'Charles II - Art & Power' review

December 15 2017

Image of 'Charles II - Art & Power' review

Picture: Her Majesty the Queen/Royal Collection Trust

Here's my Financial Times review of the new Royal Collection exhibition on Charles II. 

Cleaning Wrest Park's Huysmans

December 13 2017

Video: English Heritage

Here's a video from English Heritage, on the restoration of a group portrait by Jacob Huysmans at Wrest Park

'Gold' at the National Gallery

December 13 2017

Video: National Gallery

Here's the latest National Gallery video on the use of gold in Old Master paintings. It features works by Van Dyck and Rembrandt.

Reviews of the London Old Master sales

December 13 2017

Image of Reviews of the London Old Master sales

Picture: Christie's

I wrote a short review of the London Old Master sales for The Art Newspaper, which is here. Among the pictures I focused on was a Portrait of Petronella Buys by Rembrandt (above), which sold at Christie's for £3.4m. In his review for The Telegraph, Colin Gleadell managed to track down the name of the buyer; the Leiden Collection of Thomas Kaplan. 

Colin and I are in agreement that the Old Master market now has a decided spring in its step, post the Salvator Mundi sale. I hope finally we can now move on from the 'Old Master market is dead' myth. 


Spanish police remove artworks from Catalan museum

December 13 2017

Image of Spanish police remove artworks from Catalan museum

Picture: via Josep Goded

There's some alarming cultural fallout from the recent suspension of Catalonia's autonomy by Spain's central government. Spanish police have removed 44 artworks from the museum of Lleida, after the neighbouring state of Aragon said they had been unlawfully sold to the Catalan government. Until now, Catalonian autonomy had meant that Aragon's demands could not be acted on. Sam Jones has more in The Guardian:

The pieces, which include paintings, alabaster reliefs and polychromatic wooden coffins, were sold to the Catalan government by the nuns of the Sijena convent, in Aragón, in the 1980s.

The Aragonese authorities have been trying to recover the works through the courts, arguing they were unlawfully sold.

At the end of November, Spain’s culture minister, Íñigo Méndez de Vigo, received a judicial order for the return of the works. 

Managing fire risk at the Getty

December 13 2017

Image of Managing fire risk at the Getty

Picture: NYT

The New York Times looks at how close the devastating wildfires came to the Getty Museum (answer; very) and how the museum was designed to manage such risks:

The Getty’s architect, Richard Meier, built fire resistance into the billion-dollar complex, said Ron Hartwig, vice president of communications for the J. Paul Getty Trust. These hills are fire prone, but because of features like the 1.2 million square feet of thick travertine stone covering the outside walls, the crushed rock on the roofs and even the plants chosen for the brush-cleared grounds, “The safest place for the artwork to be is right here in the Getty Center,” he said.

More here

Who bought the Salvator Mundi? (ctd.)

December 12 2017

Image of Who bought the Salvator Mundi? (ctd.)

Picture: via Twitter

So this much we know for sure; the picture has 'been acquired' by the Louvre Abu Dhabi, as the museum has confirmed, and will go on display there. But who actually bought the picture? Christie's statement says:

Christie’s can confirm that the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi is acquiring ‘Salvator Mundi’ by Leonardo da Vinci.

...'is acquiring' is interesting wording, and implies a break in ownership between the Christie's sale and now. As I mentioned below, both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have reported that the picture was bought by the Saudis. The Times first mentioned the name of Prince Bader bin Abdullah, but the WSJ believes he was acting for the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and also that the picture has been gifted to the Louvre Abu Dhabi by him.

But CNN has reported that the painting was not a gift, and was definitely bought by the Louvre Abu Dhabi, and that the Saudis were just intermediaries. CNN published a statement by the Saudi embassy in Washington:

"His Highness Prince Badr, as a friendly supporter of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, attended its opening ceremony on November 8th and was subsequently asked by the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism to act as an intermediary purchaser for the piece."

Such mystery is typical of anything related to Leonardo da Vinci, but the pattern of events is unusual in the art world. I'm told that the US government believes that Mohammed bin Salman was indeed the buyer at Christie's. But why would the Saudi Crown Prince, who is busy shaking up Saudi Arabia in the most dramatic way for decades, be used as an intermediary to buy a picture of Christ for a museum in another country? Was he looking for a commission? Of course not. And are we to believe that the Louvre Abu Dhabi didn't have the cash or an account with Christie's? Again, of course not.

So what's going on. I'm speculating, but I wonder if the bidding war for this picture was due to a battle for cultural supremacy between the Emiratis (with their Louvre Abu Dhabi) and the Qataris (with their less glamorous sounding Qatar Museums Authority).

