A row in Russia

May 16 2013

Image of A row in Russia

Picture: Portrait of Ivan Morozov, a major collector of avant-garde French art, by Valentin Serov 

The Voice of Russia reports on an attempt to break up the Hermitage collection in St Petersburg:

Two of Russia's greatest art galleries are at loggerheads after the 91-year-old director of Moscow's Pushkin Museum asked President Vladimir Putin during his live phone-in to recreate the Western art museum in Moscow. The Hermitage would lose some of its finest treasures to Moscow if it happened.

President Putin on Tuesday asked the government to draw up by June 15 a report on the viability of the request. The State Museum of New Western Art in Moscow housed the Impressionist and early modern art collected by renowned Russian art collectors Sergei Shchukin and Ivan Morozov [above] in the late Tsarist era. It was closed on Stalin's orders in 1948 in a drive to play up the importance of Soviet art.

Its collection was divided between the Pushkin Art Museum in Moscow and the world-famous Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, where the pictures can be seen to this day. The redoubtable director of the Pushkin Museum, Irina Antonova, 91, last week personally asked President Vladimir Putin during his annual phone-in with Russians to consider re-opening the museum in Moscow with its original collection.

However the idea did not in the least impress the Hermitage Museum, which under the plan could see some of its most prized Matisse, Degas and Picasso pictures transferred back to Moscow. "This new attempt to break up the Hermitage is a crime against the stability of the whole museum landscape in Russia, whose unity and riches have been preserved with such difficulty," said Hermitage director Mikhail Piotrovsky, quoted by the government Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily.

Antonova however launched a stout defence of her position saying the recreation of the museum was a question of "historical fairness". "The state destroyed this museum. The state has the chance to revive it. This is my opinion," she said.

A new Van Dyck discovery at the Royal Collection

May 15 2013

Image of A new Van Dyck discovery at the Royal Collection

Pictures: Royal Collection, top, and below, Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris

An exciting amendment to the Royal Collection's online catalogue - the above picture used to be called a copy of a Van Dyck, but has now been upgraded to Van Dyck in full. The text states:

This was until recently believed to be a contemporary copy after a lost Van Dyck portrait. It has however been convincingly suggested that this is the Van Dyck original: the handling certainly has the freshness and vigour of an original rather than a copy and the quality is sufficient to suggest Van Dyck's hand.

The sitter cannot be identified but the portrait belongs to the artist's second Flemish period (c.1630), when he painted a number of sitters in this particular format. Additions appear to have been made to the top and bottom of the canvas and it is possible that the fictive stone window was added alter.

I'm pleased to say that the 'convincing suggestions' came from, er, me. The picture, which is probably first recorded in the Royal Collection in 1747, had been listed as a copy in the 2004 Van Dyck catalogue raisonne (entry no. III.A31), with the late Sir Oliver Millar regarding it as 'probably a contemporary copy of a portrait painted c.1630'. However, I always thought it had a chance of being right from the illustrations available, and so asked the Royal Collection about two years ago if I could see it. They kindly showed it to Philip Mould and I in their store room at Hampton Court, where, under bright lights it was apparent that the face was of very high quality, and that the dress had in fact been finished off by a later hand. A different collar can be seen underneath part of the present one. Philip and I had no doubts at all that the head was by Van Dyck, with the described oval and parts of the costume being later additions. This seems to have been the common fate of a series of head studies Van Dyck painted in Antwerp in the early 1630s, some of which are thought to have been studies for his large group portrait The Magistrates of Brussels. Sadly, the original picture was destroyed in 1695 when the French army bombarded Brussels, but the composition is known in a grisaille sketch by Van Dyck now in the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

It is conceivable that the Royal Collection's newly accepted study relates to the figure on the far left of the grisaille. A similar (and fully accepted) head study, probably also with a later oval, is in the Fitzwilliam Museum. Possibly, the picture in the Muzeum Naradowe in Poznan which was also rejected as a copy of a lost original in the 2004 Van Dyck catalogue, is also an original Van Dyck head with later additions.  

Tudor and Stuart fashion at the Royal Collection

May 15 2013

Image of Tudor and Stuart fashion at the Royal Collection

Pictures: BG

The Royal Collection has put on yet another excellent exhibition at the Queen's Gallery in London. Hot on the heels of the superb 'Northern Renaissance', the new show 'In Fine Style - The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion' looks at the sumptuous costumes worn at court in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Says the Royal Collection website:

This exhibition explores the sumptuous costume of British monarchs and their court during the 16th and 17th centuries through portraits in the Royal Collection. During this period fashion was central to court life and was an important way to display social status. Royalty and the elite were the tastemakers of the day, often directly influencing the styles of fashionable clothing.

