'...all my pictures'
May 24 2013
Picture: The National Archives
It's always tempting to check wills when doing provenance research, but I'd say that almost all of the time I come across the above short, dispiriting phrase. It's interesting to note the extent to which land was described in wills, often over countless pages, whereas even great art collections were invariably just described as 'all my pictures', along with the linen and cutlery. Have any readers had lucky hits with pictures in wills?
Update - the king of all things pastel, Neil Jeffares, writes:
But the main value in wills (and in law cases which are often even more fruitful, and show a less public side to the people we encounter) is the biographical information they give on artists and sitters.
I started to draw up a list of more minor discoveries: instant examples included Katherine Thornhill identified from Sarah Clayton’s will (copied from a pastel which I tentatively attribute to Cotes), whle the pastellist/opera singer Mrs Du Parc was properly identified through her will (and that of Goupy), as was Mrs Gibbons but it instantly became obvious that this would take far too long…
I’m not sure that I would call these “lucky” hits as they involve quite a lot of work!
Update II - Dr. Richard Stephens, editor of the University of York's online project The Art World in Britain 1660 to 1735, writes:
Quite a nice example is the will of painter Edmond Lilly, 1715, in which he gives "to my said nephew Edward Lilly the originall Picture of the blessed Virgin and the Angell commonly called the Salutation about 5 foot in breadth and 7 and half in height, one Picture of the Goddess Minerva about 5 foot in breadth and above 8 foot in height, one whole length picture of Queen Ann of or near the size of the said picture of Minerva. Also a picture of a devout Virgin 3 foot 4 Inches by 4 foot 2 Inches or thereabout" A year later he added a codicil, in which he mentions: "one whole length Picture of the Dutchess of Richmond copyed after Vandike 5 foot and half in height and above 4 foot in broeadth marked on the back with Letter (L) and likewise the Picture of Grapes soe much esteemed by his Papa 30 Inches by twenty five."
In 1708 Simon Dubois bequeathed to Lord Somers "my father and mothers Pictures drawn by Van Dyke" and to his wife "my Pictures of the Tower of Bable and of a Woman playing upon the Lute a little fruit piece that my Wife's Sister Coppied and the Battle of my own painting which hangs in the inward[?] Room"
Update III - another reader has news of of the Dobson family:
...it seems William Dobson's grandmother was a bit of a collector, leaving ‘a great picture of Judyth cutting of Hollofernes head', ‘six small pictures of allabastor’, ‘twelve round pictures of the twelve monthes of the yeare’, and a picture each of King James and the King of Denmark.
Interestingly for the grandma of a Royalist, she left the Judyth picture to another grandchild's husband, the regicide Sir James Harington...
A new Van Dyck discovery at the Royal Collection
May 15 2013
Pictures: Royal Collection, top, and below, Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris
An exciting amendment to the Royal Collection's online catalogue - the above picture used to be called a copy of a Van Dyck, but has now been upgraded to Van Dyck in full. The text states:
This was until recently believed to be a contemporary copy after a lost Van Dyck portrait. It has however been convincingly suggested that this is the Van Dyck original: the handling certainly has the freshness and vigour of an original rather than a copy and the quality is sufficient to suggest Van Dyck's hand.
The sitter cannot be identified but the portrait belongs to the artist's second Flemish period (c.1630), when he painted a number of sitters in this particular format. Additions appear to have been made to the top and bottom of the canvas and it is possible that the fictive stone window was added alter.
I'm pleased to say that the first 'convincing suggestions' came from us here at Philip Mould & Company. The picture, which is probably first recorded in the Royal Collection in 1747, had been listed as a copy in the 2004 Van Dyck catalogue raisonne (entry no. III.A31), with the late Sir Oliver Millar regarding it as 'probably a contemporary copy of a portrait painted c.1630'. However, I always thought it had a chance of being right from the illustrations available, and so asked the Royal Collection about two years ago if I could see it. They kindly showed it to Philip Mould and I in their store room at Hampton Court, where, under bright lights it was apparent that the face was of very high quality, and that the dress had in fact been finished off by a later hand. A different collar can be seen underneath part of the present one. Philip and I had no doubts at all that the head was by Van Dyck, with the described oval and parts of the costume being later additions. This seems to have been the common fate of a series of head studies Van Dyck painted in Antwerp in the early 1630s, some of which are thought to have been studies for his large group portrait The Magistrates of Brussels. Sadly, the original picture was destroyed in 1695 when the French army bombarded Brussels, but the composition is known in a grisaille sketch by Van Dyck now in the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris.
