Previous Posts: June 2018


June 27 2018

Sorry for the lack of news lately. I've been preparing for my course on connoisseurship at the Royal Academy. It's sold out, but we'll be running it again in December in case you're interested. Details here

Van Eyck's lost lamb

June 19 2018

Image of Van Eyck's lost lamb

Picture: via Codart

Restorers working on Jan Van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece have removed a layer of 16th Century overpaint which was covering the artist's original lamb (now seen above right). More here on Codart.

Meanwhile, the author of a new book claims that the missing panel, stolen in 1934, is buried somewhere in the city, but he's not saying exactly where. He's based his claim on a letter allegedly written by someone involved in the theft, which contains riddles and mysterious words. According to The Guardian, authorities in Ghent are taking the claim seriously. Although if there was any truth in the claim, why publish the book now? Why not wait until after the panel has been dug it up, and gloriously claim to have solved the mystery?  

Italian Museums (ctd.)

June 19 2018

There's an interesting editorial in The Burlington Magazine on the future of Italian museums, now that the reforming culture minister, Dario Franceschini, has lost his post, after the recent Italian elections. The Burlington rightly approves of his decision to end the tradition of having exclusively Italian-born museum directors, but also hopes that his most significant reform - on museum financing - will survive:

The most fundamental reform, however, has not been controversial – giving museums and galleries control over their own finances. Previously, all income received by a national museum, whether from entrance fees or revenue from merchandise, for example, was passed back to the state, which then redistributed it at the discretion of the ministry. Although this provided a welcome source of income for small or little-visited museums, it was a major disincentive for large institutions to attempt to build revenue by improving their attractiveness to visitors with facilities such as shops and cafés. More seriously, the system made it virtually impossible for them to raise funds from outside sources, since benefactors could usually not specify where or how their donations would be spent.

The Burlington highlights how the new possibility of raising funds from supporters is helping the Bargello Museum in Florence (above), which has long suffered from an inability to go out and compete for funds and attention. A new Friends of the Bargello organisation is helping change all that. Of course, AHN joins The Burlington in praising Dario Franceschini's achievements, and hopes that his changes continue to bring positive benefits to Italy's wonderful museums!

Young Curators at the Wallace Collection

June 19 2018

Video: The Wallace Collection

Here are some broadcasting and curatorial stars of the future, guiding us around the Wallace Collection. Let's see more museums doing this kind of thing.

'Sir Richard Wallace - The Collector'

June 19 2018

Video: The Wallace Collection

Here's an exhibition you really ought to see - a show dedicated to one of the most energetic collectors in art history, Sir Richard Wallace, creator of the eponymous Wallace Collection in London's Manchester Square. The show opens on Wednesday, 20th June, and runs until 6th January 2019. It doesn't just focus on what you might normally expect from the Wallace Collection - say, French 18th Century art - but objects like a gold trophy head from Ghana. More here.

I'm interested in what the Director of the Wallace Collection, Xavier Bray, says in the above video about the generosity of Sir Richard Wallace's collecting ethos. While he was alive he lent his entire collection to an exhibition at Bethnal Green Museum for two years, which was visited by 5 million people. Of course, because of the restrictions put on the Wallace Bequest by Sir Richard's wife, Lady Wallace, no works have ever left Manchester Square on loan. Personally, I think it's time to look again at that apparent restriction (which is not in fact as emphatic as is usually suggested), so that the treasures of the Wallace Collection can be shared around the country - and even the world - just as Sir Richard himself undoubtedly intended.

Update - the show gets five stars in The Guardian.

Beyoncé does the Old Masters

June 18 2018

Video: via You Tube

Beyoncé has made a video in the Louvre. Just the sort of thing to get new audiences interested in Old Masters. Well done the Louvre.

Art world gender pay gap

June 18 2018

Image of Art world gender pay gap

Picture: Tate

There are some fairly eyebrow raising statistics in this Art Newspaper report on gender pay gaps in the art world in Britain. The focus was on auction houses:

Bonhams is the worst offender with a 36.7% pay gap, Christie’s pays women 25% less than male colleagues and the difference at Sotheby’s stands at 22.2%. These figures are based on median hourly earnings and include part-time workers (of which more are female). The median pay gap among the more than 10,000 companies that submitted figures is 9.7%.

But there were some discrepancies in the museum world too:

The Victoria and Albert Museum pays women 7.2% less, while the Royal Academy of Arts has a pay gap of just 1%. Meanwhile, at the British Museum, women out earn men by 4% and at Tate Gallery women are paid 2.4% more than their male counterparts, with 70% of its highest earners being women.

Bravo Tate!

