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.

Restitution news (ctd.)

May 30 2017

Image of Restitution news (ctd.)

Picture: Guardian/Observer

Writing in The Observer, Dalya Alberge has the interesting restitution story of a Marieschi (above) to be sold by Sotheby's in London this summer (est. £500k-£700k). The painting was owned by Heinrich and Anna Maria Graf in Germany before WW2, but stolen by the Nazis after the Grafs fled to the US in 1938. Not long after the war the picture was bought 'in good faith' by a British collector from a London art dealer.

The Graf family continued their hunt for the picture and in 1998 discovered that Christie's knew where the picture was - but Christie's would not divulge where the painting was, or who owned it, and it appears that no contact was made with the owner. 

Now, however, a deal has been reached with the current owner, through art lawyer Christopher Marinello of Art Recovery International. The terms of the deal are not being revealed, but it appears that the owner and the Graf family will share the proceeds of the sale.

It appears that everyone is content, although as Alberge writes:

The family feels let down by the art trade. Stephen Tauber (the Graf's son-in-law) said that the painting had been listed as stolen in 1946, before London dealers acquired it: “It was in the public record. They could easily have found out that it was stolen. They didn’t bother.”

His son [Andrew Tauber] described Christie’s refusal to divulge details of its whereabouts as “obviously disappointing. [It] delayed our recovery by quite a number of years.”

The family might also feel let down by British law in this area. It should have been possible, given the fact that the painting was clearly known to have been looted, to compel Christie's or anyone who knew the whereabouts of the painting, to make contact with the Graf heirs, to at least begin negotiations. In effect, the painting was stolen; and in any other walk of life people don't normally go out of their way to protect the owners of stolen goods. The case also demonstrates the extent to which buying a painting 'in good faith' gives the owner of a Nazi looted work some degree of control over both title and the value of the asset, at least in the UK. As far as I understand it, if the painting had been in the US, it would have been seized outright by the government and returned to the Graf's heirs.

Job Opportunity!

May 30 2017

Image of Job Opportunity!

Picture: National Gallery

This looks like an excellent gig - the National Gallery is looking for six art historians to write about pictures in the collection. The blurb says:

Can you write engagingly about paintings to a strict word-count and in a limited time?

If so, the National Gallery is seeking six authors to research and write short and long descriptions of its paintings, and short accounts of people related to the paintings, as part of a major project to improve the Gallery`s digital information.

We are looking for people with a postgraduate degree in the history of art, or technical art history, with a focus on one or more aspects of European painting c.1200-c.1900; a reading knowledge of at least one European language; and a proven ability to quickly research and summarise art-historical information, writing concisely, accurately, and grammatically in English for a non-specialist readership.

Although the job description says the text is for the website, I hope also that it will lead to a refresh of the wall labels in the National Gallery, which are vague on the sort of biographical and technical information that people like to know about pictures. And, dare I say it, but are postgraduate art historians necessarily the best people to write concise and engaging text about pictures for a non-specialist audience? Why not allow others who know about art history, but who are also proven writers, to participate?

The salary is £25k-£32k, and the deadline is 19th June. More here

Italian art thief caught

May 30 2017

Image of Italian art thief caught

Picture: The Telegraph

The Telegraph reports that a Swedish academic has helped uncover the activities of a prolific Italian art thief:

Swedish academic who bought a rare antique Italian manuscript online from a university student in Bologna has helped police uncover a trove of stolen artwork and books.

When his online purchase arrived from Italy to Sweden, the perspicacious professor from Lund University noticed a small antique ink stamp  from the “Royal Library of Turin” on one of the pages and became concerned about the manuscript’s provenance. 

[...]

The professor contacted officials at the Italian embassy in Sweden, who informed the Italian Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale art fraud squad. 

The article says that a valuable Van Dyck has been recovered. In the photo of the haul above we can see what appears to be a small copy of Van Dyck's 'Raising of the Cross' in Kortrijk, Holland. It could of course be an unknown colour sketch, though there isn't one listed in the 2004 Van Dyck catalogue raisonné. 

'A forger's tale'

May 30 2017

Image of 'A forger's tale'

Picture: ZCZ Films

There will be a new edition of the memoirs of convicted forger Shaun Greenhalgh. When he first published the book privately in 2015 it included the explosive claim that he had made the 'Bella Principessa' drawing attributed by some to Leonardo. The new edition will be published by Allen and Unwin. More here.  

Raphael drawings at the Ashmolean (ctd.)

May 30 2017

Image of Raphael drawings at the Ashmolean (ctd.)

Picture: via Guardian

The new Raphael drawings show at the Ashmolean gets five stars from The Guardian:

This outstanding show makes you understand why his contemporaries adored Raphael. It was not just that he was very good-looking – as can be seen from a self-portrait at the start of the show – and a famous lover. There’s an innocent sweetness to these drawings, even a goodness.

