Previous Posts: July 2012

A handy Old Master investment

July 13 2012

Image of A handy Old Master investment

Picture: Galerie Koller

In their July newsletter, Old Master dealers John Mitchell highlight not only the good value of a well-sourced painting compared to modern and contemporary art, but also the investment potential:

The delectable little flower painting on copper of 1612 by Roelandt Savery [above] was bought by us at Sotheby’s in 2001 for nearly £1.8 million. The commonly-held belief that we had paid far too high a price for such a picture has just been dispelled; the owner sold it through a Swiss auction house six weeks ago for more than £3.6 m. In the light of this, one can’t help wondering what the painting will be worth in another ten, twenty or thirty years’ time. 

Everything is relative, of course, and these sums are trifling when compared to the prices being paid for modern art– at the time of writing, the sale of Munch’s pastel Scream is still very much in the headlines. The point has been made before,and bears repeating, that there is still a huge discrepancy in value between Old Masters and contemporary art; if a meaningless, repetitive Warhol screenprint can fetch millions of dollars, then on that basis a precious early flower painting from four centuries ago must be worth many times that. That this is not the case is greatly to the advantage of the true picture collector endowed with some understanding of the past and,above all, an appreciation of true craftsmanship.

Quite. Amen.

On kings and art

July 13 2012

Image of On kings and art

Picture: National Gallery

In case you haven't seen them, the BBC has made new films of Shakespeare's plays Richard II, Henry IV Parts 1 & 2, and Henry V. Normally Shakespeare on telly is rather turgid, but these new productions are quite brilliant, with mesmeric performances from the likes of Ben Whishaw, Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons and Simon Russell Beale. You can watch them here

The random art historical angle here is that the film of Richard II makes clever allusions to the King's love of art. We see him having his portrait taken, and watching (a little too keenly) as a half-naked, effete youth poses as St Sebastian for the court artist. The allusion is obvious, Richard, as a somewhat fey lover of art, is thus not a good king.

Now Richard II genuinely did like art, and was the first English king to try and project his royal authority in paintings. In the Wilton Diptych, above, Richard is seen kneeling before the Virgin and the Infant Christ. The image tells us a great deal about Richard's belief in his divine ordination to rule. Of course, it didn't do him much good in the end, for he was deposed in 1399 by Henry IV. 

So here's a question for you - is there an inverse correlation between a monarch's love of art and their actual power? After Richard II, the two other English kings who most loved art for its own sake, and who not only sought to use it to glorify their own image, but made the mistake of believing that the painted image matched reality, were also amongst history's most ineffectual - Charles I and George IV. 

In other words, do philistines make the best monarchs? Discuss.

Update - a reader writes:

Much as we are richer for their patronage Richard II and Charles I could have done with being a bit more sword-and-saddle. 

King Henry VIII is an exception though - his patronage kick-started British art, but he could also bang heads together (the kingly skill par excellence). Otherwise he would be just another in your list - writing Greensleeves, building Nonsuch and commissioning hollow fantasies of power from one of Europe's greatest portrait painters.

I've always liked the line ascribed to Henry VIII on Holbein - 'I could make a dozen dukes, but not one Holbein' (or something like that). Still, it's worth mentioning that there is no hint of Henry pursuing, say, Raphaels, or even Leonardos, in the way that Charles I would later do. That is, was Henry VIII aesthetically interested in painting? Or did he see it purely as a means to glorify his power? 

'It's a race against time'

July 13 2012

Image of 'It's a race against time'

Picture: Ahsmolean Museum

The Director of the Ashmolean Museum, Dr. Christopher Brown has launched a last-minute appeal for funds to buy Manet's Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus. With just four weeks left, an extra £595,000 is required. You can do your bit here

Who will save this 'Handsome Gent'?

July 12 2012

Image of Who will save this 'Handsome Gent'?

Picture: Leighton Galleries

Van Dyck would have loved the cataloguing of this picture - 'Portrait of a Handsome Gent' - but perhaps not the fact that he was mis-identified, and nor that he was on offer for just $100.

