Previous Posts: October 2016

A Chardin bargain?

October 31 2016

Image of A Chardin bargain?

Picture: Christie's

Here's a puzzle; two pictures by Chardin which sold for $533,000 in New York in 2010 at Christie's were re-offered last week, also at Christie's, and made just $38,750. The difference? The all-important 'attributed to' in the cataloguing, suggesting uncertainty over the attribution. 

In 2010 the pictures were sold as by Chardin in full. But this time around there seems to have been doubts, though these are not explained in any satisfactory way in the catalogue entry. The estimate was $80k-$120k, but a note in the catalogue said they would be sold 'without reserve', so evidently there were no bidders at the suggested estimate. The catalogue also stated that they belonged to Christie's itself. So perhaps something happened between the 2010 sale and now to make the previous buyer unhappy.

I'm no Chardin expert and couldn't begin to say if they look 'right' or not. But 'attributed to Chardin' is still better than, say, 'after' or 'studio of', and at a 92.7% discount on the former price, they begin to look like a rather attractive bet. I did ask for photos before the sale, but was never sent any.

Cranach's role in the Reformation

October 31 2016

Image of Cranach's role in the Reformation

Picture: Apollo

On this day in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his famous Theses on the door of his local church. In Apollo Magazine, Andrew Pettegree has an excellent article looking at how the art of Lucas Cranach the Elder helped spread Luther's ideas:

Here we need to be aware of two great, but comparatively understudied innovations emerging from Cranach’s workshop. The first was the transformation of the woodcut from a relatively undervalued medium of artistic expression, to a powerful tool of evangelism. The second was the development of a model of cultural industrialisation that enabled images to be produced on a sufficiently large scale to serve a movement of ideas growing at a quite remarkable rate between 1517 and 1525. It was during these years that Cranach created the images that defined the new movement, and organised their production in industrial quantities. It was an extraordinary act of cultural innovation: all the more so given it was accomplished in a place, Wittenberg, that up to this point had hardly registered on the cultural atlas of the Holy Roman Empire.

The Mystery of Van Gogh's Ear (ctd.)

October 31 2016

Image of The Mystery of Van Gogh's Ear (ctd.)

Picture: BG

A new book by Martin Bailey on Van Gogh's time in Provence (above) sheds yet more light on why Van Gogh cut his ear off (for earlier AHN on this see here). As the Guardian reports:

According to a new study of his time in Provence, the gruesome procedure was in fact inspired by the news his brother Theo, his most loyal confidant and financial supporter, was about to marry after a whirlwind romance. The research throws doubt on the popular theory that Van Gogh took a razor to his ear after a passionate row with fellow artist Paul Gauguin.

It was known that Van Gogh was distressed by news of the marriage – which could have threatened the closeness of their relationship, and also left Theo with a wife and family to support, unable to fund a struggling brother who had yet to sell a single canvas – but it had been thought that he learned of it only after the incident.

However, the writer Martin Bailey, for his new book Studio of the South, has uncovered evidence that Van Gogh almost certainly learned of it in a letter from Theo delivered on Sunday 23 December 1888.

Later that night there was indeed a quarrel, after the two artists had spent the day working penned up together by continuous rain, and Gauguin would leave the house threatening to return to Paris – but the trigger for Van Gogh’s despair was not that, but the news from his brother, Bailey believes.

Theo’s letter enclosed 100 francs, but also the news that only a fortnight earlier he had met an old friend, Jo Bonger, who had previously turned him down. This time, within a week, she had agreed to marry him.

The book, which is excellent and beautifully produced, can be ordered here.

Met curator heads to Christie's

October 31 2016

Image of Met curator heads to Christie's

Picture: ATG

The Antiques Trade Gazette reports on quite a coup for Christie's; Stijn Alsteens, the Met's curator of Old Master drawings, is joining Christie's in Paris as their international head of drawings. Stijn recently co-curated the Frick's exhibition on Van Dyck's portraits, and very good it was too.

New acquisitions in Washington

October 31 2016

Image of New acquisitions in Washington

Picture: Codart/NGA

The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC has acquired its first work by Caspar Netscher (above). It has also bought a landscape by Herman Saftleven. More here

Tefaf in New York

October 31 2016

Image of Tefaf in New York

Picture: Otto Naumann

I hear good things so far about the new Tefaf venture in New York. Tefaf runs the world's largest Old Master fair in Maastricht in Holland, but concerns about declining numbers of US collectors making it all the way to Maastricht - which is not exactly easy to get to - prompted them to think about moving the mountain, so to speak.

Here's an overview of some OMP sales from Sarah Hanson in The Art Newspaper:

Many Europeans cited unmet demand in New York for quality works from pre-modern eras as a main reason for signing up, and their hopes appeared validated by sales rung up in the opening hours. Among the biggest tickets was at Richard Green Gallery, which sold Bernardo Bellotto’s Venice, a view of the Grand Canal looking east from the Palazzo Loredan Cini on the Campo San Vio, circa 1741-42, for about $5m to an American collector. CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, better known as a collector of contemporary art, snapped up Anton Raphael Mengs’s mid-18th-century eerily incomplete Portrait of Mariana de Silva y Sarmiento, Duquesa de Huescar [above], for $275,000 from Otto Naumann. (The painting, which was featured in the Met Breuer’s inaugural exhibition Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible, earlier this year, sold for £39,650 with premium at Christie’s London in July 2012.)

