June 20 2014

...for the lack of action today and yesterday. We're getting ready for the Masterpiece fair in London, so I'm a little busier than usual. Hope to see some of you there - it opens next Wednesday.

De-accession time in Delaware (ctd.)

June 18 2014

Image of De-accession time in Delaware (ctd.)

Picture: DAM/Christie's

The Delaware Museum of Art's attempt to plug a $30m financial hole by selling pictures has started badly. Their prized Holman Hunt, Isabella and the Pot of Basil, sold at Christie's yesterday for only £2.9m (inc. premium), when it had been estimated to fetch £5m-£8m (not inc. premium). It's not often you see a reserve reduced so drastically (normally it's at or just below the low estimate) and so the museum must have been pretty keen not to have the picture back. That is of course the danger of auction selling - you're leaving everything up to what happens on one night, and if for whatever reason bidder number two doesn't show up, then a sale can fail. The DAM might have been better advised, given the precarious nature of the Pre-Raphaelite market, to try and sell the picture privately first (tho' perhaps they did try that - I don't know).

IR photo reveals mystery Picasso portrait

June 17 2014

Image of IR photo reveals mystery Picasso portrait

Picture: AP/Guardian

Infra-red analysis of Picasso's 'Blue Room' [Phillips Collection, Washington] has revealed a 'mystery portrait' beneath the paint layers. More here

Restoring the Bowes Museum's altarpiece

June 17 2014

Video: Art Fund

I'm very fond of the Bowes Museum, so here's a good cause I'd like to steer you towards; the museum is fundraising to restore a 15th Century Flemish altarpiece. In the above video - part of the ArtFund's laudable new crowd-funding project - the museum's excellent director Adrian Jenkins explains more about the project. More details here.  

'Art Detective' strikes again

June 16 2014

Image of 'Art Detective' strikes again

Picture: Atkinson Art Gallery/Your Paintings

Another triumph for Art Detective - the above picture of London Bridge has been attributed to Jacques-Emile Blanche after discussion on the site. The picture had been sent to the AD by the Atkinson Art Gallery in Southport. See the process here.

Tate's 'Folk Art' (ctd.)

June 16 2014

Video: Tate

Here's a good video from Tate on their new Folk Art show, with curator Martin Myrone. In the Sunday Times, Waldemar liked the show very much.

Update - a reader writes:

I haven't been to the Tate 'Folk Art' show, but I did see some nice examples of 17th century British folk art, some quite good pictures, and textile representations of animals made in the Caucasus in the C19th in Cheffins in Cambridge today, for free.  The Cheffins exhibition continues until Wednesday, when, unlike the items in the Tate, they can be bought. How great is that?


June 16 2014

Image of Polloks

Picture: New York Times

The New York Times has a great update on those fake Jackson Pollocks sold by the esteemed Knoedler gallery in New York (and painted by a Chinese man): even the signatures were wrong!

When angry collectors started suing Knoedler & Company for selling dozens of multimillion-dollar forgeries, the gallery’s former president, Ann Freedman, insisted that she and her colleagues had had no reason to think that any of the paintings were counterfeit.

“If Ann Freedman had any questions about these works, she and her husband would not have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in them,” her lawyer, Nicholas A. Gravante Jr., said of the paintings attributed to modern masters like Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock.

Now, newly released documents in a continuing civil case show that at least one of the works bought in 2000 by Ms. Freedman herself contained a prominent clue that something was awry. The artist’s signature was spelled incorrectly: Pollok instead of Pollock.

Update - a reader writes:

The purchaser of a fake is deceived, and has every right to feel aggrieved; and the claim that the dealer has no notice of the forgery seems tenuous at best, one would think that Freedman should be able to correctly spell the artist's name.  That said, the misspelling of Pollock's name was also a clue for any prospective purchaser acting prudently and in the protection of their own interest.  At the least it should prompt a question to the seller.

NPG Director to leave

June 16 2014

Image of NPG Director to leave

Picture: Guardian

Sad news that Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, is to leave next year. He has been there for 12 years, and achieved many great things, as The Independent reports:

Sandy Nairne is to step down as head of the National Portrait Gallery in February after more than a decade at the helm.

The director, who has been hailed for boosting visitor numbers by 40 per cent, “wonderful” exhibitions and acquiring acclaimed work, announced today he was to leave in order to pursue his writing and advisory work.

