Previous Posts: November 2015

Art in storage (ctd.)

November 30 2015

Image of Art in storage (ctd.)

Picture: Guardian

Regular readers will know I often bang on about art in storage - in particular that held by the major London museums. Lend it out, I say. So I'm delighted to find a fellow traveller in Steven Parissien, director of Compton Verney, who also wants London museums to be more pro-active in lending to regional museums:

“I don’t wish to point fingers, but I’m going to,” he said. “The Victoria & Albert Museum is particularly disappointing. They get lots of money from the government. Galleries like ours don’t.

“It would be nice if they at least looked at a two-tier charging system. We can take some of [their] collections on long- or short-term loan. We can arrange national tours to get all those collections out.” [...]

“Rather than pay vast sums for public access stores by the nationals, let’s just lend some of them out ,” said Parissien.

Referring to the Tate’s branches – Modern, Britain, St Ives and Liverpool – and the V&A’s planned outposts in the Olympic Park, he accused the London nationals of “cultural colonialism”. He added: “You don’t need to spend millions of taxpayers’ money on new buildings. We’re already here – a whole national network of superb galleries.”

Three cheers for Dr. Parissien. National museums, over to you.

(Deafening silence).

More here from Dalya Alberge in The Observer.

A £100m Leonardo or a 1978 fake?

November 30 2015

Image of A £100m Leonardo or a 1978 fake?

Picture: Sunday Times

In The Sunday Times yesterday the art critic and broadcaster Waldemar Janusczcak broke the extraordinary news that the convicted British forger Shaun Greenhalgh claims he made the 'Bella Principessa' drawing declared by some a work by Leonardo da Vinci (most notably Prof. Martin Kemp of Oxford University).

If true, Greenhalgh's work raises huge questions about not only the connoisseurship of those involved in declaring the drawing a Leonardo, but also the extensive array of scientific analysis behind the attribution. Extensive tests have declared that (for example) the vellum is the 'right' age, that the materials in the drawing are approriate to Leonardo's time period, and that the work was even cut from a specific 15th Century book in Warsaw. But if Greenhalgh is right, then all of that is a waste of time.

First, a recap. The 'Bella Principessa' drawing was first recorded when it was sold at Christie's on 30th January 1998 in New York, where it was described as 'German School, early 19th Century'. It made $21,850. No provenance was listed. It was bought by a dealer, who after a while sold it on (for roughly the same price) to a private collector, Peter Silverman, who thought it might be by Leonardo. After extensive research, a number of Leonardo scholars agreed, including Kemp and Carlo Pedretti (of whom regular AHN readers will know). A large number of scientific tests were done at the Lumiere laboratory in Paris by Pascal Cotte (of whom regular AHN readers will also know). A book was published containing all the evidence behind the attribution, including (in a misjudgement which later cast doubt on the whole proceeding) some entirely unconvincing analysis of a fingerprint, claimed to be Leonardo's. The drawing has been regularly displayed in museums (mainly in Italy) as a Leonardo. The press give it a valuation of '£100m'.

Shaun Greenhalgh has great form as a forger. He was jailed in 2007 for making (among other objects) the 'Amarna Princess' a fake ancient Egyptian sculpture bought by a British regional Museum for £439,767 - after it had been authenticated by experts from the British Museum. He (along with his parents) had sourced some suggested fake provenance from a legitimate sale catalogue of 1897. In other words, they were crafty and diligent.

Now, Greenhalgh (in a book available from Waldemar's company ZCZ Editions) says he made the 'Bella Principessa' in 1978 on an old English vellum document, and backed it with a piece of wood taken from a school desk. To make the wood look older, he put in some fake repairs in the form of butterfly joints. The model was apparently a girl called Sally, who worked the check-outs in the local Co-op supermarket. He says he sold it to an (unnamed) dealer, and it later ended up in the hands of Gianino Marchig (d.1983), who was an artist and a restorer. His widow Jeanne Marchig consigned it to Christie's. 

