Old Master portrait drawings at the NPG

February 20 2017

Image of Old Master portrait drawings at the NPG

Picture: Royal Collection Trust/Her Majesty the Queen, drawing by Hans Holbein the Younger.

This looks like fun; an exhibition of Old Master portrait drawings at the National Portrait Gallery in London. 'The Encounter: Drawings from Leonardo to Rembrandt' opens 13th July till 22nd October. More here.

New Michael Dahl self-portrait

February 20 2017

Image of New Michael Dahl self-portrait

Picture: James Mulraine

My friend and fellow blogger has discovered a new self-portrait by Michael Dahl, who was one of the leading portraitists at work in England in the early 18th Century. More here

The rise of the selfie

February 20 2017

Image of The rise of the selfie

Picture: Juno Calypso, the Honeymoon Suite, via Saatchi Gallery

In a review of a new exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in London on the rise of 'the self' in culture (From Selfie to Self-Expression), the Great Waldemar looks at the selfie's evolution in art, and wonders why the selfies of the past are generally so glum:

Artists were the first selfie-takers because they were the only creatives in the past who could actually do them. What is now easy used to be difficult. Before the advent of smartphones and mirror functions, only those who could paint and draw to a high standard were capable of preserving a convincing likeness. Not only did you need to stare into a mirror for hours, wrestling with your own reality, but you needed also to say something meaningful. Looking like you was never enough.

No wonder the great self-portraitists are such a miserable bunch. The greatest of them all, Rembrandt, is one of art’s glummest presences. Rembrandt painted about 50 self-portraits in all — Kardashian numbers! But in none of them does he appear to enjoy what he sees. Even in his earliest selfies, the young Rembrandt looks as if he is counting the days. By the time he gets to old age, his face is as lined with pits and wrinkles as a pensioner’s scrotum. Yet this, too, is role playing. Those funny hats he wears, the gold chains, the fur coats, are studio costumes put on for the picture. This was not the clobber he wore in the street. Rembrandt’s selfies are fantasies about the passage of time, the shortness of life. [...]

Among art’s keenest self-portraitists, not one of them, not Gauguin, not Van Gogh, not Frida Kahlo, can be described as an optimistic presence. Something about looking into a mirror, staring deep into yourself, turned the self-portraiture of the Old Masters into a dark and profound pursuit. [...]

That is no longer true. Today, taking selfies is simples. Just point and click. Anyone can do it. Famous politicians gathered at important summits can do it. People falling out of aeroplanes can do it. Women in the bath can do it. Astronauts orbiting the moon can do it. We can all do it. The disappeared have disappeared. A Niagara Falls of selfies is cascading down on us from the heavens as every nobody on the planet is handed the tool with which to turn themselves into a somebody.

The show runs till May 30th.

It's time to nationalise UK local art collections

February 20 2017

Image of It's time to nationalise UK local art collections

Picture: DCMS

I've written a piece for The Art Newspaper on why nationalisation is the only way to safeguard the UK's regional art collections from being either run into the ground, or sold off altogether. More here

Warhol down, Richter up

February 20 2017

Image of Warhol down, Richter up

Picture: Christie's

So says Marion Maneker at Art Market Monitor:

The 74% fall in sales volume is both dramatic and unsettling, especially when no serious participant in the art market will say that demand for Warhol has diminished. The dislocation of supply, caused by the rapid rise of art values from 2010-2015, is probably the reason for Warhol's market absence. Still, without significant works by Warhol on the block, there is a question of market leadership.

Fakes, fakes everywhere (ctd.)

February 20 2017

Image of Fakes, fakes everywhere (ctd.)

Picture: via Facebook

In Michigan, a 32 year old art dealer called Eric Spoutz (above) has been sentenced to more than three years in prison for selling forgeries for over ten years. Artists he claimed to be selling included Willem de Kooning. There's some interesting info here on the US Justice department's website - it seems Sproutz wasn't especially diligent:

Despite his efforts to create false histories for the artwork, investigators identified multiple inconsistencies and errors in SPOUTZ’s forged provenance documents.  Many of the purported transactions took place before SPOUTZ was born, and the forged letters included non-existent addresses both for the purported sender and various parties referenced as sources of the artworks.  SPOUTZ also consistently used a single distinctive typesetting when forging documents purportedly authored by entirely different art galleries in different decades regarding unrelated transactions. 

