Dali debacle

June 3 2011

Image of Dali debacle

Picture: The Guardian

The Guardian has an interesting story about 'Dali sculptures'. The official Dali foundation says that bronzes being sold for more than £1m as 'by Dali' are in fact nothing to do with him.

The seller is the Italian dealer Beniamino Levi and his Stratton Foundation, 'dedicated to promotion of culture and the arts'. Levi says he bought the rights to produce sculptures from drawings and paintings by Dali in the 1980s from Dali's business manager, Enrique Sabater. So although the sculptures, such as the above Alice in Wonderland, are based on ideas in Dali's work, they are not actually by him, and are invariably cast long after his death. 

Of course, with scultpure, the lines of authenticity are more easily blurred than with paintings and drawings. The casting process effectively allows unlimited 'originals' to be made. But looking at the various websites that purport to sell Dali sculptures, there is something faintly disingenuous about the whole process. Take for example the video of Pope John Paul II being presented with what Levi describes as 'the Dali sculpture Saint George and the Dragon made by the Stratton Foundation' in 1995. One presumes the Pope thought the sculpture was actually made by Dali - but it isn't.

New Burlington and British Art Journal

June 2 2011

Image of New Burlington and British Art Journal

Picture: National Gallery, London

Plop onto my desk at once come new issues of The Burlington Magazine and the British Art Journal.

Treats in the former include:


  • A rare document on Giorgione (an inventory of his goods found in Venice after his death - in which his name is given as Georgio, not Giorgione).
  • Discussion of an alterpiece by Bartolomeo Montagna.
  • A freshly cleaned painting by Andrea del Verrochio in the National Gallery, London (above, and more details here).


And in the BAJ:


  • A theory on the possible identity of Anne Clifford in a lost portrait.
  • Lucian Freud's 'Scottish interlude' by Sandra Boselli.
  • The Belton Conversation Piece by Philippe Mercier.
Both are subscription only, but you can read for free the Burlington's editorial on Vasari's 500th birthday, here.


British paintings destroyed in Tripoli

June 2 2011

Image of British paintings destroyed in Tripoli

Picture: Art Newspaper

A number of paintings from the Government Art Collection appear to have been destroyed after the British Embassy in Tripoli was evacuated. Apparently, it was a priority to take computers and documents on the plane out, but not the art. 

The GAC had 17 pictures on loan to the embassy, including, from left above, Philip Reinagle's 1797 Harrier Killing a Bittern, Edmund Havell's William Stratton, and a landscape in the style of Salvator Rosa.

Hopefully they're all ok, and hanging in some enterprising Libyan's bedroom.

Together at last

June 2 2011

Image of Together at last

Picture: China.org.cn

The two halves of one of China's most famous paintings have been re-joined for the first time in 360 years. From AFP:


The painting [by Huang Gongwang], which is more than 600 years old, was partly destroyed in about 1650 when its owner, a rich collector, ordered it burned.

This was shortly before his death, and experts have speculated he was hoping to take it with him to the afterlife.

The collector's nephew managed to salvage most of the painting, but not before it was torn in two, and for the next three and a half centuries they were never reunited.

Wednesday's event at Taipei's National Palace Museum came a little more than three years after China-friendly politician Ma Ying-jeou became the island's president, ushering in a period of warmer relations with the mainland.


£5m Michelangelo drawing at Christies

June 1 2011

Image of £5m Michelangelo drawing at Christies

Picture: Christie's

Christies will offer this drawing by Michelangelo, a preparatory study for the abandoned Battle of Cascina fresco, on 5th July. The upper estimate is £5m. Lovely - but a lot of money for a fragmentary sketch.

Contemporary at Versailles

June 1 2011

Image of Contemporary at Versailles

Picture: AP/Bob Edme

Bernar Venet is Versaille's guest artist this year - from today until 1st November.

Scottish National Portrait Gallery

June 1 2011

Image of Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Picture: John Mackenzie

The SNPG will re-open soon after an £18m refit. Tim Cornwell in The Scotsman has a preview:

About 15 years ago the portrait gallery tottered on the brink of closure, until plans to transfer key artworks for a new Scottish gallery caused wholesale revolt in Edinburgh. Yesterday, director James Holloway could stand on its showcase top floor and declare its new galleries among the best in Scotland, if not the UK.

