Previous Posts: April 2019

Notre Dame de Paris

April 17 2019

Video: Guardian

You'll all have despaired at the terrible fire in Paris. While the restoration project ahead will be long and difficult, it seems we can be relieved that the damage was not worse. Thanks to an extraordinary feat of firefighting by the Paris Sapeurs-Pompiers, the structure of the building has survived. And pretty much the bulk of the interior and stained glass has survived too; the cathedral's stone vaulting prevented most of the burning roof from collapsing into the lower part of the building, and causing any further destruction. 

Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

April 17 2019

Image of Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

Picture: via TAN

The Sotheby's/Weiss/Fairlight trial has concluded in London's High Court, but, reports Vincent Noce in TAN, we'll need to wait till the summer to get judgement. It appears that over the two weeks, there wasn't the contest over the attribution that we might have hoped for. Rather, argument focused on the contracts between the various parties. Lawyers for Fairlight (the art dealing vehicle of the collector and financier David Kowitz, which owned 50% of the Hals painting) argued that since Sotheby's contract was only signed with Weiss, Fairlight should not be pursued for any monies by Sotheby's, even if Fairlight ultimately benefited from the $11.75m sale of the picture.

Fairlight is also being pursued by Weiss for half of his $4.2m settlement with Sotheby's. On the face of it, there seems to be a competing logic here; Weiss's lawyers would appear to be of the view that his settlement with Sotheby's covered 100% of the transaction - in other words, that the Sotheby's contract was only with Weiss, and not partly with Fairlight - hence them seeking a sum from Fairlight commensurate with the initial shareholding in the picture. But Sotheby's appear to take the view that their $4.2m settlement with Weiss only represents half the transaction - or at least, as much of that half as they thought they were likely to achieve -and that Kowitz is liable for the remainder.

Whatever one thinks of the picture, or the legal issues involved, would it not be extremely unfortunate if Mr Kowitz ended up having to pay both Sotheby's and Weiss to the extent that has been claimed in court?

'Diary of an Art Historian' (ctd.)

April 17 2019

Image of 'Diary of an Art Historian' (ctd.)

Picture: ArtFund

My latest 'diary' piece for The Art Newspaper has gone online, with tales from filming in Italy, and another look at the Art Fund's sad decision to disband its volunteers. 

The Toulouse Caravaggio

April 17 2019

Video: Labarbe

The catalogue for the auction in France of the 'Toulouse Caravaggio' has gone online. In the video above, the Caravaggio expert Nicola Spinosa tells us why the picture is indeed by Caravaggio. The auction is in 71 days time, says a countdown on the site. The presentation is impressive. Will it sell?

The picture will be in New York from 10th - 17th May at the Adam Williams gallery. 

Elizabethan Miniatures

April 17 2019

Secrets and symbols part 1 from National Portrait Gallery on Vimeo.

Video: National Portrait Gallery

It's all go for Elizabethan portrait miniatures at the moment; an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London (till 19th May), and a new biography of Nicholas Hilliard by Elizabeth Goldring. In Apollo, Christina Faraday examines their purpose and appeal:

Above all else, it was limning’s ability to capture a likeness directly and vividly that made it ‘the perfection of art’ for so many Elizabethans. This derived partly from the way in which a miniature was made. Unlike large-scale oil paintings, which were often painted over the course of several months from preparatory sketches or face-patterns, limnings were made almost entirely in the presence of the sitter. In his Treatise, Hilliard suggests ways to make the sitting as enjoyable and comfortable as possible: ‘sweet odours comfort the brain and open the understanding, augmenting the delight in limning, discreet talk or reading, quiet mirth or music offend not, but shorten the time, and quicken the spirit both in the drawer, and he which is drawn’. Hilliard does not explicitly say how many sittings were needed, but the later miniaturist Edward Norgate, who knew Hilliard’s methods, recommends three sittings of several hours each, with jewels and costumes finished in between, in the artist’s own time. The presence of the sitter was vital to the finished miniature’s vividness, because it allowed the artist to ‘catch those lovely graces, witty smilings, and those stolen glances which suddenly like lightning pass and another Countenance takes place’, as Hilliard writes in the Treatise. He stresses the speed at which the artist had to work, to ‘catch’ an expression which passed ‘like lightning’, demonstrating the immediate transfer of the person’s appearance to vellum, carrying with it the power of their presence.

Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

April 8 2019

Image of Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

Picture: via TAN

The long-awaited trial at the High Court in London between Sotheby's and the art dealer Mark Weiss (and his former business partner David Kowitz) over an alleged fake Frans Hals has begun. We were expecting a battle royal over the authenticity of the picture, but at the last moment Weiss settled with Sotheby's, agreeing to pay over $4.2m. In a statement, Weiss said he still stands by the attribution to Hals. Sotheby's case against Kowitz and his Fairlight Arts Venture (which owned half the painting) continues. In turn, Weiss is seeking half of his settlement from Kowitz. It'll be interesting to see how ends up with the biggest bill, but at the moment it looks like Weiss has acted shrewdly, in terms of legal tactics. Not that there are any winners in this sad affair. Vincent Noce - the journalist who first broke the story of a string of Old Master fakes - has a full report on the case so far in The Art Newspaper.

