June 12 2017

Image of Apologies...

Picture: Sunday Times

I'm sorry for the lack of blog posts last week. I was busy with filming for series 2 of 'Britain's Lost Masterpieces', and then any spare time I had was taken up with the extraordinary political event that is Theresa May's collapse. It's not often we get to see a Prime Minister expire like this - the British constitution is designed so that once a PM's authority has collapsed he or she is removed from office with brutal efficiency, usually within hours, or a maximum of days. But with May we are now grimly watching, like political rubber-neckers, a most gruesome political death. We have seen the first symptoms of her decline emerge with a disastrous manifesto, and watched those symptoms mutate over the course of a risible campaign. We have seen her writhe in agony as the diagnosis of defeat was delivered. And we are now watching the Tory party plan her funeral and write the obituaries. She caught a nasty virus, and it was called hubris. 

At the moment she is determined to cling on. But like the old man in the 'bring out your dead' scene in Monty Python's 'Holy Grail', May is still convinced she's alive and in good health. None of this means anything to the world of art history, of course (with the exception of some excellent political cartoons), but it may yet have a bearing on the art market. The prospect of May's so-called hard brexit, a withdrawal from both the single market and the customs union, was a disaster for a market which relies on the smooth transit of both goods and people from country to country. But now, with a clear majority of the country rejecting this approach, there is the prospect of a softer Brexit, where trade and the free movement of goods and people are prioritised over concerns of 'sovereignty', whatever that means. 

So AHN is therefore feeling somewhat cheered by the events of last week. At the very least, we have seen a Prime Minister who was beginning to get drunk on her power and ideology be reminded by the electorate that, actually, we're in charge. And that's never a bad thing. Long live democracy.

Bowes museum show in London

June 6 2017

Video: National Gallery

This September the Wallace Collection in London will host an exhibition of Spanish paintings on loan from the Bowes Museum. In the video above, the Wallace's new director, Xavier Bray, tells us more.

Incidentally, although the National Gallery's slick video about their forthcoming exhibitions (below) is excellently made and well produced, the Wallace's video, shot on a phone in a few minutes, is no less effective. AHN urges more museums to try this approach, especially if you don't have a large media budget. Stick a short film on Twitter and You Tube, and you're off. Of course, Bray makes it look easier than it is - but also shows us how important it is for museums to have effective and enthusiastic communicators in leadership roles. 

National Gallery 2018 exhibitions

June 6 2017

Video: NG

The National Gallery has announced its 2018 exhibition line up:

Sainsbury Wing


MANTEGNA AND BELLINI, 1 October 2018 – 27 January 2019

Ground Floor Galleries

DRAWN IN COLOUR, DEGAS FROM THE BURRELL, 20 September 2017 – April 2018

THOMAS COLE, 11 June – 7 October 2018

LORENZO LOTTO PORTRAITS, 5 November 2018 – 10 February 2019

Room 1

LAKE KEITELE, A VISION OF FINLAND, 15 November 2017 – 4 February 2018

MURILLO, THE SELF PORTRAITS, 28 February – 21 May 2018

ED RUSCHA, COURSE OF EMPIRE, 11 June – 7 October 2018

That's an excellent and varied programme, with much to look forward to - especially the Lotto portraits.

Introducing IIIF

June 6 2017

Video: Getty

The Getty museum has uploaded 30,000 high res digital images onto it's site for use with 'IIIF', which is pronounced 'triple eye eff', and stands for International Image Interoperability Framework. That's not the sort of name to float a multi-billion dollar IPO, but it is very handy for art lovers because it allows you to compare on a single screen digital images of works from musems around the world. The video above gives you a demonstration, and you can read more about it here.

It's advances like this which convince me we're in a new golden age for connoisseurship. Never before has such close study of paintings, from multiple locations, been possible.  

Newly found Parmigianino at Bonhams

June 6 2017

Image of Newly found Parmigianino at Bonhams

Picture: via ATG

Laura Chesters in the ATG reports that a newly discovered drawing by Parmigianino will be sold at Bonhams in London on 5th July, estimate £15k-£20k. More here

New attributions to Hilliard (ctd.)

June 6 2017

Video: Waddesdon Manor

Waddesdon Manor has made a video about their new Nicholas Hilliard discoveries

The Rijksmuseum's 10 millionth visitor

June 5 2017

Video: Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum's 10 millionth visitor, Stefan Kasper, was allowed to spend the night in front of Rembrand't 'Nightwatch'. This is marketing genius by the Rijksmuseum - AHN says bravo to whoever had the idea. The Dutch prime minister even got involved.