The Mengs referred to above is a fascinating example of how a work of art can gain in reputation (and value) through appropriate exposure. When it surfaced at auction in London in 2012, the picture had never been known before, and might have struck some as, well, weird. The estimate was just £12k-£18k, and it made £39k. But four years later, having been a star of the Metropolitan Museum's recent exhibition on unfinished paintings, and regularly reproduced, it seems now to be firmly established as one of Mengs' best known works. And in its unfinished state it fits happily into a contemporary aesthetic. 

Job Opportunity

October 31 2016

Image of Job Opportunity

Picture: NGC

The National Gallery of Canada is looking for a new Senior Curator, Prints & Drawings, European & American Art. There seems to be no information for the post on their website, but anyone interested should apparently contact Kadra Muse,


New Hyacinthe Rigaud catalogue raisonné

October 31 2016

Image of New Hyacinthe Rigaud catalogue raisonné

Picture: Editions Faton

There's a new two volume catalogue raisonné out on the great French portraitist Hyacinthe Rigaud. You can order it here (€320 alas).

'Always on the wall'

October 31 2016

Image of 'Always on the wall'

Picture: NYT

Here's some more background in the New York Times on the recent mega-donation of art to the Musée d'Orsay by the US collectors Spencer and Marlene Hays. The key passage:

In April, the Hayses met with the French culture minister, Audrey Azoulay. “We told her we had decided to give all of our art to the French people,” Mr. Hays said. “The only thing we wanted to be sure she would do for us, we wanted it in one place, we want it all together, we don’t ever want any of it to be sold, and we never want it to be stored; we always want it on the wall.”

I do think museums under-estimate how deeply potential donors care about what happens to their paintings in the long-term. Who wants to give a painting to a museum, if you know that it's likely to spend most of its time in storage? And, worse still, if you think it might one day be sold? 

Next year at the Royal Collection

October 31 2016

Royal Collection Trust Exhibitions And Displays 2017 from Royal Collection Trust on Vimeo.

Video: Royal Collection

More videos from the Royal Collection's Vimeo page here.


October 27 2016

Image of Apologies...

Picture: BG

Sorry for the lack of posts - I'm in London doing day job stuff. I was in the National Gallery this morning, and saw this uplifting sign.

Update - a reader writes:

No, no, that “Paintings” sign with an arrow is an ironic, post-modern artistic commentary on the existential choice between optimism and pessimism, elation and despair, up or down…

'Beyond Caravaggio' (ctd.)

October 25 2016

Video: National Gallery

Here's the latest video from the National Gallery on their 'Beyond Caravaggio' exhibition.

Disney goes to LACMA

October 25 2016

Image of Disney goes to LACMA


I've mentioned before the clever social media work done by LACMA. Now they've joined up with Disney to retell Beauty and the Beast through their own paintings, and on Snapchat. Above is a Pourbus of Louis XIII, who has been pressed into the role of the wicked prince. More here.

New Burrell collection designs

October 25 2016

Image of New Burrell collection designs

Picture: BBC

Designs for the new Burrell collection building in Glasgow have been released. I'm very pleased to see that the target is to get 90% of the collection on public display, thanks to two new floors of exhibition space. More here.

$350m gift to Musée d'Orsay

October 25 2016

Image of $350m gift to Musée d'Orsay

Picture: NYT

A Texan couple have pledged to give more than 600 works of art to the Musée d'Orsay. The collection includes works by Matisse, Modigliani and Vuillard, and has been reported as being worth about $350m. Spencer and Marlene Hays have loved France since visiting in 1971, and even built a replica of a French mansion house in Tennessee. Francois Hollande has made both the Hays members of the Legion d'Honneur. More here in the New York Times

Not by Hogarth?

October 24 2016

Image of Not by Hogarth?

Picture: NGA

The Sunday Times reports that a painting of the Beggar's Opera in the National Gallery of Art in Washington (above) will be demoted from being by Hogarth in a forthcoming catalogue raisonné. Elizabeth Einberg, who is writing the catalogue for the Paul Mellon Centre in London, is not convinced by the painting, and nor is Hogarth scholar Robin Simon. You can zoom in on the painting here and have a look for yourself. It was previously thought to be one of four versions of the same subject. Another is here at Tate, and another here at Birmingham Museums Trust. 

Fakes, fakes everywhere (ctd.)

October 20 2016

Image of Fakes, fakes everywhere (ctd.)

Picture: Art Daily

By way of a reminder that it's not just the Old Master world reeling from a faking scandal at the moment, The Art Newspaper reports that another Knoedler case has been partially settled. The former Knoedler director, Ann Freedman, has reached an agreement with casino boss Frank Fertitta over a fake Rothko, 'Untitled (orange, red, blue)' (above) bought in 2008 for $7.2m.  

