Previous Posts: January 2016
Getty buys $30.5m Gentileschi
January 29 2016
The Getty museum were the triumphant buyers of Orazio Gentileschi's Danäe last night at Sotheby's. The total price after commission was $30.5m. There were at least three bidders going for the picture, though I presume one of them was the third party guarantor. Another underbidder was (I presume) an Asian collector speaking to the Chairman of Sotheby's Asia, Patti Wong. The Getty will hang the picture next to Gentileschi's Lot and his Daughters, which was originally hung next to Danäe. So, well done the Getty. There was a curious little scene after the bidding - the Getty's victorious bidder walked up to the rostrum and handed over a letter to George Wachter, the head of Sotheby's New York Old Master department. I wonder what it said.
The sale totalled $53.4m - which (says Bloomberg) was below the low estimate. It was a patchy affair, which some lots soaring away, others just squeaking by (like the newly discovered Jordaens selling at the low estimate of $4m) but almost half the lots failing to sell. I'll post a fuller analysis later on - I'm heading back to the UK today. The volatility can be put down to a few things it seems to me: first, the weather robbed Sotheby's of three days viewing time; second, the recent stock market wobbles put off more than a few collectors; and finally, though this is more long-term, I think this is what an auction market looks like when you no longer have a firm base of trade buyers ready and willing to pick up the slack. But with the Taubman pictures doing ok, and some clear strong prices across the board, it seems we can end the week knowing that the Old Master market is still alive and kicking. At a time when everyone is predicting a slowing art market across the board, this is no small thing.
Art Fund to stop saving works from export
January 29 2016
Here's a curious story: Martin Bailey in The Art Newspaper reports that the Art Fund will stop fundraising for works of art under threat of export, unless changes are made to the UK's export licensing system. Says TAN:
Stephen Deuchar, its director, tells The Art Newspaper: “If no changes to the present system are made, we do not see how we can, in all conscience, launch fundraising campaigns to save export-stopped works.” He adds: “People will only donate to a campaign if they know a work can actually be purchased at the end of it.”
Deuchar is deeply disturbed by what he regards as abuses of the UK export system. This follows the debacle that ensued when the foreign buyer of a £35m work by Rembrandt, Portrait of Catrina Hooghsaet (1657), withdrew an export licence application when the Art Fund decided to mount a public campaign to buy the picture for Wales. “We believe the UK export system should serve our public collections more effectively by requiring licence applicants to give a binding commitment that they will not thwart museums that want to match the price,” Deuchar says.
Deuchar, a former director of Tate Britain, is backed up by Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota:
Nicholas Serota, the director of the Tate, also wants reforms to ensure that buyers confirm in advance that they will accept matching offers from UK public collections. “Without such a provision, future fundraising campaigns will be doomed to failure, as donors will not be inclined to give when their generosity may turn out to be an empty gesture,” he says.
So, what's going on here? Clearly, the recent Rembrandt business has left a bad taste at the Art Fund (for a recap on that see here). Consequently, the Fund now seems specifically to be wanting to change the UK's export licensing rules to compel an owner or buyer to accept a matching offer from a UK museum. At the moment, when an export licence application is made (either by a new owner, or on behalf of a prospective new owner) the export committee asks whether a museum's matching offer will be accepted. If the buyer says 'no', then the export licence is automatically rejected, and you can't re-apply for ten years: the picture stays in the UK. If you say 'yes', and then change your mind later, the export licence is still automatically rejected: the picture stays in the UK. In other words, the picture is not 'lost' - it just isn't necessarily transferred into public ownership. Everyone has the chance to try again ten years later.
And that, therefore, tells us that the primary purpose of the UK's export licensing system is to prevent works deemed of national importance from leaving the country - not transferring them from private ownership to public ownership. It is after all possible to 'save' a picture for the nation without a museum buying it. Consequently, the UK government's response to the Art Fund's threat is this: “The system is designed to strike a balance between the public interest and the rights of individuals to enjoy their property.” Which seems to me to be eminently sensible.
