Previous Posts: October 2011

A newly discovered Rodin? Or 'a complete fiction'?

October 31 2011

Image of A newly discovered Rodin? Or 'a complete fiction'?

Picture: AFP

An art expert and sculptor has claimed that this curious little silver statue (22.5cm tall) is the work of Rodin, perhaps the greatest sculptor of the modern age. Bought in a French flea market in the 1980s, the work has no signature, no foundry marks, and does not appear in any documentation linking it to Rodin. But in a flamboyant presentation to the French press today, Gilles Perrault presented a 60 page dossier claiming the piece is undoubtedly by Rodin. 

As is increasingly the case these days, 'scientific analysis' has been used to shore up the claims. From AFP:

In particular he focused on the subject's hands -- the spacing between the fingers -- on its highly-stylised feet, and on the folds of the draping, which he argues are typical of Rodin.

"Back then," Perrault explained, "Rodin was at odds with the whole establishment, he was the only sculptor who used fabric covered with plaster or wax."

Analysis uncovered microscopic traces left by the plastered fabric on the statuette, he said, along with minute grooves similar to ones found on a Rodin work in memory of the writer Honore de Balzac.

However, the Rodin Museum in Paris has doubts. 

"We are very, very sceptical, in the absence of documents referring to the existence of such a silver statuette, or to any other works that relate to it," said its asset curator Aline Magnien, contacted earlier this week.

"This work has no pedigree," she said. "Gilles Perrault has created a fiction."

See a more detailed photo here.

Happy Halloween

October 31 2011

Image of Happy Halloween

Picture: Hieronymous Bosch, 'Beehive and Witches', Albertina, Vienna.

Trick, or treat? Depends on your taste I suppose... Nevertheless, Halloween must have been a lot scarier in the 15th Century, when Bosch made this drawing. 

'Test your Connoisseurship' - it's harder than it looks

October 31 2011

Image of 'Test your Connoisseurship' - it's harder than it looks

Picture: Museum of Fine Arts Boston

Following my first 'Test your Connoisseurship' on a detail of Gainsborough's Portrait of Captain Thomas Mathews, above, a reader writes:

I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I actually grew up with a later copy of this family portrait in our dining room, and yet still didn't get the answer right.  I had got as far as guessing that it was possibly by Gainsborough, but internet image searches for "Unfinished Gainsborough" produced nothing.  The answer was alas rather closer to home than I realised...

I think this is one of the best emails AHN has had. Thanks!

Those German forgers - who they fooled

October 31 2011

The forgery gang recently convicted in Germany (led by Wolfgang Beltracchi) are thought to have been responsible for up to EUR34 million of fake art. Perhaps more impressive is the list of those who were in some way fooled by their rubbish fakes:

  • Lempertz Auction House, Cologne
  • Drooner Institut, Munich
  • Musee d'Art Moderne, Paris
  • Christie's, New York
  • Max Ernst Museum, Bruhl
  • Biennale des Antiquaires, Paris
  • Sotheby's, New York
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Artinfo has a good roundup of the case here - including the suggestion that there may be some still unaccounted for fakes out there...

New acquisition at the Louvre

October 31 2011

Image of New acquisition at the Louvre

Picture: Musee du Louvre

The Louvre has bought The Raising of Lazarus by Jean Le Clerc (1587/8-1633). It is the first painting of his to enter the Louvre's collection, and was acquired from the New York dealer Richard Feigen. Full details here

I'm struck by how often I write the above headline - much more often than, say, 'New acquisition at the National Gallery'. Looking at the Louvre's acquisition policy, it's interesting to note that the museum spends 20% of its annual revenue from admissions on new acquisitions. In 2004 (the latest figure on the site), the acquisiton budget was EUR5.4 million. Sadly, here in the UK we have no comparable regular acquisiton budgets.

First footage of 'Salvator Mundi'

October 31 2011

Image of First footage of 'Salvator Mundi'

Picture: BBC

In case you missed it last night, you can still see Fiona Bruce's programme on the newly discovered Leonardo here. I thought the picture looked compelling - from my sofa. I was fascinated to see the x-ray images; the damage, mainly caused by a knot in the wooden panel, is clearly quite extensive, but has been dealt with very well.

I find it puzzling that Leonardo didn't take more care about selecting his support - I don't think Holbein, for example, would have dared use a panel with a knot in it.  