Both countries have been on buying sprees, as they seek to create world class museums from scratch. The Qataris have set many price records on their buying spree, such as the reported $250m for Cezanne's Card Players. But what might have given the battle for Salvator Mundi added zing is the diplomatic falling out between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Both are majority Sunni nations, but the Qataris have been accused of being more aligned with (Shia) Iran, and have also irked the Saudis through their media outlets such as Al Jazeera. Amidst all this, the UAE are important allies for Saudi Arabia and their energetic new Crown Prince.

But this is all guesswork, so don't pay it much attention. Maybe the underbidders were connected to an Asian museum, as has been speculated. Either way, we're seeing a return to the sort of national bidding wars for great art that defined collecting in the 17th Century. 

Four Dutch 17thC works acquired by the National Gallery

December 12 2017

Image of Four Dutch 17thC works acquired by the National Gallery

Picture: National Gallery

The National Gallery in London has been bequeathed four paintings by the collector Baron Willem van Dedem. These include a still life by Adriaen Coorte (above) - which is the first Coorte in the National's collection - two Jan van Kessel's, and a David Teniers the Younger.

I would give you more information, but the National Gallery has only put the news out via a PDF press release (which are a nightmare to cut and paste), with only embedded small photos, and even though the press release says images are available if you log into the press office site, they're not. And even if I'm told they're 'only for print use'. Finally, as is invariably the case, the paintings have not yet been put up on the Gallery's collection site.

This happens all the time in the museum world. Note to museums and museum press offices; in the digital age, please for the love of God do the following: send out press releases with decent images attached, not in PDF form, and make sure your main museum website is also carrying the relevant news item, so people like me can then drive traffic to your website. That's what we're here for!

Update - the pictures are now on the Latest Arrivals page, and zoomable.

Update II - there's a profile of Baron van Dedem here in Apollo.

Art Newspaper podcast

December 8 2017

Sound: TAN

The latest Art Newspaper podcast is out, and I'm on it, discussing Salvator Mundi and other things Old Master. More here

Wright's 'Academy by Lamplight' at Sotheby's (ctd.)

December 6 2017

Image of Wright's 'Academy by Lamplight' at Sotheby's (ctd.)

Picture: Sotheby's

Sotheby's set a new auction record for Joseph Wright of Derby, selling his Academy by Lamplight for £7.26m (against an estimate of £2.5m-£3.5m).

'Salvator Mundi' heads to Louvre Abu Dhabi

December 6 2017

Image of 'Salvator Mundi' heads to Louvre Abu Dhabi

Picture: via Twitter

On Twitter, the Louvre Abu Dhabi has announced that Leonardo's 'Salvator Mundi' will soon be on display there. In another tweet, Christie's has described the museum as the painting's 'new home'. While that doesn't rule out the fact that the painting is being loaned by a private collector - and thus not acquired by the museum itself - it at least sounds like a long-term loan. There's no announcement that I can see on the museum's website (which incidentally is pretty clunky). 

Update - David Kirkpatrick has the scoop in the New York Times; the buyer was a Saudi prince:

He is a little-known Saudi prince from a remote branch of the royal family, with no history as a major art collector, and no publicly known source of great wealth. But the prince, Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud, is the mystery buyer of Leonardo da Vinci’s painting “Salvator Mundi,” which fetched a record $450.3 million at auction last month, documents show.

Update II - the Wall Street Journal now says that Bader bin Abdullah was a front man for the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia himself. 

Have you seen this missing Freda Kahlo?

December 4 2017

Image of Have you seen this missing Freda Kahlo?

Picture: AFP

A new exhibition in Poland highlights the fact that the above painting by Freda Kahlo, The Wounded Table, has been missing since it was sent to Warsaw for an exhibition in 1955. More here

Identifying Russell's 'petite fille aux cerises'

December 4 2017

Image of Identifying Russell's 'petite fille aux cerises'

Picture: Louvre

One of the best known examples of English 18th Century pastel painting (because it belongs to the Louvre) is a portrait of a girl with cherries by John Russell. The sitter has long been unknown, but king of all things pastel Neil Jeffares has painstakingly identified her (as Mary Hall) on his excellent blog. More here

Wright's 'Academy by Lamplight' at Sotheby's

December 4 2017

Video: Sotheby's

A highlight of the Old Master views in London was seeing Joseph Wright of Derby's 'Academy by Lamplight' in the prime viewing spot at Sotheby's. This picture, estimated at £2.5m-£3.5m is in pretty much perfect condition, and gives the lie to the old clicheé that there's a problem with 'supply' in the Old Master market. The catalogue note is here

ArtUK's new young art writer prize

December 4 2017

Video: ArtUK

ArtUK have launched a new art writing prize. Open for school children, to win the £500 prize you must:

  1. Choose one artwork from the Art UK website which interests or intrigues you.
  2. Write about it (max 400 words) in a way that would persuade members of the public to share your interest.
  3. Your text should aim to encourage your readers to take a closer look at the artwork or find out more about it for themselves.