In Fine Style follows the changing fashions of the period, demonstrates the spread of styles internationally and shows how clothing could convey important messages. Including works by Hans Holbein the Younger, Nicholas Hilliard, Van Dyck and Peter Lely, the exhibition brings together over 60 paintings, as well as drawings, garments, jewellery, accessories and armour.

There are many fine pictures on display, including Van Dyck's Portrait of Charles I in Three Positions. This is hung next to both Charles' Garter sash, and what is thought to be one of his lace collars (though personally I suspect it is too large to have been worn by so small a man). The pictures have been hung quite low, which makes them wonderfully accesible, and you can really peer into all the details of the costume. And don't forget that thanks to the Royal Collection's enlightened policy on photography (National Gallery please take note) you can snap away to your heart's content. Regular readers won't be surprised to hear that I took the opportunity to stock up on Van Dyck details. Note the smoother modelling of the flesh that Van Dyck appears to have used for his portraits of Charles I and Henrietta Maria - was this highly finished technique the result of a special command from the King and Queen? 

In amongst the pictures are illustrated storyboards which tell you all you need to know about the clothes of the period, and in that respect the show is notable for what is not in it: I suspect (without naming any names) that other institutions faced with mounting an exhibition on Tudor and Stuart fashion would have gone down the route of talking mannequins, clever lighting, and fancy dress boxes for da kids. 

As ever with the Royal Collection there's also a faultless and lavishly illustrated catalogue, written by the exhibition's curator Anna Reynolds.

Update - Richard Dorment in the Telegraph calls the show 'superlative'. 

Update II - a reader writes:

I keep thinking you could have been the sitter for Van Dyck's Portrait of Charles I in Three Positions

Do money launderers target the art world?

May 15 2013

Image of Do money launderers target the art world?

Picture: fineartamerica.com

Yes, according to an article by Charlotte Burns in The Art Newspaper:

Art lends itself to money laundering because the market’s lack of transparency means art can become what De Sanctis calls an “invisible asset”. Values can be manipulated, and complex ownership schemes, with an emphasis on secrecy, are commonplace. “Art has the advantage of being portable and easy to store anonymously, and it can be bought and sold relatively anonymously in different parts of the world. Therefore, the art market has been, and continues to be, a target for money launderers,” says Pierre Valentin, a partner at the law firm Constantine Cannon.

I can't think of any occasion when I've suspected a potential buyer to be a money launderer, however. That said, there's a major impediment to using Old Masters for money laundering - export regulations. In the UK, for example, any painting over 50 years old which is worth more than £130,000 needs an export licence before it can leave the country (a painting worth less is of no use to criminals really). For portraits of historical figures the threshold is even lower - just £10,000. Old art, therefore, comes with a guaranteed, government-regulated paper trail. So according the criteria set out above, only modern and contemporary art is of any use to the money launderer.


May 14 2013

...for the lack of action lately. It's been non-stop filming for 'Fake or Fortune?', so I've not had any time to blog. 

Exclusive - Leonardo's 'Salvator Mundi' sold

May 13 2013

Image of Exclusive - Leonardo's 'Salvator Mundi' sold

Picture: Robert Simon Fine Art/Tim Nighswander

I can't tell you for how much or to whom, but a deal has been done, and the greatest discovery of the age is 'no longer on the market'.

Hanging Houghton revisited

May 13 2013

Video: BBC



May 13 2013

Image of Today...

Picture: BG

...we're filming for series three of 'Fake or Fortune?', so there may not be many posts I'm afraid. Apparently the camera above was used in Skyfall. How cool is that?

Update - a reader writes:

I was watching a Lovejoy episode at the weekend, pretty certain it was the one where a pig farmer's wife unwittingly buys a stolen Venetian bronze owned by the Queen (Pig in a Poke) - anyway, Tinker is looking through a copy of the ATG and you can clearly see a quarter page advertisement for Philip Mould Historical Portraits! I think that's infinitely cooler than the camera from Skyfall....

New labels at Tate Britain

May 11 2013

Image of New labels at Tate Britain

Picture: BG

My recent April Fool on the new re-hang at Tate Britain caught a few of you out, especially the part about the picture labels. It seems, however, that I might not have been so wide of the mark. Here's an interview in The Guardian with Chris Stephens, head of displays at Tate Britain, ahead of the opening (on 14th May) of their much vaunted  chronological hang:

"There was once an expectation that every work should have a piece of text," says Stephens. "People would say they won't know what to make of a work unless they were told A, B and C. But what if the label tells you X, Y and Z?" The new hang has taken "a middle course" and a number of short texts will start from a work, but are designed to open up wider historical and political issues. [...]

