Loans for cash - a good idea?

November 27 2012

Image of Loans for cash - a good idea?

Picture: MFA Boston

Sebastian Smee in The Boston Globe highlights how US museums raise funds by renting out their masterpieces:

[...] the MFA [Museum of Fine Arts, Boston], eager to raise revenues, is also renting out many of its most prized works of European and American art to for-profit enterprises. A total of 26 paintings, including the marquee “Dance at Bougival” and “Madame Roulin,” have been sent to exhibitions in Italy organized by a private company called Linea d’Ombra, for a large, undisclosed fee.

The combined loans and rentals have resulted in what Malcolm Rogers, the MFA’s director, readily admits is a “traffic jam” of missing masterpieces.

“We admit there is some crowding [on the list of masterpieces sent away],” Rogers said in an interview with the Globe. “Everything has come together at once.”

‘As an art history professor, it seems perfectly reasonable to expect that certain canonical masterpieces are on display in the museum,’ said Jonathan Unglaub of Brandeis University.

The practice of charging fees for lending works is not new, but it remains controversial. The Italian shows currently showing works from the MFA, in the cities of Vicenza and Verona, are titled “Raphael to Picasso” and “From Botticelli to Matisse.”

I'm not aware of any UK museums doing this (at least not on a large scale). But I'm interested to hear what readers make of the practice. If a hefty fee is raised, should pictures be loaned for cash to not for profit organisations? Should, say, Unilever be able to rent a Gainsborough from the National Gallery, if it is ordinarily in storage? Gaps on walls are a Bad Thing - but if sensitively done, I can see the practice having merits.

Update - a reader writes:

British galleries have started to do this on some scale.  16thc Venetian paintings from the National Gallery of Scotland, including the Dianas, went to America to Atlanta, Minneapolis and Houston from October 2010 to August 2011.  That was for a fee. 

And further back, all the Courtauld Impressionists and Post-Impressionists toured for fees. This was at least from the late 1980s to raise funds for their move to Somerset House.

I would have thought English Heritage are getting fees for the collection from Kenwood currently touring America,

On the other side it’s difficult to tell if and how much British galleries pay to borrow material.  One of the few cases that have come to light is that of the National Gallery paying a fee to a local church in Spain to borrow its El Greco.

Another reader summarises the case thus:

Honestly, I do not see any problem in museums loaning works of art.

In fact, the idea of the museum as something "beyond" and "above" mundane matters as "money" is as démodé as the French Revolution!

Another reader adds:

[...] the Reina Sofia paid 3.5 million euros to the Picasso Museum from Paris for exposing its works in Madrid for three months while the [Picasso] Museum was closed for renovation (later, the same paintings grossed a significant amount of money on their journey through United Arab Emirates, Canada, United States, Finland, Russia and Australia).

Update II - another reader writes:

In principle I don't have a problem with this. Although having said that, and I'm surprised no one has already mentioned it; isn't there the issue of the fragility of works of art and the unnecessary stress that constant loaning and lending can place on an artwork (especially if lent to corporate companies who probably wouldn't treat them as carefully)?

While another is not so sure:

I feel more strongly than other contributors.  What does it mean to say that museums aren't 'above money'?  Of course they don't exist in a different plane where budgets are irrelevant, but that doesn't make them commercial enterprises driven to make a quick buck wherever they can.  They exist to preserve art and to display it to the public.  Rentals militate against both of these purposes.  Paintings shipped around the world are inevitably at risk of damage.  Brian Sewell's autobiography has some tragic anecdotes about paintings ruined in transit.  The NG even managed to break its own paintings when taking down an exhibition.  

 Dumbed down commercial blockbusters try to cram through as many people as possible, making it hard for anyone properly to see anything.  There are always major lacuna at major galleries, which have become more like lending libraries (as noted by Haskell & Penny).  Visits to more out-of-the-way collections are often once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and to miss half of their best paintings does a great disservice to people who have travelled to see them.  

