Previous Posts: December 2022

London Old Master sales (ctd.)

December 24 2022

Image of London Old Master sales (ctd.)

Picture: Sotheby's

I promised a review of the London Old Master sales, but it's taken me a while, apologies. The first thing is, I should probably title this post, 'Brexit and the Art Market', because the story of the sales wasn't so much the art, as the economics.

Regular readers will know I began warning about the effects of Brexit on the UK art market back in 2016. And sadly, many of my fears have come to pass. The number of pictures on offer in the London sales tells the story; normally, Christie's would have their two downstairs rooms open for Day Sale pictures, but this time only the smaller room was open. At Sotheby's, we'd normally expect to see the two main rooms uptairs contain works from the Evening Sale, but here again things were different; the first room was given over to the Sir Joseph Hotung collection (albeit very tastefully, with a sort of World of Interiors stage set), while the largest room was almost entirely hung with works coming up in Sotheby's January sale in New York. It's true, the London December sales are secondary to London's July sales, but it's come to something when the best works on offer at both sale rooms are those from a preview of their New York sales.

The talk from those I spoke to was of London feeling the pressure from Paris for lower and mid-level pictures. Hence the thinness of the Day Sale offerings. And this is understandable; if you were a consignor in Europe, would you want to ship your picture to the UK, through customs checks at some expense, and then have a symbol in the catalogue next to your picture telling prospective bidders that they'll have to pay an extra 5% on top of the hammer price (because of the UK's post-Brexit import VAT regime)? Moreover, if you're Sotheby's and Christie's, sourcing Old Master pictures from Europe, would you want the hassle and expense of shipping to London, when you have salerooms in Paris? London probably still makes sense for pictures over £100,000. But under that, it's a different question. 

Customs, incidentally, is a major problem for bringing art into the UK right now. The UK shipper I regularly use has grown so fed up of waiting for hours and hours at UK customs that he's now opened a warehouse and business in Belgium. He does all his European and international shipping from there now, and if he is bringing works into the UK, he gathers as much as he can together in the Belgian warehouse first, and then does one big truck-load, which is better for navigating UK customs delays, rather than smaller, more regular van loads as he used to. Still, last week he tells me was waiting at Folkestone for ten hours. These delays, on top of the red tape, and the import taxes, are really taking a toll on London's ability to source pictures for auction. I'm afraid I find it very depressing, but then I tend to find most things Brexit-related very depressing. 

Anyway, what there was at the December sales did reasonably well, on the whole. The Venus and Adonis attributed to Titian and Studio made just over £11m at Sotheby's, against an estimate of £8m-£12m. A Canaletto of the Grand Canal made £3.6m. The little Constable study I admired before the sale made £289k. The still lifes from the Grasset Collection at Sotheby's sold very well, including a Jan Davidsz. De Heem est. at £1m-£1.5m which made £2.7m. This had been bought at Sotheby's in 1987 for £200,000. In fact, many of the Dutch 17th Century still lifes made solid gains on their recent market history, including a Floris Claesz. van Dijck which made just over £2m, against an estimate of £600k-£800k, and had been sold for £290,000 in 1995. 

On this point, The Art Newspaper had one of those periodic 'the Old Master market is dying' articles, which have been appearing for over a decade now, and which tend to focus on pictures that have lost money in recent auctions. An example in the December sales was a Francesco Trevisani of The Virgin sewing with the Christ Child, which was unsold at £80k-£120k, but which had been bought for £180k in 2007. Results like these, as regular readers will know, don't show that the Old Master market is dying, more that, in covering over 600 years of art, they reflect the changing tastes within it. Dutch 17th Century still life is having a moment right now, but Italian early 18th Century religious art is probably not. 

One of the areas of Old Master art which has been in fashion for some years now, Italian gold ground paintings, still seem to be doing well, such as the 13th Century Bolognese School Crucifixion at Sotheby's, which made £1.72m. Incidentally, I discovered recently that pictures like this, which have no firm attribution, are for some reason not included in the overall Old Master sale totals that make up things like the annual Art Basle Art Market Report (and which the 'dying Old Master market' articles are partly based on). In fact, as far as I understand it, not even the Venus and Adonis Sotheby's sold for over £9m this month will be included, because it is 'Titian and Studio'. It's also worth pointing out that these art market reports don't include major non-auction sales like the Rijksmuseum's purchase of Rembrandt's Standard Bearer for €175m. Another gold ground picture to do well this time round was a Madonna and Child given to Barnaba Agocchiari at Christie's, at £882k, est. £400k-£600k.

