Previous Posts: February 2014


February 24 2014

Image of Thanks...

Picture: BG

...for all your kind emails and Tweets following my BBC Culture Show programme on the weekend. It seems to have gone down quite well. In Scotland at least.

I will soon post a much more detailed note on the picture, as there was lots of information we sadly had to leave out of the film. 

There may not be much more from me here today though, as I've got quite a lot to catch up on.

If you missed the show, here it is on iPlayer! And in case anyone's interested, here's a link to my 2008 article in the British Art Journal on why the La Tour pastel is Prince Henry.

Update - still catching up on things today, Tuesday, apologies...

Update II - I give up. Have had so much to do, and so much kind feedback, that the blog will now have to wait till tomorrow I fear. Sorry!

Update III - a reader Tweets: 

please upload a new blog post, I'm getting withdrawal symptoms, thanks

It seems to have become a week off. Oops...

Update IV - nice review of the programme in The Spectator here

Newly discovered portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie

February 21 2014

Image of Newly discovered portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie

Picture: BG

Here's the picture I've been dying to tell you about for months, and the subject of my Culture Show programme tomorrow; the only portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie to have been painted from life in Britain, by the great Allan Ramsay. More from me later, but in the meantime here's a nice piece in The Guardian about it.

Museum swapshop in Washington

February 20 2014

Image of Museum swapshop in Washington

Picture: Wikipedia

Here's a surprise, the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, one of America's finest, will be taken over by the US National Gallery of Art. The collection will be broken up, with perhaps as much as half of it (which is primarily 19th Century art) being distributed around the rest of the country. More here in the Washington Post, and here in the New York Times, which reports:

“This arrangement turns two great collections into one extraordinary collection,” said Earl A. Powell III, director of the National Gallery. “The Corcoran will still have its own identity: a great facility with a distinguished building. It’s a way of keeping the Corcoran memory alive.”

If the plan is approved by the boards in April, it will put an end to years of money trouble for the Corcoran, which had some 103,000 visitors last year. The Corcoran currently runs a $2,071,129 deficit, has $2,787,690 of bank debt and an endowment that has shrunk over the last decade to only $18 million. It also has a $44 million acquisitions fund. Unlike the National Gallery, which does not charge for admissions, the Corcoran is one of the few museums in Washington that does ($10 for adults), a practice that has hampered its ability to attract a strong visitorship. If the plan is implemented, all exhibitions in its original home will be free to the public.

Over the years, the Corcoran has pursued a number of efforts to shore up its finances, including the sale of real estate. In 2010, it sold the Randall School, a former public school in Southwest Washington, where it once planned to relocate the college, for $6.5 million to the Miami collectors Donald and Mera Rubell and the developer Telesis. It also tried to sell the college’s current building in Georgetown, but the deal fell through. Last year, it announced the possibility of relocating from its historic building on 17th Street, but after a hailstorm of criticism its board changed its mind, saying the museum would stay put and look for other options. In June, the museum auctioned a group of Oriental carpets at Sotheby’s, which gave the Corcoran about $39 million, which went into its acquisitions fund.

The story seems almost hard to believe - that in the US, land of mega-charitable giving to the arts, such a fine museum would effectively give up and vanish.

Update - a reader with his ear to the ground sends this helpful summary of events:

Apparently, the Corcoran deal is largely about real estate, like so many London deals.  Their landmark building needed 100 million in repairs in addition to the endowment needing a major top up.  It was a situation which needed work a decade ago.  It wasn't principally about the art collection, which we view as paramount.

University of Maryland, a "red brick university" in UK terms located in an undesirable suburb, was negotiating to take over the Corcoran school to enhance its own offerings when GW University, already well endowed and a Corcoran neighbor in central DC stepped in to acquire the school and the two DC trophy properties which it wanted despite their needing major renovations which it can afford.  They offloaded the art to the National Gallery which will keep some, exhibit some in the Corcoran building which will mostly become a Contemporary art exhibition space and give the remainder to other museums.  

The school wasn't viable and the trustees were generous six figure contributors but it needed more than a hundred million quickly, a major endowment, a new direction and a refurbished image.  It didn't have a plan for the future that would make it sustainable and attract donors.

The Met Museum in NYC is great at selecting the right trustees, rotating trustees when they are less useful, and making brilliant choices of directors who are scholars with vision and are socially appealing.  This attracts donors and builds the Museum.  It all comes to management.  Management attracts assets, both art and funding.  This also is true in the dealer world.