There are more doleful examples of paid loans recently - including the NG paying to hire Leonardo's Cecilia Gallerani.  The Art Tribune has a good post on the impact at the Louvre, with pictures of many empty spaces.  The paymasters will see this as an opportunity to cut budgets, forcing perpetual prostitution of the collection to pay running costs.  It is most certainly a Bad Thing.

Old Master Week (plug)

November 27 2012

Image of Old Master Week (plug)

Picture: Philip Mould & Company

To coincide with the Old Master auction viewings here in London, the Philip Mould gallery will be open on Saturday 1st and Sunday 2nd December between 12-5pm. Amongst the pictures we'll have on display will be this rather nice Balthasar Denner, painted in 1732, which he called ‘Eine Kaffee Schenkerinn’.

Putting on a Francis Bacon exhibition

November 27 2012

Video: Gallery of NSW, via ArtDaily

Is harder than you think, according to this video from the Gallery of New South Wales. Their new Bacon show, Five Decades, is open till 24th February.

Robert Hughes vs Damien Hirst

November 27 2012


Figures put out by Artnet show that works by Damien Hirst have suffered a 30% decline in value at auction. Andrew Rice in BusinessWeek has a lengthy article about Hirst's place in the market, which is well worth reading:

For all his celebrity, Hirst’s stock in the art market has experienced a stunning deflation. According to data compiled by the firm Artnet, Hirst works acquired during his commercial peak, between 2005 and 2008, have since resold at an average loss of 30 percent. And that probably understates the decline—judging from the dropoff in sales volume, collectors aren’t bringing their big-ticket Hirsts to market. A third of the more than 1,700 Hirst pieces offered at auctions since 2009 have failed to sell at all—they’ve been “burned,” in the terminology of the art world. “He has way underperformed,” says Michael Moses, a retired New York University business professor who maintains a financial index for art. “He has lots and lots of negative returns.”

Further on in the article we find a telling piece of contemporary art vacuousness from 'collector' Alberto Mugrabi:

“Great artists, they always go up to a peak, and then they go down to a very low low,” says collector Alberto Mugrabi. “I feel that Damien is one of the most influential artists of our time.” Hirst may care little about critics, but he knows collectors have great power. Advertising executive Charles Saatchi was an early patron, and in recent years, Mugrabi and his family have played a crucial supporting role. Mugrabi isn’t merely an art lover; he’s called his family “market makers.” His father, Jose, who made a fortune in the Colombian garment business, started collecting Warhols soon after the artist’s death, when his most expensive work commanded six figures. He continued buying them on the cheap through the downturn of the 1990s, and the Mugrabis now own the largest Warhol trove in private hands. They’ve followed a similar strategy with Hirst, amassing more than 100 pieces.

“Collectors have to learn to buy art with their eyes,” Mugrabi says, “not their ears.” An olive-skinned international bon vivant, he’s sitting in his Park Avenue office—a Warhol Blue Jackie sits propped against the wall behind his desk—and showing off a desktop picture on his computer screen: four Hirst sharks, suspended in adjoining tanks. “What’s more amazing than that?” he asks.

When asked what the piece is called, Mugrabi shuffles some papers, racks his brain, but the name won’t come to him. Finally, he yells to his secretary in an adjoining room: “Liz, what’s the name of the shark?” “Theology, Philosophy, Medicine, Justice,” she shouts back.

You can hardly blame Mugrabi for letting it slip his mind. Since he acquired the piece in 2008, he’s rarely seen it. While his family keeps a few pieces around the office—one of the artist’s glass medicine cabinets, a bull’s heart impaled on a knife and encased in a transparent box—most of their Hirsts are stored in warehouses in Newark, N.J., and Switzerland, where the animals are removed from their tanks and refrigerated. Another installation includes 30 sheep, two sides of beef, a string of sausages, an umbrella, and a dead white dove. “Just to install a piece is a lot of money,” Mugrabi says.