While the new Tate chronology runs strictly from the 1500s to today, the layout of the museum will allow visitors to dip into areas as they please. "It's all part of this lighter touch that lets people choose more what they look at and how they think about it," says Stephens. "Art seems to be the one domain where we still hang on to academic and historical constructs as a necessary way of it being appreciated." He says that people are not required to know the history of literature and movements before taking a book out of the library, or require knowledge of kitchen sink realism before going to the cinema. "We still have all the historical information available, in many formats, if people want it. But whether it is useful or not, you don't need to know it to appreciate the pictures. Your response is as valid as our knowledge, and this re-hang presents a sort of release for the artist and their work from this encumbrance of academic protocols. Interestingly, some of the people I've encountered who have found it hardest to get their heads round are other curators and historians. But I think the public are going to be fine."

If you think about it, the sentence 'Your response is as valid as our knowledge' is a chilling concept for what is meant to be, at its heart, an educational institution.

David Packwood over at Art History Today is not happy about the re-hang being called 'The BP Walk Through British Art' (and neither am I)

Georgian room unveiled at Boston

May 10 2013

Image of Georgian room unveiled at Boston

Picture: Museum Fine Arts, Boston/Art Newspaper

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (one of my favourite museums) has re-opened its prized mid-eighteenth century drawing room from Newland House. In pride of place in the picture above is a newly discovered portrait by Allan Ramsay, acquired from us here at Philip Mould & Co last year. More details in The Art Newspaper, and you can see a video of the room here

Update - a reader writes:

You may like to now that Newland House itself was burnt to a shell early last year and is about to be demolished.....

all very sad tho with luck nothing of aesthetic value in the remaining interiors.....

Getty buys Rembrandt discovery

May 10 2013

Video: Toledo Museum

Congratulations to the Getty, which has bought a newly discovered Rembrandt self-portrait. The small oil on copper picture, painted in about 1628, surfaced at a minor auction in Gloucestershire in 2007 as 'Follower of Rembrandt', where it made over £2m, selling to the London dealers Hazlitt, Gooden and Fox. The picture was then authenticated by Rembrandt scholar Ernest van de Wetering, who can be seen in the above video with the picture. It must be one of the biggest 'sleepers' of all time, so well done to all involved - that was some punt. The Getty has also announced the acquisition of a Venetian scene by Canaletto - more details in the LA Times here

Rich 'put money on their walls' (ctd.)

May 9 2013

Image of Rich 'put money on their walls' (ctd.)

Picture: Christie's

Christie's New York Impressionist and Modern sale made $158m last night, a lacklustre figure compared with Sotheby's $230m the previous day. The $158m total was reported as 'surpassing' the lower estimate of $131m, but of course the final figure includes buyer's premium, while the pre-sale estimates do not. The top lot was Chaim Soutine's Le Petit Patissier, which made a record $18m. More here at Bloomberg.

Rich 'put money on their walls'

May 8 2013

Image of Rich 'put money on their walls'

Picture: New York Times

Or so Carol Vogel says in her review of Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern sale held last night in New York. It made $230m including premium. Apparently some celebs were in attendance:

The first of the big spring auctions began Tuesday night at Sotheby’s, where paintings and sculptures by Cézanne, Braque and Léger topped expectations as bidders from 35 countries put money on their walls rather than in the shakier financial markets. The crowd — including the rapper L L Cool J and the New York businessman Donald L. Bryant Jr. — watched as bidders competed for Impressionist and modern artworks.

New Walpole Society volume

May 8 2013

Image of New Walpole Society volume

Picture: Tate

The latest edition of the Walpole Society has landed on my desk, and is devoted to the account books, diary and patronage of James Ward RA (1769-1859), who was primarily an animal painter. Congratulations to Edward Nygren for the publication. 

Renaissance conference bonanza

May 8 2013

Image of Renaissance conference bonanza

Picture: Palazzo Vecchio

There was recently a conference held at the University of Melbourne in February 2013 on The Power of Luxury - Art and Culture at the Italian Courts in Machiavelli’s Lifetime. If you missed it, fret not, for Three Pipe Problem has videos and text of the whole lot here.

China to the rescue?

May 7 2013

Image of China to the rescue?

