Previous Posts: December 2014
'Stuart Little', art sleuth (ctd.)
December 14 2014
The picture by Robert Bereny discovered in the background of a Stuart Little film has sold at auction in Hungary for €229,500. More here.
December 14 2014
Penetrating the PR hype to find out how dealers and art fairs are really doing is always hard, so I was interested to see the below snippet on Frieze Masters from seasoned art market watcher Colin Gleadell of The Telegraph:
After a fairly dismal performance at the Frieze Masters fair in October, where few Old Masters paintings were sold, the Old Master market picked up its heels at the London auctions last week.
That does tie in with what I've heard. More of Colin's views on London's recent Old Master auction week here.
Christie's 'Game Changers'
December 14 2014
Here's a good video from Christie's on their new theme of 'Game Changers' in art history. Sometimes these auction house videos can be a bit estate-agenty, with many unjustified superlatives. But here Christie's specialist Alexis Ashot reveals himself as something of a telly natural, and says many spot-on things about Titian's Flaying of Marsius.
December 14 2014
Picture: Daily Dot/Copenhagen Post
So there's this bloke, right, who paints with his penis, and he's painted a picture of Kim Kardashian's butt with it. Says Uwe Max Jensen, a Dane:
“My penis is an organ. I need it to reproduce, and for sex and joy... but I can also use it in my art, and that’s joyful for me on more levels.”
Jensen said he “painted” the portrait of Kardashian in about 8 to 10 hours. His natural gifts, he said, came in handy. "If one is ill-equipped, it is difficult to reproduce the small details,” he told the Copenhagen Post. “But if one is well-endowed, it is easier to produce a better painting."
More here. Now I'm no penis painting connoisseur, but I'd say, judging by the detail he's been able to achieve in Kim Kardashian's face, below, that old Uwe Max is in fact pretty tiny, and more Uwe Min.
Anyway, there's an art historical angle here - really - for did you know that the English 18th Century portraitist John Astley also painted with his old chap? Used to whip it out as a party piece. The contemporary satirist Anthony Pasquin wrote of him:
“He thought that every advantage in civil society was compounded in women and wine: and, acting up to this principal of bliss, he gave his body to Euphrosyne, and his intellects to madness. He was as ostentatious as a peacock, and as amorous as the Persian Sophi; he would never stir abroad without his bag and his sword; and, when the beauties of Ierne sat to him for their portraits, he would affect to neglect the necessary implements of his art, and use his naked sword as a moll-stick. He had a haram and a bath at the top of his house, replete with every enticement and blandishment to awaken desire; and he thus lived, jocund and thoughtless, until his nerves were unstrung by age; when his spirits decayed with his animal powers, and he sighed and drooped into eternity!”
All this sniggering talk reminds me of the Flemish 16th Century engraver, Hiernymous Cock.
Right, that's enough smut. Apologies to anyone offended.
'The flowers are all wrong'
December 10 2014
Picture: Guardian/Louvre/National Gallery
Good story in The Guardian about some new views on the attribution of Leonardo's 'Madonna of the Rocks' in the National Gallery. The attribution to Leonardo is questioned on the basis of the flowers being 'wrong', and also the geology:
“The botany in the Louvre version is perfect, showing plants that would have thrived in a moist, dark grotto,” says Ann Pizzorusso, a geologist and Renaissance art historian. “But the plants in the London version are inaccurate. Some don’t exist in nature, and others portray flowers with the wrong number of petals.”
She concludes: “It seems unlikely the same person could have portrayed rock formations so accurately in the Louvre work and so incongruously in the National Gallery one – especially considering Leonardo’s faithfulness to nature. There is absolutely nothing in his body of work that is not true to nature.
Her conclusions are supported by John Grimshaw, a leading horticulturalist, who is struck by the realism of the Louvre painting, unlike the National Gallery version. In the French painting, he can easily identify iris, polemonium and aquilegia. He says: “There’s a very recognisable iris, a Jacob’s Ladder, a nice little palm tree, all sorts of well-observed bits of vegetation there – and proper plants.”
In my review of the Leonardo exhibition in London in 2012 I wrote about the relative weaknesses of the London picture compared to the Paris one, but based purely on a visual reading of the two paintings hung close together. So I find these latest observations very interesting. I can well believe that the plants in the London version might have been painted by someone without Leonardo's attention to detail.
