Re-discovered: Rubens' portrait of his daughter

March 24 2015

Image of Re-discovered: Rubens' portrait of his daughter

Picture: Rubenshuis

Regular readers may remember the story of the possible Rubens 'sleeper', which the Metropolitan Museum deaccessioned as a copy in 2013. Now, the picture has once again been accepted as a Rubens - which it clearly is - and it'll soon go on display at an exhibition of Rubens's family portraits at the Rubenshuis in Antwerp. The sitter is Rubens' daughter, Clara Serena. The photo above shows the picture post-conservation. Below, you can see the painting as it appeared at Sotheby's in New York.

I've written a piece for The Art Newspaper looking at the sale and reattribution of the painting. Is this the greatest deaccessioning blunder of recent times?

The exhibition opens in Antwerp on 28th March. I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview of the show - and it's probably the best Rubens exhibition I've yet seen. Rubens' portraiture is usually at its best when he's painting friends and family, and in this show we see example after example of Rubens' finest work. There are loans from all over (the Hermitage, the Royal Collection etc.). There are seven self-portraits alone. And all, magically, on display in the house where Rubens lived, and where many of them were painted. Do exhibitions get much better than that?

Re-uniting Rubens three Magi

March 24 2015

Image of Re-uniting Rubens three Magi

Picture: NGA Washington

It's all go for Rubens at the moment. In Washington DC, the National Gallery has re-united Rubens' three c.1618 Magi paintings. There's a good online exhibition site here

'Mr Turner'

March 23 2015

Image of 'Mr Turner'

Picture: Thin Man Films

I finally got to see the film 'Mr Turner' on DVD (babies and cinemas not being a good mix). Quelle dinde! Good acting, great scenery and costumes - but sod all story. Nothing happens. Turner grunts a bit, Turner paints a bit, Turner shags a bit, Turner (spoiler alert) dies. That's it.

The film did have some good bits. I enjoyed the portrayal of Ruskin as intensely irritating. Of Ruskin, Turner provides my favourite art history quote - 'he sees far more in my paintings than I ever did'.

Brian on Money

March 23 2015

Image of Brian on Money

Picture: Times

The Telegraph has an interview with the Great Brian, in which he talks about money. We learn that he had to take a pay cut at the Evening Standard when it was sold to the Lebedevs, and he advises (wisely) against buying art purely as an investment. He tried it once, and it didn't last long:

In 1972, I set aside a sum to spend on paintings by students at the Royal Academy of Art, the Royal College of Art, the Slade School of Fine Art and other institutions, and continued these purchases for nearly 20 years before running out of enthusiasm and hope. By then, I had more paintings than I could hang, and was sick of finding stacked canvases in every room. A handful of painters survived to become professional, but the rest graduated to the security of being a handyman in a home for delinquent children, a train driver on the Underground and so on – the last straw was my being served by one behind the cheese counter in Harrods.

Well worth a read. 

"Inventing Impressionism"

March 23 2015

Video: National Gallery

Nice video here from Chris Riopelle, curator of the new National Gallery exhibition, 'Inventing Impressionism'.

Van Dyck sketches for sale

March 23 2015

Image of Van Dyck sketches for sale

Pictures: Sotheby's

Two very interesting, early Van Dyck head studies are coming up for sale at Sotheby's in New York. They're being sold from the Weldon Collection, and both were recently in the excellent 'Young Van Dyck' exhibition at the Prado - a show so good I went twice.

The first study, above, is of a woman looking up, and is preparatory for Van Dyck's The Drunken Silenus (below, Gemaldegalerie, Dresden). It looks to be in superb condition.

The second work is a study of a boy praying, and he appears in Van Dyck's Suffer Children Come Unto Me (in Ottawa). There's another version of this study, without the hands. I'm not sure which came first, but they're both by Van Dyck. It seems there was a demand for studies by him, and sometimes he did replicas. 

The former is estimated at $200,00-$300,000, and the boy is estimated at $250,000-$350,000. Both estimates seem to me to be on the cheap side. I'd value the woman looking up at at least $500,000. I bet they do well on the day. But it's one of those curious mid-season sales, outside of the normal Old Master sales in the summer, so you never know.

