Previous Posts: January 2014

A poem for the Rubenianum

January 14 2014

Image of A poem for the Rubenianum

Picture: Rubenianum

The Rubenianum in Antwerp, world centre of Rubens scholarship, has been made the subject of a poem by Antwerp's official poet, Bernard Dewulf:

It might be better in Dutch.

Is this the first time an art historical establishment has been the subject of a poem? Does anyone know any more?

Update - a reader sends in this:

'At the Royal Academy', by Thomas Hardy

These summer landscapes--clump, and copse, and croft - Woodland and meadowland--here hung aloft, Gay with limp grass and leafery new and soft,

Seem caught from the immediate season's yield I saw last noonday shining over the field, By rapid snatch, while still are uncongealed

The saps that in their live originals climb; Yester's quick greenage here set forth in mime Just as it stands, now, at our breathing-time.

But these young foils so fresh upon each tree, Soft verdures spread in sprouting novelty, Are not this summer's, though they feign to be.

Last year their May to Michaelmas term was run, Last autumn browned and buried every one, And no more know they sight of any sun.

Update II - a reader alerts me to this poem by Jack Butley Yeats, about the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin. 

Update III - a reader writes:

Regarding the post on your blog on the poem for the Rubenianum (which, by the way, is as bad in Dutch as in English): there is W.H. Auden’s Musée des Beaux-Arts, although it is more about a painting than about the institution mentioned in the title.

$330m deal to save Detroit Institute of Arts

January 14 2014

Image of $330m deal to save Detroit Institute of Arts

Picture: BG

It looks like convincing efforts are being made to avoid a sale of the DIA's collection. A number of US charities is coming to the rescue, and have so far raised $330m. Says the New York Times:

As part of the plan, which negotiators have been working on quietly for more than two months, the museum would be transferred from city ownership to the control of a nonprofit, which would protect it from future municipal financial threats. The foundations would stipulate that Detroit must put the money into its pension system, said Alberto Ibargüen, president of the Knight Foundation.

The unusual effort by the foundations was not the first instance of charitable groups’ and high-profile figures’ trying to help the ailing city. Previous contributors include Lloyd C. Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, and Warren E. Buffett, the billionaire investor, who attended an event with city and state leaders in November to announce a $20 million initiative to help small businesses in Detroit.

But it is far from certain whether the new pledges will bring about a deal to save the museum while also helping the city meet its pension obligations, and several possible roadblocks remain. As much as $500 million may be needed to protect the art from an auction, officials have said, so additional philanthropic donations are being sought. Detroit is also contending with some 100,000 creditors in its federal bankruptcy case, and some are expected to oppose the plan. Even if the notion were to proceed, it would not be enough to resolve the city’s pension underfunding, but merely to ease it somewhat.

Some way to go. But a most encouraging start. It's a shame we don't have a similar zeal here in the UK against deaccessioning. Southampton is the latest council pondering a raid on their local museum.

Meanwhile, the Detroit scheme has met with a cool reception from the International Committee of the Fourth International's World Socialist Web Site:

The scheme is predicated on ending the century-long public ownership of the DIA and handing control of its priceless masterpieces to the powerful corporate and financial interests that stand behind the foundations. For this reason alone it must be opposed. The art belongs to the people of Detroit, not the Wall Street bankers or corporate-backed foundations!

The foundations are not neutral “charities,” but multibillion-dollar operations that have been involved in the dismantling of public education, the promotion of charter schools and other pro-business initiatives in the US and internationally.

As John Cleese almost asked, 'What have the arts philanthropists ever done for us?'

Update - a reader writes:

Regarding the DIA one should remind the World Socialists that it was the capitalists and foundations that provided the art or the funds to purchase the art that is being saved.

A 'Parliament of Posers'?

January 14 2014

Image of A 'Parliament of Posers'?