So should we believe Shaun Greenhalgh? On the one hand, Mr Greenhalgh's past credits, if we can call them that, are already stellar enough - he fooled some of the world's most important institutions. So why the need to make up another claim entirely, especially one which, if the drawing is indeed 15th Century, would presumably be easy to disprove scientifically? On the other hand, forgers do have (historically) a tendency to continue to weave webs of deception, for all sorts of reasons. On a previous episode of 'Fake or Fortune?' we investigated a work by the most famous forger of them all, Han van Meegeren, which he continued to deny forging even after he had admitted everything else. He just couldn't stop telling fibs.

In response to the Greenhalgh claim, Pascal Cotte has released some new (previously unpublished) results from his tests. These showed conclusively, he said, that radio-active decay levels in the pigments confirmed a date earlier than the 17th Century. In response, Greenhalgh claimed that he made his own pigments from organic materials of appropriate age, including 'iron-rich clay and charcoal from ancient trees.

So, what to make of all this? I've never seen the drawing in the flesh, but I can say it has never struck me as a work by Leonardo (and who am I to say, you ask). You can see a high-res image of it here. That said, until now it hasn't struck me either as modern fake. It's very competently drawn, whoever made it. The repairs on the back of the panel (which you can see here) do look a little superfluous, as if they have indeed been put there for show. I find the claim that the drawing was cut from a 15th Century book now in Poland (whilst diligently set out, here) to be, on balance, a little too implausible. And it's a persistent cause for caution that there is no documentation pointing to the drawing's existence before the late 20th Century (with not even a hint of a mention in any early litereature). If Leonardo had drawn such an engaging model, surely we would expect to have some references to it.

But at the moment I think the balance of evidence makes me doubt Mr Greenhalgh's story. Jeanne Marchig has said (in her lawsuit against Christie's, for selling 'a Leonardo' as a 19th Century work) that the picture belonged to her husband before she married him in 1955. I find it hard to believe that all the scientific tests carried out by Pascal Cotte are completely useless. Above all, I wonder if Mr Greenhalgh (as talented a forger as he is) would really have had the inclination as a teenager (he was born in 1961) to make a captivating drawing in 1979 using pigments of the correct age, on the off-chance that someone, some decades hence, would scientifically test them to see if the work was by Leonardo.

Maybe Mr Greenhalgh can produce more evidence to back up his claim. Maybe 'Sally' will turn up and be a dead ringer for the 'Bella Principessa'. Maybe there is more to be learnt of Mr Marchig's role in the operation, for he was a talented draughtsman as well as a restorer. But for the moment to answer to the question, 'is this drawing a £100m Leonardo or a 1978 fake?' is; probably neither.

Update - Prof. Kemp responds to the story here.

Update II - an artist writes:

The subtleties of draughtmanship in the nose, the upper eyelid and mouth of the so called 'Bella Principessa' show that it is a drawing done from life by a very considerable draughtsman.

William Holman Hunt's similar profile in 'Isabella and the pot of Basil' in the Walker Art Gallery springs to mind as an example of someone good enough.

If Sean Greenhalgh is really up to this standard of draughtmanship, as he appears top claim, then why don't we see samples of his portraits in the Royal Society of Portrait painters every year? He could by now, have earned a very good living as a portrait draughtsman.

Whoever drew the Principessa seems indeed to have done a lot of Greenhalgh style research; from the hairnet of Ambrogio da Predis's young woman in the Ambrosiano, to the identical plait in Giancristoforo Romano's beautiful marble bust of Beatrice D'Este, with some Leonardesque knotwork on the shoulder thrown in.

Maybe not by Leonardo, but certainly not by Greenhalgh.

Update III - another reader writes:

Two small points re Shaun Greenhalgh  - 

1) The Amarna Princess was said to have come from a sale in 1892, not 1897 (I know - pedantic)

2) Eric Hebborn said he re-made the Royal Academy's Leonardo Cartoon after it was destroyed by a leaky radiator (or similar) just before it was sold. Forgers just love muddying the waters!

Clandon fire 'caused by electrical fault'

November 27 2015

Image of Clandon fire 'caused by electrical fault'

Picture: BBC

The Surrey Fire and Rescue Service has published its report into the fire at Clandon Park. It makes for depressing reading. Here are the headline details:

Prior to the time of call to the fire service, a member of the Surrey Infantry Museum staff was working in the museum basement office when his computer lost power. He went to the fuse board to investigate the loss of power and on opening the cupboard discovered that there is a fire inside.