The most important question is yet to be answered; who painted this extraordinary picture? Another week of the trial is scheduled, but we've yet to hear of any dramatic revelations, or indeed any hint as to whether the matter might be addressed. Also strangely silent are the museums who exhibited or authenticated suspect pictures from the same source; The Met, the National Gallery, and the Louvre. The museums - and the curators involved - have adopted an ostrich defence, and are hoping the whole question will simply go away. In a way, I think that's the most scandalous aspect of this whole affair. 

New Burlington website

April 8 2019

Image of New Burlington website

Picture: Burlington Magazine

The Burlington Magazine has a smart new website, and a new editorial about the magazine's previously somewhat tentative engagement with such things:

Almost nothing dates faster than a website. The magazine has been redesigned only twice in the past twenty years, but a website that is not transformed at least every four to five years soon seems as antediluvian as a cuneiform tablet. This speed of change means that it is surprisingly hard to reconstruct the digital past of an organisation, even one as conscious of its history as The Burlington Magazine.1 We launched our first website in the spring of 2000, which sounds quite late, but it was less than seven years after web browsers became widely available and less than two years after the introduction of web-development toolkits, which made website development a commercial reality for small organisations. In its initial form, our website did little more than provide information about the current issue of the magazine and where to buy it. In the following decade we were encouraged to be more ambitious by a major project: the creation of the magazine’s digital index. Instigated in 2005 with a substantial grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and completed in 2017 with a grant from the Monument Trust, this comprehensive searchable database of the magazine’s contents since its foundation in 1903 originally existed as a separate website. In 2014 this was integrated with the magazine’s main website, which was given other new functions, from offering access to free content from our archive to online purchasing of subscriptions, magazines and pdfs of articles.

I'm sorry to report that AHN has not refreshed its design since it began back in 2011. Hopefully a case of 'if it ain't broke...'

Botticelli discovery in Greenwich

April 8 2019

Video: BBC

A painting belonging to English Heritage at Rangers House in Greenwich has been found to come from Botticelli's workshop, rather than the later copy it was long thought to be. More here.  

Dan Robbins (1925-2019)

April 8 2019

Video: CBS

The inventor of paint-by-numbers kits, Dan Robbins, has died. His Times obituary here

Rembrandt on a football

April 8 2019

Video: Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum is launching a line of footballs with Rembrandt etchings on them. What a fun idea. And as ever the Rijksmuseum is light years ahead of other museums when it comes to promoting Old Masters to new audiences. 

Not Malevich, but Maria Dzhagubova

April 8 2019

Image of Not Malevich, but Maria Dzhagubova

Picture: Guardian

Here's a fascinating story from The Guardian; a portrait recently exhibited at Tate in London as by Malevich is in fact by his pupil, Maria Dzhagubova. Research by Andrey Vasiliev in Russia has shown that the above portrait of Elizaveta Yakovleva (above) is recorded in Soviet archives as a work by Dzhagubova, but at some point in recent decades it has acquired a 'Malevich' signature. 

The picture was praised as an important work by Malevich when it was exhibited in London:

So, though the portrait was praised during the Tate show by Nicholas Cullinan, now director of the National Portrait Gallery, as a work in which Malevich used colour to rebel by “tacitly alluding to the innovations he had pioneered”, it seems it can no longer be regarded as an exciting addition to the figurative output of Malevich, an artist best known for his minimalist 1913 work, Black Square. Cullinan told the Observer he remembers his praise for the work, but had no comment on doubts about its attribution.

Vasari rediscovered

April 8 2019

Video: Rome Reports

A lost work by Giorgio Vasari has been found in a US auction, and loaned to the Corsini Gallery in Rome. It was originally commissioned by Bindo Altoviti. More here

Christie's NY OMP sales

April 8 2019

Video: Christie's

Christie's New York Old Master sales take place on May 1st. In the above video, art critic Alastair Sooke and Christie’s specialist Jonquil O’Reilly discuss works being sold by Richard Feigen - the eminent Old Master dealer - including the only known still life by Guercino. There are three catalogues, the main sale here, works from the estate of of Lila and Herman Shickman here, and a 'day sale' here

'Salvator Mundi' located at last

April 1 2019

Image of 'Salvator Mundi' located at last

Picture: WH.Gov 

The whereabouts of Leonardo's Salvator Mundi - bought for $450m by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia at Christies in 2017 - has been a mystery for over a year. It was due to go on display at the Louvre Abu Dhabi last September, but at the last moment the loan was postponed, and there has been intense speculation as to what has happened to the painting.

AHN can now reveal that since February of this year, the painting has in fact been in President Trump's private quarters at the White House. The painting was gifted to Trump in January, as part of a deal to shore up US support for the Saudi government. A source tells me; 'Trump sees himself as saviour of the world, so it was a no-brainer for the Saudis to offer him the painting. He really loves Christ's hair in it too, and sometimes, when Trump is in the bathroom [where the painting is hung] late at night, he'll let his hair down to his shoulders just like Leonardo shows it. If things are going well with Melania, she'll offer to put some curls in his hair. It's quite sweet.'

I'm told there was a brief moment last month when Trump considered lending the painting to the PyongYang Museum of Art, as part of his talks with Kim Jong-Un. But at the last minute Vice-President Mike Pence successfully argued that the White House was the best place to keep such an important painting of the greatest American who ever lived. 

Update - I'm glad most of you enjoyed the joke. For other art world April Fools, see here

Update II - of course, if anybody wants to tell me where the picture really is, I'd be most grateful for the scoop.

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