Picture: House of Commons Works of Art Collection 

The Daily Mail has worked itself up into a lather over the Houses of Lords and Commons' art budget. In particular, it dislikes Parliament's decision to commission portraits of contemporary politicians. Says the paper:

Politicians have lavished a quarter of a million pounds of taxpayers’ money on vanity portraits of themselves.*

The spree included £11,750 for an apparently topless painting of Labour’s Diane Abbott [above, by Stuart Pearson Wright] – the same amount as was spent on a full-sized statue of Baroness Thatcher.

Other works include an £11,750 portrait of former foreign secretary Margaret Beckett, a £10,000 portrait of Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, an £8,000 painting of Kenneth Clarke and a £4,000 oil painting of Foreign Secretary William Hague.

Labour left-wingers Tony Benn and Dennis Skinner had portraits commissioned which cost £2,000 and £2,180 respectively.

The bill for the artworks of two dozen politicians has been racked up since 1995 and approved by the Speakers’ Advisory Committee on Works of Art. By far the bulk of the spending came in the second term of the New Labour government.

The huge sums were signed-off by a little-known committee off MPs which each year asks some of the country’s best portrait paintings to produce work of their colleagues.

You've got to love the 'apparently topless' line. Feel that Home Counties' indignation.

Now, you might expect me, as the author of the still-available-to-purchase book 'Crap MPs', to agree entirely with the Mail's Philistinism. But no! I used to work for the former chairman of the Commons Works of Art Committee, the late Labour MP Tony Banks, and worked on many of the projects the Mail disapproves of. So there are many points I could make here, but I'll confine myself to just three. 

First, Tony helped transform Parliament's art collection into a more vibrant, outward-looking and accessible collection, which it badly needed, and that required some cash. In a building almost entirely dominated by portraits of white blokes, it was entirely right that Tony commissioned portraits of people like Paul Boateng (the first black Cabinet Minister), Diane Abbott (the first black woman MP), Betty Boothroyd (the first female Speaker), and David Blunkett (who is blind). Secondly, the portraitists invariably reduced their fee in return for the prestige and publicity of the commission. Finally, it is surely Parliament's duty to continue to commission portraits of contemporary political figures if that process has been going on for literally hundreds of years. Why stop now? Wouldn't it be odd if, for example, the Speaker's House, which has portraits of Speakers going back to the 17th Century, to suddenly leave a gap for John Bercow, or to hang his portrait with a bargain-basement frame, just because it might upset the Mail

You can search Parliament's art collection online here. They even have a likeness of one Alfred Harmsworth, founder of the Mail empire.

*That figure comes if you add up the cost of all portraits commissioned since 1995. Almost 20 years ago. So that's an average of £13k a year. 

Update - the story has caught on, with even The Guardian following up. The Guardian piece includes this quote from Philistine Of The Day Jonathan Isaby of the (entirely self-appointed) 'Taxpayers Alliance':

"When photographs are so much cheaper than paintings, politicians need to think twice about spending our money immortalising themselves or their friends on canvas, or even in bronze."

Update II - a more considered view of MPs' portraits in The Telegraph here

Update III - by chance, I met Stuart Pearson Wright yesterday, who tells me that the reason his portrait of Diane Abbott is 'almost topless' is because she asked for it to be so.

Update IV - Joanthan Jones in The Guardian sees great value in the MPs' portraits:

Only a nation that utterly loathes its own elected representatives, and by implication its entire system of government, could find something to attack in this serious collection, that puts Abbott's face into history alongside the portraits and statues of her white male Victorian parliamentary predecessors. Painted portraits still flourish as a way of honouring someone and acknowledging their place in history. The National Portrait Gallery adds to its collection all the time – why not complain about its regular royal commissions, which come from public funds just as surely as anything parliament commissions?

Why you should read AHN often

January 14 2014

Image of Why you should read AHN often

Picture: FT

Because then you'd be able to win the Financial Times quiz of the year!

'A game changing gift'

January 13 2014

Image of 'A game changing gift'

Picture: Denver Post

Lucky Denver Art Museum, which has just announced the donation of its first Van Gogh, Cezanne (above), and Caillebotte as part of a 22 piece Impressionist donation from philanthropist Frederic C. Hamilton. More here

Trailer for 'Fake or Fortune?' series 3

January 13 2014

Video: BBC

Series 3 starts on Sunday 19th January, BBC1 at 6pm. More here.

