Previous Posts: November 2011

$23.6 million Chinese contemporary work

November 21 2011

Image of $23.6 million Chinese contemporary work


A work by Wu Guanzhong, Ten Thousand Kilometres of the Yangtze River (detail above), has sold at auction in Beijing for $23.6m. I think (but will have to check) that this is a new record for an individual work by a Chinese contemporary artist. More on Wu Guanzhong here

Leonardo mania

November 19 2011

Image of Leonardo mania

Picture: Ebay

Bidding for two tickets for the Leonardo exhibition on 30th November has now reached £330 on Ebay, after 34 bids. The cover price is £16. Wish you'd bought a whole lot when they first came out?

Advanced tickets have now sold out. The only way to get legit tickets is to turn up on the day and hope you get some of the daily allowance. Queues are beginning at 6.30am, with the gallery opening at 10am...

In WW2, the Brits looted too...

November 19 2011

Image of In WW2, the Brits looted too...

Picture: Indiana University

Here's an unusual one: a painting is to be restituted to the German government. The late 15th Century Cologne School Flagellation of Christ (detail above) was looted by (ahem) a British soldier from the Jagdschloss Grunewald in 1945, before ending up in the Art Museum of Indianapolis University. It had previously been in the German royal collection. Perhaps Kaiser Wilhelm's descendants will now claim it back... More here.

Getty denies interest in 'Salvator Mundi'

November 19 2011

That, at least, is the headline in the LA Times. But if you actually read the story, it seems the Getty is not ruling it out:

David Bomford, acting director of the Getty Museum, said only that "other acquisitions" being considered by the Brentwood institution precluded the effort. Bomford, who was speaking to The Times' editorial board, is a former paintings conservator and head registrar at the London museum where the Leonardo exhibition is taking place.

It's unlikely they'll get another chance to buy a Leonardo; start jangling the tin!

Friday Amusement

November 18 2011

Image of Friday Amusement

Picture: Cartoonstock

Continuing the Leonardo theme this week...

'A little bit of justice'

November 18 2011

Image of 'A little bit of justice'

Picture: Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin

Two paintings by Karl Schmidt-Rottluff are one step closer to being restituted to the heirs of a Jewish businessman killed at Auschwitz, after a ruling by a German government panel. The pictures are Self-Portrait (above) and Farm in Dangast, both of which are now in the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin. Robert Graetz, a German Jew who worked in the textiles industry, was forced to sell the works to pay the punitive taxes levied by the Nazis. Graetz's grandson, Argentinian Roberto Graetz, said:

"You can’t undo the past, but it is possible to achieve a little bit of justice ... Many times over the years I have had tears in my eyes, remembering this family history while working on the claim. There is a sense of deep satisfaction at this conclusion, but the feelings are contradictory, because those who suffered are no longer here.” [...]

“My grandfather lost everything he worked for, and then died in a camp [...] My family first started trying to get these paintings back in 1946, after the war. The decision is good for us, for my children and my children’s children.”

Catherine Hickley in Bloomberg has the full story here.

A fake Modigliani at the Pushkin museum?

November 18 2011

Image of A fake Modigliani at the Pushkin  museum?

Picture: The Art Newspaper

The Art Newspaper has an intriguing story about Modigliani's Portrait of Marevna (Marie Vorobieff-Stebelska, above right). An anonymous Russian collector has told TAN that he had the chance to buy it, but after subjecting it to scientific tests found out that it was a fake. The Modigliani Institute in Rome, on the other hand, and the Pushkin Museum, maintain it is legit. 

First, 'the Russian collector':

 “After 40 days, I got the evaluation back from the institute, which indicated that some of the pigments used in this painting were synthetic, produced after 1940,” he says. Modigliani died in 1920. The collector now says he is “revolted” to see the work hanging in the Pushkin as a genuine Modigliani.

Now, the Modigliani Institute:

Christian Parisot, the president of the Modigliani Institute in Rome who has the legal right to authenticate Modigliani’s work, insists that it is a genuine portrait. He denies all of the allegations questioning the authenticity of Portrait of Marevna and offers various documents, including a declaration by Marevna saying that she posed for Modigliani, and cites the results of scientific tests as proof.

“Current chemical and spectrographic tests demonstrate that the support, the canvas and all the colours used in this painting are of the period of the artist, and are comparable to those of the other paintings,” he says. He adds that there is no scientific research from any laboratory claiming otherwise.

The painting is listed in Parisot’s catalogue raisonné of Modigliani (Catalogue Raisonné A. Modigliani, Volume II, 1991) and has been exhibited elsewhere. It was shown at an extensive Modigliani exhibition “Amedeo Modigliani”, that opened in 2010 and ran until February this year at the Municipal House in Prague. The Modigliani Institute also points out that the painting was attributed to the artist when it was shown in 1983 at the Musée Bourdelle in Paris, when Marevna was still alive.

There seems to be a compelling case in the painting's favour. You read the full story here.