Update - a reader who I know has a good 'eye' writes:
This argument against the NG painting sounds quite plausible.
It might be condition, but the Louvre Christ child's profile is better too - the hint that the face is turned away a fraction, exactly the sort of thing that rarely translates into copies.
Was Duchamp's urinal a fraud?
December 10 2014
There's a fascinating story in The Art Newspaper by Julian Spalding and Glyn Thompson looking into the origins of Marcel Duchamp's famous urinal, exhibited in New York to great consernation in 1917. Spalding and Thompson ask if the urinal was actually submitted by someone else entirely, namely a poet called Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (1874-1927).
It's well worth reading the whole piece, but the condensed version of the story goes like this:
The extraordinary fact that has emerged from the painstaking studies of William Camfield, Kirk Varnedoe and Hector Obalk is that Duchamp could not have done what he said he did late in life. Irene Gammel and Glyn Thompson have revealed the truth of his much earlier private account that he did not submit the urinal to the Society of Independent Artists exhibition in New York in 1917. Nevertheless, Duchamp’s late, fictional story is still taught in every class and recited in every book.
Duchamp maintained that he bought the urinal from the J. L. Mott Iron Works in New York, signed it with the pseudonym R. Mutt, and submitted it to the Independents exhibition, calling it Fountain. The urinal was rejected despite the objection of Duchamp’s rich friend Walter Arensberg, who argued that the society must honour its own rule and hang everything submitted. The urinal was a work of art, he claimed, because an artist had chosen it.
Scholars have long since proved that Duchamp could not have bought the urinal from the J. L. Mott Iron Works because Mott didn’t sell that particular model. Most tellingly, on 11 April 1917, just two days after the board had rejected it, Duchamp wrote to his sister, a nurse in war-torn Paris, telling her that “one of my female friends under a masculine pseudonym, Richard Mutt, sent in a porcelain urinal as a sculpture”. The explosive contents of this letter did not enter the public domain until 1983 when the missive was published in the Archives of American Art Journal. [...]
The literary historian Irene Gammel was the first to discover who Duchamp’s “female friend” was. She was born Else Plötz in Germany in 1874, the daughter of a builder and local politician who philandered freely and beat her mother. [...]
In October 1917, the painter George Biddle described her room in New York filled with “odd bits of ironware, automobile tiles… ash cans, every conceivable horror, which to her tortured yet highly sensitive perception, became objects of formal beauty… it had to me quite as much authenticity as, for instance, Brancusi’s studio in Paris.”
Elsa was a poet of found objects, but she didn’t leave them as they were—she transformed them into works of art.
Elsa exploded in fury when the US declared war on her motherland, on Good Friday, 6 April 1917. Her target was the Society of Independent Artists, whose representatives had consistently cold-shouldered her. We believe she submitted an upside-down urinal, signed R. Mutt in a script similar to the one she sometimes used for her poems. [...]
If Duchamp did not submit the urinal, why would he pretend later that he did? After Elsa died in 1927, forgotten and in abject poverty, Duchamp began to let his name be associated with the urinal, and by 1950, four years after the death of Alfred Stieglitz, who photographed the original Fountain, he began to assume its authorship.
After he reluctantly abandoned his ambition to become a professional chess champion in 1933, Duchamp started to rebuild his artistic career by repackaging his early work. The problem was that there was not much of it. Only one of his original Readymades still existed, forgotten, in a drawer in Walter Arensberg’s desk. It is from this period, beginning in 1936, that replicas of the “lost” Readymades began to appear. Elsa’s urinal plugged a hole, but to make it his own Duchamp turned it into an attack on art itself.
Extraordinary if true. Maybe this is an old tale easily dismissed. I don't know. But I love the idea that one of the founding 'facts' of modern art theory, and much of its attendant 'guff', might be based on a lie.
Tweet of the Day
December 10 2014
"I've painted a picture of trees by a river." *silence* "It interrogates contemporary concepts of the natural." "OMG you're a genius £££"— Tom Freeman (@SnoozeInBrief) December 10, 2014
December 10 2014
The original E.H. Shepard drawing of Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin playing 'poohsticks' sold for £314,500 at Sotheby's yesterday. That's a new record for any book illiustration at auction.
What a lovely thing.