Update - a reader asks:

When will these most interesting series of FAKE OR FORTUBNE come to the US so that we in the colonies can learn too ?

Not sure, is the answer. But episodes of ForF? are occasionally shown on various PBS channels across the US. Some episodes from series 1 are floating around on YouTube and tvo. And if you live in Sweden, then (thanks to a rights balls-up) series 3 has already been broadcast there. (By the way, how do I sound in Swedish?)

Update II - a reader writes:

God Morgon

Yo saund parfekt in svedish. Moost velkam to doo sam resartj her….:)

The Rothschild Prayerbook

January 13 2014

Video: Christie's

This is definitely worth going to see (at Christie's) if you're in New York during Old Master week. Astonishing illuminations, and (having been always kept bound) in such excellent condition.

It's interesting to see how, when the praise of a work of art is entirely justified, it can be done (as in the video above) without any need to gush, or to deploy the guff we so often see in modern and contemporary art (see below). 

'One of Freud's best works'

January 13 2014

Image of 'One of Freud's best works'

Picture: Telegraph

The above portrait by Lucian Freud, of the late Lady Lambton, is to be sold soon at Sotheby's for up to £3.5m. Here's some slightly OTT comment from the auction house:

Oliver Barker, senior international specialist for contemporary art at Sotheby’s, hailed the painting as “exceptional”, representing “exactly the moment” when Freud adapted a new technique working standing up using coarse hogs’ hair brushes.

He added the one-metre-square painting showed Freud “luxuriating” in his new liberations, focusing on the “joy and freedom” of painting.

“This exceptional painting has everything,” he said. It is one of only a very small number of great Freud paintings that have never before surfaced on the market, and it beautifully captures the form of the woman who was to play such a central role in Freud’s life for over two decades.

“It also marks a moment of cataclysmic change in Freud’s artistic style and practice and sees him embark on a new way of painting which was to define his career."

That $7 Renoir

January 13 2014

Image of That $7 Renoir

Picture: AP

The Renoir bought for $7 in a US flea market, but which turned out to have been stolen, must be returned to a museum in Baltimore, a judge has ruled. More here

Crowdsourced curating

January 9 2014

Image of Crowdsourced curating

Picture: MFA Boston

Here's an interesting idea - at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, they're asking locals to vote on which pictures they'd like to see in an exhibition. The website for 'Boston Loves Impressionism' currently has (quelle surprise) Monet and Van Gogh in pole position, and will open on Valentines Day. So top marks to the PR persion who came up with that idea. All the pictures on offer are, as far as I can tell, from the MFA's own collection. So there's no chance of upsetting potential lenders if a picture gets voted out.

National Gallery vs Metropolitan Museum acquisitions

January 9 2014

Image of National Gallery vs Metropolitan Museum acquisitions

Picture: NG London

A reader sends in this helpful statistical breakdown of the National Gallery's recent acquisitions, and, below, compares it with those of the Met in New York over the same period. In terms of numbers the Met, not surprisingly, comes out top.

By my reckoning the [newly acquired] van Gogh portrait is the 100th picture to enter the National Gallery’s collection in the last twenty years (not counting the two works bequeathed by Simon Sainsbury but not yet accessioned): so here are a few stats,

Acquisition Method

  • 5 Bequeathed Directly (inc 3 by Simon Sainsbury and 1 by Denis Mahon)
  • 53 Presented (inc 25 by the Trustees of Sir Denis Mahon's Charitable Trust, 14 by HM Government through AIL – some with additional finance assistance, 7 by Heinz Berggruen as part of the Seurat deal)
  • 42 Purchased (inc 2 with the National Gallery of Scotland and 1 with the Barber Institute)

Artists By Number 

  • 10 - Luca Giordano – the Palazzo Medici Riccardi sketches from Denis Mahon
  • 8 Georges-Pierre Seurat – inc the 7 sketches presented by Heinz Berggruen
  • 6 Guercino – all but one from the Denis Mahon collection
  • 4 Joachim Beuckelaer – the set of the elements
  • 3 Claude-Oscar Monet 

Two works by several artists were also added to the collection over the period – Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, Ludovico Carracci, Giuseppe Maria Crespi, Anthony van Dyck, Pierre Peyron, Franceco di Stefano (Pesellino), Titian, Anonymous Umbrian Master, and Claude Joseph Vernet.

