Looted Kandinsky to be auction

November 2 2012

Image of Looted Kandinsky to be auction

Picture: Bloomberg

Over on Bloomberg, Catherine Hickley reports that a Kandinsky worth up to $2.4m which was looted by the Nazis is to be sold at Christie's on 7th Nov, after a settlement was agreed with the heirs of German art historian Sophie Lissitzky- Kueppers.

The painting had previously been offered for sale in Cologne at the auction house Lempertz, who disputed the heirs' claim (and who under the Nazis held a number of so-called 'Judenauktions'), but it failed to sell.

More details here

Fitzwilliam acquires Poussin Sacrament

November 1 2012

Image of Fitzwilliam acquires Poussin Sacrament

Picture: Fitzwilliam Museum

Amazing - the Fitzwilliam Museum has succeeded in buying Poussin's Extreme Unction, one of the Rutland Sacrament series. The total price with tax deductions (through the laudable Acceptance in Lieu scheme) was £3.9m. The Art Fund helped provide £242,000, supporters of the Fitzwilliam another nearly £1m, and the Heritage Lottery Fund £3m. Well done to everyone involved.

This means that the good news from the Heritage Lottery Fund just keeps on coming. Having in the past been very suspicious of helping museums acquire paintings (much to AHN's repeated frustration), they are now proving to be generosity itself. The HLF's recent policy change in this regard is probably the single most important development for the UK's artistic heritage in the last few years. The Fund has lately helped acquire the Manet for the Ashmolean, and a Reynolds full-length for Birmingham, with really substantial grants. It compares favourably with the Fund's previous stinginess and reluctant support for buying paintings (such as the National Gallery's Titians for example), or indeed any objects.

Of course, it may be churlish to mention it now, but imagine what we might have saved if the HLF had always been this supportive of art acquisitions (like another of the Poussin Sacraments, which is now in Texas).

Update - a reader writes:

Further to your recent observation regarding the HLF's apparent change in policy, (below), perhaps the true test of this will come if there is a willingness on the part of the HLF to substantially fund the acquisition of Picasso's Child with a Dove. Given how poorly Picasso is represented in UK public collections it is certainly a very important work to try and keep- and, like the Manet and Poussin, it would come with a- albeit smaller- tax exemption.

We shall see.

The HLF's recent policy change in this regard is probably the single most important development for the UK's artistic heritage in the last few years.

The Fund has lately helped acquire theManet for the Ashmolean, and a Reynolds full-length for Birmingham, with really substantial grants. It compares favourably with the Fund's previous stinginess and reluctant support for buying paintings (such as the National Gallery's Titians for example), or indeed any objects.

Art conservation, Italian style (ctd.)

November 1 2012

Image of Art conservation, Italian style (ctd.)

Picture: 3PP/Google Art Project

In an interesting post over on Three Pipe Problem, Hasan Niyazi describes why he is so keen on Raphael, and reveals that the first time he saw he Raphael's Self-Portrait in the Uffizi, it was displayed in a rather sad setting (above):

At this point in time, the portrait was in a scuffed corner of a room featuring works by Raphael and Andrea del Sarto. I recall it was near a window, which on the day was partially ajar to allow in some air, showing a glimpse of the Arno river.

Beneath the picture is a portable humidifier.

View from the artist no.12

November 1 2012

Image of View from the artist no.12


We haven't had one of these for a while - can you guess where the view is, who painted it, and when? 

Elizabeth I goes to Moscow

November 1 2012

Image of Elizabeth I goes to Moscow

Picture: Kremlin Museum

The earliest full-length portrait of Elizabeth I is the star attraction at a new exhibition on the English Tudor and Stuart court at Moscow's Kremlin museum. The picture is a favourite of mine - when Philip Mould bought it in 2007, I spent a long time researching it with Dr David Starkey. Amazingly, it had never been published before, so there was plenty of work to do. Philip wrote a chapter on the process in his book, Sleuth.

The exhibition is being put on jointly by the V&A, and the portrait will be displayed at the V&A next year from 9th March. In the meantime, you can find more details on on our research here.

Galleries flooded in New York

November 1 2012

Bloomberg reports that a number of art galleries in New York's Chelsea district have been hit by the recent flooding. Sotheby's in New York have also postponed some sales

The Raphael app

October 31 2012

Image of The Raphael app

Picture: Louvre

Talking of Raphael, I haven't noted that the 'Late Raphael' exhibition which was recently on at the Prado has now opened at the Louvre. It's there until January 14th. To whet your appetite, there's even a Raphael app.

How do you sell a £10m Raphael drawing?

October 31 2012

Video: Sotheby's

If you're Sotheby's, with a touch of Hollywood, and lashings of hyperbole. In this cleverly shot 'trailer', Sotheby's have gone all moody, with string music and tilt shift focussing to give a tempting glimpse of the Raphael Head of an Apostle on offer in their December Old Master sale (with an estimate of £10m-£15m). They have also drafted in their 'voice' of art, Tobias Meyer, which suggests, given that he is usually to be found selling modern and contemporary art, that Sotheby's are hoping to look beyond the circle of Old Master buyers for the drawing.

