Previous Posts: June 2014

How long can the Boom last?

June 29 2014

Image of How long can the Boom last?

Picture: Sotheby's

Georgina Adam has been covering the art market for publications such as the Financial Times and The Art Newspaper for decades. So her new book on the extraordinary heights of the modern and contemporary art market, and how it relates to previous art market booms is well worth a read. You can order a copy of Big Bucks – The Explosion of the Art Market in the 21st Centuryhere. Here in the FT she summarizes her conclusions:

Everyone wants to know whether this market is a bubble and, if so, when it will burst? This seems unlikely to happen any time soon: the sheer amount of global wealth; the massive museum-building programmes; the positioning of art as an element of the celebrity and fashion worlds, and the seductive lifestyle the art world offers are all very attractive to the super-rich.

But I like to keep in mind what the Chinese say: “Trees can’t grow as high as the sky.” All markets are cyclical; the art market has had booms and busts before, for example, during the armed conflicts of the 20th century, in the 1970s and in 1990: each time mirroring the global economy.

There are parallels between this situation and the art market in England between 1860 and 1914, “the golden age of the living painter”, according to art historian Gerald Reitlinger. It was a time of rapid economic growth thanks to the technological revolution, and new patrons of art came from these manufacturing and trading fortunes.

The sometimes scandalous lives of Pre-Raphaelite artists and their circle were well publicised; advances in printing meant that 600,000 impressions were sold of Millais’ winsome child, “Cherry Ripe”. Contemporary artists were stars: Edwin Long’s florid “The Babylonian Marriage Market” (1875) sold in 1882 for £6,615 (almost £700,000 today) – then a record for a living English painter. It was bought by Thomas Holloway, a multimillionaire from sales of ointment and medicines. The art establishment was outraged, and in Holloway’s obituary the Art Journal sniffed: “Those whose productions he acquired may possibly have to regret the inflated prices which . . . their works assumed.”

Long’s prices did collapse, along with those of many Victorian artists. The first world war and the Great Depression would end that boom.

How will today’s art stars fare in the future? Major political upheavals or financial problems inevitably have an impact on investment and the art market cannot be immune. Almost all the huge prices are, however, being made as a growing pool of ultra-rich buyers battles for a small number of brand-name works. There is a vast hinterland of good art by creators whose names will never be widely known and whose works will never achieve such heights. The overall trend of the market is upwards, historically, but not for everyone, and not always.

A new Holbein in Pittsburgh?

June 29 2014

Image of A new Holbein in Pittsburgh?

Picture: CMOA

They've broken out the acetone at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh for a new exhibition, Faked, Forgotten, Found. A previously 'tarted up' portrait of Isabella de Cosimo de Medici (below) has been making the headlines (e.g., in the Daily Mail here), but more interesting I think is the above portrait of Lord Bergavenny (1469-1535). Long thought to be a fake 'Holbein', due to rancid-looking later overpaint in the background, new analysis has revealed under-drawing and a much earlier background (left hand top corner) perhaps painted with smalt. I'm going to ask the CMOA for an image of this under-drawing (often crucial in Holbein attributions, as we're looking for signs of originality), and will report back if I get one. In the meantime, you can see a high-res image of the partially cleaned picture here. No panel painting by Holbein of Bergavenny is known. There is a drawing of the same sitter by Holbein at Wilton house, image here, and a miniature is also known.

Update - the CMOA have very kindly sent me this IR photo. 

Update II - a painter writes:

The partially cleaned ' School of Holbein' portrait of Lord Bergavenny is definitely based on the Wilton drawing or an exact copy of it, because it reproduces a slight error of draughtsmanship in the original drawing. There is also a miniature based on the same drawing, claimed to be by Holbein.

One of the characteristics of Holbein's (alleged) use of a form of Camera lucida (like Ingres) is the occasional misplacement of  one of the eyes, usually the one furthest from the picture plane. This can be caused by the sitter slightly changing the angle of his/her head, during the creation of the drawing.