Image Licences on ArtUK

June 18 2018

Video: ArtUK

The ArtUK website has made a short video about the various types of image licenses you can find on the site. There are a bewildering array, but burrow deeply enough and you can find some institutions that have signed up for fairly liberal types of Creative Commons licenses, which allow you to use images for free in many circumstances. ArtUK has a search facility which allows you to find works by the type of licence on offer. Remember, something having a 'Creative Commons' license may sound as if it belongs to 'the commons' (ie, all of us) but usually it doesn't. Tate, for example, make much of their Creative Commons licenses, but actually they're highly restrictive, and have been re-written by Tate to make them even more so (against the rules of Creative Commons itself).

Anyway, while I'm glad that ArtUK have made this filtering system available, it is nonetheless a rather depressing reflection of the unnecessary limitations these licenses place on us (to say nothing of the possibility of copyfraud, given the legal uncertainty about copyright in artworks which are themselves out of copyright). In the video, ArtUK invites users to search for the right licenses for 'presentations' and 'academic papers'. But  the mere fact that we even need a 'license' for such images is a sad reflection on how image licensing acts as a brake on art history. Remember, these are (almost always) publicly owned artworks.

Still, I think ArtUK is our best chance of making images of the UK's art collection more widely available to scholars and educators. For that reason, I and my campaigning colleagues are working on persuading institutions to makr their images as 'Public Domain', or the most generous Creative Commons licences on ArtUK. Watch this space.

The next step is to persuade ArtUK itself to make high resolution images available for institutions that have agreed to make their images available for free re-use. At the moment, ArtUK only allows you to download high-res images if you buy a license through their shop. The low-res images available on the main site are not usually good enough for publication, even online. But there is no option to download high-res images from institutions that have gone 'open'. I have done my best to persuade ArtUK to rethink this, and have even offered financial support if necessary (as a longstanding supporter of theirs).

That said, many of us are very concerned that ArtUK - whose founding raison d'etre as Fred Hohler's Public Catalogue Foundation was to make images of public art available to the public - has now joined the image selling business. The ArtUK licensing shop is, unfortunately, helping museums perpetuate the practice of monetising their artworks by offering a more 'efficient' way of making money from images. My campaigning colleagues are finding it is actually one of our greatest competitors, when we discuss open access with institutions. When we're making the case for institutions to stop selling images, it's always helpful to our cause when we point out that it's actually a very inefficient way of raising revenue, because you need to employ people to answer all the different enquiries that come in, and help determine who deserves a discount and so on. But selling licenses through ArtUK is attractive to some institutions, because ArtUK is a charity, and a much more palatable partner than, say, Bridgeman, which is a commercial company.

Let there be no doubt, if more and more British institutions sign up to ArtUK's image licensing system, then academic and education art historical publishing will become even more difficult and more expensive. Gone will be the flexibility of academics being able to make their case to museums directly for a free image, because instead you'll just be dealing with an algorithm. I just looked up what an image fee would be through ArtUK for an academic publication, of just 500 copies, and for an inside image; £78. That's expensive. It's the same for whichever institution you select.  

Sleeper alert

June 18 2018

Image of Sleeper alert

Picture: Drouot

A pastel at auction in Paris estimated at €800-€1200 and described as 'French School' has made €239,400. It turns out to be a self-portrait by Charles-Antoine Coypel. More here on La Tribune de l'Art.

Glasgow School of Art

June 18 2018

Video: ITV

Terrible news here in Scotland that the Glasgow School of Art has been destroyed by fire. Charles Rennie Mackintosh's famous building was ravaged by fire four years ago, with about half the building then lost. A renovation was nearly complete. Now, however, the whole building has been burnt, and it's unlikely that much original fabric has survived. Quite how such a disaster could have been allowed to happen, given the recent history, is quite schocking, to say nothing of the millions that had been spent restoring the site (and, one presumes, fitting adequate fire prevention measures). The fire was reported at 11.15pm but by the time fire crews were on site at 11.20pm half the building was ablaze. 

'Perspectives' (ctd.)

June 18 2018

Image of 'Perspectives' (ctd.)

Picture: BG

I wrote a while ago (in one of my occasional nothing-to-do-with-art-history posts) about one aspect of America's struggles to come to terms with its slave-owning past; Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home in Virginia. Now, the foundation that runs Monticello has opened a new part of the estate to visitors, the place where Jefferson's slave mistress, Sally Hemmings, lived with their children. In Salon, Lucian K. Truscott (one of Jefferson's descendants, by his wife) writes movingly about the development, and what it means to his family to now have his mixed race cousins accepted as part of Monticello's official history:

Today at Monticello, the descendants of Jefferson’s slaves will have their history formally recognized when a space where slaves lived will be opened to the public. The quarters that were occupied by Sally Hemings will be accessible, much as Jefferson’s bedroom has been open to the public all of these years. The space was used for many years as a public restroom until archaeologists and historians at Monticello discovered that it had been the place where Sally Hemings had raised the children she had with Thomas Jefferson.