Sotheby's sale totalled £32.7m, though that figure includes some 19th Century pictures. The Hotung sale made £29m, which included a little Van Dyck grisaille of the collector Lucas van Uffel, at £504k. Christie's evening sale totalled £13.1m, with their top lot being a Jean-Francois de Troy of The Reading Party, at £2.9m. The next highest was the Van Dyck of Henrietta Maria, which made £2.4m, est. £2m-£4m. There was a long delay at Christie's on the night of the sale as they tried to reach a potential bidder on the phone, but in the end it seems there was only one bidder, and the hammer went down at £2m. The little newly discovered Holbein Portrait of Erasmus made £1.1m. A Van Dyck Crucifixion which was almost sold as not Van Dyck a year ago, but was withdrawn at the last minute, made £327k. I thought this was a bit cheap, for a major Crucifixion by Van Dyck. Perhaps it was held back by some minor condition issues, especially around the seam in the middle, joining the two pieces of canvas together. I'd like to see it cleaned. On the other hand, the Rubens portrait of Isabella Clara Eugenia which also almost sold as not by Rubens last year (when I was one of a few people hoping to buy it), was this time withdrawn before the sale. 

In the Day Sales, Christie's made £1.1m, Sotheby's £3.3m. The former's top price was a Venus and Cupid by Pieter Isaacsz, which made £214k (est.£20k-£30k). Sotheby's top seller was a still life by Anna Ruysch, £327k (£50k-£70k). Another Anna Ruysch made £201k (est.£30k-£50k). Anna was sister of the better known Rachel Ruysch, but her works are very rare. Other interesting results included a recently discovered Landseer of a Woodcock, which made £81k (est. £20k-£30k).

I was pleased to see that all of Sotheby's Day Sale pictures had their own catalogue note, which used to be standard practice, but these days has fallen by the wayside (Christie's, for example, did not). I think such notes are crucial if we're going to expect new collectors to get involved with Old Masters, especially since it's through the auction houses that most new collectors will first come into contact with the Old Masters market. Otherwise, it looks as if you're really only hoping to sell to the trade. Perhaps the Christie's high-ups can be persuaded to let the Old Master department employ a few more cataloguers. 

I bought a little picture, but it's too early to reveal what it is. I'm pleased with it though. That's it from me for this year, I hope you all have a good Christmas. See you in 2023. 

€6,000 for a Michelangelo cartoon?

December 24 2022

Image of €6,000 for a Michelangelo cartoon?

Picture: TAN

For my latest Diary column in The Art Newspaper, I wrote about the chase for a 'sleeper' of a lifetime.

Why are pastel portraits so good?

December 24 2022

Image of Why are pastel portraits so good?

Picture: Sotheby's, A Portrait by Maurice Quentin de la Tour in Sotheby's 'Master Works on Paper from Five Centuries' sale, 25 Jan 2023,New York

The great Neil Jeffares has written an essay for Sotheby's, on the delights of collecting 18th Century pastels. For him, it's the portraiture that holds the greatest appeal:

How and why did the pastellists working in France before the Revolution uniquely capture our attention so strikingly, coherently and beautifully, compelling us to set aside political and social considerations?

As with all portrait painters before the invention of photography they were unburdened by the existential questions of representation: obtaining a good likeness was unselfconsciously a clear and specific target — indeed disputes about their success filled the Châtelet [10] and are a rich source of information about obscure painters who had fallen out with their clients and better established ones called in to provide expert testimony. (The conventional phrase “capturing a likeness” distracts from a more serious, Barthesian point: in a successful portrait, it is the sitter who captures the viewer.) But that of course is a very incomplete prescription for recreating works that to modern eyes are dominated by conventions: conventions of composition and of accessories (less central, and so less hackneyed, with simple pastel busts than in the official portraits d’apparat almost always executed in oil), as well as technical conventions of just how paint or pastel is applied to the support to create those representations. The story here of the dix-huitième pastel is the pursuit of the exquisite, a concept which (as Guillaume Glorieux [11] has argued) was legitimised by Bernard Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees, whose publication in France in 1740 was taken as a justification for a short century’s display of conspicuous consumption, of the douceur de vivre or the obscene displays of luxe insolent that brought about a Revolution. Rousseau noted that “D’autres maux pires encore suivent les Lettres & les Arts. Tel est le luxe, né comme eux de l’oisiveté & de la vanité des hommes. Le luxe va rarement sans les sciences & les arts, & jamais ils ne vont sans lui.” [12] We have been embarrassed about this ever since — with the exception of the end of the nineteenth century, when there was a brief return to the values of the heady days of the Ancien Régime before the world was again returned to sobriety by war. It is perhaps no coincidence that the Belle Époque and the Ancien Régime are singled out in Thomas Piketty’s recent work as high points of wealth inequality; as we return to those levels today, perhaps a third wave of interest in pastel should be expected.