The Barnes is a parallel, where the alleged purpose was a suburban school for art appreciation with a teaching collection with the government requiring some public access in exchange for its charitable status.  I lived a block away for three years when I was young and could just walk in because I knew the director, but the public was limited to two hundred visitors per day three then later four days a week with minimal parking and access.. The trustees let the endowment dwindle and squandered a lot of it fighting with its neighbors and the deMazia trust (another story).  No one would contribute with the trustees required by the Barnes will running things, but 100 million USD flowed in rapidly when it became a museum in town and open with normal hours and new trustees.

'Nazi stamp found on rare painting in art gallery'

February 20 2014

Video: NBC

I post this without comment, though you can guess what I think. More here, with photos.

Me on the telly! (ctd.)

February 19 2014

Video: BBC

Here's a clip. Saturday, 9pm, BBC2!

Update - there may be spoilers in teh Saturday papers. I know many thought spoilers were a bad idea for 'Fake or Fortune?', but this Culture Show film isn't a whodunnit like ForF.

Should children be banned from museums?

February 19 2014

Image of Should children be banned from museums?

Picture: Stephanie Theodore

Following the Donald Judd-as-climbing-frame moment at Tate Modern (above), Ivan Hewitt and Dea Birkett debate in the Telegraph whether children should be allowed in museums. Both make useful and silly points, but Dea Birkett is of course right that museums need to be more child friendly. More here

Update - a reader writes:

Of course children shouldn't be banned from museums, but what could be looked at are the number of school groups visiting, particularly the National Gallery. I understand that the best way to protect the future of Galleries & museums is to encourage young people from as early an age as possible, but on a visit two weeks ago it was almost impossible to move with any freedom around the galleries, by the sheer number of school groups. It must be in everyone's interest that these visits are staggered, it must be the NG's responsibility to see to this for everyone's enjoyment.

There's something in this. I went the NG last week at about 2pm, and in some rooms it was indeed impossible to move for school groups, though I use that in only the vaguest sense of the term. They weren't groups being guided or taught, as you might expect, rather overseas groups seemingly dumped at the Gallery for a period of time, and consequently mainly chatting. Loudly.

'The craze for Pastel', new exhibition at Tate Britain

February 18 2014

Image of 'The craze for Pastel', new exhibition at Tate Britain

Picture: Tate, via Jan Marsh

Here's an interesting new exhibition coming up later this year at Tate Britain, 'The Craze for Pastel'. Says the Tate website:

Celebrating the recent acquisition of Ozias Humphrey’s pastel portrait Baron Nagell’s Running Footman c.1795, this display will explore the emergence of pastel in the 18th century and its phenomenal, if relatively short-lived, success as a fashionable alternative to oil paint. Tracing its evolution from natural chalk – long used for figure and landscape sketches – into a full colour medium, this display will include many rarely exhibited works from the Tate collection. Featuring experimental pastel drawings by Thomas Gainsborough alongside finished portraits by leading pastellists such as John Russell and Daniel Gardner, it aims to demonstrate the central importance of the medium to the increasingly competitive 18th-century British art world.

I had missed Tate's acquisition of the Humphry pastel (above), which looks like a splendid painting.

Readers wanting to know more about why pastels had such an intense but brief moment in the art historical sun should head towards the blog of pastel king Neil Jeffares, here, and also his recent piece for The Burlington website here.

The show runs from 7th April to 5th October.

Update - this is weird; a reader alerts me to the fact that the above story has been copied, unacknowledged, by this website, but seems to have been auto-translated into a foreign language, and then back into English. So the last paragraph reads like this:

Readers wanting to know some-more about because pastels had such an heated though brief impulse in a art chronological object should conduct towards a blog of pastel aristocrat Neil Jeffares, here, and also his new square for The Burlington website here.

'Strange Beauty' at the National Gallery (ctd.)

February 18 2014

Image of 'Strange Beauty' at the National Gallery (ctd.)

Picture: Telegraph

I reported earlier on the National Gallery's new exhibition of German 16th Century art, which hasn't gone down terrifically with some critics. But in the Guardian, Mark Brown relates a fascinating snippet about the National's rushed sale of similar works in the 19th century, when they were considered quite, quite ghastly:

One of the most extraordinary and excruciating episodes in the National Gallery's history is laid bare in an exhibition opening to the public on Wednesday: the state-sanctioned sale of paintings because they were German.