He has contacted National Trust Staff, who responded to the basement area, isolated the power at the main electrical intake in the plant room and then at 16:08 hours dialled 999 on her mobile phone and requested the fire service.

The report later notes that the fire began at approximately 16:00. Take a note of what time it is now, and ask yourself in eight minutes time if that's too long to wait before alerting the fire brigade to a fire you've just discovered in the basement of an 18th Century stately home.

The fire service began their investigation by excavating the area around the fuse box, and:

The forensic examination of the distribution board shows evidence that there had been a connection fault on the lower left hand side neutral bar.

The distribution board was manufactured by the company MEM and is estimated to be about 20 to 25 years old.


It is possible, if not probable that this distribution board would have been supplied with the internal wiring complete. It could be assumed that this distribution board was delivered from the manufacturer with this fault. 


It is believed that the rapid fire spread observed at this incident occurred when the fire quickly reached the lift shaft allowing the smoke and fire to rapidly spread to each floor of the building and into the roof space.

It is believed the fire was able to spread in to the room above the distribution board cupboard due to a lack of fire compartmentation above the board.

An electrical contractor's report in 2010 noted a lack of fire stop/barrier to the ceiling recesses of the distribution board cupboard.

This report did not recommend any remedial work regarding this issue.

Additional evidence of this comes from the fire alarm panel information.

In addition to the lift shaft this building had horizontal ceiling voids in between each floor and many other hidden voids that accommodated unseen, rapid fire spread.

In response, the Trust said:

The Trust said none of its staff would have been able to identify this as a potential issue. The fault had not been detected during a number of previous professional checks by electricians.

Which is a curious first sentence. And though the fault might not have been detected, we know the lack of insulating material around the decades old fuse board was detected.

There is nothing in the report about the circuit board's capacity to deal with the demands placed on it at Clandon. For example, the Surrey Infantry Museum, which was in the basement, used a great deal of lighting. The museum opened in 1985, and 'major upgrades' took place in 2001 and 2011. Evidently, these did not include the electrics. 

As the Trust stresses, the fire was 'accidental'. But it should not have been the case that an electrical fault discovered almost immediately could lead to the destruction of such an important house in the Trust's care. The report may say that the circuit board 'probably' had a fault in it all along. But the fault waited over two decades to manifest itself. In other words, it failed because it was old. A precious 18th Century house under the guardianship of a well funded institution like the National Trust should not be at the mercy of an old bit of circuitry without appropriate fire containment measurements around it. It's that simple.

The Trust's statement does seem to admit, albeit obliquely, that more could have been done in terms of fire prevention, and that lessons will be learnt:

Despite having some measures in place to limit the spread of fire, these had not been enough to slow the blaze once it had taken hold. The Trust said it was committed to working closely with the fire service to identify any areas for improvements in its processes – and would act on any they found.

The charity is also in the process of carrying out its own in-depth review of its fire prevention policies at all its properties to see where they can be strengthened further.

The Trust has still not released a full list of what treasures were lost in the fire.

Update - the image below shows the distribution board before the fire. The part that caught fire is the small covered box with the white and blue sticker on it. Above that are the large number of fuses that the distribution board was connected to, each one being a circuit somewhere in the house. The photo at the bottom of the fuse board after the fire gives a better idea. In other words, that distribution board was serving many, many appliances and outlets. It appears that while the distribution board was in a cupboard, the unit itself was not enclosed by a door.

Update II - according to The Mail, the Trust is expected to get a £65m payout in insurance. The current Earl of Onslow says the house shoud be left a ruin, and the money spent on something else. Beanbags, I presume.

Update III - doubtless a coincidence, but the fellow in charge of the relevant arm of Zurich UK, who were insuring Clandon, has left the company.

Update IV - I have asked Eaton, the company that owns MEM (who made the distribution board) for a comment on the allegation that a pre-existing fault in one of their parts has been suggested as the cause of the fire.

Update V - a reader writes:

Clandon Park: It is surprising that the report does not mention any failed attempt by the staff who discovered the fire to extinguish it with a fire extinguisher. Ordinarily, one would expect fire extinguishers near major fuseboards or in utility spaces such as the one described as a ‘cupboard’.