More here

Sleeper alert (ctd.)

December 20 2022

Image of Sleeper alert (ctd.)

Picture: Boston Magazine

The little Rembrandt head study offered in a minor US auction as 'Manner of Rembrandt' last year - which Adam Busiakiewicz spotted when he was running AHN - has been written about extensively in The Boston Magazine.

The article is a profile of the man who bought it, Cliff Shorer (above), and his sleuthing in establishing the picture's attribution, and its fascinating WW2-era provenance. Cliff is the owner of Old Master dealer, Agnews, having bought the firm in 2013, and has a good track record of discoveries, including a Durer drawing. The Boston Magazine describes Cliff as 'the closest thing the art world has to James Bond', which I don't doubt, although Bond would surely know about AHN's views on the use of white gloves... 

According to the article, the picture has so far had a positive reaction in Rembrandt circles. Cliff links it to the same model used by Rembrandt in King Saul (above). I am glad to see a growing acceptance of the idea that Rembrandt - like other artists - did produce studies and sketches, as seen for example in the recent announcement of the Bredius Museum's Crucifixion discovery. Under the Rembrandt Research Project there was sometimes a view that Rembrandt's pictures emerged fully formed, with what were previously accepted as preparatory works downgraded to copies.

A new Rembrandt self-portrait?

December 20 2022

Image of A new Rembrandt self-portrait?

Picture: Bas Czerwinski/ANP/AFP via Getty Images

The well-known Rembrandt scholar Gary Schwartz has announced news of a previously unacknowledged Rembrandt self-portrait. Well, I say unacknowledged, but I mean once acknowledged andthen downgraded - like so many Rembrandts, it was believed to be a Rembrandt until relatively recently. In 1969 Horst Gerson first doubted it, and then so too did the Rembrandt Research Project. From Codart:

A long-lost self-portrait of Rembrandt has been rediscovered by Gary Schwartz. The new discovery is published in his latest book Rembrandt in a Red Beret – The Vanishings and Reappearances of a Self-portrait.

The painting has not been seen in the Netherlands for nearly 125 years and has not been on public display since 1967. It is currently being presented in Escher in The Palace, the city palace in The Hague where the self-portrait was housed from 1850 to 1894.

For his research, CODART founder and Rembrandt specialist Gary Schwartz drew on numerous unpublished documents in the Dutch Royal House Archive, the archives of the American and German governments, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, German courts, as well as private correspondence between Hereditary Grand Duchess Elisabeth of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach and the German-American Rembrandt specialist Jakob Rosenberg. Schwartz’s new publication reconstructs the adventures of this significant work.


It was taken for granted that the painting was a genuine Rembrandt until 1969, when the German-Dutch art historian Horst Gerson suggested that it might be by or in imitation of Ferdinand Bol. Although Gary Schwartz maintains that no Bol expert has ever entertained this idea, the Rembrandt Research Project did actually take it seriously. Gary Schwartz: “Doubts about who produced the painting were fueled by the damage sustained by the self-portrait after it was stolen in Weimar. Incompetent overpainting misled people as to the work’s quality. Comprehensive new technological research work carried out by the renowned Schweizerisches Institut für Kunstwissenschaft in Zürich has revealed that only the face is work by the original painter. And anyone looking at that face will struggle to regard it as anything other than a self-portrait by the master himself”. In his new publication, Gary Schwartz argues that the work deserves to be acknowledged as by the master himself. He interrogates and refutes objections to accepting the painting for what it appears to be, a Rembrandt self-portrait.

More here on Artnet. You can see a decent photo of it here. Gary's website and always entertaining blog is here.