This phenomenom can seen very clearly in the painting of Jane Seymour where her right eye (further from the picture plane) appears larger than the nearer, left eye. Surprisingly this has been transferred, apparently unnoticed by Holbein, from drawing to painting.

In the case of Bergavenny, the sitter's left eye in the Wilton drawing is very slightly too high up, in relation to the nearer eye, which Holbein will have drawn first and this has been reproduced in the painting, now being cleaned.. 

In other drawings, the sitter has turned slightly towards Holbein so one sees more of the eye than the strict rules of perspective  allow-( I believe this is what happened with Jane Seymour). 

The drawing looks immensely more powerful than the painting in its present state and I much look forward to seeing if it improves with cleaning.

I don't buy the camera lucida theory myself.


June 29 2014

That's the number of oil paintings in the Royal Collection, which we only now know for the first time, reports Martin Bailey in The Art Newspaper:

Britain’s Royal Collection is to undergo the most ambitious condition survey ever carried out on a major group of paintings. On the eve of the conservation project, The Art Newspaper can give the precise number of paintings for which the collection is responsible: 7,564 works in oil. This is the first time that the number has been confirmed in the past 500 years. The works will all be condition-checked and properly photographed, and images of most of the paintings will be published online, revealing for the first time the extent of the world’s greatest private collection.

The Painting Condition Survey is due to begin this summer with the “lesser” palaces—Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, Sandringham in Norfolk and Balmoral in Scotland. A team of four conservators and frame technicians will move systematically through each of the royal residences, room by room. Desmond Shawe-Taylor, the surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures, says that the paintings will be taken off the wall, one by one, and removed from their frames. This will be a complex logistical exercise, since the pictures hang in 13 royal residences throughout the UK.

Faking Van Gogh

June 29 2014

Image of Faking Van Gogh

Picture: Boston Globe

The Boston Globe reports from Dafen, the village in China where they knock out thousands of Van Goghs and Monets a year, on a 20 step guide to painting Sunflowers:

Step 18: sign 'Vincent'.

'Masterpiece', and apologies

June 26 2014

Image of 'Masterpiece', and apologies

Picture: Lawrence Hendra

Further apologies for the patchy service lately. As I mentioned below, it's that time of year when all the fairs and Old Master auctions happen at the same time. So things have been a little busy.

We set up our stand at the Masterpiece fair over the weekend (see above, can you spot the Titian?). Then Monday was vetting day. Happily, we had no casualties. Tuesday saw the fair open with a 'Patrons evening', and yesterday we had the 'preview' day, from 10am to 10pm. The setting up days were fuelled by cheeseburgers from the builders tent. From now on it's over-priced sandwiches from the Mount Street Deli in the fair. The free champagne, which flowed endlessly yesterday and on Tuesday night, also ceases today. Boo.

Vetting is a curious business. Each category (paintings pre-1900, sculpture, etc.) has its own sub-committee, and is taken very seriously. At some fairs it isn't (and it shows). The picture committee is made up of a collection of museum curators and former directors, and also some fellow dealers. I've never understood why the latter are there, to be honest - if it were up to me, I'd make it exclusively curators and scholars. But the system seems to work well enough anyway.

Exhibitors are not allowed into the fair when vetting takes place in the morning, but must return to their stands by 2pm to look for the dreaded blue stickers, which are stuck to anything that doesn't pass muster. Last year one dealer returned to find an infestation of the things; it was a vetting bloodbath. He's not come back this year.

Our preview day was reasonably successful. Our consultant for portrait miniatures, Emma Rutherford, sold six works, and had another four reserved by clients. We've also sold three paintings, with another reserved. The atmosphere is quite upbeat; the fair, in its fifth year now, has hits its stride, and I'm pleased to see a few more picture dealers have come on board too (like Lowell Libson and John Mitchell). I think Masterpiece's position as the pre-eminent London fine art fair is pretty secure. Frieze Masters, from what most dealers tell me, hasn't quite worked out (at least for Old Masters). It's at the wrong time of year, and the centre of gravity is inevitably weighted towards modern and contemporary.

