Is this by Rembrandt?
May 26 2014
Picture: National Gallery
The painting, Old Man in an Armchair (above), was bought by the National Gallery in London in 1957 as a Rembrandt, but was demoted shortly thereafter as being by 'a follower'. It last featured in their exhibition 'Fakes and Mistakes' in 2010.
Now, however, the head of the Rembrandt Research Committee, Ernst Van der Wetering, says he thinks the picture (which is signed) is in fact by Rembrandt. The Guardian reports:
Professor Van de Wetering was the long-serving director of the Rembrandt Research Project, set up in the Netherlands to organise and catagorise research on the artist, and is in the process of writing the sixth and final volume overview of the painter which has meant travelling the world viewing works which have had the biggest question marks placed over them.
That includes London's Old Man in an Armchair which was purchased as a Rembrandt in 1957, but demoted in 1969 based on the views of then leading expert Horst Gerson.
Van de Wetering saw the work three years ago and will next week have his arguments published in the June edition of the Burlington Magazine. "I was amazed that the painting was rejected," he said. "Then I saw how it was and why it was rejected."
Van de Wetering said the demotion of the 1652 painting had been based on a fundamental misunderstanding. The judgment was based on connoisseurship – that if a painting did not look like Rembrandt it could not be Rembrandt. "That was a vast mistake and Gerson got many wrong."
Instead Old Man in an Armchair needs to be seen in terms of Rembrandt's experimentation, said van de Wetering. In 1651 the artist decided to start all over again, to reinvent how he painted – to both paint and draw with his brush, in what has become known as his late "rough manner".
The subject in the National Gallery painting is not a portrait, van de Wetering said. "This is a man posing to be studied ... it is a painting about painting."
Van de Wetering said it was one of a number of "paintings about painting" that Rembrandt made, but the National Gallery work was of huge importance because it was one of the earliest.
The National Gallery is, for the moment, sticking with 'Follower of Rembrandt'.
Old Man in an Armchair has always struck me as a tricky one. I couldn't always see why it had been rejected. But then again there were reasons to doubt it, I thought. Perhaps the wider problem is that Rembrandt's oeuvre has been so picked upon, and so wittled down to a core of (what were hoped to be) indisputably 'right' pictures, that anything slightly off the beaten track was regarded with suspicion. Maybe Old Man in an Armchair falls into that group.
It's widely believed that the previous incarnation of the Rembrandt Research Project was far too exclusive, and rejected many pictures that were indeed by Rembrandt. The version of the RRP that Van der Wetering now heads (but which is soon to end its publications, in fact) has tended to be a little more inclusive. And I think that's a good thing, for I've always found it hard to believe that someone of Rembrandt's longevity (63 years) and talent could only paint some 340 or so paintings. Van Dyck, who died when he was 41, has over 700 to his name.
For what it's worth - and I claim no expertise at all on Rembrandt, - I've always thought The Auctioneer at the Met to be unfairly downgraded. Is this another late work (it's signed, and dated 1658) along the lines of Van der Wetering's experimental category?
Update - this site has a handy guide on how the number of Rembrandt attributions has varied over time, from 688 according to Valentiner's catalogue raisonne in 1921 to 265 according to Tumpel's in 1986. Therefore, 1987 would have been a good time to buy 'not Rembrandts'.
Update II - a reader has pointed out that Old Man in an Armchair was not bought by the National Gallery, but allocated to them under the Acceptance in Lieu programme. The picture had been in the collection of the Dukes of Devonshire at Chatsworth, and was one of three 'Rembrandts' then in the collection. The Devonshires were pleased that they got to keep the two genuine Rembrandts, and paid off a load of tax with a picture that turned out to be worth somewhat less than the Treasury thought. But has the Treasury now had the last laugh?
Update III - a reader writes:
To me the colours, the light, the proportions and the handling of the paint seem spot on for Rembrandt. I don't know of a forger who is that perfect and comes that close to him.