'Vermeer and the Masters' (ctd.)

June 5 2017

Video: National Gallery of Ireland

If you didn't get to the Louvre to see the sell out show, 'Vermeer and the Masters' (or if you did and couldn't actually see any of the pictures) then fear not, for the show opens in Dublin on 17th June. More here, and tickets here

Don't you think that's a good 'trailer' video above, by the way? See how easy it is to make Old Masters exciting in a minute and a half, for either a museum exhibition or an art auction? All you need is good music, an intriguing narrative (preferably with just text or voice-over rather than say a curator or specialist talking to camera), and some good close ups of the paintings themselves.

'Monarch of the Glen' on tour

June 2 2017

Image of 'Monarch of the Glen' on tour

Picture: BBC

The National Gallery of Scotland's successful acquisition of the Monarch of the Glen has gone down well up here in Scotland - and was even made possible by direct funding from the Scottish government. The picture will now go on a Scotland-wide tour, which is excellent news. The painting even now has its own dedicated tour manager, like a rock star. Details of the venues and dates can be found here

Meanwhile, the National Gallery of Scotland has announced a dramatic scaling back of its extension plans, which only received the green light in January this year. The original scheme was to create a new section of the gallery dedicated to Scottish art, partly by building out over the railway line which runs beneath the gallery. But now that has been ditched as too expensive and difficult - and instead the Scottish art will be hung amongst the Old Masters in the main galleries. You can read below the spin put on the new plans by the NGS, but there seems to be little doubt that the whole thing is a rather embarrassing about turn. It's rare for a major museum's expansion plans to unravel so quickly, and so publicly. The trustees don't seem to know whether they're coming or going, and evidently didn't scrutinise the original plans properly.

Celebrating Scotland’s Art: The Scottish National Gallery Project is an ambitious project to transform the presentation of the world’s greatest collection of Scottish Art for twenty-first-century audiences. Back in March, the National Galleries of Scotland (NGS) announced that some aspects of the construction were more complex and expensive than originally anticipated. 

A revised scheme for Celebrating Scotland’s Art has now been approved by NGS Trustees. The original vision and aims of the Project remain in place including the key objectives to raise the profile of Scottish Art and greatly enhance its presentation, as well as deliver optimal circulation within the Scottish National Gallery and transform the visitor experience.

In order for the Project to remain close to the original £16.8 million budget some aspects of the plan have been modified. The main difference is that we will no longer extend into East Princes Street Gardens. The original proposal to build out by an additional five metres would have increased further the available display space: the new galleries will still represent a doubling of the existing space to be dedicated to Scottish art in this area of the building. However, removing this aspect of the construction reduces the cost significantly and also lessens the risks involved in what was an extremely complex engineering problem, extending the building above the main-line railway tunnels.

The Trustees have also decided that there should be a reconsideration of how the collection is displayed within the Scottish National Gallery as a whole, to ensure that Scottish art is presented alongside the international displays. This will mean a completely new presentation of the Scottish National Gallery and an entirely different visitor experience to the site.

Sir John Leighton, Director-General, National Galleries of Scotland commented: “NGS looks after an amazing collection of Scottish art and our aim is to provide these works of art with the world-class showcase that they deserve. As with any venture, this project has its fair share of challenges but we are delighted that we can now move forward with plans that maintain our ambition to completely transform the presentation of Scottish art and the experience of visitors to the Scottish National Gallery.” 

Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop, said: “I welcome the steps National Galleries Scotland has taken to ensure this ambitious project can be delivered in line with the development’s original aims. Celebrating Scotland’s Art will significantly enhance the visitor experience at this already top-rated attraction, encourage even more people to access and enjoy its iconic collections, and raise the international profile of Scottish Art.”

All of the other elements of the original Project will go ahead as planned including the creation of attractive new Galleries at the Gardens level, new circulation routes within the site and new landscaping within East Princes Street Gardens to facilitate entry into Princes Street Gardens as a whole and the Scottish National Gallery’s Gardens level entrance.

These changes mean that further design work will need to be carried out and new statutory approvals may also be required. The estimated completion date for the project has shifted therefore from 2019 to 2020. The aim is to keep as close as possible to the original budget although there will be cost and expenditure implications from the longer programme and extra design and project requirements. The exact costs will be determined in due course.

