Previous Posts: June 2015
New law to protect art historians?
June 30 2015
Picture: Connoisseurs by Honoré Daumier
There has for some years been a trend for people to sue art historians and scholars who do not give the 'right' opinion on a work of art. An academic or curator says your picture is a copy? Sue them.
Some famous cases have involved works by Andy Warhol, where lawsuits (or merely the threat of them) from disgruntled owners ultimately obliged the Warhol Foundation to shut down some of its activities. In France, the owner of a putative Monet (which we featured on 'Fake or Fortune?') sued the Wildenstein Foundation after they refused to list the work as a genuine Monet. And even I've had threatening letters and emails after expressing a view on the attribution or identification of a painting.
To protect those who merely seek to give an opinion on works of art, and to freely publish that opinion, the New York legislature has now passed "An act to amend the arts and cultural affairs law, in relation to opinions concerning authenticity, attribution and authorship of works of fine art”.
The bill is not yet enacted, and for more details read Kevin P. Ray's blog here. But it's evidently a step in the right direction. For although those who give opinions on authenticity can sometimes be bone-headedly wrong, it seems to me absurd that anyone should be allowed to sue an art historian, and oblige them, via a court, to change their mind. So - well done New York, and I hope other legislatures follow suit.
New Hermitage website
June 30 2015
The Hermitage in St Petersburg has a new website, and very good it is too. Some of the images are available in high resolution, and the search function is easy to use. The Hermitage was one of the first to have an online collection, many years ago. I'm still baffled, however, by the number of major European museums which still don't have good online databases; the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and the Uffizi in Florence, to name just two.
New Gainsborough drawing discovery
June 30 2015
Picture: Bainbridges Auctions
A newly discovered drawing by Thomas Gainsborough is to be sold at auction, with an estimate of £20,000-£30,000. More here.
Re-assembling Charles I's art collection
June 29 2015
Here's an exhibition I can hardly wait for: the Royal Academy will, in 2018, bring together a large number of works from the former collection of Charles I. Although many pictures were brought back into the royal collection by Charles II - after the great Commonwealth sale of the collection in 1649 - a large number of works escaped overseas, and these are the ones the RA (working with the Royal Collection Trust) hopes to bring back.
Another little-known loss to the royal collection came in the late 17th Century, when William III took a stack of pictures with him to Holland, to furnish his palace at Het Loo. The British government tried to get them back after William's death, but the Dutch resisted. Eventually some of them were even sold, after the Dutch government ran into financial trouble.
More on the 2018 show here, where the Surveyor of the Queen's pictures, Desmond Shawe-Taylor, discusses the show's aims in further detail.
A Picasso in a suitcase?
June 29 2015
An artist here in Scotland claims to have found a painting by Picasso in an old suitcase of his mother's. The picture had lain undisturbed for decades, says Dominic Currie, above, but was opened after his mother's recent death. Apparently, Mr Currie's mother met and fell pregnant to a Russian soldier whilst on a holiday to Poland in 1955, and the picture was a gift from him. More here.
Ex-Gurlitt Liebermann makes £1.9m
June 29 2015
The first painting to be restituted from the Gurlitt collection, Max Liebermann's Two Riders on a Beach, has sold for £1.9m at Sotheby's in London. More here.
Has someone found the missing Ghent Altarpiece panel?
June 29 2015
Or have they, more likely, been busy with the Photoshop?
Should the art market be regulated?
June 29 2015
Not especially, says this recovering art dealer. But in Apollo Magazine, Henry Little (an art dealer) points out that there is already a hefty amount of regulation anyway:
A report compiled by the lawyer Pierre Valentin of Constantine Cannon LLP, at the request of the British Art Market Federation (BAMF), lists 167 laws and regulations (as of February 2015) that apply to the British art market in England and Wales, suggesting that a dealer active today operates in an unequivocally regulated market. With notable exceptions such as foreign laws that may apply, or laws governing general business practice, it includes laws, regulations and codes of conduct covering everything from Nazi loot to VAT, and from endangered flora and fauna to the protection of shipwrecks – many of which are effective laws not specifically aimed at the art trade. The International Art Market in 2011 report repeats anecdotal observations from dealers who cite the mushrooming of regulations and charges as one of the most significant developments of the past few decades.