“It has been a great privilege to lead such a special institution as the National Portrait Gallery, and I am very proud of what we have achieved over the past decade,” he said, adding that the gallery was “in very good shape and will go from strength to strength”.

Sir William Proby, chairman of the trustees, said Mr Nairne “has done a tremendous job and will be greatly missed. He has significantly increased visitor numbers, put on some wonderful exhibitions… and overseen many major commissions and acquisitions.”

Mr Nairne, who had been director of programmes at Tate, was appointed NPG director in November 2002, following the departure of Charles Saumarez Smith. At the time attendance annual figures were 1.4m; they have since risen past 2m.

Before the Tate, Mr Nairne had worked at the Arts Council of Great Britain, the Institute of Contemporary Arts and the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford.

Among the recent acclaimed exhibitions at the NPG under Nairne’s stewardship were Lucian Freud Portraits and the current Bailey’s Stardust exhibition of the photography of David Bailey.

During his tenure, the director oversaw the acquisition of the Van Dyck self-portrait earlier this year as well as the acquisition of a John Donne Portrait and Mark Quinn’s Self. He also commissioned portraits of Dame Judi Dench, Simon Weston and David Beckham.

Another notable achievement was asking the Duchess of Cambridge to be the gallery's royal patron (tho' alas I suspect he could do little about that unfortunate portrait of her). I've seen Sandy in directorial action, close-up, a few times, and he's an inspiringly effective operator. He'll be a hard act to follow. I hope some other institution can persuade him to direct again. More here in The Guardian.

Bargaining with Caravaggio

June 12 2014

Image of Bargaining with Caravaggio

Picture: Cleveland Museum of Art

This story from Cleveland.com sheds light on the curious bargaining that sometimes goes on when museums arrange international loans. The above picture, The Crucifixion of St Andrew by Caravaggio, was offered as a loan to a Sicilian museum by the Cleveland Museum of Art after Sicilian authorities threatened to charge exorbitant fees for a loan exhibition of antiquities:

In one of his last acts as director of the museum before he resigned last October, David Franklin agreed to lend the Caravaggio and other works in exchange for an exhibition of Sicilian antiquities.

Cultural authorities from the island region had previously agreed to send the exhibition to Cleveland after its run at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The two institutions co-organized the show.

Nevertheless, after an election and a change of government in Sicily, a new group of authorities threatened to cancel the show's run in Cleveland unless the museum paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in loan fees imposed at the last minute.

The Sicilians withdrew the demand after Franklin offered to lend the Caravaggio, which he called "a bargaining chip," along with other works.

Franklin and the Cleveland museum earned praise for not knuckling under to the financial demand, which could have set a dangerous precedent for other museums. At the same time, the arrangement raised questions about whether the painting is too delicate to make the trip to Sicily.

The Cleveland museum now says the deal has not been finalized. Its leaders say that Sicily has not yet responded to requests for information about climate control and security in venues where the Cleveland artworks would be shown.

The picture is currently being cleaned by the Cleveland Museum of Art, to see if it is safe to travel.

'Making Purple'

June 12 2014

Video: National Gallery

Interesting video on making the colour purple in art, which is part of the National Gallery's forthcoming exhibition 'Making Colour'. 

Christie's Open House

June 12 2014

Video: Christie's

Christie's annual 'Open House' is taking place this weekend in London. Worth going along to see a range of things on offer over the summer.


June 12 2014

Image of Prudery

Picture: Sotheby's

The Sotheby's Evening Old Master sale has gone online (London, 9th July), and there are many fine pictures to peruse. The cataloguing is good too. I was tickled to see the above example of prudish over-paint in lot 15, a work by the studio of Jan Brueghel the Younger. It reminds me of that Pete & Dud sketch, when they discuss nudity in art. 


June 12 2014

Image of Funny

Picture: Private Eye, via @NPGLondon

Update - it's by Richard Jolley.

Suing for attributions

June 11 2014

Image of Suing for attributions

Picture: exponaute.com

Regular readers and 'Fake or Fortune?' viewers may recall the recent case where David Joel, the owner of the above Monet, recently lost a case against the Wildensteins, whom he had tried to sue in a French court in order to make them accept that the picture was indeed by Monet (they had said 'Non'). It's surely strange that in France (where they already have a strange enough system for inheriting the power to make attributions) courts can compel experts, no matter how flawed, to legally change their opinion on an attribution - isn't it a case of free speech? In an interesting review of a recent case which has far reaching ramifications for this sort of thing, the law firm Constantine Canon reports, on its Art@Law blog, that:

On 22 January 2014, the Supreme Court delivered a judgment at odds with the previous line of cases.

