Previous Posts: September 2014

'Cameron's royal gaffe on the Queen's Van Dyck'

September 30 2014

Image of 'Cameron's royal gaffe on the Queen's Van Dyck'

Picture: Evening Standard

There's a story in the London Evening Standard today, which states that the David Cameron, made 'a gaffe' in revealing details of a conversation with the Queen at Chequers, the UK Prime Minister's country retreat. Says the Standard:

On Monday last week, Mr Cameron invited some 20 MPs to his country retreat, including some of his fiercest critics, to thrash out a plan for “English votes for English laws” following the referendum.

During a tour, he showed them Anthony van Dyck’s painting A Family Group, and recounted a conversation that took place when the Queen and Prince Philip made a visit to Chequers in February — their first in almost two decades.

According to Mr Cameron, Her Majesty commented that she had the original of the painting at Windsor Castle. But the Premier then told how, in a toe-curlingly awkward moment, the curator at Chequers interjected to correct the Queen, pointing out the version she was looking at was the original and that her painting at Windsor was the copy.

While the story delighted guests, it appears to once again breach protocol which demands private conversations with the Queen are not discussed.

Which is all very amusing, except for the fact that the Queen (who knows her art) was absolutely right. The two group portraits by Van Dyck that would match the description given here of 'A Family Group' are the so-called 'Great Piece' of Charles I and Henrietta Maria with Charles II and Princess Mary and The Five Eldest Children of Charles I, and both are in the Royal Collection. Chequers has a copy of part of the former (with just Henrietta Maria and Princess Mary) and a full-scale copy of the latter. These are both listed in the 2004 Van Dyck catalogue raisonné as copies.

You can see the Chequers copies on Your Paintings here and here. For some reason, the Your Paintings site incorrectly describes the portrait of Henrietta Maria and Princess Mary as by 'Van Dyck'.

If the curator at Chequers really did not know that Van Dyck's original was indeed in the Royal Collection, they should be sent to the Tower. 

There are two genuine Van Dycks at Chequers, small head and shoulders portraits of Charles I and Henrietta Maria, which you can see on Your Paintings here and here

Update - AHN's reaction to the Standard story has been picked up by the media, including the Telegraph here, the Express here and The Times here. But the PM has today given a barnstorming conference speech, with tax cuts to boot, so this Van Dyck business will be very swiftly forgotten. 

Update II - a reader writes:

Would that Her Majesty still had the power to send a curator to The Tower and have a PM (who made him a Premier) exiled (to Scotland) for indiscretion.

Update III - a reader adds:

The Cameron Van Dyke story puts one in mind of Alan Bennett's "A Question of Attribution."  Her Majesty likes facts.

Sargent exhibition at NPG London & Met, NY

September 30 2014

Image of Sargent exhibition at NPG London & Met, NY

Picture: NPG

This looks exciting; the National Portrait Gallery, London, will have an exhibition on John Singer Sargent next year, which will then go onto the Met in New York. Guest curated by Richard Ormond CBE, who wrote the excellent four-volume Sargent catalogue raisonné, the show will:

[...] explore the artist as a painter at the forefront of contemporary movements in the arts, music, literature and theatre, revealing the depth of his appreciation of culture and his close friendships with many of the leading artists, actors and writers of the time.

The exhibition will be in London between 12 Feb - 25 May, and the at the Met in New York 29 June - 4 October. More details here.  

What is 'prosopography'?

September 30 2014

Image of What is 'prosopography'?

Picture: Neil Jeffares/ National Archives

King of all things pastel, Neil Jeffares (consult his online Dictionary of pastellists before 1800 here) is a pre-eminent prosopographist, and explains what it is in this entry on his blog:

[..] archival research into the lives of the artists and the worlds they worked in.

You and I might think that's mainly what art history is all about, but no; as Neil explains, too many art historians are instead focused on:

the often dry theoretical discussions pursued in universities: these are characterised by abstract theories couched in ludicrous vocabulary, and are necessarily governed by the whimsical vogues that infect the institutions where such work is conducted.

