Previous Posts: August 2020

The Story of Scottish Art

August 28 2020

Image of The Story of Scottish Art

Picture: Lyon & Turnbull

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

To celebrate the launch of Lachlan Goudie's new book The Story of Scottish Art, published by Thames and Hudson, auction house Lyon & Turnbull are hosting a free-to-watch interview on their website. The interview will be conducted by the BBC Newsnight presenter Kirsty Wark and explore '5,000 years of Scottish creativity' as featured in the book.

The interview will be available on 9th September 2020 at 6.30pm (BST).

Frans Hals Lecture

August 28 2020

Image of Frans Hals Lecture

Picture: Frans Hals Museum

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The Frans Hals Museum and CODArt (the international network of curators of Dutch and Flemish Art) are broadcasting their annual Frans Hals Lecture on 1st September 2020. The lecture is free to attend, although registration is required, and will be broadcast on Zoom. Attendees will even have a chance to ask questions at the end.

This year's speakers are Norbert Middelkoop, Curator of Paintings, Prints and Drawings in the Amsterdam Museum, and Steven Nadler, the William H. Hay II Professor of Philosophy and Evjue-Bascom Professor of Humanities at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Sleeper Alert!

August 28 2020

Image of Sleeper Alert!

Picture: Chiswick Auctions

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

This intriguing pastel, catalogued as 'Emilian School Mid 18th Century', made £22,000 (hammer price) over its £600 - £800 estimate yesterday at Chiswick Auctions.

Hals Painting Stolen

August 28 2020

Image of Hals Painting Stolen

Picture: BBC

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

A painting by Frans Hals has been stolen from the Leerdam Museum just south of Utrecht on Wednesday morning. Two Laughing Boys with a Mug of Beer had been stolen twice before. Firstly in 1988 when it was snatched with a landscape by Jacob van Ruisdael and once again in 2011 (albeit from a different museum). It has been suggested that this theft may have been 'to order', a very worrying thought indeed.

Inside the National Trust’s Beeching Plan

August 24 2020

Image of Inside the National Trust’s Beeching Plan

Picture: National Trust

Posted by Bendor Grosvenor

Last week, The Times broke the story about the National Trust’s new restructuring and redundancy plans, causing controversy among members and the public. The Times coverage was based on two leaked documents. The first was entitled ‘Towards a 10-Year Vision for the Future’, and was written by the Trust’s Director of Visitor Experience in May this year. It signalled that the Trust's ambition was to 'dial down' its role as a 'major national cultural institution'. The second - 'National Trust to scrap its experts' - was a redundancy consultation document for the Trust’s curatorial department, dated July. This set out how the Trust would be making a significant number of its curators redundant, abolishing specialist posts like furniture, art and books curators. I wrote a more detailed analysis of what the documents contained for The Art Newspaper here.  

Now, based on further leaked documents and conversations with Trust sources at both senior and regional level, I am able to set out some further details of what the Trust’s plans entail for their historic houses. These houses, as one of the documents put it, are ‘where the cost of opening is greatest - and where we appeal to a narrow audience’*. The houses have therefore faced a greater burden of cuts than the Trust’s outdoor sites. 

The Trust’s strategy can be summarised as the Trust’s version of Dr Beeching’s infamous plan for British Rail in the 1960s. Beeching wanted to close the railway’s rural and branch lines, and keep open only the more profitable, inter-city lines. Similarly, the Trust plans to close or drastically reduce the opening of its smaller and medium-sized country houses, and only keep open continually its most visited - and thus most profitable - ‘treasure houses’. The Times reported concerns from Trust insiders that only 20 such houses would remain continually open.

In response to The Times’ stories, the Trust’s Director-General Hilary McGrady has repeatedly claimed that the 10-Year Vision document was only an internal draft document to provoke debate, or, as she put it on Newsnight, ‘a starter for ten’. It did not, she claimed, represent the Trust’s actual strategy. But this claim is not entirely true. 

