Previous Posts: October 2015

Framing at the National Gallery

October 14 2015

Video: National Gallery

Here's a nice video on framing at the National Gallery. Nice to see the NG making films like this now. And what a great advocate for framing Peter Schade is.


October 12 2015

Image of 'Artoons'

Picture: Peter Duggan

I do like the work of cartoonist Peter Duggan, whose 'Artoons' appear in The Guardian newspaper. He has a new book out soon, which you can order here.

Update - be sure to translate the hieroglyphic. Took me a while.

Meanwhile in France...

October 12 2015

Video: L'Obs

Regular readers will know about the curious French approach to 'restoring' ancient buildings and sites, which is to effectively rebuild them like new. At Chartres cathedral they're busy cleaning even the soot off the famous 'Black Madonna' and, as in the video above, entirely re-plastering the walls.

Christie's 'Classic Art Week'

October 12 2015

Image of Christie's 'Classic Art Week'

Picture: via

I heard about this a while ago, but couldn't quite believe it - Christie's are cancelling their New York January Old Master sales, and moving them to April as part of a re-branded 'Classic Art Week'. Traditionally, the Old Master sales are bi-annual; New York in January and June, and London in December and July. The New York sales are usually stronger in January, and London's in July, and the wider market is pretty much geared up around those dates. But no more.

Here's Christie's press release, via Art Daily'

As a further step in its sales innovation strategy, Christie’s introduces a new themed week of sales, Classic Art Week which will take place at Rockefeller Center, New York in April 2016. This week of sales will include Old Master Paintings, Sculpture, Antiquities, and Christie’s signature Exceptional Sale of decorative arts.

A new curated sale entitled “Revolution” will be the centerpiece of this auction series, and will feature masterworks from the 18th to the 20th centuries, including paintings, drawings, prints, photography and sculpture, which will explore the radical social, political and artistic changes that defined this period of history.

“This classic series of sales and exhibitions will provide a wonderful contrast to our 20th Century art series which generated so much interest and electricity in our salerooms in May. The Classic Art Week will provide an opportunity for the world’s collectors to see the very best in each field as Rockefeller Center transforms itself into a museum of classical art,” noted Jussi Pylkkänen, Global President, Christie’s International.

“We have spoken to the collectors, art dealers and museum curators in these fields and so many are supportive of this new Classic Art Week concept and April provides the perfect moment in the auction calendar. The series promises to invigorate interest in these wonderful fields that are the DNA of the art market. We look forward to welcoming everyone to Rockefeller Center to celebrate the very best in Old Master Paintings, Antiquities, Sculpture and Decorative Art.”

Whoa. This is the first time I can recall that Christie's and Sotheby's will not have had their major sales in the same location in the same week. Traditionally, whatever the offering (from Contemporary to Old Masters) both auction houses have their sales at roughly the same time, and dealers and collectors will travel to London or New York to see them. It's convenient, and makes each bi-annual sale more of an event. I hope this move does not lead to a deterioration in the wider New York Old Master market.

So why change things? Could it be that Christie's felt there was too much Old Master (sorry, 'classic') art on sale at one time? Perhaps, but that logic doesn't seem to extend yet to London, and nor to other categories. Is January too winter-y for Old Master clients to go to New York, and might April be a more Spring-like time? Perhaps - after all, it can be arse-achingly cold in January in New York. But then actually winter in New York is part of the fun, and in any case doesn't an April sale risk coming up against the July sales in London: might people not wait, and see what better pictures are coming up a few months later?

Or - more worryingly still - is Christie's running up the white flag in its battle with Sotheby's in New York? For the last few January sales, Sotheby's has decisively won the contest, with higher sales figures and better offerings. I hope Christie's are not blaming the calendar for their apparent inability to compete. But maybe Christie's are hoping that by re-packaging their Old Master sales with more modern works, they'll be able to persuade consignors that they have better access to a wider pool of clients. 

What are we to make, then, of the re-branding of Old Masters to 'Classic Art'? It strikes me as a little defeatist, but then I'm an old stick-in-the-mud when it comes to these things. The National Gallery in London, in its most recent blockbuster exhibition for Late Rembrandt didn't refer to him as a 'Classic artist'. He was/is an 'Old Master'. It's a term everybody understands. Getting people to buy works by the likes of Rembrandt isn't going to be made easier just by taking the word 'old' out of the equation. Is it? Or are we concerned, these days, that 'Old Masters' is too gender-specific? Yikes.