It is conceivable that the Royal Collection's newly accepted study relates to the figure on the far left of the grisaille. A similar (and fully accepted) head study, probably also with a later oval, is in the Fitzwilliam Museum. Possibly, the picture in the Muzeum Naradowe in Poznan which was also rejected as a copy of a lost original in the 2004 Van Dyck catalogue, is also an original Van Dyck head with later additions.
New Walpole Society volume
May 8 2013
The latest edition of the Walpole Society has landed on my desk, and is devoted to the account books, diary and patronage of James Ward RA (1769-1859), who was primarily an animal painter. Congratulations to Edward Nygren for the publication.
Renaissance conference bonanza
May 8 2013
Picture: Palazzo Vecchio
There was recently a conference held at the University of Melbourne in February 2013 on The Power of Luxury - Art and Culture at the Italian Courts in Machiavelli’s Lifetime. If you missed it, fret not, for Three Pipe Problem has videos and text of the whole lot here.
Two conferences in London
May 2 2013
Two conferences in June in London look to be worth going to. The first, at the V&A on 14th & 15th June, is all about England and Muscovy in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. The second, at the National Gallery on 21st and 22nd June, is on London and the Emergence of a European Art Market c.1780-1820.
Analysing Van Gogh
April 30 2013
Picture: Van Gogh Museum
It's all go in Amsterdam at the moment - following the re-opening of the Rijksmuseum, tomorrow sees the re-opening of the Van Gogh museum. The museum will open with a new exhibition devoted to Van Gogh's techniques. Nina Siegal in the New York Times reports:
By using an electron microscope and X-ray fluorescence spectrometry, which reveals the parts of pigments without taking invasive samples, researchers found that early on van Gogh used perspective frames as a guide and drew on the canvas to correctly render proportions and depth of field in his landscapes. Later, as he gained mastery, he abandoned these grids. Like many artists, he reworked certain paintings repeatedly to perfect his desired effect. The most important insight was into his palette, said Nienke Bakker, curator of the show.
“We now know much more about the pigments van Gogh used and how they might’ve changed color over time,” Ms. Bakker said. “That’s crucial to our understanding of his works, and to know better how to treat them. The colors are still very vibrant, but they would have been even brighter — especially the reds. Some of the reds were much brighter or have completely disappeared since he painted them.”
Apparently The Bedroom, above, was originally painted with brighter, violet walls.
For pastel fans...
April 2 2013
Picture: Alte Pinakothek, Munich
...allow me to direct you to a fine piece of research by Neil Jeffares, King of all things pastel, on a previously obscure sitter painted by La Tour, Elisabeth Ferrand.
Adam de Colone and Adam de Colonia (ctd.)
April 2 2013
Picture: Burlington Magazine
Last year I mentioned an article in The Burlington Magazine by Rudi Ekkart, which seemed to show that the Scottish artist Adam de Colone and the Netherlandish painter Adam de Colonia were one and the same person. Well, it turns out that they weren't. In the latest issue of The Burlington (above, which focuses on British Art), former Director of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Duncan Thomson has shown that Ekkart missed out, or misunderstood, a crucial piece of evidence in relation to Adam de Colone's upbringing in Scotland, that is, a document that Colone signed for the Privy Council proving that he was born and raised in Scotland. This means that he cannot have been Adam de Colonia, who was brought up in Dordrecht and Rotterdam. I can't link to the letter here, but it's an important one to note for anyone interested in Scottish art history.
April 1 2013
More good news from the Public Catalogue Foundation - they have secured the initial funding (of £125,000 from the Arts Council - well done them) needed to establish OPEN, the Oil Painting Expert Network. OPEN is intended to provide specialist art historical advice to collections which don't have such expertise in house.
The opportunities provided by OPEN are significant - of the 210,000 paintings (80% of which are in storage) photographed and published online by the Public Catalogue Foundation, 30,000 have no artistic attribution at all. That's one in seven. The combination of expertise and new high-quality digital images (many of paintings which have never been photographed before) should mean that we are able to make many more discoveries like the Van Dyck recently found at the Bowes Museum. I hope that OPEN will also be able to provide advice on other aspects of collections, such as conservation.
Regular readers will remember me lobbying for the creation of such a scheme for some time, first at a conference at the National Gallery in 2011, and also in a book published by Museums etc., Museums and the Disposal Debate. The PCF have kindly asked me to be on the steering group to help set up the network. You can read more about the OPEN announcement in my newsletter for the PCF here.
