Previous Posts: September 2011

Friday amusement

September 30 2011

Image of Friday amusement

Picture: Cartoonstock

Vaguely appropriate, given the story below.

The lost Jacobite Princess

September 30 2011

Image of The lost Jacobite Princess

Picture: Philip Mould Ltd

Bit of a plug this one, but art history news nonetheless. Above is a c.1701 portrait of Princess Louise-Marie Stuart (1692-1712) by Francois de Troy. She was the youngest daughter of James II, and was born in exile in France after her Catholic father was deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The supporters of James II, and his descendants the 'Old Pretender' James III and the 'Young Pretender' Bonnie Prince Charlie, were known as the Jacobites. 

We recently bought the picture in France, where, like so many Jacobite portraits, the identity had been changed to a French sitter. The portrait is known in an engraving, and at least two other variants, one in the Fleming Collection, and that sold recently at Sotheby's, which may have been painted a little earlier. The Sotheby's picture had an interesting provenance - it belonged to Princess Sophia of Hanover, the 'rival' Protestant Stuart descendant and mother of George I - the man the Jacobites tried repeatedly to depose.

There was some talk of the young George I marrying Louise-Marie, to unite the two branches of the family. But she died unmarried of smallpox at the age of 19. Her life must have been a sad and strange one - feted as a royal princess, but with none of the power, wealth or dignity of a real one. She lived at the Chateau of Saint-Germain-en-Laye outside Paris. I went there this summer - it is a grim place, not unlike Wandsworth Prison (where I haven't been).

The young Picasso, c.11,000 BC

September 30 2011

Stone Age finger paintings have been found in France. From The Guardian:


Stone age toddlers may have attended a form of prehistoric nursery where they were encouraged to develop their creative skills in cave art, say archaeologists.

Research indicates young children expressed themselves in an ancient form of finger-painting. And, just as in modern homes, their early efforts were given pride of place on the living room wall.

A Cambridge University conference on the archaeology of childhood on Friday reveals a tantalising glimpse into life for children in the palaeolithic age, an estimated 13,000 years ago.

Archaeologists at one of the most famous prehistoric decorated caves in France, the complex of caverns at Rouffignac in the Dordogne known as the Cave of a Hundred Mammoths, have discovered that children were actively helped to express themselves through finger fluting – running fingers over soft red clay to produce decorative crisscrossing lines, zig-zags and swirls.


Arthistorynews 2.0?

September 30 2011

Dear reader - help! Some say AHN needs to get with it, and join the social media revolution - Twitter, Facebook etc. Do you think it should? Will it help you use the site? Where will I find the time? What will happen if I only end up with 2 followers, or 1 'friend'?

I suppose if it helps build traffic then I should try it. At the moment, 'circulation' is about 1500 loyal readers a week - not exactly the New York Times, but ok considering readership has mostly been built by word of mouth. Perhaps AHN needs to be more extrovert? If you have any handy hints on the subject, send me an email (apparently that's very old fashioned these days).

Pioneers of Russian Painting in Stockholm

September 30 2011

Image of Pioneers of Russian Painting in Stockholm

Picture: Ryska Museet, Ilya Repin, 'Barge-haulers on the Volga'

If you're in Stockholm, this is worth a trip, an exhibition of the Peredvizhniki, pioneers of Russian art in the late 19th Century. From the National Museum of Sweden's site:

The Peredvizhniki were a group of artists who came together in 1870 in protest at the conservative attitudes of Russia’s Imperial Academy of Art. The group aimed to portray contemporary Russian society, and to use art to highlight social and political issues. They organized travelling exhibitions to take art to the people and beyond the cities of St Petersburg and Moscow. Works by the Peredvizhniki have enjoyed huge popularity in Russia since the late 19th century but are little known in the rest of the world.

The exhibition runs until 22nd January 2012. 