I had a quick look at the Met's picture The Auctioneer and I agree with you that the main painter is Rembrandt but it looks, from the photographs, as if another hand has touched-up parts of the hair, the shape of the hair on the shoulder looks mis-balanced, possibly causing the shape of the hat to change - the left-hand shadow on the face also seems too hard. I can understand why it was downgraded.
New Prado app
May 26 2014
Video: Museo Prado
Zoomable details, infra-red, x-rays, the lot. Highly impressive.
Disaster in Glasgow
May 23 2014
Picture: Apollo/@xdxxnx on Twitter
The Charles Rennie Mackintosh building at the Glasgow School of art is on fire, after a projector exploded in the basement. Awful, awful, awful. Latest here.
Update: The Scotsman, which has the photo below of the fire-ravaged interior, reports that the rebuilding will cost up to £20m. Much of the building and contents were saved, but the famous library has been destroyed. There's not much more on the cause, but it's said that the exploding projector set fire to some nearby foam. Final year art students were installing their art projects at the time, and if I had to guess what happened, it's that someone was using one of those old-fashioned projectors that are de rigeur for contemporary installations.
Update II - further photos from inside here.
'New Dali discovered'
May 23 2014
Picture: AFP via Telegraph
Here's a story which at first sight sounds convincing, but then is in danger of soon falling apart. Maybe it's just the way the story is written. The Telegraph reports:
An oil painting bought for a mere €150 (£120) from a dusty antiques shop in northeastern Spain 26 years ago has been discovered to be the earliest surrealist work by Salvador Dali, art experts confirmed on Thursday.
[Art historian] Tomeu L'Amo suspected it may have been an early work by Catalan artist Salvador Dali but the shopkeeper insisted that was impossible as it bore an inscription with the date 1896, eight years before Dali was born.
Nevertheless, Mr L'Amo purchased the artwork for 25,000 pesetas - around £120 in today's money - and spent the next quarter of a century trying to confirm his hunch. [...]
A team of experts used a series of technological methods to help determine the painting's authenticity. Infrared photography of the canvas revealed lines made by the artist that were consistent with a style he used in later works.
Analysis of the paint used on the canvas proved it could not have been created before 1909 and comparison of the lettering of the inscription with hundreds of other known Dali works by a well-respected handwriting expert showed it was consistent with Dali's own hand.
José Pedro Venzal, the handwriting expert who regularly carries out analysis for Interpol, revealed that the inscription contained a corrected spelling mistake, one that Dali oft repeated in later life.
The ten word dedication in the lower righthand corner of the painting written in Catalan translates as "To My Dear Teacher on the day of his birth", with the date 27-IX-96.
Mr L'Amo believes Dali, who had a reputation for making outrageous claims and carrying out media stunts, used a numerology code to come up with date.
"Dali must be laughing in his grave at the thought that he managed to fool everyone for so many years," he said.
So the evidence at first seems to be pretty thin - and it might even be case of over-enthusiastic scientific interpretation. We have a few 'lines' in infra-red, and some handwriting analysis. On the former, it always strikes me as odd that we're still reluctant to trust old-fashioned connoisseurship, but if it's a question of analysing indeterminate brush strokes beneath the paint layers, via infra- red or x-ray, then it's alright. Especially if the verdict comes from someone wearing a white coat.
The "forensic" analysis of the handwriting reminds me of the similar story with the 'Rice' portrait of Jane Austen. There, another police-endorsed 'expert' was convinced they could see 'Jane Austen' written in the paint, when it was just an optimistic interpretation of craquelure. Such cases make me feel anxious about the level of forensic expertise submitted in our courts...
The Telegraph story ends thus:
The Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation, which runs a museum in the artist's birthplace of Figueres, has yet to recognise the work as a Dali original.