Susan Foister, co-curator of the show, Strange Beauty: Masters of the German Renaissance, described the disposal of 37 works in 1856 as a "surprising" and little-known story. "It was the first and only time that the gallery had an act of parliament passed in order to rid itself of excessive German paintings," she said.

The main issue was that for much of the 19th and 20th centuries, German art was considered ugly and certainly hugely inferior to anything produced in Italy. Sir Charles Eastlake, director of the National Gallery from 1855-65, once said he found the work of Matthias Grünewald "repulsive".

In 1854, William Gladstone, then chancellor of the exchequer, bought 64 German Renaissance paintings from the 15th and 16th centuries for the gallery. It was considered a scandal. One newspaper called them "frightful" and a parliamentarian said the purchase was the "worst ever" – what was the National Gallery thinking of?

Foister said that "there was an idea of what should be collected and what should be admired". And German paintings did not fit the idea.

Within just two years the gallery's trustees felt they had to get rid of them. That resulted in an act of parliament permitting their deaccession and 37 were sold, including most of an altarpiece from the Benedictine abbey of Liesborn in Germany.

The story is a reminder how fashion can change, even for Old Masters. Think of this next time a 17th Century religious picture appears in an Old Master sale near you, with a derisory estimate. Like the giant and well-painted Luca Giordano Crucifixion of St Peter sold at Sotheby's New York in January for just $25,000 - bargain!

Also, on a related theme, can 'brown furniture' get any cheaper? The Antiques Trade Gazette reports that its value is still declining, even though you can now furnish your house with good 18th Century antiques for less than a trip to Ikea.

Update - a reader tells us that two of the pictures have ended up at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, see here and here.

Boom! (ctd.)

February 18 2014

Image of Boom! (ctd.)

Picture: Christie's

Just when you thought the art market couldn't get any crazier... Colin Gleadell reports in the Telegraph:

It’s official! The art market has reached a new peak, and it’s good, old-fashioned painting, figurative and abstract, that’s driving it.

London’s auctions of Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary art sales over the past two weeks have amassed a record £709.5 million, a 39 per cent increase on last February and a 29 per cent increase over the last highest combined totals for these sales in London, achieved in June 2008. In dollar terms, they breached the $1 billion mark for the first time, reaching $1.2 billion.

Jeff Koons' Cracked Egg (above, and the subject of an earlier Guffwatch) made £14.1m, against an estimate of £10m-£15m.

Me on the telly!

February 17 2014

Image of Me on the telly!

Picture: BBC

I'm pleased to say that my new Culture Show Special will be broadcast on BBC2 this Saturday, 22nd February, at 9pm. The programme is called The Lost Portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie, and, rather splendidly, it has already been made a Pick of the Day by the Sunday Times, the Sunday Telegraph, the Mail and the Observer

Last week the Sunday Times TV critic, AA Gill, described the other TV programme I'm in, Fake or Fortune?, as 'gay Top Gear'. Which I think was a compliment. Either way, I'm hoping he'll like my new programme; it features lots of paintings, a motorbike, and leathers. Tight ones.

Viewing is of course compulsory for AHN readers. And your families. And all your friends. So spread the word!

More details here

Update - the Radio Times has given the programme a kind preview:

Dr Bendor Grosvenor (the patrician art expert from Fake or Fortune?) has some atoning to do. A few years ago he made himself unpopular by spotting that the Scottish National Portrait Gallery's best known painting of Bonnie Prince Charlie, the face on a million shortbread tins, wasn’t in fact Charlie. 

So here Grosvenor sets out to make amends, laying aside his gallery garb in favour of motorbike leathers to bomb around the country hunting for a genuine portrait of Charles Edward Stuart when he was the warrior prince leading the Jacobite Rebellion. The result is a terrific watch, as much history lesson as art caper: biker Grosvenor is a star in the making.

Apologies for the boast.

Update II - a reader writes:

One detects a whiff of Daniel Craig going on.

The blue swimming trunk moment from Casino Royale you mean? Not in this programme alas. But maybe for the future...

Update III - a reader adds:

So that's what you were filming in Scotland when you posted that lovely photo at the beach a while ago? ... Any wet shirt Darcy moments...? Or must we be satisfied with the tight leathers...