Anyway, to see an important and indeed rather moving example of Neil's dedicated prosopography, I urge you to read his latest piece of research on the English seventeenth century pastellist Edmund Ashfield, here, in which he describes his quest to find out more about this previously elusive artist.

In this extract, Neil describes the eureka moment when he found a crucial line of text, above, hiding in an enormous document at the National Archives in Kew:

Unindexed, it consisted of twenty-five enormous sheets of vellum (double sided, each with up to 7–8000 words), folded to make photography impossible and so large that to read them (and comply with the National Archives handling rules) required bodily contortions that may have inspired Mats Ek’s choreography: at least Michelangelo had a scaffold. And try as I might I could find nowhere in the affidavit of her guardian’s son the statement I hoped to find. But as I was very close to giving up going through the rest of the bundle, I came across the statement made by the defendant, Sir Henry Goodricke, in which he does indeed refer to Eleanor’s first husband as “Mr Edmond Ashfield, the Plaintiff’s Father, who was by Trade a Painter…& had no visible Estate of his owne”.

Neil's main conclusion is that Ashfield died earlier than we thought, in 1679, and that therefore a group of c.1690 miniatures previously thought to be by him at the V&A (see one example here) must be by someone else.

'Invisible Art'

September 30 2014

Image of 'Invisible Art'

Picture: CBC

This piece on CBC radio is a spoof. But I had to check.

Bargain Old Master prints

September 29 2014

Image of Bargain Old Master prints

Picture: Sotheby's

In the New York Times, Scott Reyburn says the market for Old Master prints, such as Rembrandt's sublime 'Three Trees' etching above, is changing:

In the past, the arcane technicalities of printmaking have intimidated potential clients, turning the field into a niche sector. But now, encouraged by the soaring prices of original art and the availability of images of these prints online, a new international crowd that doesn’t know the difference between etching and drypoint, or mezzotint and lithotint — and isn’t really that bothered — has entered the market.

“These sales have become image-driven,” said the London-based art adviser Patrick Legant, who attended both Sotheby’s auction, and the 192-lot print selection Christie’s offered the following day. “People are attracted by lovely things with art-historical gravitas that are reasonably priced,” he added.

Like Rembrandt, Albrecht Dürer has long been recognized as one of the greatest of all print-makers. Sotheby’s sale opened with 20 of his engravings and woodcuts, including some of his most famous compositions, many of which appeal to contemporary sensibilities. With its estimate of £4,000-£6,000, a posthumously printed “Melencolia I” wasn’t an example for the purists, but the sheer power of the image drew a telephone purchase at £25,000. Three-quarters of the Dürers sold, with a further £50,000 — double the low estimate — given for his 1515 woodcut, “The Rhinoceros.”

Cleaning Le Brun's 'Jabach' (ctd.)

September 29 2014

Image of Cleaning Le Brun's 'Jabach' (ctd.)

Picture: Met

Here, Michael Gallagher of the Metropolitan Museum has written about the next steps in their conservation of Le Brun's portrait of the collector Everhard Jabach and his family.

Penny on museum photography

September 28 2014

Image of Penny on museum photography

Picture: BG

National Gallery director Nicholas Penny gave a talk last week in London on 'Old Masters in a new age', in which he discussed how the NG is approaching new media, and the lifting of the photography ban. Sadly, despite the speech being part of something called 'Social Media Week', there was no streaming or video of Penny's turn, which seems more than a little contradictory. I learn from a few quotes on Twitter, however, that Nicholas admitted to 'a life long habit of illicit art photography'. If anyone was there, and can tell us anything else the great man said, do let me know. 

De-accession time in Delaware (ctd.)