View from the Artist no.4

September 29 2011

Image of View from the Artist no.4


Time for another one - can you guess where it is? Remember, it's just for fun, but the first correct answer gets a trumpet blast of adulation.

Vermeer's 'Lacemaker' coming to UK

September 29 2011

Image of Vermeer's 'Lacemaker' coming to UK

Picture: Louvre

Vermeer's Lacemaker will go on display in the UK for the first time for a new exhibition at the Fitzwilliam. Vermeer's Women opens on 5th October and runs until 15th January. Betsy Wieseman, the curator of the exhibition, says:

The Louvre very rarely lend this painting because it's almost as important in their collection as the Mona Lisa. It is a painting that people make a trip especially to the Louvre to see.

Meanwhile, over at The Guardian, Jonathan Jones asks:

Did the 17th-century Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer use a camera obscura – an early photographic instrument in which light is concentrated through a tiny aperture to cast a bright image on a surface in a darkened room – to help him create his mesmerising paintings of life in the tranquil city of Delft?

Undoubtedly. You can see microscopic highlights, lifelike perspectives and shadows in his paintings that strikingly resemble camera images and have no other reason to be there. It's more likely that he used a camera obscura than that he somehow "thought like a camera". Does this precocious photographic technique explain the power of Vermeer's paintings? Not really.

Guffwatch: Koons special (Vol.III)

September 29 2011

Image of Guffwatch: Koons special (Vol.III)

Picture: Sotheby's

Sotheby's has put together an entertaining film called 'The Artist'. The premise is, what inspires great artists to make their great works? As Sotheby's auctioneer Tobias Meyer asks in the introduction:

How could Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel, how did he come up with all these compositions? How did he do it? It's a miracle.

Cut to Jeff Koons (sitting, I presume, in his studio with four assistants making his works behind him) - so, how do you do it, Jeff?

My father was an interior decorator, and from a young age I would see all the samples for carpet and wallpaper and I was also around a lot of  objects. I really learnt about how colours and textures really can effect emotionally how you feel about things. My grandfather used to have an ashtray, it was of a woman lying down on a couch, with her legs in the air and if you put a cigarette here the heat from the cigarette would make the legs go back and forth... I was so fascinated by that, so it had a big influence on me... [etc., etc.]

Can't you just imagine Michelangelo saying something similar? Still, the film is worth watching for the views of some other, more enlightening artists. 

New evidence on '£100m Leonardo' drawing

September 29 2011

Martin Kemp, a leading Leonardo scholar, has unearthed some compelling evidence about the controversial drawing 'La Bella Principessa'. It was sold as a 19th Century pastiche by Christie's in 1998 for £11,400, but some now say it is by Leonardo and worth £100m. 

The drawing is on vellum, and Kemp says he has now found the actual 15th Century volume from which it was taken (in Poland). From The Guardian:

[Kemp] has identified the drawing as a missing sheet from a 15th-century volume linked to Leonardo's great patron, the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza.

Last year, Kemp provisionally identified the sitter as Bianca, the duke's illegitimate daughter, who died a few months after her marriage at the age of 13. This identification was supported by the title page of the Sforziad, a volume celebrating the Sforzas; symbols in the book show that it was a wedding gift.

"Assertions that it is a forgery, a pastiche, or a copy of a lost Leonardo are all effectively eliminated," Kemp told the Guardian. Earlier this year, he embarked on what he describes as a "needle-in-a-haystack" search for a 15th-century volume with a missing sheet. A clue lay in the stitch-holes along the portrait's left-hand margin, suggesting it had been torn from a luxury-bound volume. But the chances of this volume surviving 500 years were remote, and the chances of it being found even remoter.

Against the odds, Kemp tracked the volume down, to Poland's national library in Warsaw; the stitch-holes are a perfect match for those on La Bella Principessa, a portrait in ink and coloured chalks on vellum. It is overwhelming evidence, Kemp says, that the portrait dates from the 15th century – and not the 19th century, as Christie's thought when it sold it in 1998 for £11,400 (it could fetch £100m as a Leonardo).