One of these sold for £53m, the other for £5k

October 28 2011

Image of One of these sold for £53m, the other for £5k

Picture: Left, Bainbridge auction, right Canterbury auction

The vase on the left sold for £53m last year, but it has not been paid for, for reasons undisclosed. Some said doubts have been raised about its authenticity. This month, another, if inferior, vase turned up at auction in Kent. It made £5000. Makes you wonder...

Update: Steven Moore has the full story on his website here.

Friday Amusement

October 28 2011

Image of Friday Amusement

Picture: Cartoonstock

Yesterday was Roy Lichtenstein's birthday, so this seemed rather appropriate. And on 8th November, Christie's will offer a work of his estimated at $35-45m. Will it sell? it has been guaranteed at the lower estimate.

Dictator Art - buttock edition

October 28 2011


Lots of excitement in the press about the piece of Saddam's buttock that failed to sell at auction for £250,000. The sale was, it seems, to raise money for charity. But what a ridiculous price. They should have taken the top bid of £21,000, itself a silly value, and run. 

Sewell on 'First Actresses'

October 28 2011

Image of Sewell on 'First Actresses'

Picture: National Portrait Gallery

Brian Sewell's review of the NPG's First Actresses exhibition is worth a read. He seems to like the show, but, rightly, aims his weekly dose of scorn at the poor catalogue (as I did, if less stringently).

In the catalogue this unfortunate picture [Mr & Mrs Garrick by Reynolds, above] is reproduced in reverse (did no one check the proof?) - and here I must observe that this is less a catalogue than a book and useless in the exhibition, useless too as a work of ready reference, either committing all sorts of necessary information to a list hidden between the bibliography and index, or omitting it. To whom does this painting belong? (the NPG). What are its measurements? (138 x 172 inches). What is its number in David Manning's encyclopaedic catalogue raisonné? (707). Was it exhibited in the RA? (yes). Was it ever accessible to a wide public? (no). Was it ever engraved? (no). Was Mrs Garrick ever a celebrated actress? (no). What was she? (an Austrian dancer and dutiful wife). From my answers to the last four questions it must be clear that in the context of this exhibition Eva-Maria Veigel is irrelevant.

New Burlington Magazine

October 28 2011

Image of New Burlington Magazine

Picture: Burlington Magazine

The November edition of the Burlington is out. There is a bizarre advert for a 'Van Dyck', which is nothing to do with him. That aside, it looks like a good read. Articles include:

  • A neglected papal commission in Naples Cathedral: the tomb of Cardinal Alfonso Carafa, By Dorigen Caldwell
  • A bust of Bartolomeo Ruspoli by Filippo Carcani, By Maria Celeste Cola
  • The ‘St Sebastian’ of Los Andes: a Chilean cultural treasure re-examined, By Gauvin Alexander Bailey and Fernando Guzmán
  • Roman bronzes at the court of Gustavus III of Sweden: Zoffoli, Valadier and Righetti, By Chiara Teolato
  • John Hogan’s busts for Bantry, and Viscount and Lady Berehaven’s tour of Rome in 1842–43, By Flavio Boggi
  • John Chamberlain’s pliability: the new monumental aluminium works, By David J. Getsy
This month's editorial rails against the proliferation of public monuments in London's green spaces. It's an argument I have some sympathy with, as it seems every six months another patch of London's precious parkland is taken up with a memorial to this or that. An example is the Canadian war memorial fountain in Green Park, which interrupts a prime piece of park, and is always breaking down. Each cause is, however, worthy, such as the latest to Bomber Command, again in Green Park - so it is hard to argue against them for fear of being seen to argue against each respective cause. The worst offender is the new and execrable statue of Lloyd George in Parliament Square. 

'Must do better'

October 28 2011

Image of 'Must do better'

Picture: Museum of Fine Arts Boston

Tut tut, only two of you managed to correctly identify the artist in our fist installment of Test Your Connoisseurship

The answer is Thomas Gainsborough's Portrait of Thomas Mathews, in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Tho' I concede it was a little tricky because the picture is unfinished. 

Optimism - or sleeper of the decade?

October 27 2011

Image of Optimism - or sleeper of the decade?

Picture: Sotheby's

This picture is a copy of Rembrandt's celebrated self-portrait in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. It was sold at Sotheby's today with an estimate of £8-12,000 - but realised £110,000 with premium. I thought it was quite nice - it dominated the room in which it was hanging at the auction - but not Rembrandt nice.