The Trust’s new strategy for its country houses has been set out in a series of ‘Reset’ documents, which I have seen. They go alongside the redundancy notices outlining a new staffing structure. Most of these were dated late July, or early to mid-August, just two months after the Vision document was written. The strategy outlined in the Reset documents closely follows that in the Vision document. It is a signficant centralising of management and control across the Trust (which may account why I have been unable to find any cases of redundancy at 'Grade 2' director level or above). 

The key aim of the Vision strategy was ‘differentiation’, the ending of the Trust’s traditional operating model of having a significant number of its country houses open throughout the year. In these, visitors could conduct self-guided tours; you wandered round at your leisure. Rooms would generally be manned by volunteer stewards, often highly knowledgeable, always dedicated. 

But the Vision document suggested ending this ‘one-size fits all’ approach. It proposed different categories for its houses; ‘Treasure’, ‘Classics’, and so on. ’Differentiating the offer is a priority’, it said, ‘[and] is the big enabler of the changes that will follow, so we need to focus on moving this forward quickly… creating a much more flexible and low-cost approach to smaller mansions’. ‘That means’, it went on, that ‘we have to move away from the assumption that all houses are presented as country house former homes. We’ll still have some of these, but they’ll be very clearly signalled as ‘traditional’ experiences for specific audiences. Many, however, will be repurposed…’ The re-purposing allows for houses to be used as event spaces, and ‘commercial operations’, and will require ‘less on open display’, and ‘a major change in collections presentation and storage: without this’ - the document concluded - ‘we’ll be unable to flex our mansion offer’.  

The word ‘differentiation’ features heavily in the Trust’s new Reset documents. In fact, it underpins the Trust’s new country house strategy. ‘Differentiation is something we’ve talked about doing in the Trust for many years’, begins the Reset Differentiation document, written by the Trust’s Director of Culture and Engagement. (Although despite differentiation being so important, it is not something the Trust was keen to discuss, either internally or externally, for it concludes; ‘We’re not publishing the data or numbers for individual properties; as well as some of it not being information we’d want to make public, it’s not practical or desirable for us to run a consultation on that level of detail’.)

The Trust’s new differentiation plan follows the broad categories set out in the Vision document. For the biggest houses, the Treasure Houses, the Trust has said opening arrangements will remain broadly as they are now; open for most of the year, with self-guided tours. However, even here, I have seen documents relating to individual Treasure Houses which make it clear that opening times will be reduced, with shorter opening hours each day, and fewer rooms open for visitors. 

In the next house category levels, such as ‘Classics’, the Trust says it is ‘committed to 363 [days of the year] opening at all places’. But here again this commitment only extends to ‘car parking and access to countryside or parkland’. Opening of the house itself ‘may vary’. For all smaller houses - which the documents say ‘are currently making an operating loss’ - entry will be through guided tours only, which must be pre-booked. Guided tours save the Trust money, because fewer staff and volunteers are needed through the house. Some of these houses will only be open ‘for just a handful of days/weekends a year’, according to the House Opening Reset document. For many houses, the ‘house offer [will be] reduced to three or four main spaces used to present highlights of the collection’. A new post, Curator of Re-Purposing Historic Houses, will help find new uses for those rooms and properties that are deemed suitable for other uses.

There is one very important point to make here; nowhere in the Vision or Reset documents have I seen a single mention of access to historic houses for those with disabilities. Guided tours can present a serious issue for those with disabilities; those with hearing impairment, sight difficulties or mobility issues can find it an issue to keep up with the volume and pace of a guided tour. Another important issue is how guided tours can impact those with autism, who may be easily affected by sensory overload, or having to follow a specific pace and narrative. It appears maintaining physical access has not been considered in the Trust's new differentiation model.

