Category: Research

Charging for history

July 28 2017

Image of Charging for history

Picture: Northamptonshire Record Office

Grim news for historians and art historians in the UK; Northamptonshire record office is becoming the first to charge for regular access to its reading rooms. If you want to visit outside a very limited free period, which is just Tuesday-Thursday from 9am-1pm, then you'll have to pay £31.50 per hour.

£31.50 per hour! That is an absurd and insulting fee. Those who have spent time researching in local record offices, which house come of the UK's most important private and public archives, will know that it is practically impossible do all you need to do in a morning. Ordering and reading through documents just takes too much time. For Northamptonshire record office to limit free access to just a few mornings a week in effect means that serious researchers will not able to access their documents at all; the cost for most of staying in the area to wait till the next free morning would make it impossible. Perhaps the new charging structure is a cynical and deliberate ploy to force people to keep away, thus allowing the council to cut staff and hours even more in future.

Northamptonshire record office has made a statement on their Facebook page, blaming government cuts, though it's a Northamptonshire council decision. Of course, the main concern is that this will be the thin end of the wedge, with other record offices soon following suit.

Is there much anyone can do about it? Probably not; the National Archives in Kew doesn't show enough strong leadership on issues like this, and if it does ever act, it takes an age to do so. Nor can we expect anything from government ministers. All we can hope is that by making a fuss we'll discourage other record offices from following Northamptonshire's shoddy example.

Update - there's a petition against the charges here.

'Portraits of the Civil War'

July 8 2017

Image of 'Portraits of the Civil War'

Picture: Unicorn

The Old Master dealer Angus Haldane has written a new book on the the art of the English Civil War, and it looks excellent. It's available here at the publishers, Unicorn Press.

'Sir Anthonio Van Dyck'

April 15 2017

Image of 'Sir Anthonio Van Dyck'

Picture: JVDPPP

Research for the Jordaens/Van Dyck Panel Paintings Project has confirmed that Van Dyck was christened 'Anthonio'. I prefer to call him Antoon, though.

Still, sadly, not Jane Austen (ctd.)

April 2 2017

Image of Still, sadly, not Jane Austen (ctd.)

Picture: via FT.com

Regular readers will know the case of the 'Rice Portrait', which claims to show Jane Austen. The painting has its defenders, including the family who own it, and who have their own website putting the case for the identity of the sitter here. Many others are unconvinced, including the former Chief Curator of the NPG in London, Jacob Simon.

Jacob's view of the picture has always been especially important, since he has been compiling an extremely useful and exhaustive online database of artist's suppliers in Britain - and a key piece of evidence in the case of the Rice portrait is a canvas maker's stamp on the back. The stamp is that of William Legg, who sold canvasses in High Holborn in London between abou 1801 and 1806. This is important because for the Rice Portrait to show Jane Austen it would need to have been painted in about the late 1780s.

Until now, only one example of a William Legg canvas stamp has been known. But in an article in the FT, writer Anjana Ahuja writes about a portrait she recently bought of a 'Mrs Smith' by the artist James Northcote (above). This painting is signed and dated 1803 - and it too has a William Legg canvas stamp on the back (below).

In other words, it's clear evidence that the stamp on the back of the Rice portrait must date the painting to the early 1800s. Therefore, it cannot show Jane Austen (born in 1775), for the sitter is clearly too young.

There have always been significant gaps in the case for the Rice portrait being Jane - not least its early provenance - and this latest evidence can only set the case back further still.

A new cache of artist's suppliers information has lately been uploaded to Jacob Simon's database; all available for free at the click of a mouse. Amazing.