£40 Ebay purchase makes £130,000

December 20 2022

Image of £40 Ebay purchase makes £130,000

Picture: Bukowskis

A picture bought by a Scottish art collector for £40 on Ebay has been sold for £130,000 at an auction in Sweden. From George Mair in The Times:

The still life is understood to have been listed on the internet site by a UK seller. They described it as “an antique oil painting of flowers, indistinctly signed”. The work was obscured by grime and flecks of white paint used to recolour the original gold gilt frame.

It was snapped up by a buyer in Edinburgh who thought it would look nice on his wall. The Scot, who wishes to remain anonymous, posted online a photograph of the faint signature in the lower right-hand corner. An art enthusiast in the US responded to say that the name looked to be that of Helene Schjerfbeck, a Finnish modernist artist whose most famous work, Dancing Shoes, sold for more than £3 million.

Experts at Bonhams in Edinburgh confirmed that the work, dubbed White Roses in a Glass, was painted by Schjerfbeck during a visit to St Ives, Cornwall, in the late 1880s.

The 33 x 25cm painting was sent to Bukowski’s, the Swedish auction house that Bonhams acquired this year. With a high-end estimate of £120,000 it sold to a Nordic collector for £130,000.

The Bukowskis catalogue entry, with better photos, is here

Cezanne's earliest self-portrait?

December 20 2022

Image of Cezanne's earliest self-portrait?

Picture: Cincinnati Art Museum

An x-ray of a still life by Cezanne at the Cincinnati Art Museum has revealed it was painted over a portrait, making it perhaps the earliest self-portrait of the artist. More here

Restitution news (ctd.)

December 20 2022

Image of Restitution news (ctd.)

Picture: Cambridge Museums

More major returns have been announced. First, the Pope has instructed Vatican Museums to return its fragments of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece (or rather, the head of the Greek Orthodox Church). Second, Cambridge University will return over 100 Benin bronzes to Nigeria. The latter case involved the Charity Commission, and I think is the first major case of the Commission allowing museums legal cover to deaccession artworks, after the possibility was spotted by Alexander Herman of the Institute for Art and Law, thanks to an amendment in the new Charities Act (as reported in the Guardian here). 

Ary de Vois portrait for Museum de Lakenhal

December 20 2022

Image of Ary de Vois portrait for Museum de Lakenhal

Picture: Codart

News of a Dutch acquisition from the Codart website:

Museum De Lakenhal in Leiden has acquired a painting by the seventeenth-century painter Ary de Vois. The Leiden fijnschilder painted A Portrait of an Ensign of the Leiden Civic Guard in 1664 at the height of his career.

De Vois was probably born in Utrecht in the first half of the 1630s. He probably first trained in Utrecht with Nicolaus Knüpfer, who also taught Jan Steen, and then in Leiden with Abraham van den Tempel before joining the Leiden Guild of St. Luke in 1653. Work by the painter is rare in the Netherlands. Only very few works by De Vois can be seen in Dutch museums.

Frans Hals exhibitions

December 20 2022

Image of Frans Hals exhibitions

Picture: National Gallery

I hadn't seen that Frans Hals will be the subject of major shows at the National Gallery (autumn 2023) and the Rijksmuseum (early 2024). There's a conference looking ahead to the exhibitions at the Frans Hals museum next month (8 & 9 Jan). More here

Save Omai! (ctd.)

December 16 2022

Image of Save Omai! (ctd.)

Picture: FT

There's some intriguing news in the Financial Times - the National Portrait Gallery, in its bold attempt to save Joshua Reynolds' Portrait of Omai, has been considering a joint ownership deal with the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. John Gapper writes:

The National Portrait Gallery considered jointly acquiring Joshua Reynolds’ 1776 masterpiece, the “Portrait of Omai” — a life-size painting of a young Polynesian islander who sailed to Britain on one of Captain Cook’s ships — with the J Paul Getty Museum in California.

The institutions would have shared the rights to display the portrait, which is valued at £50mn, between London and Los Angeles.

However, this innovative plan was shelved after one of the NPG's main potential backers, the National Heritage Memorial Fund, said it would not be able to support a joint ownership plan, preferring instead for the portrait to remain in the UK permanently. So the race is now on for the NPG director, Nicholas Cullinan, to raise the full £50m ahead of the March deadline, otherwise the painting must - as far as I understand it - be given an export licence, and thus leave the UK permanently.