Ultimately, Mugrabi is investing to make a profit. He’s trying to sell the shark, for instance, and says he has a good offer. But he’s in a tough spot: Like any major art collector, he has to protect the value of his holdings. That means he must prop up Hirst by paying—perhaps overpaying—at auction. Mugrabi says he thinks the acquisition strategy will pay off, as his father’s Warhol investment did. He brings up recently deceased art critic Robert Hughes, who once interviewed him and called Hirst’s art “a cruddy game for the self-aggrandizement of the rich and the ignorant.”

“In another year, nobody will talk about this man anymore,” Mugrabi says of Hughes. “In 2,000 years, Hirst will still be in people’s vocabulary.”

For as long as this blog shall live, 27th November will here on after be Robert Hughes Day, on which we'll not only re-post the above highlight of Mr Mugrabi's greatest moment, but also check up on Hirst's values and reputation. If we're all still living, let's re-group in, say, 2050 and see who's winning...

'It's called artistic licence'

November 26 2012


HRH the Prince of Wales has opened a new drawing school at Dumfries House, the stately pile he rescued last year (against the Daily Mail's advice). In the video above, a student takes exception to the Prince's gentle critique.

Porn alert! (ctd.)

November 26 2012

Image of Porn alert! (ctd.)

Picture: Christie's

Last week we saw how Christie's, in their Old Master Drawings catalogue, felt the need to print a large warning notice before showing two 'sexually graphic' drawings by Thomas Rowlandson. But it seems that in the modern British department, anything goes. Or at least, anything goes if you subtly title the above drawing by Duncan Grant, 'Two men Wrestling'.

Looks a bit below the belt to me...

Update - a reader writes:

When I was at Bonhams I was portering a Vertu sale with some Edwardian enamelled porno cufflinks. There were four separate 'close-ups', all very Triple X. 

Of course, a client rang up wanting someone to describe what was happening in each one. 'Wrestling' wouldn't do, and I was in the middle of a public view saying things like 'double penetration' down the phone.

That's enough filth for now, I think.

Porn alert! (ctd.)

November 23 2012

Image of Porn alert! (ctd.)

Picture: Royal Collection

Following the Rowlandson naughtiness below, a reader alerts me to this new Rowlandson exhibition at the Queen's Gallery in Edinburgh, and writes:

I wonder what they will dare display!

Not much, would be my guess. Imagine the official opening...

Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

November 23 2012

Image of Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

Picture: Der Spiegel/Christie's. A fake Campendonk sold for EUR500,000 in 2006.

The Economist has an interesting article on how, in the modern art world, lawsuits and forgeries are making authenticity increasingly hard to prove:

Alas, plenty of other experts are now too scared of lawsuits to authenticate pictures, says Clare McAndrew, the founder of Arts Economics, a consultancy. Early this year the Andy Warhol Foundation dissolved its authentication board after spending $7m to fight a lawsuit from a disgruntled London collector. In September the Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat and the Keith Haring Foundation stopped authenticating works by the two late artists. Last year the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation dissolved its authentication committee rather than “jeopardise our health and well-being”, says Jack Cowart, its director. In the past five years insurance policies taken out by art authenticators have more than doubled at Hiscox, an insurer.

Forgers nowadays typically favour 20th-century abstract and expressionist styles. Mimicking Jackson Pollock’s drip-and-splatter paintings is easier than faking old masters such as Rembrandt. Swamped with lawsuits, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation stopped authenticating works in 1996, four decades after Pollock’s death. Lawsuits continued anyway. A court even entertained a suit from a man with a painting signed “Pollack” (he lost).


Marc Restellini, a Parisian art historian, rejected as fake numerous works while preparing a catalogue raisonné of drawings by Amedeo Modigliani, an Italian artist who left little documentation when he died young in Paris in 1920. Told by phone in 1999 to leave the drawings alone or be killed, Mr Restellini cancelled the project because, as he puts it: “I’m not James Bond.” (Now head of the Pinacothèque de Paris, a private museum, he continues to work on a catalogue of Modigliani paintings, one of which fetched nearly $69m at a Sotheby’s auction two years ago.) Other Modigliani catalogues are incomplete or at least partially discredited—one French author was convicted for forgery.