The press release makes no mention of whether the curators at the NGS, who were evicted to make room for the extension, will now be allowed back in. Here's hoping...

On Scottish colourists

June 2 2017

Image of On Scottish colourists

Picture: BG

As part of my evangelising about all things Scottish (now that I live in Edinburgh) I bring you news of two exhibitions looking at the Scottish Colourists. The first is part of the Fleming Collection's new touring programme of Scottish art, with an exhibition of Colourists in Berwick-upon-Tweed (above, till 15th October) which I went to see last week. The other is in London on Duke Street, as part of the Scottish Gallery's 175th birthday celebrations. The Gallery is based here in Edinburgh and run by Guy Peploe, the grandson of the pre-eminent Colourist, S.J.Peploe. In the latter show, of course, the pictures will be for sale (from 12th June-16th June). 

'CSK' to shut (ctd.)

May 31 2017

Image of 'CSK' to shut (ctd.)

Picture: Christie's

When Christie's made their surprise announcement they were going to close the South Kensington salerooms, there was talk of 'staff consultations'. It wasn't being presented then as a fait accompli. Now, however, the ATG is reporting that the rooms will close completely by the end of July, with the final sale taking place in mid-July. One wonders what will happen to all the sales and consignments that must have been in the pipeline for future auctions. This must all come as quite a shock to the staff there.

Who will fill this tantalising gap in the market? 

Street art vs Old Masters

May 31 2017

Video: Sotheby's

Sotheby's has asked some street artists to interpret Old Masters from their forthcoming 8th June New York sale (catalogue here). The first one, by Tomaso Albertini, looks fantastic.

You can browse the sale catalogue here. My picks include a portrait by Gainsborough at $80k-$120k, a double portrait by Marguerite Gérard at $100k-$150k, and a $500k-$700k view of the Doge's Palace by Guardi. A fine head of an old scholar by Flinck at $250k-$350k will test the market's new zeal for that artist. The possible bargain of the sale is this picture of St Andrew, of really good quality, catalogued cautiously as 'Studio of Ribera' at $10k-$15k. Finally, what's going on with the dog in this Lawrence portrait - yikes!

Charles II: Art & Power

May 31 2017

Charles II: Art & Power exhibition trailer from Royal Collection Trust on Vimeo.

Video: Royal Collection

Another exciting exhibition from the Royal Collection is on the way - this time looking at the Restoration of Charles II. Opens in December this year. More here

Canaletto at the Royal Collection (ctd.)

May 31 2017

Video: Royal Collection

The Royal Collection Trust has made one of those moving picture videos for their new Canaletto and Venice exhibition. Pretty cool.

On Hokusai's 'Great Wave'

May 30 2017

Video: Art Fund

Here's a nice video from the Art Fund featuring Timothy Clark, head of the Japanese section at the British Museum, on Hokusai's 'Great Wave'. When it was first printed a copy of Hokusai's now valuable masterpiece could be had cheaply, for about the same as a large portion of noodles. The BM has a Hokusai exhibition on at the moment, closing 13th August. More here

New attributions to Hilliard

May 30 2017

Image of New attributions to Hilliard

Picture: via Apollo

In Apollo, Juliet Carey, curator at Waddesdon House, gives some fascinating new information on a pair of portraits in the Rothschild collection. The portraits are of Elizabeth I (above) and her ambassador in France Sir Amias Paulet (below). These may now be attributable to Nicholas Hilliard, who, while known almost entirely these days as a miniature painter, is recorded as also being a painter of large-scale portraits in oil.

Until now, it's not been possible to attribute any paintings firmly to Hilliard, although the 'Pelican' and 'Phoenix' portraits of Elizabeth I in Liverpool and the NPG in London respectively, are often linked to him (more on those here). But the two Rothschild portraits have been found (via dendrochronology) to have been painted on French oak. This is unusual, and it so happens that Hilliard was in France at the time the Rothschild portraits were painted. Says Carey:

What allows us to link the Rothschild portraits to Hilliard with unprecedented confidence is a new discovery about the wood on which they are painted. The panels are formed from boards of oak of French origin. It is extremely unlikely that an English artist would have chosen French oak over the wider, straighter-grained Baltic oak, from which English panels were usually constructed, unless there were some exceptional circumstance.