More 17thC & 18thC documents online
March 18 2013
Picture: Royal Collection
Richard Stephens, editor of York University's online project The Art World in Britain 1660-1735, has been in touch with news of the latest updates:
- 125 bills, accounts and receipts, including:
- accounts of the Earls of Salisbury, 1663-1724;
- records of the 5th Earl of Bedford, 1660-1700;
- a group of late 17th century documents from the National Library of Scotland;
- art-related Secret Service payments, 1679-88;
- accounts of Sir Stephen Fox (1627-1716);
- brief notes of documents at Belvoir, Alnwick, Chatsworth and elsewhere.
- 38 letters, including
- John Michael Wright's correspondence, 1676-7, that provides "the most vivid glimpse we have of the circumstances, ambitions and pretentions of an English 17th century painter." (David Howarth);
- letters of 1st Viscount Hatton, 3rd Marquess of Worcester and Thomas Walker of Newton, as buyers and sellers of pictures in late 17th century London.
Charles Beale's notebooks (1671, 1672, 1674 and 1676) with a commentary by the late Richard Jeffree.
- Court Papers
A very detailed lawsuit of 1670 concerning a dispute between Isaac Fuller and Thomas Killigrew, the theatre manager, over payments for scene painting at Drury Lane.
- 9 sale catalogues, including
the drawing master John Smith of Christ's College,1702;
the dealer and collector Simon du Bois, 1709;
dealers Edward Gouge, 1715, and Peter Motteux, circa 1714-17;
a 1728 sale annotated with prices and buyers' names.
An early 17th century inventory of paintings for sale from an Italian collection, annotated in the mid 1690s with current owners;
An inventory of the pictures at Narford Hall, 1738;
An inventory of the Duke of York's pictures, 1674;
An inventory of Vice-Chamberlain Coke's pictures, 1724.
- 140 names added to the index of People, chiefly comprising
- picture salesmen and their clients mentioned in the financial papers published here
- buyers at the 1711 Streeter sale and the Philipp sale of 1728
- early 18th century collectors of prints and drawings recorded by Fritz Lugt and Pond and Knapton
Richard also kindly draws my attention to this fascinating document on Van Dyck, in which Charles Hatton discuss the artist's priming techniques:
Sep 23, 76
Your pictures will be all finished ye next week. The Queen's, Prince's [Rupert], and Ld Dorset's are ready. I dare not hazard them in my little house, least ye sea coale smoke this winter shou'd spoyle them. Had ye Queen's picture hung a little longer at Thanet House, it wou'd have been quite spoyled, for ye cloth wase primed wth tobacco pipe clay, and it wou'd have pilled all of. As soon as the durt wase wash'd of, ye cracks appeared. But Mr.Baptist engages he hath secured it for ever. He highly admires my Ld Dorset's picture, sath it is every stroake of Van Dyke and of his best painting; and ye priming of ye cloath is very good. Van Dyke was very neglectfull in ye priming of ye cloths he painted on. Some were primed wth water colours, as ye fine crucifix at Mr Lillyes, some wth tobacco pipe clay, as ye famous picture of ye late King and Queen [above], at Whitehall, wch is now allmost all pilled of, and yr Queen's picture; but yt is now secured. Vandyke wase much pleased wth that priming, for it wase smooth as glasse; and he did not live to see ye inconvenience of it by being soe little durable, unlesse care be taken by some skillfull artist to fix it afterwards, either by varnishing it on ye backe side with a varnish wch will passe quite through and fix ye colour, or else wth a strong size and clap on another cloth. Here is noe news.
Yr Lopps truly affect. Brother to serve you,
Rembrandt self-portrait proclaimed
March 18 2013
Picture: National Trust
The head of the Rembrandt Research Project, Ernst van der Wetering, has proclaimed that a 1635 portrait of Rembrandt belonging to the National Trust is in fact an autograph self-portrait. The depiction, which shows an unusually rotund Rembrandt, and with a rather awkward representation of his right shoulder, was only recently bequeathed to the Trust by Lady Samuel of Wych Cross, the wife of a property developer. More details in The Guardian here, and a slightly larger photo of the picture on the National Trust database here (where it remains catalogued as 'Studio of Rembrandt').
Why connoisseurship matters (ctd.)
March 14 2013
Pictures: The Bowes Museum/BG/Your Paintings
Thanks for all your emails and comments about The Culture Show programme. It was fun to make, and I'm always glad to have a chance to evangelise about two of my favourite subjects; Van Dyck and connoisseurship. I promised a more detailed note about the picture, so here goes. I’m afraid it’ll be a little rushed, so don’t expect a Burlington type write-up.