Just the leathers I'm afraid. But being in Scotland they did get very wet...

Gurlitt fights back

February 17 2014

Image of Gurlitt fights back

Picture: Paris Match

Cornelius Gurlitt, the owner of the 'Munich Art Hoarde' of allegedly Nazi-looted paintings, has launched his own website, in defence of his collection. Basically, he says he has always acted it good faith, and that therefore it's all his:

Cornelius Gurlitt was at all times convinced that he had inherited a collection from his father that predominantly consisted of so-called degenerate art from former German Reich property in public collections and museums. Cornelius Gurlitt was not aware that his collection also includes a few works that today can be qualified as looted art. Until the claims for return were asserted, Cornelius Gurlitt was in good faith. He was in good faith when he inherited the collection from his mother and remained in good faith when he originally acquired ownership of the works by way of acquisitive prescription. In this context, it should be taken into consideration that Hildebrand Gurlitt had first left his collection to his wife Helene. In 1968, Cornelius Gurlitt and his sister Benita inherited the collection. In accordance with German law, Cornelius Gurlitt has therefore long been the sole rightful owner of all 1,280 of the works seized.

Update - Nicholas O'Donnell of the Art Law Report is not impressed.


Van Dyck 'Selfie' update

February 17 2014

Image of Van Dyck 'Selfie' update

Picture: Philip Mould & Co.

The National Portrait Gallery has successfully argued for an extension to the export bar on Van Dyck's c.1640 Self-Portrait. This means they have another 5 months to try and raise £12.5m, which is the sum required to match the picture's sale price. The NPG has already raised a quarter of that amount, from bodies such as the Art Fund, the Monuments Trust, and also (impressively) nearly a million from smaller donations made by members of the public.*

I have to say that, although Van Dyck is my favourite artist, I never thought he would be this popular amongst the wider museum-going public. The picture itself has really caught on, and is regularly seen in the media - last week, it was on the front page of The Times, listed as the no. 5 top self-portrait of all time (Rembrandt was no. 1). In large part, this is due to the innovative campaign run by the NPG and the Art Fund, who have cleverly taken to social media to get their message across - you can now even get a Van Dyck 'Twibbon' for your Twitter profile. I'll still be surprised if the picture is 'saved', but it's really impressive to see the efforts being made to keep it. 

Elsewhere in the press, the picture was the subject of one of Brian Sewell's (mercifully rare) forays into the outer edge of art history's realm. In the Evening Standard, the Great Brian suggested that the portrait was painted by... two people! The head, he said was by Van Dyck, but the body by someone else, perhaps even Sir Peter Lely:

I sense dissonance between the face and the costume, as though two quite opposing aesthetics are at work. Does the head sit easily on the bust, the shoulder more brilliantly lit than the face? What exactly is the form of the wide collar and how is it related to the neck? Has the hair been extended over the collar to disguise this awkwardness? It is of a darker tone and subdued definition.

One question leads to another. Is it possible that Van Dyck painted no more than his face and rather shorter hair, and left posterity an unfinished portrait, to be completed by another painter? Was the canvas originally rectangular, now reduced to an oval? Examination of the reverse might give us an answer, for we can tell a great deal from distortions in the warp and weft. And if not by Van Dyck, then by whom is the costume? Could it be by Peter Lely, in whose collection there was Van Dyck’s “Own picture in an Oval” of similar size (measurements vary when paintings are taken from their frames)?

To this end, Brian demanded that the NPG commission x-rays and infra-red images to see if his theory was right. regular readers will know what a fan of Brian's I am - but oh dear, where to begin? Has any art historian, to say nothing of any Van Dyck scholars, ever suggested this two-hand theory before? Nope. The picture was originally painted as an oval, as you can tell from the image above, where the paint in the drapery stops short of the edge of the canvas. In other words, it hasn't been cut down. Looking at the back of the painting wouldn't tell you much, as it has been re-lined. The picture Brian mentions in Lely's inventory is in the fact the picture the NPG is trying to buy - Lely even made his own copy of it (below), which we recently discovered here at Philip Mould & Co. Before that, it was almost certainly in Van Dyck's own collection. The Lely copy too shows that the painted surface stopped short of the canvas edge. And suffice to say, x-ray and infra-red reveal that the picture was painted all at the same time. Which is in fact what even a pretty cursory look with the naked eye tells you in any case. But then Brian does like to question attributions, as he did with Raphael's Madonna of the Pinks, and quite a few of the exhibits in the National Gallery's recent Leonardo exhibition. He is what the connoisseur Max Friedlander used to call a 'Nein-sager'. 