Gainsborough's 'Music Party' in focus

March 30 2017

Image of Gainsborough's 'Music Party' in focus

Picture: Tate

Tate Britain has put on an 'in focus' exhibition around one of my favourite early Gainsboroughs, his Portrait of Peter Darnell Muilman, Charles Crokatt and William Keable in a Landscape, c.1750. One of the surprises discovered by Dr John Chu and Dr Hannah French during their discussions about the picture was that the type of flute seen in the picture was often also fashioned for use as a walking stick:

I think one of my favourite discoveries was when Hannah and I were remarking on the similarity in the picture between the walking canes and the flute. It’s the kind of thing you often only notice through prolonged careful looking in front of a work of art, which is what we were doing at the time. Hannah observed that, of course, flutes and other musical instruments were often hidden in walking sticks in the period. This was such a lovely revelation. We realised then and there that the survival of so many of these flute-walking sticks meant that the kind of musical walking party that Gainsborough depicts must have been a reality, not just a pictorial fancy, and that his picture captured the close relationship between the two recreations in a kind of visual rhyme.

More here

There's something very 18thC about the idea of people suddenly picking up their walking sticks to indulge in a spot of Bach. I suppose our use of mobile phones as music playing devices today is somewhat similar, if far less sophisticated.

New Hogarth catalogue

January 8 2017

Image of New Hogarth catalogue

Picture: Yale

I've been meaning to notice the publication of Elizabeth Einberg's new catalogue raisonnée on William Hogarth. You can buy it here for £85.

'Vigée Le Brun's petitioners'

January 8 2017

Image of 'Vigée Le Brun's petitioners'

Picture: Archives Nationale

Neil Jeffares has a useful new article on his blog about Elizabeth Vigée Le Brun. It explores the petition in her favour signed by 255 artists and French luminaries in 1799 to support her return from exile. She had fled during the French Revolution and as such had her assets forfeit. Neil points out that since the document has never been published before, it proivdes usual evidence of signatures. He also classifies all 255 names. More here

Bowes Museum acquires rare Bouts (ctd.)

January 6 2017

Video: National Gallery

Last year, the Bowes Museum in the UK acquired a panel painting by Dieric Bouts the Elder and his Workshop. In the above video, Rachel Billinge of the National Gallery's conservation department gives the painting a thorough technical assessment to find out how it was made.

Was Van Gogh arrested for chopping off his ear?

December 19 2016

Image of Was Van Gogh arrested for chopping off his ear?

Picture: Apollo/Courtauld

Our knowledge of the most famous ear in history has been expanded yet again by Van Gogh scholar Martin Bailey, who, in Apollo Magazine, looks into whether Van Gogh was arrested in Arles after the ear chopping business.

Early Irish art

November 23 2016

Image of Early Irish art

Picture: Irish Academic Press

I like this look of this new book on Irish art in the early modern period, available here

Is this Van Dyck's portrait of Jordaens?

October 10 2016

Image of Is this Van Dyck's portrait of Jordaens?

Picture: Warwick Castle

Here's an interesting blogpost by Adam Busiakiewicz, an art historian who used to work at Warwick Castle. It's about the above portrait by Van Dyck (detail) which hangs at Warwick Castle. The attribution to Van Dyck is not in doubt, but the sitter is 'unknown'. Adam cleverly thought reminded him of Jacob Jordaens, Van Dyck's fellow artist in Antwerp. The likeness is a good one, and the date of the painting would fit with Van Dyck painting Jordaens, whom of course he knew, and whom he portrayed for his famous 'Iconography' series of engravings.

Last year, Adam wrote a well argued piece for the British Art Journal - but unluckily for him he found a crucial piece of evidence after the BAJ article came out. It was a photograph in the Witt Library, which shows a copy of Van Dyck's original. The insription says 'Jacob Jordaens' - which would appear to be evidence that Adam's not the only person to have connected Jordaens to the sitter.

Personally I think Adam is right - it must be Jordaens. All we need to do now is find Van Dyck's missing portrait of Rubens...

'The mysterious landscapes of Hercules Segers'

September 19 2016

Image of 'The mysterious landscapes of Hercules Segers'

Picture: Rijksmuseum/New York Times

The Rijksmuseum has spent two years re-examining the oeuvre of the 17th Century Dutch landscape artist Hercules Segers, and has added a number of newly attributed works, reports the New York Times. The research has been done ahead of a new exhibition on Segers' life, which opens at the Rijksmuseum on October 7th till January 8th, when it will then travel to the Met in New York, where it opens on February 13th.

