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


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.”

Mona Lisa theory no. 768

February 8 2017

Image of Mona Lisa theory no. 768

Picture: Guardian

The Guardian's Jonathan Jones wonders if syphilis explains 'that famous smile'.

I think a sharp attack of clickbait is more likely.

Money laundering and the art market

February 8 2017

Image of Money laundering and the art market

Picture: Christie's

The allegation that the art market is a magnet for money laundering is often made - but with precious little hard evidence. Marion Maneker looks at the latest allegations, and why they're wrong, over on Art Market Monitor.

This is not to say, of course, that the art market is whiter than white in all other areas; far from it. 

Brexit and the Art Market (ctd.)

February 8 2017

Image of Brexit and the Art Market (ctd.)

Picture: WSJ

The Wall Street Journal kindly asked me to write an op-ed on Brexit and the UK art market. More here.

Met images go free

February 7 2017

Image of Met images go free

Picture: Met

The Metropolitan Museum has made its iamges free to use under a wikimedia commons licence. Bravo. More here

Jordaens and Van Dyck panel paintings project

February 7 2017

Image of Jordaens and Van Dyck panel paintings project


Here's something I've been excited about for a while; a new research project on the panel paintings of both Jordaens and Van Dyck. As is so often the case, there is so much we can learn about the materials on which artists like Van Dyck and Jordaens painted, especially when in Antwerp, where we often find detailed panel marks that can further help us with dating. 

The project will now begin:

systematically studying the oil paintings on oak panels by Jacques Jordaens (1593-1678) and Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641). A comprehensive dendrochronological survey and the recording and collating of the Antwerp panel makers’ and Guild brand marks on the reverse of the panels, combined with new archival research and traditional art historical scholarship, will throw new light on these artists, their oeuvres and painting on wood panels in the 17th century.

Its results and findings will be made accessible for the widest possible audience through the JVDPPP website and the RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History databases. Its archival research will be translated into English, as will out of copyright articles on Van Dyck and Jordaens originally published in German, French and Dutch. The project includes the creation of a unique database of the 1,000 Flemish panel makers’ marks collected by Prof. em. Dr. Jørgen Wadum over the course of his career.

The team behind the project are:

Dr. Joost Vander Auwera, Co-Founder & Project Leader

Drs. Justin Davies, Co-Founder & Research Fellow

Dr. Johannes Edvardsson, Dendrochronologist

Prof. em. Dr. Jørgen Wadum, Panel marks consultant

Sotheby's sues vendor of fake Hals

February 7 2017

Image of Sotheby's sues vendor of fake Hals

Picture: Sotheby's

Sotheby's has filed a lawsuit against Mark Weiss, the london-based dealer, seeking the return of monies paid after the sale of a painting by Frans Hals, which was subsequently declared a fake. The painting was sold by Sotheby's in 2011 on behalf of Weiss in a private treaty sale for a reported $10m. But after doubts grew over the painting's former owner, Giulano Ruffini, Sotheby's commissioned a full technical analysis of the painting, and this found that the painting was a modern forgery. More background here.

As is the case in any consignment with a major auction house, the sale contract states that should a sale collapse (over something like authenticity) then the consignor must return the funds. Sotheby's has already refunded the buyer of the painting, Seattle-based collector Richard Hedreen. The case against Weiss is in the English High Court, and follows a similar case filed in a US court against the consignor of a St Jerome, attributed to the Circle of Parmigianino, which was sold by Sotheby's in 2012. That painting had also, like the Hals, once been owned by Ruffini.

Sotheby's put out a statement about the new legal action:

Today, Sotheby's issued proceedings against Mark Weiss, Mark Weiss Limited and Fairlight Art Ventures LLP (an investment vehicle of David Kowitz), for the recovery of sums paid following the sale of the counterfeit Frans Hals painting "Portrait of a Gentleman" in 2011.

When we learned last year that the painting originated from Giuliano Ruffini, we commissioned an in-depth technical analysis which established that the work was undoubtedly a forgery and we rescinded the sale and reimbursed the buyer in full. 

The technical analysis was conducted by Orion Analytical, one of the world’s leading experts in the field, and was peer reviewed by John Twilley, another leading conservation scientist.  In light of Sotheby’s recent acquisition of Orion Analytical, Sotheby’s has now engaged Dr. Ashok Roy, former Director of Collections and Director of Science, National Gallery in London.

While we always prefer to settle matters without legal action, the sellers have refused to make good on their contractual obligations and we have been left with no other option than to take appropriate action to enforce our rights.  

As the matter is now before the English High Court, Sotheby's has no further comment.

The decision to hire Ashok Roy as an independent specialist to study the Hals is presumably in response to some criticism that has been made by Ruffini's lawyer, in the New York Times, that Orion Analytical's findings are somehow tainted by the fact that Sotheby's bought the company after the Hals tests were announced. I must say I find this logic extremely hard to follow, since you'd imagine that if there were to be any conflict of interest it would be the other way around; pressure to declare the painting genuine. And that presumes that any of the parties involved would be prepared to make such decisions or exert such pressue anyway.

It's interesting to see that Sotheby's are also suing David Kowitz. Kowitz has been a longstanding client of Weiss, as set out in this article in the FT from 2010. Presumably in this case Kowitz has also been acting as Weiss' business partner. 

Mark Weiss still believes the picture is by Hals; here it is on the notable sales page of his website. He has responded with a statement to the Antiques Trade Gazette:

A statement from Weiss said that when the sale of the painting was made in 2011 it was "widely believed by all the leading connoisseurs to be a work by Frans Hals". Weiss and his advisors argue further testing should be carried out "before the assertion that this work is a modern fake can be definitively made".

The statement said Sotheby’s has "repeatedly refused to allow Weiss’s experts access to the painting to carry out the further tests."

However Sotheby's said the painting was with the "experts Mr. Weiss had instructed for a four month period and was subject to extensive testing by them. Mr. Weiss later suggested that additional tests be conducted by a new group of conservators, but Sotheby’s concluded that none of these further tests would change its conclusion”.

The Weiss statement said he "intends to contest the claim vigorously".

Presumably this means we can look forward to another High Court trial about the authenticity of an Old Master painting. The most recent one, about the supposed Caravaggio Card Sharps, was fascinating, but eye-wateringly expensive for both sides. 

As ever, the usual caveats apply here; there is no evidence that anyone involved in selling or handling these paintings knew at the time that they were or might be fake, and no suggestion that anyone acted anything other than diligently and honestly.

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