'3 minutes, 40 seconds'

March 20 2017

Image of '3 minutes, 40 seconds'

Picture: Van Gogh Museum

That's how long it took a burglar to steal the above Van Gogh and one other from the Van Gogh museum in 2002. The burglar has confessed to his role in the operation for a new documentary. More here

John Hamilton Mortimer self-portrait discovered

March 20 2017

Image of John Hamilton Mortimer self-portrait discovered

Picture: Lowell Libson

One of my favourite stands at TEFAF in Maastricht is always that of Lowell Libson, who specialises in British art. Lowell has exquisite taste, which is always an underappreciated pre-requisite for being a good dealer. I was glad to see he and his colleague Jonny Yarker had discovered, in a minor London saleroom, an unfinished self-portrait by John Hamilton Mortimer. More details here

'CSK' to shut

March 20 2017

Image of 'CSK' to shut

Picture: Apollo

Sad news indeed that Christie's South Kensington site, where they hold their less important and regular 'Interior' sales, is to close. The move is part of a wider headcount reduction across a number of Christie's sites, including Paris and Amsterdam. The news drew a sharp reaction from Susan Moore in Apollo.

Christie's say the decisions is due to increased bidding online. To the extent that people are placing their final bid online, that might be true: the last few sales I've been to a South Kensington have been almost embarrasingly empty - the poor auctioneer doing his stuff in front of one of two people - but with plenty of bids online and from the phone. But of course that's not to say that these online bidders don't want to first view the items in person. Christie's say that more sales will now be held at their main King St premises in St James.

Sotheby's closed their equivalent site, at Olympia, many years ago. That was a much less accessible location. The South Kensington site, however, seemed to be benefitting from Christie's new 'Interior' sales, which I loved, and which helped promote antiques to a new audience. Some of the stuff on offer was, of course, fantastically cheap, so the margins cannot have been great. 

Personally, I shall miss what was a useful source of 'sleepers'. The fact that Christie's main specialists were based in King Street sometimes led to some gems slipping through the net. Often these were picked up before anyone had the chance to buy them (for example, the £5m Claude seascape of St Paula, and the Saenredam view of Assendelft). My own favourite discoveries from when I used to work for Philip Mould (and sorry if this sounds like boasting) included: a Van Dyck head study of St Joseph; a Van Dyck portrait of Henrietta Maria (massively overpainted, and later featured on an episode of 'Fake or Fortune?'); a Reynolds of the Earl Fitzwilliam; and a fine half-length early portrait by Ramsay now in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Finally, if I hadn't discovered a lost portrait of Cardinal York at CSK, then I would never have begun my investigations into Jacobite portraiture, which means I wouldn't have met my wife, be living in Scotland, and be typing this now. One way or another, I owe Christie's South Kensington a lot. 

'Paris Tableau' moves to Brussels

March 20 2017

Image of 'Paris Tableau' moves to Brussels

Picture: ATG

The 'Paris Tableau' Old Master fair will no longer take place in Paris, but in Brussels. It will still be called 'Paris Tableau'. So there's a marketing challenge. 

The fair will be held in La Patinoire Royale, above. For the line up of dealers, see the ATG here

"The place is politically, totally insane"

March 20 2017

Image of "The place is politically, totally insane"

Picture: Met

William D. Cohan in Vanity Fair has an overview of what might have led to Thomas Campbell's resignation from The Met. There's much speculation, and it seems there's little by way of defense from Campbell's point of view. But the concluding paragraph of the piece seems believable enough:

“It’s not a very complicated story,” says a source close to the Met. “Tom was a curator. He was plucked out to run a big job—not just director but director and C.E.O. He forged an agenda with the board. He had some management issues. They together made all these decisions to get ahead on digital. Tom wasn’t on his own. They together decided to invest in modern and contemporary. The place is politically, totally insane. Along the way, whatever is going on among the board members about who’s up and who’s down, Tom obviously lost enough support there and he obviously lost curatorial support—the curators run the whole culture. And because he wasn’t a good manager, they urged him to leave and he resigned and that’s the story.”