Nevertheless, there is a chance that a fundraising campaign can go ahead, and at the last minute, after all the money has been raised, and the collection boxes are full, the plug can be pulled. This is, actually, a rarity. In the case of the Rembrandt, no campaign was actually launched. Back in 2003, the Tate did raise the money to buy Reynolds' full-length portrait of Omai - only for the owner, John Magnier, to change his mind. The picture is still in the UK, but it's not on public display. One might think, from the words of Serota, that any campaigns to 'save' works after the Omai case were 'doomed to failure' - but of course they were not, as the Art Fund's magnificent efforts over the last ten years has demonstrated.
That said, I can certainly see the case for making some changes to address the issue the Art Fund is raising (just as I agree there need to be some changes made on the related issue of tax exempt works being sold). It would indeed be frustrating for a future campaign to raise all the money required, only to then see the licence withdrawn. While the great majority of funds raised in this manner are pledges that aren't cashed until the picture is actually acquired, it's still impossible to give back those smaller donations put in the collection boxes.
So, what to do? I'm instinctively reluctant to do anything that compels someone to sell their work of art to a museum. Call me old fashioned, but I believe in the right to private property. And there are other ways a picture can be 'saved' - for example, the so-called Ridley Rules allow a private buyer to provide a matching offer to save a work of art, as long as they put it on public display for much of the year. But could changes be made that disincentivise owners from changing their minds? Certainly. How about raising the period of time before you can reapply for an export licence, from ten years to, say, fifteen, or even longer. That would make people think twice about withdrawing an offer at the last minute.
There is of course the wider question of whether the Art Fund should be resorting to cultural blackmail like this? Personally, I'm surprised to see the Art Fund getting so political. I'm not entirely sure it does the Fund any favours in the long term, though it might generate a few headlines. Presenting an ultimatum like this to the government is a risk too, for passing the necessary legislation, even if the government agreed to make the changes, can take a long time. The right to enjoy your private property is actually a European human right, so for fear of a challenge, I can't see any UK government deciding to change the rules quickly. And in the meantime what happens to the works currently threatened with export (for a list, see here)? And is making such a threat really the best way to get the government to respond? I'm not sure. Finally, if indeed we do want to 'save' more works from export abroad, then we really need to look at the bigger issue here, and that's the need for more money.
Update - a reader writes:
On the Art Fund’s ultimatum, if you look at this from a buyer’s perspective, the question is why anyone would go to the financial and emotional trouble to bid in a highly competitive auction for a masterpiece, when there is the constant risk that the Art Fund can reclaim it. If some of the pieces that are currently blocked from export, such as the anglo-saxon bronze brooch sold for about GBP9,000 (!) were of such national importance, shouldn’t have the government through a foundation or a national museum tried to buy it when it came up for sale? The same may hold true for Hans Krebs’ Nobel Price medal, which was sold at the lower end of the estimate range, hence any museum, university or whoever exemplifies the national interest in this case, could have simply bought it out of the sale.
£7.3m Audubon wallpaper
January 28 2016
In the early 19th Century, Lady Isabella Hertford decided to jazz up the wallpaper in her house, Temple Newsam (near Leeds) by cutting out the birds from a copy of John James Audubon's Birds of America. Since this has now become one of the most valuable books in the world, with an example selling recently for £7.3m, Lady Isabella's cut and paste could be said to be the most expensive ever. Her efforts have now been restored, and The Telegraph has the full story here.
Censoring art history
January 28 2016
Bizarrely, the Italian government covered up a series of nude classical statues at the Capitoline Museum in Rome for a visit by the Iranian president. More here.