But a couple of things puzzle me. The picture is apparently for sale for EUR9m. I haven't seen the painting, but one wonders why the mystery 'Russian collector' is publicising this story. One also wonders why The Art Newspaper has not published or even seen for itself (as far as one can tell from the story) the collector's technical analysis. Certainly, I would be mightily annoyed if TAN published an anonymous collector's questioning of one of my paintings, with no evidence. Wouldn't you? Perhaps there is some murky behind-the-scenes negotiation going on - questioning a picture's validity is a great way to lower the price!

The risks of selling your art at auction in Paris...

November 18 2011

Image of The risks of selling your art at auction in Paris...

Picture: Avis de recherche de la Police Nationale

Thousands of works that 'went missing' over many years from the main Paris auction centre, L'Hotel des Ventes de Drouot, have been listed online by French police in a bid to identify their owners. The site is a nightmare to navigate, but contains some intriguing pictures. A number of arrests have been made, mainly amongst the porters at Drouot, the so-called cols-rouges. For more background on the case, see Simon Hewitt's reports in the Antiques Trade Gazette.

Van Gogh in Canada

November 18 2011


A major retrospective of Van Gogh's view of nature will open next year at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa (25th May - 3rd September). 'Van Gogh; Up Close' will include 45 of his works. More details here


November 18 2011

...I was in the countryside looking for possible stories for series 2 of 'Fake or Fortune?'. This involved a long train ride, a fine lunch in a fifteenth century hall, and a disappointing 'Gauguin'. We have potential leads for a couple of programmes, but are still keen to hear of more, so keep your ideas coming...

Waldemar on 'Leonardo'

November 16 2011

Image of Waldemar on 'Leonardo'

Picture: Waldemar Januszczak

As expected, a good review from Waldemar on the Leonardo exhibition. And I was glad to see that, unlike many critics, he liked the Salvator Mundi:

Having expected to doubt the surprise new authorship, I found myself fully convinced by it. The rock crystal orb, Christ’s blessing fingers and his curly hair are super-sensitively painted by a hand we now recognise: a hand seeking always to extend the limits of depiction. The sheer strangeness of the image makes it feel Leonardo-esque. No normal painter would have attempted this.

Of course, this is completely the opposite to Andrew Graham-Dixon's response to the picture. 

On the subject of why many critics have disagreed with the National Gallery's attribution of Salvator Mundi to Leonardo, a reader writes:

The Press has it in for the Salvator Mundi - I should guess - because the painting's had it too easy, from (re)discovery to attribution and exhibition in six years - no conspiracy, no mystery and not a scratch from sinister vested interests, just a perfectly respectable guest showing up 500 years late for a party.

In case you thought the Museums Journal was an impartial publication...

November 16 2011

Image of In case you thought the Museums Journal was an impartial publication...

I don't like to be political on this site. But instances of 'all Tories are philistines' annoy me. Here's an excerpt from the current editorial by Sharon Heal on free entry to museums:

There is no room for complacency, however; the Conservatives have long been rumoured to be in favour of charging and, despite all their protest to the contrary, would probably love the London nationals to be able to levy high admission charges on their millions of visitors.

And here's an extract from a speech by Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt before the last election:

...let me state clearly that we will maintain free museums, which Chris Smith fought so hard to achieve... it has been a huge success, and under the next Conservative government it will remain so.  No ifs, no buts.

New Powell Frith discovered

November 16 2011

Image of New Powell Frith discovered

Picture: BBC News

Found in an American beach house - a first version of William Powell Frith's epic painting, Derby Day. The finished picture, one of the most famous 19th Century narrative paintings, is in the Tate. This earlier version by Frith will be sold at Christie's in December, with an estimate of up to £500,000. Annoyingly, the catalogue entry is not online yet, so for now more details on BBC News here

Queueing for Leonardo

November 16 2011

Image of Queueing for Leonardo

Picture: BG

Advanced tickets for Leonardo have now sold out. If you want to go, you'll have to queue!

Did Durer see 'Salvator Mundi'?

November 15 2011

Image of Did Durer see 'Salvator Mundi'?

Picture: Alte Pinakothek, Munich/(C) Salvator Mundi LLC/Tim Nighswander/Imaging4Art

A learned reader writes:

Bravo for your excellent and instant review; I am still digesting my own visit. I haven’t so far seen in print, but I’m surely not the first to suggest, a connection between the Salvator Mundi and Dürer’s Munich self-portrait? It may tell us little as Dürer’s itinerary and the disputed date will hardly anchor the early provenance of the Leonardo (and of course it says nothing about other versions)…

Durer was one of the first northern European artists to see the Italian Renaissance at first hand, and went to Italy twice, first from May 1494 to the spring of 1495, and then from 1505-7. Both trips are thought to have centred around Venice. By the time of the second trip he was a famous artist, and even secured important commissions. In a letter to Germany, he wrote:

How shall I long for the sun in the cold; here I am a gentleman, at home I am a parasite.

There is though little evidence of exactly where he went and who he met. The Self-Portrait is dated 1500, so if it was at all influenced by Salvator Mundi it would have to have been on the first trip. But at the National Gallery, Salvator Mundi is dated to '1499 onwards'.

Did Durer see something of Leonardo's work? Most likely. Did he see Salvator Mundi? Who knows, and of course there are plenty of other iconographic prompts for the full-frontal Christ-like portrayal. But it's an intriguing theory. And remember - you heard it here first... 