Picture: BBC News

A reader alerts to a potentially significant exhibition doing the rounds in China at the moment. From BBC News:

JMW Turner's sublime Calais Sands, has been dispatched, along with around 80 other artworks from Bury and 18 other north-west galleries, on a money-spinning six-city tour of China.

The venture was put together by Bury Art Museum manager Tony Trehy, who saw that art collected by industrial barons across the North West of England could be a big draw overseas.

He corralled other galleries to put their "greatest hits" together and head east. "Put it this way," Mr Trehy says. "It's sufficiently lucrative that people have stopped talking about cutting us."

The exhibition is titled Toward Modernity: Three Centuries of British Art. As well as the Turner, it includes works by Constable, Lowry, Henry Moore and Lucian Freud, culled from collections in Chester, Carlisle, Salford and Stalybridge.

Chinese galleries pay to host the exhibition, which Mr Trehy is now hoping to take to other countries, and which could provide the template for further themed exhibitions. "Assuming we can do it on a regular basis, it becomes a significant new source of funding for museums," he says.

I think Tony Trehy deserves a medal for this. We must all - including the trade - follow up on his work, and do all we can to make sure Chinese art lovers like British Art.

Van Dyck in Canada

May 7 2013

Image of Van Dyck in Canada

Picture: National Gallery of Canada

A new exhibition on the working practices of Rubens, Van Dyck and Jordaens looks to be worth visiting, if you're in Canada - the National Gallery of Canada is looking in depth into a number of the works it owns, including Van Dyck's Suffer Little Children Come unto Me. Displayed alongside this work will be no less than two studies for the children (the boy with clasped hands and the child bottom right), which were discovered by Philip Mould in sale rooms some years ago. 

Doing my bit for the UK economy

May 7 2013

Image of Doing my bit for the UK economy

Picture: Houghton Revisited

A reader writes:

Thanks to you and your blog, I am going to Houghton Revisited - I have bought my tickets!! Very exciting. 

I am coming to England to do a Tudor history tour in July, so of course, after reading your blog, had to fit in Houghton Revisited. 

Fabulous too that there is also a Vermeer exhibition (my favourite) at the National Gallery and The Art of Tudor and Stuart fashion exhibition at the Queen's Gallery. There is so much on I couldn't resist.

(That will be two trips in less than a year and I have spent a small fortune - so I must say I feel I have done my bit in boosting your economy).

But no, Maria Miller, you can't use this in your submission to the Treasury.

Monet in Melbourne

May 7 2013

Image of Monet in Melbourne

Picture: National Gallery of Victoria

A new show to open on 10th May:

Monet’s Garden is a stunning exhibition devoted to Claude Monet’s iconic garden at Giverny. Renowned as the ‘father of French Impressionism’, Monet was inspired by his direct experiences of nature, culminating in the ravishing depictions of his lily and flower gardens in the rural property at Giverny, northern France, that became his lifelong obsession. Step into the extraordinary this winter for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see these masterpieces in Australia, exclusive to Melbourne.

Tories lose plot on the arts

May 3 2013

Image of Tories lose plot on the arts

Picture: Evening Standard

Why should governments fund the arts? Here in the UK, the newish Secretary of State for Culture, Maria Miller, recently gave a speech trying to answer that question, and made a fool of herself in the process. She also overturned a decade of enlightened Conservative thinking on the arts, and helped resuscitate the view that Tories are Philistines. 

The background to Miller's speech is the forthcoming spending review, during which government departments will lobby the Treasury on why they should avoid deep cuts. Miller's solution to protect arts funding was to radically change government thinking on why government should value arts spending. Her conclusion was that henceforth the government's 'focus must be on culture’s economic impact', and that using the arts as a tool to creat economic growth was the new 'fundamental premise' that the UK's cultural sector must embrace:

[...] we must be clear about the grounds on which this argument must be had and the points that will get traction, not in the press, but with my colleagues – and with the country at large. It is with this at the fore of my mind that I come to you today and ask you to help me reframe the argument: to hammer home the value of culture to our economy.

I know this will not be to everyone’s taste – many in the arts simply want money and silence from Government – but in an age of austerity, when times are tough and money is tight, our focus must be on culture’s economic impact. To maintain the argument for continued public funding, we must make our case as a twoway street. We must demonstrate the healthy dividends that our investment continues to pay.

