Previous Posts: June 2017


June 30 2017

Image of Apologies...

Picture: BG

I'm sorry about the dearth of news lately, I'm afraid I'm on the road again for Britain's Lost Masterpieces. We're in Rome at the moment, which is as wonderful as ever. Last night we went to film the Girandola fireworks. These were first put on by Michelangelo in 1481, and have been going more or less ever since. It's amazing where the letters 'BBC' can get you overseas, and as you can see above we were able to get right to the front of the crowds. 

We're in Rome again today, and then on Sunday off to Florence. 

Cleaning Hull's Dobson

June 25 2017

Video: ZCZ Films

The Great Waldemar, who is the British 17th Century artist William Dobson's appointed representative on earth, has paid for the conservation of Dobson's 'Portrait of a Musician' in Hull's Ferens Gallery. He's also made the above short film. Bravo Waldemar!

Art UK turns to sculpture

June 25 2017

Image of Art UK turns to sculpture

Picture: ArtUK

Excellent news; Art UK are to tackle the 170,000 works of sculpture in the UK's public art collection. The work will be done by 2020 - fast! More here in The Art Newspaper, and here on the Art UK blog. 

Claude and the National Gallery

June 25 2017

Video: National Gallery

The National Gallery in London have a new series of videos on the history of taste. In the above video, Susanna Avery-Quash looks at how works by Claude were the cornerstone of the National's collection. You can see the other videos here

'Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites'

June 25 2017

Video: National Museum of Scotland

There's an excellent new exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland here in Edinburgh on Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite movement. I wrote a review of the show for the Financial Times, here. It was a pleasure, of course, to see some old friends on display, including the Allan Ramsay portrait of Charles (below), and the La Tour pastel of his brother, Henry, Cardinal York. I always remember fondly the time I had the former on my mantelpiece for a day.


Boughton House

June 25 2017

Image of Boughton House

Picture: BG

It was a great treat to film at Boughton House last week for Britain's Lost Masterpieces. In the photo above, you can see us in the drawing room, where all the Van Dyck grisailles are hung; a holy of holies for us Van Dyck fans. 

The attributions for these little monochrome paintings, made as part of the preparations for Van Dyck's series of Iconografie engravings, have swung back and forth over the years. Some of the paintings at Boughton are certainly not by Van Dyck, and have long been accepted as later imitations. But I think the most recent Van Dyck catalogue raisonné, published in 2004, was a little too restrictive in accepting which grisailles were autograph or not. Indeed, the authors of the catalogue did not always agree amongst themselves which works were 'right'.

For example, Horst Vey, the eminent art historians who wrote the relevant 'second Antwerp' period of Van Dyck's career, when the grisailles were painted, rejected the attribution to Van Dyck of the above portrait of Rubens, while Sir Oliver Millar, who wrote the later English section of the catalogue, accepted it. For what it's worth I think Millar was right. The other grisaille of Rubens, below was accepted by both experts. 

There will likely never be unanimity about these works, and nor must there be. But it's a fascinating conundrum. Happily, many questions will soon be answered by the new Jordaens and Van Dyck Panel Paintings Project

Anyway, the point of this post is mainly to tell you that Boughton will soon have its annual summer opening, in August. I highly recommend a trip. More here


June 21 2017

Image of Apologies...

Picture: BG

Sorry for the lack of posts lately; I'm in London doing some filming for series 2 of Britain's Lost Masterpieces. Today we went to Hampton Court, and tomorrow we're going to Boughton Hall in Northamptonshire. On Monday we were on a boat off the North East coast of Scotland.

Me on connoisseurship!

June 20 2017

Image of Me on connoisseurship!

Picture: Martin Postle

The Royal Academy have kindly asked me to lead a short weekend course on connoisseurship in December. It will be a very hands on course, and we'll get be up close and personal to some fascinating pictures and conundrums. Although I can't pretend that everybody who comes will be guaranteed to find a Leonardo on Ebay, the idea is to give people the basic tools so that, with practice, one day they might. We also want to start some wider conversations about connoisseurship and its role in art history. More details here

'Friedländer 3.0'

June 19 2017

Image of 'Friedländer 3.0'

Picture: Kikirpa

Digital art history just gets better and better; the Belgian Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage has put all 14 volumes of Max J. Friedlander's English edition of Early Netherlandish Painting (1967-1976). Search for old photos and references to your heart's content here

Bonhams Old Master catalogue

June 19 2017

Image of Bonhams Old Master catalogue

Picture: Bonhams

The catalogue for Bonhams July Old Master sale in London is also online; their sale is on the Wednesday of Old Master week, the 5th July. There's a nice preparatory sketch by Murillo, for his Moses Drawing Water from the Rock (est. £60k-£80k).