Update - a reader writes:
Nicholas Descharnes is standing next to the painting in the photograph - Robert & Nicholas are two of the most respected Dali experts, so as crazy as it might seem, it would suggest it has strong connoisseurial backing.
Update II - another reader writes:
You are dead right to be wary of so-called forensic experts. Some years ago when I was a trainee solicitor in England I was in court when a defendant pleaded guilty to charges of fraud involving forgery of cheques. However this was only after another completely innocent person some months before had been convicted of these offences based on finger print and handwriting evidence which in the event was wrong. The judge's passing remark in the later case "It makes you think, doesn't it" was to me the understatement of the century.
The label 'expert' is too easily acquired these days.
Art Detective (ctd.)
May 22 2014
Picture: National Museum of the Royal Navy
Some impressive sleuthing has already emerged from Art Detective, the new website designed to help solve various picture mysteries in the UK's national collection. The above unattributed picture was submitted to the site by the National Museum of the Royal Navy, who were keen to know the artist. User Toby Bettridge soon recognised that the picture was a study for a larger work, in the Imperial War Museum, by Arthur David McCormick (below), for a picture called 'Valve Testing: The Signal School, RN Barracks, Portsmouth'. Excellent!
US National Gallery new online catalogue
May 22 2014
Picture: US National Gallery
More good online art history news from the USA - the US National Gallery has begun to put its authoritative, in depth catalogues online. Called Online Editions, the catalogues are in an easy to use format, with zoomable images and so on. The first offering is Arthur Wheelock's Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. Says the NG:
Available for the first time on the National Gallery of Art website, NGA Online Editions (œ) presents the most current, in-depth information on the Gallery’s collections by the world’s leading art historians along with rich capabilities for exploring that information. A customized reading environment and toolkit for managing text and images are intended both to provide scholars with a useful workspace for research and to encourage the study and appreciation of art.
NGA Online Editions launches with Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century by Gallery curator Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. and will ultimately document more than 5,000 paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts in the nation's collection. Editions include an introduction by the curator, illustrated scholarly entries (each preceded by a short overview), artists' biographies, technical summaries, and a complement of rich media, educational materials, and appendices related to the featured collection. Formerly known as The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue (a printed series of authoritative volumes on the Gallery’s permanent collections), NGA Online Editions puts this same detailed information—and more—at the fingertips of students, scholars, and anyone eager to learn more about the treasures of the National Gallery of Art.
500 Rembrandt etchings online
May 22 2014
Picture: Morgan Library & Museum
The Morgan Library & Museum has uploaded 500 Rembrandt etchings, all in lovely high-res. Says the Morgan:
This online feature makes almost five hundred images from the Morgan's exceptional collection of Rembrandt etchings available for the first time. The images presented here celebrate his unsurpassed skill and inventiveness as a master storyteller.
Pierpont Morgan laid the foundation for this collection—the finest in North America—when he acquired his first Rembrandt etchings in 1900, with another major purchase in 1906. The Morgan holds impressions of most of the three hundred or so known etchings by Rembrandt, as well as multiple, often exceedingly rare impressions of various states.
Renowned in the history of printmaking, Rembrandt's etchings are famous for their dramatic intensity, penetrating psychology, and touching humanity. Through these images you can explore some of the central and often recurring themes of the master's work, including portraiture, the Bible, scenes from everyday life, the nude, and landscape.
The images can be used gratis for scholarly and non-commercial applications. Bravo Morgan!
Where are the women in art? (ctd.)
May 21 2014
Picture: Philip Mould
Following my post yesterday on the question of women artists, I wonder if (plug alert) you would allow me to mention a recent, home-grown discovery of the above work by Mary Beale. It turned up in some rural sale recently, as 'English School'. Beale can be said to be Britain's first commercially successful female artist, and secured a quite a wide circle of patronage. She was encouraged by Sir Peter Lely, among others.