Because the Trust will not make further details of its plans public yet, I have not been able to compile a list of those properties earmarked for permanent closure, or re-purposing. Local press reports have identified properties such as Peckover House in Wisbech as being ‘mothballed’, a curious decision as it's just the sort of urban historic house which might be used to appeal to new audiences. The Reset documents state that ‘a handful of houses at larger properties where we can’t justify the cost… should not re-open as a visitor offer’, and also mention 17 smaller but unnamed properties which will not re-open, because they ‘cater for low numbers (the average is fewer than 16,000 visitors a year’. To further save funds, on cleaning and conservation, The ‘Collections & Interiors’ Reset document sets out plans to ‘Rationalise’ (for which read, reduce) loans and displays - as explicitly recommended in the Vision document.

The overwhelming sense one gets from the Reset documents is how much the strategy is driven by money. This is no short-term plan for getting through the immediate Covid crisis, but a long-term strategy a significant part of the Trust has been keen to implement for some time. I've been told that, in essence, the '10 Year Vision' document was in fact up to three years old. The new strategy contains no sense of maintaining access to houses and its collections for its own sake, that is, the purpose they were given to the Trust in the first place; ‘to promote the preservation of places of historical interest and natural beauty for the benefit of the nation’. Or, as the Trust’s founder Octavia Hill put it, ‘forever, for everyone’. The differentiation strategy, and the house categorisation which underpins it, is based on visitor numbers and whether houses make an operating profit. 

Many other heritage and arts organisations - including the Trust until now - use funds from their more popular venues to subsidise smaller ones, preserving the whole for its own sake. Historic Royal Palaces, for example, relies on the Tower of London as its cash cow. The National Trust, however, seems to want to make individual properties stand or fall on their own merits, having no concern for the whole. If the Trust had done its best over the last decade to properly value and promote its historic houses, I would have some sympathy with this raise-the-white-flag thinking. But it hasn't.

Moreover, it is hard to see how explicitly ending the model of easy and uniform entry will, in the long-run, be successful in achieving the Trust’s key ambition of increasing accessibility. The new strategy creates so many instances of what the retail trade calls ‘threshold resistance’; the small but significant barriers to entry which put people off entering a shop. In the Trust’s case it may be the doors literally being closed through reduced opening times, or the need to pre-book, or (in my opinion the ultimate disincentive to visit) the dreaded guided tour, which can be a significant challenge for families with young children. 

Focusing on the profitable elements of an organisation, and closing down the rest, rarely works. The Trust should remember the greatest beneficiary of Dr Beeching’s similar approach to the railways - the car.

I’ll be writing more in coming days on further aspects of the plans, including financial and staffing. If you have any opinions or documents to share, in strictest confidence, my email address is on the about page.

* I think it's interesting the Trust - always sensitive to demographics - has used the words 'narrow audience' here, rather than 'smaller audience'. 

National Trust to 'dial-down' Mansions (ctd.)

August 21 2020

Image of National Trust to 'dial-down' Mansions (ctd.)

Picture: The Times

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The Times have published more details today on the National Trust's plans to scrap its experts. They have indicated which jobs and departments might be affected including its heads of archaeology, architecture and design, as well as its national specialists in paintings conservation, photographic materials, decorative arts, furniture, libraries, pictures, sculpture and textiles. Hilary McGrady (pictured), the director-general of the Trust, has explained that the redundancies will save £960,000. The article also features details that the Trust is set on keeping only 20 of its properties continually open to the public. 

Bendor has penned this piece for the Art Newspaper with his own views on the proposed changes.

Salvator Rosa Self Portrait Loan

August 21 2020

Image of Salvator Rosa Self Portrait Loan

Picture: @NationalGallery

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The National Gallery in London have announced the loan of Salvator Rosa's Self Portrait as Pascariello from The Ramsbury Manor Foundation. Painted in the 1640s during the artist's stay in Florence, the sheer swagger of this image is just brilliant. You can read more about the painting's history via. the link above.