That’s the argument that I, as Culture Secretary, intend to make in my approach to this spending round – and I need all your help in that endeavour. In going through this period of transition, the Government wants participants – not bystanders – and I need you all toaccept this fundamental premise, and work with me to develop the argument.Unique challenges can also bring unique opportunities, a time for fresh thinking, and fresh approaches. Doing things differently does not have to mean doing things badly. So, over the coming weeks and months, I will argue that our cultural sector can bring opportunities, regeneration, jobs and growth.

Let us consider the idiocy of Miller's view that the arts must now act as a lever for economic growth by placing ourselves in the position of, say, Nicholas Penny, director of the National Gallery. Imagine you were planning the year ahead, and you had Maria Miller's new economic dictum ringing in your ears. Would you, for example:

  • continue to stage fascinating scholarly exhibitions like the current Barocci show at the National Gallery, or would you instead target box office takings (and tourists) with repeated 'blockbuster' exhibitions? 
  • would you approve the conservation of a fragile painting by a relatively unknown artist, or prioritise the display of works by big name artists?
  • would you invest in curatorial expertise and research, leading to a wider public education programme, or would you chose to build a new cafe?

It's not hard to see how establishing the wrong priority for arts funding can lead to the loss of those hard-to-value aspects of the arts that are so crucial: scholarship, preservation and above all education. Valuing the arts exclusively for their economic impact introduces inappropriate incentives into the decision making process, and will inevitably lead to a deterioration in the UK's cultural landscape.

The last Labour government made a similar mistake when it decided to value the arts for their social benefits, for their ability to make people healthier and happier, and even to cut crime. But it never worked. Taking Raphael's Madonna of the Pinks all the way to Manchester to bond with single mothers was just a waste of money (this really happened). In those days I was helping to write Conservative arts and heritage policy, and was able to make it party policy that we supported the arts because of their own intrinsic merits - art for art's sake.

As a former Conservative cheerleader for the arts, therefore, I'm profoundly disappointed in Maria Miller's ill-advised, short-termist and plain stupid speech. She should have been brave enough to continue to make the case for supporting the arts for their own sake, for valuing creativity, excellence and education. It so happens that these things do in fact have positive economic benefits - but that should never be the prime reason we support them. The arts can never be a 'commodity'.

More responses to Miller's speech can be found here from Michael Savage, here from Tom Sutcliffe, here from Alex Massie, and here from Professor Mary Beard. Nobody seems to have liked the speech, in which case Miller's cunning plan to protect the arts from funding cuts is going to fail spectacularly - no museum director or playwright worth their salt is going to ride into battle with her. The Treasury will say to the DCMS - 'you asked for your sector to make the economic case for arts funding, but they haven't. The reason you gave for continued funding must therefore be wrong. So we're going to cut it.' I'm particularly baffled by Culture Minister Ed Vaizey's role in all this - he's always been so sound on these questions before. Certainly, his previous, more enlightened view on arts funding seems to have worked well with the Treasury - in the last spending round, his arguments resulted in the arts being cut less than the police. 

Update - a reader writes:

Thank you for highlighting the lamentable situation in which we find ourselves over Maria Miller and her ill-judged ‘way forward’.

Chins are hitting the floor across all sectors in the arts. 

It’s very alarming, is there a chance she is on her way to another department or is this her last chance saloon ? 

Maybe you know ...........

Alas not.

Another reader writes, from the art trade:

I think they had already lost the plot on the arts - viz the extension of Artist's Resale Right which didn't need to be implemented. Put Maria Miller in the same cell as Baroness Wilcox [minister in the Department of Business].

Update II - another reader adds:

The Secretary of State's speech was, indeed, very depressing.  Although I can just about buy the line that she needs help in presenting her case to the Treasury who, we can assume, are even less sympathetic to the Arts than she is, one key point seemed to have dropped out of her thinking altogether.  Government funding for the Arts is, by definition, a subsidy for bodies whose activities are not self-funding and where there is assumed to be cultural value to society at large from maintaining them.  The "economically productive" Les Miserables presumably receives no State funding and for very obvious reasons.  Am I missing something?

Update III - Neil Jeffares has a neat summary on his blog:

These are points that should have been demolished in her school debating society, not aired as government policy. But one must wonder how on earth this country – home to the National Gallery, the Wigmore Hall and the National Theatre – has permitted such blatant philisitinism to take over at the highest level.

Notice to "Internet Explorer" Users

You are seeing this notice because you are using Internet Explorer 6.0 (or older version). IE6 is now a deprecated browser which this website no longer supports. To view the Art History News website, you can easily do so by downloading one of the following, freely available browsers:

Once you have upgraded your browser, you can return to this page using the new application, whereupon this notice will have been replaced by the full website and its content.