Also in the sale is the below sketch - en grisaille - of Martin Ryckaert, which is catalogued as 'attributed to Van Dyck'. The estimate is $200,000-$300,000 - too high it seems to me for an attributed work. And for what it's worth - and I should stress I have only seen it via the photo - I'm not entirely sure it's by Van Dyck himself. Here's the original painting in the Prado - probably my favourite Van Dyck. The sketch was probably made for Van Dyck's series of engravings, his Iconografie. 

Update - I forgot to note Van Dyck's birthday, two days ago (22nd March). Happy Birthday, Ant!

Sotheby's new CEO

March 21 2015

Image of Sotheby's new CEO

Picture: via Art Market Monitor

Marion Maneker of Art Market Monitor has written this essential, in-depth look at Sotheby's new CEO, Tad Smith. Smith (above) used to run a cable TV firm. Apparently, the buzz is all about the way Sotheby's can use 'new technology':

When the Wall Street Journal asked Smith about his plans to supercharge Sotheby’s with technology, he responded by pointing “to an earlier calling card,” reporter Kelly Crow wrote. “While at Cablevision, he said he led a team that created a system that allowed the cable company to tailor the ads it broadcast to its 2.5 million households, with dog owners getting more dog-food ads and new homeowners getting additional home-improvement store ads.”

The man who stole 271 Picassos? (ctd.)

March 21 2015

Image of The man who stole 271 Picassos? (ctd.)

Picture: WSJ

Pierre Le Guennec, Picasso's former handyman who was on trial for possessing 271 'stolen' works by the artist, has been found guilty. For earlier AHN on this unfortunate case, see here

Le Guennec and his wife have been sentenced to two years in jail, but the term has been suspended, meaning they won't be locked up. The works must be returned to the Picasso estate.

This is an extraordinary ruling. No evidence was presented in court to show that the works were stolen, by whom and when. The Picasso estate merely said 'Picasso never gave away his art'. Of course, he did - but in any case, M. Le Guennec's case was that Picasso's wife gave him the works. 

The Wall Street Journal reports the judge's logic:

The court in Grasse found that Mr. and Ms. Le Guennec weren’t able to present any documentation from the painter or his wife that proves the works were effectively donated to them. The court found that the couple never tried to obtain any such proof and never spoke to anyone about their possession—not even to their own children—and said these facts establish that the works were “kept clandestinely.”

The court also said the couple’s testimonies during the trial diverged widely and lacked credibility.

“The violation concerns goods of an extreme value,” Judge Jean-Christophe Bruyere said in his ruling. “The Le Guennec couple didn’t make a profit but they didn’t provide any convincing explanation as to how and why they kept the art pieces for such a long time.”

If this is French justice, then I'm a banana. The judge seems not to have noticed that, at the time M. Le Guennec was given the works, they were not of 'extreme value'. Nor did the court care that M. Le Guennec voluntarily started this whole process, by taking the works to the Picasso estate - hardly the actions of a criminal. So if you happen to live in France, and have works of art that you (a) lost the receipts for (b) don't tell the world and its wife about - ie, keep them 'clandestinely', and (c) keep 'for such a long time', then watch out - you may be found guilty of possessing stolen works too. Even if there was no proof they were stolen!

Gurlitt's Liebermann to be restituted

March 20 2015

Image of Gurlitt's Liebermann to be restituted

Picture: Der Spiegel

One of the better known works from the collection of the late Cornelis Gurlitt, Two Riders on a Beach by Max Liebermann, is to be restituted. AP reports:

Germany has signed a restitution agreement for a painting by Max Liebermann in a move toward returning the work, seized under Nazi rule, to its rightful owner.

Liebermann's "Two Riders on the Beach" was part of an art trove found in late collector Cornelius Gurlitt's apartment.

Experts last year determined the painting was seized from businessman David Friedmann and rightfully belongs to his descendants.