$24m Taubman Old Master sale
January 28 2016
The Old Masters from Alfred Taubman's collection were sold at Sotheby's last night for a total of $24.1m (inc. premium). The pre-sale estimate was $21m-$30m (excluding premium) - but the estimates were already high, given the need to recoup Sotheby's guarantee of $515m from the Taubman sale. Indeed, it seems the sale went better than Sotheby's expected, and last night they were able to cut their expected loss on the Sotheby's guarantee from $6m to $3m. Possibly, given some minor remaining lots in future auctions, and judicious private selling of those works that did not sell last night, the auction house might in time even come out just ahead on the deal.
Overall, though, the sale last night was seen as good news by those in the 'trade'. When the small Raphael portrait, the first major lot of the Old Master week, sold for $2.7m against an estimate of $2m-$3m you could almost feel the whole room relax. Sotheby's specialists must have been under a heap of pressure going into the sale, and I think they did well, aided of course by the incomparable auctioneering of Henry Wyndham. Sotheby's also sensibly cut the reserves on some of their more over-estimated lots, such as a Beccafumi tondo which hammered at $1m against an estimate of $2m-$3m.
The best pictures went way above estimate, such as the above Valentin de Boulogne, which sold for $5.1m (inc. premium) against an estimate of $1.5m-$2m. As ever, Venetian vedute paintings sold well (you could even say there's something of a boom in this market), with a Bellotto making $3m against an estimate of $1.5m-$2m, and fierce competition on a Bellotti selling for $490k against an estimate of $150k-$200k. Taubman's British art did quite well too, with his full-length Gainsborough selling for $3.2m (inc. premium) against an already ambitious estimate of $3m-$4m. The bargain of the night for me was a 50x40 Gainsborough portrait in excellent condition, which sold to the UK trade for $187k (inc. premium, est. $100k-$150k). A Guercino Magdalene bought in against an estimate of $500k-$700k, and could presumably be bought cheaply after the sale if anyone's interested.
Constable restitution sought in Switzerland
January 27 2016
Picture: Vos Iz Neias
The descendants of a Jewish collector have filed legal proceedings against a Swiss museum for the return of a work by John Constable, 'The Stour Valley' (above). Shamefully, the Museum of Fine Arts in the Swiss town of La Chaux-de-Fonds has refused to return the work, even though they have been aware for a number of years that the work was seized in Paris in 1942 from Anna Jaffé, a Jew, and sold at auction in 1943 against her will.
The first time Jaffé's descendants tried to regain the work, in 2009, the museum said that under Swiss law there was no compulsion to return the work. If this is the case, then clearly the law in Switzerland needs to catch up with the 21st century - as do the moral standards of Swiss museums.
Update - a reader writes:
I suspect that the moral standards of Swiss museums are in line with the moral standards of Swiss banks in this area…
Tracking down Valentin de Boulogne
January 27 2016
In October this year, the Metropolitan Museum in New York will put on an exhibition of works by Valentin de Boulogne - the first ever. In this blog on the Met's site, curator Keith Christiansen tells of one of his trips to track down one exhibit (above) in a French church.
The show sounds great. Apart from anything else though, Christiansen's excellent blog posts are another demonstration of how the Met leads the way in digital engagement. We don't see enough of this from other museums, especially not UK ones.
To New York!
January 26 2016
Greetings from Edinburgh airport, where 'Storm Frank' is causing a few delays. My cunning plan to get to New York in time to view the Old Master sales this afternoon won't quite work. Still, it's good to be going - for over the weekend it looked as if the sales might be put off, such was the snow, and I know a few people who had to cancel their trips. Time will tell whether this affects the sale.
In many ways, this week could be seen as a key moment for Old Masters. Certainly, with Christie's having moved their sale to the Spring, all the focus is on Sotheby's, and the first hurdle to clear - Wednesday's stand-alone sale of Alfred Taubman's Old Masters - is a high one. Already, Sotheby's has conceded that their $515m Taubman guarantee gamble won't pay off, so there will be many eyes watching to see how the last instalment of his collection does. That said, Sotheby's can't have spared much effort in pulling together what looks to be a strong series of catalogues, with works by the likes of Raphael, Turner, Rubens, Van Dyck, and Canaletto all coming up over the next few days. And of course, the major event of the week will be the $25m-$25m Gentileschi.