This year Masterpiece is a week earlier than previously, so fortunately it's not at the same time as Master Paintings Week (which is when all the central London galleries open their doors during the Old Master sales). This means I won't spend half the day in taxis, shuttling back and forth from fair to gallery, and auction room.

Master Paintings Week is lucky to have the support of the National Gallery, and its director Nicholas Penny, who writes on the MPW website:

We do not know who invented the term ‘Old Master Painting’.  It seems to have emerged in the London art trade two hundred years ago. ‘Master Paintings’ is the not very felicitous but very useful new term which combines Old Masters with art that cannot yet be called modern.  Etymological enquiries of this kind draw our attention to the shifting definitions essential to the history of taste as it evolves not only in the art market, but in museums and galleries.

If the National Gallery’s collection is in some respects canonical it should be noted that since 2000 it has acquired by gift and purchase works by Maulbertsch, Calame, Balke, Menzel and Gallen Kallela – Austrian, Swiss, Norwegian, German and Finnish artists.  And by the time this is published will have acquired a major North American painting by George Bellows, whose work has perhaps never previously been shown in the context of European art.

How are such changes made?  What are the preconditions for an institution redefining itself in this way?  These are not easy questions to answer.  The personal interest of a Director or the enthusiasm of a Curator, the support of Trustees (or their indulgence) are all significant forces, and so too is the work of academic art historians and critics.  But perhaps the most important factor is the eye for new opportunities, the sense of discovery, generated by dealers and collectors.  It is in the art market that new reputations are most commonly made, at least at first.

This is a fairly random post before I head off to the fair for the day. Can I say thank you to the readers who said very kind things to me at the fair yesterday. And I look forward to seeing more of you both there and at the gallery in the coming days.

Cleaning Caillebotte

June 26 2014

Video: Art Institute of Chicago

Check out those big swabs.

BP Portrait Award - winner announced

June 26 2014

Image of BP Portrait Award - winner announced

Picture: NPG

I am a fan of the BP Portrait Award. And though I haven't yet seen it in the flesh, I like the look of this year's winner: 'Man with a Plaid Blanket', by Thomas Ganter. More here in the BBC, and here in the New York Times.

'Girl with a Pearl Earring' goes home

June 23 2014

Image of 'Girl with a Pearl Earring' goes home

Picture: AP/Via MailOnline

The Mauritshuis has re-opened. More here in The Art Newspaper, and photos of the newly refurbished interiors here. The famous Vermeer gets her own Mona Lisa-style barrier.

Update - just a random speculation: but might her triumphant renovation of the Mauritshuis provide a good platform for Emilie Gordenker to come to London? Regular readers will know my views on the sad dearth of female museum directors here in the UK... 

Nicholas Penny to leave the National Gallery

June 23 2014

Nicholas Penny is leaving the National Gallery after six years as director. Says the NG's press release:

His decision comes as he approaches his 65th birthday this December. The exact date of his retirement will depend on the appointment of his successor. 

Under Dr Nicholas Penny’s Directorship, the National Gallery staged the most successful exhibition in its history, Leonardo da Vinci, Painter at the Court of Milan, as well as major exhibitions on painters including Barocci, Veronese and, this autumn, Rembrandt. In 2013, for the first time ever, annual visitors to the Gallery exceeded 6 million.

Reflecting on his six years as Director, Nicholas said “I have enjoyed my years as Director and am grateful to the Trustees, staff and to the Gallery’s supporters for helping to ensure that the Gallery has continued to prosper despite a steadily declining grant – to flourish both as a great and popular resource and as a home for scholarship, a national gallery admired internationally."

He added “Following my retirement I have many plans, but chiefly look forward to spending more time with my family, friends and books.”