Guffwatch - 'Process-based art'
December 9 2014
Apparently, 'process-based art' is the new Big Thing. I think 'process-based' means that people actually make something, which I know is pretty revolutionary these days. But it's not as straightforward as making in the old-fashioned sense, as Pernilla Holmes explains in the FT's 'How to Spend It':
Anyone who has ever had a tooth drilled knows the feeling of leaving the dentist’s office with lips involuntarily grimacing as the anaesthetic numbs the senses. Now imagine a painter who has similarly lost all feeling in their hands. This is just one of the techniques that New York-based Ryan Estep – one of the cutting-edge artists at the forefront of the current zeitgeist for process-based art – has devised in his highly performative, almost ritualistic art practice, where his methods and materials are as important as the abstract paintings themselves.
“I layer the lidocaine [the numbing agent used by dentists before uncomfortable procedures] onto the white,” explains Estep, “which has been painted around the edges with black paint.” At this point he takes the canvas off of the stretcher and, in a nod to his former work as an art technician, restretches it, but this time disturbing the still-wet borders and creating smudgy mistakes as he loses all feeling in his hands. This audacious dulling of the senses raises questions of authorship, randomness and the very idea of painting – while also creating beautiful works.
“The materials and methods sit mostly within the canon of manual labour,” Estep explains, hinting at the discrepancy between the physical work that goes into his paintings and their eventual impracticality. Asked about the safety of the procedure, Estep, a robust and charismatic 33-year-old, shrugs his lack of concern. More worryingly, he then laughingly recalls one time when he got the measurements wrong and lay completely immobilised on his studio floor for several hours.
Update - a reader writes:
A step too far - the artist's numbness appears to stretch much further north than just his hands.
Koons take down
December 9 2014
There's a good review of Jeff Koons' new show at the Pompidou centre in Paris by Jackie Wullschlager in the Financial Times. Here's the main conclusion:
As the market has endorsed and enriched him, Koons has swollen, in his two latest series “Antiquity” and “Gazing Ball”, into the most tedious self-imitation. “Balloon Venus” blends his own inflatables lexicon with the archaic forms of the Venus of Willendorf. Outsize plaster replicas of classical figures – “Farnese Hercules”, “Ariadne” – bearing bright balloon-like glass spheres are destined, no more and no less than the garden ornaments they incorporate, for manicured suburban lawns.
“He says, if you’re critical, you’re already out of the game,” announced Koons’s dealer David Zwirner when these repetitive follies launched last year. Dollar power goes some way to explaining why Koons’s smooth sales-speak – “when people make judgments, they close all the possibility around them” – is not seen for what it is: a reversal of the spirit of intellectual openness that has allowed art to flourish since the Enlightenment. And of course it is obvious why Koons, like any entrepreneur boasting a luxury monopoly, directs his factory to produce a controlled stream of high-end, high-tech baubles. Less obvious is why this trading currency for the super-rich should interest the rest of us, or why museums and critics are endorsing it.
Quite. But then I'm "out of the game".
Burrell Collection at Bonhams
December 9 2014
Picture: Burrell Collection
There was much debate last year (including here on AHN) about whether the Burrell Collection in Glasgow should be able to send its treasures out on loan, even overseas. Previously, they weren't able to, but a change in Scottish law now allows loans to be made, bringing in much needed funds while the buildings which house the collection are renovated.
The first stop for the collection is Bonhams in London, where (with free admission), you can see 50 items including the above Rembrandt self-portrait from 15th December to 9th January. I think this is a commendable initiative from Bonhams and the Burrell collection, and the works will look very fine in Bonhams' snazzy new showrooms.
While I'm on the subject of art trade loan exhibitions, pray allow me to plug one at John Mitchell Fine Paintings, which is just down the other end of Bond Street. They're having a show on depictions of Harrow School. Some of them are even for sale, if you're looking for a stocking filler for that hard-to-please Old Harrovian.
Update - a reader writes:
The Burrell has always been able to make loans within the UK: the Rembrandt was at the National’s exhibition of self-portraits a few years ago and a substantial group was shown at The Hayward in the 1970s.
What’s new is being able to loan abroad, which was not permitted under the terms of the original gift. Maybe in future, if it needs the money, the Wallace might consider breaking the will of its donor?
It is sometimes a shame that the Wallace can't lend.* That said, at least at the Wallace they go in for generous hanging, with two or even three rows of pictures, so there isn't too much of an issue of works remaining unseen in storage.