New Van Dyck oil sketch discovered

March 6 2017

Image of New Van Dyck oil sketch discovered

Picture: Artcurial

A newly discovered study by Van Dyck of the infant Christ will soon come up for auction in Paris on 23rd March. It's an early work, and wonderfully painted. The estimate is €50k-€70k, which strikes me as quite reasonable. Until recently, it had been added to on all four sides in an attempt to make the picture seem more 'finished'. This is a common fate of studies by the likes of Van Dyck. Now the additions have been removed, to good effect I think. I had the chance to see some high-resolution photos from before and after conservation, and had no doubt that it's by Van Dyck. Congratulations to the finder (whom I do not know) - I hope it does well. You can zoom in on the image here

Update - it made EUR100k hammer.

Vetting at TEFAF

March 6 2017

Video: TEFAF

The annual 'TEFAF' art fair at Maastricht opens on Thursday (9th March). The above video shows you some of the gadgets that the vetting committees at Tefaf now use, including an amazing portable x-ray system. There's no doubt that the vetting at Tefaf, already the toughest in the world, has had to increase its diligence in the light of various fake scandals. I must say I've always been impressed enough with the vetting there, and the tales of woe I hear from dealers (some of which I know are justified) are if nothing else evidence of the very strict systems the fair has in place. I suppose you could say that 'safety first' is the approach. I do recall being extremely suspicious of one work, an Old Master, on a previous visit. But it was an exception. I was also once obliged to tip-off a vetter about a suspect picture heading for the fair. It was not exhibited.

In a new article on nrc.nl, Arjen Ribbens highlights that the terms and conditions at TEFAF remind visitors that ultimate liability for items lies with the exhibitors themselves, and not the fair. I suppose this is required in case visitors are tempted to think that the extensive vetting means there is a general TEFAF guarantee, which alas there is not. In the NRC piece, Ribbens mentions a possible fake Adriaen Coorte still life that was exhibited at TEFAF in 2009. The article also suggests this painting was linked to Giulano Ruffini.

I'll be at Tefaf on Friday & Saturday 10th & 11th, so hope to see some of you there. I've been invited to talk at a CODART 'salon' on the state of the Old Master market. This is a great privilege for me.  

'The Lost Museum'

March 6 2017

Video: NGA

Here's an interesting lecture by Julien Chapuis looking at the destruction of most of the great large-scale paintings and sculpture from the Gemaldegalerie in Berlin at the end of World War Two. 

Detroit Titian to be restored

March 6 2017

Video: TEFAF

Every year the TEFAF Museum Restoration Fund pays for a museum painting to be conserved. This year they have selected Titian's Judith with the Head of Holofernes at the Detroit Institute of Arts. 

Baselitz - 'the greatest living painter'

March 6 2017

Video: Sotheby's

So says Sir Norman Rosenthal.


March 6 2017

Video: Smartify

I haven't noticed the new Smartify app. which allows you to photo an actual painting in an art gallery, and then via imaging recognition software find out all about it. 

In The Guardian, Jonathan Jones is not impressed:

[...] in reality, Smartify and all similar attempts to provide instant on-screen art history, including those by museums themselves, just encourage people to gawp at phones instead of looking at paintings. As if we needed any more encouragement.

It seems like a great idea to me, and should help engage new audiences. For better or worse, things like smartphones are just too integral to people's way of living these days. It's better that museums and art lovers harness their potential rather than harrumph about it. In any case, it's really no different to going around with a guidebook.

Of course, the image-recongition software element sounds like the sort of thing that'll put people like me out of a job. 


March 2 2017

Image of Apologies...

Pictures: BG

... Sorry for the lack of posts, I'm on the move at the moment. Leeds first, then London to value a portrait of the Duke of Wellington (above). Since he was a relative (well, that's where I like to claim the nose comes from) I may have to declare an interest. The painting is by Lawrence, and the National Portrait Gallery are trying to buy it.

I dropped into the National Gallery to look at some pictures by Rubens this morning, and would believe it but every painting by him bar one is in storage. But the picture on show is his early and rarely seen Judgement of Paris (below) so I was glad to see that. I wonder if there has ever been a time when only one Rubens was on display at the National.

Tomorrow I'm heading to the North-East, then Wales.


3D printed copies - as good as the real thing?

March 1 2017

Image of 3D printed copies - as good as the real thing?