September 28 2014

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

Picture: DAM

The Delaware Art Museum's handling of their de-accessions goes from bad to worse. Not content with having sold their Holman Hunt 'Isabella with the Pot of Basil' for way under estimate earlier this year, they've now managed to handicap the potential sale of their next disposal, Winslow Homer's Milking Time

I said back in August that it was inadvisable for the DAM to trail the fact that Milking Time would be offered privately before auction (at Sotheby's) in the autumn, for if the picture did appear at auction, people would know it had already failed to sell privately beforehand. They might thus sit on their hands at the sale, and be wary of any estimate (as happend with the Holman Hunt).

But here (at DelawareOnline) is the DAM's own chairman, Gerret Copeland, telling the world that Milking Time has already failed to sell, and "Basically, there's no interest in Homers." Which of course is phooey. According to DelawareOnline, Copeland is 'frustrated the art market decided not to cooperate'. 

The DAM has now decided to raid its endowment to plug its debt hole, leaving it with half the funding it needs to be viable. 

After Dark at Tate

September 28 2014

Image of After Dark at Tate

Picture: ES

Tate Britain recently made much of having robots go around its galleries at night, which you could control over the web. It wasn't very exciting when I looked at it; the image quality was pretty weak. Google's Art Poject does the job much better.

But recently, homeless man Raj Patel, managed to secure his own after hours private view by falling asleep in the gallery's toilets just before closing time, and then enjoyed a good wander around. He told the Evening Standard:

“I remember hearing someone open the door and shouting ‘security’, but I was half-asleep and they didn’t check the cubicle. When I woke up the entire place was in darkness. 

“It was just a bit eerie, being there all alone. I wandered around for 10 minutes looking for a security guard to let me out.

“When I found one, they just let me go - they didn’t even ask for ID or even my name."


September 28 2014

Image of 3%

Picture: Deloitte

That's the number of collectors who buy art purely as an investment, according to a new report on art investment by Deloitte (read a summary of it here at ArtNet, and see the full report here). 21% of collectors said they bought art purely for the purposes of collecting, while 76% said they bought it partly with an investment view in mind.

That broadly reflects my experience when I was selling art in London. Most people buy something because they fall in love with it. (And you need to love a £50,000 picture before you shell out for it, as buying art usually comes way down the list of life's priorities, after paying off the mortgage, educating the kids, planning the pension, and dallying with the yacht.)

But many people often asked me if art, at least in the Old Master end of the market, was 'a good investment', and usually my answer had to be 'no', at least not in the short term. I always urged people to buy art on its own merits, and see any investment potential as a medium to long term proposition.

As a safe store of capital, Old Masters can represent good value. But the problem with using art purely as an investment vehicle is the transaction cost. Let's say you choose to buy and sell at auction; your buyer's premium start at 25% (plust Vat), and your seller's premium starts at 10% (again, plus Vat). So the average punter needs to be confident that the art has gone up by almost 40% before they can get their money back.

Now, there are many scenarios in which the margins don't need to be so frightening (auction houses are usually happy to negotiate down a seller's premium, for example) but you get the idea. In fact, I see that Christie's has now introduced a new 2% additional premium if they sell your picture for more than the higher estimate. And dealer margins can be just as high, if not higher.

Obviously, the question is a wholly different one at the modern and contemporary end of the art market, where we're dealing with a speculator's market in which quality has little to do with prices. Even here, however, you need to be prepared to wait a good while for price increases to wash out transaction costs; flip a Warhol too quickly, and you could end up losing big.

Update - a reader writes:

Regarding the 3 % this result says nothing about the amount of funds devoted to art investment rather only the percentage of collectors investing.

There is over one hundred billion us dollars of insured art value sitting in one storage facility in Switzerland to which one can add JFK and red hook in NYC and bank vaults from Wilmington Delaware to London. 

Wealth managers mainly recommend art as a portable unregistered  non monetary store of value in case the clients’ resident country or marriage falls apart rather than for near term return.  And as Volpone recommended you can send it ahead.

In a true global emergency the value of art will shrink because the buyers will disappear but it might still be there when things normalize and it is valuable if the emergency is localized as with certain countries right now

Forecasting future value for an artist's work requires forecasting future tastes and future economic conditions but rather than a paying cash dividend or interest it has a carrying cost for insurance storage and ultimately conservation in addition to high transaction costs and an unregulated market.

