Landseer in the Highlands

March 10 2011

Image of Landseer in the Highlands

Picture: Mallams

This small and rare landscape sketch by Landseer, estimated at £8-12,000, sold for £70,000 yesterday.

Update 20.3.11: it isn't the highlands, it's Devon apparently. I saw the picture at Maastricht. 

Rodin nicked

March 10 2011

Image of Rodin nicked

Picture: AP

A bronze statue of Balzac has been stolen from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The work, cast in 1892, was taken during renovations three months ago. The theft has only now been made public, which is perhaps rather late. Like the Henry Moores stolen in England recently, I suspect it has already been melted down. Who knows, bits of it may already be in the circuitry of your new mobile phone.  

Important Turners donated to Abbotsford

March 9 2011

Image of Important Turners donated to Abbotsford

Picture: Art Fund. Left, Abbotsford, right, Newark Castle. 

Two watercolours by JMW Turner have been donated to Abbotsford, Walter Scott's home. They were painted in 1831 to illustrate the 1833 edition of Scott's poems. The donor, Phoebe Barrow, chose to donate them through the Art Fund so that they were safeguarded in perpetuity - a smart move in this world of increasing deaccessions. More here

'The man who said museums should charge for entry.'

March 9 2011

Image of 'The man who said museums should charge for entry.'

Tristram Hunt has re-opened the debate on entrance fees for museums. He says that in an age of arts cuts, particularly for regional museums, it is unfair that London-based museums such as Tate get funds for free entry, but not the Potteries Museum in his own Stoke constituency. [More below]

Hunt is going firmly against Labour policy, and his willingness to debate the issue must be applauded. For too long there has been a sort of fatwa on the subject. I used to work for Hugo Swire, who, when he was Shadow Culture Secretary, was denounced by the Daily Mail, and later others, for daring to suggest that if some museums wanted to re-introduce charges, he would consider allowing them to do so. 

Personally, I think free entry is a Good Thing. But if a board of independent trustees wanted to charge because they thought it would be better for their museum, why should the government stop them? The money they receive from DCMS to supposedly make up for free entry is not nearly enough. And Hunt points out that 'when it came to broadening audiences for art and culture, free entry didn't achieve that much.'

Should British taxpayers be subsidising the over 15 million overseas visitors who benefit from free entry? If the British Museum could charge even half of its 3.7m overseas visitors the same as the Louvre, 9.5 Euros, it would raise an additional £14.4m. The equivalent figure for Tate would be £12.5m, and the National Gallery almost £7m.

I'm glad that the current government is committed to free entry, with 'no ifs and no buts' as Jeremy Hunt said. But I'll continue to be puzzled by the fact that in Paris, it's free to get into Notre Dame, but not the Louvre, while in London it's free to get into the National Gallery, but not Westminster Abbey.


Unsettling sculpture of the week

March 9 2011

Image of Unsettling sculpture of the week

Meet Petra, a life-size sculpture of a female German riot officer. Petra is squatting and urinating. The piece has caused a stir in Germany, but has also won a prestigious prize from the Lienneman Foundation. Its creator, Marcel Walldorf, said;

'The public response has been overwhelmingly positive, and I don't understand why people are attacking Petra. She even contains a special mechanism by which a liquid can be made to flow out of her genitals. But to avoid damaging the gallery's floor, I have substituted a puddle of simulated urine made from gelatine for this exhibition.' 

Goliath's Revenge?

March 8 2011

Image of Goliath's Revenge?

Like the Mona Lisa, Michelangelo's David is always good for a few column inches on a slow news day, no matter how far-fetched the story. I've watched this story grow from an obscure press release to, now, the world's media. Apparently the statue is in danger of collapse, because the new Roman metro system will pass over half a kilometre from it. Fernando De Simone wants the city to build a special underground viewing room for David. He says:

'The tunnel will pass about 600 meters (2,000ft) from the statue of David, the ankles of which, it is well known, are riddled with micro-fissures. If it’s not moved before digging begins, there is a serious risk that it will collapse.'

By the way - Fernando de Simone is an architect specialising in... underground construction.

Turner installed at Getty

March 8 2011

Image of Turner installed at Getty


See it and weep.


March 7 2011

Image of Geschlossen

Picture: Tate.

Greetings from Berlin, where I've come for the day to see a painting. Sadly, all the major galleries are geschlossen on Mondays, so there's not much art historical to report. I'm now at the airport, wondering if the implausibly cheap little chunks of 'Berlin Wall' on offer are real. Probably not.