I'll start with condition. At first sight, the picture looked a bit of a mess, and it was easy to see why it had been passed over as a copy for many years. One of the most disfiguring aspects of the portrait was the sitter's left eye, which did not seem to point in the right direction. With a portrait, small damages in a face can make the viewer question the whole image. We tend to look at portraits almost as human faces - and if the eyes are wonky, we assume that the whole portrait must be, in effect, also wonky.
However, as is often the case with condition issues, things looked worse than they in fact were. The wonky eye in question, which at first I thought had been over-painted, was merely missing a dark glaze over the pupil, and a tiny white highlight. Both of these had been cleaned off in a previous campaign of over-zealous restoration. Delicate glazes and pigments like those in an eye on a portrait can be easy to accidentally remove. Possibly, this was done centuries ago, for cleaning pictures used to be the job of the house keeper. Sliced potatoes, stale urine, and worse were used to wipe down paintings, sometimes with disastrous consequences. Wipe too vigorously, off comes a highlight, and suddenly an eye loses its direction.
Elsewhere in the picture, it was the usual story of old layers of dirt and varnish making the paint strokes and colours unreadable. There were also a few holes and some areas of abrasion. Although the picture had been over-cleaned it had not (and this is most unusual) been 'restored'. That is, there were no layers of old over-paint covering the losses and holes. Often, areas of old over-paint can be very hard to remove, especially if applied in oil. Even more fortunately, the picture was unlined, which meant that the original surface of the canvas was actually in excellent condition. I don't recall dealing with an un-lined Van Dyck before. Consequently, the paint layers had not been pressed or flattened in an old lining process (they used to use hot irons to bond the two canvases together, therefore melting and flattening the paint), and all the impasto was just as the artist had intended it. The picture had a fine texture, especially in the drapery. So despite appearances, the painting was in relatively good condition.
There was, however, one area where it had been dramatically altered by a later intervention, and this was in the curious grey, oval additions at the top and bottom. I've not seen these on a Van Dyck before, and again they must have been another reason to doubt the painting in the past. It was fairly easy to see that the edges were additions, especially at the bottom of the picture, as the remains of the sitter's sleeves were visible beneath the later paint. Our paint analysis also confirmed that, at the top, the grey background extended underneath the oval, and so we could safely rule out any question of the oval being original to the picture. In the past, it was not uncommon for owners to add ovals like this if a portrait was intended to be hung as part of a decorative set, perhaps in an architectural feature. When we cleaned the picture, it was decided to leave the oval additions on. It might have been possible to remove them, but they formed part of the picture's history. Below you can see a not very good effort by me at removing them on Photoshop, to give you an idea of how the portrait would originally have looked.
Cleaning the picture was a delicate but enjoyable experience. I was lucky that the Bowes Museum entrusted the picture to our care, and we were able, with Simon Gillespie's help, to use all our experience of conserving Van Dycks (over 20 so far, and many more studio works) to full advantage. Unless you really know what you're dealing with, cleaning Van Dycks can be a fraught business, given the extremely complex and delicate glazes he used. It is very easy to get things wrong, especially in areas with darker pigments like the hair. (If I may say so, the case demonstrates how sometimes the art trade and commercial restorers can have a greater understanding of how to conserve a painting than the museum world. Because we're portrait specialists here at Philip Mould & Company, with a particular expertise in Van Dyck, we have dealt with, researched and restored more Van Dycks in the last few years than a museum conservator might do in a lifetime.) Simon and I decided that the best approach would be to intervene minimally, and so where possible we have left on a layer of the oldest, possibly original, varnish over the whole picture. After the cleaning, there was some re-touching required, for example in areas of abrasion in the drapery, and most notably in the sitter's left eye, where a highlight was replaced. Fortunately, we had a useful guide for any re-touching with a good quality studio copy of the picture at Lamport Hall (below).
Although the picture was of an unidentified sitter when John Bowes bought it in 1866, curators at the Bowes museum had more recently suggested Olivia Porter (d.1663) as an identification, by comparing it to other portraits of her by Van Dyck. And they were right. The copy at Lamport Hall had originally been acquired in the late 17th Century as an unknown sitter, but was subsequently identified as Dorothy, Countess of Leicester. However, some further research, including a trip to the Heinz Archive at the National Portrait Gallery and some help from Olivia Porter's descendants, allowed us to prove conclusively that the Leicester identification was wrong, and that the sitter was indeed Olivia (or Olive, as she called herself). Olive was the wife of Van Dyck's closest friend in England, Endymion Porter, one of Charles I's key courtiers. Porter was the only person whom Van Dyck painted himself with [below, Museo Prado]. Olive was a lady-in-waiting to Henrietta Maria, and later, in 1637, converted to Catholicism with such zeal that she was eventually ordered to leave the country by Parliament.