The sitter in the male portrait, Sir Amias Paulet (c. 1533–88), gives us the reason and further tightens the link between the portraits and Hilliard. Paulet was Elizabeth I’s resident ambassador in France from 1576 until 1579. Hilliard was himself in France from 1576 until 1578 and part of Paulet’s retinue for some of this time. Elements in the portraits highlight their French context, including the fleur-de-lys on Elizabeth’s pelican jewel, which is part flattery, part swagger. At the time, the queen was considering marriage to the duc d’Anjou, the French king’s brother, and had also revived the English claim to the French throne.

The technique and face type of the 'Pelican' and 'Phoenix' portraits are clearly very close to the Rothschild painting of Elizabeth I too. So if this new attribution stands, and it seems really very plausible, then we can at last begin to form an idea of what a Hilliard oil painting looks like. AHN congratulates all those involved - connoisseurship in Tudor portraiture is rare, and largely unpracticed.

The pictures will go on display at Waddesdon on 7th June.

Preserving digital art

May 30 2017

Video: Google

Art historians of the future - this one's really important; there is an alarming lack of awareness about how to best preserve digital art. In the video above, Google's Vint Cerf looks at some of the challenges ahead. It's important that artists working in digital media pay attention to this kind of thing - so art historians should remind them of this at any chance they get. 

In fact, we can stretch this lack of awareness to pretty much anything digital that needs archiving. Until recently, I was a government adviser on archives and public records (sidenote - I resigned because the system for opening up government secrets wasn't, in my view, effective enough) and I was alarmed at how unprepared we are for the challenge of preserving digital records. Prior to digital records, archiving was easy; something written on vellum and most papers last for centuries. Stick it in a safe place; fine. The same goes (in most cases) for oil paintings. But with digital records, and by extension art, it's a whole new ball game. Floppy discs (for example) disintegrate quickly, if you can even find the right kit to read them these days. How many of us now have CD-rom readers any more? How long will it be till USB sticks become redundant? And how often do you find that something written on (say) Word 2000 can't be opened by Windows XP? The net effect is that there are and will be whole decades worth of digital archives that will be unreadable. Let's hope it's not the same for art.

More on all this here.

In 'Alien', a scale copy of 'David'

May 30 2017

Image of In 'Alien', a scale copy of 'David'

Picture: vam.ac.uk

When the film director Ridley Scott wanted a full-scale and accurate replica of Michelangelo's 'David' for his latest film 'Alien: Covenant', his crew turned to the plaster cast at the V&A in London. Scanning it took 8 hours:

Normally this would require building scaffolding around the object, but due to the sensitive nature of the other museum artifacts this could be difficult. They decided to scan the sculpture from the floor and the gallery above using a telescopic tripod from different positions. The multiple scans were then melded together to form a high density highly actuate, virtual copy of the sculpture.

More here

Sotheby's $250k art prize

May 30 2017

Image of Sotheby's $250k art prize

Picture: Sotheby's

I'm late to this, but good to see that Sotheby's has announced a new annual $250k prize to help curators put on exhibitions that would otherwise be difficult to fund (ie, not blockbusters). Says Anthony Calnek on the Sotheby's website:

Today, the company launched the Sotheby’s Prize, an annual award of up to $250,000 that will allow a museum or curator to realize a groundbreaking exhibition – one that wouldn’t happen otherwise. “Sotheby’s is generally associated with the commercial aspects of the art world, but the truth is that we’ve always played a much wider and more central role in that world,” says Robin Woodhead, one of Sotheby’s most senior executives and a long-time supporter of the arts (he currently serves as Deputy Chairman on the Board of Governors of London’s South Bank Centre, home to the Hayward Gallery). Indeed, the company intersects with museums in many ways, including through its Preferred Programme, which gives top clients access to hundreds of museums around the world, and as an ever-willing partner for charitable events and fundraising auctions. Recently, the company launched the Sotheby’s Museum Network, an online portal that brings together video content from the world's leading museums.

China and the art market (ctd.)

May 30 2017

Image of China and the art market (ctd.)

Picture: via AMM

Marion Maneker at the Art Market Monitor looks at the possible impact China's new capital controls might have on the global art market:

One of the issues facing the art market is capital controls on Mainland Chinese art buyers. We already saw mentions of this by art dealers in Hong Kong during Art Basel.

In the recent New York sales, Chinese buyers were mostly visible as under-bidders. Whether the few buyers are using money they earned overseas or money they previously moved off shore isn’t really something that can be easily discovered.

More here.

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