th century, the flat planes and spare, angular designs of Towne’s long-ignored drawings seemed unexpectedly fresh and elegant to modern eyes.

The exhibition has been organised by Richard Stephens, who is writing a catalogue raisonné of Towne's work, to be published online by the Paul Mellon Centre in London. Richard will also be giving a talk on Towne at the BM on Tuesday 26th January at 1.15pm. 

Regular readers will know Richard for his invaluable online resource, The Art World in Britain 1660-1735. I think it's high time AHN designated him a Hero of Art History.

Update - the show gets five stars from today's Guardian.

Everything you need to know about 18th Century pastels

September 8 2015

Image of Everything you need to know about 18th Century pastels

Picture: Neil Jeffares

Neil Jeffares has posted an extremely useful, free and interesting guide to all things pastel in the 18th Century on his website. It's a PDF - yours to download and keep - and is meant as a form of introduction to his invaluable online dictionary of pastellists (above). He says:

The book aims to answer the questions that used to (or in some cases still do) baffle me, such as

  •     why did some pastellists also work in oil – and which sitters opted for pastel?
  •     why did pastel disappear from fashion with the French revolution, returning a century later, but vanishing just as abruptly?
  •     why does the word have such negative connotations?
  •     was the Académie de Saint-Luc just a virtual concept, or was there a building?
  •     how many pastellists were there?
  •     how can you physically safeguard your pastels for a few pence each?
  •     how were and are pastels displayed?

Neil calls it a 'prolegomena', but it's in PDF form partly because, as he points out:

I’m aware that not everyone enjoys browsing websites. There’s something about riffling the pages of a book that the internet, tablets etc. haven’t been able to replicate. And it’s in the nature of reference books that one doesn’t sit down to read them in a linear fashion. 

And this means it's easy to navigate and use.

On a seperate post on his blog, Neil also looks at the wider question of publishing online, and its various shortcomings. For him, a particular bugbear is authors often not citing proper references. My bugbear is that for some writers online is a licence to go on meandering endlessly, for paragraph after paragraph, with no beginning, middle or end. Print and paper may have been expensive, but they encouraged brevity and discipline.

Perronneau mystery solved

August 19 2015

Image of Perronneau mystery solved

Picture: Neil Jeffares

Neil Jeffares has solved an intriguing mystery in the life of the gifted french pastellist, Jean Baptiste Perronneau. There has always been a gap in Perronneau's biography, when, between 1773 and 1777, nobody knew where he was. But now Neil has established that he was in Madrid, thanks to finding the above pastel in Lisbon in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, which has a dated inscription on the reverse placing Perronneau in Madrid in 1776. 

A full, if characteristically modest description, is on Neil's blog here.

Update - of course Neil should be duly appointed a Hero of Art History for his online Dictionary of Pastellists. Though I have already appointed him 'King of all Things Pastel', so I'm not sure which honour is better.

Artists in Britain 1500-1640

August 19 2015

Image of Artists in Britain 1500-1640

Picture: NPG, 1554 Self-Portrait by Gerlach Flicke, a German artist at work in England in the 16th Century.

The American art historian Prof. Robert Tittler has published online an extroardinary database of artists working in Britain in the 16th and early 17th Centuries. There are some 2,578 names.

Here's the abstract of the paper:

This resource identifies all those men and women who have been identified as painters of any sort working in England, Wales, Scotland or Ireland between the years 1500 and 1640. At this posting, it includes 2,578 such entries. It includes those who were native to the British Isles and also those aliens who came and worked there at any time during this era. It also includes those whom contemporary occupational descriptions refer to as pursuing any specialty within the general category of 'painter' including, e.g., 'limner', 'picture-painter', 'glass-painter', 'herald painter', 'manuscript illuminator', etc. Each entry indicates, wherever possible, the places of origin and of residence, contemporary occupational description, dates of life and of activity, details of training, known works, and general biographical information. Each name is also accompanied by a list of sources, and by the identity of those who researched that name. 

I think this great effort, which reflects years of dedicated research, qualifies Prof. Tittler for my new award: 'Hero of Art History'. Future nominations are most welcome. To qualify, I think art historians must have done something to which we're all indebted, but which nobody else has ever done. A founder recipient - I was thinking today as I thumbed through one of his many tomes - must be Algernon Graves, whose indexing of things like loan exhibitions in the 18th and 19th Centuries is invaluable.

Update: a reader writes to nominate Frits Lugt - agreed!

Notice to "Internet Explorer" Users

You are seeing this notice because you are using Internet Explorer 6.0 (or older version). IE6 is now a deprecated browser which this website no longer supports. To view the Art History News website, you can easily do so by downloading one of the following, freely available browsers:

Once you have upgraded your browser, you can return to this page using the new application, whereupon this notice will have been replaced by the full website and its content.