More here

Want to be a trustee of the National Gallery?

December 4 2017

Image of Want to be a trustee of the National Gallery?

Picture: NG

There are two vacancies on the board of the National Gallery. They're looking for a) a scientist, and b) someone who can connect with a "more diverse demographic of audiences". More here

New Director for the Royal Collection

November 29 2017

Image of New Director for the Royal Collection

Picture: NMDC

Tim Knox has been appointed the new director of the Royal Collection Trust. He has been director of the Fitzwilliam since 2013, and will leave next year. I’m biased because I know and like Tim, but as someone of great energy and openness to new ideas I think he’s an excellent choice to take the Royal Collection forward, given the challenges it faces. Tim of course has much to build on; not only the pre-eminence of the collection itself, but also the exhibition and publication programme, which in my opinion is probably the best in the world. 

Questions for the future might include: how to increase access to what is a ‘working’ collection (by forming for example more lending partnerships with regional galleries); whether to include in their exhibitions works from other collections (currently RC shows are strictly limited to RC works, which is sometimes rather limiting); and the big one - whether to create a larger permanent exhibition space in one of the palaces.

One of the first things I shall be haranguing Tim about is the rather bum deal we get up here in Scotland. The Queen’s Gallery in Holyrood gets most of the London exhibitions, and is a good space. But the Palace of Holyrood itself is very thinly served; it could and should display a far better and longer term selection of works from the Collection.

Image fees - are museums guilty of mis-selling?

November 29 2017

Image of Image fees - are museums guilty of mis-selling?

Picture: The Times

There’s an important article in The Art Newspaper on copyright, which may have a bearing on how UK museums charge fees for images. A leading professor of law (amongst others) believes that museums do not have the right to claim copyright in photographs of artworks which are themselves out of copyright (that is, made by an artist who died more than 70 years ago).

This is significant because copyright is the glue that holds the current image fee system together. By claiming copyright in the photographs they have taken, museums are able to issue (for a fee) licences which permit a single use. The key part of the licence is the demand that publishers include a (C) symbol next to the image - and this prevents other people from simply taking the image (easily done online of course) and reusing it elsewhere, without paying. 

The legal issue boils down to this: under English law, copyright is defined usually as a ‘sweat of the brow’ concept. If someone expended effort in taking a photo of a painting, they can claim copyright of it; but under EU law, a degree of ‘originality’ is involved, and this is seen as ruling out slavish reproductions of existing artworks. 

Now, it is true that the law in this area is not clear cut. There are questions of EU interpretation, and of course in the longer term, Brexit - will English law ignore EU law in this area?* Also, there has been limited case law in relation to photographs of 2D artworks, and then of course much depends on the view of the judge in question should a case ever arise. Supporters of the current image fee system say that because the law is potentially a grey area, then museums can carry on charging. But it seems to me that public institutions should seek to operate entirely within the law, and not exploit a grey area. What legal opinion does not say is; 'museums have a clear right to claim copyright on these images'. If I were a museum trustee I would be urging my institution to check its legal advice on copyright. 

I should also add that I don’t think the issue of copyright is the prime reason museums should change their museum fee regimes; it’s just a useful supporting argument at this stage, which demonstrates the shakiness of current museum practice. 

*It won’t be an immediate change back to English law - for currently the House of Commons is debating a bill to adopt all existing EU legislation into English (or where appropriate UK) law. And I can’t see any political party rushing through changes to copyright law as a priority in the years ahead.

Me on 'Salvator Mundi'

November 29 2017

Sound: Art Market Monitor

I had a great time discussing the sale of the Salvator Mundi with Marion Maneker of Art Market Monitor.

The first UK museum to make images free!

November 29 2017

Image of The first UK museum to make images free!

Picture: York Museum Trust

Most excellent news - York Museums Trust has become the first UK institution to make their images free to use. York's out of copyright images have been put into the public domain, and can be used for any purpose, for free. You can search York's collections here. The site says:

Images of works on which copyright has expired are marked Public Domain. We have no particular legal rights over these images, so they can be used for any purpose. Old artworks are a good example of public domain works.

This makes York the first major UK institution to go entirely for open access. Which is amazing and wonderful news. Now, who will follow? 

The art historian Richard Stephens, who first alerted me to York's new policy, has also unearthed more Good News; Birmingham Museums’ new strategy document states (on page 34) that they are aiming to make all images free:

We will create, manage and promote our digital assets to reach the widest possible audience, making our digital assets freely available for all through open licences. Moving from being digital publishers to becoming digital enablers, we will work in partnership with others to deliver a programme of ‘digital lab’ experiences to experiment with different ways of engaging people with the collection through digital technologies. We will invite audiences and partners to contribute to this work, and invest in the infrastructure to support this way of working. Through research partnerships and the capital projects we will provide digital access to the collection.

Britain’s regional museums are showing the nationals the way forward!

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