Previous Posts: December 2016

Merry Christmas

December 24 2016

Video: King's College Cambridge

Time to sign off for a while - may I wish you all the best for Christmas and the holidays. Thank you for your company and interest over the year. It means a great deal to me. I'm sorry that blogging has been a little patchy over the last week or so; the Deputy Editor has been unwell. I'm glad to say she seems to be on the mend. I leave you with my favourite carol, perhaps one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written. Sadly, we don't know who wrote it. May 2017 be less seismic than 2016, may all your art history wishes be fulfilled, and may your stockings brim with satsumas. 

Job Opportunity (ctd.)

December 22 2016

Image of Job Opportunity (ctd.)

Picture: NG

The advert for the post of Curator of Dutch and Flemish pictures at the National Gallery (following Betsy Wieseman's departure to the US) is up. Deadline is 20th January. Salary £45k-£57k. If you're applying, good luck!

Stolen Castlevecchio pictures returned

December 22 2016

Video: via You Tube

All 17 pictures stolen from the Castelvecchio museum in Verona in 2015 have been officially returned to the museum. Earlier this month, the gang behind the raid (most of them at least) were given jail sentences. The security guard who was on duty at the time (it was inside job) got ten years. Not enough?

More here.

Curators favourite winter paintings

December 22 2016

Image of Curators favourite winter paintings

Picture: NMNI

The BBC has a piece on UK museum curator's favourite winter paintings. Anne Stewart from the National Museum of Northern Ireland has kindly chosen a Breughel the Younger (above, detail) which we featured on Britain's Lost Masterpieces earlier this year. 

Museum director appoints first female Pope

December 22 2016

Image of Museum director appoints first female Pope

Picture: New Yok Times

Actually, that should read, 'Pope appoints first female museum director'. But just imagine.

Anyway, congratulations to Dr Barbara Jatta on her appointment as head of Vatican museums. Might someone at last be tempted to fix those queues?More here


December 22 2016

Image of Poocasso

Picture: Picasso Museum

Writing in The Art Newspaper, Diana Widmaier Picasso reveals that Picasso sometimes liked to paint with human excrement. He particularly favoured:

[...] excrement produced by his daughter Maya (my mother [above]), then aged three, to make an apple in a Still Life, dated 1938. According to him, excrement from an infant breast-fed by its mother had a unique texture and ochre colour. 

Get out of that one, conservators.

Rijksmuseum buys Liotard oil

December 22 2016

Image of Rijksmuseum buys Liotard oil

Picture: Sotheby's/Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum has successfully acquired and exported from the UK a fine painting by Liotard, called 'A Dutch Girl at Breakfast'. The Rijksmuseum bought the painting at Sotheby's earlier this year for £4.4m, and then had an anxious wait while the picture went through the usual export licence processes. That has now been completed and the Rijksmuseum has now been able to announce its new acquisition. The bidding was brave and deft stuff for a museum these days - so kudos and congratulations to all involved.

The picture was recently on show in the UK during the Royal Academy's Liotard exhibition. 

Update - today, 22nd Dec, is Liotard's birthday. 

Sotheby's NY Old Master sales

December 20 2016

Image of Sotheby's NY Old Master sales

Picture: BG

Sotheby's January New York sale catalogues are online; Evening sale here; Day sale here; drawings here. There are many fine things as ever; Turner, Zurburan, an equestrian study by Rubens, and an Orazio Gentileschi that used to belong to Charles I. Shown above is a picture that caught my eye when it was previewed in London, a wonderfully zany El Greco, which is catalogued cautiously as 'attributed to El Greco' with an estimate of $400k-$600k.

I'll be in New York for the sales, part of a US jaunt I'm making to visit a few museums. There's an intriguing picture called 'attributed to Rembrandt' which I'm looking forward to seeing. The estimate is $300k-$500k, which is not much for a Rembrandt - if it is one. It seems from the text and exhibition history that the attribution is or was supported by Seymour Slive, Christopher Brown and Horst Gerson. We can doubtless deduce by the absence of his name from the catalogue that Ernst van de Wetering of the Rembrandt Research Project does not endorse the attribution. Looking at the literature, it seems it has been published and exhibited as a work by Rembrandt in full - until now. Such are the vagaries of Rembrandt scholarship.

Cruise ship auctions (ctd.)

December 20 2016

Video: Princess Cruises

Further to my post below, here's a video from Princess Cruises on their 'art auctions'. For which read, 'print auctions'.

'The world's largest art dealers'

December 20 2016

Video: Park West Gallery

If Donald Trump was an art dealer, he'd work for the Park West Gallery. A significant part of their business comes from cruise ships, where 'auctions' (like this one, with a lot of seemingly random gavel banging) convince unsuspecting holiday makers to pay strong prices for prints and reproductions. A key sales trick is to talk about 'estimated retail value' as a means of persuading people they're getting a bargain. But whose estimate? And often successful bidders don't get the actual work they've seen on the ship, but another replica shipped out from their storage facility in Florida.

On Bloomberg, Vernon Silver has written about Park West's cruise ship auctions, and why it's not a good idea to buy at them.


December 19 2016

Image of Shh!

Picture: TAN

Gareth Harris in The Art Newspaper reports on a row in France over whether kids should be quiet in museums. One school group was told to shut up a little too zealously by a warden in the Musée d'Orsay, and the ensuiing hoo-ha has drawn in the French culture minister. 

Time for a French equivalent of Kids in Museums?

New art history library in Paris

December 19 2016

Image of New art history library in Paris

Picture: INHA

In Paris, the Institute National d'Histoire de l'Art has opened its new library in the beautiful 'salle Labrouste', in what was formerly the Bibliotheque Nationale. More here

I once filmed a scene there for 'Fake or Fortune?' The library was closed at the time, and the bookshelves were empty. But no viewers seemed to notice.