The dispute concerned a painting attributed to French Cubist painter Jean Metzinger known as La Maison Blanche [above].  Its owner, Laurent Alexandre, sought a certificate of authenticity from Bozena Nikiel, the author of the artist’s forthcoming catalogue raisonné.  Nikiel disputed its authenticity.  Alexandre took Nikiel to court, and the court-appointed expert concluded that the painting was an original work by Metzinger.  Nikiel was ordered not only to include the work in her catalogue raisonné, but to pay Alexandre damages in the sum of €21,000.  On appeal in 2012, the Court increased the amount payable in damages to €30,000, unless she granted Alexandre a certificate of authenticity within a month of the decision.

Refusing to let go, Nikiel appealed the decision to the French Supreme Court.  She fiercely contested the credentials of the court-appointed expert.  She argued that his research should have led him to consider the authenticity of the work as “doubtful”.  Nikiel’s insistence on an indisputable authenticity finding sheds light on the differing standards of proof applied by the courts and the art market when considering the authenticity of an artwork.  On the one hand, the standard of proof applied by the courts is the “balance of probability”.  By contrast, the market applies a higher standard.  If doubts are cast over the authorship of an artwork, it is generally un‑saleable (as a work by the artist).

In the end, the Supreme Court found for Nikiel.  It overturned the decision of the Court of Appeal by recognising that Nikiel’s refusal to authenticate the painting was as a result of her “intimate conviction”.  By finding her liable in damages because she held the opinion she did, the Court of Appeal had breached her right to freedom of expression under the European Convention of Human Rights.

The decision is striking as it is the first time that France’s highest court has ruled that the expert’s freedom of expression is an absolute right, trumping other obligations.  It contradicts earlier decisions on authenticity (many of which were decided by the Supreme Court itself) that the freedom of expression must be qualified by an imperative requirement to “objectively” record the full body of an artist’s works.  In a departure from earlier decisions, the Supreme Court declined to engage in a balancing exercise of the differing expert opinions, leaving it to the market to follow its course.

Italian Museums (ctd.)

June 11 2014

Image of Italian Museums (ctd.)

Picture: La Republica

Here's a revealing tale, via ArtNet news:

Twelve old master paintings worth an estimated €4 million ($5.5 million) have been returned to the Museo Nazionale San Matteo di Pisa (National Museum of San Matteo, Pisa), according to the AGI. The works were missing from the museum for over ten years. Yet, for most of the time, no one even knew to look for them.

Dario Matteoni, the museum’s new director, spearheaded an investigation into the museum’s inventory last year. The museum then discovered that 12 paintings, which had been sent to a restorer in the city of Lucca in 2002 never returned. That restorer is reported to have been paid approximately €31,000 for his work on a total of 17 canvases for the museum.

Matteoni filed a lawsuit last December, demanding the paintings’ return. That suit lead to an investigation by the cultural heritage department of Italy’s national police force, which began in January 2014. They have since recovered ten of the works. The restorer had sold six of the paintings on to foreign dealers from whom they were confiscated.

The restorer, himself, turned over the remaining four canvases. Due to Italy’s 10 year statute of limitations on stolen property, he cannot be criminally prosecuted for keeping the paintings.

For sale - 'the earliest Vermeer'

June 10 2014

Image of For sale - 'the earliest Vermeer'

Picture: Christie's

It's looking like an interesting week for Old Master attributions; first a Rembrandt self-portrait confirmed in the UK, and now news of Vermeer's 'earliest known painting', a 1655 St Praxedis (above) signed 'Meer', has been announced. The picture has been researched by Christie's and the Rijksmuseum, and will be sold this summer in London with an estimate of £6m-£8m (which seems a little on the low side, but we'll see). More in The Guardian, the NL Times, and USA Today, which reports:

The work was tentatively attributed to Vermeer after it appeared in an exhibition at New York's Metropolitan Museum in 1969, and the authorship was reinforced in 1986, when leading Vermeer scholar Arthur Wheelock argued it was authentic.

But other experts remained skeptical. The painting was not included in a Young Vermeer exhibition in The Hague in 2010, but was displayed in a 2012 show of the artist's work in Rome.