Rarely seen Picasso on display at National Gallery

July 12 2012

Image of Rarely seen Picasso on display at National Gallery

Picture: National Gallery

This delightful 1901 portrait by Picasso is going on loan to the National Gallery. Bibi la Puree was a famous reprobate in Paris at the turn of the century. From the NG press release:

Bibi la Purée was a picturesque figure in the bohemian circles of Montmartre and the Latin Quarter. A former actor turned vagabond, he was affable and eccentric and survived by shining shoes, stealing umbrellas and drinking absinthe. He occasionally acted as private secretary to the poet Paul Verlaine, who dedicated a sonnet to his friend. Picasso probably met the ragged dandy in the brasseries and seedy bars they both haunted, and would have been fascinated by his elderly, grimacing features. The portrait is brushed in broad, gestural strokes vigorously applied, which capture Bibi’s grin with uncompromising energy. This expressionistic treatment, combined with Picasso’s use of harsh colours, enhances the tramp’s grotesque energy.

The painting has rarely been seen in public. It entered a private French collection in 1939 and has not been lent to any of the major Picasso exhibitions. It has been known in the Picasso literature only by a small black-and-white photograph and the vast majority of Picasso’s admirers will never have seen it ‘in the flesh’. It is on loan to the National Gallery from a private collection.

This is officially a 'must-read' blog

July 12 2012

Image of This is officially a 'must-read' blog

Picture: Homes & Antiques

AHN has been included in Homes & Antiques favourite blogs! Apparently at no.36. Must aim for higher next year. 

Update - a reader writes:

Are you sure no-one has made it up ?

Be very grateful that they’ve already seen 35 other blogs before they get to yours...

Van Dyck's portrait of Charles I at Compton Verney

July 12 2012

Video: Compton Verney

A reader has kindly alerted me to this video from Compton Verney by its director Steven Parissien. (The sound quality is poor, and you have to turn the volume right up.) It discusses Van Dyck's Portrait of Charles I in Three Positions, which is on loan from the Royal Collection until September, and hangs alongside a later copy of Bernini's famous bust of the King, for which the painting acted as a guide.

I'm afraid I can't resist pointing out some innacuracies in the video. The supposition is made that it was fortunate for Van Dyck that he died in 1641 - a year before the Civil War broke out - for after 1642 'the patronage... people like Van Dyck had enjoyed completely disappeared'. This is not quite true, as the portraits by William Dobson of the court in Oxford show only too clearly. And in any case, Van Dyck knew what was coming and seems to have been making plans to leave England.

It is then said that after Charles I's death Cromwell 'tried to get away' from the 'iconic portraiture' of the Caroline regime, and commissioned paintings that were a little 'less kingly'. The famous line 'paint me warts and all' is mentioned. But again, not entirely true. The distinguishing feature of Parliamentary portraiture after the Civil War is that it seeks completely to emulate the Royalist portraiture formulated by Van Dyck in the 1630s. Robert Walker's portraits of Cromwell simply take an existing Van Dyck prototype, and place the Protector's head on top. In 1655 the engraver Pierre Lombart was paid £20 bythe council for an engraving of Cromwell (by then called 'His Highness') in exactly the same pose as Van Dyck's portrait of Charles I on a horse. After Cromwell's death, his head was rubbed out from Lombart's plate, and that of Charles I put back in.

The point is that Van Dyck's portraits were not seen just as images of royalty, but as images of power. That was Van Dyck's genius. The head on the body was interchangeable. In fact, any head would do.  

'Scream' buyer named

July 12 2012

Image of 'Scream' buyer named

Picture: Reuters

In the Wall Street Journal, Kelly Crow has the art world scoop of the year:

New York financier Leon Black paid Sotheby's nearly $120 million for "The Scream," Edvard Munch's 1895 pastel of a terrified man holding his head, according to several people close to the collector.

The identity of the buyer—who set a record for a work of art sold at auction—had been one of the art world's most closely guarded secrets since the dramatic, 12-minute sale in May. Now a new parlor game will begin: guessing where the iconic artwork ends up.

