04.11.2012: From Provence to Switzerland

1. Parallel lives: Rico and Cézanne

Martín Rico (1833-1908), La Corniche,1881. Oil on canvas, 42.9 x 74 cm. Minnesota, Collection of the Tweed Museum of Art, University of Minnesota, Duluth, Gift of Howard Lyon.
Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), Mont Saint-Victoire, 1881. Oil on canvas, 72.40 x 97 cm, The Barnes Foundation, Merion.

Martín Rico (1833-1908) and Paul Cézanne (1839 – 1906) were not only contemporaries and fellow newcomers to Paris around 1860 and 1862, but also artists that used landscape as their preferred motive. Both are receiving a major retrospective now, Rico in Madrid (Martín Rico as landscaper, Museo del Prado, October 30 to February 10, 2013; admission €12; catalogue €35 here) and Cézanne in Budapest (Cézanne and the PastMuseum of Fine Arts, from October 26, to February 17, 2013, admission 3,200 HUF, catalogue available). But the coincidences stop here, says history of art. Rico, thanks to his encounter with Marià Fortuny (1838-1874) in Paris in 1871, and his joint trip to Granada, learned how to use his natural talent and his teachings from the Barbizon school to produce brilliant, attractive and dexterous renderings of the most topical views usually of Southern Spain and Venice, which brought him huge commercial success in his time, but critical derision today. Cézanne, as we all know, responded to the Parisian establishment snubs by returning home to Aix to start his lonely, stubborn, revolutionary quest on using the paintings’ plane to reveal the structure of the image, which will establish him as the pioneer of modernity. But in the same way that the excellent work of curator Javier Barón Thaidigsmann, Head of 19th Centruy Paintings Department at the Prado, reveals a more nuanced, investigative Rico, the current blockbuster in Budapest wants to emphasize Cézanne’s debt to the Old Masters. On the other hand, a new biography by Alex Denchev, reviewed here by Waldemar Januszczak, shows a more sensual, vital Cézanne at work (Alex Denchev, Cézanne: A Life, Pantheon Books, New York, 2012; $24.50 on Amazon).

2. Sold! 

Noche en Cadaqués

In a weak 19th Century Art Sale at Christie’s  New York (1st November),  marred by a post-Sandy atmosphere and phone lines recurrently cut-off, the three Catalan lots  (n. 60 to 62) in the catalogue gave auctioneer James Hastie the comfort of being sold, at least.  The best of them, Eliseu Meifrèn’s (1859 – 1840), Night in Cadaqués (oil on canvas, 130 x 151 cm), featured in this blog on October, 13th, was introduced by Hastie as a “fabulous painting” and did quite well, selling at the middle of the $80,000 – 120,000 estimate for $100,000 ($122,250 with commissions) to a bidder in the room. It has however failed to enter the painter’s top ten. The big days of 2003-2008 are gone, but it seems that Catalan painting, when offered at reasonable estimates, remains attractive even on the international circuit.

3. A bargain?

The Thebaid (tempera on panel, 27.5 x 37.5 cm, 1430 – 1435), a fragment cut from a panel by Fra Angelico (c. 1395 – 1455) and his studio, has been sold on October 27th in Leclere (Marseille) for €552,000 (commissions included), to a French collector,  informs Le Journal des Arts. They see it as a relative bargain in another weak sale (only 29% sold). But given that its condition was not pristine; that it does not show Fra Angelico at his best,  and that the Louvre, who had already passed on the chance to buy it during the export deferral, I think they should be quite happy to have found a buyer for it, and indeed someone from the same country it was about to leave – my guess was that it would go to the Philadelphia Museum of Art,  which holds the fragment, The Papacy offered to Gregory the Great(tempera on panel, 27.9 x 19.7 cm) that most directly relates to the one on offer.

