Previous Posts: November 2017

New Director for the Royal Collection

November 29 2017

Image of New Director for the Royal Collection

Picture: NMDC

Tim Knox has been appointed the new director of the Royal Collection Trust. He has been director of the Fitzwilliam since 2013, and will leave next year. I’m biased because I know and like Tim, but as someone of great energy and openness to new ideas I think he’s an excellent choice to take the Royal Collection forward, given the challenges it faces. Tim of course has much to build on; not only the pre-eminence of the collection itself, but also the exhibition and publication programme, which in my opinion is probably the best in the world. 

Questions for the future might include: how to increase access to what is a ‘working’ collection (by forming for example more lending partnerships with regional galleries); whether to include in their exhibitions works from other collections (currently RC shows are strictly limited to RC works, which is sometimes rather limiting); and the big one - whether to create a larger permanent exhibition space in one of the palaces.

One of the first things I shall be haranguing Tim about is the rather bum deal we get up here in Scotland. The Queen’s Gallery in Holyrood gets most of the London exhibitions, and is a good space. But the Palace of Holyrood itself is very thinly served; it could and should display a far better and longer term selection of works from the Collection.

Image fees - are museums guilty of mis-selling?

November 29 2017

Image of Image fees - are museums guilty of mis-selling?

Picture: The Times

There’s an important article in The Art Newspaper on copyright, which may have a bearing on how UK museums charge fees for images. A leading professor of law (amongst others) believes that museums do not have the right to claim copyright in photographs of artworks which are themselves out of copyright (that is, made by an artist who died more than 70 years ago).

This is significant because copyright is the glue that holds the current image fee system together. By claiming copyright in the photographs they have taken, museums are able to issue (for a fee) licences which permit a single use. The key part of the licence is the demand that publishers include a (C) symbol next to the image - and this prevents other people from simply taking the image (easily done online of course) and reusing it elsewhere, without paying. 

The legal issue boils down to this: under English law, copyright is defined usually as a ‘sweat of the brow’ concept. If someone expended effort in taking a photo of a painting, they can claim copyright of it; but under EU law, a degree of ‘originality’ is involved, and this is seen as ruling out slavish reproductions of existing artworks. 

Now, it is true that the law in this area is not clear cut. There are questions of EU interpretation, and of course in the longer term, Brexit - will English law ignore EU law in this area?* Also, there has been limited case law in relation to photographs of 2D artworks, and then of course much depends on the view of the judge in question should a case ever arise. Supporters of the current image fee system say that because the law is potentially a grey area, then museums can carry on charging. But it seems to me that public institutions should seek to operate entirely within the law, and not exploit a grey area. What legal opinion does not say is; 'museums have a clear right to claim copyright on these images'. If I were a museum trustee I would be urging my institution to check its legal advice on copyright. 

I should also add that I don’t think the issue of copyright is the prime reason museums should change their museum fee regimes; it’s just a useful supporting argument at this stage, which demonstrates the shakiness of current museum practice. 

*It won’t be an immediate change back to English law - for currently the House of Commons is debating a bill to adopt all existing EU legislation into English (or where appropriate UK) law. And I can’t see any political party rushing through changes to copyright law as a priority in the years ahead.

Me on 'Salvator Mundi'

November 29 2017

Sound: Art Market Monitor

I had a great time discussing the sale of the Salvator Mundi with Marion Maneker of Art Market Monitor.

The first UK museum to make images free!

November 29 2017

Image of The first UK museum to make images free!

Picture: York Museum Trust

Most excellent news - York Museums Trust has become the first UK institution to make their images free to use. York's out of copyright images have been put into the public domain, and can be used for any purpose, for free. You can search York's collections here. The site says:

Images of works on which copyright has expired are marked Public Domain. We have no particular legal rights over these images, so they can be used for any purpose. Old artworks are a good example of public domain works.

This makes York the first major UK institution to go entirely for open access. Which is amazing and wonderful news. Now, who will follow? 

The art historian Richard Stephens, who first alerted me to York's new policy, has also unearthed more Good News; Birmingham Museums’ new strategy document states (on page 34) that they are aiming to make all images free:

We will create, manage and promote our digital assets to reach the widest possible audience, making our digital assets freely available for all through open licences. Moving from being digital publishers to becoming digital enablers, we will work in partnership with others to deliver a programme of ‘digital lab’ experiences to experiment with different ways of engaging people with the collection through digital technologies. We will invite audiences and partners to contribute to this work, and invest in the infrastructure to support this way of working. Through research partnerships and the capital projects we will provide digital access to the collection.