An accountant who knows about these things once told me that art fraud (including the use of art for money laundering) is, financially, the third largest crime in the world. At this rate, with art forgery going almost totally unchallenged by law enforcement agencies, and hardly if ever spotted by auction houses, it may soon be number one. 

Update - my remark about fakes not being spotted by auctioneers was made slightly tongue in cheek, but quite rightly a reader takes me to task for such a bald accusation:

As a specialist in a Swedish auction house, I may think that the "[…] hardly if ever spotted by auction houses" is a bit unfair. We reject hundreds of fakes a year which are never to reach the auction public. This includes the entire spectrum from completely fraudulent newly-mades to manipulated signatures on otherwise genuine works of art. 

The problem, as hinted in the article, is when a work by a frequently faked or rarely sold artist is consigned for sale and there is none to ask for authenticity anymore. Important committees or senior experts that no longer provide their views leave the field open for scholars with a vague conscious that gladly authenticates almost everything on a photo for a thousand euros. (Not to mention the problems with the increasing field of faking letters of authenticity, or foundations/committees campaigning against each other for the right of the ultimate yea or nay.)

I agree that there has been some rather notable auction sales of high end fakes over the years (in which the auction house's role has been on the dubious side), but in the business of fakes, the cup of wishful thinking has been drunk by everyone…

New research on artists' suppliers

November 23 2012

Image of New research on artists' suppliers

Picture: NPG

Former Chief Curator of the National Portrait Gallery Jacob Simon has been in touch, with news of his updated research pages on artists' suppliers on the NPG website:

The most recent edition of the online resource, British artists' suppliers, 1650-1950 has now been selectively updated. It contains new information on Scottish 19th-century suppliers, including Alexander Hill, William Macgill, Robert Nelson, Hugh Paton, Alexander Scott, John Douglas Smith, John Taylor and Taylor & Norie, later Robert Norrie & Son. These amended entries derive from two days spent in Edinburgh, where my research was greatly facilitated by Helen Smailes. The resource also contains updated entries on John Bryce Smith and Percy Young, both important early 20th-century London suppliers, and on John Wragg, the late 18th- century lay figure maker.

Additionally, there is a new illustrated feature, The artist’s porte-crayon, which happens to coincide with a display of some of the National Portrait Gallery’s finest but rarely seen drawings, The Art of Drawing: Portraits from the Collection, 1670-1780, until May 2013.

Next month, the resource, British picture framemakers, 1630-1950, will be launched in an expanded and updated form.

Can any other museum boast such a comprehensive online resource?

The new DG

November 23 2012

Image of The new DG

Picture: Telegraph

Lovers of the arts should be pleased at Tony Hall's appointment as the new Director General of the BBC. As far as I can make out, he's the first DG to have serious experience of working in the arts (as Director of the Royal Opera House since 2001). He's also a singularly nice fellow - he once gave me some last-minute house tickets to Don Giovanni (which went down splendidly during a crucial moment of early courtship with Mrs G).

Porn alert!

November 22 2012

Image of Porn alert!

Picture: BG

Tickled to see the above porn warning in Christie's forthcoming Old Master drawing sale. How hardcore do you think the pictures might be?

Find out by clicking 'Read On'.


For an even closer, zoom-able look (if you dare), click here, and here

Before 'n After (ctd.)

November 22 2012

Image of Before 'n After (ctd.)

Picture: BG/Philip Mould & Company

With apologies for my rubbish photos, allow me to share with you this nifty piece of restoration. When the above portrait of a boy in red came to us he was attributed to Zoffany, and in a rather muddy brown background. It was quite a surprise to find the original sky background beneath a layer of later over-paint. The over-paint was probably late 19th Century.

The picture is by Nathaniel Dance-Holland RA (1735-1811).

Things they wish they never said (ctd.)

November 22 2012

Image of Things they wish they never said (ctd.)

Picture: Forbes

Last week saw both Christie's and Sotheby's set big records for their modern and contemporary art sales. But the day before the sale, Forbes ran a piece on why the sales wouldn't do very well:

“The art market is a lot weaker,” explained Thomas Galbraith, head of analytics at artnet, who expects another lackluster week.  The problem is that the market is, as one commentator put it, “allergic” of second-tier works.  “People are taking less risk and going for works that are proven,” noted Galbraith, “the market is taking a step back, it’s a self-aware market.”