They still don't dust their frames though.
Update II - more on the Burrell items on display here in The Guardian.
* I earlier said that the Wallace can't borrow, which is wrong; it has a small exhibition room downstairs, where many fine shows can be seen.
Turner exhibition at Petworth
December 9 2014
Picture: Tate/National Trust
They're having a Turner exhibition at Petworth House, where Turner stayed and painted, and where much of Mike Leigh's new film 'Mr Turner' was made. More here.
December 9 2014
Blouin Artinfo reports that Agnews, now under new ownership and run by Lord Anthony Crichton Stuart, has taken on the lease of a four storey townhouse in St James' in London, at 6 St James' place. It's good to see that the dealership, and the Agnews brand, is being revived.
All change for the CEOs... (ctd.)
December 9 2014
For what it's worth, the press seem to be pretty convinced that Christie's CEO Jim Murphy was fired. Here's Bloomberg, quoting 'people familiar with the company's plans':
Murphy, 60, was informed of the management change at a meeting with Pinault in late November, one of the people said. Christie’s and Murphy said Dec. 2 the decision was mutual.
Bloomberg also hints at significant re-structuring within the company, under the new CEO, Patricia Barbizet.
So one has to ask, what did owner Fnacois Pinault not like about Murphy's work? Some are looking towards 'profitability', especially in relation to the mega sales like the '$852m' modern and contemporary sale. Says the Financial Times:
Mr Murphy’s resignation raises questions about whether he paid too high a price for rapid growth in his four years at the helm, squeezing profits by expanding into India and China, while competing intensely for prestigious sales by offering guarantees and side deals to entice family estates and wealthy sellers. The irony of the art auction world is that the record-setting London and New York auctions for which they are best known can produce little, if any, profit.
“It has increasingly become the case that these types of sales — for both houses — are not centres of profitability in any way,” says Michael Plummer, co-founder of the New York-based advisory firm Artvest. “The competitive pressure gets worse every year, as do the amount of guarantees, and consequently the risks for both houses.“
Meanwhile ArtNet news wonders if those famous guarantees have anything to do with it:
According to auction house executives in Miami for Art Basel, multiple cases in which guarantees on major lots garnered heavy media attention but no profit for Christie's resulted in Murphy being pushed out from his post as CEO.
“You've got two CEOs who've been battling madly for market shares and their margins seem, by many accounts, to have got smaller and smaller," commented an industry insider who spoke to artnet News on the condition of anonymity. “So in one case, a slightly aggressive, disrupted board, and in the other case a company owner, appear to have said ‘enough is enough'."
“We are at a record time for the art market, but it seems these two have battled so hard they might not have turned that into record profits," she added.
Other reasons suggested might be the $50m sunk into a new online platform.
Anyway, we're unlikely to know what's really gone on, as Christie's is a private company.
December 9 2014
The man who punched a hole in a Monet in the National Gallery of Ireland has been jailed for six years. He also had paint stripper on him at the time, but didn't get a chance to use it. When police raided his house, they found a large cache of stolen paintings. More here.
One has to say that this is a good deterrent sentence. It beats the two years given to the nut who defaced the Tate's Rothko.
Re-gilding the Paston Treasure
December 9 2014
Video: Art Fund
Here's a good cause - the Norwich Castle Museum is hoping to raise £14,500 to re-gild the wooden frame that surrounds their 'Paston Treasure', a large late 17th Century still life which records a number of treasures owned by the Paston family in Norfolk. At some point (we're not told when, perhaps at some trendy point in the '70s) the gilding was stripped from the original frame.
Here's the blurb on the Art Fund's 'Art Happens' website:
Research has shown that the ornately carved frame was in all likelihood made for the painting, but it would not have looked like this in the 17th century. It would have been gilded – the dazzling finishing touch to the depiction of a dazzling collection. Six years ago, we raised money to have the painting cleaned and conserved. Now we want to re-gild the frame and restore this masterpiece in its entirety to its former glory.
The museum hopes to raise the money in time for an exhibition in 2016, when they'll assemble many of the treasures depicted within the painting. The funding total is currently at 1% - can you help them out?
Update - a reader writes:
I'm all for having the 'Paston Treasure' re-gilded (and I might consider bunging them a few quid) but £14,500!!?? Is this the best quote they could get?!