Perhaps more interesting is how these works have affected the collection in terms of representation.  The Mahon gift gave the Gallery its first works by Assereto, Castello, Creti, Schedoni and Stom.  Otherwise, artists now represented include:

  • (from the 13th c) Cimabue, the Clarisse Master (attr), anonymous Umbrian Master
  • (from the 14th c) Daddi
  • (from the 15th c) Bermejo
  • (from the 16th c) Beuckelaer, Polidoro da Caravaggio, Fiorentino, Huber, Macchietti (attr), Wertinger
  • (from the 17th c) van der Ast, Bosschaert, Brouwer
  • (from the 18th c) Danloux, Maulbertsch, Peyron, Raeburn – this one shouldn’t count as the Gallery displayed one before but transferred it to Tate - Subleyras
  • (from the 19th c) Balke, Bonnington, Carolsfeld  Cels, Simon Denis. Fabre, Menzel, Rysselberghe. Signorini
  • (from the 20th c) Gallen-Kallela

And for the Met:

In the same period I gave you figures for the National Gallery’s additions, their Department of European Paintings (and therefore not including any relevant works in The Cloisters or the Modern Department) accessioned almost 400 works. It’s difficult to be precise as they may not yet have added records for 2013 and may have already de-accessioned others. It’s worth noting too that this figure includes pastels – which the National Gallery has determined it will not purchase.

Around 70 were from bequests (including the Annenberg collection), 190 by Gift (including the Thaw collection of 123 sketches jointly owned with the Morgan Library), and 140 by Purchase (also including a large group of around 50 sketches from the Thaw collection that seem to be part gift/part purchase).

Among the “big name” acquisitions were 3 Annibale Carraccis (including one sold by The Royal Scottish Academy and one picked up as a sleeper [at Christie's New York, in 1998], 6 Cezannes, 6 Corots, 5 Degas, 3 Delacroix, 7 Fantin-Latours, 4 Gauguins, 6 van Goghs. 3 Manets, 7 Monets, 6 Renoirs, 3 Toulouse-Lautrecs (the majority of these from the Annenberg collection),  Among single works by artists added were works by Barocci, Bassano, Caravaggio, Duccio, Daddi, Domenichino (export stopped from the UK),Gerard David, Gericault, Ingres, Lorenzetti, Claude Lorrain, Menzel, Millet, Poussin, Seurat, Uccello, Veronese and Wright of Derby (last year).  

They also received by bequest this work [by the Master of the Berswordt Altar, which used to belong to the National Gallery, London!]

There’s been a determined effort over the period to improve the collection in particular areas – 17thc Italian, 18thc pastels, early 19thc works, particularly French Romantic and German.

Wright of Derby - in Bath

January 9 2014

Image of Wright of Derby - in Bath

Picture: Holburne Museum

Poor Joseph Wright of Derby - a first rank British artist, deserving international status, unfairly stuck with a provincial appellation. A new exhibition at the Holburne museum in Bath (25th Jan-5th May) will soon examine the time when he was Joseph Wright of Bath (between 1775-77). From the Holburne website:

Wright came to Bath to paint portraits, hoping to build on the success of Thomas Gainsborough who had recently left for London. The exhibition will include the three remaining portraits that the artist certainly made in Bath, including his painting of the elderly Rev. Thomas Wilson with the young daughter of Catharine Macaulay, the radical historian.