The main findings by the report, as well as the comments (or lack thereof) by the Trust seem to indicate simple incompetency in terms of building management. More importantly, and worryingly, this seems to indicate a serious naivety with regard to the extraordinary value and conservatory needs of these extraordinary historical houses and their collections.

Looking forward to the rebuilding plans, although buying a piece of beachfront may indeed be a more befitting alternative.

I'm all in favour of rebuilding. Yes, it won't be 'original', but there are many original features to put back, and the design any restoration will follow will be as original as the day it was created. Above all, I'm instinctively against the thought that a place like Clandon can burn down - because (let's face it) the people looking after it were not as careful as they could have been -and the resulting £65m windfall can be used for something else entirely. To ensure the highest possible standards of preservation and diligence, any insurance payout must be put back into preserving or rebuilding the original site. 

UK Spending Review

November 25 2015

Image of UK Spending Review

Picture: AFP

Today the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, unveiled details of his five yearly spending review. This sets out what government departments here in the UK will get to spend over the next five years.

There had been dire warnings of 'massive' cuts to the arts. The Labour party said it would be 30%, many in the sector were claiming it would be 40%. In the end it was 5%. Other government departments have to deal with far larger cuts; Transport is down by 37%, Business by 17%.

The current DCMS combined budget (that is revenue funding and capital funding together) is £1.5bn. Next year it will be £1.6bn, the same the year after, but then it will be £1.5bn, and then £1.4bn. If the economy improves there will be scope for improvement towards the end of the five years. Inflation is low at the moment. The Arts Council budget will not be reduced. And Lottery funds, which the government increased, continue to roll in for arts and heritage projects across the country. Free entry for museums will be protected. Other annoucements included a new £150m storage unit for the British Museum, V&A and Science Museum. More details here.

In other words, the much vaunted 'cuts' are, while not ideal, not much to worry about. George Osborne evidently sees the value of state funding of the arts. Good for him. Those in the sector are now busy saying that their collective campaigning over the last few months has been successful, and while I applaud their efforts and enthusiasm, I'm not so sure it made a great difference. These decisions are taken by a handful of people at the top of government, and personally I think the likes of George Osborne see merit in the arts with or without a Twitter campaign. Above all I think we need to commend the effective messengers within government who have championed the arts; step forward Ed Vaizey (who I think must now be the longest-serving arts minister we've had) and, latterly, John Whittingdale. Those who said the Tories were philistines and don't care about the arts have been proved wrong - and I'm afraid I'll always be proud of having played a tiny role in making the Tories arts friendly. Of course, this hasn't stopped the likes of the Museums Association greeting today's news with gloom. 

There is one area of concern, however. Regional museums, those funded by local councils, are likely to face further cuts as a result of reductions to the budget for the Department of Local Government. Of course, it is up to local councils how they apportion their funds, and in too many cases excessive cuts to museum services are made because local councillors know they can get away with it. Library closures always generate protests. Museum cutbacks? Not so much. The government needs to think more broadly about how it can protect, with a national effort, the many wonderful regional museums we have in this country.

One policy announced by the Chancellor may not immediately help this cause, though. He said that he wants to encourage local councils to raise cash from asset disposals, and cited a headline figure of £255bn of local government assets. But I've just checked the figures, and of this £255bn (of which most is pretty fixed and unsellable) over £3.5bn is described as 'heritage assets'. I may be being unduly anxious, but we must all hope that asset stripping councillors don't start eyeing up museum buildings, and collections.

Update - a reader writes:

Further to you incisive piece re the autumn statement, as you rightly say regional/council cuts are a different matter. Here in Ludlow we have the Museum/Resource Centre which has been a regional hub of expertise for 25+ years, especially for natural history/geology. All the expert staff/curators have recently lost their jobs and it is now run by some volunteers and one very part-time curator based over 20 miles away in Shrewsbury - so it has been totally undermined as a functioning museum in any meaningful sense. I fear this story is being repeated all over the country.

The best curatorial video ever?

November 24 2015

Video: British Museum

Great to see the British Museum developing its You Tube channel more, with some good new videos. Above is the legendary BM curator Irving Finkel, who shows us all how these things are done. Here's hoping he really does last the next 500 years.