But another shocking part of the story is the fact that a Rothko scholar and museum curator, Oliver Wick, was paid $450,000 for his role in the sale. He said the picture was 'perfectly fine' and a genuine Rothko. The picture was exhibited at the museum where was a curator, the Beyeler Foundation in Switzerland. Did the cheque encourage Wick to think the picture was a genuine Rothko? Only he can tell us. Looking at the Foundation's website, I see that he's no longer employed there. 

Valentin de Boulogne at the Met

October 20 2016

Video: The Met

Great video here on the Met's new exhibition on Valentin de Boulogne - nice to see curator Keith Christiansen's passion for the artist. 

There's not many exhibitions that make me want to get on a plane - this is one. Open till January 16th.

Rare depiction of Louis XIV's coronation found

October 20 2016

Image of Rare depiction of Louis XIV's coronation found

Picture: BBC

An apparently unique painted representation of the coronation of Louis XIV has been discovered in the stables at Rokeby Park, a stately home in the UK. More here.

Update - Neil Jeffares tweets that the picture derives from this print of the coronation (below).

A-Level art history axed (ctd.)

October 20 2016

The art historian Michael Liversidge, Emeritus Dean at Bristol University's Faculty of Arts, has kindly written to AHN. He begins by saying that all is not necessarily lost for people aged 16-18 wanting to take a course in art history:

There is an alternative to the axed AQA History of Art.  It is the Cambridge International Exams Pre-U Certificate qualification - an excellent A-level by another name.  

And then gives some valuable background as to why the A-Level has been axed:

AQA's decision is based on two substantive factors, and one nonsensical argument.  Firstly, that with 'only' 839 entrants in 2016, the A-level is uneconomic.  In fact, the cost per candidate for entering the exam was set at £158.05; this compares to £84.20 for a 'standard' humanities subject such as English Literature or History for which there are thousands of candidates (the prices rise to £168.75 and £89.90 for June 2017).  Secondly, that there is a shortage of examiners.  A third explanation was also offered by AQA which stated that "Our number one priority is making sure every student gets the result they deserve - and the complex and specialist nature of the exams in this subject creates too many risks on that front..."  Managing the risk by taking away the opportunity is obviously an absurd argument - all it ensures is that nobody at all can get a result, whether deserved or otherwise.  The financial imperative is evidently the principal excuse, and it could be conceded that the work of reforming the examination to fit the new structure of A-levels would be an added cost which the income stream from candidates' fees would not cover since presumably every penny goes on administration and examiners.  But in fact much of the thinking needed has been carried out in consultation with the academic community, and rewriting the rules would be a relatively simple business.  The curriculum exists, and the Association of Art Historians has recently sponsored an excellent textbook by an experienced and expert teacher of the subject, Penny Huntsman's Thinking About Art (which I commend to all your readers).  

The cost of taking the A-level exam is a problem - not so much perhaps for independent schools (though budgetary considerations are important to them like everyone else in education), but certainly for the maintained sector.  Perhaps not insuperable, though, if the professional art world could come forward to subsidise it: AQA is an educational charity, so there is a tax-efficient way of contributing to the cause.  Finding examiners ought to be easier to solve, and surely not beyond the collective wisdom of the academic community to recruit them.

Changing an exam board's mind, especially when it has made the announcement, is not an easy thing to accomplish.  So the solution probably lies with schools going over to the Cambridge International Examinations Pre-U Certificate.  It is, in fact, an A-level, with a carefully structured two-year curriculum offering an excellent range of options involving visual analysis, historical periods, thematic topics and an extended research project.  Many UK schools already offer CIE qualifications, and they are fully recognised by British universities for admissions.  The Pre-U Art History, in other words, offers an existing, established exam which provides a rigorous and challenging qualification which universities accept, so whether a student is planning to go on to a degree in the subject or wants to do something else afterwards it affords an entirely credible indicator of intellectual attainment and potential.

Michael also takes aim at Jonathan Jones of The Guardian:

It has been quite shameful that someone like Jonathan Jones of The Guardian positively welcomed the axing of art history by AQA as "the end of one privilege of the public school elite" and has asserted that while scientists "are constantly communicating their latest whacky ideas in popular books or on TV, none of the readable books on art history you will find in shops are by academic art historians."  Maybe he doesn't read enough, and evidently he's missed a lot of good TV programmes recently.  The Association of Art Historians has achieved much to expand the subject by widening access through various initiatives, not least by investing in Thinking About Art, supporting its annual sell-out 'Ways of Seeing' study days at the British Museum and National Gallery (with free places for state school teachers and students funded by The Worshipful Company of Art Scholars), and through a range of schools initiatives it has encouraged universities around the country to engage with.  He's not the most coherent of commentators when it comes to parading his anti-elite credentials - £99 for three hours visiting the National Gallery last September, exclusively for Guardian members?  Hmmm.....more Swiss Cottage than Shepherds Bush?

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