I've a busy schedule, so blogging over the next few days will be jet-lag dependent I'm afraid. If any posts appear over the next few hours, it'll be because the movie selection on United (which, amazingly, has Wi-Fi in the sky better than my BT one at home) hasn't improved.
Update - the movies were good: Bridge of Spies, and The Martian.
Met hangs Le Brun masterpiece
January 25 2016
Video: Metropolitan Museum
AHN has been following the Metropolitan Museum's acquisition and restoration of Charles Le Brun's Portrait of Everhard Jabach and his Family. Now, the picture has finally been hung, and the above video recounts the great efforts by curators and conservators at the Met to put this fascinating picture on public display.
Knoedler fake trial begins
January 25 2016
The much anticipated Knoedler fake trial begins today. In The Art Newspaper, Laura Gilbert has an excellent summary of the case so far, and what's at stake. The main case will revolved around this question: should the buyers of a fake work (in this case, a dodgy Rothko, above) have done more due diligence themselves, to find out if the picture offered was genuine, or should the gallery be expected to make sure the work was genuine first?
It seems extraordinary to me that the case has even come this far - surely a gallery must bear the responsibility, not the buyer.
New €18m Fra Angelico acquisition for the Prado
January 25 2016
The Museo Prado has acquired the above c.1426 panel by Fran Angelico for €18m from the Duke of Alba. The Duke has also donated another newly attributed work by Fra Angelico, showing St Anthony Abbot's death. More here in The Art Newspaper.
January 25 2016
Video: NGA Washington
I've come to this National Gallery of Art in Washington's video a little late I'm afraid, and long after the exhibition has closed - but it's a great primer on what metalpoint drawing is.
Delacroix at the National Gallery
January 25 2016
Video: National Gallery
The National Gallery in London's new show (opening 17th February) is Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art. In the video above, curator Chris Riopelle sets out what the exhibition is about.
Italian Museums (ctd.)
January 25 2016
The new reforming Italian government's measures to shake up the country's museum sector are continuing, with a slew of new directors parachuted into position now beginning to make changes. But - wowee - look at this piece in The Telegraph on James Bradburne (now running the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan) to see just how bad things have become:
"The system here is paralysed and doesn’t function,” said Mr Bradburne. “The fact that Italian museums open their doors every day is a miracle.” [...]
Despite boasting some of the finest paintings in the world by great masters such as Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci and Raphael, Italy’s museums are undervisited. Not one features on the list of the world’s top 10 most visited museums.
Many have a poor presence online. The website of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, one of the country’s top tourist attractions, is difficult to find and is put to shame by sites of rival galleries abroad such as the Tate or the Getty.
Moreover, a system where by no Italian museum was allowed control of their own finances has sapped the motivation of many past directors. Revenue from ticket sales, venue hire or bookshops had to be paid to Rome, which then redistributed it at their discretion.
Similarly, donors wanting to help a specific museum had to send it via the capital, which would eventually return it – sometimes years later. The 20 new appointees will take charge of their own finances for the first time.
January 22 2016
Picture: Dulwich Picture Gallery
Many thanks to those readers who came to the Van Dyck lecture last night at Dulwich Picture Gallery. It was a good turn out - and a great honour to talk about Antoon in such surroundings. What an amazing collection they have there - well worth a visit. And the new display around the NPG's Van Dyck self-portrait is fascinating.