I'm clearly in the wrong business.
Alas, gilding, I know from experience, is very, very expensive.
National Gallery chair announced
December 8 2014
Picture: National Gallery
Congratulations to Hannah Rothschild, who has been appointed chair of the National Gallery trustees. She replaces Mark Getty. This means - and quite right too - that the trustees have a new chair in place before making the appointment of the new director, which process is already well advanced.
Says the National Gallery press release:
The Trustees of the National Gallery are delighted to announce that Hannah Rothschild has been appointed by them as Chair of the Board.
Hannah Rothschild will take over as Chair from Mark Getty, who will step down from the role when his current term comes to an end on 10 August 2015.
Hannah Rothschild, a writer and filmmaker, has served on the Gallery’s Board since March 2009. She will be the first woman Chair of the National Gallery.
Speaking on her appointment, Hannah said “From a very young age, the National Gallery has been a source of inspiration and solace. It is a great honour to be elected as its Chair to succeed Mark Getty in August 2015 and to work with fellow trustees to ensure that the collection is protected, that general admission remains free and that the National Gallery’s exhibition, education, science, academic and conservation programmes continue to be internationally respected and challenging.”
Mark Getty said “Hannah Rothschild has been an outstanding Board member for more than 5 years and I am delighted that she is to succeed me as Chair. With her passion for and commitment to the National Gallery, she will work alongside the next Director to provide the leadership the Gallery needs in the years ahead.”
National Gallery Director, Dr Nicholas Penny said “Hannah Rothschild has defended the National Gallery interests and supported its ambitions with energy and imagination. She will be an exceptionally committed Chair.”
Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Sajid Javid said “The National Gallery is one of this country’s most important and well-loved museums and galleries - a cultural success story with visitor numbers at unprecedented levels of over six million a year. So I welcome Hannah Rothschild's appointment as their next Chair. Her experience of the gallery will build on the successes achieved under the chairmanship of Mark Getty. I am confident that the National Gallery's development as a home of artistic, educational and research excellence will continue.”
Hannah Rothschild’s first term as Chair will last until March 2017 when she will be eligible to serve a further term, subject to the Prime Minister’s consideration at the appropriate time of any reappointment as a trustee.
This means that my earlier speculation that Lord King might get the nod was, er, wrong.
The Great Brian
December 8 2014
Picture: Sunday Times
I'm told Brian Sewell has resigned from the Evening Standard. This is very sad news indeed, and brings to an end one of the greatest art critic columns ever written.
Update - a reader writes:
This is very sad if unsurprising news.
Reading his column massively brightened the commute home and his writing was not only hugely entertaining but a great way into art. Proof, as he would say, that if you don't dumb down and underestimate your audience you will take them with you.
p.s. If you haven't read them, his memoirs include some gold standard anecdotes. The Salvidor Dali one takes some beating.
I have indeed read them, and splendidly written they are too, if, at times, a little eye opening...
Losing our marbles?
December 5 2014
The British Museum has lent one of the Elgin Marbles to the Hermitage. What do we think of this AHN-ers? The Greeks are outraged, of course, but then they always are.
I can't personally see too much of a problem, culturally; I'm all in favour of letting other countries see what we have, if it means we might also get to see what they have. That said, politically, it does come at a moment when we're supposed to be being beastly to President Putin, on account of his expansionist jaunts.
Update - areader writes:
You asked for some thoughts on the British Museum’s loan of one of the Parthenon marbles to the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad. In principle I’ve no objection to the BM lending one of the sculptures that it owns and as for the objections of the Greeks, or anyone else for that matter, they can go to hell. Their nationalist whining is sickening and only makes me more determined that they should never, ever have the Parthenon sculptures back in Athens!
I am, however, very concerned that the British Museum is so determined to lend its objects to any and every quarter of the globe while failing abjectly to provide comprehensive, public display of its collections at the main museum in Bloomsbury. For example, the Museum of Mankind closed in 1997 but the BM still has not opened displays of its collections of Central & South American cultures ( other than Mexico ), Australasia and Oceania: this despite galleries for these collections being in their development plans and then disappearing when the new exhibition building was mooted. How long, for instance, do those who want to visit and study the finest collection of Pacific art in existence have to wait before it is displayed in London?
