Previous Posts: January 2018

Mallett sold for £100,000

January 31 2018

Image of Mallett sold for £100,000

Picture: ATG

The 200 year old British antique firm Mallett has been sold for just £100,000. Just three years ago it was bought by the Stanley Gibbons group for £8.6m. It's an astonishing decline for a firm that was once the leading name in British antique furniture, with prestigious premises on London's Bond Street (above), as well as in New York. The new owners are the regional UK auctioneering group, Dreweatts, which in turn was recently bought by the art valuation firm Gurr Johns. They will use the brand for the private selling arm. More here.

Stop reading, start looking (ctd.)

January 31 2018

My Art Newspaper diary piece on the lack of connoisseurial skils among some art history students has been picked up by The Telegraph, with some additional comments by Luke Uglow, of Manchester University/ Luke runs one of only two art history undergraduate courses in the UK with a dedicated focus on connoisseurship:

Mr Uglow warned that whilst art history in universities is an academic pursuit, making it inevitable that students will spend much of their time reading scholarly material, it was vital that students spend time “just looking, and to take pleasure in looking.”

Mr Uglow said the course at Manchester is dedicated to connoisseurship, something he says  as become largely extinct in university departments since the 1980s.

“For me, connoisseurship is the detailed analysis of style and technique with the aim of identifying authorship,” said Mr Uglow.

“For many other art historians, it’s about exercising taste and elitist snobbery, it’s corrupted by market forces and has a distasteful focus on monetary value, it’s pedantic and snide, deeply patriarchal, and terribly old fashioned. But I would say this has more to do with connoisseurs then connoisseurship.”


Guercino discovery in the UK

January 31 2018

Image of Guercino discovery in the UK

Picture: Cheffins

A previously unknown depiction of an Italian Mastiff has been attributed to Guercino, after it was discovered by a regional UK auction house. Colin Gleadell in The Telegraph reports:

The owners, whose forbears made the Grand Tour of Italy in 1850, were completely unaware who the painting was by until a routine valuation visit by Cheffins auctioneers from Cambridge started an investigative ball rolling.

Cheffins called in their Old Master paintings consultant, John Somerville, a former specialist at Sotheby’s, who recognised the painting as ‘Bolognese School’ Baroque, but needed corroboration for an attribution to Guercino as only one dog portrait by the artist is known.

That painting, a brindle mastiff with the Aldrovandi family coat of arms on its collar, was sold in 1972 for the then princely sum of £110,000  to the Norton Simon Museum in America where it hangs today. The Cheffins painting is of a bull mastiff, or, more correctly in Italian, a Cane Corso.

The picture will be offered on 7th March, with an estimate of £80k-£120k.

Cleaning Rembrandt, in public

January 31 2018

Image of Cleaning Rembrandt, in public

Picture: MFA Boston

Visitors to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston next month will be able to see a pair of Rembrandt portraits being cleaned. Says the MFA:

Throughout the month of February, visitors at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), are able to witness firsthand the restoration of two portraits by Rembrandt van Rijn in the “Conservation in Action” gallery. The treatment of Portrait of a Woman with a Gold Chain (1634) is supported by a grant from The European Fine Art Foundation (TEFAF), and the MFA has also committed to restoring its companion piece, Portrait of a Man Wearing a Black Hat (1634). The works were the first paintings by the Dutch Golden Age master to enter a Boston museum’s collection when they were donated to the MFA in 1893.

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to conserve these seminal paintings by Rembrandt, which normally have an important presence in our galleries,” said Ronni Baer, William and Ann Elfers Senior Curator of Paintings, Art of Europe. “Our hope is to gain a deeper understanding of these works, which were painted during an interesting, transitional and intense time in the artist’s career.”

More here.

Censorship, or good taste?

January 31 2018

Image of Censorship, or good taste?

Picture: Manchester City Art Gallery

In the UK, Manchester City Art Gallery has removed a painting from display by J W Waterhouse, Hylas and the Nymphs, to 'prompt a conversation' about its appropriateness, given the seemingly young age of the nymphs. They've even taken postcards of the picture out of the gallery shop. The Guardian reports:

Clare Gannaway, the gallery’s curator of contemporary art, said the aim of the removal was to provoke debate, not to censor. “It wasn’t about denying the existence of particular artworks.”