Culture Minister Monika Gruetters' office confirmed a report in weekly Der Spiegel Friday that she signed the agreement, the first such accord for a piece from the Gurlitt collection. The agreement reportedly must be cleared by a Munich court handling Gurlitt's inheritance.

A Swiss museum that accepted Gurlitt's bequest of his collection has promised to ensure any Nazi-looted pieces are returned to their Jewish owners' heirs.

The first of many, I hope.

Fakes, fakes everywhere (ctd.)

March 20 2015

Image of Fakes, fakes everywhere (ctd.)

Picture: Der Spiegel

The convicted art forger, Wolfgang Beltracchi, has claimed he 'recently' saw one of his fakes in the Albertina, in Vienna. He refused to say which work it was. And for that reason, I don't believe him. Fakers do a lot of boasting like this. They seek critical attention for their artistic skills. Ultimately, that's why they get caught.

More here

Art that wastes away

March 20 2015

Image of Art that wastes away

Picture: Guardian

Further to the news that Van Gogh's pictures are gradually changing colour, Jonathan Jones in The Guardian looks at five other works that are gradually decaying. Some waste away faster than others, such as Damien Hirst's shark, which has already had to be replaced once.

At the same time, the new Wallace Collection exhibition on Joshua Reynolds looks at that artist's notorious use of dodgy pigments - his pictures sometimes faded dramatically within his lifetime. 

All of which makes me wonder - shouldn't art be classified as a 'wasting asset'? In other words, not subject to capital gains tax, in the same way that vintage wine is not taxed, even though it might go rocketing up in value? Spot the self interest here...

Introducing the 'Gainsborough bouquet'

March 20 2015

Image of Introducing the 'Gainsborough bouquet'

Picture: National Gallery

The National Gallery has a new range - art history themed floral bouquets. Above is the 'Gainsborough Bouquet', which is yours for £30, and is inspired by the National Gallery's Mrs & Mrs Andrews by Gainsborough. Says the NG's website:

Depicting the couple on the English countryside estate, the accentuated colours of the blue in Mrs Andrews dress and the stormy skies contrast with the fresh green of the fields. The colours are replicated in this splendid bouquet with deep blue Agapanthus and pale blue Eryngium against a perfect backdrop of fresh yellow Roses and wispy sprays of Solidaster.

View from the Artist - no.17

March 20 2015

Image of View from the Artist - no.17


Apologies for the lack of posts lately - I have been away on various missions. One was filming for series 4 of 'Fake or Fortune?'. Another was dealing with a (what I thought was) particularly nasty legal letter. But fear not, AHNers, I remain undaunted.

I hope to be back to the blog later today. But in the meantime, here's another 'View from...' Can you guess the location and artist?

No Google image cheating this time!

Update - it is Wollaton Hall by Jan Siberechts (Yale Center for British Art). Well done to those who got it right.

Update II - there are two versions of the painting: one at Yale, above, and also a variant without the large sky, which you can see hanging in the house in the old photo below.

Finaldi confirmed at last

March 18 2015

Gabriele Finaldi has at last been confirmed as the new National Gallery director. I'm out and about today, so can't post pictures or links (posting this from my phone) but there's an extensive press release on the NG's website. 

It has been some months* since I first broke the news of his impending appointment. I am not sure why the confirmation has taken so long. I'd begun to wonder if I'd made a blunder...

Anyway, many congratulations to Dr. Finaldi; I wish him the best of luck in his new post.

Update - Jonathan Jones in The Guardian has some advice for Dr. Finaldi, while Polly Toynbee, in the same paper, re-offers tired old warnings against restructuring the staff. On the same theme, Richard Dorment in The Telegraph has a more upbeat assessment:

One task I don’t envy him is dealing with what many perceive to be a culture of negativity and complaint among curatorial staff in a gallery that is, after all, amply staffed and reasonably well funded – at least by comparison to other national museums. Last month, Gallery staff also went on strike, twice, in a row over the privitisation of visitor services, with a further strike expected next week.

However, I presume that someone who has just been through a trial by fire such as the Spanish economy will be well prepared for what look like very difficult years ahead for our National Museums.

*January, in fact. You read it here first!