Sewell vs MacGregor

June 19 2017

Image of Sewell vs MacGregor

Picture: The Times

The Art Newspaper reports on a row between the late, Great Brian and Neil MacGregor, when the latter was director of the National Gallery. It appears Brian wrote a stinger of a review, and MacGregor protested, quite naturally, that this was a little unfair since Brian had not yet actually seen the exhibition. The letter has been unearthed by the Paul Mellon Centre, which now houses Brian's archive.

Job Opportunity!

June 19 2017

Image of Job Opportunity!

Picture: Codart

The Rijksmuseum is looking for a new curator of 16th & 17th Century Dutch drawings. Salary is between €42,240 and €58,812 (UK museums please take note) depending on experience. Deadline is 30th June. More here on Codart.

Is there a €120m Caravaggio in your roof? (ctd.)

June 16 2017

Image of Is there a €120m Caravaggio in your roof? (ctd.)

Picture: Studio Sebert

Didier Rykner at Tribune de l'Art has some new information on the potential Caravaggio discovered in the roof of a house in Toulouse (above) last year. It was apparently the subject of a study session at the Louvre. But the Louvre, according to Rykner, is not minded to buy the work. More here

What to do with the old British Library?

June 15 2017

Image of What to do with the old British Library?

Picture: British Library

There's a good editorial in The Burlington Magazine looking at the future of the British Museum, an in particular the old British Library reading room. This fantastic space is now, since the building of the new British Libary in St Pancras, left empty, with only bookshelves and old desks. It's sometimes used for temporary exhibitions, but not always satisfactorily, and with no sense of the fantastic architecture. The Burlington argues that the room should be converted not into a temporary display area, but into permanent galleries, which are badly needed in the BM. I agree! It would also be a way of rescuing the Great Court, which these days is little more than a giant creche for school groups. This editorial, by the way, is the first under the new editorship of Michael Hall.

More here.

Caravaggio in Scotland

June 15 2017

Image of Caravaggio in Scotland

Picture: National Gallery or Ireland

The Times asked me to review the latest edition of 'Beyond Caravaggio' at the National Gallery of Scotland, but today's paper was obviously devoted to the terrible and tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in London, and space was limited. Only part of what I wrote made it into the paper, and so I thought I post the whole piece below. If we were giving out stars, I'd give the show a four out of five.

In 1606 - the year he became a murderer - Caravaggio presented probably his finest work, The Death of the Virgin, to the clergy of Santa Maria della Scala in Rome for approval. The painting had taken years to complete - but it was rejected immediately. The dramatic composition, with Mary seemingly in a state of ecstasy, broke every iconographical rule in the book, and there were rumours the model used had been Caravaggio’s lover, or even a prostitute. 

To the rescue came Rubens, then working in Rome, who urged his patron the Duke of Mantua to buy Caravaggio’s masterpiece. The painting’s fate sums up Caravaggio’s historical reception, as his frequently misunderstood works went in and out of fashion. Until even the 1970s Caravaggios could be impossible to sell. But Caravaggio has always been admired by artists, and the National Gallery of Scotland’s new exhibition, ‘Beyond Caravaggio’, examines his artistic legacy through works by  Honthorst, Ribera and Gentileschi.

What did these artists - today we call them Caravaggisti - so admire in Caravaggio? Above all they were awed by his use of light. The history of art tends to be one of evolution, but Caravaggio was one of the few artists we can genuinely call revolutionary. His lightbulb moment (or more accurately, lamplight moment) was to illuminate his compositions from a single, strong source. This created instant drama and depth through the contrast of dark backgrounds with bright foregrounds - or in art history speak, chiaroscuro. The most impressive painting in the exhibition, Caravaggio’s turbulent Taking of Christ, amply demonstrates the technique. And in case anyone missed the point, the master of light included himself within it; he’s the one holding the lamp.

The exhibition is billed as Scotland’s first on Caravaggio, but that might be stretching it a bit. We’re third in line after Dublin and London, where the exhibition opened last year, and of the six Caravaggios that appeared in London only four (two of them minor works) have made it to Edinburgh. Happily a potentially disappointing display has been rescued by an excellent thematic hang from curator Aidan Weston-Lewis. And in the Royal Scottish Academy, probably the finest suite of galleries in Britain, the exhibition in fact works far better in Edinburgh than London. 

Which is just as well, for until now Scotland has not covered itself in glory when it comes to Caravaggio. In 1920 the trustees of the National Gallery were offered Caravaggio’s Taking of Christ as part of a bequest from a house in East Lothian. But astonishingly they declined the offer. It was later sold at auction in Edinburgh for a modest sum, before ending up in Ireland. It’s good to have it back, if only till September.

Incidentally, I think the decision of the National Gallery in London not to lend Caravaggio's Salome Recieving the Head of John the Baptist is most odd. This exhibition was created and planned by the National Gallery, and their logo is on the catalogue. They invited Dublin and Edinburgh to come into partnership with them, which I presume means sharing some of the costs. To then insist that one of the shows six Caravaggios could only be shown in London seems to me to be not cricket.