The Bowes picture was of such high quality that I think we can safely say it was done from life. The portrait was not only exceptionally well painted (as Professor Christopher Brown said, ‘this is Van Dyck at his best’), but carried real authority in terms of characterisation and overall human presence. It's dangeours to be subjective about these things, but it feels as if it was someone Van Dyck knew intimately, and liked. The sketchy and unfinished nature of the drapery further suggests that the picture was conceived as a portrait from life, probably done with the intention of being able to use the likeness in the other portraits of Olive that Van Dyck was to paint. The same head, with a slightly different direction of gaze, was used again by Van Dyck in a larger three quarter length portrait now at Syon House (below, Duke of Northumberland collection), a picture which has been in the Northumberland collection since at least 1652.
The late Sir Oliver Millar, author of the section of the 2004 Van Dyck catalogue raisonne devoted to the artist's English works, dated the Syon House picture to c.1637, which I would agree with, and which also seems a most likely date for the Bowes Museum picture. Given Van Dyck's own strong Catholic faith, it is interesting to speculate whether the portraits of Olive done at this time were in any way linked to her conversion. Van Dyck also painted a group portrait of her with her husband and child [Private Collection - a copy (perhaps that recorded as being made by Mary Beale in 1672) is at Dunham Massey], but this is more difficult to date. A less securely identified portrait of Olive by Van Dyck was formerly at Shrubland Park. Two smaller copies of the Bowes picture exist, on panel. One was formerly at Balnagowan Castle, and was later sold at Christie’s as a portrait of Henrietta Maria, and the other remains in the private collection of Olive's descendants.
After filming was over, I was subsequently alerted (again by Olive's descendant) of another important likeness of her at Lacock Abbey. This portrait, above, is an early copy probably by Theodore Roussel (1614-1689) after the head of Olive in Van Dyck's group portrait of her with her family. The Lacock Abbey copy is important because Van Dyck’s original group portrait is in bad condition (even George Vertue in 1751 records this fact), and consequently the likenesses are not reliable as the picture has been substantially over-painted*. So the Lacock Abbey copy, done soon after the original was completed, is another useful guide to what Olive looked like. For more information on Olive's life and the history of some of her portraits, the best source is Gervas Huxley's ‘Endymion Porter: the Life of a Courtier’ (London, 1959).
John Bowes bought the portrait of Olive in Paris in 1866, from one of his regular dealers, Madame Lapautre. A receipt records that he bought it with another portrait then attributed to Van Dyck, of Henrietta Maria. The Henrietta Maria picture is also still at the Bowes Museum, but has sadly been very heavily over-cleaned, and badly restored (many years ago). It is hard to tell the quality due to the paint loss, but I would say that it was probably painted in Van Dyck’s studio. The earlier history of Olive’s portrait was unknown, but I found the remains of a wax collector’s seal (below) on the back of the un-lined canvas.
It's hard to make out from the photo, but what you can see is a coronet, the top of a shield with 'mascles' or lozenges, and part of the chain of the order of the Holy Spirit, France's highest order of chivalry (as denoted by the tiny ‘H’ in the chain). All of these combined meant that I was looking for a titled (the Coronet) member of the Rohan family (a coat of arms with nine mascles, since the shield was undivided) who was a member of the order of the St Esprit. With help from Dr. Clive Cheeseman, Richmond Herald at the College of Arms, and Hervé, Baron Pinoteau of the Académie Internationale d'Héraldique, we were able to establish that the arms belonged to either Henri, 2nd Duc de Montbazon (d.1654) (below, with his arms in the engraving), or his son Louis (d.1667).
Hopefully, further research in any Montbazon archives might yield further clues, but it was decided not to do this in the programme. What the wax seal does tell us, however, is that the picture was in France by the middle of the 17th Century. It is likely, therefore, that the Porters took the painting with them when they fled England into exile after Charles I lost the Civil War, and probably sold it soon afterwards. We know that the Porters were in dire financial straits when in exile. The supposition is that the picture remained in France until John Bowes bought it in Paris in 1866.