Fakes, fakes everywhere (ctd.)

March 17 2015

I saw yesterday, at a provincial auction house, a fake 18th Century drawing, purporting to be of a well-known literary figure. It had been fully catalogued as by the claimed artist (it was 'signed'), but had probably been made within the last few years or so, at the most. It had a cunningly vague label on the back, made using what appeared to be an old type writer. I think the intention was to fool the optimistic into thinking the drawing was an overlooked gem.

Normally I let these things go, but there appeared to be a number of drawings in the same sale that were labelled and framed in the same way, and made with a similarly dubious technique. So I informed the auction house staff, in the hope that anything that had come from the same source would be investigated further.

There are a growing number of fakes out there like this; trivial enough to appear to be innocuous, and not of any interest to the police - but real enough to make someone shifty some serious money. Caveat emptor...

Update - the drawing was withdrawn.

€150m Rembrandt pair

March 17 2015

Image of €150m Rembrandt pair

Picture: via Tribune de l'Art, Portrait de Marten Soolmans

Didier Rykner reports on Tribune de l'Art that a pair of full-length Rembrandts are being sold by a branch of the Rothschild family in France. The French authorities have apparently agreed to their export from France. A resumé of the story is in English on Art Market Monitor.

Update - a reader writes:

M. Rykner is absolutely right to be outraged at the granting of an export permit — not simply artistically, because these are a pair of Rembrandts, but because the French authorities are clearly violating the rule of law: their own law which, as M. Rykner says, must surely require this pair of paintings be designated a “national treasure”.  Then, and only then, the question arises of whether or not the paintings can be afforded by the state; if not, they might be exported.  But for the authorities to argue that these paintings are not a “national treasure”, motivated by financial grounds, is unlawful, untruthful, and apparently an underhanded attempt to obscure their financial cowardice —  or if it is truly financial “prudence”, if this national treasure can’t be afforded, say so, face up, honestly, don’t try to hide behind a false refusal to designate them properly.

Update II - another reader adds:

The French rules on 'national treasures' are very similar to those of the British government on the Waverley criteria, viz. a strictly impartial judgement on whether a work of art fulfils certain criteria of pre-eminence. In both cases, they should be completely irrespective of whether a national institution can afford to buy the work of art in question.  In failing to object to the export of the Rothschild Rembrandts, the Director of the Louvre has signally failed to observe the spirit (and probably the letter) of the legislation, and [is in danger of laying] himself open to charges of incompetence or corruption.

In addition, it is extremely unfortunate that the European Commission has no effective mechanism for protecting European heritage, which might enable it to supersede national governments in this, as in so many other areas of policy.

Frieze Masters - not so good for Old Masters?

March 17 2015

Image of Frieze Masters - not so good for Old Masters?

Picture: Frieze Masters

There's an interesting snippet in Colin Gleadell's Telegraph report from TEFAF in Maastricht:

[...] several Old Master dealers at Tefaf are saying they will not be returning to Frieze Masters this October.

I've heard the same from a number of dealers. But it's worth noting that, relatively, it is still a fair in its infancy. These things need time to establish themselves. I think the concept is good, but there are flaws in the way it is being implemented.

Everybody out! (ctd.)

March 17 2015

Image of Everybody out! (ctd.)

Picture: Museums Association

Yet another strike at the National Gallery, from Tuesday 24th March to Saturday 28th March. The PCS Union really seem to think that they can strike their way to victory on this one. But of course the repeated strikes only serve to persuade National Gallery trustees that they are right to press ahead with their reforms.

The latest strike is also partly in support of Socialist Workers Party member Candy Udwin (above, addressing a recent solidarity for Greece rally held in front of the Gallery), who was suspended by the Gallery a few weeks ago.

Socialist Worker reports:

Bosses suspended PCS union rep Candy Udwin on the eve of the strike in an attempt to undermine the action.

But it’s made workers more determined to fight back. 

Candy addressed a public meeting attended by some 100 supporters including PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka and left wing Labour MP John McDonnell in parliament on Tuesday of last week. [...]

