Previous Posts: August 2018


August 28 2018

Video: BBC

Sorry for the lack of news lately - I'm writing some catalogue entries, and am a bit tied up in the 17th Century.

The last episode of 'Britain's Lost Masterpieces' will be shown tomorrow (Wednesday) on BBC4 at 9pm. Is it a case of 'Titian Impossible'? You can see the rest of the shows on the BBC iPlayer here.

If you're outside the UK, I'm afraid the iPlayer doesn't work for you, and it would be quite wrong for someone to have put the programmes up on You Tube, so you certainly can't watch them there either.  

'Good place for a rummage'

August 21 2018

Video: BBC

Here's a clip from the second episode of Britain's Lost Masterpieces, which airs on Wednesday, 9pm on BBC4. Emma Dabiri and I are in Manchester, looking into a painting which I think is by Zoffany.

In case you missed the first programme, on Rembrandt, it's here

Don't move Emmeline!

August 20 2018

Video: UK Parliament

There's a very strange proposal to move a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst from beside Parliament. Something called the Emmeline Pankhurst Trust has lodged a planning appeal with Westminster Council to be allowed to move the statue to Regent's University in Regent's Park in London. This would be a travesty to the memory of Pankhurst and the struggle for women's suffrage, and I cannot quite believe the idea has been taken seriously by Westminster Councel even for one second.

The statue was erected beside Parliament in 1930, and unveiled by the then Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin. In the video above, made last year, the art curator of the Houses Parliament, Melanie Unwin, reveals that this is not the first time people have had to fend off attempts to move the statue away from Parliament. A key part of the statue's meaning and purpose is that it is beside Parliament, as the people who originally erected it demanded - and there it must stay.

You can read more about the proposals here on the blog of Elizabeth Crawford and through her site you can also lodge a protest with Westminster Council. 

Oxford Art Journal prize

August 20 2018

Image of Oxford Art Journal prize

Picture: Oxford Art Journal

Entries are open for this year's Oxford Art Journal essay prize. It's for those who are early on in the art historical careers, and needs to be between 6,000 and 10,000 words. The prize is prestige, and £500 of OUP books. More here

Art history jewels

August 20 2018

Image of Art history jewels

Picture: via Two Nerdy History Girls

Here's an interesting blog post by Loretta Chase & Susan Holloway Scott, looking into the history of some famous pearl earrings worn by English Queens, including Henrietta Maria (below). They now belong to a private collector, having last been sold at Christie's in New York in 1979 for $253,000. 

Why museums should abolish image fees (ctd.)

August 20 2018

Image of Why museums should abolish image fees (ctd.)

Picture: BMT

I recently brought you the news that Birmingham Museums Trust was planning to abolish fees for most images of its collection. On Europeana, the Trust's Digital Development Manager, Linda Spurdle, sets out the reasons behind the move in clear logic that I hope other UK museums will study closely. She begins by saying that restrictive image licenses:

[...] deflected people who wanted to use BMT’s images in ways that would have increased the visibility and knowledge of our collection. Academics, in particular, felt like we were acting as gatekeepers, blocking the use of images in research and academic publications. It was also very difficult for us to enforce this licence as we don’t have the resources to pursue people who use images commercially without permission. [...]

BMT has much in common with other cultural institutions worldwide who have released their images into the public domain. We want to make our collection accessible to as many people as possible, and this includes extending the reach and use of its digital assets worldwide.

She then lists a number of reasons why Open Access is good for Birmingham Museums, but the first is quite interesting:

[it] meets legal requirements of the Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2015

The RPSI regulations might yet be our strongest tool for helping abolish museum image fees in the UK. They're quite complex, and little known about, but the essence of them is that they prevent publicly funded bodies from commercialising public assets. And of course images of publicly owned paintings are public assets. The rules do allow image fees to be charged, but only to cover the actual costs involved, and a very small 'profit'. There's little doubt that most UK museums who charge image fees are breaching these rules. Many museums don't even know about them. 

Study art history for free!

August 20 2018

Image of Study art history for free!

Picture: Art History Link-Up

The excellent Art History Link-Up has opened applications for state school students to study art history for free, in major museums. This is an excellent opportunity, and the deadline is 10th September. More here

'Fake or Fortune?' (ctd.)

August 20 2018

Video: BBC

There was another good episode of 'Fake or Fortune?' last night, looking into two sketchbooks said to be by the young Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (above). I thought the evidence was very strong, but sadly the programme's rather frustrating conclusion was that the Toulouse-Lautrec 'committee' was not able to give an opinion in the time available. I suspect the committee didn't want to be seen changing its mind so easily on television, since they had once rejected the attribution on not entirely satisfactory grounds. This follows on from last week's show - one of the best yet - where the authority on William Nicholson refused to budge in her opinion that a work once sold as genuine for £165k was an imitation. But it all makes for good telly.