A review of the review...

November 15 2011

Image of A review of the review...

Picture: Hermitage, St Petersburg

Following on from my review of Leonardo, a reader who is a leading art historian, and whose judgement I trust absolutely when it comes to judging pictures, has sent me this excellent summary:

You were right but actually quite kind about the Madonna Litta. If there is one thing Leonardo knew about more than anyone else it was anatomy and the anatomy in this picture is all skew-whiff. It is also painted in tempera: whenever you hear or see the words 'unusual for this date' (actually unique for this date and L had not used the medium for a decade or more…) the alarm bells ought to ring. Not a chance. 

I also agree about the NG Virgin of the Rocks. Again and again I found myself reflecting how powerful the Louvre version is in comparison (accepting that the Virgin's head, notably, is largely gone over), and also noted the strange finish to such areas as the Christ Child's hand in the National Gallery version: you can see the same thing in his foot, where the blocking-in is visible and the painting over it unresolved, and similar areas in, for example, the right hand of the Virgin which is a complete muddle. I thought that these things, and the final effect, were not Leonardo being 'painterly' but someone else winging it, even though the conception must be his and, for example, much of the angel actually painted and finished by him (and not 'painterly' to anything like the same degree).

La Belle Ferronière has been fiddled with, by the way, quite extensively in the area over her right eye but the odd craquelure on most of her face seemed coherent and the paint convincing especially in the wonderful area around her mouth. The famous reflected light beneath her chin to her left seems entirely repaint, which is a sad thought. But it is a great painting. 

Cecilia Galleriani is in the best condition of any of the Leonardo paintings on view and made complete sense in relation to La B F. The far more delicate reflected light on the jawline here is a miracle – and of course earlier, which makes it even more extraordinary. 

I thought the Musician (which I recently saw in Rome: a sadly well-travelled panel…) more abraded than I had been able to see before, notably in the lower half of the whole. 

One of the great things about this show is being able to get so close to the surfaces. And the drawings are worth it alone.

And I agree about Boltraffio: it was a great treat to be able to see so many works by him and he could not half draw…

Georges de La Tour in UK collections

November 15 2011

Image of Georges de La Tour in UK collections

Picture: Louvre

Following Art History Today's point about the lack of a work by Georges de La Tour in the National Gallery, a reader writes:

One or two  things about the item on the National Gallery's lack of a de la Tour.

When it was offered to them in the 30s it was owned by the English dealer Percy Moore Turner, who subsequently gave it to the Louvre [see their website]. 

So if you want to see one in this country you have to go to Hampton Court, Leicester and, most importantly, Stockton-on-Tees.  Rather as with Schaufelein you have to go to Gateshead - who have another panel from the same source as the Met's recent acquisition.


November 15 2011

Sorry about the lack of news yesterday, I was at the Gainsborough conference in Bath, about which more later.

And today we have a gremlin in our broadband, so I'm currently hitting the keyboard in a very non art historical manner...

Turner and the Telescope

November 15 2011

Image of Turner and the Telescope

Picture: Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield

A new book on Turner will claim that the artist based his depictions of the sun on the scientific theories of the astronomer Sir William Herschel. From The Guardian:

... Turner biographer James Hamilton has uncovered compelling evidence that the artist was far more interested in cutting-edge scientific theories than has been thought.

One painting in particular – The Festival of the Opening of the Vintage at Mâcon [Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield] – holds, Hamilton believes, a fascinating secret. The painting, executed in 1803 after Turner travelled through France, is dominated by a ferocious sun, and Hamilton argues that it is painted in an entirely new and revolutionary way, based on scientific theories expounded by the astronomer Sir William Herschel.

Herschel gave a groundbreaking lecture to the Royal Society in 1801, in which he revealed his discovery that the sun had a surface with "openings, shallows, ridges, nodules, corrugations, indentations and pores". [...] Hamilton said Herschel examined the sun through his telescope near Slough, passing the light through watered ink, "and he saw the sun, for the first time, as an object. He saw it had a surface".

Not long after the discovery, Turner was painting the Mâcon festivities and appears to have painted the sun as Herschel had described.

"In a sense you can't really see it, you can't focus on it, but if you look very, very closely there is a tiny little disc which is in three distinct parts," said Hamilton. "They are painted in different ways – there's a dab and a wipe and sort of flick of the brush. He is making it into something, he is giving it a surface and coming so close to Herschel's lecture and his naming of parts, one has to see them as connected events."

This sounds a little tenuous to me. It could be a combination of painterliness and condition. But I'll look closely when I next go to Sheffield. In the meantime, there's a large-ish version online here

Remembrance Day

November 13 2011

Image of Remembrance Day

Picture: Imperial War Museum

This is John Singer Sargent's Gassed, painted in 1919. Sargent was commissioned to paint a work for the planned Hall of Rememberance in 1918 by the Ministry of Information, and saw the aftermath of a gas attack on his way to the front in July of that year. You can see more details of the work here.

Below is Wilfred Owen's poem, Dulce et Decorum Est, which describes a gas attack:

Read More

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