This case is another demonstration of both the ease and problems of faking modern art. The ease is because, let's face it, some of this stuff is easy to replicate or mimic, especially when you're dealing with the proliferation of series and prints. The problems come because buyers assume there must be some quite specific paperwork attached to the artwork, since they were so recently created. It's here that modern forgers usually fall short. Of course, an attraction to forging Old Masters - if you can do it - is that the market is tempted to accept works without any meaningful paper trail. 

Katie Zavadski has more background  on Spoutz's activities in this piece from the Daily Beast in 2016.

Scotland almost there on Monarch of the Glen

February 20 2017

Image of Scotland almost there on Monarch of the Glen

Picture: National Galleries of Scotland

The National Galleries of Scotland has nearly completed its fundraising to secure Landseer's famous Monarch of the Glen. The target, to buy the picture from Diageo, is £4m, and the Galleries are at £3.25m, with £2.75m from the HLF and £350k from the Art Fund. A public campaign has been launched. 

Stolen Guercino recovered

February 20 2017

Image of Stolen Guercino recovered

Picture: TAN

A large altarpiece by Guercino which was stolen from a church in Italy in 2014 has been located in Morocco. Someone was trying to sell it for £800k. Attempts are being made to get it back. More here

Who'll buy £30m Pontormo portrait? (ctd.)

February 20 2017

Image of Who'll buy £30m Pontormo portrait? (ctd.)

Picture: ACE

In The Art Newspaper, Martin Bailey has some extra snippets on the Pontormo saga, including the fact that the National Gallery offered the US owner an amount above the £30.6m they were required to raise to make a 'matching offer'. We don't know what the amount was, but the offer was still rejected. Consequently, the export licence has been formally rejected, and the painting will now stay in the UK for at least the next decade. 


February 13 2017

Image of Apologies...

Picture: BG

Greetings from Rome! The bells are ringing as I type, and the sun is out. This is quite a contrast from Edinburgh in February. Yesterday we went to the Pantheon (what a ceiling), where we paid homage to Raphael, who is there buried (below, bad photo).

Then we went round the corner and by chance, in the church of San Lorenzo in Lucina, found the tomb of Poussin. Adam Elsheimer is buried their too. 

I'm afraid blogging may be light for a couple of days. In the meantime, randomness from the Deputy Editor and I can be found on Twitter

The art of sitting for your portrait

February 10 2017

Image of The art of sitting for your portrait

Picture: via About Face

I've always wanted, as a sometime purveyor of portraits, to sit for my own portrait. Yes, it's vanity. But also I'd like to know what sitters go through. I can't decide whether I'd be a complete pain in the arse to paint - 'this is my best side; I want this pose; ever heard of Van Dyck?' - or would simply submit entirely to an artist, in order to best experience what it is like to be painted. (Be a pain in the arse, you say.)

Anyway, the former director of the National Portrait Gallery Sandy Nairne has written a fascinating essay on both commissioning portraits (which he had to do many times) and being portrayed. After he left the NPG he was invited to sit to Chuck Close. Here he describes the initial moment of portrayal:

 I perched on the aluminium stool, with the large lens alarmingly close, banks of bright lights on each side, and associate Myrna nearby, ready to offer a paper towel to lessen the moistening on my face. She was operating the front part of the camera, including the shutter; the bellows framed with rods and stays, with wheels and cogs for positioning. The moment of exposure combines a blast of light from each side of the camera. Not really a shock, but startling even when you know it is coming. I was over-self-conscious about my appearance, and aware that if I became a Chuck Close Polaroid then every hair and pockmark might end up showing. And I was equally conscious of my expression. Should I be smiling? With my mouth open or closed? How could I not look stiff and get some degree of warmth into my expression?

Getty seeks to buy major Parmigianino (ctd.)

February 10 2017

Image of Getty seeks to buy major Parmigianino (ctd.)

Picture: ACE

When I mentioned last year the Getty's intended purchase of a wonderful Madonna by Parmigianino (above) there was no value given. 'In the tens of millions' I speculated, and today the case notes for the export licence hearing have been published, giving the value at £24.5m. The notes seem to confirm that (unlike the case of the recent Pontormo) the Getty has not paid for the painting already, and that the sale is therefore dependent on an export licence. The painting comes from Sudeley Castle, where it used to hang over a door (as below).