The work usually hangs in a room titled In Pursuit of Beauty, which contains late 19th century paintings showing lots of female flesh.

Gannaway said the title was a bad one, as it was male artists pursuing women’s bodies, and paintings that presented the female body as a passive decorative art form or a femme fatale.

“For me personally, there is a sense of embarrassment that we haven’t dealt with it sooner. Our attention has been elsewhere ... we’ve collectively forgotten to look at this space and think about it properly. We want to do something about it now because we have forgotten about it for so long.”

I'm all for prompting conversations about art. But where possible, we should have the conversation in front of the art itself.

The Guardian's art critic Jonathan Jones is unimpressed:

Creativity has never been morally pure. Not so long ago, in the 90s, art was deliberately shocking and some were duly shocked to visit galleries and be shown Myra Hindley, unmade beds and toy Nazis. Now the tables have turned, and it’s cool to be appalled by – in this case – art made over a century ago. I can’t pretend to respect such authoritarianism. It is the just the spectre of an oppressive past wearing new clothes – and if we fall for the disguise we sign away every liberal value.

Christie's NY Old Master drawings

January 31 2018

Image of Christie's NY Old Master drawings

Picture: Christie's

The top lot in Christie's New York Old Master drawings sale was a watercolour by Turner, Lake Lucerne from Brennan, which made $.109m (inc premium). A lot which exceeded its estimate dramatically was Jupiter handing a newborn boy to Diana by Perino del Vaga, a pupil of Raphael; this made $708,000 against an estimate of $150k-$200k. The sale totaled $3.9m.

'Charles I - King and Collector' (ctd.)

January 26 2018

Audio: TAN

Here's my podcast with The Art Newspaper, discussing the new exhibition at the Royal Academy. 

'Charles I - King and Collector'

January 26 2018

Image of 'Charles I - King and Collector'

Pictures: BG

I enjoyed the new Royal Academy exhibition, 'Charles I - King and Collector', so much that I had to blag a press pass and go again the next day. As the private view ended, the security staff had to almost physically push me out. I would have been the last to leave, but Anne Webber, of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe, bagged that honour. 

As I said below, I was ambushed by a BBC film crew in the last room of the exhibition, and asked for my reaction to the show; 'one of the greatest feats of curation of modern times; it'll be a blockbuster', I said. And it's true. You can read glowing reviews almost everywhere. 

This isn't a review, more a series of thoughts. I'll be writing in more detail about the exhibition in The Art Newspaper next month, and I've also recorded a podcast for them on the exhibition. That'll be out soon. 

First off, the exhibition is magnificently paced and presented. Each room is filled with just enough masterpieces; it's not too busy, and even with the usual crowds, it shouldn't feel too difficult to get a good look at everything. The curators have gone for a less is more approach. I'm probably not making much sense in saying that, given the sheer number of wonders on display. But remember that what we see at the RA is only a fraction of what Charles I amassed. 

Anyone who knows the extent of the bartering that goes on between museums these days will know how difficult it is to pull off important loans. 'You can borrow my Titian, if I can borrow your Rubens', is how it usually goes. The RA, having only a limited collection of its own, is not in a strong position to do this. So in bringing together the works they have, the RA's Per Rumberg and the Royal Collection's Desmond Shawe-Taylor and have achieved something extraordinary.  

Then of course there are the works themselves. There are four Titians - including the Supper at Emmaus from the Louvre, and four giant Mortlake Tapestries based on designs by Raphael. The series of Mantegna paintings, the Triumph of Caesar look as good here as they ever have done. There are too many wonders to list here. Not one is a disappointment. (Well, perhaps the newly cleaned Guido Reni & Studio Toilet of Venus from the National Gallery, but only because it is hung beside so many great Gentileschis).

But as a Van Dyck obsessive, I'm pleased to report that he steals the show. In the first room, we are faced immediately by his Triple Portrait of Charles I. And there he is also represented by the well known but little seen Self-Portrait with a Sunflower, which hangs beside self-portraits by Rubens and Daniel Mytens. The latter two self-portraits were owned by Charles I (who also owned a self-portrait by Van Dyck) but the Sunflower self-portrait overshadows them both with its... well, its sheer pizazz.