So, if true, this is indeed proof that the drawing dates from the 15th Century (which is fairly obvious just by looking at it), and puts to shame those who said it was a later fake. Whether it proves it is by Leonardo or not is another matter...

The sort of thing I dream about...

September 28 2011

A stash of 300 pictures thought to be worth 'millions of euros' has been found in an outhouse in Poland. They seem to have been there since the end of the second world war. Details are sketchy at the moment, but more here

Annual Soane Lecture, 10th November

September 28 2011

Here's a date for your diary: the annual Soane Lecture is this year on Thursday 10th November. The subject is When in Rome: John Soane's Roman Sightseeing, and will be given by writer and historian, Matthew Sturgis. Full details here

Beware of Chinese bearing bids?

September 28 2011

Image of Beware of Chinese bearing bids?

Picture: Daily Mail

The problem of Asian art buyers bidding to high levels and then not paying appears to have worsened. The most famous example is the £43m bid for the vase (above) found in North London. Now, Sotheby's and Christie's have introduced special measures for anyone interested in their 'premium lots'. From the Art Newspaper:

Bidders on these high-priced lots (over $500,000 in the US, over $1m in Hong Kong) are only allowed to go for them after registering their interest in advance and paying a deposit. They can’t bid online. The reason? There have been a number of cases of Chinese buyers defaulting on auction purchases, and Sotheby’s inaugurated this system in Hong Kong in 2007—before the aborted sale of two bronze Zodiac heads at Christie’s Yves St Laurent sale in Paris in 2009.

This autumn, Sotheby’s New York’s auction of Chinese works of art on 14 September included five “premium lots”; four failed. Only a Northern Wei votive stele found a buyer at just over $1m (est $500,000-$800,000), going to Eskenazi. But the stars of the sale, two archaic bronzes (one estimated at $2.5m-$3m) and two pairs of 17th-century Huanghuali chairs (estimated at up to $1.5m) were bought in.

Forger: 'You have to know where the greediness is greatest'

September 28 2011

Image of Forger: 'You have to know where the greediness is greatest'


'Woflgang B.', the forger behind the $22m art forgery scam of the decade, says he enjoyed fooling the art world. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

"I imagined in my mind an original, a picture that each of the painters had never got 'round to painting," said Wolfgang B.

"I did paintings that really ought to have been in the oeuvre of each painter."

Wolfgang B., who dropped out of art school, learned to copy art from his father, an art restorer who did replicas of the Old Masters such as Rembrandt. He said he began copying professionally in the 1970s.

"I didn't much like the art market or the dealers," he said. "I really enjoyed doing it. You have to know how the art market functions and where the greediness is greatest."

In the biggest fraudulent sale, "Red Picture with Horses," supposedly painted by Heinrich Campendonk (1889-1957) of the Netherlands, sold at auction in Cologne for $3.4 million.

The motive is an echo of Han van Meegeren, probably the greatest forger of them all. He too said he liked to fool the 'experts' who sneered at his own paintings. But it's funny how these forgers never admit to doing it for the money...

New Fitzwilliam acquisition

September 27 2011

Image of New Fitzwilliam acquisition

Picture: Tribune De L'Art

The Fitzwilliam has bought the above Lamentation of Christ supported by the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene by Marcantonio Bassetti (1586-1630). The picture is painted in oil on slate, and measures 15 x 11 3/8 inches. Apparently it was acquired from the sculpture dealer Danny Katz, who bought it at Christie's in New York in 2003 for $273,500. 

It says something of the Fitzwilliam's determined introspection (check out their non existent labels next time you go) that the news comes in French via the site Tribune de L'Art, with, at the time of writing, not a whisper on the museum's own website. 