Mark Getty, Chairman of the National Gallery Trustees, expressed the Board’s gratitude to the Director for all he has done for the Gallery, saying “Nick has been an extraordinarily successful Director of the National Gallery, steering the nation’s acquisition of the two great Titian paintings, ‘Diana and Actaeon’ (pictured) and ‘Diana and Callisto’ jointly with the National Galleries of Scotland, and this year securing the acquisition of the Gallery’s first major American painting, ‘Men of the Docks’ by George Bellows. The Board are hugely grateful to him for his energy, vision and commitment to the Gallery’s work. We will miss him greatly.”  

The Board of Trustees will shortly begin its search for a new Director. Under the Museums and Galleries Act of 1992, the Director of the National Gallery is appointed by the Trustees with the approval of the Prime Minister.

Nicholas Penny has agreed to stay in office for the entirety of that recruitment process, in order to affect a smooth handover to his successor.

This sad and very unwelcome news comes hot on the heels of Sandy Nairne's announcement of his departure from the National Portrait Gallery. Who will succeed them? It's all getting a bit Game of Thrones.

Update - in The Guardian, Jonathan Jones writes:

It is very worrying that two such talented museum directors have apparently had enough. What have they had enough of?

Ultimately their dignified departures are personal matters and their own business. But it must be getting harder to run a big London museum. The capital is famous for art in a way it has never been before, and tourists flow ceaselessly through its galleries. There's a media assumption that every exhibition should be a hit, a political belief that galleries should provide not just well-run collections, but entertainment and education for everyone. Publicity and accessibility are everything.

Nicholas Penny and Sandy Nairne are characterful people with ideas about art. Is that kind of originality being driven out of a museum world driven by increasingly populist expectations and, at the same time, shrinking budgets? Are we about to see a new technocrat generation of museum bosses who keep their heads down, put PR first and do all they can to meet goals defined by politicians and the press?

This year has seen a taboo broken when a critic actually called for a museum director to be sacked because of (supposed) poor attendances. That kind of pressure doesn't exactly leave much room to experiment. Museums cannot just be machines for entertaining us. They should have a quieter side where the art comes first, the crowds second and a scholarly side that reveres someone like Penny.

This looks depressingly like the end of individuality in the museum world.

Update - Richard Dorment in the Telegraph thinks Nicholas might have had an offer from elsewhere:

But though he’ll be missed, he’s doing the right thing at the right time, when he can still do the shows and write the books that no one else alive could have done or written. But of that’s only if you believe he is really retiring – and if I were a betting man I’d wager that he’s had a call from a large American museum.

This is not Christopher Marlowe

June 23 2014

Image of This is not Christopher Marlowe

Picture: Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

So says the historian and Marlowe scholar Dr. Peter Roberts, who has deduced that the age of the sitter and the flamboyance of the clothing don't work for the famous playwright (The Times reports). Nor, says Roberts, is it likely that Marlowe would have commissioned a portrait.

To be honest, the clothing and the 'he wouldn't have sat' theories don't really mean much. How do we really know what he wore, or who might have wanted his portrait? But the age thing is obviously important.

The 'Aetatis Suae' in portraits is often mistakenly taken to be mean the age - in this case 21 meaning he was aged 21. In fact it means he was 'in his 21st year', and so aged 20 in the modern sense. Marlowe was baptised (says says the DNB) on 26th February 1564, and we don't know exactly when he was born. But in those days babies were generally baptised very soon after birth. In relation to the portrait, therefore, you might think there is still a two month period at the beginning of 1585 (January and February) when Marlowe would have been 'Aetatis Suae 21'.

However, you must remember that we're dealing with a different calendar here, when the new year, confusingly, began on 25th March (Lady Day). We still operate more or less to this 'Old Style' in our business and financial calendar. So Marlowe's baptism actually took place in February 1563 according to the Elizabethan's style of dating, and the date in the picture must mean that it was painted after 25th March 1585 in the New Style. Therefore, that two month window of opportunity when Marlowe might have been in his 21st year in early 1585 no longer exists. This analysis comes with the caveat that working out dates like this makes my brain hurt, and I may well have got it all wrong (there was no further information in The Times).