Fred Meijer on Jan Davidsz de Heem

November 24 2015

Video: Museo Prado

I didn't know this - the Prado puts proper art historical lectures on You Tube. Above is Dr. Fred Meijer of the RKD on the Dutch still life artist Jan Davidsz de Heem (1606-1683/4). I am often in awe of both the RKD and Dr Meijer - two towering Dutch art historical institutions the likes of me would be lost without. 

Goya, or not?

November 24 2015

Image of Goya, or not?

Picture: Bonhams

There's an interesting picture coming up at Bonhams Old Master sale in London, in December, called 'Circle of Goya'. The subject is La Boda, and the estimate is £40,000-£60,000.

The catalogue note, however, lists an array of people who think the picture is actually by Goya:

Given the inevitable polemic which arises when a previously unknown work is proposed as an autograph work by a major master it has been held prudent for this catalogue entry to present the evidence and to catalogue this painting as 'Circle of Francisco José de Goya.' The case that the present painting should be regarded as an autograph work by Francisco Goya has been forcefully argued in separate articles by three leading Goya scholars. The painting was first published as a work by Goya by Professor José Gudiol in January 1982 in his lengthy article discussing the relationship between the cartoon of La Boda in the Prado and the present painting (it was unknown to him when he wrote his four volume catalogue of Goya's paintings in 1971). Gudiol wrote: 'After simultaneously analysing both the "cartoon" of "La Boda" and the recently discovered hitherto unknown version, we can confirm with absolute certainty that Goya painted both pictures without any collaboration whatsoever.' In the same year, Eric Young, a Goya biographer and the author of monographs on Bermejo and Murillo, wrote: 'its quality leaves little possible doubt of its being an autograph work of the master'.

The case that this is the modello for the Royal Cartoon of La Boda was further taken up by Professor Diego Angulo, then Director of the Prado Museum. He arranged for this to be discussed in an article which he fully endorsed and which was to be published in Archivo Español de Arte, of which he was editor, although his death resulted in its subsequent publication in the Boletin Del Museo e Instituto 'Camon Aznar' at Goya's home town of Saragossa in 1987. 

[...] an attribution to Goya has further been widely accepted by a number of very distinguished scholars: Professors Michael Jaffe, Federico Zeri, Justus Müller-Hofstede, Seymour Slive, P.J. van Thiel, Sir Denis Mahon, James Byam-Shaw and Xavier Desparmet Fitz-Gerald are all on written record as finding the attribution to Goya convincing. Furthermore, Dr. Jose Manuel Arnaiz of the Istituto Tecnico de Expertizacion Y Reastauracion of Madrid and author of the authoritative publication Francisco de Goya Cartones y Tapices has written 'en la boda de cuyo autor estoy mas convencido cada vez.'

Another leading authority on Goya, Juliet-Wilson Bareau does not think the picture is by Goya. It all seems to come down to the question of whether Goya did replicas or not. Many artists did, some did not.

The accepted version is in the Prado (here). And, thanks to the wonders of zoomable high resolution photos, you can compare the two online, and decide for yourself.

Regional museums - go find a footballer

November 24 2015

Image of Regional museums - go find a footballer

Picture: BBC

Art dealers Ivor Braka and Thomas Dane have donated six works of contemporary art to the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester - and have made some interesting comments in doing so. We are regularly told that there is no prospect of regional museums turning to local sources of private giving to help cover and state funding shortfall - apparently this can only happen in London. But not so, say Braka and Dane, and we need to be more ambitious in seeking new sources of giving:

"In America, pretty much every major city - Detroit, St Louis, Chicago, Dallas, Forth Worth, Houston, LA, San Francisco, Seattle - they all have museums which could virtually be national museums in terms of their scope and their quality.

"This situation just doesn't happen in England and there are very few museums that have got the ambition to emulate that sort of level of excellence." [...]

Donors will only have confidence to give to galleries if their buildings are up to scratch, he said. "Coming from Manchester, I knew that one day I always wanted to do something for Manchester.

"I didn't want to give until I was secure that the gift would be well looked after, and I didn't feel that the Whitworth in its old guise was a place would have necessarily given to.

"But having seen the new development and specifically its storage facility, you know that what you give to them is going to be well looked after. You'd be confident that in 200 years time it will be in good condition.

"And the gallery space is magnificent at the Whitworth - it's no accident that it won museum of the year."