Caravaggio as diplomatic tool

September 27 2011

Image of Caravaggio as diplomatic tool


Caravaggio's Narcissus has gone on display in Cuba for the first time, at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. The picture belongs to the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica in Rome. So far so normal, but there's an interesting political dimension to the loan. From the Independent:

Italy's deputy minister of culture, Ricardo Villardi, said the show was Rome's way of relating to Cuba during a time of change.

"I asked myself how as a government we could accompany the changes, these transformations, that are under way, with respect for (Cuba's) autonomy... and the answer is this exhibition," he said.

His Cuban counterpart, Fernando Rojas, said it was "very appropriate" to show in Cuba the work of "a rebel, an innovator" who reflected the common people in his work "as we Cubans can appreciate that."

Should the British Government raid the National Gallery for a similar exhibition? Send The Haywain to Pyongyang?

Lost Sassoferrato found in US?

September 27 2011

Image of Lost Sassoferrato found in US?

Picture: Fairfield Auction

A painting thought to be by Sassoferrato has been discovered in a small auction house in New England. Catalogued as 'Italian Old Master', and with an estimate of just $5-7,000, the picture sold for $184,000 including premium.  More images here (scroll down to Lot 108).

Bob Dylan - Artist; Copyist?

September 27 2011

Image of Bob Dylan - Artist; Copyist?

Picture: left Gagosian Gallery, right, Magnum Photos

The new exhibition of Bob Dylan's paintings at the Gagosian Gallery in New York, The Asia Series, was meant to be a 'visual journal' of Bob's travels in 'Japan, China, Vietnam and Korea', with 'firsthand depictions of people, street scenes, architecture and landscape'.

But some keen-eyed observers have noticed that some of Bob's 'depictions' are eerily similar to famous published photographs, including that (above right) taken in 1949 by Henri Cartier-Bresson of a eunuch. Full details in the New York Times.

Exclusive - The Mona Lisa's mystery solved?

September 26 2011

Image of Exclusive - The Mona Lisa's mystery solved?


Leonardo's Mona Lisa, begun in c.1503, has attracted more than its fair share of wild theories. Some say it is a portrait of Leonardo in drag, or more recently that it is the 'the depiction of a soul shared between an expectant mother and her unborn male child'. But now an intriguing new theory has been put forward by Donato Pezzutto, a Canadian doctor who is a keen amateur art historian. His theory is published in an article in Cartographica, a journal which publishes 'articles on all aspects of cartographic and geovisualization research'.

Here's the abstract from Pezzutto's article (quoted with kind permission): [More below]

Read More

Waldemar does Dobson

September 23 2011

Image of Waldemar does Dobson

Picture: Ferens Art Gallery

If you missed Waldemar's programme on William Dobson last night, then you can still watch it on iPlayer here. I thought it was enjoyable and enlightening, as Waldemar's shows usually are. There were a few slightly dubious sweeping generalisations, but the theme of the piece, that Dobson was a brilliant artist, certainly held up well. There was even a discovery of sorts, that the above 'Portrait of a Musician' showed William Lawes, a favourite of Charles I (hence the bust of the King lower left).

What the programme did not answer was why, if Dobson was so good, is he seemingly so neglected? Waldemar said Dobson 'changed British art forever' - so what then is his legacy?

The sad truth is that Dobson did not change British art. Here's three reasons why: [More below]

Read More

The search for Leonardo's lost masterpiece

September 23 2011

Leonardo's greatest lost work is his Battle of Anghiari, painted in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence. Many scholars believe the painting survives, hidden beneath Giorgio Vasari's murals in the Hall of Five Hundred. Recently, it was discovered that behind Vasari's paintings is a gap, with a space 1 - 3cm deep before the main wall. Did Vasari deliberately create this gap to avoid painting over Leonardo's work? I've always thought it possible, given Vasari's interest in preservation.

Now, a group of experts is trying to use specialist scanning equipment to peer through Vasari's murals, in an attempt to solve the mystery. Fellow blogger Hasan Niyazi has posted an interview with one of the team behind the search, over at Three Pipe Problem.

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