You can see a larger image of the cleaned painting here on the Your Paintings website. In addition to Professor Christopher Brown, the attribution to Van Dyck is also supported by the Rev. Dr. Susan Barnes, a renowned Van Dyck scholar who was one of the original authors of 'Van Dyck: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings' (New Haven and London, 2004)
* Incidentally, if you own the group picture, and would like some advice on possibly restoring it...
Watts archive to go online
March 12 2013
The National Portrait Gallery is to catalogue and put online the archive of George Frederic Watts. From the NPG's website:
The Watts Collection, held in the Gallery’s Heinz Archive and Library, contains approximately 3,000 letters written to, or received by, the artist. This series was compiled by his second wife Mary Seton Watts (1849-1938) following her husband’s death, in preparation for her biography of him, published in 1912. In July 1905 Mary Watts advertised for the loan of Watts’s letters, intending to make copies for biographical research. The correspondence, both original and copied, was arranged and pasted into 15 albums, of which the National Portrait Gallery acquired 14, plus many loose letters.
The letters represent a broad cross-section of the artistic and social circles in which Watts moved. Many important Victorian figures are represented, including Matthew Arnold, Robert Browning, Julia Margaret Cameron, Thomas Carlyle, William Ewart Gladstone, Sir John Everett Millais, Cecil Rhodes, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The shortest letters record appointments for sittings and social engagements. More detailed exchanges relate to the organisation of exhibitions of Watts’s work and his art practice.
The NPG is currently looking for an archivist to catalogue the papers. More details here.
Test your connoisseurship
March 8 2013
Picture: Bowes Museum
The picture above belongs to the Bowes Museum, and will be the subject of a Culture Show Special presented by Alistair Sooke tomorrow, Saturday, on BBC2 at 6.30pm. Long called a copy 'after Van Dyck', is it in fact by him? Watch tomorrow to find out...
But in the meantime, I invite you to hazard a guess on the attribution. Let me know if you would stake your reputation on the above pre-conservation photo, and say whether it is or is not by Van Dyck (as I, er, have). Or is it attributable to the range of options we have with an artist like Van Dyck; 'studio of Van Dyck', or 'Van Dyck and Studio'? Or is it even an out of period, 18th Century copy? In which case, have I made the biggest blunder of my career?
PS - As loyal readers of AHN, it is your duty to spread the word about the programme!
Update - a reader writes:
I assume that it is not a later copy.
IMO not by Van Dyck, studio of Van Dyck or Van Dyck and studio. Surely if it had been anywhere near Van Dyck’s studio it would have a more interesting background. It looks English. The fictive oval frame invites the idea of Cornelius Johnson, but the style doesn’t match him.
You don’t say what the support is – presumably canvas rather than panel.
The neckline is low, and there is little sign of lace. Could the costume be second half of the 17th century? The uninteresting background makes me rule out Lely and its probably not Wright either.
Ellis Waterhouse’s Painting in Britain has some small black and white illustrations of work by a painter by the name of John Scougall. I know nothing about him, but that’s my guess.
It is on canvas.
Update II - another reader writes:
Update III - a reader goes for half and half:
The head on the 'Van Dyck' looks to be better than the very poorly painted lower body and costume,I'd plump off a unfinished portrait by Van Dyck? but finished by an inferior hand.
All no's so far. Another:
The angle of the shoulders looks too sharp for the proportion of the face and the rest of the body. The mis-balance suggests overpainting.
Update IV - at last, a reader takes the plunge:
I'd venture to say it does indeed have a very good chance!
Guffwatch - Burlington Magazine joins the fray
March 4 2013
Picture: Burlington Magazine
Three cheers for The Burlington Magazine, which, in its latest editorial, calls for an end to Artspeak in:
[...] art-historical books and publications. Here, what is striking is not so much the cliché but the inventiveness of the language used, the reckless extensions and elaborations of words, the adverbial decor, the nifty transformation of noun into verb, the plain sentence got up in grotesque academic drag. We have recently witnessed ‘the narrativisation of subversion’ and ‘the spatiality of viewership’, among other portly neologisms. And the more the argument concerns art’s inclusiveness, the collective memory or the demotic gaze, the more the language seems to retract into hermetic exclusivity. Critical and historical writing must in some way be shaped by an intended audience. Style – whether it be complex or succinct, expository or descriptive – is a writer’s personal expression inflected by a sense of that audience. In a good deal of recent art history, felicitous style is rarely a consideration, but the imagined reader is there, drawn from a restricted circle of fellow academics (who will, incidentally, nod knowingly at the fashionable names quoted and cited that give the writer a spurious authority). Articles are couched in a careerist language to be peer read for renewal of tenure. An initial distrust of plain English turns into a positive fear of it, in case of reprisals.