The above picture, a Penitent Magdalene, was mentioned by Beale's husband, Charles Beale, in a list of her paintings 'done from the life', and was painted in the early 1670s. The art historian George Vertue (praised be him) noted that the sitter was 'Moll Trioche - a yong woman'. Moll was doubtless related to Kate Trioche, who was one of Beale's models and assistants, and who is thought to appear in this painting at Tate Britain.
The picture relates to two intriguing drawings at the British Museum, which are today attributed to Mary's son, Charles Jr. (also an artist), though previously the drawings were thought to be by Mary (personally, I think some of them still might be). One of the drawings seems to suggest that when sitting for this picture, Moll Trioche must have fallen asleep, for a little urchin is seen sticking something up her nose.
More details on the picture can be found here on the Philip Mould website.
PS - I see from the provenance of the Tate picture that was discovered by Philip in 1991.
Update - Richard Stephens, creator and editor of pioneering site The Art World in Britain 1660-1735, sends this interesting information:
In the 17th & 18th century Britain there were plenty of women in the art trade, just not always as painters. Jacob Simon wrote a blog entry about female frame makers and gilders, which is here:
And you could make much the same points about picture dealing. In the early modern period it was not at all uncommon to find widows carrying on their late husbands' trade as picture sellers - their families still needed money to eat, after all. Working was hardly ever a matter of personal fulfilment like it is so often nowadays. Indeed, so far as the evidence allows for such a generalisation, I'd say it was even normal for women to sell pictures after theri husbands died and doubtless they played their part in the business while their husbands were still living. Some women dealers whose names spring to mind are Elizabeth Turner (d.1732/3), wife of Captain Henry Turner who was based at the Palace of Westminster in the early 18th century; Elizabeth Davis (died 1714), wife of engraver and dealer Edward Davis; Margaret Hay, wife of painter/dealer Andrew Hay; and the widow of copyist and picture seller Henry Peart (died 1700), who ended up selling her stock to the 1st Earl of Bristol in return for an annual pension. The Pearts were neighbours of the Beales in Pall Mall as you know.
In the records of the Painter Stainers company at this time one finds women-only workshops too, although it's never clear what trade they were carrying on.
The Joseph Wright Institute
May 21 2014
Picture: Derby Museum
Here's a Good Thing; a new research centre devoted to Joseph Wright of Derby, in the Derby Museum. The Joseph Wright Institute will (says the website):
[...] improve access to and raise awareness of Joseph Wright and his work, locally, nationally and internationally. It will offer research opportunities, produce exhibitions and publications as well as a programme of activities catering for all audiences including schools and families, university academics and casual visitors.
Comprising of the Joseph Wright Gallery containing the largest collection of Wright oil paintings in the world; The Study Centre with drawings, prints, letters and other supporting information relating to Wrights life and work; Exhibition space that will host temporary exhibitions of Wright’s work and placing Wright in context two exhibitions open in May as part of this launch “Wright Inspired”, looking at copies, fakes and work inspired by Wright and “Joseph Wright of Derby: Bath and Beyond” an exhibition jointly developed with The Holbourne in Bath.
Freud's Auerbachs acquired by the UK
May 21 2014
Picture: Arts Council
Lucien Freud's collection of 15 oil paintings (and 29 works on paper) by Frank Auerbach has been acquired by the UK through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme. The pictures, including Head of Gerda Boehm (above), will be on display at the Manchester Art Gallery first, and then Tate Britain. Then, decisions will be made as to which institutions will get them on a permanent basis. So - curators - get your bids in, if you're interested... More details here.
The inheritance tax foregone by the Treasury amounts to £16.2m, and this makes it the biggest ever deal done in the 100 year history of the AIL scheme. Happily, the government recently increased the annual limit on works that the AIL programme can handle (along with the new Cultural Gifts scheme), to £40m. The deal is more evidence, despite the frequent complaining one hears, that the public acquisition process in the UK is in unusually rude health.