Christie's said Friday it was declaring the work a Vermeer after scientists at Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum and Free University carried out isotope analysis on its lead white — a coveted but toxic type of paint made with lead and vinegar.

"They're able to basically DNA-test lead white," said Henry Pettifer, Christie's head of Old Master paintings.

The tests found that the lead white was a precise match for that used in another early Vermeer, Diana and her Companions — "So precise as to suggest that the same batch of paint could have been used," Pettifer said.

He said the research, along with analysis of the date and signature on the painting, amounted to "a compelling endorsement" of Vermeer's authorship.

Update - Maaike Dirkx alerts me to the pdf catalogue entry from Christie's. The picture is essentially a copy of a painting by Felice Ficherelli. 

Update II - a reader writes:

I’ve known the picture for some time, it was (I believe) first proposed by Stanley Spencer, a dealer of OMP in NYC, and has been the subject of considerable debate. Less well known is the work by the Florentine Ficherelli on which the painting can be said to owe no small debt

This painting it has been argued never left Italy, and it has been proposed that Lead White pigment travels much more easily than either artists or paintings, and that possibly the paint itself was made in batches and sold to various artists. (At best this so-called Vermeer can only be described as juvenilia).

But your last few posts beg an intriguing point. Somewhere on the spectrum is a gifted Scholar with a “golden eye”, who through connoisseurship honed by decades of study, can identify an autograph work by a master others have overlooked. But on one extreme is a museum curator convinced that Western White, Male hegemony has corrupted art history and the art “experience”, and shows work without identification, context, or labels. On another extreme, a technologist is advancing an attribution offering laboratory analysis for evidence, perhaps even in the face of less than convincing visual similarities. I guess I want to ask, “can the center hold”?

All excellent points. As regular readers will know (and as I discussed in my paper at the Mellon Centre conference) I am not entirely convinced that technical analysis is the silver bullet many art historians think it is, when it comes to attribution. We can only confidently assert that the lead white used in this picture is proof of Vermeer's authorship once we have tested hundreds and hundreds of lead whites in pictures by his contemporaries, to build up a valid database. At the moment, paint analysis results have come overwhelmingly through testing the works of great artists, since those are the ones that people want to investigate, both in the art trade and the museum world. So it is often not surprising that the paint analysis database says a certain paint was used in a number of works by artist X - when by and large only works by artist X have been tested, and not those by his inferior followers, associates and students.

Update III - a painter writes:

I am not at all convinced by tests on lead white paint being used to support an attribution to any particular artist.

I am a painter using lead white (there is no modern substitute for lead for impasto work) from a large tube (circa 1927) inherited from my painter grandmother who may well have used the same colour man as her teacher Sickert for buying her paints.

If this was the case, then using the same tests applied to the Vermeers it should be possible to prove that my one Sickert, all my own paintings and my grandmother's  paintings are by the same painter on the basis that the lead white used was from the same 'batch' of paint with the same 'DNA'. 

One also thinks of the attribution difficulties caused by Rembrandt and his pupils sharing the same models, batches of paper and boards and presumably batches of paint including lead white. Apprentices learned to mix paint as an important and responsible part of their basic training. Consistency between batches, resulting from following exact formulae would have been a basic requirement, especially considering the cost of some of the ingredients. Different studios and individual artists would often follow the same recipes. ( See Daniel V. Thomson 'The materials and techniques of medieval painting'. Dover 1956). 

Clever fakers can also easily buy C.19 boxes of watercolours and antique paper which would pass all scientific tests for say a  mid nineteenth century water colour by any number of different artists. This wouldn't help the faker to make a convincing Cotman which would pass any connoisseurship test.

Scientific tests on the constituents of any paint can only prove that that that paint is consistent with paints of a particular, quite broad period. They cannot indicate when a painting was made, without other types of additional evidence, or by whom the paint was used. So the correct attribution of the 'earliest Vermeer' will always be a matter for debate and opinion rather than scientific certainty.

The Sickert tube sounds fascinating.

Rembrandt Self-Portrait proclaimed (ctd.)*

June 10 2014

Image of Rembrandt Self-Portrait proclaimed (ctd.)*

Picture: National Trust/Brian Cleckner

I reported last year that the Rembrandt scholar Ernst Van der Wetering had decided that a picture belonging to the National Trust at Buckland Abbey was indeed a genuine Rembrandt, its status having been doubted in the past. Now the picture has been cleaned (and subjected to the usual battery of analysis, IR, X-ray and all that). Most importantly, the signature and date (1635) has been analysed and proved to be at one with the picture. So the picture, a self-portrait, is right as rain. From the National Trust press release:

David Taylor, Paintings and Sculptor Curator at the National Trust said: "The debate over whether this is or isn't a Rembrandt has been on-going for decades.

