Previous Posts: July 2019

London Art Week

July 5 2019

Image of London Art Week

Picture: Andrew Clayton-Payne

First, further apologies for the lack of AHN these last few weeks. I've been finishing both a series of 'Britain's Lost Masterpieces' for the BBC, and the catalogue for 'Bright Souls'. So there wasn't much time left for other things. Recently, I've tended to wake up in the morning and wonder anxiously where I am, or where I need to be going. When it comes to travelling, I like to follow Jared Diamond's advice of 'constructive paranoia', and this means being indecently early for trains and planes. If you need to know how maddening this is, talk to my poor wife.

But I'm now back home in the Scottish Borders, and I don't plan on moving further than a few miles in any direction for at least a month. Sitting at my desk, I can hear buzzards calling and wheeling in the warm air. Later, I will fire up my ancient tractor (that is, assuming it feels like starting), cut some grass, and wonder how I can manage a mid-life career change to smallhold farming.  

But before that, I wanted to write about London Art Week, the annual chance for dealers and auctioneers in 'classic art' to shine and show off their wares. I'm biased, in that I used to be an art dealer myself, but I was struck more than ever this year at how 'the market' can drive art history forward in a positive and exciting way.

Too often, there is a temptation in some quarters of the art world to sneer at the activities of dealers and auctioneers. The case of Leonardo's Salvator Mundi is an obvious example; supporters of the painting are derided by those who seek to criticise it as either sticking up for the art market, or having some kind of vested interest in it. The debate about the painting's authenticity is pitched as pure-minded scholarship on one side, and commerce driven speculation on the other.

But anybody who toured the pictures on offer during London Art Week will have seen how important the market is in unearthing new works. Sotheby’s, for example, had a newly discovered Velasquez portrait for sale (how often do you see one of those?) The dealer Andrew Clayton-Payne exhibited an album of previously unknown drawings by Johan Zoffany (above, and with a catalogue, available online here). In short, I saw enough new discoveries in one week to fill a whole year of The Burlington Magazine. To every specialist and dealer at work in London this week, down at the coal face of art history, a large AHN pat on the back; bravo, and keep going. 

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