US pastor jailed for selling fake Hirst
May 21 2014
Picture: Manhattan District Attorney
Not much more to add to this story - the headline says it all really - but Jonathan Jones in The Guardian says that Hirst is the real fake here:
Damien Hirst's paintings are talentless and phoney as hell. Hirst is the fake. His efforts to do "proper" paintings have revealed his total lack of artistic accomplishment. This exposure of his fundamental inability means that it is impossible to take him seriously any more, especially as a painter. While the best of his early animal vitrines have some kind of place in art history, his paintings – spin, spot or realist – are cynical stunts by a man who cannot actually paint. So how on earth can they be of value and why should it be a big deal to fake them?
Update - a reader writes:
I cannot follow the reasoning of Jonathan Jones; he thinks Hirst's work is without merit, and therefore no crime worthy of punishment is committed in passing off a fake. Even if that is so (and no doubt there are other opinions) it is hardly the point; anyone laying down their hard earned for a Hirst, is entitled to receive a Hirst (whatever it's artistic merits) and not a fake, and they have been deceived if they don't. With the greatest respect to Jones, the sin lies in the deception, and not in any necessarily personal and subjective assessment of quality of the item copied, or indeed in the item used to deceive.
Where are the women in art? (ctd.)
May 20 2014
Picture: Guardian/Annie Kevan
Hot on the heels of my post below comes this story The Guardian, looking at 'women who have been airbrushed from art history'. These women damned by male art historians include, says The Guardian, the likes of Sofonisba Anguissola and Angelica Kauffmann. What a load of phooey.
The story comes as a result of a series of copies portraits of female artists by Annie Kevans, who in The Guardian says:
"For hundreds of years there was this very strong control over the canon and [the male-dominated establishment] didn't want women written into it," says Kevans, when we meet in her small, portrait-lined studio in north-east London. Her project was partly inspired by the realisation that she, too, could be erased from our collective cultural archive. "As a contemporary artist, there are still concerns. I do think, what if that happened to me?" [...]
So why does Kevans think Anguissola, Meurent and the rest have been written out of art history? She lays much of the blame on the mainly male academics who compiled what we think of as the artistic canon. "There hasn't been enough research into female artists and attributing their work properly. So when historians see a fabulous painting they tend to attribute it to a well-known man."
Moreover, critics living at the same time as these women not only ignored female artists, but treated them with a combination of condescension and distrust. "Critics just didn't take women seriously," says Kevans. "Because a lot of women were married to other artists, people assumed they were helped by their husbands. But, actually, those women were artists before they were married; indeed, that's how they met their husbands."
Regular readers will know that I don't often leap to the defence of 'art history' as an academic discipline. But this claim that big name painters like Kauffmann have been subjected to a conspiracy of male art historians and contemporary critics is simply rubbish. A very quick rebuttal: Vasari wrote enthusiastically about Sofonisba, as did Van Dyck, who paid her homage in Sicily and took care to write down her views on painting; London went 'Angelicamad' when Kauffmann came here in 1766; there is no shortage of the works of either on display in museums large and small around the world; and even a quick check of their historiographies shows that both figures have been studied for considerably longer than some people who can't be bothered to read believe.
Met buys rare Le Brun portrait from UK
May 18 2014
Picture: Met/New York Times
The above portrait of Everhard Jabach and his Family by Charles Le Brun has been acquired by the Met in New York. The picture had been in an English private collection since the 18th Century, and was temporarily blocked from export by the UK government. However, no UK museum tried to raise the $12.3m required to match the Met's offer.
The New York Times reports:
In February, after the museum had agreed to buy a rare 17th-century portrait by Le Brun, which had been in private hands in England since the late 18th century, the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest in England, issued a three-month export ban on the painting, “A Portrait of Everhard Jabach and Family,” to give British institutions time to match the $12.3 million price the Met had agreed to pay for it.