Buy what you love if you can afford it and any financial gain is a reward for buying and selling well.

Or look for sleepers.

Italian Museums (ctd.)

September 28 2014

This subject is turning into quite a regular feature here on AHN. The latest curiousness from Italy's museum sector comes via The Art Newspaper, which reports that the head of Florence's museums is under investigation for not properly handling an EUR1.5m insurance contract when various pictures were leant to the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest (above). More here

Van Gogh still life to be auctioned

September 28 2014

Image of Van Gogh still life to be auctioned

Picture: FT

One of Van Gogh's final still life paintings is to be sold at Sotheby's in New York in November, where it is estimated to sell for up to $50m. More here in the FT.

National Gallery membership launched

September 25 2014

Video: National Gallery

The National Gallery in London has launched a new Membership scheme. Regular readers may remember that I first revealed this back in April 2014. The above feel-good video doesn't tell you what you get for your £50, but the 'exclusive benefits' promised are these:

Free exhibition entry Enjoy free, unlimited entry to all exhibitions

Exclusive events Experience the Gallery away from the crowds through our exciting programme of Members' events, including private views of exhibitions and talks with curators and experts

Special offers Take advantage of a range of discounts and offers available for Members in the Gallery shops, cafés and Dining Rooms

Members' website Browse your online Membership magazine featuring exclusive interviews, films and articles, and find out about forthcoming events and offers

Members' e-news Stay up to date with all that’s happening at the Gallery, along with the latest offers and events direct to your inbox.

Some news reports have said membership will allow you to 'beat the queues'. This isn't really the case, and you still have to get a timed ticket. You do though get a free bag. You can join here

The National Gallery has also released details of its forthcoming exhibitions, which include:

Inventing Impressionism 4 March – 31 May 2015
Soundscapes: Listening to Paintings 8 July – 6 September 2015
Goya: The Portraits 7 October 2015 – 10 January 2016

I'll say it now; Goya is probably the most over-rated portraitist in the history of western art.

Update - a reader writes:

Whilst I am pleased that the NG now has a membership group, I am sorry that, like a numbe of other institutions, it has failed to institute a category of life membership. For the many people who are worried about the widely documented unreliability of Direct Debit, and the tiresomeness of annual renewal, this is surely the best option to support such an institution. Most others of comparable stature are willing to accept a lump sum to cover life membership; the fact that the NG is not suggest that they are not entirely serious about the whole enterprise.

Update II - another reader writes:

Oh, the ghost of Robert Hughes is going to come and haunt you for that dismissive opinion !!

Cleaning Leonardo's 'Adoration of the Magi'

September 24 2014

Image of Cleaning Leonardo's 'Adoration of the Magi'

Pictures: Opficio delle Pietre Dure

The Art Newspaper alerts me to the conservation of Leonardo's unfinished work of 1481, The Adoration of the Magi. The picture, which is in the Uffizi in Florence, has been cleaned of some of its uppermost layers of dirt and old varnish by Florence's conservation institute, the Opficio delle Pietre Dure.

The picture already appears to have more depth to it, especially in the sky, trees and areas such as the archway underneath the stairs. As you can see in the picture above, a number of details are now more visible than before. Below is the picture pre-conservation (see a high-res version here).

Another gain is the presence of a blue wash in the sky, which had appeared yellow thanks to the old varnish. 

The cleaning job is so far only partly done, as revealed by the (for now odd-looking) areas where the old surface layers are still visible. The image below shows the group of figures around the staircase seen in UV light. The darker greeny/blue areas are where the old varnish layers are still intact.

In the normally lit image below, you can see how murky the figures look compared with the crisp sharpness of the now-cleaned architecture. Cleaning the figures will be the hard part, as they'll be much more vulnerable to any solvents. 

There's a good selection of photos of the cleaned areas on the OPD's website here.

Update - the website ArtTrav has an interview with one of the conservation team here.  