I'm all for presenting Old Masters in a trendy new light. But check out the guff here - Meyer says, presumably without blushing:

This drawing is the complete pivotal centrepoint of art history. It opens up everything toward the future.

Now it's a fine drawing, and will no doubt exceed its estimate. But if an art history undergraduate said that a drawing (or more specifically, an 'auxilary cartoon') for an unnamed apostle by Raphael was 'the complete pivotal centrepoint of art history', that is, a work so important that every other work of art before or since revolved around it, their tutor would not only choke on his or her biscuit, but stab the paper violently with a red pen.

Must try harder...

Not seduced by art

October 31 2012

Image of Not seduced by art

Picture: BG

On Monday, I was lucky enough to have two invitations on my desk for private views. One for the National Gallery's new exhibition 'Seduced by Art' - which pairs photography with painting in a 'dialogue' - and another for the Royal Collection's new show The Northern Renaissance - Durer to Holbein. Which one to go to? 

It was of course a no brainer. As I wrote last week, I find the new 'contemporary resonance' route being taken by the National Gallery all a bit off beam. I'll write more on the excellent Northern Renaissance later. But I'm interested to see in The Guardian today that Jonathan Jones finds that Seduced by Art makes little sense:

It is all very interesting, but it feels like a conversation between people speaking different languages. Photography and painting are profoundly different. One is made by hand, the other by a machine. Painting is an transfiguration of reality by the painter's imagination, a photograph is a deposit of light on to paper or digital memory.

Incidentally, if you are ever similarly spoilt for choice for private views, always go to the Royal Collection. They let you take drinks into the exhibition, so that even for die-hard anti-socials like me the combination of fine wine, art and good company is all most convivial. And they even allow you to take photos. I snapped the above Noli me Tangere by Holbein; don't you think it should be re-named Karate Jesus?

Bond on art

October 31 2012

Image of Bond on art

Pictures: Eon productions

I haven't seen the new Bond film Skyfall yet,* but apparently it features a nice scene in the National Gallery. Daniel Craig, above, can be seen admiring works by Gainsborough and Wright of Derby. (In Derby, this has caused great excitement.) I'm secretly hoping that, in return for allowing the filming, National Gallery director Nick Penny managed to blag a role as an extra. Has anyone spotted him?

Bond clearly likes good old fashioned painting. In Dr. No, a scene in Bond's London apartment (below) reveals him to own a Kneller or Jervas-like portrait. And in the same film, Bond spots that Dr. No has stolen Goya's Portrait of the Duke of Wellington. Clearly, Bond reads AHN.

* and please let it be better than the woeful song by Adele.

Van Dyck watch

October 30 2012

Image of Van Dyck watch

Picture: BG

Spotted in the new Burlington Magazine, coming up at Christie's in London this December, a fine Italian period work, probably unfinished. The estimate is £700,000-£1,000,000. I bet it makes more...

Guffwatch - Koons special

October 30 2012

Video: Christie's

I always love the contrast in these videos between artists speaking guff, and the Christie's suits trying desperately to explain why the guff is worth millions of dollars. In this case, the 'piece' is so special it's catalogued as 'estimate on request'. And if you need to request, you can't afford it.

For more guff, check out the lot notes for Tulips (which, inevitably contains the word 'iconic' not once but twice). Here's a good couple of lines:

It is an enchanting sculpture that casts the illusion of joyous weightlessness but is paradoxically heavy, employing over three tons of meticulously sculpted stainless steel. This is a multivalent sculpture, operating on a number of different levels from the simple and directly arresting visual beauty of the object and its awe-inspiring scale, to the ground-breaking complexity of its fabrication and to the deep conceptual themes which lie beneath its apparently flawless surface.

Update - Dr Ben Harvey tweets:

The tulip, symbol of deluded markets and vastly overinflated prices?

Ah, but it's multivalent you see - so it could be a symbol of anything.

Update II - In The Star Ledger, Dan Bischoff tells us that Tulips is (are?) being sold by Norddeutsche Landesbank, and is slated to fetch up to $20m. It was bought for $2.2m in 2002:

“Tulips” has been on display in the bank’s courtyard in the German city of Hanover since it was bought for $2.2 million in 2002. The bank hopes to raise $20 million in the sale, which gives some idea of the incredible price spike we’ve seen over the past 10 years for contemporary art.

Banks, Koons, profit, guff - Tulips presents a good narrative of all that's crazy in the art world.

Got a dirty picture?