"The key element for me has been the cleaning.  The varnish was so yellow that it was difficult to see how beautifully the portrait had been painted. Now you can really see all the flesh tones and other colours, as well as the way in which the paint has been handled - it's now much easier to appreciate it as a Rembrandt.

"With the technical analysis backing up Ernst's claims, we are obviously very excited. Caring for the work of one of the great Dutch masters although in itself quite daunting, will also give us a great story to tell as we bring the mystery of its authorship to life for our visitors to enjoy."

Ernst van de Wetering visited the painting at the HKI just before it returned to Buckland Abbey.  He said: "Although I was pretty certain the painting was a Rembrandt when I saw it in 2013, I wanted to further examine it after cleaning and see the results from the technical analysis as this had never been done before. With all this additional scientific evidence, I am satisfied it is by Rembrandt".

The previous opinion that Ernst overturned was that of Horst Gerson, which is similar to the recent case of the National Gallery's Old Man in an Arm Chair.

The restoration was paid for by something called The People's Postcode Lottery. Good for them.

Update - I posted this story by mistake yesterday, before an 'embargo' had apparently expired. So that's why it appeared and then disappeared from the blog. The story is old news really, so I'm surprised it has caught on in such a big way in the papers (Telegraph, New York Times) today. It's also interesting to note, further to our ongoing discussions on connoisseurship, that Ernst Van der Wetering's judgement back in 2013 - that the picture was a Rembrandt - is only 'official' after the usual somewhat inconclusive technical analysis. But 'x-ray and infra-red analysis' sounds much better in the papers than 'an unassuming scholar's excellent eye'.

* Or, "Why Connoisseurship Matters (ctd.)"

Update II - I was on BBC Radio talking about the picture yesterday, which you can listen to here, at 1hr 21m.

Why connoisseurship matters (ctd.)

June 5 2014

Video: Paul Mellon Centre

I recently went to speak at a Paul Mellon Centre conference on connoisseurship, called 'Connoisseurship Now'. You can watch the proceedings in the video above, if you're so minded (amazingly, over a thousand people already have). I was asked to be polemical (not usually a problem for me) and paired in a session with Tate Britain's lead curator for British art pre-1800 Martin Myrone, which was good fun, as I like him, and he's decidedly sceptical about the point of connoisseurship, and even more so about those who practice it (especially programmes like 'Fake of Fortune?').

Martin thinks (I'm paraphrasing from his paper) that connoisseurship is 'a mundane skillset' and that 'champions of connoisseurship are more likely to be part of the problem, rather than the solution.' In other words, he doesn't entirely like the fact that suit-wearing dealers like me are not only advocates of connoisseurship, but may be good at it, and may thus accrue some sort of 'authority' in art history. Furthermore, he does not believe that anyone like me can genuinely care about making attributions in the 'public interest', because there is always another motive involved in connoisseurship, be it money or the naked pursuit of fame. There will always be a 'struggle for authority' in making attributions, because 'that is how the world works'. Only public servants (ie, curators) can act from a pure motive in making connoisseurial decisions in the public interest. 

I came up against this 'struggle for authority' when we thought of focusing on one of Tate's unattributed landscapes, catalogued as 'Manner of Gainsborough', for 'Fake or Fortune?' Tate were, how shall I say it, not exactly keen to be involved. In his paper Martin mentioned the painting, and said he that he hoped the authority to decide whether the picture was or was not by Gainsborough (a question to which, incidentally, he said he was inclined to answer 'so what?') would never lie in the hands of a programme like 'Fake or Fortune?

As you might expect, in our papers Martin and I disagreed strongly, but sitting next to each other in the Q&A session afterwards we were best buddies. As one audience member said, it was very British. But I must say I found his overall suspicion of motives, background, and even class slightly puzzling. Now, you might say, as Martin might, that I make TV programmes about finding lost paintings because I 'want the limelight'. Or you could say that I do it because, first, people seem to be interested in it (heck, let's even call it a 'public interest'), and secondly, because I'm an art evangelist who likes to tell people about art in (what I hope is) an accessible and engaging way (a bit like a curator, perhaps). I suppose you could say the same about this blog; do I write it (all for free, of course) as part of my 'struggle for authority' in the art world, or do I do it because readers are interested in the things I'm interested in, and we all want to explore them together? Does the fact that I pay the mortgage, as we all have to do somehow, by spotting misattributed pictures at auction, and selling them for a profit, negate anything I do that might be called public-spirited? 