Cleaning Elizabeth I

September 23 2014

Video: NPG

Great video here from the National Portrait Gallery, where conservator Sophie Plender discusses cleaning the 'Phoenix' portrait of Elizabeth I. The end result looks fantastic (you can see it in the new 'Real Tudors' exhibition I mentioned yesterday). Congratulations to Sophie and all involved. 


September 23 2014

Audio: Alison Carlier/Jerwood drawing prize

Roll up everyone, for here perhaps is a Guffwatch to beat all Guffwatches. From the BBC:

A sound piece, lasting 75 seconds, has won a prestigious prize for drawing.

Adjectives, lines and marks, the winner of this year's £8,000 Jerwood Drawing Prize, will be exhibited alongside two other prize winners from this week.

Its creator, Alison Carlier, describes the piece as "an open-ended audio drawing" that offers "a spoken description of an unknown object".

Established in 1994, the Jerwood Drawing Prize is the UK's largest annual open exhibition for drawing.

It is the first time an artwork consisting solely of sound has won the top prize in its 20-year history.

The extract Carlier reads aloud describes a "hard, red, brown" Roman pot found in the London borough of Southwark.

Its source is a reference book on Roman excavations in south London held by the Museum of London.

Yes, that's right: someone has won eight thousand quid just by having the chutzpah to read out a few lines from an old book, and enter the recording into a drawing prize. Absurdism has reached a new level. What next? Could I enter the Nobel prize for literature with a well-cooked steak?

To understand how a sound piece became 'a drawing', we must look to the guffy criteria of the Jerwood prize, as set out by one of the judges, Gavin Delahunty, Senior Curator of Contemporary Art at Dallas Museum:

 “The shortlist is made up of those artists who knew how to embrace, or indeed reject, the manifold approaches to drawing that exist today. Naturally such a process of selection is always a subjective exercise grown out of the different visual and intellectual sensibilities of the jury. This vital tension between the judges ensured that the final selection went beyond any singular voice or tendency delivering a superb and surprising group of “drawings” for exhibition and commendation.”

Here we have a classic construct of Guff-ism; the need, because people don't know what else to say, to make every statement a contradiction. ' embrace, or indeed reject...' We see this all the time in contemporary-speak: 'something constructive, but at the same time also destructive', and its primary purpose, as demonstrated again by Gavin, is to permit the creation of 'tension', another favourite old chestnut from the contemporary world. 

Update - a reader writes:

I am speechless.

Another wonders where the money comes from for the prize. The good news is that none of it is public money. 

Another reader writes:

[...] from my experience teaching it is this type of crap-speak that is being taught in the universities. The new generation unleashed on the public will all be "communicating" in this way.

Schama on MacGregor

September 23 2014

Image of Schama on MacGregor

Picture: FT

In the Financial Times, Simon Schama, one of our great historians, interviews one of our great museum directors, Neil MacGregor, and looks at the British Museum's new 'Germany' exhibition. Well worth a click. 

Wallace's 'Great Room' re-opens

September 22 2014

Video: BBC

I'm a big fan of seeing pictures in daylight, so it's great to see that the Wallace Collection's 'Great Room' is now open again, with a glass ceiling. 

They still (judging from my most recent visit) have an aversion to dusting the frames at the Wallace though...

Update - Waldemar doesn't approve of the hang:

They took the roof off. They opened up some windows in the ceiling. They commissioned an acreage of gorgeous red damask. They managed somehow to make the space appear twice as big. All this works. I’m less sure about the hang. The finest Wallace pictures are here — the Rembrandts, the Van Dycks, the Velazquezes and, of course, Frans Hals’s Laughing Cavalier — but instead of grouping them according to national schools or matching genres, the Wallace has scattered them about the new gallery by following a pattern of tenuous connections.

Thus, Lawrence’s posh portrait of George IV, from 1822, is hanging next to Van Dyck’s moody self-portrait as the shepherd Paris, from c1628, solely because Sir Richard Wallace intended once to give the picture to George IV, then changed his mind when the king predeceased him. Is that really a good enough reason to disrupt chronology this much?