Update - a reader writes:
How many of them are out there I wonder? Sitting on comfy stipends in faculties and institutions around the globe, writing impenetrably cryptic books, papers, monographs and theses that nobody but their identical peers or hapless undergraduates will read?
Dictionary of Art Historians
February 18 2013
A reader alerts me to the online Dictionary of Art Historians. It must be a Good Thing, as it has a photo of my art historical hero, Kenneth Clark, on the home page. The entry on Clark concludes thus:
The popularity of his television [series] and book, Civilization, made him a target for much of the New Art History historians who saw his work as traditionalist and ignoring social factors of art production.
Yet another reason to be a fan, then.
Update - a reader writes, obligingly:
On a personal note, I think anyone whose heroes include John Maynard Keynes and Kenneth Clark must be a good art historian and connoisseur -- o.k., that is probably a non sequitur, but as I gather the twitterati say WTH !
And from a UK Tweeter:
Shame the DAH misspelt "Civilisation".
Update II - I've just ordered Civilisation on blu ray. Bargain at £19.99.
Update III - I thought I was doing the Right Thing by ordering Civilisation directly from the BBC, not Amazon, where it was £2 cheaper. But now I hear it'll take seven working days to deliver, I'm not so sure. Oh for the old days, when you could actually go into a shop and buy something...
Agnews to close (ctd.)
February 15 2013
Picture: Look and Learn
When I reported that Agnews was to close after 195 years, readers asked what would happen to their invaluable archive. A reader informs me that it will definitely be sold, and that it is already boxed up, ready to go. The question is, of course, where will it go? Two centuries' worth of dealing in everything from Rembrandt to Bacon has left Agnews with what must be one of the most important - and valuable - art historical archives in the country. A likely bidder, however, is the Getty Institute in California, which has a fine provenance research centre. Of course, one would prefer the archive to remain in the UK, and it seems unlikely that it will easily get an export licence if sold abroad. But it would not be too much of a loss if it did go to the Getty - as they would soon have everything online, and open to all.
Update - on Twitter, Neil Jeffares makes this important point:
Let's update the Waverley criteria, distinguishing information from objects, [and] making online publication a condition.
The UK export controls currently only allow for a binary decision - it either stays in the country or it doesn't. Probably, in this digital world, the exporting committee should be able to allow for a foreign buyer like the Getty to give an undertaking to provide universal access, and factor that into an application.
One reader, however, would rather the archive remained in the UK:
You may know that the Getty already has microfilm copies of part of Agnew's archive, comprising stock books for the years 1852-1938.
Personally I think it would be a pity if the Getty got it - after all, how many people are going to traipse all the way over there to consult them? The Agnew's archive is the kind of essential reference resource you will want to dip into repeatedly, but briefly, year in year out. Who did they get that picture from? They exhibited such and such a drawing in 1932, but did they sell others from the same source at the same time? That kind of thing.
But you make an excellent point: nowadays if you want to acquire an important art historical archive, it really isn't good enough to expect people to plod along to your premises to examine it between the hours of 10 and 5 with an hour for lunch, under arcane study room conditions. What if you are based in Canada, and the archive is in London? At least the Getty understands that if it wants to be a leader of its kind, it has to address an audience well beyond those that can visit its reading rooms.
Guffwatch - CAA special
February 13 2013
The College Art Association conference is taking place at the moment in New York. For a certain type of academic art history, it's the main annual event, certainly in the US. I'm sure those attending and giving papers will have a great time - but as ever I'm baffled by many of the session titles. On the first day there are, for example, sessions called:
- The Proof Is in the Print: Avant-Garde Approaches to the Historical Materials of Photography’s Avant-Garde
- Transmaterialities: Materials, Process, History (which includes a paper entitled, 'The Generative Possibilities of Base Materiality in Postwar Conceptions of Art and Architecture')
- The Empathetic Body: Performance and the Blurring of Private Self in Contemporary Art
- Beyond Good or Bad: Practice-Derived Epistemologies of Studio Critique
I have no idea what any of the above are about. Why do art history papers have to have obfuscatory titles? For a subject which continually claims to be anti-elitist, art history too often speaks in an alien language designed specifically to exclude.
The session on Practice-Derived Epistemologies, whatever they are, includes a paper called, 'Demystifying Critique: Exploring Language and Interaction with Non-Native Speakers of English'. I'm a native English speaker, and I need help demystifying this kind of language. But then maybe I'm just a bit dumb.