Update - an art dealing reader writes:

Christie’s postponing their NY January OM sales is not a novelty as you write. It also happened in 2006, when they were shifted to April. At the time, some said it had to do with the Venetian Turner that fetched 35 million. [...]

 Anyway it a daft thing to do.

Goya - 'one of the greatest portraitists in art history'

October 9 2015

Video: National Gallery

Curator Xavier Bray makes the case.

Update - a reader writes:

As someone who has never been terribly impressed by Goya’s work, I believe that a more appropriate caption for the short video by Bray would be, “Curator Xavier Bray tries to make the case.”  

I see Goya’s skills in portraiture as being much more akin to those of the American, Gilbert Stuart or the Scott, Henry Raeburn than to the greater abilities of portrait painters who actually reached the highest levels of this specialty — van Dyck, Holbein the Younger, Hals, or among closer contemporaries, the great 18th century English portraitists or even the Italian, Batoni.  While others proclaim the glory of Goya’s portraits, too often I see little more than stiffly posed subjects depicted in mundane colors through less-than-impressive brushwork. And instead of penetrating studies of individualistic character, I much more often encounter modestly described faces staring blankly into voids. Even those few Goya portraits which are rather impressive on some levels, such as that of the Dowager Marchioness of Villafrance, with her imposing crown of hair, the artist still doesn't actually reveal very much about his sitters' personalities, inner joy, or conflicts. My eyes strain to see much more than what Goya might have achieved by painting mannequins dressed up in the fashions of the various classes of 18th/early 19th century Spanish society.  I know, I'm overstating my case, but I would contend that I am closer to the truth than those critics who are placing Goya's art on the highest pedistal only after first admiting that the artist doesn't always make a good first impression.

Perhaps Goya’s oeuvre is more impressive when many examples are seen in close proximity, but these monographic exhibitions often show the opposite to be true. And I suspect that with Goya, we will see that more isn’t merrier, regardless of how many of his portraits are making their London debut.

Phew - I am not alone.

Update II - another reader writes:

Further to interesting discussion regarding merits or otherwise of Goya. It strikes me, as somebody who takes a good deal of interest in British portraiture but who knows very little of the 'Continental' craft, that his 'greatness' stems from two particular factors 

a) He is the only Spanish portrait painter most of us have ever heard of*

b) His style may be odd, stiff and arguably rather bland but it is distinctive and that is important these days when for most connoisseurship has (regrettably) given way to the realm of instant impressions.

*I suspect Valasquez is far less widely known.

'Goya' - the trailer

October 9 2015

Video: National Gallery

Great self-portrait. The others? 'Most curious'.

Job Opportunity

October 9 2015

Image of Job Opportunity

Picture: BBC

Tate Britain is looking for a Curator of Contemporary Art. For £29,300 a year, you will:

possess a high level of knowledge of contemporary art, with specialist expertise in British art, and have significant relevant experience in an art gallery, museum, collection or similar. Besides having a strong track record of devising and delivering exhibitions with curatorial flare and imagination for diverse audiences, of working on commissions, and of published writing on contemporary art, the successful candidate will possess the ability to lead a team and to work with others to achieve results. This is an exciting opportunity to make a major contribution to Tate Britain’s programmes.

This is a position that requires commitment to and awareness of issues of equality and cultural diversity as they affect the work of a major museum. 

More here. I don't suppose the Curator(s) of Contemporary Art at Tate Modern could do a job share.

Introducing 'The Art Breakers'

October 9 2015

Video: Ovation

Hmm - someone's having another go at an art world reality TV show. It's called 'Art Breakers', which is a pun it seems on art broking and heart breaking, because the two stars Carol Lee Brosseau and Miller Gaffney are art dealers who happen to be blonde. And M.H. Miller, for Artnews, is not impressed:

The first episode features the following voice-over introduction from our stars:

Brosseau: Buying art is not for the faint of heart.

Gaffney: It’s a multibillion-dollar industry…

Brosseau: …and the biggest party around. The art world is our world.

Gaffney: Cuba! Vegas! Hollywood?

Brosseau: We travel the globe in search of the chicest galleries and hottest artists.