Serwotka said that workers could win, and that gallery bosses’ attacks on Candy were “trumped up charges of the worst order”.

Guardian newspaper columnist Polly Toynbee said, “I think you will win. I have had a bigger response from readers to this than many other issues.”

Support is pouring in for Candy from trade unionists and campaigners—with thousands signing a petition calling for her reinstatement.

Workers at the Ritzy cinema and the Dulwich Picture Gallery were among those at the public rally in parliament, as were artists Bob and Roberta Smith.

Workers are having pictures taken with “Reinstate Candy” posters to demonstrate their support.

Members of the firefighters’ FBU union posed with the signs at their recall conference last week. 

And Candy was warmly received when she spoke at a rally in London last Sunday in solidarity with Greece. [...]

As Candy said, “The nationwide solidarity makes us believe we can win. 

“But it should also give everyone heart to see how much backing there is for anyone who stands up against privatisation, cuts and the austerity policies of this government.”

As many of us suspected all along, I don't think there can be much doubt that the National Gallery has become part of a wider Union campaign against the government.

Julian Opie on the Old Masters

March 15 2015

Image of Julian Opie on the Old Masters

Pictures: NPG, self-portrait by Julian Opie, 'Julian with T-shirt'. Below, Philip Mould Ltd.

There was a fascinating article in the Sunday Times recently by Julian Opie, talking about his love of Old Masters, why he collects them, and how they inform his own art. It's rare to hear contemporary artists talking about their predecessors with such flair and insight.

Here, with his permission, is the full piece, which is well worth reading:

I am not a historian, a critic or a writer. I am a fan, an artist myself and I suppose a collector. I collect a lot of different kinds of art, contemporary, ancient, Japanese and 17th and 18th century European. I get interested in things because they seem to jump out at me. It can be because the thing relates to what I am making or  because it shows me what I could make. The object can be from anywhere and from any time, I recently bought a painting on buffalo hide by mid 19th C Pawnee Native Americans.

Having noticed British painting some years back I moved from the early 17th Century forwards and eventually arrived at Reynolds, Gainsborough, Romney and Ramsay. They were the giants of the late 18th Century each with their own style and particular brilliance. All artists learn from previous art and refer to previous art. I may be high up on that particular scale. 

Walking down Dover street in Mayfair my wife and I spotted a small, dark painting leaning against the wall in my favourite Old Master gallery. Sometimes I see an art work and the day seems to stop. Other things, normal things are forgotten and there is only the fact of looking at the thing. I love the feeling, of being totally focused and engaged and enthusiastic. Other paintings remain paintings but I seem to enter the space of some works. I don't care really when the work was made or by whom. I don't care what or who it is of. Well, I do read about the period and learn all I can finding out about other artists in the process. I want to stare at the artwork and if possible to have it. After some negotiations ( the painting was reserved by someone else) I bought Mr Bradyll [above] and have looked at it almost every day since then. It is particularly vivid as it’s painted thickly and fast on a wooden board and thus has faded less than much of Reynold’s work.

I had always admired Reynolds even as a student when I only knew of him in a general sense as an old master. There is a melancholic and gentle quality to his work. The slightly deathly mood ( enhanced by the tendency of his skin colours to fade to pale) is offset by a vivid, powerful sense of presence. Like many 18th Century works the compositions are elegant and balanced and there is a piercing sincerity and fresh energy and optimism to the paintings. 

These days we usually see good paintings in museums and museums tend to focus on the interesting and the grand. It's hard for them to write about yet another portrait of an aristocrat done in oil paint. There are thousands of them, all the same set size and although I can tell a lot of them apart they look remarkably similar on the surface. In the case of Reynolds this bias is a shame. His best works are the workaday portraits commissioned to be hung in people's homes. There is an energetic modesty and sense of sureness and purpose to these works. Reynolds helped to set up and then directed the first public English gallery where artists could exhibit their work, the Royal Academy. This was part of a whole move away from artist as commissioned portraitist, the end of a golden age and the end of my interest in English painting really. The mythological later works of Reynolds are pompous and stiff and dated but a huge number of his hundreds of commissioned portraits are still glowingly intense and alive. 