Anyway, the conference has provoked a lot of debate, and has received favourable reaction so far in the wider world of art history, judging by this editorial in Apollo, and a well-observed write-up by Jamie Edwards of the University of Birmingham.

The Art Newspaper asked both Martin and I to write a short piece for their latest edition; round two, so to speak. Today they went online, which has prompted me to write this rather ranty post; here's mine, and here's Martin's. The part which may tell you all you need to know about Martin's approach is this one:

There is nothing, I think, radical or outrageous in pointing out that connoisseurship has served to reinforce social difference and further material interests over history. There are numerous studies which testify to this. What would be absurd would be to claim that this has somehow abruptly stopped in the present age and that connoisseurship is now absolutely removed from struggles over cultural authority.

I'm not really sure that knowing who painted what has got anything to do with social difference. But let me know if you disagree.

Update - The Wallace Collection, in response to my TAN article, which is titled, 'Do we need a return to connoisseurship?', tweets:

It's a yes from us!


Update II - a reader reminds me about this article by David Freedberg called, 'Why connoisseurship matters', all about the work of the Flemish art scholar Hans Vlieghe, one of the great connoisseurs of our age.

Update III - a reader writes:

On your presentation at Connoisseurship Now. HEAR  HEAR  !!!! 100%

Another reader writes:

Curators operate within a guild structure and are averse to others particularly dealers practicing art history. Curators needn't be connoisseurs and can rely on accepted authority. 

Dealers presented with fakes and copies and misatttributions have both their reputation and capital on the line and haven't luxury to ignore connoisseurship which examines the characteristics that distinguish the work of any particular artist.

If authorship is irrelevant then why do museums and collectors bother purchasing catalogues raissonne and squander their funds paying more for an important name when a school of painting might be just as good or better. Their behaviour belies their curators’ disingenuous arguments against connoisseurship.

Then why argue. First because connoisseurship is difficult and risky and the new art historians aren't trained or skilled in it.  Second because it is inapplicable to some contemporary art where technique (such as it is) is secondary to concept and Rothko or Newman can be convincingly imitated.

Update IV - a pedant writes:

Because you're not one of the Eaton Hall Grosvenors, I imagined you would know how to write in English.  "The Art Newspaper asked both Martin and I to write a ....." 

What happened?

Another reader has this interesting suggestion:

Very interesting, your post today. Needless to say, I'm on your side. As a matter of fact, though, you frequently aren't a suited dealer; the problem is that you don't dress down far enough.  I suggest more infrequent use of the razor, crumpled jackets and trousers, and - the master stroke - a change of name - perhaps Bob Grey?

Update V - a reader writes:

I'm afraid I find the connoisseurship debate, albeit fascinating, somewhat predictable and without foreseeable resolution - and I did watch the available Mellon Centre discussion well past my bedtime, and am catching up with the articles in the Art Newspaper by Martin Myrone and your good self. Martin Myrone has agreed to come to the far-flung wastes of the 'Principality' [Wales] in October to talk about the Tate show and its contents. Our local museum/gallery has contributed two pub signs (one of which, The Four Alls, is featured on the Tate website) and some carved slates to the show - hardly High Art I know). Maybe we can get him to comment on a curator's approach to 'Folk Art'. (Incidentally, I found Hugo Chapman's talk most engaging - and revealing of the 'expert's' rewards and difficulties, in both trade and museum context).

Update VI - I don't usually publish praise, but this one's too nice:

Only you know why you write your blog. The judgments (and I have chosen the word carefully) that Mr Myrone makes, which are a product of his own perspective and interest, hardly matter. I can only say that what you do has made a very great difference to me, and I suspect to many others.  I knew nothing of art, or its history, and having happened upon a episode of Fake or Fortune, become intrigued and followed it to your website, a new world is opened to me. Every day I read your site, looking forward learning something new. Your work is serving the interest of art, and that can never be a bad thing, no matter how or why it is done. I don't really care what Mr Myrone thinks about your motives and reasons, and neither should you.