And so forth. With the exception of Jack Shainman—a dealer of great American artists, including Nick Cave, Hank Willis Thomas, and Carrie Mae Weems—whose brief appearance on this show is, as far as I can tell, a low point in his career, I’ve never heard of most of the “chicest” galleries nor of almost any of the “hottest” artists. (This isn’t to say that I’m the last word on the contemporary canon, or that these people aren’t perfectly nice, but hey, I also watch the art market every day, to paraphrase my subjects. I want a TV show, too!) One of my favorite moments on Art Breakers comes when Brosseau and Gaffney walk into a Los Angeles gallery called Kopeikin Gallery (I have never heard of it) and inquire about a photograph by an artist named Blake Little (I have never heard of him). They have the following exchange with a gallery employee.

Brosseau: Is that Blake Little?

Gallery Employee: Yeah, he dumps ten gallons of honey on each of his models.

Brosseau: That’s so hot.

Gaffney: He is the most cutting edge—he is hot right now.

Gallery Employee: He’s super hot.

Update - is it possible that Art Breakers is some sort of parody, and the joke's on us? Genius if so.

Update II - a reader writes:

Recently, on Art Breakers...

Brosseau:  *squints while reading small sign next to portrait on gallery wall*  "Hey, it says this dude with the sunflower is Anthony van Dyck."

Gaffney:  "Hey, my mom says he was in that old-school movie 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang'". 

Brosseau:  'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' is so hot right now. 

Gaffney:  So hot. 

* Opening credits *

Van Dyck coffee!

October 9 2015

Image of Van Dyck coffee!

Picture: Van Dyck Kaffee

I had no idea such wonderfulness existed. But it does, in Germany, and now I will have to drink it täglich.

New Whistler discovery

October 9 2015

Image of New Whistler discovery


Or rather, re-discovery. The above 1870s portrait by Whistler, Symphony in White, has gone on display at the Singer Museum in Holland. The picture had long been thought to be a Whistler, but some decades ago was questioned by a Whistler expert. More here.

Update - A painter writes:

I'm not surprised that the authenticity of this painting has been doubted in the past.

Clearly someone has  over painted the eyes (the whites are too white and stick out), the line along the edge of the nose (Whistler never does anything so unsubtle) and the fussy curls on the forehead (ditto). Whistler's own hand is clearly visible however in the heavy impasto (lead white) of the dress. It will be very interesting to see what it looks like after cleaning.

'Revivalism' - free eBook

October 9 2015

Image of 'Revivalism' - free eBook

Picture: Courtauld

Courtauld Books Online has published a new book on Revivalism, which has been co-edited by the University of Essex art historian Dr Matt Loder (of whom AHN is very fond). You can download the whole book here, gratis

Here's the blurb;

Revivalism in art, design and architecture is a foundational aspect of modernism, though it has often been overlooked. This volume seeks to investigate the diverse dimensions of revivalism, exploring its meanings and impacts across cultures and media between c.1850 and 1950. Bringing together case studies that highlight revivalism in fields as diverse as Armenian architecture, German glassware and contemporary tattooing, Revival: Memories, Identities, Utopias counteracts perceptions of revivalism as a practice opposed to canonical modernism, instead highlighting its international and interdisciplinary presence. This book challenges established viewpoints on intersections between past and present, offering new perspectives on what makes revivalism a force for innovation and not a mode of conservatism. Revivalism, this collection argues, looks forward into a present and indeed a future that is built upon persistent echoes of history. 

Goya at the National Gallery

October 9 2015

Image of Goya at the National Gallery

Picture: Apollo

Rave reviews flood in for the new Goya show at the National Gallery. Five stars in The Guardian, the Evening Standard, and The Telegraph. I have yet to see it. Here's a good piece by the show's curator Xavier Bray in Apollo on how he managed to secure some of the more difficult loans. He even learnt to shoot, to better mingle with Goya-owning Spanish aristocrats. The Art Newspaper reports that some loans were only confirmed with a month to go.

Meanwhile in Paris...

October 9 2015

Image of Meanwhile in Paris...

Picture: BG

I walked past the Gagosian gallery in Paris earlier this week, and was lucky enough to catch them installing a new work. 

'What is art for?'

October 9 2015


The great Art Newspaper is 25 years old. They've asked a number of 'leading cultural figures' 'what is art for?' Most of them manage to miss the point entirely.

'Fake or Fortune?' needs you!

October 9 2015

Image of 'Fake or Fortune?' needs you!