Oops. Meanwhile, on Reuters Felix Salmon has an interesting piece on the stirrings of a revolt in the contemporary art world:

The doyenne of art-market reporters, Sarah Thornton, has quit writing about the economics of art. She says there are a hundred reasons for doing so, including the fact that “tightknit cabals of dealers and speculative collectors count on the fact that you will report record prices without being able to reveal the collusion behind how they were achieved”, and that “it implies that money is the most important thing about art.”

Charlie Finch, too, smells the irrelevance of a world which has become irredeemably decadent in all the worst meanings of the word — to the point, this summer, at which he convinced himself that even the plutocrats would notice, and that the art market would be crashing hard, right about now. Obviously, that didn’t happen: it’s almost impossible to underestimate the obliviousness of the art-collecting elite, who are of course constantly surrounded by precisely the kind of courtiers — consultants, gallerists, even artists — who constantly tell them how perspicacious and important they are. Look no further than former commodity broker Jeff Koons, whose Tulips just sold for $33,682,500 at Christie’s: the last time I saw him he was in Davos, palling around with a Ukrainian oligarch, and generally solidifying his reputation among the people who really matter. Insofar, of course, that the people who really matter are the people you want to continue to funnel millions of dollars in your direction.

No, Charlie, the art market oligopoly system isn’t going anywhere: if anything, it’s more entrenched than ever. But the people without millions of dollars, the people who try to talk about art but find all conversations ultimately being about money — those people are, finally, getting fed up.

Like it or not, art and money have always gone together, and always will.

Elizabeth I goes to Moscow (ctd.)

November 22 2012

Image of Elizabeth I goes to Moscow (ctd.)

Picture: Kremlin Museum

The Kremlin Museum has kindly sent me some more photos of the Hampden portrait of Elizabeth I looking glorious in the current Tudors exhibition in Moscow. The picture was restored and sold by us some years ago. The exhibition will be on at the V&A in March.

New research programme at the Paul Mellon Centre

November 21 2012

The Paul Mellon Centre in London has published details of its new research programme:

The spring of 2013 will see the launch of an exciting new programme of research events at the Centre. 

Research seminars

The first of a seasonal series of five, fortnightly research seminars will be given by distinguished historians of British art and architecture. These research seminars, which will take place on Wednesday evenings, are intended to showcase original and stimulating research in all areas of British art and architectural history. They will take the form of hour-long talks, followed by questions and drinks, and are geared to scholars, curators, conservators, art-trade professionals and research students working on the history of British art. We are pleased to announce that the papers given in this first series of research seminars will be delivered by members of The Paul Mellon Centre’s Advisory Council.  

Research lunches

The spring programme of events will also include a series of five research lunches, geared to doctoral students and junior scholars working on the history of British art and architecture. These research lunches, which will normally take place on alternate Fridays, are intended to be informal events in which individual doctoral students and scholars will talk for half-an-hour about their projects, and engage in animated discussion with their peers. A sandwich lunch will be provided by the Centre on these occasions. We hope that this series, which we look forward to maintaining in the summer and autumn, will help foster a sense of community amongst PhD students and junior colleagues working in the field, and bring researchers from a wide range of institutions together in a collegial and friendly atmosphere. 

In order to help us plan for these events, it is essential that all of those who intend coming to individual research seminars and research lunches email the Centre’s Events Co-ordinator, Ella Fleming, on efleming[at], at least two days in advance.

Full details of the seminars and research topics here.

Say no to the sale of Old Flo

November 21 2012

Image of Say no to the sale of Old Flo

Picture: Art Fund

What a contrast between two councils - in Glasgow, we see the city council joining forces with the National Galleries of Scotland to buy a 'Glasgow Boy' picture for £637k. But in Tower Hamlets, it's full steam ahead with the sale of Henry Moore's sculpture Draped Seated Woman, commonly known as Old Flo. The piece, which was bought by the London County Council at cost in 1962 for the new Stifford housing estate, will be sold at Christie's in February. The money raised will go into general council expenditure - so it's a deaccession of the worst kind. At the moment, the sculpture is at the Yorkshire sculpture park after the demolition of the estate. The Art Fund has launched a campaign to stop the sale.