1911 - Rembrandt's Night Watch Revarnished

August 21 2020

Image of 1911 - Rembrandt's Night Watch Revarnished


Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The RKD have published a blog concerning the restoration of Rembrandt's The Night Watch after it was attacked with a shoemakers knife in 1911. Fortunately, it was only the protective varnish layer that was damaged by this sharp implement. After the incident the Rijksmuseum called in the family restoration company Hesterman to removed the scratch with alcohol and revarnish the painting. The above picture, recently unearthed in the RKD archive, shows the conservators revarnishing the picture from the bottom up.

For those you can't read Dutch, do copy and past the article into Google translate.

Search for Owner of Nicolas Rousseau Picture

August 20 2020

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

A painting by the nineteenth century artist Nicolas Rousseau has been put on display in the World Centre for Peace, Liberty and Human Rights in France in order to find its rightful owner. The picture was returned from Germany after it was discovered that the work had been taken from its owner by an officer in the Luftwaffe during WWII. A sign has been hung next to work appealing for information.

On another note, it seems that the 'wear a mask while holding a painting' look is gathering popularity in the media.

Maltese Chapel Painting Restored

August 20 2020

Image of Maltese Chapel Painting Restored

Picture: Prevarti Ltd

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The conservation and restoration of a painting in a historic and isolated Chapel has made the news over in Malta. The Return from Egypt, a copy of a known work by the artist Giovanni Battista Paggi, has been on display in a Chapel on the Isle of Comino in Malta. The conservation work was funded by the Bank of Valletta.

A video featuring interviews with the conservators, showing some images of the work during the process, can be found by following the link.

National Trust to 'dial-down' Mansions

August 19 2020

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The Times have published an article on news that the National Trust is due to 'dial down' its role from being the custodian of the country home.

This change of direction seems to be related to a new ten year plan envisioned by its directors to reconfigure the 'outdated mansion experience...serving a loyal but dwindling audience' and reprioritise itself as a 'gateway to the outdoors'.

Bendor, who has written a thread detailing his views on the changes, posted a screen shot on Twitter detailing what the Trust are planning for their mansions:

Mansions - from evolution to revolution

The changes we'll need in our built places are revolutionary not evolutionary. We won't get there by encouraging local innovation and gradual scaling of good ideas, which is how we've approached this up to now. We will need a much more directed approach to change, and these are the first steps:

- We urgently need an alternative to the current mansion opening model - with its unsustainable reliance on large numbers of static volunteer roles.

- Differentiation - so we're really clear about the scope of potential change at each place.

- New guidance on collections - We need to be much clearer about the places where we can begin changing our approach to collections display - moving objects or taking them off display where needed to make spaces more flexible and accessible.

- A major change in collections presentation and storage: without this we'll be unable to flex our mansion offer to create the more active, fun and useful experiences that our audiences will be looking for in future.

It seems that some treasure houses, such as Petworth for example, will be preserved in their current format for now. Others though will have many parts of its collections put into storage. The changes will also affect the structure of the curatorial departments, with fewer specialists in individual fields such as 'furniture' and due to be replaced with time-period specialists instead.


Overall, the leadership of the National Trust seem to be suggesting that they have lost faith in the cultural significance of the Country House. It is possible they have followed the advice of ‘Marketing specialists’, who have suggested that it is impossible to be both a custodian of historic houses and beautiful landscapes.

Afterall, it is possible that they are simply reacting to the increasingly vocal side of the argument that claims that the Country House conceals irredeemable evils that must be rejected outright.  Instead of instituting gradual changes, that don't dismantle the knowledge and expertise which these cultural institutions hold and nurture, such ‘activists’ seem to enjoy advocating the tearing down institutions whilst reverting to nature worship. Furthermore, the virus context has given many organisations the opportunity to make use this crisis to push forward vast and overtly radical changes which will alienate vast swathes of loyal visitors and art lovers.


Christie's Paris Sale

August 17 2020

Image of Christie's Paris Sale

Picture: Christie's

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

Christie's have uploaded a pdf catalogue of their upcoming Old Master Paintings & Sculpture sale due to take place on 15th September 2020 in Paris.