Picture: Guardian, Veronese’s Wedding at Cana, replicated by Factum Arte.

In The Guardian, Jonathan Jones says that 3D printed copies by the likes of Factum Arte (mentioned previously on AHN here) will transform the way we see art:

[...] the work of Factum Arte, a Madrid-based studio whose combination of digital analysis with assiduous craft is transforming the way we see art. I have been watching their work develop for nearly a decade. I am now convinced it is the most important thing happening in 21st-century art – because it can quite literally save civilisation.

The new kind of high-fidelity 3D reproduction being pioneered by Factum Arte is going to abolish the difference between past and present and make distance no obstacle to seeing any masterpiece. We are entering an age when museums can – this is no hyperbole – have their own perfect replicas of the Sistine Chapel, Titian’s Assumption in the Frari church from Venice, or Mantegna’s Camera degli Sposi from Mantua.

I've never seen one of Factum Arte's copies, so I must reserve judgement. But surely a copy's a copy, no matter how good it is? Nothing can replace the magic of an original. Once we accept that art is all about replication, rather than creation, and a tangible link to the time and person that created it, then we might as well pack up and go home. 

Louvre overwhelmed by Vermeer demand

March 1 2017

Image of Louvre overwhelmed by Vermeer demand

Picture: Tribune Du Lard

Art Market Monitor reports that the Louvre's ticket system has crashed, such is the demand for its new Vermeer show. I'm told it's quite crowded in the exhibition too. Seeing how closely hung the (mainly small) paintings are, I can't imagine it's an ideal picture-viewing experience.

Met director resigns

March 1 2017

Image of Met director resigns

Picture: New York Times

Thoms Campbell, the director of the Metropolitan Museum, has resigned after eight years in the post. In the New York Times, Robin Pogrebin sets out the backdrop to his departure:

The Met said that Mr. Campbell, 54, had made the decision to leave the job he had held for eight years. But the circumstances surrounding his departure point to his being forced out. As The New York Times reported extensively in an article in early February, Mr. Campbell’s financial decisions and expansion plans had been criticized by some trustees, curators and other staff members. During the last couple of years, despite the museum’s record attendance, much of his original agenda was rolled back because of the museum’s economic difficulties, including a soaring deficit.

There has been speculation for some time that he had been looking to return to the UK; it had even been suggested to me that he might have looked at the recent V&A vacancy (now taken by Tristram Hunt). The Times article suggests that the new interim CEO, Daniel Weiss, might be being lined up as a new Director. Other names mentioned include Michale Govan, director of LACMA, and Glenn Lowry, director of MOMA. It has also been suggested to me that Gary Tinterow, formerly at the Met and now director of the MFA Houston. 

Did Velazquez's slave paint these?

February 28 2017

Image of Did Velazquez's slave paint these?

Picture: Metropolitan Museum

In his Art Newspaper review of a new show on Velazquez portraits at the Met, Prof. Jonathan Brown wonders if the above picutres are in fact by the artist's slave, Juan de Pareja. Pareja began to works as Velazquez's assistant in 1631. He was granted his freedom in 1650.

Brown's review contains this superb line, which I shall commit to memory:

Nothing is more subjective than the attribution of a painting and nothing is more essential than the debate over authorship. 

Job Opportunity!

February 28 2017

Image of Job Opportunity!

Ppicture: Rembrandthuis

The wonderful Rembrandthuist is looking for a new Head Curator. Deadline 5th March. Salary up to €66k. More here

Polish Dutch & Flemish Old Masters

February 28 2017

Image of Polish Dutch & Flemish Old Masters

Picture: mnw.art.pl

The Codart website alerts us to a new online offering from the National Museum of Warsaw, with good high resolution digital photos. Browse here.

Job opportunity!

February 28 2017

Image of Job opportunity!

Picture: DiscoverSLU

The Microsoft founder, Paul G. Allen, is looking for a new director of his art collection. More here

£10,000 Sistine chapel book

February 28 2017

Image of £10,000 Sistine chapel book

Picture: Guardian

Expensive art books are all the rage these days. A new book of the Sistine Chapel is being marketed at £10,000. The three volume set used 270,000 digital photos, and claim to show a 99.9% accuracy. More here

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