Next week's show is on Henry Moore, and the Gurlitt collection, should be good! Clips here

NPG acquires Dylan Thomas portrait

August 20 2018

Image of NPG acquires Dylan Thomas portrait

Picture: NPG

The National Portrait Gallery in London has bought Augustus John's portrait of the poet Dylan Thomas. The portrait had been on loan at the NPG for many years. More here.

To hear Richard Burton reading Under Milk Wood - surely the best recording of a poem in modern times - click here. "To begin at the beginning..."

How to find Open Access works online

August 15 2018

Image of How to find Open Access works online

Picture: Europeana

There's an interesting article by L. Kelly Fitzpatrick on Medium showing how easy it is now to find images of artworks that are Open Access; that is, available to use without a fee, however you like. She looks at three collections in the US, and also Europeana, the fantastic resource of European artworks which now has links to over 50 million images online, over half of which are Open Access. 

Sadly, British institutions are nowhere to be seen. There is a way to search for Open Access artworks on ArtUK, but sadly not a single artwork has been listed as such on the site. The UK government makes great claims about digital culture, but at the moment, we're lagging far behind everyone else.

'Fleming at 50'

August 15 2018

Image of 'Fleming at 50'

Picture: Fleming Wyfold Foundation

We went last night to the opening of a new exhibition at the Edinburgh Fine Art Society, celebrating 50 years of the Fleming Collection. The collection, focused on Scottish art of all periods, was begun in the 1960s by Flemings bank. The exhibition is part of the Edinburgh Art Festival, and includes well known works such as John Watson Nicol's Lochaber No More (above), about the Highland Clearances. Until 3rd September. More here.  

'Britain's Lost Masterpieces' (ctd.)

August 15 2018

Video: BBC

The third series of Britain's Lost Masterpieces begins tonight on BBC4 at 9pm. Above is a clip; we're looking at a possible Rembrandt in this one. Hope you can tune in!

More here

'Anatomy of an Artwork'

August 15 2018

Video: Sotheby's

Sotheby's has a new series of videos called 'Anatomy of an Artwork'. Here, they look at Van Gogh's famous 'Bedroom'.

Finding Michaelina

August 15 2018

Image of Finding Michaelina

Picture: KHM, via Apollo

Here's a fascinating article in Apollo from the art historian Katlijne Van der Stighelen on her research into Michaelina Wautiers, the mid-17th Century Flemish artist, who is the star of a major exhibition now on in Antwerp:

I discovered Michaelina Wautier back in 1993, when attending a symposium at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. I’d wanted to view a portrait attributed to Van Dyck that was in storage. A curator led me down long corridors in which ‘second class’ Flemish paintings were stored. As I was leaving the stores, my eye fell upon a monumental piece I wasn’t familiar with. Looking closer, I saw that it was an enormous Triumph of Bacchus [above], executed in a style I didn’t immediately associate with the 17th-century Antwerp School. I learned that the work had been recorded in 1659 in an inventory commissioned by the Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, of paintings he had acquired in Brussels, where Wautier lived. The curator noted that it had been painted by a woman: ‘Jungfrau Magdalena Wautier’. While the Triumph of Bacchus is Wautier’s greatest work, it is by no means her only one. Very soon a small body of work had been assembled – the 15 fully signed paintings that had survived served as the basis for attributing 10 more works to her.

It's all very well art historians like me claiming to make the occasional discovery of a painting. But to discover an actual artist, forgotten about for centuries, is a major undertaking, and an extraordinary contribution to art history. AHN hereby adds Prof. Katlijne Van der Stighelen to the list of 'heroes of art history'! 

Katlijne's exhibition is on until 2nd September.

Uffizi sculptures in 3D

August 15 2018

Image of Uffizi sculptures in 3D

Picture: Uffizi

This is cool - a joint project between Indiana University and the Uffizi gallery has 3D scanned the latter's famed collection of classical sculptures. Whizz around antiquity in high definition here

Sharp visitor decline in London galleries.

August 10 2018

Image of Sharp visitor decline in London galleries.

Picture: The Times

There's been a rather worrying decline in visitor numbers at some of London's leading art galleries. The Times reports that directors are holding 'crisis meetings'. The significant drops are at Tate Modern, the National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery.

An immediate thought might be that the drop has something to do with Brexit and foreign travel. But in fact it appears the decline is linked to Londoners and people who live in the South East, particularly younger audiences. The Times article searches for various causes, but the fact is that nobody really seems to know. 