In conjunction with the opening of the Hemings quarters, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which owns and operates Monticello, has issued a definitive affirmation that Thomas Jefferson fathered all six of Sally Hemings’ children. They are removing qualifiers such as “most likely” from the foundation’s previous position on Jefferson’s paternity in favor of evidence including Hemings’ family oral history, a DNA study carried out in 1998, a written history of Hemings’ and Jefferson’s son Madison published in an Ohio newspaper in 1873, and evidence taken from Jefferson’s own writings in his “Farm Book” confirming that he was present at Monticello each time Sally conceived. 

Truscott also discusses the fact that many other white Jefferson descendants (who are part of something called the Monticello Association) still refuse to allow Jeffersons black descendants from Sally Hemings to be members, and to be buried at Monticello:

In 1998, during an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show with my Hemings cousins, I invited them to be my guests at the family reunion at Monticello. In May of 1999, about 50 of them joined me and attended all of the family events, including a service at Jefferson’s grave. Many white Jefferson descendants are buried there, including my brother and my parents, great grandparents, and great aunts and uncles. One day, I will be buried there alongside the rest of my family.

One of the things my Hemings cousins and I were seeking in attending the family reunions in 1999 and over the next several years was the right to be buried at Monticello in the graveyard, should any of the Hemings family express that desire. This became a key issue for the Monticello Association, and finally, in 2002, they took a vote on formally admitting our Hemings cousins into the family. They voted 95 to 6 against the Hemings.

People usually think and write about 'history' as if it is one, definable thing. But it is in fact two things; what actually happened, and what we think happened. The gap between the two is called injustice.

Lorenzo Lotto at the Prado

June 18 2018

Video: Prado

There's what looks to be a fantastic new exhibition on Lorenzo Lotto's portraits at the Prado in Madrid. It opens tomorrow, on 19th June, till 30th September, then travels to London's National Gallery, where it opens on 5th November. What an underrated artist he is. More here

London Old Master sales

June 11 2018

Image of London Old Master sales

Picture: Sotheby's

The catalogues for the London July Old Master sales are now online. Christie's Evening sale here, Day here; Sotheby's Evening here, Day here; and Bonhams here. Sotheby's drawing sale is here, and Christie's here.

I'll write more about some of the highlights in due course. My choice above is Turner's Lake Lucerne from Brunnen, at Sotheby's for £1.2m-£1.8m.

incidentally, the most recent Old Master sale at Sotheby's in New York was quite the success, bringing in $9.8m against an estimate of $5.4m-$7.9m. As The Art Market Monitor asked, 'what happened?' More here

Update - and of course not forgetting sculpture. Here at Christie's, and here at Sotheby's.

Restitution News (ctd.)

June 11 2018

Video: Sotheby's

Sotheby's have made a rather touching video about the recent restitution of a painting by Ochtervelt, which was looted by the Nazis during WW2, and found in 2017 in the collection of the City of London. The picture will feature in Sotheby's London Old Master sale on 4th July.


Heni Talks on... Hogart

June 7 2018

Caro Howell - William Hogarth and the Foundling Hospital from HENI Talks on Vimeo.

Video: Heni Talks

Some of Heni's 'Art Talks' are really excellent, and show UK museums how these things should be done. A new one on William Hogarth (above) is well worth a click. It's presented by Caro Howell, Director of the Foundling Museum

Update - naturally, a thicket of 'image rights' mean that I can't embed the video on AHN (because God forbid, some museum might lose control of its image). But click on the link in the box above and you can still watch the video.

Brunelleschi castle for sale

June 6 2018

Video: Lionard

A Tuscan castle said to have been designed by Filippo Brunelleschi is for sale in Italy, if you fancy an art history themed holiday home. It's 'price on application', so don't get your hopes up.

More here

Eyes down... for an empty house

June 6 2018

Image of Eyes down... for an empty house

Picture: via You Tube

A quick plea to all my fellow art historians; when giving a paper at a conference, it's generally not a good idea to read out a prepared text. Not only does it inhibit your normal way of communicating - because unless you're an actor, reading dulls the voice - it also makes it very difficult get across your message. That's because when we listen to someone speaking, we're far less able to absorb the kinds of details and nuance we might pick up when we're reading. I know standing up in front of a room full of people can be daunting, and for many of us (I've even in the past done it myself) having the security of a script helps us get through the ordeal. But it's actually far easier just to talk generally about a few broad points. And your audience will thank you for it. 