Britain’s regional museums are showing the nationals the way forward!

On gold in paintings

November 29 2017

Video: National Gallery

There's a new National Gallery series on You Tube, this time about the use of gold in paintings. 

Art history ads (ctd.)

November 29 2017

Image of Art history ads (ctd.)

Picture: Dr Marten

Dr Marten have made some boots with a William Blake painting on them. There's a backpack too. Available here.  


November 29 2017

Sorry for the lack of posts so far this week. It was my birthday on Monday, then I was in Stoke yesterday (meeting the Prince of Wales, who incidentally would make a very fine art historian), and now I need to finish preparations for my course at the Royal Academy on connoisseurship this weekend.

Hope to post some AHN later today!

Art history ads (ctd.)

November 24 2017

Image of Art history ads (ctd.)

Picture: Ikea via TAN

A clever one from Ikea. Also, deft use of the fact that there's no copyright in a photo of an out of copyright artwork. More here

Apollo's Acquisition of the Year

November 23 2017

Image of Apollo's Acquisition of the Year

Picture: Apollo

I've been meaning to write about two major donations of Old Master paintings to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the fact that they have just been named 'Acquisition of the Year' in the latest Apollo awards has reminded me to do so. Says Apollo:

On 11 October, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts announced the extraordinary promised gift it has received from Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo and Susan and Matthew Weatherbie, two well-known collecting couples who live in the region and are longtime donors to the institution. The Van Otterloo and Weatherbie gift includes the couples’ respective collections of 17th-century Dutch and Flemish painting, carefully assembled over the course of almost three decades, and comprising a total of 113 pictures by 76 artists. In addition, the Van Otterloo and Weatherbie gift will provide funding for a scholarly Center for Netherlandish Art, to be established at the MFA, which will house the library of the late Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann, whose more than 20,000 books on Dutch and Flemish art will also be given by the Van Otterloos.

I know the Weatherbies a little, and in my London dealing days even helped them acquire a work by Van Dyck. I'll embarass them here by saying that they're two of the nicest and least assuming people I've met. And having seen at first hand the care they've put into building their collection, I'm in no doubt that the MFA in Boston will acquire some of the finest Dutch and Flemish Old Masters that have been available over the last few decades. Bravo to them and the van Otterloos!

You can read more about the Apollo awards here

Who was 'The Master of the Parrot'?

November 23 2017

Image of Who was 'The Master of the Parrot'?

Picture: Cabinet Turquin

In France, the French auctioneer and expert Eric Turquin has identified a signed work by Cornelis Bazelaere, which he says now allows us to identify the artist of a group of works identified until now only as 'the Master of the Parrot.' The picture - a Madonna and Child, in which the child holds a parrot - will be offered at auction in Paris on 11th December, with an estimate of €20k-€30k. More here

Lost Murillo found in Wales

November 23 2017

Image of Lost Murillo found in Wales

Picture: Sotheby's

A previously lost portrait by Murillo, of Don Diego Ortiz de Zúñiga, has been found at Penrhyn Castle in Wales. The painting is now in the Frick's Murillo exhibition - but as a last minute addition. It is published in the catalogue as a copy, because, as The Guardian reports:

One of the US exhibition’s curators, Xavier F Salomon, said [...] that he regretted relying on previous judgments by other art historians. “Most scholars have written that there are two versions [of the portrait], both copies after a lost original. One copy was in Seville, which I’ve seen and is clearly a copy,” he said.

Painted around 1751, the copy is thought to have been commissioned by the sitter’s family when the original Murillo was sold. Now attributed to the 18th-century Sevillian painter Domingo Martínez, it hangs in Seville town hall.

When it came to the Welsh example, Salomon said the literature featured “terrible old black and white photos”. He requested a colour image for his exhibition catalogue and featured it as a “copy”, even though he recalled his first impression was that “this looks really good”.

“I thought ‘people have always said it’s a copy, it’s got to be a copy’. Which is, of course, a mistake art historians should never make. Go with your gut feeling and you should follow up. I didn’t.

