Previous Posts: October 2017

'Britain's Lost Masterpieces' (ctd.)

October 18 2017

Video: BBC

Tonight's episode of 'Britain's Lost Masterpieces' is the last in this series. We investigate a possible painting by Anthonis Mor. BBC4 9pm!

There's a Brueghel in our public library? Sell it!

October 18 2017

Image of There's a Brueghel in our public library? Sell it!

Picture: ArtUK

There's been yet another move here in the UK to sell paintings in local public collections. In Arbroath, in North East Scotland, a Liberal Democrat councillor has suggested two large paintings by Peter Brueghel the Younger should be sold to plug holes in the council's budget. The pictures, The Adoration of the Magi (above) and Saint John the Baptist Preaching in the Wilderness, were given to the people of Arbroath in the 19th century and hang in the local library. They are worth many millions of pounds.

The Times covered the story yesterday, quoting yours truly in full on how dare you sell these pictures! mode. But Councillor Lawrie had this to say:

“I’m sure they’re of significant cultural value but I don’t see how this benefits the average Angus resident,” Mr Lawrie said.


By coincidence, the pictures will be featured on tonight's episode of 'Britain's Lost Masterpieces', on BBC4 at 9pm. We will be visiting a fascinating local arts centre in Arbroath called Hospitalfield, to look at a mystery 16th Century portrait. It so happens that there are plans to build a new gallery at Hospitalfield to display the Brueghels - but if I was involved in these plans I'd be alarmed by any indication that the council might sell the paintings instead. What would be the point in building a new gallery?

Update - Councillor Lawrie tweets in response to my comments:

I’m a proud philistine if that means trying to find all options to fund health and social care.

Does he not accept that museums and art have proven health and social benefits?

Update II - in response to the story, here are some wise words from the director of Hospitalfield, Lucy Byatt. 

'The Vermeer Phenomenon'

October 18 2017

Video: NGA

Here's an interesting lecture from Arthur K Wheelock Jnr of the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC about the NGA's momentous Vermeer exhibition in 1995 - how the show came about, how it was put together, and how it changed public perceptions of Vermeer. The lecture was given in 2015, but has just now been put on the NGA's You Tube page, probably in connection with the opening of a new Vermeer exhibition there, Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting (till Jan 21 2108).

Bowes Museum show in London (ctd.)

October 18 2017

Video: Wallace Collection

Here's Wallace Collection director Xavier Bray on some highlights of the Wallace's new exhibition featuring loaned Spanish paintings from the Bowes Museum.

More museum directors should do this - five minutes and a iPhone is all you need!

Dobson's mystery sitter?

October 16 2017

Video: ZCZ Films

Regular readers will know that Waldemar Januszczak is an expert on English 17thC portraitist William Dobson - and in the video above he proposes a new identification for a mystery sitter in one of Dobson's best group portraits, Sir William Russell.


October 16 2017

Image of ArtUK

Picture: ArtUK

The invaluable ArtUK website has had over 3 million users since it launched in February last year. Director Any Ellis's newsletter says:

Since the website’s launch in February 2016 we have had over three million unique users with half of this traffic coming from overseas. Average time on the site is running at about 4½ minutes, which is high compared to most museum sites. Traffic in the last few months has been running about 10% up on equivalent months last year.

I've written a piece for the ArtUK's blog on how useful the site was for our second series of Britain's Lost Masterpieces

Running ArtUK is an expensive business, and they need all the help they can get. If you're minded to donate, you can do so here

Waldemar on Basquiat

October 16 2017

Video: Barbican

The Great Waldemar is on form in this review of the new Basquiat exhibition at the Barbican in London, which he describes as:

[...] a noisy hagiography at the Barbican that bills itself as “the first large-scale exhibition in the UK” of Basquiat’s work. In language that the Maezawas of this world would understand, the show airily describes him as “one of the most significant artists of the 20th century” and promises a radical new reading of his achievements.

I went into it chuckling in avuncular fashion about the hype. But I came out angry. OMG. This really is what the art world has become: a shallow, uneducated, disingenuous, over-moneyed, rapacious chewer-up of proper artistic values.

I like Basquiat as much as the next person - but I'll eat my trousers if, in ten year's time, his work is still selling for as much (in real terms) as it is today. AHNers, hold me to it.