In other news, the world's most expensive painting has gone on display at Tate. Naturally, it's a Picasso. I'm glad they've organised some half plausible art handlers for the photo-op - but I wouldn't recommend trying to hang your own $100m painting whilst standing on a ladder...

Chardin at the Prado

March 4 2011

Image of Chardin at the Prado

Picture: The Louvre

The Prado has an excellent micro-site for their new Chardin exhibition (ends 29th May). You can zoom into the paintings in great detail while listening to commentary in English. There is also a charming video with Pierre Rosenberg, Deputy Director of the Louvre. Worth a click.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the museum...

March 4 2011

Image of Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the museum...

Tate Modern will host a Hirst retrospective in 2012 as part of its plans for the Cultural Olympiad.

Cuts, cuts, cuts

March 3 2011

There was a strange piece on the Today programme this morning about cuts in arts funding. Ed Vaizey, the Arts Minister, was 'grilled' by leading arts practitioners. But the whole discussion (between five people) was edited down to just three and a bit minutes, so it was rather confusing. Ed said there was only an 11% cut; the arts gurus said 30%.

Which is true? Would you believe me if I said that the arts are being cut less than the police? Here's a handy guide to those arts cuts figures: [more below]

  • The DCMS budget has been cut by 25% from £1.4bn to £1.1bn over the next four years.
  • National Museums and Galleries, the 21 directly funded by the DCMS, will see a 15% cut in their annual revenue. This means that national museum funding in 2015 will be what it was in 2007.
  • The Arts Council England annual revenue has been cut by 30%. This cut has come with an 'instruction' that 'frontline' arts bodies will be cut by 15%, as with the national museums, and that ACE admin is reduced by 50%.
  • The ACE budget is now £449.5m. In 2014 it will be £349m. This means that by 2014, ACE will be providing revenue to arts organisations at the level it was in 2004, in real terms.
  • From 2012, capital funding from the National Lottery (the money to build extensions, galleries etc.) to the Arts will go up by £50 million a year. Heritage will also get £50m a year extra. This is thanks to changes in the distribution of good cause money, which Labour had reduced from 20% to 16.6%. 
  • The overall cut to arts spending, therefore, is, as Ed Vaizey said, 11% over the next four years in real terms - that is, the combined figure for grant-in-aid and Lottery capital. To put that into context, policing and criminal justice will be cut by 20%

Under the last government, the total arts spend (lottery capital plus government revenue) went down. Revenue went up, but Lottery went down by more. However, such is the reliance amongst arts bodies on government revenue that few complained. Now that the revenue is going down, it seems not to be noticed that the Lottery money is going up.

Vaizey has done well so far to get the spending package through without too much complaint - the arts could have been a very awkward constituency for the coalition last year. But now the tendency of the government to perform u-turns is giving heart to increasing protests amongst the arts sector. Personally, I think it would be a mistake for the arts to become overly politicised on this - they have an opportunity to widen their funding base, and thus their audience. Will too much whingeing merely alienate that audience?

New V&A Extension Shortlist

March 3 2011

Image of New V&A Extension Shortlist

Picture: Snohetta & Hoskins

The V&A has revealed the shortlist of architects for the Exhibition Road space. More on the V&A site here and images on the BBC site here. I like the Snohetta & Hoskins option, above. Cool, eh?

National Gallery Podcast

March 3 2011

Image of National Gallery Podcast

This month's National Gallery podcast is worth a listen. Susan Foister and co discuss the new Gossart exhibition and also the zippy Google Art Project, which features Holbein's Ambassadors in super high-res.  

A new Mabuse?

March 2 2011

Image of A new Mabuse?

A reader has kindly sent me this image, which is an old photo of a painting stolen from a Croatian monastery in 1972. The Madonna and Child was believed by the Franciscan monks of Dubrovnik to be by Mabuse, or Jan Gossart, the star of the National Gallery's new show.

Of course, it is impossible to tell at this distance, but the painting is certainly Mabuse/Gossart/Gossaert-like. The composition is similar to that seen in the c.1520 Mauritshuis/Rijksmuseum Virgin and Child with the Veil, which is no.10 in Maryan Ainsworth's splendid new monograph.