Not only is he human, he’s vulnerable. We see Raphael here not as some shining cultural monument but a young artist learning on the job. In 1504 he is in Florence, watching a competition between his elders Michelangelo and Leonard da Vinci, copying them both. He happily learns from these two titans. Then he goes to Rome, to paint for popes and cardinals, to rival Michelangelo himself.

£120k miniature for sale

May 30 2017

Image of £120k miniature for sale

Picture: Christie's via Telegraph

The Telegraph reports that a miniature of George IV by Richard Cosway which once belonged to his mistress and secret wife, Maria Fitzherbert, will be offered at Christie's on July 6th, with an estimate of £80-£120k. More here

Michael Palin's favourite paintings

May 30 2017

Video: National Gallery

Michael Palin gave a talk at the National Gallery on his favourite paintings. It turns out (as the singing betrays at the beginning) that it was recorded on his birthday. Caroline Campbell, the NG curator discussing Palin's pictures with him, is an excellent interviewer.

Turner's 'Ehrenbreitstein' at Sotheby's

May 30 2017

Video: Sotheby's

Sotheby's are selling on 5th July one of the last six major Turners left in private hands, and have made the above video. 

'The Square' wins at Cannes

May 30 2017

Video: via You Tube

A send up of the contemporary art world, called 'The Square', has won the top prize at Cannes. In the scene above, diners are treated to a display by a performance artist called Oleg, who impersonates a gorrilla. Actually, I think Oleg's turn is quite good. If I saw that at the Turner Prize gala dinner, I'd be impressed. 

More about the film here, in The Art Newspaper

Art and poetry (ctd.)

May 26 2017

Image of Art and poetry (ctd.)

Picture: BG, text copyright Lindsay Errington

Further to my below post about a new poetry initiative from Art UK, I've just discovered a brilliant new book by Lindsay Errington, called 'Private Views'. Errington was for twenty years curator of the Scottish collections at the National Gallery of Scotland, and has now written a series of really wonderful poems all about her imaginary relationships with both the art and artists of Scotland. It's the best poetry written in response to art that I've come across.

Below is a verse about connoisseurship, which struck many cords with this sometime art dealer...

The book is available to buy here, a snip at £9.95. 

The Le Nain mystery

May 26 2017

Image of The Le Nain mystery

Picture: via TAN, Mathieu Le Nain, the Denial of St Peter, Louvre

The three Le Nain brothers, Antoine, Louis and Mathieu, were famous painters in the 17thC in Paris,a nd still highly regarded today. But identifying which brother painted what has been fiendishly difficult, not least becase what signed Le Nain works there are (16 out of roughly 75 in total) only bear the signature "Le Nain". A new exhibition at Louvre Lens seeks to work out who painted what, as Donald Lee writes in The Art Newspaper:

[...] the Louvre curator, Nicolas Milovanovic, has daringly and controversially arranged the works in differently coloured sections of the airplane hangar-like exhibition building by attribution, with galleries devoted to each brother. Because Mathieu lived on for nearly 20 years after his brothers' deaths, it has been slightly easier to distinguish his works, but Milovanovic's sifting of all three has been predominantly connoisseurial, with assays of circumstantial evidence such as it exists. 

His argument, grosso modo, is that the middle brother, Louis, about whom the least is known, is the most prolific and distinguished of the brothers. His work is characterised by cool, subdued and subtle colours (Allegory of Victory, around 1635), free but controlled brushwork, a tendency for classicising (Venus in the Forge of Vulcan, 1641) and a feeling for landscape (to be seen in the backgrounds of his religious canvases). To him is also given the main hand in several religious paintings (The Penitent Magdalene, around 1643) and, above all, the many peasant scenes. 

AHN congratulates Milovanovic for tackling this connoisseurial conundrum - bravo! 

More on the exhibition here

Koons' Ukrainian inspiration

May 26 2017

Image of Koons' Ukrainian inspiration

Picture: TAN

A new big shiny thing by Jeff Koons is drawing crowds in New York, but as The Art Newspaper reports, it is just a scaled up version of a porcelain trinket made in Ukraine some decades ago.

25 years of DCMS

May 26 2017

Image of 25 years of DCMS

Picture: DCMS

This week saw the 25th anniversary of the creation of the UK's Department for Culture Media and Sport. It actually began life as the Department of National Heritage in 1992 courtesy of Sir John Major, but then in 1997 New Labour changed it to the more modern sounding DCMS. I don't think there can be any doubt that the UK's cultural sector and creative industries are in a far better place thanks to the department; we've had billions in lottery money, relative protection from funding cuts (at least, at a national museum level, not regional), and many other Good Things. All this is due to the work of its civil servants, the benefit of having representation at Cabinet level, and the dedication of a series of usually good ministers, some of them excellent. I don't think all this would have been delivered had the arts and culture been berthed within different departments (like Education) as they used to be.

 

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