TAN podcast no.5

October 16 2017

Audio: TAN

The latest Art Newspaper podcast is out, and it discusses the forthcoming auction at Christie's of Leonardo's 'Salvator Mundi'.

Birmingham's 'haunted painting'

October 16 2017

Video: Birmingham Mail

A pyschic in Birmingham has declared his painting 'haunted' after 'strange things' happened to people who owned it. Apparently one woman fainted, and dogs certainly don't like it. The thing is, he doesn't know who painted it, or what the subject is. Can anyone help? 

More here

'The Audacity of Christian Art'

October 12 2017

Video: National Gallery

This looks good - a new series of videos from the National Gallery in London on Christian art, with Curator in Art and Religion, Dr Chloe Reddaway. More here

'Britain's Lost... Galleries'?

October 12 2017

Image of 'Britain's Lost... Galleries'?

Picture: TAN 

Martin Bailey in The Art Newspaper reports that in Leeds Art Gallery, they've discovered a whole new gallery they didn't know about! More here

Leonardo's 'Salvator Mundi' to be sold at Christie's (ctd.)

October 12 2017

Image of Leonardo's 'Salvator Mundi' to be sold at Christie's (ctd.)

Picture: Robert Simon Fine Art

Sarah P. Hanson in The Art Newspaper reports that the Salvator Mundi has been guaranteed by a third party. This means that the painting is effectively sold - if the painting makes more than the reserve (I presume something near the $100m estimate), then the guarantor gets a slice of the upside. If nobody bids, the guarantor gets the painting. So Christie's have already pulled off quite a coup here - bravo. I think this must explain the confidence with which they're launching the picture into a contemporary art sale in November. This was a bold and risky move, and had the painting completely 'bought in' it would have been an epic fail.

Now, it's clear that the potential sale to the guarantor represents a sizeable loss to the vendor, Russian collector Dmitry Rybolovlev, who is believed to have paid around $125m for the painting in 2013. But that said, I think many would argue that $125m was a 'full' price, and in any case, we now know that it's a long way from the about $70m-$80m which Mr Rybolovlev's adviser, Yves Bouvier, allegedly paid for the painting. 

Of course, it's possible the painting may spark a bidding war, and prove us all wrong.

Half 'n half

October 12 2017

Image of Half 'n half

Picture: The Saleroom

Do not adjust your set - this picture is coming up at auction soon, with both the frame and the painting half cleaned! Yours for £30. More here

Tarnya Cooper joins National Trust

October 11 2017

Image of Tarnya Cooper joins National Trust

Picture: NPG

Congratulations to Tarnya Cooper, who has been appointed the National Trust's new Curatorial & Collections Director. Until now she has been Chief Curator at the National Portrait Gallery. Says the NT press release:

Tarnya will join the Trust’s newly expanded cohort of curators led by Director of Curation & Experience, John Orna-Ornstein. She will help shape and deliver the Trust’s ambitious new curatorial strategy, including high quality research, inspirational engagement, and excellent care for collections and buildings.

This means that the National Portrait Gallery will now be looking for a new Chief Curator.

'Britain's Lost Masterpieces' (ctd.)

October 11 2017

Video: BBC

In tonight's episode of Britain's Lost Masterpieces, Emma Dabiri and I are in Wales, at the Carmarthenshire County Museum. Two 17th Century portraits catch our eye...

Tonight, BBC4 9pm. More clips here

'The Last Da Vinci'

October 11 2017

Video: Christie's

Here's another video from Christie's on their forthcoming sale of the 'Salvator Mundi'. Some may not like the fact that Christie's are giving the picture as much contemporary kudos as they can. But there aren't many people trying to make Old Masters relevant to new audiences, so it's worth a go. One thing is for sure, if Christie's don't sell the picture there will be many people lining up to question their handling of it. Personally, I admire their courage in taking the risk of this innovative approach.

Leonardo's 'Salvator Mundi' to be sold at Christie's (ctd.)

October 10 2017

Video: Christie's

Christie's have got Alistair Sooke to make a short video on the picture.

Leonardo's 'Salvator Mundi' to be sold at Christie's

October 10 2017

Image of Leonardo's 'Salvator Mundi' to be sold at Christie's

Picture: Robert Simon Fine Art.