Arguing that it should stay in Britain, Nicholas Penny, director of the National Gallery in London, wrote in a statement to the Export Reviewing Committee: “There are only a handful of paintings by Le Brun in British collections. All represent religious, historical or mythological subjects, and most are much influenced by Poussin’s style. None is a portrait.”
Luckily for the Met, no British institution tried to buy the painting, which is now being prepared for its journey to New York. “It’s a landmark in the history of French painting,” said Keith Christiansen, the chairman of the Met’s European paintings department.
Jabach is a great source of information on the painting technique of Van Dyck, to whom he sat twice. It's sad to see the painting go. I missed any announcement it was at risk of leaving.
Update - a reader writes:
This is the second time in recent months that the Trustees of the National Gallery have not moved to acquire major works subject to export licence deferral: and where, in both cases, the artist is not represented in their permanent collection . First there was the Coello - which the Gallery made a bid for some years ago - and now this magnificent Le Brun.
And they could have bought both for less than the price of the Bellows. That painting, however fine, simply does not fit within the corpus on display - however hard they try - and falls outside their collecting range (by the time it was executed, Kandinsky was producing some of the first, truly abstract works). Indeed, it would have found a more appropriate home at Tate.
What the hell is going on?
Update II - another reader writes:
Your reader comments that the export of an important Le brun is the second recent occasion when the National Gallery failed to try to save a significan old master of a type poorly represented in British collections. I personally think the Bellows they bought is a fine painting, and if they could find ways to get another half a dozen 19th and early 20th century American works of similar quality (no easy task, but well chosen individual acquisitions are the way to get there) it would be a very real achievement. The harsh reality is that our museums and galleries have continually to make hard choices as collections build hundreds of years ago are sold off, almost always to foreign buyers. This has been happening for a century, and will stop only when there is nothing left to sell.
Isn't the real question why there are now so few Britsh collectors of note? That is why we see museums putting their collective finger in a dyke rather than the UK being part of an ebb and flow of great art. We have more millionaires and billionaires than ever before. More British people than ever before are visiting our great museums. Where have all the collectors gone? Are our bankers all philistines, or does modern British society somehow treat collectors less well than other countries?
Update III - a reader writes:
However regrettable its departure, one cannot gainsay the information provided on the Met’s website. And it’s not even on display yet.
Far, far better than anything the National Gallery has available. Perhaps they didn’t deserve it.
It's true that individual picture entries on the NG's site are rather thin.
Exclusive - Sleeper alert!
May 18 2014
The above 'Nederlandischer Meister' picture, estimated at just EUR15,000-EUR18,000, sold yesterday in Germany for EUR1.3m. An explanation as to why probably lies in the fact that, as the catalogue noted, several faces in the background appear in the oeuvre of one Rembrandt. What the catalogue didn't point out is that one of these, top right, in fact shows Rembrandt himself. You can zoom in on the image here.
If it is by him (and I've no idea, as it's outside my rather limited field), it must be an early work. It used to be called Flinck. Needless to say, I didn't pay the picture any attention at all in the catalogue. Whoops...
Update - a reader writes:
What makes the Lempertz picture an odd candidate for being by RHL is that it is on canvas, while all history paintings by Rembrandt and Lievens from their Leiden period are on panel. The figure at the left derives from Rembrandt's painting in Lyon from 1625, which was discovered by Horst Gerson in 1962.
Update II - a reader corrects the above, and supplies us with further information:
Have to be pedanty with reader above - Lievens Raising of Lazarus is most def on canvas...
This Lempertz painting relates to some sketches in the British Museum attributed to Nicholas Maes which are also thought studies for the National Gallery's Christ blessing the Children by Maes (all of which were formerly attributed to Rembrandt).
There are some sketches attributed to Hoogstraten at the RKD and other sketches (read the British Museum curator notes) that relate more to the Lempertz picture.