Update - a reader writes:
If you took, more or less at random, some of the words in all the papers you cite, you could still come up with a paper that wouldn't look out of place on a CAA programme. How about:
Transmaterial empathies: Conceptions of practice-derived critiques of the self in Avant Garde postwar epistemiology.
Update II - I probably am just dumb. Reader Dr Matt Loder tweets:
I went to one of the supposedly unfathomable panels. It was perfectly fathomable. I hope Bendor comes to AAH!
On the other hand, I did spot, on the second day of the CAA conference, at least one session title that even I would understand:
French Art, 1715–1789
West Ballroom, 3rd Floor
Chair: Colin B. Bailey, The Frick Collection
Update III - another reader writes:
Highlight for me was the "Critiquing Criticality" session, with the unintentionally ironic paper "Mediocrity doesn't happen overnight ... it takes a lot of hard work". I do hate 'critique' as verb. I know it has historic precedent, but 'criticising' is always better. 'Critiquing' gives the wrong focus, implying that it's all about the construction of a critique rather than the criticism of an external object. But maybe that's the right connotation in this context.
The 'New Connoisseurship' panel looks interesting though - I hope an AHN reader is attending and will provide a report.
Me too. The session on connoisseurship is titled:
The New Connoisseurship: A Conversation among Scholars, Curators, and Conservators
West Ballroom, 3rd Floor
Chairs: Gail Feigenbaum, Getty Research Institute; H. Perry Chapman, University of Delaware
Note that dealers don't get a look in. But then we are very much 'Old Connoisseurship'.
Update IV - I am not dumb! Top US art critic Jerry Saltz writes on why he goes to CAA:
I say go for the voyeurism and snacks, stay for the panels and symposium. I often attend super obscure ones about how wood was beveled in 15th century Italian marquetry; or the presence extra-terrestrials in pre-Christian art. Mostly, however, when I get the CAA program (available on line or at the Hilton) I'm utterly baffled by the titles. Much of academia speaks a foreign tongue, using insular jargon and language I'm either unfamiliar with, can't understand, or isn't in dictionaries. I love made-up words. But when they don't make any new sense I get antsy. And feel dumb.
Update V - a distinguished art history professor writes from the US:
I am an avid reader of AHN and was amused by your comments about the CAA meeting in NY. I gave up attending several years ago -- too crowded, too frantic, too expensive, too many presentations I don't understand or care about.
Update VI - a CAA attendee writes (kindly):
I've been following your delightful blog for a few months now and I want to thank your for the work you put into it. It is balm for an art soul tattered by the likes of Artfagcity and Hyperallergic here in the NYC area. I was playing catch up and came across your Guff post on the annual CAA conference. I had to laugh because I fell behind while attending for the first time this year. There was the nonsense I knew to expect from more seasoned veterans, and that I didn't feel to badly trying to avoid, and some wonderful panels that left me inspired to go back to grad school and do good art history, not bad contemporary art-history-theory nonsense. For all the panels on art criticism this year, and despite my interest and concern for the field I only sat through one lecture (which was great, but I was too exhausted to go on, and it might have continued horribly).
Richard III? (ctd.)
February 6 2013
Video: Press Association
I'm afraid I just don't trust these facial reconstructions from skulls. According to the video above, 70% of the facial recreation from a skull is highly accurate. But then we all have two eyes, a nose and a mouth - that is, our faces all have a great deal in common. It's the tiny details that set us a part. I don't believe we can get details such as the precise length or shape of noses, eyes, eyebrows, lips or ears, even hair colour - all the things which make our faces so distinctive - from a skull. So please treat the face in the above video with some caution. In this other video at The Guardian, the lady behind the recreation says that the face is derived 'only from science', but then immediately contradicts herself by saying she used multiple contemporary references. This exercise would only have been valid had the recreators been given the skull, and not told who it was meant to be.
Update - here's an interesting article in Acta Biomedica in 2009 on the history of facial reconstruction by Laura Verze from the Department of Anatomy, Pharmacology and Legal Medicine at the University of Turin, Italy. She concludes:
In conclusion, over the centuries faces have been reconstructed from skulls for different reasons: religion, teaching, and more recently forensics, anthropology and archaeology of ancient or more or less famous people. The techniques are changing, and new more reliable methods are being studied. Nevertheless, it is clear that facial reconstruction methods and their traditional guidelines present some inaccuracies, and the challenge will be to increase the degree of accuracy of facial reconstruction.