Update - with perfect timing, the Arts Society is offering a fully funded five day course on how to give a good lecture:

When: Sunday 12th August – Thursday 16th August 2018

What’s covered: confident​ speaking training, presentation skills training including information on software and sourcing and using illustrative images, learning how to talk about art, accommodation, all meals, transport to all venues, ongoing opportunities to lecture with The Arts Society following completion of the course. Participants will just be asked to cover their travel costs to and from Birmingham.

Sign up here!

Update II - if you do feel the need to read from a script, a reader offers this sound advice:

Academics are terrified of losing their place in a text, so layout skills are essential.

One v useful trick is to print up the talk with a paragraph ending at the close of each sentence, and learn to look up every time. Then look back down at the start of next line.

Most academic sentences are anyway too long and complex for oral delivery, so another trick is divide them into parts, breaking at each conjunction, and looking up again.

Third: read text aloud – really loud – to oneself and listen for moments when the prose stumbles.

Burlington makeover

June 6 2018

Image of Burlington makeover

Picture: The Burlington Magazine

Michael Hall, the new editor of The Burlington Magazine, continues to shake things up a bit. Above is a preview of their new cover and logo. I like it. I especially like the full-bleed photo, and the eye-catching sub-heading, 'Did Caravaggio make copies?' That's far better than the dry and sometimes rather dull sounding titles were used to in art history. 

'Aftermath' at Tate Britain

June 5 2018

Video: Tate

This looks like a must-see show - 'Aftermath: Art in the Wake of World War One' at Tate Britain. Says the Tate site:

Marking the 100 years since the end of World War One, Aftermath: Art in the Wake of World War One looks at how artists responded to the physical and psychological scars left on Europe.

Art was used in many ways in the tumultuous period after the end of the war, from documenting its destructive impact, to the building of public memorials and as a social critique.

This fascinating and moving exhibition shows how artists reacted to memories of war in many ways. George Grosz and Otto Dix exposed the unequal treatment of disabled veterans in post-war society, Hannah Höch and André Masson were instrumental in the birth of new art forms dada and surrealism, Pablo Picasso and Winifred Knights returned to tradition and classicism, whilst others including Fernand Léger and C.R.W Nevinson produced visions of the city of the future as society began to rebuild itself.

The show runs from 5th June until 23rd September. What an excellent trailer Tate has made, above. 

'The RA - a Chronicle'

June 5 2018

Video: Paul Mellon Centre

It's non-stop coverage of the Royal Academy at the moment, which is celebrating its 250th anniversary. At the beginning of the year we had the stupendous Charles I show. Last month we had the triumphant opening of their new buildings in Burlington Gardens (I went to see the new display of works from the RA collection and mighty fine it is too.) And this week the annual Summer Exhibition opens, curated - if that's the right word - by Grayson Perry. In case you missed it there was a documentary on the BBC all about the RA's history and how it operates today, available here. It's all a fine reflection on the energetic leadership of the RA's team, including the Chief Executive, Charles Saumarez Smith. In his more then ten years at the RA, Charles has transformed an organisation that was in danger of not only losing its way, but losing all relevance. In The Sunday Times last week, Richard Brooks said it was high time Charles was given a knighthood. AHN agrees!

Anyway, the point of this post is to make you aware of the latest exciting RA development; a new website charting the history of the Summer Exhibition. It has been put together by the Paul Mellon Centre in London. Chronicle 250 is a comprehensive database of of every exhibition held since 1769, with scans of the catalogues, and essays by art historians. It's well worth a look, and for many researchers will be indispensable.

It's also a great demonstration of the possibilities offered by digital art history. Not so long ago, this kind of overview of the RA summer show would have been a book, which would necessariliy have been limited in what it could contain (certainly no scans of all 250 years of catalogues) and stuck in stone, so to speak, once it was published. The new site can be constantly updated, a living work of scholarship.

Of course, digital art history has its limitations too. I'm told that the Paul Mellon Centre's bill for image fees was eye watering. Because their image licensing model is based on 20th Century realities (ie, book publishing) most insitutions view online publications as either cash cows, or something which must be 'controlled', usually by the imposition of licenses that limit the number of years an image can be used online. This is because in the old days, insitutions could issue licenses based on print runs. But in the online age, if something is online, it's reach is limitless. So they impose time restrictions instead. It's all very pointless. And it's really only because a few charities like the PMC have deep pockets that projects like the RA Chronicle are able to happen. Imagine how much richer digital art history would be if image fees weren't the barrier to scholarship that they have become. 

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