4. Make your own Rijk

The Rijksmuseum has decided to open its digital doors well ahead of its off-line ones (now officially planned for April 13, 2013), and its new website is certainly a feast for eyes. Its on-line catalogue lists 275,556 files, of which 132,847 come with high-resolution images – including of course one of my absolute favorites, Johannes Vermeers  (1632-1675) The Street or a view of houses in Delft (oil on canvas 54.3 x 44 cm, 1656)which for some reason unknown even to me, I prefer to his even greater The Milkmaid (oil on canvas, 45.5 x 41 cm, 1660). However, there are some loose ends  (here and there, a text in Dutch pops up in the English version), and it would be great if they could include, in the same file, all the information about the painting available on line, and produced by the museum – it is a bit disappointing that Francisco de Goya (1746-1828) Portrait of Ramon Satué (oil on canvas, 107 x 83.5, 1823) does not include a mere link to the research that, just a year ago, discovered a portrait of a French high-ranking military underneath (see this blog’s note on September, 29, 2011). Anyway, they worked hard to develop the star feature of this digital trove of images, called Rijkstudio, which running with the motto “Create your own Masterpiece”, is designed to allow you to download any picture for free (expect when copyrights apply), and make use of it to give free rein to your creative appropriation instinct.

5. From Charles to Beatrix

The word “Rijk” in the name “Rijksmuseum” is a tricky one – it seems that in current Dutch it is used to refer to the whole of the kingdom (including the Caribbean territories), in the same way that, in German, “Reich” was used to include territories beyond Germany (perhaps near to English “Empire”, as in “Imperial War Museum”). So it’s only natural that the Rijksmuseum, besides its role as art museum, gives some idea of the different parts of the kingdom and their history – becoming in a way both an art and a national museum. You will find some of that on the new website: under the uncompromising label Timeline Dutch History, it offers you a general introduction to the history of the Low Countries, which they like to start with the unification of many of its current territories under emperor Charles V (1500-1558), and end with the current user of the Koninklijk Paleis, Queen Beatrix. It really works as a context to the artworks from the collection, and makes for an absorbing story in its own right – and reading it from Barcelona is a plus, not only because of our shared history under the Spanish crown.

6. Books: Vicenç Furió, Arte y reputación. Estudios sobre el reconocimiento artístico

How great have great artists looked to the following generations of artists, critics, and specialists? Is fame, and artistic reputation granted once and forever more? These are questions that Vicenç Furió tries to answer in six different essays, now revised and expanded in this new book. I found in it the healthy idea that there are no such things as discoveries of unknown artists, but rediscoveries of them – which can only be true if we agree that history of art is built upon pieces of memory, either ignored, tolerated or celebrated by our ancestors  (Vicenç Furió, Arte y reputación. Estudios sobre el reconocimiento artístico, Memoria Artium, Barcelona, 2012; €35.- here).

7. Make art, not war

I learned through the  Huffington Post (full of curious pieces of news), which clips a Reuters dispatch, that the Swiss government has found an imaginative solution to two different national issues at the same time; namely, the overcrowding of the art-depots in Geneva’s free-port (said to already store a fabulous, yet uncertain number of billions of dollars in art), and the disuse of the bunkers they built in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s for WWII and the Cold War. They are offering them to buyers willing to revamp them into big safes for art – last in the offerings list is a 1955 ammunition stockpile near lake Lucerne, for just 386,000 Swiss Francs.

28.10.2012: From Naples to Rome.

1. Sometimes it is just too late.

Giovanni Battista Lusieri (c. 1755- c. 1821), Bay of Naples, 1791; pen and ink, gouache, and watercolor on six sheets of paper; 102 x 272 cm, The J. Paul Getty Museum.

Sure some of you are familiar with the work of Giovanni Battista Lusieri (c. 1755 – c.1821), but it has taken me about three and a half decades, plus this review in the FAZ about Expanding Horizons, the current retrospective in the Scottish National Gallery, to come across this absolute master of landscape painting. To make things worse, the show is just closing on October 28, and even the catalogues are sold out! The only consolation is to reserve one of the reprints, planned for early December.

 

2. Also late, but still on time.

A recent visit to the Museum of Barcelona’s Cathedral, a small annex in the building’s cloister that also houses its chapterhouse, came with a nice surprise. It seems that since at least July 2009, you can admire here not only the Pietat Desplà, (oil on panel, 175 x 189 cm, signed and dated 1490) the key masterwork of Bartolomé Bermejo (active between 1468-1561), but also the so called Chair of King Martin, a wooden, silver-gilded portable throne that works as a seat for one of the finest monstrances from the International Gothic. The spectacular set (approximately 140 cm high) is probably the high point of the famed early 15th century Barcelona silversmiths.