Given the sum of money required, and the extremely difficult fundraising environment right now, the shared ownership plan seems to me to have been a bit of a brainwave. The Art Newspaper reported some weeks ago that the NPG had already raised half the £50m, itself an impressive feat. Personally, I don't think I'd have minded if the portrait was shared between the UK and the US - it is, after all, something of an international image. And longstanding readers will know I've wondered if we sometimes fetishise the idea of 'saving' artworks for the nation, to the extent that we might not have been bothered at all if a painting was hidden away for centuries in a UK private collection, but the minute it's bought by an overseas buyer, even if it's an overseas museum, we want to 'save' it for a UK museum. 

Into this comes an interesting intervention from the arts minister, Lord Parkinson, who has wondered, in an interview in The Art Newspaper, if the UK export committee should consider the ultimate destination for an artwork when deciding whether to block an export or not. In other words, if Omai (for example) was being bought outright by the Getty Museum, would we be as bothered about it being exported as if it was going into a private collection (in this case, the Irish billionaire, John Magnier)? Should public access, even if abroad, be considered as part of the application? Lord Parkinson has said he is going to review the export process, and wants to seek views from the museum sector. 

Anyway, let's hope the NPG succeeds in finding a further £25m - if it doesn't, it might transpire that the Heritage Memorial Fund's well-meaning desire to keep the painting in the UK ends up contributing to its departure. 

Ruskin Spear

December 15 2022

Image of Ruskin Spear

Picture: NPG

There's a new book on Ruskin Spear (1911-1990), one of those British 20th Century artists who seemed to me to be unjustly overlooked. I've always like his portraits, like the one of Harold Wilson above. There's a new book out on him now, by Tanya Harrod, available here. It's reviewed in Apollo by Lynda Nead:

In recent years, 20th-century British art has been experiencing a significant revival in scholarship, curating and publishing, with outstanding exhibitions, books and catalogues that make it possible to teach and enjoy British art of this period more fully than ever before. With all this renewed attention, however, the painter Ruskin Spear (1911–90) has been overlooked. In spite of the high regard in which he was held in the 1950s, by the late ’60s his reputation was dwindling and he had fallen out of fashion. This book is a meticulous piece of art historical rescue; a bid to replace Spear in the new histories of British art.

£70k bid for Pope brothers

December 15 2022

Video: DFNA

I'm always glad to see regional auction houses upping their online marketing game, especially for Old Masters. Dreweatts made an effort for their 1606 English School portrait of the Pope brothers, and were rewarded by a £70,000 hammer bid (about £87,500 with premium) against a lower estimate of £40,000. They also set what I think must be an auction record for Henry Wyatt, a pupil of Lawrence, whose The Corsair made £52,000 hammer. These were the sort of pictures which might have got a bit lost in a London sale at the bigger auction houses, but stood out when in a regional sale. 

Rombouts exhibition, Ghent

December 15 2022

Image of Rombouts exhibition, Ghent

Picture: MSK Ghent

The museum of fine arts in Ghent is holding an exhibition on Theodor Rombouts (1597-1637), 'the virtuoso of Flemish Caravaggism'. Rombouts was a terrific painter, but much overshadowed by his non-Caravaggist Flemish contemporaries, such as Van Dyck. If he had been Dutch, like say Honthorst, he might be more remembered as part of the 'Dtuch Golden Age', but these are the idiosyncracies of art history, a discipline hooked on pigeonholing. 

The show runs till 23rd April, more here

Dickinson wins £9.1m Chardin case

December 13 2022

Image of Dickinson wins £9.1m Chardin case

Picture: Mail

The London dealer Simon Dickinson (inset, above) has won a court case in which he was sued by the owner of a Chardin - Le Benedicite - he had sold on their behalf. The owner, the Countess of Wemyss & March (right, above), maintained that the painting sold by her privately through Dickinson to another dealer, Verner Amell, as 'Chardin & Studio' for £1.4m, should have fetched a higher sum, closer to the £9.1m it made when Amell then sold it to his client, as a fully attributed 'Chardin', just over six months later. The picture (one of four versions of this famous composition) had been listed in Pierre Rosenberg's catalogue raisonne as a "copie retouchée", which I take to mean as a version made in the workshop, retouched by Chardin himself. 