The features and drapery in the Dubrovnik picture seem rather hard, and the pattern was quite widely copied. Nonetheless, it is worth a closer look - so if you know where it is, pray tell...  [More Below]

Robert Edge Pine

Jadranka Beresford-Pierse, who kindly sent me the Mabuse image, is particularly keen to know where this painting by Robert Edge Pine is. It is a portrait of Roger Boscovich, a Croatian polymath who was painted by Pine in London in 1760. This painting was also stolen in 1972. Please spread the image far and wide, and send any hints to Jadranka at the International Trust for Croatian Monuments

Antiguos Maestros Europeos!

March 1 2011


Rare good news for the museum world - the world's richest man, Carlos Slim, is sinking $34m into a museum to display his 66,000 piece private collection. The Soumaya Museum, in Mexico City, will feature an impressive art collection, with works from Rubens to Rodin.  

Unlocking Constable's 'Lock'

March 1 2011

Image of Unlocking Constable's 'Lock'

Picture: Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection.

It seems John Constable's 'The Lock', currently part of Baroness Carmen Thyssen's collection, may be sold. The Baroness' collection of 240 paintings (which includes works by Canaletto, Monet, Picasso etc.) has been valued by Sotheby's at up to EUR700 million.

The collection is currently on loan to the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid. The loan term is set to expire in 2012, and the Baroness and her step-daughter, Francesca Habsburg, disagree over the future of the collection. The Guardian reports that Francesca Habsburg has vetoed the removal of the Constable.

The Museo Thyssen is home to a painting that represents one of the greatest losses of English artistic heritage; Holbein's only surviving panel portrait of Henry VIII. It was sold by Earl Spencer in 1933/4.

Leonardo's 'Lady with an Ermine' cannot travel

March 1 2011

Image of Leonardo's 'Lady with an Ermine' cannot travel

Poland's chief arts conservator has refused permission for Leonardo's 'Lady with an Ermine' to travel to Berlin for an exhibition in August.

Earlier, concerned polish art historians had hoped to prevent the picture going to London for the National Gallery's Leonardo show, which opens in November. However, it appears that the London journey is still on. 

Tyntesfield Unwrapped

February 28 2011


The National Trust have released this splendid time-lapse video of Tyntesfield House being 'unwrapped', following a multi-million pound restoration. 

I was lucky enough to visit Tyntesfield shortly before it was acquired by the Trust. The present Lord Wraxall gave me lunch and a guided tour soon after he inherited from his brother. The place was chaotic, but inestimably charming. Lord Wraxall's reclusive brother had locked the doors to the 20th Century, and under his long ownership the house acquired a uniquely ancient patina. The effect of stepping back in time was spoiled only by the tiny Christie's tags that hung from every moveable object.

Thanks to the Trust, and the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the dreaded tags were removed. I can't wait to see it again.

Gainsborough goes to China

February 28 2011

Image of Gainsborough goes to China

Is this a first? Gainsborough's 'The Marsham Children' will go on display in Beijing as part of 'Art of the Enlightenment' from 2nd April 2011 to 31st March 2012. The exhibition will be in the National Museum of China, and is made up of loans from a trio of German museums. Exhibition website here

All Hail Maryan Ainsworth

February 26 2011

Image of All Hail Maryan Ainsworth

Of the many positive reviews of the excellent ‘Jan Gossaert’s Renaissance’ at the National Gallery (Guardian, Telegraph, Independent), none mention the driving force behind the show, Met Museum curator Maryan Ainsworth. I am in awe of what she has achieved. [More below]

Not only has she put on a first-class display in both New York and London devoted to a relatively unknown artist – not easy in this age of blockbuster shows – but she has compiled a monograph catalogue to accompany it. I thought monographic exhibitions were dead and buried, but happily not. The catalogue even has a section  called ‘Paintings previously Attributed to Gossart’, which immediately suggests thoroughness, and, whisper it, connoisseurship. Finally, the acknowledgments reveal that the exhibition and catalogue were first proposed only in 2007. What an undertaking.

The 484 page catalogue costs £60, but is well worth it. If only there was a cheaper paperback available at the National Gallery so that more people could learn about this great painter. Instead visitors have to make do with a £20 ‘Exhibition Book’ called ‘From Van Eyck to Gossart’, which includes only a handful of works by Gossart.  

Ps – I can’t help but feel sorry for Gossart. His name is changed so often, it is hardly surprising he is so little known. He preferred to call himself ‘Joannes/Johannes Malbodius’, or ‘John of Mabuse’. For many centuries he was therefore known as ‘Mabuse’. Now art historians call him ‘Jan Gossart’. In England, we persist in spelling this incorrectly as ‘Jan Gossaert’.

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