Mr. Black sits on the boards of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, setting up a potential tug of war between two of the country's most powerful art institutions. Neither owns a "Scream," aside from lithograph-print versions of it.

Caravaggio discovery - too good to be true?

July 12 2012

Image of Caravaggio discovery - too good to be true?

Picture: Biblioteca Marucelliana, Florence

There's an excellent article by Michael Day in The Independent on the Caravaggio 'discovery'. Either the wheels are falling off the discovery story, or there's an academic bitch-fight of epic proportions going on: 

Unfortunately, an email dated 11 May last year has now surfaced in which the pair [of art historians who made the discovery] appear to be requesting electronic copies of the works. Neither are there any official records of them having viewed the works in person, according to Francesca Rossi, the official in charge of access to the castle's art and antiquities. She told Corriere della Sera newspaper: "I've never seen them here. They've never had access to the collection, they studied the images exclusively from the computer disc."

Reports yesterday suggest the disc sent from Milan to Brescia contained over 1,700 jpeg images – at low resolution. And in a very Italian twist, authorities in Milan have also announced an internal inquiry to establish if unwarranted collusion and even corruption was involved.

Mr Bernardelli disputed the claims of the Milan officials. "We saw the collection various times, even if these were outside normal hours, accompanied by different people," he said.

Other art experts have taken issue with the pair's conclusions. One critic, Professor Philippe Daverio, said that identification of a Caravaggio's organic and ever-evolving work could not be made by looking for the presence of key "designs". "Design doesn't exist in the character of Caravaggio," he said. "And design wasn't needed in his painting. These sketches can't really be compared to anything."

Another critic, Francesca Cappelletti, who helped to establish that The Taking of Christ was painted by Caravaggio, was blunter: "To me, these pictures still seem like typical works of Peterzano." Another critic, Tomaso Montanari, said sarcastically the claim was akin to taking 100 drawings by Verrocchio (Leonardo da Vinci's master) and attributing them to the creator of the Mona Lisa.

British Art Journal

July 11 2012

I've been meaning to mention the new issue of the British Art Journal. Treats include:

  • Peter Beauchamp on Zoffany's executor, Charles Dumergue
  • Pat Hardy on Ford Madox Brown's Last of England
  • Stephen Leach & Simon Manby on Joseph Wright of Derby's Philosopher by Lamplight
  • Peter Jones on the 'Collage paintings' of Gyther Irwin
  • David Hill on Ruskin's guide to Switzerland
  • Wirginia Walker on the Newlyn School
  • Sandra Boselli on Lucian Freud's 'Welsh interlude'
  • Terry Jenkins on a newly found portrait of John Rich, a founder of the Royal Opera House. 
More details here

Poets & Titian

July 11 2012

Image of Poets & Titian

Picture: BG

The National Gallery has a series of films of poets reading their take on Titian's Diana myth paintings. Some of them are wrist-slittingly dull, but Seamus Heaney's Actaeon is splendid. See it here.

Titian studio piece restored at Dulwich

July 10 2012

Image of Titian studio piece restored at Dulwich

Picture: Dulwich Picture Gallery

A new display opens at Dulwich Picture Gallery today, showcasing the conservation of a Titian workshop piece, Venus and Adonis. The exhibition will:

...celebrate the conservation of Venus and Adonis, a painting produced by Titian’s workshop after the celebrated prototype painted by Titian for Philip II, King of Spain in 1554. The painting has been in storage since the early twentieth century and was in desperate need of restoration, as can be seen from the photograph. The removal of discoloured varnishes and retouchings has revealed the work to be an evocative rendition of an episode from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, centring upon the last meeting of the ill-fated lovers Venus and Adonis. This was the most famous of Titian’s poesies, his series of mythological paintings that he envisaged as visual equivalents to poetry. The Dulwich version stands as an example of early artistic massproduction, providing striking comparison to the Andy Warhol Portfolios exhibition.