There has not traditionally been the same culture of giving among wealthy individuals in the UK as there is in the US, Mr Braka added.

"There is a lot of money out there in Manchester - a lot of inherited wealth and self-made entrepreneurs, and you've got Manchester City and Manchester United footballers as well.

"I don't know whether they need to come to the museum or maybe there's just not been enough outreach in England to try and target people to take an interest ion the visual cultural life."

(More here.)

That said, we clearly need to do something about the patchiness of local government funding for regional museums. It seems to me that the model is no longer working, and some great museums with ambitious staff are left at the mercy of councillors who wouldn't know what an art gallery was if it hit them in the face. When I was last asked to look into all this by the Conservatives, as part of Sir John Tusa's 'Arts Taskforce', we decided that a relatively simple fix would be to put museum provision on the same statutory basis as library provision - in other words, there would be a legal obligation for councils to provide an adequate level of museum funding. But this has not happened.

Is it time for a more radical suggestion? It would seem clear that the major national and London galleries have coped well with the (somewhat forced) need to raise more money from private sources. Many of them, despite 'the cuts', are better off than ever before. They have been motivated to go anb shake the tin with new vigour, and have done a great job. So - should we therefore redistribute some of the money previously available to national museums, and send it out to the regions? This would, in effect, be a sort of nationalisation of regional museums, but at least it might work.

And we should also think of other more innovative solutions too. I'd like to see, for example, the better off national museums form partnerships with regional museums, to share everything from expertise to collections.

Update - the Spending Review will be announced tomorrow, with Labour predicting a 30% cut for DCMS.

Update II - a reader writes:

Given what has been happening to libraries lately, I'm not sure that would have constituted a vast improvement on the current position. 

The lack of donors surely also relates to what you have previously said about the likelihood of one's donation ending up unseen in a dank Victorian basement or, still worse, sold off to finance some other project....

True - library provision is indeed patchy, but generally it's better protected from councillor's whims than museum provision.

By the way - another reason to live in Edinburgh (for which I'm an evangelical advocate) is that it has one of the best public art libraries in the country. You can borrow from it too.

Take a Turner to school

November 24 2015

Image of Take a Turner to school

Picture: National Gallery of Wales

Here's a nice story from BBC Wales - a painting by Turner, Dolbadarn Castle, has been loaned to a primary school in Wales. More here.

Warhol market takes a dive

November 23 2015

Image of Warhol market takes a dive

Picture: Artnet

Art Market Monitor covers Jonathan Yee's analysis of recent Warhol prices - and it's starting to look a little shaky. The graph above, you could say, reflects the bizarre state the top end of the modern and contemporary art world has got itselft into; plodding pretty well until the world went sub-prime crazy in 2006/7, then nosedived after the 2008 crash, then bounced back in a frenzy of speculation (and perhaps quantitative easing).

Where next? Down, I guess - but the question is how far, and how fast. 

Update - Michael Savage, aka The Grumpy Art Historian, writes:

I think analogies between art market and financial market are overdrawn, and often take up the weakest ideas about financial markets. Trying to read the future from charts has always seemed a fool’s errand to me, but trying to read the future from a graph with so few data points is meaningless. The term ‘bubble’ is generally over-used, and has come to stand for ‘looks a bit expensive’. But the volatility in the graph you’ve reproduced is just changing supply. The other charts in the linked post show a more consistent pattern of rising mean and median prices. I don’t see any correlation with QE or evidence for speculation here. Not saying there isn’t speculative interest, but it takes two to make a market – why don’t we use the terms for sellers, who may be speculating that prices will fall.

Personally I think Warhol insanely expensive by any comparable metric I can imagine, but then I thought that in 2001, too.

Picasso's lost 'Woman in a Fuzzy Hat'

November 23 2015

Video: NBC

In the US, NBC goes on the trail of a man hoping to prove that his copy of Picasso's Woman with a Cape is in fact another version by the artist. More here.

Heir claims Matisse from National Gallery

November 23 2015

Image of Heir claims Matisse from National Gallery

Picture: National Gallery

Dalya Alberge in The Guardian reports that the heir of a former owner of Matisse's portrait of Greta Moll, which the National Gallery bought in 1979, is legally hers. She says it was stolen after the Second World War in 1947. The National Gallery says they bought the picture in good faith. More here.