"What we have got on this floor are fabulous spaces for showing art," he said. The gallery, he suggested, represented "Scotland's family objects. It's Scotland's DNA. It's thrilling that we are going to be back, and firing on all cylinders."


Exhibitions in main gallery spaces will run for about four years, drawing on the portrait gallery's existing collections with some loans. The small galleries will change 18 months or two years, while the photography gallery will stage three exhibitions every year, exploring "what in many ways is Scotland's greatest art form," said Mr Holloway.

I wonder what Ramsay, Raeburn et al would say about photography being Scotland's 'greatest art form'.

Sketches by Jean Francois de Troy

June 1 2011

Image of Sketches by Jean Francois de Troy

Picture: Sotheby's

An important set of seven sketches by Jean Francois de Troy will be offered at Sotheby's in Paris later this month. Brilliantly painted, they were the artist's initial designs for a series of Gobelins tapestries. They mostly carry an estimate of EUR200-3000,000. An eighth is catalogued as 'Studio of de Troy', tho' frankly you'd be hard pushed to tell the difference. 

The sketches will be sold under 'Faculte de Reunion' rules: each one will be auctioned in the normal way, but at the end the opportunity will be presented to buy the group by offering them all at the cumulative price. If nobody bids for the lot, then the previous seperate sales go ahead. 

Maybe size is everything...

June 1 2011

Image of Maybe size is everything...

Picture: Sotheby's

I mentioned earlier a 2 inch high miniature by Frida Kahlo, estimated by Sotheby's at a hefty £800k-£1.2m. But it turns out it didn't sell. 

'Now, lot 32 - the really rubbish fake. Do I hear €500k?'

June 1 2011

Image of 'Now, lot 32 - the really rubbish fake. Do I hear €500k?'

Picture: Der Spiegel

German police have smashed a highly succesful forgery racket. Believed to be Germany's largest ever forgery scandal, the victims included Hollywood actor Steve Martin, and Christie's. 

The above painting, 'Landscape with Horses', was sold as a genuine work by Heinrich Campendonk at Christie's in 2006 for €500,000. (I would link to it on their website, but, mysteriously, the lot has been removed). It had in fact been knocked up by Wolfgang Beltracchi, and his accomplice Otto Schulte-Kellinghaus. They had been producing high-quality fake modern and contemporary art since 2001, and possibly earlier. From Der Spiegel:

The accused allegedly attributed almost all of the forged works to artists from the first half of the 20th century, including Campendonk, Max Pechstein, Fernand Léger, Max Ernst and others. Most of the works were sold with now 60-year-old Beltracchi's story that they were part of the art collection of Cologne businessman Werner Jägers, who was the grandfather of the two female suspects in the case. Jägers was said to have bought the works from the renowned art dealer Alfred Flechtheim and hidden them on his estate in the Eifel Mountains of western Germany during the Nazi years. Schulte-Kellinghaus allegedly used a similar ruse, claiming the paintings, which were supposedly lost, originated from the collection of his grandfather, the master tailor Knops from Krefeld.

I've often heard it said that buying modern and contemporary art is a safer investment than old masters, because there are never any doubts over authenticity. But, alas, that's a load of old phooey. And it's practically impossible to fake an old master.

RMS Titanic

May 31 2011

Image of RMS Titanic

Picture: Christie's

Today is the 100th anniversary of the launch of the Titanic, and there has been great excitement in Belfast

I've always been fascinated by the story of the doomed liner, and still regret not bidding higher on the above watercolour by Charles Edward Dixon. It was auctioned at Christie's in 2007, and sold for £19,200 (against a £8-12,000 estimate). Since it was claimed to be 'the only conventional portrait painted from life' of Titanic, the price was probably a bit of a bargain. 

What are museums for?