October 30 2012

Video: Museo Thyssen

If you have a picture at your museum which needs conservation, then consider applying to the Bank of America Merrill Lynch's Art Conservation Project. The closing date for this year's grants is 30th November. Above is a video from the Museo Thyssen, which has been funded by the bank to clean Tintoretto's Paradise.

The headless Duke

October 30 2012

Image of The headless Duke

Picture: Bonhams

Just in time for Halloween, Bonhams are offering this decapitated bust of the Duke of Wellington. Bit of superglue, and he'll be right as rain. 

The honey bee as connoisseur

October 29 2012

Image of The honey bee as connoisseur

Picture: Ahomina.com

'Buzzzz. It's a Picasso'. I'm grateful to Bullet Shih of Ahomina.com for alerting me to a bizarre but seemingly true scientific research paper on the art historical skills of honeybees. Despite what you might think, this doesn't seem to be a hoax. Bullet writes:

While artist elephants and orangutans have made headlines over the past century, it is now honey bees who are making headlines for having the critical eyes to differentiate between works done by Picasso and those done by Monet.  In a study done by researcher Dr. Judith Reinhard at the The Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) at The University of Queensland Australia (UQ) she found that,

"honeybees had a highly developed capacity for processing complex visual information, and could distinguish landscape scenes, types of flowers, and even human faces…[the study] found honeybees had remarkable visual learning and discrimination abilities that extended beyond simple colours, shapes or patterns."

If you don't believe any of this, read the report itself, which is titled, 'Honeybees can discriminate between Monet and Picasso paintings'. And there's more from the University of Queensland here.

Meanwhile in China...

October 29 2012

Image of Meanwhile in China...

Picture: BBC

The BBC reports that in China's famous painting village of Dafen, where Mona Lisas hang from every wall, artists are changing their output to reflect the growing demand in China for Chinese pictures. As a purveyor of Western art I can't help but be sad that the Chinese don't all want to buy Old Masters, but there it is. Some do, though - in Christie's last London Old Master sale, a Chinese client bought a Rembrandt. 


October 29 2012

Image of Boo

Picture: SHAFE

The Guardian has entered into the Halloween spirit with a top ten list of scary paintings. My own favourite, if you can call it that, is in at no.10 - Severed Heads by Gericault. 

Mr & Mrs Beckham

October 26 2012

Image of Mr & Mrs Beckham


A reader sends in this photo from street artist 'Mr Brainwash's' exhibition in Oxford St, London. I suppose we must glad that a street artist even knows who Gainsborough is.

How to network if you're an art historian

October 25 2012

Image of How to network if you're an art historian

Picture: CAA

Ahead of its annual conference, the CAA (the main American umbrella body for art historians) has published some networking tips on their website. They include:

Look at your neighbor’s conference badge. The badges serve as an immediate form of identification for a person and can be a good way to gauge whether you want to introduce yourself and start a conversation. Don’t feel the least bit embarrassed to check out a badge before saying hello.

Plan your thirty-second elevator introduction. You’ll be meeting lots of new people during the four days of the conference. Be able to summarize who you are and what you do professionally in half a minute.

Bring plenty of business cards. If your institution doesn’t provide them for you, make your own using any word-processing software and perforated paper. Or use one of the many websites that offer design and printing. Check out Moo.com and create your cards in a jiffy.

Be bold! Get to know people over coffee, lunch, and dinner. Don’t be too shy to ask “where are you going for lunch?” if you’re in a conversation and it’s about that time of day. Also, identify people during the day who are interesting and offer to make plans for later, whether that’s meeting for dinner or exploring the city. Have a few specific ideas in mind (restaurants, gallery openings, music or theater performances). Remember, the rules are different at large conferences where many people are strangers.

I can't think of anything to say that doesn't make me sound like a pompous Brit. Except, I love the first one, which presumably means it's also ok to look closely at someone's badge, and then decide not to have a conversation with them.

Update - or as a reader writes:

"Don’t feel the least bit embarrassed to check out a badge before moving onto someone important".

And another reader adds:

Why don't they just put the '30 second elevator introduction' onto the badge. Would save time. 

Appreciating Wright of Derby, ctd.

October 25 2012

Image of Appreciating Wright of Derby, ctd.

Picture: Derby Museum

I recently wrote about the apparent lack of appreciation for Joseph Wright of Derby's paintings in Derby, where the local paper foolishly asked if the town should sell its collection of Wrights. Now, a reader alerts me to a PhD grant available for research into how Derby embraced Wright's work in the 19th Century:

The aim of the research project is to examine the meanings and reputation of Wright's art in the century following his death in his home town of Derby, in relation to wider currents of culture and society, including programmes of civic improvement.  The project will primarily involve study of the collection, curation and exhibition of Wright's work, and the development of new cultural institutions, notably Derby Museum and Art Gallery which now has the world's largest and finest collection of Wright's paintings and drawings.

Probably, the conclusion will be that Wright was more appreciated in the 19th Century. Sigh. If you want to apply, more details here.

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