The picture, says the story, has been on loan to the Tate for many years - and, quelle surprise, is 'currently in storage'. Is there no regional gallery out there who could do with a Matisse on their walls?

How to wrap a 6m high painting

November 23 2015


Pretty impressive. This video comes from a new online magazine called 'Art Handler', which you can read all about here.

Beit Collection pictures sold

November 20 2015

Image of Beit Collection pictures sold

Picture: Christie's

Two of the Beit Collection paintings controversially withdrawn from Christie's at the last minute earlier this year, are to be transferred to the Irish state. Under a tax incentive deal, the Rubens (above) and an Adoration by van Ostade have been bought for a combined approx. EUR3m. They will be transferred to the National Gallery of Ireland. More here.

Still some way to go before the Beit Collection reaches its EUR15m target. 

Guffwatch - The Movie

November 20 2015

Video: Prima Musa

This is fantastic: 

The use of “Artspeak”, the often incomprehensible language used by many curators, writers, critics, and other art insiders, has alienated much of of the art-viewing public.  The film follows New York artist Bill Claps discovering everyday people’s thoughts and feelings about contemporary art as he develops a video installation and a series of artworks that comment on the phenomena of Artspeak.  The film follows Claps at work in his studio, in the streets, galleries and art fairs of New York, and through several countries in Europe.

AHNers - we are not alone!

More here.

Major art theft in Italy

November 20 2015

Image of Major art theft in Italy

Picture: Museo di Castelvecchio

Disturbing news coming in from Italy, where last night thieves have made of with 15 important paintings from the Castelvecchio Museum in Verona. The pictures include works by or attributed to Rubens, Mantegna, Pisanella and five by Tintoretto.


(Another case of art-napping?)

Update - Corriere Della Sera has the story in English, and a full list of the works:

“Madonna and Child” or “Our Lady of the Quail”, by Antonio Pisano, better known as Pisanello; “St. Jerome Doing Penitence” by Jacopo Bellini; “The Holy Family with a Saint”, by Andrea Mantegna; “Portrait of a Child with a Drawing” and “Portrait of a Young Benedictine”, by Giovanni Francesco Caroto; “Madonna and Child”, “Transport of the Ark of the Covenant”, “Belshazzar’s Feast”, “Samson” and “Judgement of Solomon”, by Jacopo Tintoretto; “Portrait of a Man”, by the circle of Jacopo Tintoretto; “Portrait of a Venetian Admiral”, by Domenico Tintoretto; “Portrait of a Venetian Admiral”, from the studio of Domenico Tintoretto; “The Lady of Licnidi”, by Peter Paul Rubens; “Landscape” and “Seaport”, by Hans de Jode; and “Portrait of Girolamo Pompei”, by Giovanni Benini.

Update II - the painting by Caroto is apparently the only known depiction of a child's drawing from the period. I didn't know this picture - what an amazing drawing; timeless.

Vermeer's 'Little Street' identified

November 20 2015

Image of Vermeer's 'Little Street' identified

Picture: Codart

Frans Grijzenhout, Professor of Art History at the University of Amsterdam, has identified the location of Vermeer's 'The Little Street'. Reports Codart News:

new research has enabled Professor Grijzenhout to identify the exact address: it is Vlamingstraat in Delft, at the point where the present-day numbers 40 and 42 stand. Various other addresses in Delft have been suggested over the years, but none was convincing. The new source Frans Grijzenhout consulted for this research, which led to the conclusive findings of his investigation, is De legger van het diepen der wateren binnen de stad Delft (the ledger of the dredging of the canals in the town of Delft) of 1667, also known as the Register op het kadegeld (quay dues register). It is a record of how much tax everyone in Delft who owned a house on a canal had to pay for dredging the canal and maintaining the quay outside their door. The register provides a detailed account, accurate to within around 15 centimetres, of the width of all the houses and of all the passageways between them that lined Delft’s canals in Vermeer’s day. He was able to establish that on the north side of Vlamingstraat, a quite narrow canal in what was then the poorer eastern quarter of Delft, there were two houses where numbers 40 and 42 now stand. Each house was approximately 6.3 metres wide, and between them were two immediately adjacent passageways, each around.1.2 metres wide. Further research into the position of the houses and the small gardens behind them confirmed that the situation on the spot corresponds exactly with the painting. There was no other place in Delft during that time where this constellation was found.