Will a UK institution be interested in buying the picture? One would imagine that there are certain tax incentives here, with perhaps a 'discount' of 40% on the £24.5m if the painting has been conditionally exempt from inheritance tax. 

The case notes also reveal that the painting is on paper, something not previously known.

'How to Find a Lost Brueghel'

February 10 2017

Image of 'How to Find a Lost Brueghel'

Picture:  Holburne Museum

I'll be giving a talk at the Holburne Museum in Bath on discovering lost pictures. The lecture is part of the museum's exhibition: Bruegel - Defining a Dynasty. One of the star exhibits of the exhibition is a re-discovered Breughel the Younger, Wedding Dance, which was identified by the Holburne's director Jennifer Scott. So we'll be discussing how such pictures are found, and what else might be out there.

The lecture is at 7pm on March 23rd. I hope to see some of you there! More details here.

UK government art collection to open new museum

February 10 2017

Image of UK government art collection to open new museum

Picture: TAN

Martin Bailey in The Art Newspaper reports that the UK's Government Art Collection (which provides art for places like 10 Downing Street) is to open a new exhibition space. Great news. Inevitably, though, it's going to be in London. Why? This was a great opportunity to move more art into the regions. More here.

'Art market slump worsens'

February 10 2017

Image of 'Art market slump worsens'

Picture: via wikiart

So reports Kelly Crow in the Wall Street Journal:

The art market sank into a deeper slump last year, with London-based auction house Christie’s International PLC saying Wednesday it sold £4 billion, or $5.4 billion, of art last year, a 27% decline from a year earlier—and a 36% drop from the market’s peak two years ago.

Christie’s total included $4.4 billion in auction sales, down 32% from the year before. The drop was partly offset by a boost in privately brokered art sales, as more collectors sought to sell their art discreetly rather than risk putting pieces up for public bid. Christie’s sold $935.5 million privately, up 10% from a year earlier.

Rival Sotheby’s, based in New York, auctioned $4.1 billion last year, down 30% from the year before. Sotheby’s will release its consolidated sale totals later this month. Boutique house Phillips said it auctioned $500 million in art last year, down 1.5% from 2015, and privately sold an additional $67.8 million of art.

I love the way 'boutique' has replaced the word 'small' in commercial terms. Can I call myself a 'boutique dealer'? Certainly, some days I feel like a boutique blogger.

Anyway, there's no denying some of the heat has been taken out of the higher end of the art market. This is surely a Good Thing, and lessens the possibility of the bubble bursting. A slow and controlled deflation, if not stability, is in most people's interests. With all the news of Chinese buyers making strong bids for top works (e.g. the sale reported yesterday of Oprah's Kilmt for $150m) many will be hoping they're not the ones left standing when the music stops, as the Japanese were in the 1980s. Still, there are enough threats to the world economy at the moment to mean we can't be sure of anything anymore (Brexit, Trump, Le Pen, protectionism).

But before we end on too gloomy a note, look at this! Also from the WSJ article:

Sales perked up in other areas, though. Christie’s sales of Old Master paintings, along with 19th-century art and Russian art, grew 31% to $312 million. 

These three areas are the ones that have been most eagerly written off by commentators over the last few years. The pendulum swings...

Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

February 9 2017

Image of Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

Picture: Sotheby's

In her coverage of the new Sotheby's/Weiss Gallery lawsuit, Nina Siegal in the New York Times has a fascinating update on the case of the St Jerome once attributed to Parmigianino (above), after securing an interview with the vendor:

The sale price of the circle of Parmigianino work was $842,500, and Sotheby’s is demanding that Mr. de Saint Donat-Pourrières return the $672,000 profit he earned from the sale of the work, in keeping with the presale contract. He has so far refused to do so, saying that he is unconvinced by the scientific data provided by James Martin, who conducted the analysis for Sotheby’s.

“Nobody thought even once that it was a fake, nobody, nobody,” Mr. de Saint Donat-Pourrières said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “The best experts in the world have seen this painting over many years and nobody during that whole period thought it was a fake. Now, only Mr. Martin says that it’s a fake. Only him, nobody else. And all the other experts in the world are forgotten?”