There were instructions not to photograph the Sunflower self-portrait, but since it was once owned by my 5 times great grandfather, I gave myself a special exemption. I'll write more about this picture, and the self-portrait which Charles I owned, sometime soon.  

The Van Dyck quota gets even better in the following rooms. We not only see his full length portraits of Charles I and Henrietta Maria, and those of his children, as well as other members of the court. But here amassed for the first time are all four of Van Dyck's large-scale portraits of Charles; theRoyal Collection's Great Piece, the Equestrian Portrait from the National Gallery, the Equestrian Portrait with Monsieur de St Antoine from teh Royal Collection, and the Portrait of Charles Hunting from the Louvre. Hanging discretely in the corner is Van Dyck's portrait drawing of Charles. To stand in one place and be able to see all of these is about as good as being an art lover gets. At least for this one. 

And then in the final room we see one of my favourite Van Dycks, his Cupid and Pysche, as well as the NPG self-portrait and his portrait of his mistress, Margaret Lemon. Also here is his Itlian Sketchbook, on loan from the British Museum. Which is a slight bore for me, as I was wanting to film it soon. But that's enough about Van Dyck. 

Jonathan Jones in The Guardian has drawn some ire by suggesting that the exhibition should make us take a more revolutionary view of the Royal Collection itself, arguing that we should:

Nationalise the egregious monarchist folly that is the Royal Collection. Put these wonderful paintings and sculptures in our public galleries where anyone can see them for free, any time we like.

Now, ardent monarchist as I am, I have to say that I can see why Jones left the RA show thinking this. The 80 works from the Royal Collection look so good in the RA's almost unrivalled exhibition galleries, that it's hard to think of them going back to their less vaulted and less visited homes, in various royal palaces across the South East. Hopefully, a more balanced approach between the Royal Collection being a working collection in busy palaces, and something that can be more generously spread across the UK, can soon be struck.

So there's no doubt, then, that the RA show is a visual feast, of a kind rarely seen. I would have liked to have seen a little nod towards 'context'. Not necessarily of the wider historical scene in England in the 17th Century - there wouldn't be space to do that, in a way that might fully explain, say, whether Charles' devotion to art contributed to oubtreak of the Civil War. But in an exhibition so devoted to the personal taste and decisions of one man, I'd like to have seen an attempt to understand more about that man's motives. We see here what Charles collected, and how he collected it - but not why he collected it. (Personally, I think Charles was more driven by a rivalry with his late, older brother, Henry Prince of Wales, than many suspect. Henry showed every sign of being as astute a collector as Charles, but was physically stronger and cleverer than Charles too, and would doubtless have been a better ruler. Certainly, comparing Van Dyck's larger portraits of Charles with Robert Peake's portraits of Henry is revealing.)

It might have been enough to explore all these questions in the catalogue, but that alas is the only slightly weak part of the equation. Perhaps it's unfair (because the RA doesn't have depth of curatorial presence you get in most other big institutions) but a comparison can be made with the current Royal Collection exhibition on Charles II at the Queen's Gallery. For that show, a typically thorough catalogue uses the moment of assembling the exhibits to re-evaluate and re-assess them and their context. We don't get this in the RA catalogue, and instead have only a series of quite brief essays, some of which seem merely to be going through the motions. Still, a less than satisfying catalogue should only persuade us to spend more time in the actual exhibition itself. That's what the RA does best - it puts on great exhibitions. I can't wait to go again. 

Bill Jordan

January 25 2018

Image of Bill Jordan

Picture: Dallas News

I was very sad to hear of the death of Bill Jordan, the renowned scholar of Spanish 17th Century art. He was most recently an independent scholar, but his last post was as Deputy Director of the Kimbell Art Museum in Texas. I only met him once, but we communicated by email quite a bit - he was one of the most generous art historians I've encountered. And an astonishingly good connoisseur. One of his most important discoveries, a Velazquez of Philip III, he gave to the Prado Museum. There's an article on his life here, in The Dallas Morning News.