Whilst in Bath Wright worked up landscape studies he had made in Italy, producing spectacular views of Vesuvius in Eruption and the dazzling firework displays of Rome, the highlight of a visit to the artist's studio in Brock Street. It was whilst in Bath that he first began to explore subjects from sentimental contemporary literature, which in turn have a strong impact on his portrait composition, and the exhibition will include some of his most beautiful depictions of figures alone in the landscape.

The Holburne will also have a Wright study day on Monday 24th February, which looks interesting:

The Holburne Museum will bring together speakers from a variety of disciplines including regional historian Peter Borsay, Joseph Wright expert Stephen Daniels and the conservator Rica Jones to examine in greater depth Wright's little-known Bath period and its contexts. The morning session will explore the cultural life of Bath in the 1770s through recent historical research and ask whether Wright's place in this complex and creative society has been misunderstood. In the afternoon the focus will turn to other places: Derbyshire, Liverpool, Italy and the London exhibition galleries, and their influence on the artist's life and work.

More information here. The exhibition, which has been sponsored by the London-based dealer Lowell Libson, will travel to Derby Museum and Art Gallery after the Holburne. 

Chopping up Sir Thomas Lawrence

January 9 2014

Image of Chopping up Sir Thomas Lawrence

Picture: Christie's

There's a rather sad sight on offer at Christie's NY Old Master sale - a mutilated portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence. If you look closely at the right hand of Lady Arundell, above (zoom in here), you will see that her hand is resting on a disembodied shoulder. Her husband, Lord Arundell, has long since disappeared, but you can see what he used to look like, below.

The provenance (and Kenneth Garlick's Lawrence catalogue raisonne) suggests that the portrait was chopped up in about 1914, when the picture went to America, and that the shameful culprit was a dealer called Robert C. Vose in Boston. A lot of this used to happen in the early 20th Century, when British portraits were all the rage in the US. The picture is now being deaccessioned by the Toledo Museum of Art.

Brian on last year's art books

January 9 2014

Late notice this, but worth checking in with Brian Sewell's pick of last year's art historical publications.

The world's greatest painting?

January 8 2014

Image of The world's greatest painting?

Picture: Wikipaintings

I'm very much looking forward to the National Gallery's new Veronese exhibition, which opens on 19th March. In The Guardian today there was an interesting piece on preparations for the show. Apparently one key loan has yet to be confirmed (from an Italian church). Many of Veronese's best works are monumental in size. It sounds like quite a challenge. So we must all sympathise with the show's curator, Xavier Salomon. 

I suppose it's forgivable when doing PR for an exhibition, but Salomon and Nick Penny make some bold claims for Veronese (who I accept is undeniably one of the greats). The artists' c.1564 Martyrdom of St George (San Giorgio in Braida, Verona, above), for example, is cited as 'arguably the world's greatest painting'. Then there's this quote from Salomon:

"Without Veronese there would be no Rubens, no Van Dyck,"

Which is over-egging things just a bit. As his Italian sketchbook shows, Van Dyck (at least) was far more beholden to Titian than he ever was to Veronese.

'The Master of the Plump-Cheeked Madonnas'

January 7 2014

Image of 'The Master of the Plump-Cheeked Madonnas'

Picture: Christie's

In the upcoming Christie's New York Old Master sale there's a painting by the interestingly and slightly bizarrely named artist, 'The Master of the Plump-Cheeked Madonnas'. UK readers may be reminded of the 'Madonna with Ze Big Boobies' from the TV show 'Allo Allo' - but this is not about bottoms, as the Christie's catalogue explains:

In 2000, Didier Martens assembled a group of seven paintings around this serene altarpiece, which he considered to be the most important work by an anonymous Bruges painter active in the first half of the 16th century (op. cit.). Stylistically, these paintings resemble the mature work of Gerard David and Ambrosius Benson, yet are distinguished by the idiosyncratically rounded, full faces of the figures. On the basis of this key and consistent identifying trait, Martens named the artist 'The Master of the Plump-Cheeked Madonnas'.

Needless to say, the artist's name sounds much better in Didier Martens' native French, 'Le Maitre aux Madones Joufflues'.