Henrietta Maria, patron and collector
January 22 2016
There's a fascinating new book out on the role of Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I, as a collector and patron of the arts. It's by Erin Griffey, who probably knows more about Henrietta Maria than anyone else alive, having published a number of books and articles on her already. Says the publisher Yale:
In the early modern period, rulers demonstrated their power and influence through carefully curated “display”—their presence in court ceremonies, their palaces and their contents, and their portraits. Henrietta Maria of France (1609–1669), queen consort of King Charles I of England, embraced these opportunities for display with particular flair. This richly illustrated book follows Henrietta Maria through and beyond the Bourbon and Stuart courts to chart her patronage and engagement with the visual arts, building works, and the luxury trade. It develops a powerful picture not just of the images, fashions, interiors, and buildings shaped by the queen’s directorial influence but also of the political and religious factors that governed her choices and policies of court display. Her cultural patronage in particular emphasized her family honor, dynastic clout, Catholic piety, feminine virtue, and discerning taste. Erin Griffey analyzes the full spectacle of the queen’s represented image, not only through the well-known portraits by Sir Anthony van Dyck but also through her rich bed ensembles, tapestries, jewelry, clothing, and devotional goods—the objects that embodied and conveyed her royal power.
Francis Towne at the British Museum
January 21 2016
Picture: British Museum
A new exhibition opens today at the British Museum on the work of watercolourist Francis Towne. Says the BM website:
Come and experience 18th-century Rome through an astonishing series of watercolours not displayed together since 1805.
British artist Francis Towne (1739–1816) made a remarkable group of watercolours during a visit to Rome in 1780–1781. They include famous monuments such as the Colosseum, the Palatine Hill, ancient baths and temples, and the Forum. These watercolours were Towne’s way of delivering a moral warning to 18th-century Britain not to make the same mistakes – and suffer the same fate – as ancient Rome. 2016 marks the 200th anniversary of their bequest to the British Museum.
Towne’s 52 views of Rome are among the great creative landmarks in the use of watercolour within British art. They played a central role both in Towne’s career, and in the revival of his reputation in the 20th century. They were his main claim for recognition in the London art world and he continued to revise and work on them throughout his life. The views of Rome were the centrepiece of Towne’s one-man retrospective exhibition in London in 1805, and have not been displayed together since. When Towne bequeathed them to the Museum in 1816, they became his permanent public legacy. In addition to the views of Rome, the exhibition will feature further views of Italy by Towne and other works on paper by his contemporaries in Rome, including the important recent acquisition A Panoramic view of Rome by Giovanni Battista Lusieri (1755–1821).
As a landscape painter based in Exeter, Towne’s work was not well known in London during his lifetime, and he failed to be elected to the Royal Academy on several occasions. The Victorians had written off 18th-century watercolours as unambitious and limited, but in the early 20th century, the flat planes and spare, angular designs of Towne’s long-ignored drawings seemed unexpectedly fresh and elegant to modern eyes.
The exhibition has been organised by Richard Stephens, who is writing a catalogue raisonné of Towne's work, to be published online by the Paul Mellon Centre in London. Richard will also be giving a talk on Towne at the BM on Tuesday 26th January at 1.15pm.
Regular readers will know Richard for his invaluable online resource, The Art World in Britain 1660-1735. I think it's high time AHN designated him a Hero of Art History.
Update - the show gets five stars from today's Guardian.
January 21 2016
A reader alerts us to the above 'Ecole Hollandaise', which soared to a strong six figure hammer price yesterday in France, against an estimate of a €6k-€8k. It is believed to be by Gerrit van Honthorst.
January 21 2016
Pictures: National Gallery
The National Gallery in London has cleaned their c.1600 Tower of Babel by Leandro Bassano. Looks like a good job.
Update - the picture has a handsome new frame too, courtesy of the NG's head of framing Peter Schade:
Newly discovered Jordaens at Sotheby's
January 20 2016
I'm looking forward to seeing a newly discovered picture by Jordaens at Sotheby's New York later this month. The picture, a large sketch of St Martin Healing the Possessed Man, had never been published before, and was completely unknown. The estimate is $4m-$6m, and you can read more about the picture here.
As I said before, if any readers want any advice about pictures coming up in the Old Master sales, just let me know.