Mr. Martin said that he took 21 paint samples from many different areas of the paint layer and found the 20th-century pigment throughout the work, including in areas of the painting that were never restored. “It’s a bit like taking the pulse of a corpse 21 times,” he said.

Update - Mr. de Saint Donat-Pourrières' defence does go straight to the heart of the matter for those involved. It must be really terrible to have unwittingly handled one of these alleged fakes. Imagine you are a dealer of many decades standing, well versed in how the Old Master market operates. You are presented with a painting, in Weiss' case the Hals, which has not only been 'accepted' by the relevant authorities as a Hals, but sung to the rafters by an institution like the Louvre. The picture had as clean a bill of health as it is possible to have. You buy it, find a buyer (in this case with Sotheby's help), and sell it. And then it all goes wrong. You, for the sin of only having bought the painting, are then faced with serious financial penalties. But the people who - arguably - really erred in all this, those who elevated the painting to the status of a Hals in the first place, face no sanction at all. Such are the risks art dealers face. I'm not saying there's anything bad about that - dealers in any commodity accept such risks, just as Sotheby's did, and acted on them. But in all this sad business we musn't lose sight of the unfortunate human consequences for those involved. 

Oprah flips a Klimt

February 9 2017

Image of Oprah flips a Klimt

Picture: Bloomberg

Bloomberg reports that the US TV star Oprah Winfrey has sold her Gustav Klimt to a Chinese buyer for $150m. It was bought at Christie's in 2006 for $87.9m. 

Van Dyck's coat of arms

February 9 2017

Image of Van Dyck's coat of arms

Picture: Jordaensvandyck.org

One of the blog items on the new Jordaens/Van Dyck panel paintings project (mentioned below) was a query about Van Dyck's coat of arms. The arms appear on a mid-17thC engraving by Paulus Pontius, which shows a self-portrait by Van Dyck, and Van Dyck's portrait of Rubens. The engraving was presented as showing the two 'knights' of Flemish painting (both were knighted by Charles I). But while the coat of arms of Rubens has always been confirmed, there was thought to be some doubt over whether Van Dyck's coat of arms is accurately represented.

In response to the JVD blog item, the art historian Karen Hearn tells us that the arms were confirmed by the herald Michael Siddons in his 2010 book The Heraldry of Foreigners in England 1400-1700. The registered arms were: 

ARMS: Quarters 1 & 4. Azure six roundels 3, 2 and 1 Or and for augmentation on a chief Gules a lion passant gardant Or. 2 & 3. Sable a saltire Or. Over all an inescutcheon Or thereon a bend sinister Azure.

CREST: A greyhound’s head.

Which matches the engraving.

(Boast: Regular readers may remember that the self-portrait shown in the engraving was re-discovered by yours truly a few years ago.)

The arms also appear on the frontispiece of Van Dyck's Iconography engraved by Jacques Neefs, which was published four years after his death.

Restitution news (ctd.)

February 9 2017

Image of Restitution news (ctd.)

Picture: WSJ

The Max Stern restitution project has scored another success, this time with the help of FBI agents in New York, with the return of the above painting by Jan Franse Verzijl. The painting was entered into a forced sale in Dusseldorf in 1936 by the Nazis. More here

Art market transparency (ctd.)

February 8 2017

Image of Art market transparency (ctd.)

Picture: Bloomberg

Poor old Yves Bouvier! The art dealer and free port owner, who allegedly made about $50m in less than a day by 'flipping' Leonardo's Salvator Mundi to his client (the Russian collector Dmitry Rybolovlev) says nobody takes him seriously any more. Bloomberg has an interview with him:

Bouvier says there was no broker-client relationship between the two men and that Rybolovlev was merely a good repeat customer who willingly paid top dollar. Bouvier says that as a result of the hit to his reputation he’s foregone “many hundreds of millions of dollars” in revenue from art deals in each of the past two years as his networks dried up, leaving him with "insignificant" revenue from dealing art.

“Today, I can no longer discreetly buy a painting,” said Bouvier, 53, dressed in jeans and a blue-and-gray merino wool hoodie, after tucking into a lunch of leeks, steak tenderloin and fries at Geneva’s Hotel Kempinski. “Before, if I wanted to buy a canvas, people dealt with me normally. Now, after what’s happened, they’re twice as difficult to negotiate with or they don’t even want to negotiate with me because they’re afraid.”

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