Great sleuthing, Prof. Grijzenhout!

Update - a reader writes:

Did you hear Prof Grijzenhout on Today this morning about 'The Little Street'?

"Q: Who, other than people who are interested in Vermeer, will be excited about this?

Prof: Well, 'people who are interested in Vermeer' is quite a lot of people..."

Just the sort of daft question you get on the Today programme these days.

Museum storage - the future?

November 20 2015


A new 'fully accesible' museum sotrage unit is to be built in Rotterdam, to house the collections of the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen. Above is a video from the architects MVRDV. It is due to open in 2018.

The concept looks great, though we must wonder whether the public will be freely allowed to roam around the racks at all times, as indicated. But some form of access to works in storage is better than none at all, so well done Rotterdam for going ahead with this new scheme. Let's hope the prison-like enmeshed staircases don't make it through to completion.

On one level, this would appear to be the way forward for the problem of having so many works of art in storage. In the UK, over 80% of our public collection of oil paintings is in storage at any one time.

And yet, I do worry that if we see more buildings like this, then the wider problems of keeping so many works in storage won't be addressed. Surely it would be better (and cheaper) to think more creatively about getting works out on display, first by looking again at how we hang works in museums (single row hangs with acres of space around each picture), and secondly by considering sending stored works on loan to regional museums, or even schools and other civic spaces. We should also relax a little about new, zero-tolerance conservation strictures that say all paintings must be kept hermetically sealed in conditions of constant temperature, humidity and light. - which, for the most part, pictures survived pretty well without for centuries.* Part of me fears that once we start accepting the principle of keeping works in storage, even if it is 'accessible storage', then there they will remain. 

More here.

* Generally, it has not been not fluctuating temperatures that have harmed paintings over time, but the attentions of those charged with 'restoring' them.

New research on Joseph Blackburn

November 20 2015

Image of New research on Joseph Blackburn

Picture: Portrait of Colonel Atkinson by Joseph Blackburn, Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, Massachusetts.

Resarchers at Worcestershire Archive service here in the UK have unearthed fascinating new details about the life of Joseph Blackburn, a British painter who was one of the most successful portraitists in Colonial America. 

Here is how the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography begins its entry on Blackburn:

Blackburn [is] of obscure origins: nothing is known of his birth, parents, geographical area of origin, or education. His career is documented primarily by about seventy signed portraits painted between 1752 and 1777 in Bermuda, New England, Ireland, and the west of England. An equal number of portraits, mainly of New England subjects, are attributed to him. [...] Nothing is known of Blackburn's death or burial.

But thanks to the new research we now know:

  • He died in 1787 in the parish of St Nicholas in Worcester, England, where his family is recorded as living from 1768.
  • He was an active member of the church there.
  • We now have his will (which reveals he was wealthy).
  • He had two daughters, Henrietta and Elizabeth.
  • He was buried in St Nicholas Church in Worcester on 11th July 1787.
  • The church is now a pub, called the Slug and Lettuce.

More details of this excellent work here. Many congratulations to Angela Downton, Julia Pincott and Teresa Jones, archivists at Worcestershire Archive Service.

Van Dyck discovery at the Rubenshuis

November 19 2015

Image of Van Dyck discovery at the Rubenshuis

Picture: Rubenshuis

That sketch by Van Dyck of the Brussels magistrate, first shown on The Antiques Roadshow, has gone on display at the Rubenshuis in Antwerp. It was recently bought by a private collector. More here.

Update- I hadn't noted that the newly discovered portrait of Clara Serena Rubens by Rubens (below, and on which see earlier AHN here) will also be going on long term loan to the Rubenshuis. Marvellous. More here.

Notice to "Internet Explorer" Users

You are seeing this notice because you are using Internet Explorer 6.0 (or older version). IE6 is now a deprecated browser which this website no longer supports. To view the Art History News website, you can easily do so by downloading one of the following, freely available browsers:

Once you have upgraded your browser, you can return to this page using the new application, whereupon this notice will have been replaced by the full website and its content.