So the question is, is it worth £110k as a copy? No. Is it worth, I dunno, £20/30m as a Rembrandt? Yes, if it's a Rembrandt... The costume differed from the Vienna picture, and the provenance was illustrious; it was being sold by the Liechenstein Collection. Perhaps these factors led to at least two people thinking it was worth a punt. Equally, somebody may be confident of attributing it to an artist in Rembrandt's circle or studio. 

'Leonardo Live'

October 27 2011


Here's a trailer for the Leonardo Live film being broadcast on 8th November at 7pm. Details on how to see it here

National Gallery Leonardo technical bulletin

October 27 2011

Image of National Gallery Leonardo technical bulletin

Picture: National Gallery, Leonardo's 'Virgin of the Rocks' (detail) in Infra-Red. 

The latest National Gallery Technical Bulletin is out, and, wonderfully, freely available online with zoomable high-res images. Art History nirvana doesn't get much better than this. Essays include:

  • Leonardo in Verrocchio’s Workshop: Re-examining the Technical Evidence by Jill Dunkerton
  • Leonardo da Vinci’s 'Virgin of the Rocks': Treatment, Technique and Display by Larry Keith, Ashok Roy, Rachel Morrison and Peter Schade
  • Altered Angels: Two Panels from the Immaculate Conception Altarpiece once in San Francesco Grande, Milan by Rachel Billinge, Luke Syson and Marika Spring
  • Painting Practice in Milan in the 1490s: The Influence of Leonardo, by Marika Spring, Antonio Mazzotta, Ashok Roy, Rachel Billinge and David Peggie

New Velazquez discovery

October 27 2011

Image of New Velazquez discovery

Picture: Bonhams

Bonhams will sell a newly discovered work by Velazquez this December. Estimated at £2-3m, it was nearly sold in their Oxford saleroom as a sleeper. The London department spotted the picture, and advised it be withdrawn. More details on the painting here, and a more detailed photo below the jump.

Read More

Lighting the Night Watch

October 27 2011

The Rijksmuseum has unveiled a new lighting system for Rembrandt's Night Watch in a bid to get as close to daylight as possible. From the Washington Post:

Pijbes [Wim Pijbes, Director of the Rijksmuseum] said the museum had considered using natural light, but that idea faced insurmountable practical difficulties. It would make it difficult for the more than a million tourists who want to see the painting annually to view it during the many dark months and cloudy days in the Netherlands. Any exposure to direct sunlight was out of the question due to the damage it could cause the canvas, he said.

The painting has been on display in a side wing of the museum for almost a decade as the building undergoes a massive renovation. It is due to return to its place of honor at the center of the museum’s hall of honor next spring.

More here

15 years

October 27 2011

Image of 15 years


The German forgers who duped Christie's and Sotheby's, museums, academics and even celebrities with their 'Ernsts' and 'van Dongens' have been jailed for a total of 15 years. The maximum individual sentence was six years to Wolfgang Beltracchi, the leader of the group who painted 14 works sold as 'masterpieces'.

The sentences seem quite light. The more lasting damage will be done in the German and wider modern art market, reports Bloomberg:

Dealers and collectors say confidence in the German art market has been shaken by the forgery scandal, described as the biggest ever in Germany, as art historians, museums and auction houses were duped by the scam.

“The whole thing is quite terrible,” said Christoph Graf Douglas, a Frankfurt-based independent art dealer and consultant to collectors. “It has completely undermined confidence in the market. Not only were criminals at work, there was also some shoddy research. People have bought the idea that experts can detect forgeries, and this shows that is not the case.”

The case is a damning indictment of how we value and appreciate modern and contemporary art. Today, the name of the artist is worth more than the quality of the work. And because we can no longer objectively judge modern and contemporary work on its merits, we are suckers to the clever forger. Even if the forger creates a truly rubbish painting, like the 'van Dongen' above, he can persuade auctioneers, experts and buyers that it is genuine with a few simple pieces of fake provenance, or a corrupt 'expert'. In fact, it's so easy, I'm tempted to have a go myself. 

15 days

October 27 2011

Image of 15 days

Picture: Das Bild

That's the time it took from my reporting of the recovery of two stolen Picasso's in Serbia via the German media (here on 11th October) to it being picked up by the UK media. Perhaps all those years learning German weren't such a waste after all...

More on the Warhol authentication board story

October 26 2011

In this week's Antiques Trade Gazette.

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