Update - a reader writes:

Thanks for this really interesting link. Not only did it make me aware of the artist, it also made me realise that St Dominic had a dog as an attribute.

Even more interesting is the provenance of the paintings; being sold by the Met to raise money for their European paintings acquisitions fund.

NG London acquires rare Van Gogh

January 7 2014

Image of NG London acquires rare Van Gogh

Picture: National Gallery

Here's a story I (and practically everyone else it seems) missed from December - the National Gallery has acquired the above portrait by Van Gogh. You might expect a Van Gogh acquisition to be big news. But probably just a few days before Christmas isn't a good time to issue a museum press release. More details on the picture here, and a zoomable image here. Strangely, the story was picked up by the Chinese government press agency Xinhua.

The picture was acquired through the government's new Cultural Giving Scheme, which gives tax concessions for donations of cultural objects. In the past, you could only get such concessions if you were dead, through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme. (This was one of the recommendations of the Arts Taskforce I served on in 2008/9. Just sayin'.)

Update - a reader writes:

I wonder if one of the reasons it may have been missed is that the painting was on loan to the NG from late 2011 and the label was then changed to record it as an acquisition on 20 December 2013.

Another adds:

Probably worth noting that works from this period are not THAT rare – van Gogh was really quite prolific – as there’s another Nuenen portrait in Edinburgh and two other pictures from this period in other collections in the UK.  

Nonetheless It is good to see the National get a portrait by him at last: they were offered a major late one in the early 1980s and there’s a complaint somewhere in their Annual Reports at the time that they didn’t receive enough Grant-in-Aid for acquisitions to be able to afford it.  And this when they did have a discrete acquisitions grant from government and, indeed, in that remarkable period when, following an agreement under the Labour administration up to 1979, they were allocated sums up to £3.3 million (in 1983-1984) for just this purpose.  

One other point about van Gogh portraits in the National Gallery’s collection – they did have one before, for a short period of time.  See the provenance record [of this work now in the US].

Spot the difference

January 7 2014

Image of Spot the difference

Picture: NPG, London (left), National Gallery, London/Executors of the late 9th Marquess of Londonderry (right)

A new loan has recently gone on show at the National Gallery in London - Sir Thomas Lawrence's magnificent and important portrait of Charles Stewart, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry (above right, and zoom in here). The picture, lent by the executors of the 9th Marquess, means that two Lawrences of the same subject are in adjacent museums, for next door in the National Portrait Gallery (image here) is another version of the same picture (above left).

The question is, which came first? Despite the NPG and NG websites dating the pictures 1812 and 1814 respectively, it's not entirely clear (according to Kenneth Garlick's Lawrence 1989 catalogue raisonne) which one Lawrence painted first.

The NPG version shows the sitter's star and sash of the Order of the Bath, which he was awarded in 1813, but these are in fact a later addition, and in any case,the portrait is clearly signed and dated '1812'. Interestingly, though, Lawrence's friend Joseph Farington called the NPG version Lawrence's 'second* portrait of the General', which complicates matters a little. It's possible that there is another, now lost, earlier portrait of the same sitter by Lawrence, which led Farington to call the NPG picture Lawrence's 'second' portrait, and it is true that an untraced portrait of Londonderry by Lawrence was exhibited at the RA in 1811. However, Garlick notes that the 1811 may in fact relate to the NG picture, which is not signed or dated. So it's all quite confusing.

A first hand inspection would doubtless reveal which version had the more spontaneous, and thus original handling, but - alas! - the NPG version is not currently on display  [a reader, below, assures me that - contrary to their website - the NPG picture is on display].

*this crucial word 'second' was unaccountably omitted from the NPG's catalogue entry on the picture in their 2011 Lawrence exhibition.

Update - a reader writes:

I visited both the NG & the NPG last week, both versions of the Lawrence portrait of the Marquess of Londonderry were on display. The version on loan to the NG in my opinion is the most spontaneous, it looks very fine, British Gallery.