May 31 2011

In the Art Newspaper, Maurice Davies tries to find the answer in three new books on museums and collections. They are:

  • Contesting Human Remains in Museum Collections: the Crisis of Cultural Authority, Tiffany Jenkins, Routledge, 174 pp, $95 (hb)
  • Under the Hammer: Iconoclasm in the Anglo-American Tradition, James Simpson, Oxford University Press, 204 pp, £25 (hb)
  • The Best Art You’ve Never Seen: 101 Hidden Treasures from Around the World, Julian Spalding, Rough Guides, 288 pp, £14, $22.99 (pb)
To be honest, the first two sound a bit of a yawn. There's a lot of navel-gazing in the museum world when it comes to deciding 'what we're for'. Nothing beats the British Museum's founding mission statement: 'for the entertainment of the curious'.

Nevertheless, Julian Spalding's book is a timely plea to his museum colleagues to stop bein so retentive, especially over things like climactic controls. He argues that: [More below]
“while claiming to be the custodians of art, nearly all museums bury countless treasures in storerooms.” Spalding challenges the orthodoxy that leaves most works on paper “hidden in boxes in museum print-room stores.”


Spalding says: “This book is a plea for the right to see the great art of the world” and enthusiastically encourages his readers to travel to see an eclectic selection of works of art from countries including China, India, Peru, Papua New Guinea, Cambodia and Japan, as well as Europe and North America.

He directs travellers to lesser visited places such as the Portinari Chapel in Milan and the “tiny” Sculptured Stone Museum in Meigle, 15 miles north of Dundee. He highlights rare survivors of entire traditions of art, such as life-size funeral effigies housed at Westminster Abbey Museum in London. He promotes less fashionable artists, especially ones overshadowed by abstraction, such as Norman Rockwell: “Sadly, there are ­virtually no Rockwells in public collections, though they were, in their time, far and away the favourite modern paintings of the American public”. Spalding reckons “popularity made it suspect: modern art was supposed to disturb the public—not bring them with it.”

He is particularly dismissive of conceptual art, instead praising the work of artists like Peter Angermann, who suffered under the tutelage of Joseph Beuys at art college in Düsseldorf in the 1960s, eventually in 1986 taking the step “by then bizarrely radical, of painting in the open air…The contemporary art world has become a self-referential court sustained by public funds and a few rich dealers and collectors."

Restitution? No thanks

May 31 2011

Image of Restitution? No thanks

Picture: Armin Kuhne

Here's a curious restitution case: a Jewish heir is fighting to stop the restitution of his ancestor's collections. 

In 1937 Georg Steindorff (above) sold his collection of antiquities to Leipzig University, where he worked, for 8,000 Reichsmarks. But because before the sale Steindorff valued his collection at 10,260 Reichsmarks, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany has ruled that the sale was forced, and the collections be returned to Steindorff's heirs. The heir in this case, Steindorff's grandson Thomas Hemer, says the collection should stay in the collection of Leipzig University's Egyptology Institute, about which his grandfather was passionate. Full details on Bloomberg here.

The case highlights once again the varying standards across Europe when it comes to restitution. The Conference has authority in Germany and Austria, and evidently takes a very favourable line towards restitution cases (rightly, I think). But in Britain the threshold for restitution is set much higher, as shown by the recent Herbert Gutmann case.

Online Sir John Soane archive

May 31 2011

Image of Online Sir John Soane archive

Picture: Soane Museum

The Soane Museum has published online drawings from five of Soane's London projects: Pitzhanger Manor, Dulwich Picture Gallery, the Royal Hospital Chelsea, the Bank of England, and the Soane Monument in St Pancras Gardens.

The design for the latter inspired Gilbert Scott's prototype for the telephone box.

Looking for the perfect man?

May 30 2011

Image of Looking for the perfect man?

Picture: Daily Mail

Then head to the museum. From the Daily Mail:

If you’re looking for a man who’s healthy and contented, perhaps your first date should be at a museum or art gallery. That is because men who regularly  indulge in cultural activities are likely to be in better shape, both mentally and physically, than those who do not, according to a study. 

Going to the theatre, concerts and even the cinema results in a range of benefits for men, including less depression and anxiety. Women also benefit, but not to the same degree, says the largest study of its kind.

I guess that means art dealers are immortal - yippee!

Read more of the science behind the findings in Time, here.