Another sleuthing reader suggests an alternative attribution:
A very fine Claes Moeyaert, see comparison [below]... Moeyaert was also a partner of Uylenburgh, RHL's dealer and friend. Background figures show other familiar faces. A daring purchase...
Met goes for free image use
May 18 2014
Picture: Sir Anthony Van Dyck, Self-Portrait (detail) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Hurrah - another major museum goes for free image reproduction - three cheers for the Metropolitan Museum in New York, which announced on Friday:
Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, announced today that more than 400,000 high-resolution digital images of public domain works in the Museum’s world-renowned collection may be downloaded directly from the Museum’s website for non-commercial use—including in scholarly publications in any media—without permission from the Museum and without a fee. The number of available images will increase as new digital files are added on a regular basis.
In making the announcement, Mr. Campbell said: “Through this new, open-access policy, we join a growing number of museums that provide free access to images of art in the public domain. I am delighted that digital technology can open the doors to this trove of images from our encyclopedic collection.”
The Metropolitan Museum’s initiative—called Open Access for Scholarly Content (OASC)—provides access to images of art in its collection that the Museum believes to be in the public domain and free of other known restrictions; these images are now available for scholarly use in any media. Works that are covered by the new policy are identified on the Museum’s website (http://www.metmuseum.org/collections) with the acronym OASC. (Certain works are not available through the initiative for one or more of the following reasons: the work is still under copyright, or the copyright status is unclear; privacy or publicity issues; the work is owned by a person or an institution other than the Metropolitan Museum; restrictions by the artist, donor, or lender; or lack of a digital image of suitable quality.)
OASC was developed as a resource for students, educators, researchers, curators, academic publishers, non-commercial documentary filmmakers, and others involved in scholarly or cultural work. Prior to the establishment of OASC, the Metropolitan Museum provided images upon request, for a fee, and authorization was subject to terms and conditions.
How much longer can UK museums hold out?
Who is Barnett Newman? (ctd.)
May 18 2014
A reader keen to educate me sends in the above video from MoMA.
Where are the women in art?
May 18 2014
I mentioned earlier Amanda Vickery's new series on women in art. I haven't been able to see it yet. But I did see in The Guardian an article by Prof. Vickery (who is a historian) on the difficulties she had finding pictures to film from before the 19th Century. In seeking to find out why so few works by professional female artists were available to film, Prof. Vickery leans not towards the reason that, for good or ill, there weren't that many of them, but that an anti-female artists conspiracy still exists:
I was prepared for a hunt, but nevertheless the near invisibility of women's art was shocking: I was forced into storage facilities and basements. The Advancing Women Artists Foundation estimates that 1,500 works by women are currently stored in Florence's various deposits, most of which have not been on public view for centuries. To the question "Are all of these works of a high artistic standard?" Jane Fortune, head of the foundation, answers: "We'll never know unless they are seen."
Public galleries seem tacitly to endorse the conservative view, exemplified by Brian Sewell's assertion that "only men are capable of aesthetic greatness". But painters and sculptors were artisans working within family-based workshops, just like tailors, locksmiths, goldsmiths and cabinetmakers. Art was a trade. Few paintings were the product of a single hand – only the face and hands might be the work of the "master". The male artist's brand was a fiction. Marietta Tintoretto worked alongside her father in Venice, Barbara Longhi beside her brother in Ravenna, their labour a vital constituent of the family economy, but unrecognised outside the workshop.
A deep belief in the impossibility of female genius is at work. Many of Leyster's sunny canvases celebrating the social life of the Dutch golden age were so skilful they were attributed to Frans Hals, despite her signature.
Meanwhile, Neil Jeffares notes with some surprise that Vickery omitted to look at pastel painting, where female artists abounded in far larger numbers:
In fact, as you can see throughout my Dictionary of pastellists before 1800, pastel was a field offering women far greater opportunity than most areas of the arts. There were a number of reasons for this. From a purely practical point of view, pastel portraiture is an essentially solo activity requiring no large studio with an army of assistants to manage the large canvases used in history painting. It could be practised without lengthy training in life drawing (all but impossible under the prudish restrictions imposed in the eighteenth century).