This is, of course, only the latest salvo in Brian's apparent campaign against the painting, which can only, I presume, benefit the overseas buyer. by contrast, more enthusiastic coverage of the self-portrait was found recently in the Telegraph and also the Wall Street Journal.

Incidentally, Lely's copy shows that the background to Van Dyck's self-portrait was originally a slightly later shade of dark brown, and that it has either been glazed over by a later hand (Brian must have missed this), or, more likely perhaps, been darkened by a combination of old-varnish and dirt. The two curious looking black round smudges to the right of Van Dyck's buttons seen in the Lely copy are in fact there in the original** (they must be pentimenti of sorts) but are obscured by the later over-paint. 

You can read more about the Van Dyck self-portrait, and its history, in my 'Finding Van Dyck' exhibition catalogue.

Update - interesting to see the official note of the Export Reviewing Committee's decision on the self-porrait. It states that;

All ten members voted that it met all three of the Waverley criteria. The painting was therefore found to meet the first, second and third Waverley criteria on the grounds that it was so closely connected with our history and national life its departure would be a misfortune; that it was of outstanding aesthetic importance; and that it was of outstanding significance for the study of seventeenth century painting and in particular the portraiture of Sir Anthony Van Dyck. 

I believe a clean sweep of votes like this hardly ever happens.

Update II - for perhaps the best selfie yet taken, albeit unintentionally, see here.

*Regular readers will know I'm in something of a quandry on this one, given that Philip Mould & Co., for which I work, sold the picture to an overseas buyer.  

** If you can't see it, take my word for it. I've looked at the picture pretty much every work day for the last four and a bit years. 

'Strange Beauty' at the NG

February 17 2014

Image of 'Strange Beauty' at the NG

Picture: Telegraph

The National Gallery has another of their predominantly own-collection exhibitions on, as upstairs rooms are cleared to make way for the forthcoming Veronese show. Entry, £7. Alistair Sooke in the Telegraph is not that impressed, calling it 'threadbare':

I happily passed an hour or two in this exhibition reacquainting myself with old favourites from the National Gallery’s collection, as well as considering works that perhaps previously I had overlooked. But charging seven pounds for a full-price ticket feels inappropriate to me: while it does contain more than 30 loans from other British collections, including Holbein’s spellbinding miniature of Anne of Cleves from the V&A, Strange Beauty is predominantly a reshuffle of the permanent collection – and usually it is possible to admire, say, Holbein’s The Ambassadors for free.

Moreover, it is only a couple of years since a major show about the Northern Renaissance at the Queen’s Gallery in 2012, while there have been recent exhibitions in London devoted to Dürer (at the British Museum in 2002), Holbein (Tate Britain, 2006), and Cranach (the Royal Academy, 2008).

In addition, there isn’t much of a narrative to Strange Beauty, aside from the idea that the popularity of particular schools of art can wax and wane from era to era. Though this is interesting – I was fascinated to read, for instance, that 19th-century viewers of the famous (Netherlandish, not German) Arnolfini Portrait, on display in the first gallery, were amused by the stiffness of the figures as well as the bizarre appearance of their clothes – it is hardly sensational or groundbreaking.

The threadbare concept behind the exhibition is writ large in its final room, which does not contain any artworks at all. Instead, visitors encounter toe-curling questions emblazoned on the walls such as “Is ugliness more authentic than beauty?” and “Can art be both inventive and true to nature?” These heavy-handed if well-meaning questions brought me out in a cold sweat, as though I were about to sit an exam – which is not a feeling that ordinarily I would like to pay to experience.

Obama says true thing, art historians complain

February 13 2014

Video: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 

I've been trying to avoid the row about Barack Obama's remarks on the value of an art history degree, but there have been some interesting responses to it. Here's what he said last week (via, when giving a speech about job-training programmes:

“I promise you that folks can make a lot more potentially with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree,” Obama said. “Now, there’s nothing wrong with an art history degree; I love art history, so I don’t want to get a bunch of emails from everybody.”