Or take the Egyptian collection. Four exhibition rooms have “disappeared” since the late 1990s; three swallowed up by the Great Court. Is it any wonder then that the display of Egyptian culture at the BM is so piece-meal and arbitrary? Where can you see Egyptian pottery or Amarna sculpture at Bloomsbury , for example? You cannot: there is no chronological or coherent display at all as the galleries jump around from Early Dynasties to mummies to 18th Dynasty wall paintings. Rare and important objects such as the 6th Dynasty wooden statue of Meryrehashtep or the gold bracelets of Prince Nimlot are never exhibited at all in Bloomsbury these days ( but I saw the latter on loan to the Met the other month).
It seems that any old exhibition or museum can count on borrowing objects from the BM while the British visitor ( and tax payer ) and international visitors are deprived of wonderful collections and individual objects which they should be able to see, study and experience in London.
The question is: having lent it are we going to get it back, given Lilyputin's demonstration of acquisitiveness in the Crimea?
Update III - another reader writes:
A few thoughts on the Marbles. Regarding lending them out, seems a good thing although this isn't part of an exhibition. Lending to Russia, less so but perhaps it's a victory for culture over aggression.
But on the wider Marbles debate which is not quite the issue at hand but as everyone else will mention it.
This issue gets caught up in Las Malvinas-esq nationalism but put simply, it would be better if the remaining marbles were on display together, in their original layout and in sight of the building which they not only adorned but were part of (which is why Elgin's men had such difficulty getting them). A building which UNESCO considers so important it uses it as it's logo. It would be interesting to hear someone claim a gloomy, grey room in Bloomsbury is a more appropriate setting.
Returning them would not be about giving in to Greek demands, it would be about reunifying two parts of a wider artistic whole. I cannot see how a lover of art would not be curious to see the remaining pieces, which are of such importance to Western culture, together again.
Would it not be a better scenario to have the originals in Athens and the casts in London? Thereby still allowing their impact on world culture to understood.
And no you can't restore all of them or indeed rebuild the Parthenon in the same way you can't undo Lord Duveen's 'cleaning' but no one is suggesting that and you should never let best become the enemy of better.
December 5 2014
Here's a story I've been looking into for a while; in southern Germany, state prosecutors have begun investigating the work of an art restorer, called Christian Goller (above), after it was alleged that he has been producing 'Old Master' pictures that have subsequently been sold as the real thing. He specialises, it is alleged (put 'it is alleged' after everything you read below), in German 16th Century paintings, especially Cranach. The prosecutors are looking into 40 paintings, which have apparently been sold for hundreds of thousands of euros, some in the London art market. Apart from being an exceptionally talented creator of 'old' paintings, Goller's best trick, it is said, is not to make exact copies of known Old Masters, but to make subtle variants. That is, he'll take a known composition, but alter it slightly, with the inclusion of a new detail, or a slight variation in a limb, pose, or background.
The allegations seem to come in main part from a German art historian who specialises in Cranach, Dr Michael Hofbauer. You can look at his Cranach online database here. The story first broke in Der Spiegel magazine (subscription required), and was then picked up by the wider German press (for example here and here).
The story has yet to travel any further. But it's possible this could end up being one of the greatest fake scandals of recent times - if some of the works attributed to Goller turn out to indeed be by him. He could potentially be one of the best art forgers ever. We must wait to see how the investigation proceeds.
However, Herr Goller has form in the fake line; one of his works was sold in 1974 to the Cleveland Museum of art as a Matthias Grunewald, for $1 million. Here's a link to that picture on their website. Above is an image of it, and below is an image of the back of the panel. It's hard to believe from the features and handling that anyone could really have thought the picture was by Grunewald. But as you can see from the crack in the panel and the 'damages' and woodworm holes in the back, this was no mere 'imitation', but an extremely cunning attempt to create something that looked 16th Century.
In this piece in the New York Times from 1991, Goller says that he paints only in the 'style' of Old Masters, and sells them as legitimate copies:
"Whoever calls me a forger," Mr. Goller insists, "is lying. I only paint in the style of the Old Masters. I add patina and crackle for decoration. You can't call that a forgery." He goes on: "I think copies make art accessible. Everybody can afford to hang a Grunewald in his house." Mr. Goller emphasizes that he does not add any artist's signature to what he calls his reconstructions, and he sells them for what they are. He says he is not responsible for the claims others make for them.