Titian Metamorphosis - what the critics say

July 10 2012

Image of Titian Metamorphosis - what the critics say

Picture: BG

Most of the news stories highlights on Mark Wallinger's real live naked Dianas; the Daily Mail, for example, focuses on the 'peeping Tom' angle. The show gets four stars from Rachel Campbell-Johnston in The Times (paywall), and also from Mark Hudson in The Telegraph. In The Guardian Jonathan Jones takes broadly the same view as I did yesterday:

I am in two minds. Titian does not actually need to be compared with or spruced up by any living artist to be made "relevant" because in any sense that matters he is a living artist, right now. His colours, brushstrokes, stories, characters – for he is a dramatist in paint – blaze with urgency and excitement.

Who can be bored by Titian? The first time I visited the National Gallery, when I was 19, his painting The Death of Actaeon leapt out at something sensual and real I could relate to. In all honesty, I would rather see a big exhibition about him than a clever modern take.

But this is London 2012. It's a flash place, and the National Gallery cannot always be putting on exhibitions of Paul Delaroche. This exhibition is free and fun. Go and enjoy what Ofili (especially) has done. Then look at the Titians at the heart of the show and fall in love.

No word yet from Brian Sewell...

Titian 'Metamorphosis' at the National - review

July 9 2012

Image of Titian 'Metamorphosis' at the National - review

Picture: BG

I'm not sure what to make of this new exhibition at the National Gallery, but here goes. The show begins with the Gallery’s two newly acquired Titians, Diana & Actaeon, and Diana & Callisto, together with the Gallery’s Death of Actaeon, also by Titian. This is the first time all three paintings have been hung together since the 18th Century. The pictures are beautifully lit, and look every penny’s worth of their £95m price. The specially constructed room is a triumph – one feels like a Spanish grandee at the court of Philip II, seeing the paintings for the first time. 

To help us understand what the rest of the exhibition is all about, here’s what the Gallery's blurb says:

‘Metamorphosis: Titian 2012’ – featuring new work by contemporary artists Chris Ofili, Conrad Shawcross and Mark Wallinger in a unique collaboration with The Royal Ballet.

This multi-arts project, part of the Cultural Olympiad's London 2012 Festival, will draw on the powerful stories of change found in Titian’s masterpieces, revealing how these spectacular paintings continue to inspire living artists.

A multi-faceted experience celebrating British creativity across the arts, ‘Metamorphosis: Titian 2012’ brings together a group of specially commissioned works responding to three of Titian’s paintings – Diana and Actaeon, The Death of Actaeon and the recently acquired Diana and Callisto – which depict stories from Ovid’s epic poem ‘Metamorphoses’.

If you think this reads as if someone wrote the exhibition proposal by cramming in as many creative buzzwords they could think of, and then tried to make it relevant to the Olympics, you’d probably be right. The exhibition feels like that too. I bet it sounded great on paper, all those years ago when people were wondering what the hell a ‘Cultural Olympiad’ actually was. 

But in practice the exhibition doesn’t entirely work; like Churchill’s famous pudding, it has no theme. For a start it’s in the wrong place. It just isn’t possible to achieve a ‘multi-faceted arts experience’ in the Sainsbury Wing exhibition space, which is designed to show paintings, and that’s all. Much of the exhibition is supposed to be about the relationship between the Titians and the new performances. But since the performances are mainly over in Covent Garden we’re reduced instead to mere snippets. You get a few costumes from the shows, some curious footage from the dance rehearsals (such that you can’t see any of the dancing, only close-ups of as many ballerina buttocks and breasts the director thought he could get away with), three very small models of the stage designs, and three equally small screens that repeat the Covent Garden performances. Really, the exhibition should have been put on at Covent Garden itself, and the Titians left upstairs in the National's main galleries. 