Like most British portrait painters Reynolds came from the tradition of Dutch portraiture introduced by Van Dyke, Cornelius Johnson and others in the early 17th Century. Reynolds travelled to Italy to learn from earlier Italian late Renaissance painters like Raphael and Titian. He then applied the techniques and compositions to his busy London studio practice. Daily sessions of portrait sittings undertaken to order. Paintings then often sent by cart to drapery painters such as the brilliant Van Aken who did all the top artist’s drapery. For a set price and at a set size you could have a head or a three quarter length or a fabulous full length portrait. You could get more than one copy. It was a service and artists knew what their job was. 

Reynolds experimented and borrowed and imitated. He played with props and poses and above all lighting and painting technique. Dappled light and shadows falling across complicated drapery gave glamour and depth and life. He often used gracious garden settings or exciting wild skies as backdrops as did his contemporaries, to add a sense of depth, place, narrative and an almost cinematic realism. Towards the end of his career these became somewhat overblown or sentimental with young girls hugging smiling sheep and young men dashing through arcadian woods with bows and arrows - by this stage I have lost interest.

A lot of emphasis is often put on the fame or glamour of the sitter and although there can be amusing stories to be told and although the whole complex system of portraiture, wealth, propaganda, society and patronage is important it’s not really what interests me.I do like to know about the role of art and artists and understand the changing way in which artists can work and exhibit but in the end I love to gaze at paintings and see what they do to my eyes and mind. Art can open up the past and bring you directly into the minds and views of other periods almost like time travel. 

The amazing sense of presence in the best of the artists of this time was a pinnacle of a shared purpose and set of techniques. Now we have no idea what we are supposed to be doing as artists, which is a freedom and of course confusing. Reynolds holds all this richness at the end of the golden Age of Enlightenment in late 18th Century London just before most British art fell into the sentimentality, corruption and slick academic tedium of the 19th C.

Disclaimer: I sold Julian the Reynolds he refers to, when I used to work for Philip Mould. And I'm lucky enough to own something of Julian's too, a French landscape. It is one of my favourite pictures.

Update - I meant to say that, as Julian hints above, the reason the Reynolds portrait works so well is because it is in really excellent condition. Just imagine how different our perception of Reynolds would be if all his pictures had survived in such good state.

'hopelessly excessive'

March 15 2015

Image of 'hopelessly excessive'

Picture: Guardian

I got a lot of grief from some in the contemporary art world when I expressed amazement at the prices currently achieved (in the Financial Times) by some artists. So it's interesting to hear similar thoughts from none other than Gerhard Richter, who calls todays prices 'hopelessly excessive'. The Guardian reports:

Gerhard Richter, the world-famous German painter, has expressed his incredulity at the astronomical sums paid for his works, calling the art market “hopelessly excessive” and saying that prices are rarely a reflection on quality.

Richter, 83, told the German daily Die Zeit he had watched the outcome of a recent auction at Sotheby’s in London with horror after an anonymous buyer paid £30.4m (€41m, $46.5m) for his 1986 oil-on-canvas, Abstraktes Bild.

We artists get next to nothing from such an auction. Except for a small morsel, all the profit goes to the seller

“The records keep being broken and every time my initial reaction is one of horror even if it’s actually welcome news. But there is something really shocking about the amount,” Richter said.

He said he believed people who paid so much money for his paintings were foolish and foresaw that prices for his art would crash “when the art market corrects itself”, as he was convinced it would.

Seen as the leader of the New European Painting movement which emerged in the second half of the 20th century, Richter made a name for himself with “photo-paintings” that replicate photographs and are then “blurred” with a squeegee or a brush.

The price paid for Abstraktes Bild amounted to a staggering 5,000-fold increase on the price he had originally sold it for, he said.

He told the weekly newspaper that he understood as much about the art market as he did “about Chinese or physics”, and said contrary to a common perception he hardly benefited at all from such sales.

“We artists get next to nothing from such an auction. Except for a small morsel, all the profit goes to the seller,” he said.

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