I thought the pictures also looked overcrowded in a busy two-tier hang. Fewer connections, better spacing would be my doctor’s orders.

Want to run the National Gallery?

September 22 2014

Image of Want to run the National Gallery?

Picture: BBC

Then click here for the candidate brief. This is what you need:


• A recognised and established leader in the art world with an international reputation for excellence and an outstanding record of achievement.

• Expert knowledge of The National Gallery’s collection probably with experience gained in museums or academia.

• Management experience gained in a major institution, with a track record of motivating staff, managing performance and delivering change.

• A proven ambassador with experience of successfully persuading and influencing a range of audiences, including funders.


• A passionate advocate for the role of old master painting in the modern world with the ability to communicate this passion widely.

• The ability to lead with wisdom, imagination and energy.

• A strategic thinker with a clear vision for the future of the National Gallery and the ability to provide direction whilst encouraging entrepreneurship, spontaneity and creativity in others.

• An exceptional communicator with the ability to inspire staff, engage supporters and excite partners; the ability to build relationships of trust and strength through diplomacy and persuasion.

• The ability to manage financial, operational and commercial activities including meeting ambitious targets for both income generation and efficiencies.

• The ability to demonstrate confidence, resilience and effectiveness in a high profile role; an impressive leader who can handle demanding organisational and political contexts well.

• A practical, inclusive and open management style with the ability to generate confidence, build teams, take difficult decisions and deliver change.

Applications close 6th October. 

De-accession time in Delaware (ctd.)

September 22 2014

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

Picture: DIA

I've been covering (most recently here) the disastrous way the Delaware Art Museum has gone about selling some of its collection to plug a financial black hole. Now, the director of the Detroit Institute of Arts which has (though through no fault of its own) the mother of all black holes to fill, has written this stinging riposte to Delaware's activities. In the DIA's newsletter, Graham Beal [above] writes:

There are those who assert that selling a couple of works to save the institution is a reasonable thing to do, as has come up in the Detroit bankruptcy case. But a sudden influx of cash to address a financial bind doesn't solve anything.

Recently, there has been a lot in the press about the Delaware Art Museum's determination to sell as many as three of its most notable artworks to pay off debts incurred through an ambitious expansion about a decade ago. The first, William Holman Hunt's Pot of Basil, has already been sold.

While hardly a household name, Hunt was a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of young painters who, in 1848, challenged the British art establishment with a vision entirely at odds with accepted practices. Because their brightly colored, meticulously detailed style was also at odds with most forms of modernism, their fall from prominence was precipitous and long- lasting. Now they are back in fashion with a vengeance and the Delaware trustees hoped to get $8 million out of the painting -- almost half the debt. It sold for $4 million, probably creating the need to sell more than the two already assigned for sale: a Winslow Homer painting and an Alexander Calder sculpture.

The museum and the community are being stripped of their masterpieces -- its very reason for being. The debt may be satisfied but patrons may be scared away and a new shadow cast over the museum.

A few years ago, rather than address the structural problems causing annual operational deficits, the National Academy of Design (NAD) -- the oldest art museum in the country founded by some of the nation's most important artists -- sold two paintings, one given by an original member!

There were alternatives that would have entailed sacrifice. But selling art did not solve the [Manhattan museum's] problem, and a few weeks ago, the NAD let go a significant portion of its staff.

In the Great Depression, the DIA remained open and staffed, largely thanks to the secret support of Edsel Ford. The City of Detroit arts commissioners could have sold the van Gogh self-portrait, Matisse's The Window, Ruisdael's Jewish Cemetery, or even Breugel's Wedding Dance, but the thought never seems to have crossed anyone's mind.

And if they had, not only would we not have them today, we would not have been given much of the art that came from private donors or the financial contributions that enabled so many purchases. Why give to a museum that, in times of crisis, converts your treasured donation into cash to make up for failed fundraising, bad management or poor fiduciary judgment?

Commendable stuff. 

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