 

3. Books: The Brueghels at work.

I learn through La Tribune de l’Art about this monumental work on Pieter Bruegel the Elder, his copyists, and his son and close follower Pieter Brueghel the Younger (C. Currie, D. Allart, The Brueg(H)el Phenomenon. Paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Pieter Brueghel the Younger with a special focus on technique and copying practice,1062 p, Brepols, 2012, €160 from the publisher’s website). It is not a light matter. The most important recent rediscovery and purchase of a work by Bruegel (the Elder) was made by the Spanish Ministry for Culture for the Museo del Prado in 2010. But the museum wanted to acquire The Wine of Saint Martin’s Day (glue-sized tempera on linen, 148 x 270.5 cm, c. 1556 – 1568) then attributed to the son, only if its own research on the painting’s technique revealed that the work was in fact by the father. The owners were brave enough to agree, and their good luck was eventually confirmed not only by the technical aspects, but also by the finding of the signature of the artist itself (see the Prado’s report here).

 

4. Books: Looking for Ottonian manuscripts? Please help yourself.

Medieval Histories, by Karen Schousboe, is one of the most readable, and interesting blogs on art history you can find. In the October issue, she urges us to fly to Munich, and pay our respects to Pracht auf Pergament, the exhibition in the Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung (until January 13th), a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to see the precious, rare and very fragile collection of Caroligean, Ottonian and Staufern manuscripts held in the Bavarian State Library (including the Gospel of Otto III, Reichenau, c. 1000; pictured above.). But in these days of digital access, the real wonders come out of true academic generosity, which is now the norm. On the exhibition’s website, they loaded up the 74 manuscripts, most of them illuminated, dated between 800 – 1175, ready to be downloaded, free and fast, directly to your computer (I tried, and it works). Perhaps steps like this can bring about a new push on teaching Early Medieval Art by starting with illuminated manuscripts?

 

5. Manuel works.

As you have surely noticed, I like to follow the work of those interesting academics I have the good luck to know. This time, it is  Dr. Manuel Castiñeiras, who is participating in the upcoming Fourth Annual Anne d’Harnoncourt Symposium, on The Art of Sculpture 1100 – 1500: Sculptural Reception, and organised by The Philadelphia Museum of Art, Penn University and the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art, Paris (November 2-4. Penn University Campus). The title of Castiñeira’s paper is quite suggestive: They Are All the Work of Artists (Jer. 10, 9): the Romanesque Portal as liturgical Performance, following his brilliant essays on Saint James in Compostela. You can read the rest of the programme here.

 

6. A wrong approach – and an error in political strategy.

I am sad to note that the electoral manifesto of Convergència i Unió (the Nationalist Catalan party that everyone expects to win the crucial elections on November 25th) is very clear about its proposal for a referendum for independence (more than happy with that), but extremely weak when it comes to cultural matters. You have a bit of illustrated democratic despotism (“The Government will guarantee, and govern the network of basic facilities”, including museums), combined with an inward vision on cultural heritage, which seems to work only as evidence of Catalan culture’s self-sufficiency. Thank God, the professionals at the fore of basic facilities tend to follow a more advanced form of nationalism – an open one, which knows you cannot explain Catalan culture, nor any other European culture, without taking into account some of the rest of European cultures (here is my humble attempt in August to explain that).

 

7. Roma locuta.

The union of The Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church and The Pontifical Council for Culture, ordered by the Motu Propio Pulchritudinis Fidei signed by Pope Benedict  XVI in July and recently made public, might sound like a very unimportant piece of Vatican bureaucracy. Not so, perhaps. In fact it could be very good news for the endless buildings and artworks under the care of the Catholic Church – because it means the Holy See is willing to make use of them for its renewed purpose of dialogue with non-believers through culture. Hopefully that will lead to joint restoration campaigns and research – and also a wider openness to contemporary art. Just to see how far this can go, read this interview with the mastermind of this policy, Card. Gianfranco Ravasi, in which he discusses the Vatican pavilion in the upcoming Venice Biennale (June 1st – November 24th, 2013), and also the tragic death of Amy Winehouse.

13.10.2012: From the Pyrenees to Sitges, via Rome.