Straight in at No.1 - it's Van Dyck

May 30 2011

Image of Straight in at No.1 - it's Van Dyck

Picture: Daily Mail/Bridgeman Art Library

Sir Roy Strong ranks the ten greatest portraits ever painted. No.1 is Van Dyck's Lord John and Lord Bernard Stuart [National Gallery, London]. 

Although I too would be tempted to put Van Dyck at No.1 in any list of great portraitists, sadly, the compromised condition of the Stuart painting rules it out for me. Over-cleaning and and a harsh re-lining has left it with a slightly hard-boiled look. See for yourself by zooming in here - and compare it with one of Van Dyck's best portraits still in good condition, here.

New date for 'Leonardo?' court case

May 30 2011

Image of New date for 'Leonardo?' court case


The case of Marchig vs. Christie's returns to court on 24th June.

The dispute involves the drawing, above, sold in 1998 by Christie's as 19thC German School for $19,000. A subsequent owner now claims it is by Leonardo, and worth $100m. Unsurprisingly, the vendor at Christie's, Jeanne Marchig, has been trying to take Christie's to court. But she has so far lost her case because the relevant statute of limitations in New York (6 years) has expired. 

Marchig has sought leave to appeal the limitations decision. If she wins, then the far more difficult case of is it or is it not a Leonardo will come before the court. And since at the last count an impressive array of scholars do not think it is by Leonardo, who knows where we'll end up. For a fuller discussion on the case's implications see here.

And if you're really keen, the case is being heard at 2pm, 500 Pearl Street, in the Ceremonial Courtroom, 9th floor.

New acquisition

May 27 2011

Image of New acquisition

Picture: The Art Fund

Congratulations to Buxton Museum and Art Gallery for acquiring View of Matlock, c.1780, by William Marlow. The total cost was a bargain £20,000, towards which the Art Fund contributed £6,666.

Gasp - is contemporary British art actually any good?

May 27 2011

Image of Gasp - is contemporary British art actually any good?

Picture: Pushkin Museum, Moscow

Jonathan Jones in The Guardian dares to ask, and makes the comparison with French art at the turn of the 19th Century:

How many great works of art can we actually count that our age will bequeath posterity? Where are our Sunflowers, our apples [Cezanne] and our dancers [Degas].

There is a pitiful gulf between noise and achievement in contemporary British art. Of course, we have some good artists, some very good artists, and maybe a couple of great ones. But the vast majority of exhibitions are slight and huge numbers of artists are "farting around", as I observed of Mark Leckey the other day. I did not mean to imply he is the only bad artist. In fact, truly honest art criticism in Britain today would mostly consist of reviews like that one.

Look – as I say – do the maths. You must know how many, or rather how few, artists it is possible to truly love, how small the selection of artworks that really make an impact is. Now pick up any art magazine and sample the latest haul of significant, new, radical, cool artists: it seems there never has been and never will be an age when artists of real value proliferate so readily. Therefore, by plain logic and common sense, a vast proportion of the art we hear so much about in Britain today must be rubbish. It's that simple.

I've never been one to deride contemporary art - I think a lot of it really is excellent. But there can be no doubt at all that the prices paid for most of it are over-inflated.

Long-term, the true value of art is best established after the hype has died down. Museum collections around the world are full of once-contemporary pieces bought at the height of the primary market - but which are now worth a fraction of what was paid.

Equally, there are just as many pictures that could have been bought for nothing when painted, but which are now worth millions. Van Gogh's Red Vineyard (above), supposedly the only painting he ever sold, was bought for just 400 francs in 1890 (about $1000-1500 today). 

The Churchill boom

May 27 2011

Image of The Churchill boom

Picture: Christie's

The Beach at Walmer, painted in 1938 by Sir Winston Churchill, has sold for £313,250.

Churchill was certainly a handy painter, and in the list of history's most important figures he ranks near the top. But I wonder if his paintings are becoming a little over-priced?

I can see why, for today's market, his paintings are attractive. But when valuing art you always have to take the long view. So, one has to ask whether the fascination for all things Churcill will be as strong in, say, 100 years, or will he have been eclipsed by a new clutch of popular heroes?

Would a painting by Oliver Cromwell, or Churchill's ancestor the Duke of Marlborough, fetch such sums today? Probably not. The best indicator of value in a painting will always be the quality of the work itself - nothing else really matters.

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