New £35.5m NPG plans

June 15 2017

Image of New £35.5m NPG plans

Picture: NPG

The National Portrait Gallery in London has announced a new £35.5m refurbishment scheme. It has kicked off its fundraising appeal with over £9m from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The plans include creating new exhibition space from the Gallery's East Wing, which they say has not been used for gallery use since the 1960s. I think this is the block of the building currently used by the shop on the ground floor. Director Nick Cullinan is hailing the move as "the biggest transformation the Gallery has ever undertaken".

Here are the headlines from the press release:

The National Portrait Gallery has been awarded funding of £9.4 million from The National Lottery towards a £35.5m transformation programme, which will be the Gallery’s biggest ever development and its most significant project since the opening of its Ondaatje Wing in 2000, it was announced today, Thursday 15 June 2017.

The National Lottery support will go towards the project Inspiring People: Transforming our National Portrait Gallery. For the first time in the Gallery’s history there will be a comprehensive re-display of the Collection across all the galleries combined with a significant refurbishment, creating twenty per cent more public and gallery spaces. The transformation will also see the Gallery’s most extensive programme of activities nationwide with plans to engage audiences onsite, locally, regionally and online.

As part of the project, the National Portrait Gallery will restore its East Wing – last used for galleries in the 1960s – to public use; will improve its main entrance and will create a new state-of-the-art Learning Centre with a number of studio spaces. As well as extending activities for schools, families, young people and students, a volunteering programme will be introduced.

A nationwide schools programme for teaching history, citizenship, literacy and art through portraiture will be underpinned by a large-scale training programme for teachers and through targeted university partnerships with PGCE tutors. With this development programme, the Gallery hopes to reach over 200,000 schools across the UK, and over 300,000 young people including those not in education, employment or training.

New partnerships with museums and organisations throughout the country, will build on the Gallery’s national presence. In Creative Connections the Gallery will work with museums in Coventry, Manchester, Southampton and Sheffield on a co-curated exhibition programme for young people which will result in a new artist commission and the display of up to 20 portraits from the Gallery’s Photographic Collection at each partner venue.

The project will be completed by 2022. It all sounds excellent, especially the regional and educational aspects. The NPG has for many years now taken the lead in sharing its collections across the UK, and that's why it has one of the lowest ratios of works in storage compared to display, about 50%. That may still sound high, but it's way less than most other institutions.

Traditionalists amongst us will have to hope that the "comprehensive re-display of the Collection across all the galleries" doesn't mean the end of the wonderful chronological hang, or, worse still, the introduction of a thematic one. The latter can sometimes be the best way to display pictures in a gallery. But a portrait gallery is primarily about history and historical people, and for that it's best to display the portraits amongst others of a similar period.

New Gerome acquisition at the Fitzwilliam

June 14 2017

Image of New Gerome acquisition at the Fitzwilliam

Picture: Fitzwilliam

The Fitzwilliam museum in Cambridge has acquired an oustanding portrait by Jean-Leon Gerome (above). This is from the museum's press release:

To commemorate its bicentenary year in 2016, the Fitzwilliam Museum has acquired a newly discovered portrait by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904). Gérôme is one of the most important French painters of the 19th century, yet his work is only represented in six British public collections to date.

The picture had remained in the artist’s collection until his death in 1904 and was thought lost, until its reappearance at auction in France in 2013. Recent cleaning has confirmed it as a masterpiece, and in unusually fine condition.

The dramatic full-length 'swagger-portrait' is of Claude-Armand Gérôme, (1827-50) the artist's younger brother, depicted as a student in his uniform from the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris. This was a very personal work of the artist, and from the early prime of his career. It is a virtuoso example of his skills as a portraitist, and was one of the works that consolidated Gérôme's reputation.

Painting from Scott's antarctic mission discovered

June 14 2017

Video: Antarctic Heritage

A painting by Dr Edward Wilson, who died with Capt Scott in 1912 in the Antarctic, has been discovered in the expedition's supply hut. Amazing. More here.

Management changes at the Met

June 14 2017

Image of Management changes at the Met

Picture: Metropolitan Museum

The New York Times reports on a major, and on the face of it pretty revolutionary, change in how the Met is run:

In a striking leadership reorganization, the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Tuesday announced that Daniel H. Weiss, its president and chief operating officer, will lead and run the museum, filling the new, higher-ranking role of president and chief executive.

And in a sign that fiscal responsibility now trumps artistic control, the museum’s next director, who oversees programming, will report to Mr. Weiss, rather than the other way around.

So, it's now money first, art second. More here.

RA Summer exhibition

June 14 2017

Video: Royal Academy

Now open, till 20th August. The usual stuff.

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