Picture: NTA

Did you know that you can vote for 'Fake or Fortune?' to win a National Television Award? Which would allow me to use the phrase 'award winning' a lot?

ForF is up for an award in the Factual Entertainment category. All you need to do is click on the ForF panel on the page. As they say in Northern Ireland, 'vote early, vote often'.

Update - a reader writes:

The same is said in NYC and Chicago. In nearby Philadelphia records show that people continue to vote for up to five years after they're dead. Talk about the dead ruling the living.

Update II - my mother writes;

Have been trying to but won't work .

Am persevering.

Go mom.

Boom (ctd.)

October 9 2015

Image of Boom (ctd.)

Picture: via Art Market Monitor

Marion Maneker of the Art Market Monitor brings the arrival of another art financing vehicle to our attention, run by Olivier Sarkozy (above, half-brother of Nicolas). He's going to provide more loans for people to buy art:

“We will drive the institutionalisation of this huge market. By introducing more liquidity to the market, we think the cost of capital for these assets will go down and the value will go up [...] Leverage generally means asset prices inflate.”

Boosting art prices by introducing more debt into the market - what could possibly go wrong? Still, it means that one day we'll be able to call the over-inflated work of Koons et al 'sub-prime'.

For more on who's borrowing how much to buy what, read about Skate's new art loan database here

Regular readers will know that I don't think the art market should be 'regulated' - at least, beyond the many regulations it already faces. But if the art (or that small niche of modern and contemporary art which attracts speculators) becomes just another tradeable commodity, it's going to be increasingly hard to resist calls for some sort of market oversight. You don't have to be a historian of either markets or politics to know that nothing will happen until there's a crash, however. So for now, it's fill yer boots time.

Update - a reader writes;

Next Sarkozy could package and syndicate the loans, taking a fee, and stick European pension funds with the risk. And there will be great business for auction houses selling the reclaimed collateral. It should stimulate employment in the art business for a while. And living artists can benefit by manufacturing more product with larger “workshops”.

'The Story of Scottish Art'

October 9 2015

Video: BBC

The Scottish artist Lachlan Goudie has made an excellent new series for the BBC on the history of Scottish Art. It's being shown on BBC2 in Scotland (Wednesdays 9pm), and is also available on the iPlayer here. If you watch closely you'll see a brief appearance by yours truly, in one of my famous jumpers.


October 7 2015

...for the lack of action this week. I have been in Paris trying - but failing - to buy a fine sleeper. I have a bit of cathing up to do, then should be back to business by Friday.

'God hates Renoir'

October 6 2015

Image of 'God hates Renoir'

Picture: Boston Globe

Here's a great story from The Boston Globe:

It’s nothing personal, says Ben Ewen-Campen, he just doesn’t think French impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir is much of a painter. Monday, the Harvard postdoc joined some like-minded aesthetes for a playful protest outside the Museum of Fine Arts. The rally, which mostly bewildered passersby, was organized by Max Geller, creator of the Instagram account Renoir Sucks at Painting, who wants the MFA to take its Renoirs off the walls and replace them with something better. Holding homemade signs reading “God Hates Renoir” and “Treacle Harms Society,” the protesters ate cheese pizza purchased by Geller, and chanted: “Put some fingers on those hands! Give us work by Paul Gauguin !” and “Other art is worth your while! Renoir paints a steaming pile!” Craig Ronan, an artist from Somerville, learned about the protest on Instagram and decided to join. “I don’t have any relationship with these people aside from wanting artistic justice,” he said. The museum hasn’t commented on the fledgling movement, but a few folks walking by Monday seemed amused. “I love their sense of irony,” said Liz Byrd, a grandmother from Phoenix who spent the morning in the museum with her daughter and grandchild. “I love Renoir, but I think this is great.”

I think I'd definitely have joined the protest. I had to spend way too much time in the (un-indexed) Renoir catalogue raisonné for the latest series of 'Fake or Fortune?'.

Update - the protest was *not a serious protest*. Ok? That said, I remember discussing Renoir's occasional badness with the late Prof. John House, of the Courtauld, and he said straight out: 'Renoir could be a truly awful painter. But every now and then he had moments of sublime genius'.

Update II - here's Jonathan Jones in The Guardian sticking up for Renoir. And also having a minor sense of humour failure.


October 5 2015

Video: Metropolitan Museum

With its new series #MetKids the Met continues to leave other museums in its wake when it comes to online presence.

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