The judge found in favour of Dickinson on all counts. I think, from what I've seen of the case, that this was always the likely outcome. There was a curious passage in the judgement which seemed to imply that Lady Wemyss' lawyer wanted to argue the case on the basis of the painting being either simply "autograph" or "non-autograph" - in other words, as Judge Simon Gleeson said in his judgement - 'that the art market as a whole would divide Chardin paintings as falling into only two classes – autograph and third party copies', and that "copie retouchée" meant the picture was still all by Chardin himself. Whereas Simon Dickinson's lawyers argued that it was better to think in terms of "wholly autograph" or "partially autograph". The latter is of course (as the judge agreed) correct, especially when we're dealing with so many artists who relied on studio assistants, and I'm surprissed the Wemyss' legal team tried to argue the case on this apparently flawed basis. 

We might also say that the final £9.1m figure for the painting could be said to reflect Verner Amell's skills as an art dealer as much as the merits of the painting itself. Amell's decision to purchase the painting involved a deal of risk, as he is quoted as saying in the judgement:

"When I bought the painting by Chardin and Studio, I took an enormous risk. Every single monongraph, Pierre Rosenberg, Phillip Conisbee at the National Gallery, Marianne Roland Michell, the Wildenstein Institute, and others all said the painting was an old copy or wrong. Not by the Artist…..But, I liked the painting and I thought it had a chance of being right….please remember, if we had not found the signature, we would have spent the rest of our lives arguing about the attribution and would probably have lost half our money…As you know, I have always been a gambler on paintings, and presumably that is why you offered me the Chardin, as it was a gamble"

The £9.1m figure was even described by Judge Gleeson as 'grossly inflated'. Much of the decision came down to the question of value, about which Judge Gleeson said; 'this is an exercise of the most unscientific and speculative nature imaginable'. Which I think is worth remembering, next time somebody confidently tells you what a picture is or is not worth.

Anyway, the main takeaway in all these cases is; think very, very hard about going to law about a painting. The second takeaway is, if you consign a painting to a dealer for private sale, make sure - if you don't want the shock of seeing it again for a different price - they sell it not to a dealer, but to a private collector, or, better yet, a museum.

You can read a summary of the case by barrister Michael Bowner at the Institute of Art and Law here, and the full judgement (which I have to say is really quite impressive in its grasp of all the art market issues) here

Update - I noticed this snippet in the judgement, and identify strongly with the last line:

Simon Dickinson is the key witness in this case. He is clearly, as he presents himself, a man whose life has been devoted to art. His track-record suggests that he has a formidable eye, and he has an extremely high level of confidence in his own ability to discern quality in a painting. He is not a keeper of notes, and, as he admits, his memory for anything other than paintings is questionable.

Update II - thinking further about this case, and associated cases like the Thwaytes Caravaggio case against Sotheby's, it seems to me unfortunate, to say the least, that questions over attribution and art market practice which on the surface seem quite straightforward to those operating within the art world, can take months and millions of pounds to resolve in a court of law. Moreover, some of these cases seem to be launched on the basis of one set of lawyers beginning from a weak position built on a failure to understand some pretty basic art and art market matters. Perhaps there is a need for a kind of art market tribunal, where these questions can be referred without costing so much money. But then, as they say in the legal world, 'all good things end in litigation'.  

Update III - looking further at the judgement, I do think there is one area where the judge has erred (paras 163-167), and that is in his estimation of the likely value of the painting had it 1) been accepted as a fully attributed Chardin at the time of the Wemyss sale, and 2) been subjected to an export licence stop. He calculates the former to have been £5m, but subject to the latter, reduced £4m. But the benefit of the UK export licence system is that it has very little if any impact on the value of a painting. The judge seems to have calculated his £1m export licence-related discount on the basis of someone - in this case an overseas buyer - taking a risk and buying and paying for the painting before they knew if an export licence would be granted. Whereas the UK system allows someone to apply for an export licence without first paying for an object. So there is no chance of, say, a US collector, ending up with their picture stuck with it in the UK. He also accepted the erroneous evidence of one of the expert witnesses that the fact that a painting might be subject to an export licence would affect a dealer's ability to market the painting, which is simply not true. In any case, this part of the judge's reasoning was moot, since he did not find Dickinson has been negligent at all. 

Acceptance in Lieu report

December 12 2022

Image of Acceptance in Lieu report

Picture: ACE

Regular readers will know what an admirer I am of the UK's acceptance-in-lieu scheme, which allows museums to acquire important works of art if the government agrees to forgo an amount of tax equivalent to their value. This year's report is out, here, and details some major new acquisitions, including a Wright of Derby self-portrait for Derby Museum (which I've reported on before, here); a Hogarth portrait for Strawberry Hill; a Veronese portrait for the National Gallery; a Canaletto for the V&A; and the above Lo Spagna of Christ Carrying the Cross (above), which was previously in the Sutherland Collection, but has now been allocated to the National Gallery, which has its pendant, Christ in the Garden of Gethsemene. The total amount of tax foregone was over £27m. 