Update VII - The Grumpy Art Historian has considered the matter from the view of neither curator nor dealer, here.

Update VIII - a reader from Swedish art trade writes, promisingly:

I am, by the way, completely agreeing with you on the connoisseurship debate. The interesting thing is that here in Sweden, I have had very good contact with the academy regarding these issues (all advanced students are sent to the auction house and to dealers to "learn the facts of life"). Actually, most professors agree with me that it is very strange that you can get a PhD without having the slightest idea how a painting looks from the back. I guess that it is more related to the fact that most students of art history are completely unhirable after only a BA or MA degree, so the universities here are trying to form connections to the art industry rather than dissociate themselves from it.

Update IX - Wowee, over a thousand more people watched the conference video since I posted this. Thanks for taking the time, and your interest, I am very flattered. 

'Tate rejects elitist Old Masters'

June 5 2014

Image of 'Tate rejects elitist Old Masters'

Picture: Tate Britain, 'Goose Woman' by George Smart

That's the headline in The Times for an article on Tate Britain's new exhibition 'British Folk Art'. It from an interview with Martin Myrone, Tate's Lead Curator for British Art pre-1800, in which he says:

"We have rested much more on the idea of a canon of great masters, a Hogarth-to-Turner story. In a way we have overlooked the everyday more acutely than in Europe and in North America. it is a fairly narrow kind of canon. A select few artists have been elevated, but there is a whole world of making and physical production which is really exciting."

Part of the problem had been the founding principles of the Royal Academy, he said, which on its establishment in 1769 had declared that "no needlework, artificial flowers, cut paper, shell work, or any such baubles should be admitted".

Mr Myrone said: "It was attempting to draw a very firm line between high art and low art, between popular culture and elite culture. In a way, the great efforts made to prop up the Royal Academy and keep the artistic elite in their elite position has been one of the factors that has helped to marginalise other kinds of artists." [...]

"More generally, there's a sense that all of us who go to galleries now are probably more open-minded about what we can expect to see there. We are informed by contemporary art practice to expect the unexpected. We have moved on from the idea that galleries are about oil paintings on canvas".

Who's 'we' here? Not stick-in-the-mud elitists like me. And nor,I suspect, most readers?

Update - a reader tweets:

Is it giving away some free then? No, thought not!

Update II - a reader writes:

Time will tell whether 'Folk Art' is another of Tate Britain's turkey shows nobody visits. I suspect most people won't find pub signs 'really exciting', or believe in Tate's new theory that 'elite culture' is necessarily different, and less worth our attention and approval, to 'popular culture'.

Update III - another reader writes:

£14.50 to get into that? It's free down the bric-a-brac shop.

Update IV - but here's a folk fan!

Actually looking forward to seeing this. I like the quirkier end of art history.

Update V -another folk fan writes:

I think you and your correspondents are a bit hard on "folk art" (which is, by the way, far from a new thing on my side of the Atlantic).  There may well be many "folk" (sorry) who find it interesting; I do myself -- as history, that is, or just as plain fun. The term "folk art" seems perfectly admissible; we don't have to restrict the word "art" to great art (remember medieval and renaissance cassoni!). 

However, you are not being too hard on grandiose pop-sociological claims for folk artworks as equivalent to any other art, or bad quasi-political analysis implying love for great art is elitist.  Let people see folk art; even let the Tate put on a show for fun; but don't let them get away with that sort of blather.

For the record, I think an exhibition of folk art is entirely justified, indeed laudable. In fact, I will even go and see it. But I think allowing a narrative to develop that it's somehow 'against' other 'elite' art, such as Old Masters, might not be the best way to go about publicising it. The presentation of the exhibition in The Times had a slight ring of Gerald Ratner about it. 

Hope for Detroit?

June 5 2014

Image of Hope for Detroit?


The Art Newspaper reports that the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), which had been threatened with mass deaccessions as part of Detroit's bankruptcy, is inching closer to safety. The deal centres around a $810m 'grand bargain', which will see the entirety of the DIA's collections and assets transferred permanently to the DIA itself. At the moment, much of the collection belongs to the broke city, which is why it is under threat from creditors. A major step to safety was taken earlier this week when the Michigan state legislature granted $350m towards the plan. The museum has agreed to raise $100m itself. More details here

Update - Detroit's car makers have pledged $26m to the DIA's $100m goal. 

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