Overall, the numbers are not encouraging for art lovers. The one institutions to break the trend is the V&A, which has seen a consistent rise, and a sharp increase of late. There was an interesting piece in The Guardian recently attributing part of the rise not only to a strong exhibition programme, but also a new entrance, which the V&A's director Tristram Hunt described as 'frankly less scary'. People always under-estimate 'threshold resistance' in museums, so well done the V&A for tackling it - it's a museum which is a pleasure to enter.

But what of the rest? Here, for what it is worth, is my diagnosis. This is a decline which, if it is because local and younger audiences are turning away, has been a long time coming. Institutions like the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery are now paying the price for disregarding a key part of their core mission; that is, telling the story of the nation's art and its portraits in a readily accessible way. For too long they've chased the tourist pound on their doorstep (not surprisingly, given their locations), but they have neglected the need to reach out to new and younger audiences.

This is most evident in two areas. First, the most basic one; opening times. Regular readers will know that AHN has long argued for opening times that better suit busy working locals, and that means later opening hours, not just on one day a week. The Prado is open till 8pm Monday to Saturdays. 

The second is their online presence, and an antiquated approach to things like images, story-telling, and engaging with those who can help to share their message online. One of the worst offenders - I regret to say, because I love the place - is the National Portrait Gallery.

Have a look at their YouTube page, and you will find very few videos, none of great interest. They've been watched by very few people. It's really quite embarrassing. Maybe the new Michael Jackson exhibition will transform the way the gallery is seen by younger audiences. But somehow I doubt it; it's an old person's idea of a young person's show. The decline at the NPG's visitor numbers represents a consistent fall to about half its levels of a few years ago. That's not good.

What I think is interesting about the V&A's success is the way they are quite good at exploiting the diversity of their collection, and using individual objects as ambassadors in their mission. It helps that of all the UK's national museums, the V&A is the most generous at providing higher resolution images online, and with entries that are well-catalogued too. With the V&A you get the sense that they are keen to glory in all the fascinating stories that their collection has to offer. With the NPG, it doesn't feel like that, which is a shame, because with portraiture the story-telling opportunities are always so rich; you get the story of the sitter, of the artist, and the wider historical moment the poirtrait was made. Portraits are story-telling machines, in the way that (say) still-lifes are not. 

One gets a similar sense at Tate Britain, which in terms of visitor numbers continues to bump along the bottom. But there, a wholesale change in emphasis is needed if they're to hope to make the likes of Hogarth and Gainsborough more appealing to new audiences. Will the leadership at Tate ever allow 'historical' British art to emerge from the shadows?

The good news is that at the National Gallery, they're now doing a much better job with their online offering, such as their Facebook live talks, and videos on everything from framing to conservation.

Underneath the whitewash

August 10 2018

Here in Scotland, work has begun to reveal a huge 18th Century decorative scheme in an Edinburgh church, which was covered up as 'idolatrous' in the 19th Century. The paintings were made by Alexander Runciman in 1774 in an Episcopalian church just off the Royal Mile. But when the church changed hands, and became a United Presbyterian church, the depiction of the Ascension was painted over, with the new congregation frowning on such things. Now, however, the church is a Catholic church, and when the Scottish art historian Duncan MacMillan figured out that Runciman's paintings might still be there, tests were carried out to see what remained. And these have been deemed so encouraging that the plan is to try and uncover the whole scheme. More here and here

Meanwhile, in a Glasgow nightclub, some early 2001 works by no less than Banksy are also being uncovered, after they were painted over by accident in 2007. More here

At times like this, we must give thanks that the whitewash ordered by Clement VII for the Sistine Chapel was lost in a freak road accident on the Appenine Way in 1534.

Update - I made the last bit up. 

Peter Ustinov on connoisseurship

August 7 2018

Video: ITV

At 6.30 in the above video is a tale by Peter Ustinov - one of history's greatest raconteurs - about an art historian discovering two previously unknown paintings by Pieter de Hooch.

In my experience, attitudes amongst the British upper classes to questions of attribution haven't changed much.

'Tate Shots: Maggi Hambling'

August 7 2018

Video: Tate

I do like Maggi Hambling, above is a short interview with her by Tate, focusing on her portraiture.

New 'Fake or Fortune?'

August 7 2018

Video: BBC

The new series of BBC1's "Fake or Fortune?" starts this Sunday, 12th August at 9pm. The first painting to be investigated is a work bought for £165,000 as a William Nicholson still life, but which was excluded from the most recent Nicholson catalogue raisonné. Is it a fake? There will be four more programmes in the series, looking at works connected to Giacometti, Henry Moore and Toulous Lautrec. 

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