The additional exhibits include a series of large paintings by Chris Ofili . These I liked very much, with their obvious neo, neo-classical inspiration. That man can really paint, and (rarest of all these days) also draw. Then there’s a robot with a light that wiggles around a wooden antler (this is by Conrad Shawcross)*. And finally there is an exceedingly dark room, in which is placed a small cubicle with a door and a window. You are invited to look into the cubicle through either a keyhole in the door or a tiny slit in the window. Inside is a naked woman having a bath. This is an installation by Mark Wallinger, and the idea is that the viewer feels like Actaeon surprising Diana in her bath. To be honest, it makes you feel like a bit of a pervert. But perhaps Actaeon was a pervert, and that’s why Diana had him killed.

Broken down into its constituent parts, the exhibition is entertaining enough. Its saving grace is that it is free; nobody will emerge feeling underwhelmed by what has been billed as the National Gallery’s major event of the year. I’m sure the Titian-inspired performances at the Royal Ballet will be a great success, and it is to be applauded that the National Gallery (and their sponsor Credit Suisse) has commissioned them. But these could still have happened without this slightly laborious exhibition. After all, if the National Gallery had really wanted to do its bit for London during the Olympics, it should simply have put on one of its regular first-class exhibitions.

Closes 23rd September. See images from the exhibition here

* I'm told this is called a 'kinetic sculpture'.

Liberate Tate strike again

July 9 2012

Video: Linkup Films

My favourite daft arts protesters are learning: Liberate Tate's latest escapade - constructing a wind turbine blade in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern - is actually rather cool. And unlike last time there's no mess to clean up.

An art dealing week in numbers

July 9 2012

Last week was the busiest of the art dealing year, with our fair at Masterpiece, an exhibition at the gallery for Master Paintings Week, and all the Old Master auctions on in London. Here's how it went:

  • No. of paintings viewed at auction: 677
  • No. of bids placed: 12
  • No. of paintings bought: 6
  • No. of paintings transported at some point during the week: 36
  • No. of visitors to the gallery during Master Paintings Week: 284
  • No. of visitors to this site: 4,466 (thanks!)
  • No. of paintings sold: 13
  • No. of miniatures sold (by my colleague Emma Rutherford): 10 
  • No. of paintings actually sold by me: 1 (hopeless)

Titian 'Metamorphosis' at the National

July 9 2012

Video: National Gallery

I went to see the new Titian exhibition earlier today at the National Gallery. Most curious. I'll post a review when I've figured out what it was all about. Maybe lunch will help. Until then, here's a video about Diana being beastly to Actaeon. 

Caravaggio 'discovery' 'row'

July 9 2012

Picture: La Stampa Photo removed after an angry email from a copyright agency in Italy. 

It was inevitable, wasn't it? An improbable discovery story is announced by two art historians about 100 'new' works by Caravaggio worth hundreds of millions of euros. Immediately, the press send the tale around the world. The art historian's e-book gets a nice number of sales.

Then, doubts begin to emerge among other Caravaggio scholars. And it turns out the people who made the discovery never actually saw the works in the flesh, relying only on photos. The press, of course, delight in writing up the story all over again, this time with headlines about 'a row' over the discovery.

Is this the future of art history, where accuracy and scholarship suffer a slow death by press release?  

Chasing Leonardo

July 9 2012

Image of Chasing Leonardo

Picture: Christie's

There was an astonishing price at Christie's last week for the above painting, catalogued as 'Follower of Leonardo'. Estimated at £50-£70,000, it made £937,250 (inc. premium). I thought the picture was rather ordinary, and not half as good as the version in the Hermitage, which is thought to be by one of Leonardo's pupils, Francesco Melzo. But the Christie's catalogue entry was temptingly written, and evidently more than one person thought the picture was better than many believed. Would this price have been achieved before the recent Leonardo show? Possibly not. 

Burlington vs Tate, round 2

July 9 2012

Image of Burlington vs Tate, round 2

Picture: BG

The May issue of the Burlington magazine took a well-aimed shot at Tate Britain, and its lamentable hang. In the latest edition, Tate Britain's Director, Penelope Curtis, has written a response. Not wishing to waste time (I presume) the magazine has written an instant rejoinder, in the form of a new editorial. You can read it here.

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