Skimming the list of regulations, it swiftly becomes clear quite how many of them are relatively new – not only insofar as pre-war legislation has been in some cases more rigorously codified, but also with the introduction of innovations such as the Artist’s Resale Right regulations of 2006. All the major international treaties aimed directly at the trade, such as the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970), occurred during or after the Second World War. Any gallerist, dealer or auction house operating in England and Wales is answerable to a wide range of English, EU and international laws, whether directly aimed at the trade or clearly applicable to it.
A trip to Antwerp
June 26 2015
I was in Antwerp last week, and took the time to hunt out Van Dyck's birthplace, which is thought to be no. 4 on the Grotemarkt. In Van Dyck's day it was called 'Den Berendans', or 'the Bear Dance'. Today, the house is rather a sad sight - there's a rusting plaque declaring that Van Dyck was indeed born there, but the place itself is empty, having been a tea room by the look of it. Next door is the 'Pizzeria Antonio', which must be where the great man went for his Friday night takeaway.
In fact, no. 4 Grotemarkt is available to rent, if anyone fancies turning the place into a 'Van Dyck-huis', rather like the excellent Rubenshuis museum just down the road. If I was a billionaire, that's what I'd do.
Talking of the Rubenshuis, I went to have another look at the really excellent Rubens in Private exhibition. It closes on 28th June, so you have two days left to go and see it. I particularly enjoyed seeing the juxtaposition of Van Dyck's portrait of Rubens' first wife, Isabella Brant, and Rubens' own portrait of her. In the below snap, you can see Van Dyck's portrait on the left, and just in the distance in the next room, Rubens' portrait.
For me, Van Dyck will always be the better portraitist, for when you encounter a Van Dyck portrait you get the sense of truly individual human character. He (usually) resists the temptation to stick to a formulaic way of constructing heads, as so many portraitists do - in England, the likes of Lely and Kneller are obvious examples of artists who, it can feel, barely bothered to look at the person they were tasked with painting. Sometimes, it must be said, one does sense this towards the end of Van Dyck's career in England, when he was beginning to churn portraits out with the help of assistants - but it's rare.
Rubens, who was not fond of painting portraits, doesn't fall into this trap either, but can sometimes seem to produce works that border on the caricature - are they real people, we wonder? But the flipside of Rubens' approach is that his portraits are often full of character, even if this sometimes comes at the expense of verisimilitude, an age old problem for the portraitist. And in Rubens' portrait of Isabella Brant (below)* we see an example of a great artist painting a portrait that conveys both character and likeness to an almost perfect degree. In Van Dyck's portrait we feel confident to say 'this is what Isabella Brant looked like'. But in Rubens' portrait we can just as confidently say, 'this is what Isabella Brant was like'.
*I'm not entirely sure that hand is by Rubens by the way, could be an addition.
How to be the National Gallery director (ctd.)
June 26 2015
Thanks very much to the more than one thousand of you who have downloaded AHN's first podcast, with outgoing National Gallery director, Dr Nicholas Penny. I mention it again because there's a good editorial in the latest Burlington Magazine, which touches on some of the themes Dr Penny and I discussed - well worth a read.
The Burlington also has news of a recently discovered sketchbook by John Lavery.
The Queen as Connoisseur
June 26 2015
Here's some footage of the Queen being presented with a painting in Germany, by the German president Joachim Gauck. She's there at the moment on a state visit.
The newly commissioned picture (below), by Nicole Leidenfrost, is meant to show the young Queen on horseback, with her father, George VI, holding the reins. But the Queen's remarks show that she was a little uncertain what to make of it; 'that's a strange colour for a horse, isn't it?', and 'is that supposed to be my father?' The German president, sensing that the Queen might not be too impressed with the painting, moved swiftly onto the next gift, saying 'if you don't like it, here is some marzipan'. Yum.
The Queen loves paintings of horses, and she and Prince Philip often buy equestrian pictures. Only time will tell whether this new and rather bizarre gift - in which I suspect the greatest faux pas is that the late king looks like a groom - will take pride of place alongside other equestrian gems from the royal collection. Let's keen an eye on Ebay...
'Fake or Fortune?' returns (ctd.)
June 26 2015
I said last week that the new series of 'Fake or Fortune?' returns this Sunday - but in fact that's wrong. There was a potential clash with the final ever episode of Top Gear with Jeremy Clarkson on BBC2 at the same time. So the powers that be decided to delay our new series by one week.
The new series will now start next Sunday, July 5th, on BBC1 at 8pm. There are four programmes, and then after that, in the same slot, there will be four repeats from earlier series.