Amongst the highlights is this fantastic double portrait given to the 'Circle of Sofonisba Anguissola' estimated at €25,000 - €35,000; a 'Studio of Rubens' study of a Child estimated at €60,000 - €80,000; and a Paul de Vos Bird Song Concert estimated at €250,000 - €350,000.

There are also some rather fine eighteenth century French paintings from the collection of Comte Robert de Moustrier.

Buckingham Palace Collection Displayed in Queen's Gallery

August 17 2020

Image of Buckingham Palace Collection Displayed in Queen's Gallery

Picture: RCT

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The Royal Collection Trust has announced what it intends to do with Buckingham Palace's pictures during the imminent scheduled refurbishment project. A majority of the masterpieces usually kept in the Palace's Picture Gallery (pictured) will form part of an exhibition in the attached Queen's Gallery. This will includes paintings by the likes of Van Dyck, Rubens, Titian and Vermeer.

Many of the pictures have been loaned out to the RCT's exhibition space for individual shows, but this may be one of the first times they have been loan as a complete 'collection' of sorts. It will be interesting to see how the pictures are hung, as many are hung in a very stacked and vertical manner in the palace.

The exhibition will run from 4 December 2020 - January 2022.

Collection of the late John Schaeffer

August 12 2020

Image of Collection of the late John Schaeffer

Picture: Leonard Joel Auctions

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

Part of the collection of the late Australian art collector John Schaeffer AO (1941-2020) is coming up for sale this month. Schaeffer, who began life in Holland till he immigrated to Australia, became a passionate collector and enthusiast of nineteenth century art. He had supported part of the redecoration of Leighton House and loaned several pictures to the institution over the years.

His sale is filled with some interesting things, as one might expect. I found this copy of Frans Hal's Laughing Cavalier sans hat (pictured) particularly fun.

Museums to Turn Visitors into Environmental Activists

August 12 2020

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

Nick Merriman, chief executive of the Horniman Museum & Garden in South London (pictured), has penned an article for Artnet on what he thinks the role of museums should be in tackling the environmental crisis. The piece makes quite clear which camp Merriman might sit in during the recent 'What is a Museum' debate.

In his own words:

Museums are well practiced in developing exhibitions, events, and activities to engage audiences with key issues. The work of artists, in particular, brings the emotional perspective which psychological research shows is needed to prompt action. An acceleration in this work is necessary given the urgency of the climate and ecological breakdown.


No doubt we all have our own perspectives on what is likely to prompt change in the way we treat our shared environment. Yet, I can't say that notions of 'prompt[ing] action' and 'acceleration' have ever come to me whilst admiring exhibitions of landscapes by the likes of Gainsborough, Turner and Towne etc. They tend to have the opposite effect.

Sharing Questions of Attribution on Instagram

August 12 2020

Image of Sharing Questions of Attribution on Instagram

Picture: Städel Museum, Frankfurt

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

As August is generally a rather quiet month for news in the world of old masters, I thought I'd share some interesting accounts that I've spotted on social media recently.

Bastian Eclercy (@bastianeclercy), Curator of Italian, French and Spanish paintings at the Städel Museum in Frankfurt has been sharing some geuinely interesting curatorial insights on his Instagram account.

His most recent post draws attention to the attribution of the painting of an unknown Lady pictured above. Acquired in 1850 as a portrait by Sebastiano del Piombo, the painting has since been given to no less than eight different artists over the past century. For the past twenty years it has been exhibited as a work by Peter de Kempeneer (c.1527-36), a Brussels born artist who spent some time in Italy. Eclercy points out that this artist's works from his later Spanish period are very difficult to match up to this painting. The particularly Flemish landscape, coupled with other elements that appear more Italian in style, has made pinning down a particular artist rather difficult.

Woburn Abbey Treasures in Greenwich

August 11 2020

Image of Woburn Abbey Treasures in Greenwich

Picture: RMG

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

My attention has been drawn to this very interesting exhibition that is happening now at the Queen's House in Greenwich. The Duke of Bedford has loaned several treasures from Woburn Abbey including family portraits and seventeenth century old masters.