Big news (via Eileen Kinsella at ArtNet) - the recently discovered 'Salvator Mundi' by Leonardo da Vinci is to be sold by Christie's in New York. The painting had been acquired by the Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev in 2013 for a reported $127.5m. The painting became a matter of some controversy, however, when the Russian discovered that the price he paid included a mark up of between $40m and $50m. Rybolovlev is currently suing his former art adviser, Yves Bouvier.

Rybolovlev appears to have fallen out of love with much of his art collection. He has begun to sell a number of 20th Century works through Christie's, some of which have earned him hefty losses. Earlier this year I had speculated on whether he would also soon sell his Leonardo.

Christie's are evidently pushing the boat out for the Leonardo sale - they're including it not in an Old Master sale, but a modern and contemporary sale. The painting will carry an estimate of $100m. Evidently, buy eschewing the Old Master auction, Christie's are signalling that it's not likely to be bought by any of the usual Old Master collectors, or even museums. The money is in the contemporary end of the market, so that's where they'll pitch the picture. If they sell the painting for something close to that amount, it will be a tremendous coup - one of the auctioneering feats of the century so far. This is, after all, a recent discovery, which has been the subject of some unjustly deserved but unwelcome publicity, and was last on the market only five years ago. In usual Old Master terms, that's not a good start. 

For more on the picture's history, put 'Salvator Mundi' into AHN's search box. I first saw it in 2011, and was impressed. It's now going on a worldwide tour.

New UK ban on antique ivory (ctd.)

October 9 2017

Image of New UK ban on antique ivory (ctd.)

Picture: V&A

The UK's on-off ban on Ivory sales has hoved back into view, with a new Department for the Environment consulation paper on a new ban. This would eliminate virtually all the trade in anything antique made with ivory. At the moment, there is an exemption for items provably made before 1947.

As AHN has said before, further restrictions on the trade in ivory products seems sensible, if it is the case that these 'antique' loopholes are being exploited by modern day ivory buyers/sellers/poachers, and their devastating effect on African elephants. But I've also written before about the unfortunate impact this ban will have on one important area of British art history; the portrait miniature.

One of Britain's few contributions to art history is the portrait miniature. From the late 17th century onwards, these were habitually painted on thin pieces of Indian ivory. British artists like John Smart produced some of the most extraordinary examples of the genre painted anywhere in the world (example above). Institutions like the V&A have extensive collections, as do many private collectors. The new ban will make it impossible to collect these, and will render private collections practically worthless overnight. 

Now I would agree that this is one of those 'first world problems' people like to point out on social media. But what's interesting about the government's proposed new ban is just how illogical it is. For example, there will be exemptions for:

  • Musical instruments
  • Items with only a 'de minimis' amount of ivory
  • Items of 'genuine artistic, cultural or historic value'.
  • And the 'continued sale of ivory to museums.'

Not much of this makes any sense, if you are into portrait miniatures. First, the exemption for musical instruments is not (though this surely cannot be the case) explicitly restricted to antique musical instruments. Second, the 'de minimis' exemption as suggested could not apply to portrait miniatures, since by proportion they consist of well over 90% ivory. Third, the exemption for 'cultural value' would be (says the DEFRA document) 'strictly defined to ensure that only the rarest and most important items are exempted.' If that is the case, then that by definition excludes the majority of portrait miniatures (and who will decide 'rarity' - a new government committee?). Finally, the exemption for museum sales is the most illogical of all. Here's the text from that part of the DEFRA document:

While we are clear that our proposed ban would not impact the display of items by museums, or prevent museum-to-museum loans, we recognise that there may be some cases where museums may want to sell or exchange items containing ivory to/with other museums. We also recognise that there may be some items owned by private individuals that are of such importance they may be valuable to museums. As such we could continue to allow sales between, or to, museums under the proposed ban.

Why should museums be allowed to buy, say, a portrait miniature by John Smart, but not you or I? What makes it ok for a museum to want something, but not the public? And can you imagine what a privately owned John Smart miniature will now be worth after the ban? A private owner may well be 'allowed' to sell it to a museum, but why would they? With only one or two institutions in the whole country likely to be interested in collecting such a work, and private buyers unable to buy it, such a miniature will be worth peanuts.  

'Frieze 2017'

October 9 2017

Video: Vernisaage TV

It's been Frieze week in London. Above, Vernissage TV shows us what we have (or have not) been missing. 

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