Was Van Gogh arrested for chopping off his ear?

December 19 2016

Image of Was Van Gogh arrested for chopping off his ear?

Picture: Apollo/Courtauld

Our knowledge of the most famous ear in history has been expanded yet again by Van Gogh scholar Martin Bailey, who, in Apollo Magazine, looks into whether Van Gogh was arrested in Arles after the ear chopping business.

This is not Shakespeare (ctd.)

December 19 2016

Image of This is not Shakespeare (ctd.)


Students at the University of Pennsylvania have voted to remove a portrait of Shakespeare from their walls, and replace it with another 'more diverse' portrait. That's one thing. But then the news was reported with a portrait that is not Shakespeare.

€10k Rijksmuseum prize

December 19 2016

Video: Rijksmuseum

To encourage people to download and use its high resolution images, for free and in many manner they like, the Rijksmuseum is offering a prize of €10k. More here.

Any museums still charging for use of its images should watch the video above and hang their heads in shame.

Van Dyck wine!

December 19 2016

Image of Van Dyck wine!

Picture: BG

Imagine AHN's excitement at finding the above wine in Tesco - the painting Van Dyck's portrait of the artist Marten Pepijn. The photo has been reversed, and the original is in the Royal Museum of Fine Art in Antwerp. 

Job Opportunity!

December 16 2016

Image of Job Opportunity!

Picture: Codart

Congratulations to Betsy Wieseman, who has been appointed Curator of European Paintings and Sculpture at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Betsy's recent triumphs at the National Gallery in London have included the 'Late Rembrandt' exhibition. More here.

This means that the National will soon be looking for a new Curator of Dutch and Flemish pictures. 

How much is Leonardo's 'Lady with an Ermine' worth?

December 15 2016

Image of How much is Leonardo's 'Lady with an Ermine' worth?

Picture: via Artnet

Artnet news reports that the Polich government is planning to buy the Czartoryski collection, which includes Leonardo's Lady with an Ermine (above). A figure of $2 billion has been mentioned. Wikipedia tells me that the collection also contains two Rembrandts, among other things. We must wonder though what the Leonardo is worth - $500m? Or is it really 'priceless'?

Update - apparently it's insured for €350m. Cheap?

The rise of the Caravaggisti

December 15 2016

Image of The rise of the Caravaggisti

Picture: via Apollo

In Apollo Magazine, Emma Crichton-Miller looks at how collectors are increasingly going for Caravaggesque pictures:

‘There is a growing number of collectors with an interest in dramatic pictures,’ says Henry Pettifer, Christie’s head of Old Master and British paintings. Based largely in Europe and America, these collectors look for ‘powerful imagery, a strong narrative, dark and light’, Pettifer says. Great examples of paintings by the followers of Caravaggio rarely come to market, but when they do emerge, they can fetch high prices. In 2014 at Sotheby’s London, the monumental yet tender Sacrifice of Isaac, painted in Spain around 1617 by Bartolomeo Cavarozzi, one of Caravaggio’s most gifted followers, sold for £3.7m. In January this year, Orazio Gentileschi’s seductive Danaë (1621) sold for $30.5m at Sotheby’s New York. Both set new artist records. More surprising was the $5.2m paid the previous day for The Crowning with Thorns from the Taubman collection, among the first known works by Valentin de Boulogne. Unlike Gentileschi and Cavarozzi, the French painter arrived in Rome too late to meet Caravaggio in person, most likely absorbing his style through Bartolomeo Manfredi, Caravaggio’s most influential follower.

Among Dutch followers, it is the works of Hendrick ter Brugghen and Gerrit van Honthorst that have performed best at auction. Ter Brugghen’s beautiful The Bagpipe Player in Profile (1624) [top], seized by the Nazis in 1938 and returned to the heirs in 2008, sold at Sotheby’s New York in 2009 for a record $10.2m. It was bought by London dealer in Dutch paintings, Johnny van Haeften, who sold it to the National Gallery of Art, Washington. Another looted painting, Honthorst’s racy and atmospheric The Duet (1624), sold at Christie’s New York in 2013 for $3.4m – an artist record. The following January that record was broken again, when the recently rediscovered A Merry Group Behind a Balustrade With a Violin and a Lute Player (1623–24) attracted fierce bidding at Sotheby’s New York, reaching $7.6m.

Alexander Bell, Sotheby’s co-chairman of Old Master paintings worldwide, warns against generalisations. ‘Caravaggio did not have just one style, and the best of his followers also diverged separately from his example,’ he says. ‘Paintings by the premier league of Caravaggio followers come up so rarely that when they do come to market, the price achieved depends very much upon the particular picture.’ Having said that, Caravaggesque paintings ‘do appeal to a modern sensibility’. ‘They are eye-catching and immediate,’ Bell adds.

Art history changes your brain

December 15 2016

At least, according to Dr Daniel Glaser of King's College London, who writes in The Guardian:

Studying art can have a dramatic effect on our brain activity, too. What we know changes how we look at things and this is easy to prove in the art world. Scientists have tracked the movements of an art historian’s eyes: the results show how they scan, fixate and linger on particular points of the canvas reveals their skill and is entirely different to someone with an untrained eye.

We know that every area of expertise changes our view of the world, so why concentrate on art historians? Simply because they are the easiest to study, as they’re often focusing on one static image at a time – unlike film critics, racing drivers or neurosurgeons. This may reassure parents worried about the gravitas of the subject. Now they know that if their children immerse themselves in art history, they will develop such a specialist skill it will produce a  change in their brains.

But one Guardian reader is not persuaded, and comments:

As a knitter, I probably look at a jumper differently from a non knitter. It proves nothing.

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