Some 17% of known pastellists (i.e. those recorded in my Dictionary) were female overall, but this figure also varies considerably among different cohorts. Women made up less than 10% of the “significant” artists (chose with a surviving œuvre in at least double digits), while accounting for 45% of amateurs. They represented half the recorded Spanish artists but only an eighth of the Dutch and just over a fifth of the English and French schools. There are of course inevitable biases in such data, which reflect varying cultural traditions, for example, in relation to the admission and recording of honorary members in academies.
You can catch the series here on iPlayer.
'The Craze for Pastels' (ctd.)
May 18 2014
I mentioned a while ago Tate Britain's new mini display of pastels, featuring the newly discovered portrait above, Baron Nagell's Running Footman', by Ozias Humphrey. Pastel scholar Neil Jeffares has been, and his excellent review is well worth reading. He wasn't overly impressed...
Sotheby's contemporary sale bombs
May 15 2014
Oops. It all went a bit flat at Sotheby's yesterday, where their contemporary art sale fetched 'just' $364.3m. The day before, Christie's had realised $745m. The Sotheby's total includes buyer's premium, and it was only thanks to this that the sale could be said to have 'beaten' its low estimate of $336.7m, a figure which of course does not include premium. Jeff Koons' Popeye (above) sold to the casino magnate Steve Wynn for $28m.
I saw that Sotheby's Tweets began reporting the sale with much bravado, each result being given the hashtag #aheadofthecurve. These tailed off as the some of the bigger names failed to sell, and it became clear that Sotheby's were slipping far behind their rivals.
Carol Vogel in The New York Times looks into what happened:
After two consecutive nights of sky’s-the-limit bidding, Sotheby’s sale of contemporary art started out on a high, but quickly fell back to earth, with picky buyers passing up paintings and sculptures by major figures like Rothko, de Kooning and Takashi Murakami.
It has been a tough time for Sotheby’s. On the cusp of the spring auction season, Sotheby’s and Daniel S. Loeb, the activist hedge fund manager, declared a truce in one of the most bitter corporate fights in recent memory. After a long proxy battle, the auction house agreed to give Mr. Loeb and two allies the board seats they had been seeking and to allow his firm, Third Point, to increase its stake to 15 percent.
Officials at Christie’s, Sotheby’s archrival, are said to have used Sotheby’s troubles in the competition to win art to sell this season. If they did, it worked.
The York Avenue auction house had a hard act to follow. On Monday and Tuesday, Christie’s held contemporary art auctions that topped expectations, selling nearly $745 million worth in less than three hours on Tuesday alone. But despite having eight more works than the Christie’s auction, Sotheby’s sale on Wednesday only managed less than half as much, totaling $364.3 million, just above its low $336.7 million estimate. Of the 79 works up for sale, 12 did not sell.
A set of six Andy Warhol self-portraits sold for $30m, a figure which puts the £10m for Van Dyck's last self-portrait into some perspective. The Warhol portraits were described as 'Utterly compelling, urgent and sensational'. If the NPG in London had used that to describe the Van Dyck, people would have laughed. But the contemporary market is a different world.
Warwick collection on offer at Sotheby's
May 15 2014
Sotheby's in London have an impressive haul of Old Masters for their forthcoming sales from the collection of the Earls of Warwick. Romney's portrait of a turbaned Edward Wortley-Montagu is one of the best-known British 18th Century portraits, and is estimated at £2m-£3m.
Update - a reader writes:
As you know, there's another version in Sheffield. So is the price difference between Sotheby's portrait and that now in Yorkshire, accepted in lieu in 2004-205 settling £315,000 0f tax, the difference between the original and a replica?
The state got a bit of a bargain...