In any case, there has always been little proof for the identification of the portrait as Marlowe, except that it was found (in seemingly the most curious circumstances) in 1952 at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where Marlowe went, and that 1585 was the year Marlowe received his degree.

The auction house press day

June 23 2014

Image of The auction house press day

Picture: AFP/Via ArtDaily

Sculptures like the above 'La Main' by Giacometti may be worth an estimated £10m-£15m, but still auction houses can't publicise such works without wheeling out some younger, female member of staff to pose for the press photographers. I like to imagine the conversation when they decide who should on hand for the press day; 

Head of Marketing: 'We need someone to be on hand for the press photographers, any ideas?'

Head of Sale: 'What about John, who secured the consignment?'

Head of Marketing: 'I wonder if the piece doesn't require a female hand, to, er, resonate with the masculinity of Giacometti's vision?'

Head of Sale: 'Ok, what about Catherine, our senior specialist who wrote the catalogue entry? She knows all about the piece'.

Head of Marketing: 'Hmm. Not quite the right look.'

Head of Sale: 'Marie, the intern?'

Head of Marketing: 'Great idea!'

Still, at least we're spared the white gloves. Might have ruined the ET effect. The sale catalogue is here

Art Basel

June 20 2014

Image of Art Basel

Picture: Skarstedt Gallery via Artnet

Talking of fairs, it's Art Basel at the moment, probably the world's leading modern art fair. Things sell for silly money, like the above Andy Warhol self-portrait (one of countless versins), which Artnet news reports has sold for more than $30m. To put that into perspective, the Van Dyck self-portrait recently bought by the National Portrait Gallery, London (and one of only 8 known to have been painted) cost £10m. 

Update - a reader writes:

Yes, quality in art and monetary value these days seem to have little in common. I met Andy Warhol in the 1980s when he came here to Kong Kong for an exhibition of his Xerox-type portraits of local big-wigs, whether done by him or his "Factory" workers I know not. It was quite difficult carrying on a conversation with him because of his minimalist line in dialogue. At the time this seemed to me quite smart because his verbal technique generated maximum publicity with minimum effort. It was interesting to see that when he died his apartment was filled  with antiques like a country house; there were no "Factory" products in sight.


June 20 2014

...for the lack of action today and yesterday. We're getting ready for the Masterpiece fair in London, so I'm a little busier than usual. Hope to see some of you there - it opens next Wednesday.

De-accession time in Delaware (ctd.)

June 18 2014

Image of De-accession time in Delaware (ctd.)

Picture: DAM/Christie's

The Delaware Museum of Art's attempt to plug a $30m financial hole by selling pictures has started badly. Their prized Holman Hunt, Isabella and the Pot of Basil, sold at Christie's yesterday for only £2.9m (inc. premium), when it had been estimated to fetch £5m-£8m (not inc. premium). It's not often you see a reserve reduced so drastically (normally it's at or just below the low estimate) and so the museum must have been pretty keen not to have the picture back. That is of course the danger of auction selling - you're leaving everything up to what happens on one night, and if for whatever reason bidder number two doesn't show up, then a sale can fail. The DAM might have been better advised, given the precarious nature of the Pre-Raphaelite market, to try and sell the picture privately first (tho' perhaps they did try that - I don't know).

IR photo reveals mystery Picasso portrait

June 17 2014

Image of IR photo reveals mystery Picasso portrait

Picture: AP/Guardian

Infra-red analysis of Picasso's 'Blue Room' [Phillips Collection, Washington] has revealed a 'mystery portrait' beneath the paint layers. More here

Restoring the Bowes Museum's altarpiece

June 17 2014

Video: Art Fund

I'm very fond of the Bowes Museum, so here's a good cause I'd like to steer you towards; the museum is fundraising to restore a 15th Century Flemish altarpiece. In the above video - part of the ArtFund's laudable new crowd-funding project - the museum's excellent director Adrian Jenkins explains more about the project. More details here.  