Over on the Museum of London's website, curator Pat Hardy has helpfully set out the history of Old Flo's arrival in Tower Hamlets:

The LCC felt that such new estates should have works of art in them and they set about sourcing and buying artworks for these new spaces and also for schools and colleges. This was not for purely aesthetic reasons as they made clear ‘the Council has no authority to encourage art for art’s sake or to encourage national art except insofar as it benefits London art’. It was part of the policy to improve Londoners lives and living standards. The new Stifford Estate was a prestigious site and a suitably prestigious sculpture was therefore required to put in it. A work by Henry Moore, at that time an artist of international fame and prestige, must have seemed very appropriate   The LCC in 1962 therefore acquired Draped Seated Woman (Old Flo) and it was installed outside one of the tower blocks called Ewhurst Tower in the Stifford Estate in the spring of 1963. It remained there until the Stifford Estate was demolished in the late 1990s.

The Museum of London has offered to house the sculpture, but the mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, has spurned the suggestion, and says the sale must go ahead:

We are faced with a stark choice in these times of recession.

Meanwhile, a group of councillors has tabled a motion to stop the sale, to be discussed at the town hall on 28th November at 7.30pm. The meeting is open to the public.

Glasgow boy goes home

November 21 2012

Image of Glasgow boy goes home

Picture: ArtFund

Congratulations to Glasgow City Council and the National Galleries of Scotland for buying Sir James Guthrie's The Orchard. From the Art Fund website:

The unprecedented partnership of Glasgow City Council and the National Galleries of Scotland bought the work for £637,500 from an auction at Sotheby's in London. The purchase was made possible by grants from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund, who gave £423,358 and £62,983 respectively.

John Leighton, director general of the NGS, said: "Guthrie's In the Orchard is a key masterpiece in the story of Scottish art and, at a time when funding is obviously very scarce, it is entirely fitting NGS and Glasgow City Council should join forces to acquire this iconic work for the public.

"We are immensely grateful to the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund for their rapid and very generous support, which has allowed us to move quickly to secure this extremely important work at auction."

It's rare for a UK museum to buy something at auction for such a large amount - so it's a great effort, especially if you consider that the NHMF had only 14 days notice to contribute their £423k:

Dame Jenny Abramsky, Chair of the NHMF, said: “This is wonderful news. Guthrie’s In the Orchard is universally acknowledged as one of the most powerful paintings of the Glasgow Boys Movement, which directed the course of modern art in 19th century Britain.  When news reached the National Heritage Memorial Fund just fourteen days ago that this seminal work was at risk, we were able to act extremely fast and pledge our support in record time to secure this important part of our heritage for future generations to enjoy.”

Well done and a large round of applause to everyone involved.

'Young Van Dyck' at the Prado

November 21 2012

Video: Prado Museum

The Prado looks to have pulled off a great triumph with their 'Young Van Dyck' exhibition - as this video* reveals, about a third of his output from his so-called 'first Antwerp period' has been assembled for the show; 50 paintings and 42 drawings. Wow... Congratulations to everyone involved.

I'm hoping to go next week.

*you may need to click the captions box, bottom right, to get English subtitles.


November 21 2012

Image of Plug

Picture: TAN

The NPG's re-identification of their portrait of Cardinal York (with a little help from AHN and I) has been covered by Gareth Harris in The Art Newspaper

The meanness of the Daily Mail

November 21 2012

Image of The meanness of the Daily Mail

Picture: Mail

To help me run this blog, I have a Google news alert for the word 'painting'. Top of the list today was this story in the Daily Mail, about the unfortunate lady at the centre of the Petraeus affair in the US. Marvel at its horridness. Personally, I think everyone should be encouraged to sit for their portrait.

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