The first artist under examination is L. S. Lowry. Here's what the BBC website says about the programme:
Art detectives Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould return for a brand new series, starting with an investigation into three small pictures by one of Britain's best-loved modern artists - LS Lowry.
Stephen Ames, a Cheshire property developer, has a problem - he's inherited three small oil paintings believed to be by Laurence Stephen Lowry, an artist renowned for his scenes of northern life, but he doesn't have any proof. All he knows is that they were bought by his father Gerald, a self-made businessman with a passion for art, in the early 70s.
The trouble for Stephen is that LS Lowry is probably the most faked British artist, his deceptively simple style of painting making him a soft target for forgers. As a result, the art market has become very wary of newly discovered Lowry works. If he can't find evidence in favour of the pictures, they are worthless.
As they hunt for proof with the assistance of specialist art researcher Dr Bendor Grosvenor, the team encounter unexpected obstacles and extraordinary coincidences, culminating in a groundbreaking scientific discovery that challenges everything we thought we knew about Lowry the artist. But is it enough to prove that the pictures are genuine?
I hope you enjoy it. And, pray, spread the word!
Fakes, fakes everywhere (ctd.)
June 25 2015
Picture: BBC News
Bravo to Cornwall Trading Standards officers, who have successfully prosecuted an art dealer for selling fake works by Alfred Wallis (such as the above). More here.
We need other investigations across the UK - there are far too many fakes being sold at auction. The Telegraph reported recently the case of David Henty (below), who has been notoriously selling suspect pictures he makes himself, described as 'after Lowry' and 'after Duncan Grant' on Ebay, but saying that he bought them long ago privately, and that they might be the real thing. So far, he's been able to pretty much get away with it.
'Unfinished' at the Courtauld
June 25 2015
I do like unfinished pictures - so am looking forward to seeing a new exhibition-ette at the Courtauld in London on unfinished works from their collection.
It's interesting to see how the aesthetic of the unfinished is a relatively modern phenomenon. A fair proportion of the mis-attributed pictures I come across are in fact unfinished works that have been 'finished' by a later hand. What appear to be badly painted passages, which make one doubt the whole picture even if it has some good parts, are in fact the efforts of a later artist trying to mimic the style of an earlier (better) one. I particularly find this with head studies - at Christie's last year there was a Rubens head which had been given a body and hand by (probably) Jan Boeckhorst (below).
I presume such works must have been fiddled with because the collectors of yore did not want unfinished works on their walls. But nowadays we love unfinished works and studies, because (if they're by a great artist) they have a timeless, even contemporary feel about them.* The second highest auction price for Van Dyck, for example, at over $7m, is for a double head study of a bearded old man (below) - which is not your usual commercial subject, but it's just so brilliantly painted.
Coincidentally, the current Christie's sale has a Van Dyck head study of the same sitter (below), who appears to have been one of the young Van Dyck's favourite models. Like the Rubens above, this picture had once been extended, and turned into St Peter by a later artist - but now the additions have been removed.
* I discuss all this further in my recent podcast for the Financial Times.
The Hitler market
June 25 2015
In The Guardian, Jonathan Jones has been looking at the high prices fetched by paintings by Hitler - or rather, attributed to Hitler. The thing is, fakes abound, because nobody wants to be in a position to be an, er, Hitler connoisseur. So closet Nazi art collectors are spending vast sums, sometimes hundreds of thousands of pounds, on modern daubs that some enterprising fellow has signed 'Hitler'. As the saying goes, a Nazi fool and his money are easily parted.
£71m sale - 'strong prices' or a 'flop'?
June 24 2015
Such is the twitchiness among some that we're at bursting point in the art market that even the mildest setback is interpreted as a disaster. Yesterday's Impressionist sale at Christie's made £71m, and was led by the above £10.8m Monet. But a few duff lots have led to Bloomberg headlining the sale a 'flop'.
One such was a Picasso portrait which sold for £4.5m, despite having been bought for $6.8m in 2010. Apparently, the fact that the vendor didn't quadruple their money in just five years on an average painting by Picasso is a portent of art market armageddon.
Needless to say, the Christie's press release of the sale gives an extremely rosy view, heralding 'strong prices across the breadth of the category'. The truth lies somewhere between the two.
New Monet pastel discovery
June 24 2015
When the London-based art dealer Jonathan Green came to remove some tape from the back of a Monet pastel he'd bought at auction, he was pleasantly surprised to find another, completely unknown pastel by Monet. More here in The Guardian.