“I’m just saying, you can make a really good living and have a great career without getting a four-year college education, as long as you get the skills and training that you need[...]”

In response, the Colllege Art Association, apparently the main lobbying body for art historians in the US, took the President's remarks too seriously, and got a little windy:

The College Art Association has great respect for President Obama’s initiative to provide all qualified students with an education that can lead to gainful employment. We support all measures that he, Congress, State Legislatures and colleges and universities can do to increase the opportunities for higher education. However, when these measures are made by cutting back on, denigrating or eliminating humanities disciplines such as art history, then America’s future generations will be discouraged from taking advantage of the values, critical and decisive thinking and creative problem solving offered by the humanities. It is worth remembering that many of the nation’s most important innovators, in fields including high technology, business, and even military service, have degrees in the humanities. Humanities graduates play leading roles in corporations, engineering, international relations, government, and many other fields where their skills and creating thinking play a critical role. Let’s not forget that education across a broad spectrum is essential to develop the skills and imagination that will enable future generations to create and take advantage of new jobs and employment opportunities of all sorts.

So far so predictable. But the sad fact is, Obama is right. An art history degree is a fascinating and worthwhile thing, but don't think it will lead to a high earning career in art history. I recently mentioned Tate Britain's advertising a full-time Assistant Curator post for British art, for which a PhD 'desirable', for which the salary was just £23,360.

And why is this? As the arts commentator Lucas Spivey eloquently demonstrates on his website, there are too many art historians chasing too few jobs, and so organisations like Tate can get away with offering ridiculously low salaries:

At least someone said it. Regarding President Obama's statements in Wisconsin last week, please let's not make the man apologize. He accurately compared the salary of a skilled manufacturing job to someone with an art history degree.  It's sad but certainly not his fault that those holding BAs or even MAs in art history can't find decent paying work.  This is not to say that the arts and culture jobs are not important to the economy, they accounted for approximately 3.2% of GDP or $504 billion in 2011 (about $200 billion in advertising).  And the arts also have net effect on local tourism, international legitimacy and other areas that are somewhat intangible.

However the economic numbers are in and they are quite conclusive about job prospects and compensation for the arts industries. In the US, the total number of filled arts jobs (somewhere north of 100,000 positions that already occupied) is actually equal to or less than the total unfilled jobs for a singular fields like nurses (105,000), truck drivers (103,000), sales reps (350,000), machine operators (140,000) or software developers (108,000), and others on a given month.  Let that soak in: there are roughly as many unfilled truck driving positions available than there are total arts and cultural jobs filled.  And their rates of pay are at or well above the average salaries in the arts.

Lucas' piece is well worth reading in full.

Now, regular readers will know that I have a further problem with the way many art history degrees are taught these days: they have increasingly little to do with the 'history of art', and are more about presenting an overly theoretical, social history view of art and artists. So if you pick the wrong art history degree, you can end up with little real-world knowledge of the history of art, but be fluent in writing the sort of academic guff we like to laugh about here on AHN. I've also heard senior curators at national institutions express their sadness at applicants for curatorial positions who turn up for an interview with glossy PhDs in the most obscure aspect of social art history, but who know nothing about the broader view of art required to work in a museum.

My advice to people who ask me whether they should do a degree in art history is usually to avoid it. Do history, I say, but read art books, and spend lots of time in galleries.

Still, if President Obama really wanted to make his point stick, he should've taken aim at degrees in 'Media Studies'.

Update - by coincidence the CAA annual conference is currently taking place in Chicago. In case you don't believe me about the randomness of much art history teaching today, take a look at some of the conference session titles

Update II - a reader on a well-known art history course writes:

[...] nearly the whole student body is starting to 'panic' about the severe lack of jobs / internships / training programs going at the moment. I think many here do expect the [course] to virtually hand over a career to them after the course is over. However, when one is paying over £20,000, perhaps it does set one up with false expectations? Perhaps a whole lecture on 'Managing Expectations' would be better for the mental health of students, but not for securing more business [...] Although, it must be noted that most of the advertisements for jobs are coming from Contemporary Galleries in America at the moment. Perhaps it is time to jump ship?

Anyway, it won't put me off...

Update III - Obama apologised! He sent a hand-written letter to an art historian. Wow. More here

Update IV - more thoughts on the subject from Felix Salmon at Reuters here.