Of course, 'it wasn't me guv' is a line regularly trotted out by fakers.
One of the pictures identified by Michael Hofbauer as a 'Goller' fake happened to be coming up for sale in a recent Christie's Old Master sale in Amsterdam. The portrait (below) purported to be of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and was catalogued as 'Circle of Lucas Cranach the Elder', with an estimate of €25k-€35k. When I first saw it in the catalogue, before the fake story broke, I certainly didn't for a minute think it was fake, such was the craquelure and overall quality of the picture. But in light of Hofbauer's allegation, I looked again.
A few things then struck me as potentially unusual. First, it was not a known type of Charles V, and had never been published before; odd for an apparently unique portrait of such an important figure. Despite the presence of a Habsburg double eagle in his hat, the sitter was not wearing the Golden Fleece - which again is something unthinkable in a portrait of Charles V - and the sitter certainly looked like him, with that Habsburg jaw. The only provenance was from a 'copy' of an old certificate by a German art historian who saw the picture in the Munich area in the 1950s - I've forgotten his name, and the catalogue entry has now been taken off line. It was hard to see from the images, but in some parts substantial areas of paint seemed to go over the cracks. Perhaps it was later over-paint, perhaps it was evidence of fakery. The medium was described as 'oil on panel, laid onto canvas, laid onto panel'. That's not unheard of, but one of the key ways to date a panel painting is by dendrochronology, and if you make the main surface layer impossible to date (the original panel would have been shaved too thinly to date by dendrochronology), then that's one potential hurdle overcome.
There was, AHN-ers, only one way to find out if the picture was real or fake, and that was to see it. So, for your benefit dear readers, off I dashed on a flight to Amsterdam... only to find that the picture had been withdrawn. I wasn't under any circumstances allowed to look at it. The picture is 'under investigation', and so far I've heard nothing else. So I don't know what to make of the picture. Hofbauer said confidently it was a 'Goller', but he seems (from what I was told in Amsterdam) not to have actually seen it in person. In which case, it's a bold claim by Dr Hofbauer. Christie's are, or rather were, pretty adamant it was 16th Century. All I can say is that if it is a fake, then (from the photos) it's the best I've ever seen, and better than anything I'd ever have expected to see. It would be alarmingly good.
Some of Hofbauer's alleged 'Goller' fakes seem more obviously 'wrong'. For example, this picture (above) sold at Christie's in London as 'Circle of Cranach the Elder' (that is, as 16th Century) is most odd in the face (detail below) and the modelling of the body, which looks like it has come from a 1970s tattoo catalogue, and certainly not the 16th Century. That said, the overall 'age' of the picture, in the craquelure, does look more genuine. Therefore, if it is a fake, as Hofbauer says, then it tells that someone, somewhere has pretty much perfected the art of making a new panel painting look passably ancient.
The picture made £103,250 in December 2008. Which means that as of yesterday, it's outside the 6 year window in which Christie's would need to give a refund. Caveat emptor...
Update - a reader points out the similarities parts of Cranach's 'Justice' on the left (private collection, at the Musée du Luxenbourg), and his 'Lucretia' in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, on the right. I believe the technical term for this is a 'mash up'.
Update II - a reader tells me that the 'certificate', a copy of which was provided with the Charles V, was written by a German art historian called Alfred Stange. Wikipedia tells me he was a Nazi. The provenance of the 'Charles V' was 'Southern Germany' for 'the last 40 years'.
Update III - the provenance of the 'Justice' sold at Christie's in 2008 was listed as 'Andreas Seefellner, Obernzell, Bavaria'. Michael Hofbauer, however, says (in this article) that there was no such person, and that the only person who might have been this Seefellner who lived in Bavaria never owned a Cranach.
Update IV - a reader says of the Charles V Golden Fleece question:
The collar (ie chain) worn in the “Charles V” portrait is in fact that of the Order of the Golden Fleece but without the fleece badge (ie pendant) itself. Although I’m a bit of an anorak on such things, I don’t know if the collar was ever worn without the badge, though I suspect not.
It's certainly a very odd omission - one would expect a contemporary painter to have realised that the inclusion of the Golden Fleece was essential.
Update V - another reader comments on the collar:
The Emperor Charles V while not wearing the badge of the Order of the Golden Fleece is wearing the collar of the order. However, I have never seen the one without the other and since it was made of gold would not appear red!