'Washington at Princeton'
June 23 2015
I do like Christie's series of 'Game Changer' videos - where specialists talk about an object they particularly like, not just something for sale. Above, Christie's specialist John A. Hays talks about Charles Willson Peale's Portrait of George Washington at the Battle of Princeton.
Beit collection works withdrawn from Christie's
June 23 2015
I mentioned briefly, in my look at the forthcoming Old Master sales, the hoo-ha in Ireland about the consignment of 7 important pictures from the Beit Collection. These are housed in the magnificent Russborough House in Co. Wicklow (below), and were given to a charitable trust by the late Sir Alfred Beit. The trust, which manages the house, had claimed that the works could not be on show for 'security reasons' (some had been stolen twice already), and had to be sold to provide funds for the upkeep of the house.
In Ireland, there was considerable uproar, and questions were even asked in the Irish parliament. The role of the National Gallery in Ireland was also placed under scrutiny - should the pictures have been given an export licence? Many said not, but the Gallery said they did not have the money to save the pictures.
But now, with just days to go (the Irish Times reports) the Beit Foundation has announced that they want to withdraw the pictures, after 'private Irish donors' offered to buy the works. If the Foundation signed the standard Christie's sale contract, then there will be hefty withdrawal fees to be considered. These are calculated at 75% of the agreed seller's commission and buyer's premium which would have been due if the pictures sold at the lower estimate. In this case, the total of the combined lower estimates is £5.3m; there is a Rubens portrait head, above, at £2m-£3m, a Rubens sketch at £1.2m-£1.8m, a Teniers at £1.2m-£1.8m, as well as a Van Ostade, and two Guardis. We can't know what commissions were agreed between Christie's and the Beit Foundation, but I imagine the liability is potentially something like £500,000.
The standard Christie's contract also says that vendors may only withdraw pictures under certain circumstances - so the Beit Foundation will have to ask nicely. To be honest, my immediate sympathies are with Christie's, who have spent considerable time and resources marketing the paintings, and now have a large gap in their forthcoming sale. The Beit Foundation certainly does not come out of this with any glory - if these private donors exist, why did the Foundation not make more of an effort to find them before sending the pictures to Christie's? It looks like a failure of imagination: 'we need cash, so let's flog some paintings and hope nobody notices'.
Anyway, if the pictures do remain at Russborough, then clearly something radical has to happen there about the way the pictures are regarded by the trustees. It would be a nonsense for the pictures to be 'saved', but then left in storage because they can't resolve the security situation.
And while we're at it, the procedures for exporting important works of art from Ireland need to reviewed too. In Ireland, legislation was passed in 1997 setting out the various value thresholds and cultural status requirements when it came to exporting works of art, much like we have here in the UK. But for some reason that law has never been brought into effect. Therefore, a 1945 law is still in force, by which the export of any painting, even if it is worth just 1 Euro, must apply for an export licence, which has to be personally signed by the director of the National Gallery - who I'm sure has better things to do with his time. You might think that such a situation would help protect the export of important Irish works of art. But in practice, unless you have a system like we do in the UK, where the passing of certain value thresholds sets a series of institutional alarm bells ringing, it actually becomes more difficult to have procedures designed to 'save' the important works. As far as I can tell, all that is needed to bring the 1997 law into effect is a ministerial signature.
Update - a reader tells me that when, last week, the Beit Foundation trustess refused to withdraw the works, they cited (to the Irish Arts Minister) a €1.4m fee payable to Christie's. More here.
Update II - Reuters reports that the proposed rescue deal involves an Irish tax relief scheme - and also that if the plans don't work out, then a sale will be back on the agenda in October. Quite why none of this was explored earlier, long before a sale at Christie's was planned, is a mystery. It sounds to me as if Russborough needs some new trustees.
Update III - All hail one of the trustess, Carmel O'Sullivan, who has consistently argued against the sale. And here in the Irish Times is an interview with the late Sir Alfred and Lady Beit, in which they say that their express wish is the keep the collection intact.
Looking at the list of Russborough Trustees, it seems they Foundation is following a slightly outdated practice of appointing trustees from worthy societies, such as the Irish Georgian Society. This is all well and good, and we can't dispute the integrity of the current trustees. But really the Foundation needs to move into the 21st Century, and appoint one or two trustees who a) are rich, and b) know other people who are rich.
Getty buys lost Bernini sculpture
June 22 2015
The New York Times reports that the Getty has bought the above bust by Bernini of Pope Paul V. The 1621 bust was long thought lost. More here.