Amsterdam's giant group portraits to go on display

February 13 2014

Image of Amsterdam's giant group portraits to go on display


A series of 30 giant 17th Century group portraits is to go on display in Amsterdam at the end of this year. From

The Hermitage museum in Amsterdam is to host a permanent exhibition of some 30 enormous paintings by Rembrandt and his contemporaries which have never been seen together before.

The exhibition, with the working title Gallery of the Golden Age, focuses on Dutch citizenship during in the 17th and 18th centuries when Amsterdam was at the height of its international powers. 

The works - group portraits of wealthy Amsterdammers - are held by the Rijksmuseum and Amsterdam Museum but are so big they are rarely on show.

Rembrandt's Night Watch at the Rijksmuseum is the most famous picture of the genre and will remain in its present setting but his Anatomy Lesson of Dr Deijman will be part of the new exhibition.

'We have many more paintings than we can display. This is a great opportunity to go big on these massive group portraits,' said Amsterdam Museum director Paul Spies.

The exhibition will open in November.

The man who found 'The Scream'

February 13 2014

Video: BBC

Good short interview with Charles Hill, who helped find Munch's 'The Scream' after it was stolen in Oslo in 1994.

Art history ads (ctd.)

February 12 2014

Image of Art history ads (ctd.)

Picture: Wallace Collection

Good one from the Wallace Collection. 

Gurlitt horde - there's more

February 12 2014

Image of Gurlitt horde - there's more

Picture: Die Welt

Monet's, Renoirs, Picassos, the lot - allegedly. All in his second home in Salzburg. More here in Die Welt (in English).

How accurate is 'The Monuments Men'?

February 12 2014

Image of How accurate is 'The Monuments Men'?

Picture: Columbia Pictures/20th Century Fox

Not very, according to Aisha Harris in Slate.

The film's stars, George Clooney and Matt Damon, gave a press conference at the National Gallery in London yesterday, in which they argued that the Elgin Marbles should be returned to Greece. More on that here

I've always been in two minds about the Elgin Marbles. I can see an argument for giving them back. The trouble is, their return would represent a thin-end-of-the-wedge moment, and before long the British Museum would be pretty empty. Either way, it seems to me that the world's governments need to agree a cut off date for the return of cultural items, and work from there. We can't go on arguing about who owns what forever.

What do readers think?

Update - there's a good online feature on the Monuments Men in WW2 here at the US National Gallery's site.

Update II - a reader, of estimable soundness, writes:

You're just teasing now ... asking about Elgin Marbles on an art blog is like inviting a debate about immigration on the Daily Mail website (on basis that half commenters are only there to berate DM readers!).  

I think there are two distinct parts of the debate. The easier one is a legalistic argument about title, and I agree with you that there needs to be some statute of limitation against spurious claims. It's just impossible to arbitrate every transaction centuries into history. The harder one is about the 'best' place for them. The BM argues context of human civilization is more meaningful, Greece argues their original context. I think both are spurious - they stand on their own without needing 'context' of Roman or African art a few rooms away at the BM, and no one seriously suggests putting them back on the Parthenon itself. The argument that they're part of Greek heritage doesn't convince me - they are tied to time more than place, and ancient Greece was a pinnacle of human civilization that we can all relate to.  

Stuff ends up places by all kinds of serendipitous routes, and to argue for the 'best' context is to imply that lots of stuff should be shuffled regularly. Sometimes transfers make sense - recently stolen objects should obviously be returned, and I'd like to see reciprocal agreements to re-unite dismebered altarpieces and separated pendants. But it's a fool's errand to try to establish the 'right' place for stuff. Leave the marbles be.

Update III - here's a New York Times piece on the Monuments Women.

Update IV - another reader writes:

In response to the reader who discusses the best place for the Elgin Marbles (aside from the legal arguments), surely the most convincing reason for returning the marbles is that they are one part of larger artwork. If the head of David was in one country and the body in another or the Mona Lisa was in two pieces, I'm sure there would be a desire to see them reunited.

Update V - I was asked to speak about the Marbles on ITV London yesterday. I said they should stay!

Nuclear testing for fakes

February 11 2014

Image of Nuclear testing for fakes

Picture: Guggenheim Collection

Here's an interesting story; a questionable painting in the Guggenheim collection by Fernand Leger has been proved to be a fake by testing for faint signs of cold-war era nuclear bombs. These apparently proved that the painting must have been made after Leger's death. More here


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