Woburn Treasures runs until Easter 2021, is free to visit, and includes more pictures that the website seems to suggest.

What is a Museum?

August 10 2020

Image of What is a Museum?

Picture: ICOM

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The New York Times have published an article summarising a disagreement that is currently going on in the International Council of Museums (ICOM). The organisation is in disagreement with itself over the question 'What is a Museum?'.

Five proposals were drawn up, with one being picked out that consisted of 99 words and two paragraphs. It included the following statements:

“Museums are democratizing, inclusive and polyphonic spaces for critical dialogue about the pasts and futures,” it said, adding that museums work “with and for diverse communities” and aim “to contribute to human dignity and social justice, global equality and planetary well-being.”

Several countries have rejected the proposals, with claims that it represents an political and ideological manifesto rather than a definition of what museums do. Arguments have been made that although such values are supported, they belong in an institution's individual mission statement. On the other hand, the statement is said to have had wide support from African institutions, who have made issues such as human rights a key element of their social function.

Charles Saumarez Smith, whose recent post on the subject drew me to the article, has summarised the two opposing views most succinctly:

[the article] encapsulates the generational divide between those who still feel that they are pre-eminently about a collection of objects or works of art however interpreted – what in the 1970s was described as ‘the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity’ – and those who feel their social mission should come first and be stated more radically.


If the study of international organisations over the past decades has suggested anything, it is that the search for universal values across such infinitely varying peoples, traditions and cultures is a slow and difficult process.

Art Lawsuit vs. Kingdom of Netherlands Thrown Out

August 10 2020

Image of Art Lawsuit vs. Kingdom of Netherlands Thrown Out


Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

A lawsuit levelled against the Kingdom of the Netherlands was thrown out of court in the US District of South Carolina Charleston Division last week. The lawsuit revolves around the claim made by descendants of the Dutch art gallery Firma D. Katz (pictured) for 144 pictures sold to the Nazis and now owned by the Dutch State. Bruce Berg, grandson and nephew of the two gentlemen in the photograph above, asserts that the paintings were sold under duress in an effort to save the lives of 25 relatives.

As the article linked above points out:

The Dutch government argued that the art was sold fairly and that it now is part of the country’s national treasure trove and of terrific value to the Dutch people. Berg, in his suit, argued that fairness did not exist in Nazi Germany, that any transaction with Nazis, no matter its appearance on paper, must have been made under duress, and that the art rightfully belongs to his family.

The court determined the Netherlands and its state-run institutions are “entitled to sovereign immunity.”

It seems that the case has a long history. The RKD lists this Rembrandt portrait as having been returned to Katz by the Dutch State in 1946 after being purchased for the Fuhrer Museum in Linz.

Update - I just spotted that one of the paintings in the background of the above photograph is this Frans Hals that was offered for sale by the Portland Museum of Art at Sotheby's in 2019. The provenance makes clear that the picture was sold before WWII.

Update 2 - My attention has been drawn to this interesting report made by the Dutch Restitution Agency in 2017. A lot seems to hang on finding firm evidence that proves that works were sold under duress or not. The report highlights the many complexities involved in reviewing such cases.

Is this Raphael's Face (?)

August 7 2020

Image of Is this Raphael's Face (?)

Picture: The Guardian

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

Scientists at Tor Vergata University in Rome have recreated the face of the Renaissance artist Raphael (right). This rather cartoon-like image was produced using a cast that was made in 1833 when the painter's body was exhumed from the Parthenon in Rome. 

Furthermore, they claim that their 3D reconstruction 'proves' that there is a clear match between contemporary likenesses of the artist and their image made from remains identified as Raphael's.

To me, this piece of scientific research makes clear that twenty-first century man's ability to make an convincing and artistic image of a human face has actually regressed since the sixteenth century.

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