More on the Rijksmuseum's research and exhibition here.

Get paid to study Rubens

September 12 2016

Image of Get paid to study Rubens

Picture: Wikimapia

The Rubenianum, the Antwerp-based centre for research into Rubens and his contemporaries, is offering a $27,000 post-graduate fellowship. You can choose to study pretty much anything you like ove the course of the year. But the catch is you must be a US citizen. More here

Voltaire in pastel

May 25 2016

Image of Voltaire in pastel

Picture: Neil Jeffares

King of all this pastel Neil Jeffares has an interesting piece on his blog about pastel portraits of Voltaire. Well worth a click.

Extending Rembrandt's 'senses'

May 25 2016

Image of Extending Rembrandt's 'senses'

Picture: Getty

There's a good piece on the Getty website about Rembrandt's early 'Senses' series (one of which, above, was discovered recently in a small aution house in the US) and how they were extended in the 18th Century. We don't know who the artist was who had the chutzpah to add to Rembrandt's original, but thanks to the Getty's technical analysis we know exactly how they did it. More here.

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.

New 16thC National Gallery catalogue published

May 19 2016

Image of New 16thC National Gallery catalogue published

Picture: National Gallery

The National Gallery has published the third volume of its new catalogue of the Italian 16th Century paintings, focusing on works from Bologna and Ferrara. The catalogue is written by former director Nicholas Penny with Giorgia Mancini, a former research fellow at the National Gallery. You can order it here for £75. Here's the blurb:

The catalogue defines the special quality of paintings made in Bologna and Ferrara, describing a distinctive and idiosyncratic local tradition but also tracing the influence first of Perugino and then of Raphael and Titian. The entries are informed both by new archival research and technical analysis information and the catalogue also provides a detailed introduction to the work of each artist. In a valuable contribution to the history of taste, their changing reputations are traced and the important collections to which the paintings belonged are described, as is the manner in which they came into the UK’s national collection.

Volume 1 of the series was written by Penny in 2004, with volume 2 (Venice) appearing in 2008. The appearance of this latest volume just after Penny retired from the National underlines the rarity of having a director who was also involved in intimately cataloguing the collection.

US National Gallery 'online editions'

April 4 2016

Image of US National Gallery 'online editions'

Picture: NGA.gov

The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC has put a second volume on its excellent 'online editions' site. First we had Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, and now we have 'Italian Paintings of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries'.

Bish, bash, Bosch

February 21 2016

Image of Bish, bash, Bosch

Picture: Ghent Museum of Fine Arts

The controversy around Bosch attributions continues, in light of the new exhibition at the Noordbrabants Museum, and the work of the Bosch Research and Conservation Project (BRCP). The latter seems to be going the way of the Rembrandt Research Project in its early days, and becoming 'exclusionist' - even to the extent that we must wonder if the number of Bosch attributions that they accept can ever reflect his subsequent reputation and art historical impact. Generally, committees always result in an excessive downgrading of attributions, because they tend to be follow the lead of the most cautious and sceptical member.

But we learn a worrying flavour of the BRCP's approach to connoisseurship in this report on Art Daily over a discussion about the attribution of Bosch's Christ Carrying the Cross (above) in the Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent. The Bosch Research Project says it isn't by Bosch. Partly because:

[...] the BRCP compared the shapes of human ears across several different works. Those in Christ Carrying the Cross are significantly different to those seen in Bosch’s other paintings.

So - great artists only ever had one way of painting ears? This is the Morellian method of connoisseurship. Which has been redundant for about a century now.

Update - a reader writes:

The Bosch team might have been exclusionist as far as the paintings are concerned, but they have almost doubled the amount of accepted drawings: from 11 to 19 sheets. This is quite amazing in the light of the wonderful work Fritz Koreny has recently done in this field. He occupied himself with the works on paper for decades and  his 2012 book on Bosch’s drawings is truly exemplary. This prompts me to wonder if the members have really been looking at the material at hand instead of toying around with X-rays, IIR curtain style, paint samples etc.

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.

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