The Parthenon Marbles (ctd.)

December 12 2022

Image of The Parthenon Marbles (ctd.)

Picture: BG

Liam Kelly in The Times reports that George Osborne, chair of the British Museum, has been having secret talks with the Greek Prime Minister, over the possible return of the Parthenon Marbles. This feels like a significant moment. I don't think such high levels talks would happen if there hadn't been progress further down the chain of command, so to speak.

I note also that 10 Downing Street, under Rishi Sunak, has stopped short of declaring outright opposition to any repatriation, as Liz Truss did in her brief, inglorious premiership. Instead, they've gone back to the 'it's up to the British Museum' formula.

So, my best guess is we could see a development soon, probably to coincide with the announcement on a major refurbishment of the British Museum. Where better to move the Marbles while the Duveen Galleries are rebuilt than the Parthenon? And after the move has been seen to be a success and the British Museum isn't emptied of everything (as opponents of returning the Marbles like to claim), then who will object to most of them staying in Athens on long-term loan? Not many, I suspect. 

Incidentally, I see also that Lord Parkinson, who was arts minister under Boris Johnson, has been reappointed to the post under Rishi Sunak. He was replaced as arts minister under Liz Truss. A good reappointment, I think, he has always been interested in the arts and culture brief. 

£1000 fine for Just Stop Oil protesters

December 12 2022

Image of £1000 fine for Just Stop Oil protesters

Picture: Guardian

The Just Stop Oil protesters who stuck themselves to Constable's Haywain the National Gallery have been fined £1000. More here

Fitzwilliam Museum funding cuts

December 12 2022

Image of Fitzwilliam Museum funding cuts

Picture: Apollo

When the Arts Council announced its funding settlement last month all the hoo-ha focused around cuts to institutions like the English National Opera. But there were some savage and needless cuts in the museum sector too, especially for the Fitzwilliam Museum, which lost half its funding; £637k from £1.2m. No reason was given. By contrast, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford didn't lose any funding. 

The Arts Council says it was responding to the government's directions on 'levelling up', that is, redistributing funding from London to the regions. But this appears to be mainly cover for overall cuts. The Arts Council is supposed to be an 'arms length body', and retain some independence from the government. However, its actions lately suggest it is doing too much of the government's bidding. For example, previously its two main funding streams - the National Lottery and grant-in-aid - were supposed to be clearly demarcated as separate sets of accounts. But now the two sums are lumped in together, which masks the fall in grant-in-aid from the government. But the main problem is the Arts Council was never set up to deal with museums - this used to be a different body, the MLA (Museums Libraries and Archives) - and is inherently more focused on performing arts. 

There's an interview here in Apollo with the Fitzwilliam's director Luke Syson (above), responding to the cuts:

For the past three years, the University of Cambridge Museums group has received £1.2m. This year, in one of the most reviled funding rounds in the history of the ACE, it was announced that the group would receive just over £600,000. According to the most recent annual report publicly available (2019– 20), ACE contributed 12 per cent of the museum’s income. For an institution of the Fitzwilliam’s size, this reduction in income is crippling. Reading between the lines, there are hints in the same report that ACE was concerned that the Fitzwilliam hadn’t fulfilled its targets of diversifying the audience. Cutting its money won’t help it achieve this.

Syson is clearly in shock when we discuss this. At the time of our interview, he still hadn’t had an explanation. It ‘was announced on Friday [4 November] and we didn’t have any warning that we were going to be cut to that degree. Obviously, we’re extremely disappointed,’ he says. It is a decision that seems particularly odd in light of the fact that the work the outreach and education teams did during lockdown resulted in the Fitzwilliam being ‘consulted by legislators to find out what best practice in this in this area looked like.’

Apologies (ctd.)

December 8 2022

Sorry for the lack of posts - I was in London looking at the Old Master sales. And I'm on a deadline for Scottish Field, who I started writing a regular column for lately. (The most recent article, if you're interested, is on Esther Inglis, the first British female professional artist, preview here.)

l'll post a review of the Old Master sales and some more news stories in a couple of days. 

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