Non Merci, Jeff

January 25 2018

In the aftermath of the 2015 terrorist attacks, Jeff Koons donated a work, 'Bouquet of Tulips' to the city of Paris. But now a number of leading French cultural and political figures have said; 'non merci'. The signatories to an open letter in Liberation point out that generous Jeff only donated 'the idea' of the piece, and that the French state and donors will have to pay €3.5m to actually make and install the thing. More here from Naomi Rea on Artnet. 

Job Opportunity!

January 25 2018

Image of Job Opportunity!

Picture: Huw David Jones

The National Museum of Wales is looking for a new Director of Collections. Salary is unspecified, but:

The ability to speak Welsh is desirable.

More here. Closing date is 12th Feburary. 

'Great Art' on ITV

January 25 2018

Video: ITV

For a while now, a company called 'Exhibition on Screen' has been making feature length documentaries based on exhibitions such as the one on Canaletto at the Queen's Gallery in London. Now, these films have been edited down to a more manageable 45 minutes or so for ITV. Above is the one on Canaletto, and you can see others (on the Impressionists, and Michelangelo) here

Sotheby's moves into AI

January 25 2018

Video: Thread Genius

Sotheby's has bought an image recognition software company, called Thread Genius. The video above shows that the software allows you to search by images and parts of images. The press coverage about the acquisition focuses on how this will help clients, but I suspect at least as useful will be its connoisseurial abilities. Even a reverse Google Image search these days can be scarily effective. The days of Christie's and Sotheby's sending a junior specialist to delve through the Witt Library or the Frick archive, will soon be over.

'Rubens: Power of Transformation' at the Staedel

January 25 2018

Image of 'Rubens: Power of Transformation' at the Staedel

Picture: Staedel Museum

This'll be a good show: 'Rubens - The Power of Transformation' at the Staedel Museum in Frankfurt (8th February - 21st May) will comprise:

[...] about one hundred items—including thirty-one paintings and twenty-three drawings by the master—and explores a hitherto little-regarded aspect in his creative process. The presentation reveals how profound the dialogue was into which Rubens entered with his predecessors’ and contemporaries’ achievements and fathoms the scope of their impact on the five decades of his production.

More here

Michelangelo at the Met

January 25 2018

Video: Met Museum

The Met's exhibition of Michelangelo drawings has been getting rave reviews. But today the turtle himself showed up. More here

Art history toilets (ctd.)

January 25 2018

Video: Golden Throne

Remember the gold toilet artwork at the Guggenheim, which visitors could actually use? Now the museum has offered it on loan to the Trump White House. More here

Graham-Dixon on the contemporary art market

January 25 2018

Image of Graham-Dixon on the contemporary art market

Picture: Royal Collection

There was an excellent edition of the BBC radio show Start the Week with Andrew Graham-Dixon, in which he said many wise things about the more absurd end of the contemporary art market. He was also joined by Don Thompson, an economist who has researched about the financial aspect of the contemporary market. Well worth listening to. 

Art history trousers

January 25 2018

Image of Art history trousers

Picture: Yizzam

If you'd like some tight trousers printed with works by Henri de Toulouse Lautrec, then step this way.

'Moving Pictures' (ctd.)

January 25 2018

Audio: BBC

Cathy Fitzgerald's excellent BBC Radio series 'Moving Pictures' is back, and well worth listening too. Each programme looks in detail at a single picture. More here

Italian Museums (ctd.)

January 25 2018

Every time I read something from James Bradburne, the director of the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan, I am more in awe. Bradburne is essentially leading the charge to save Italian museums from themselves, and has just given a refreshingly candid interview to Richard Holledge in the FT. He says of his challenge at the Brera:

I am taking on the beast, a museum run as a department of a department of a Soviet-style state bureaucracy. [...]

In Italy people confuse an excellent collection with an excellent museum. Italy has superlative collections but very bad museums, while Cincinnati, Cleveland and Denver in the USA, for example, have far better museums than any in Italy but they don’t have such good collections. The Getty collection is second-rate — sorry if I offend my friends — but it’s a great museum. They do things with the collection that we are barely imagining.

And his new plan to get people to look at art for longer? Simple, a chair:

“If you want people to look longer and see more, you give them something to sit on because nobody learns standing up,” says Bradburne. “I have just ordered 150 portable stools for the Brera.”

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