Don't be too hard on yourself Xavier - at least your initial reaction was right!

Restoring Dresden's Vermeer

November 23 2017

Video: SKD

The Gemaldegalerie in Dresden is restoring their Vermeer of the Girl Reading a Letter by a Window. Says the gallery:

Considering its age, the painting, created circa 1657–1659, is well preserved and is in a stable conservation condition. However, the surface is compromised due to darkened layers of varnish, old retouching and over-painting. A major reason to restore the painting was the reduced readability of Vermeer’s original painting.

Work will continue until 2019. You can follow progress on the project on the SKD's website here

Lost Mary Queen of Scots portrait found? (ctd.)

November 22 2017

Image of Lost Mary Queen of Scots portrait found? (ctd.)

Picture: SNPG

In Apollo, David Taylor (curator of art at the National Trust) has written more about that discovery of a hidden portrait of Mary Queen of Scots. 

Canova's lost bust of Murat

November 22 2017

Video: Christie's

Christie's have discovered a lost bust by Antonio Canova, of the Napoleonic general and King of Naples, Joachim Murat. The bust will be offered for sale on 28th November in Paris, lot details here. Susan Moore has written a piece for Apollo on the discovery here

Rubens' Clara Serena comes to Scotland

November 21 2017

Image of Rubens' Clara Serena comes to Scotland

Picture: Rubenshuis

Regular readers may remember the story of the discovery of Rubens' portrait of his daughter Clara Serena, mistakenly deaccessioned by the Metropolitan Museum as a copy. The picture has now gone on display at the National Gallery of Scotland up here in Edinburgh, until 28th January. More here

My TAN diary

November 21 2017

The Art Newspaper kindly asked me to write an 'art historian's diary', which you can read here. Grayson Perry's pink dinnerware features.

A real fake!

November 21 2017

Image of A real fake!

Picture: A P Diemen auctions

A genuine, signed Han Van Meegeren (the forger of all those Vermeers in the 1930s and 40s) is on sale in Amsterdam, with an estimate of just 500-700 Euros. It was the fact that nobody valued his genuine paintings which made Van Meegeren turn to forgery. 

More virtual reality Old Masters

November 21 2017

The Kremer Museum from The Kremer Collection on Vimeo.

Video: Kremer Museum

The Kremer Collection - a private collection of Dutch and Flemish Old Masters put together by George Kremer - is building a virtual reality museum. From Codart:

For the creation of the museum, each painting has been photographed between 2,500 and 3,500 times using the ‘photogrammetry’ technique to build one ultra high resolution visual model for each painting, allowing the museum’s visitors to enjoy a deeply immersive experience with the paintings. Using VR technology, visitors will be able to examine the artworks’ surface and colors up-close, as well as view the reverse of the paintings to explore each work’s unique stamps of provenance.

Discussing the establishment of the Kremer Museum, George Kremer says, “Our journey as collectors has always been about finding the highest quality artworks and simultaneously finding ways to share them with as many people as possible. My wife Ilone and I believe we can make a greater contribution to the art world by investing in technology rather than in bricks and mortar for our collection.”

London Old Master sales

November 21 2017

Image of London Old Master sales

Picture: Sotheby's

The December London Old Master sale catalogues are online. Sotheby's Evening sale here, Day sale here. Christie's Evening here, day here. Bonhams here. Sotheby's are offering the above late Titian portrait - who's an old friend from my London dealing days - at £1m-£1.5m. I'm looking forward to seeing him again.

Off with his head!

November 21 2017

Image of Off with his head!

Picture: James Mulraine

When the art historian James Mulraine was visiting Hampton Court recently, he noticed that the in the famous painting of the Field of the Cloth of Gold, someone had once cut off Henry VIII's head. It turns out (James is one of the best at finding out these things) that some bored Spanish courtiers had done it in the early 17th Century, as one contemporary recorded:

’The last weeke the Sp Ambr had long audience in the Gallerie at Whitehall with [The King] … that tyme his followers were in the next roome, where are many good pieces as your Lordship knoweth amongst others the siege of Kinsale and K:H8 his going into Bolloigne (wch is one of the best there) out of theise were many peeces cutt where the Spaniards received any disgrace in the first where a Spaniard is hanged at Kinsale and in the other the kings head cutt off… this is much spoken off.’

More here

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