'Art Detective' strikes again

June 16 2014

Image of 'Art Detective' strikes again

Picture: Atkinson Art Gallery/Your Paintings

Another triumph for Art Detective - the above picture of London Bridge has been attributed to Jacques-Emile Blanche after discussion on the site. The picture had been sent to the AD by the Atkinson Art Gallery in Southport. See the process here.

Tate's 'Folk Art' (ctd.)

June 16 2014

Video: Tate

Here's a good video from Tate on their new Folk Art show, with curator Martin Myrone. In the Sunday Times, Waldemar liked the show very much.

Update - a reader writes:

I haven't been to the Tate 'Folk Art' show, but I did see some nice examples of 17th century British folk art, some quite good pictures, and textile representations of animals made in the Caucasus in the C19th in Cheffins in Cambridge today, for free.  The Cheffins exhibition continues until Wednesday, when, unlike the items in the Tate, they can be bought. How great is that?


June 16 2014

Image of Polloks

Picture: New York Times

The New York Times has a great update on those fake Jackson Pollocks sold by the esteemed Knoedler gallery in New York (and painted by a Chinese man): even the signatures were wrong!

When angry collectors started suing Knoedler & Company for selling dozens of multimillion-dollar forgeries, the gallery’s former president, Ann Freedman, insisted that she and her colleagues had had no reason to think that any of the paintings were counterfeit.

“If Ann Freedman had any questions about these works, she and her husband would not have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in them,” her lawyer, Nicholas A. Gravante Jr., said of the paintings attributed to modern masters like Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock.

Now, newly released documents in a continuing civil case show that at least one of the works bought in 2000 by Ms. Freedman herself contained a prominent clue that something was awry. The artist’s signature was spelled incorrectly: Pollok instead of Pollock.

Update - a reader writes:

The purchaser of a fake is deceived, and has every right to feel aggrieved; and the claim that the dealer has no notice of the forgery seems tenuous at best, one would think that Freedman should be able to correctly spell the artist's name.  That said, the misspelling of Pollock's name was also a clue for any prospective purchaser acting prudently and in the protection of their own interest.  At the least it should prompt a question to the seller.

NPG Director to leave

June 16 2014

Image of NPG Director to leave

Picture: Guardian

Sad news that Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, is to leave next year. He has been there for 12 years, and achieved many great things, as The Independent reports:

Sandy Nairne is to step down as head of the National Portrait Gallery in February after more than a decade at the helm.

The director, who has been hailed for boosting visitor numbers by 40 per cent, “wonderful” exhibitions and acquiring acclaimed work, announced today he was to leave in order to pursue his writing and advisory work.

“It has been a great privilege to lead such a special institution as the National Portrait Gallery, and I am very proud of what we have achieved over the past decade,” he said, adding that the gallery was “in very good shape and will go from strength to strength”.

Sir William Proby, chairman of the trustees, said Mr Nairne “has done a tremendous job and will be greatly missed. He has significantly increased visitor numbers, put on some wonderful exhibitions… and overseen many major commissions and acquisitions.”

Mr Nairne, who had been director of programmes at Tate, was appointed NPG director in November 2002, following the departure of Charles Saumarez Smith. At the time attendance annual figures were 1.4m; they have since risen past 2m.

Before the Tate, Mr Nairne had worked at the Arts Council of Great Britain, the Institute of Contemporary Arts and the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford.

Among the recent acclaimed exhibitions at the NPG under Nairne’s stewardship were Lucian Freud Portraits and the current Bailey’s Stardust exhibition of the photography of David Bailey.

During his tenure, the director oversaw the acquisition of the Van Dyck self-portrait earlier this year as well as the acquisition of a John Donne Portrait and Mark Quinn’s Self. He also commissioned portraits of Dame Judi Dench, Simon Weston and David Beckham.

Another notable achievement was asking the Duchess of Cambridge to be the gallery's royal patron (tho' alas I suspect he could do little about that unfortunate portrait of her). I've seen Sandy in directorial action, close-up, a few times, and he's an inspiringly effective operator. He'll be a hard act to follow. I hope some other institution can persuade him to direct again. More here in The Guardian.

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