Another reader reminds me that the below unfinished portrait by Lawrence of Londonderry was sold in New York in 2006 at Christie's (for $174,000). In the catalogue entry, Garlick speculates that this picture could be the portrait exhibited in 1811, but (rightly, I think) wonders if it is too unfinished to be an exhibited picture. Christie's dated it to c.1813-15. Farington tells us in any case that the picture exhibited in 1811 was a half-length.

Update II - I went to see both pictures today. There's not much doubt in my mind that the version now in the National Gallery was painted first. It is altogether more spontaneous, and more vigorous in the handling, with many 'wet in wet' passages where the paint has been melded seamlessly together. One gets a clear sense that Lawrence was exploring the canvas, colour and details with his brush, whereas in the NPG version it seems clear that he knew what was going where. The NPG version is all autograph, but it just feels as if Lawrence was painting something for the second time. For example, the handling in areas such as the red and gold braid around the sword is almost pedestrian in the NPG version, but in the NG picture the paint feels more alive. There is also what appears to be a pentimenti in the NG version, between the sitter's neck on the left hand side and the end of the sword.

It's possible that Lawrence, who very rarely signed pictures, put his name to the NPG version specifically to make sure that people knew he himself painted the second picture (rather than a studio assistant, as often happened with replicas). The fact that the NG picture came first makes sense of the Farington passage I quoted above, where he describes the NPG version as Lawrence's 'second' portrait (and remember, we know he had seen the first one before in 1811). Therefore, I suspect that Garlick's 1989 hunch was right, that the NG picture was that exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1811.

Breakfast with Nick Penny

January 7 2014

Image of Breakfast with Nick Penny

Picture: FT

There's a must-read interview in the FT with Nick Penny, director of the National Gallery in London. Sound readers will be reassured, and, like me, issue a little cheer at the end of every paragraph. It's good to know that the National is in such safe hands...

Update - a reader writes:

Regarding Mr. Penny's insightful interview in the FT, may I suggest that the rise in popularity for conceptual art is in part that it involves neither religion nor intellectual training.  Its proponents describe it as "accessible" which i suppose means that one doesn't need a mobility aid to view it.

Hence conceptual art is ideal for enjoyment by a population which, aside from parts of the US, is increasingly irreligious and which broadly is uninterested in both history and traditional intellectual studies, the understanding of which enhance the appreciation of Old Master paintings.  The life expectancy of much conceptual art is similar to that of children's toys, few of which become classics.

And as Mr. Penny mentions with the example of the meaning of the term "immaculate conception", those who have religious affiliation rarely have the religious training which was common two generations ago.

The value of art history

January 6 2014

Image of The value of art history

Picture: El Pais

Here's a maddening comparison for you, one that tells us a great deal about the museum world's skewed priorities. Below, I posted the news that an Assistant Curator at Tate Britain (PhD preferable) gets paid just £23,360. And here, in the New York Times, is a report that a US museum is paying about the same ($31,000) to transport a single painting to an exhibition from Europe. The picture in question is probably not even worth as much as the transport bill - it's a fake Vermeer, by Han Van Meegeren, 'The Head of Christ' (above). 

The fake belongs to the Museum Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, which is insisting, as it does with all loans, that the picture be flown with a personal escort who must travel first class.

What a load of phooey. It's stories like this which prompted one former leading museum director to confide in me recently how the 'conservation mafia' sometimes made his job completely impossible with their inflexibility. Ridiculous (but entirely routine) 'conservation' demands like the Van Beuningen's (why must the escort go first, or even business class?) are driving up museum and exhibition costs, which, in turn, are (at least partly) forcing museum salaries down. With a bit of common sense, the picture in question could be shipped for one tenth of the cost. And hey presto, there's your Curatorial Assistant salary for the year.

Update - a reader writes:

This curatorial First Class travel is a racket; if the courier does not carry the paintings within the cabin, there can be no justification for a more expensive seat.  In the UK, this could be interpreted by HM Revenue & Customs as a benefit in kind, and taxable. Also, years ago, company executives would trade in a First Class ticket for a combination of one Business & one Economy, thus allowing them to fly with a spouse or 'secretary'.

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