1. It was just one century ago.

 

The stellar news of the week follow a familiar pattern. In 1904, the architect and art historian Lluís Domènech i Montaner took the picture on the left, the first to show off the nave of the shockingly fine Sant Climent of Taüll church, lost in a remote valley in the Catalan Pyrenees. However it was not only architecture that drove him there, but also these hidden wall paintings sticking out behind the Gothic altarpiece. And for good reason: he had stumbled upon the Master of Taüll’s Pantocrator, a true Romanesque masterpiece, now in the MNAC. Last week, the Direction Régionale des Affaires Culturelles du Midi – Pyrenées reported a similar story of wonder from the other side of the Pyrenees: a new group of exceptionally well preserved Romanesque wall paintings was discovered in the parish church of Ourjout, a small village in Arièja, when restorers removed some panels of the noted Baroque altarpiece placed before it (see report and pictures here).  Specialists are now busy establishing its relationship with the other cycles in the Pyrenean area -my amateurish eye sees at least two hands in the Occitan examples, and a more direct link with wall paintings in Santa Maria de Boí (also in the MNAC), rather than Sant Climent.

2. Between Van Gogh and Dalí.

 

This is where the catalogue for Christie’s 19th Century European Art sale (November 1st, New York) places this powerful  Night in Cadaqués (lot 60, oil on canvas, 130 x 151 cm) by the Eliseu Meifrèn (1859 – 1840). Perhaps there is a gentle touch of spin that justifies the $80,000 – 120,000 (€60,000 – 90,000) estimate, but still a hint about how a fresh, open approach can help present Catalan painting in an international context. A very similar one, yet slightly less dramatic example with a starting price of €90,000, went unsold in October 2006 in Balclis, an auction house in Barcelona (lot 804, also 130 x 150 cm).

3. Is this really a Vermeer?

Well, you can decide for yourself after examining the impressive reunion of eight works by his hand (including this St. Praxedis, 102 x 83 cm, 1655; from The Barbara Piasecka Johnson Foundation), plus forty-two others by contemporary Dutch Masters, currently on show at the Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome (Vermeer. The Gold Century of Dutch Art, up to January 20th, admissions from € 9.50 to 12.-). But perhaps only a Titian would put you on a plane? Then wait for the next grand show of the Venetian master in the same venue, from February to January 2013 – why not pair it with a visit to nearby Palazzo Doria Pamphilj in Via del Corso?

4. Private hands in public venues.

 

Mondo Mostre is the private exhibition’s agency behind Vermeer’s show in the Scuderie.  Founded in 1999, and specialized in Italian – Russian exchanges, it offers a commanding international projects list that can help to brush off some of the prejudices against this kind of alternative partners for museums, both private and public.

 

5. First steps.

 

The new directors of the MNAC have announced its 2013 exhibition plans. Hampered by budget cuts, and the absence of any plans by the previous director, it offers however some degree of variety. It combines a retrospective of recent work by Antoni Tàpies (born in 1923 and deceased last February) and Joan Colom (1921; he donated his entire oeuvre and archive in July) with some in-focus presentations of certain works in the permanent collection. Above all, it is a feasible program, in which their curators have a real chance to shine – I am expecting how far and deep will go Drs. Francesc Quílez and Jordi À. Carbonell on the enormous The Battle of Tetouan (oil on canvas, 300 x 972 cm, Rome, 1862-1864) Marià Fortuny (1838-1874), on show between March and June 2013. Meanwhile, on the list of matters pending, I would put: widening a vision that for the moment does not embrace art from beyond Spain’s borders, and starting using the Museum’s loans for international projects as a way to secure the corresponding exhibition also at home.

6. Time for a Baroque rescue effort.

 

Whose is the hand behind this wonderful Still life with fish and seafruit (oil on canvas, 65 x 99 cm), bought by the Museo del Prado in 2009? A Dutch master in Italy? An Italian ex-pat in the Netherlands? A provincial French, or a Spanish court artist in Madrid? None of them, but the Catalan Antoni Viladomat i Manalt (1678-1755). His catalogue raisonné, already completed by Dr. Francesc Miralpeix but still unpublished, reveals a painter who, thanks to imported engravings, knew how to kept himself aware of what was happening elsewhere, and made his own interpretations of the available models. Which makes for an interesting book and its corresponding exhibition to add onto the waiting list.

7. Revelations in Sitges. 

As trumpeted in this blog in September, on Friday, 5th this month a sold-out 1st Meeting for Art, Markets, and Museums took place in Sitges, near Barcelona. The different speakers made interesting contributions to this world of close relationships, but the most interesting news for me came from dealer Artur Ramon. In his rapid sketch of art dealers in post-war Barcelona, he identified a couple of Jewish émigrés, Dr. Arnaldo and Rutta Rosenstingl setting the tone for high quality dealing, but also a German fugitive, Gestapo related Ludwig Losbichler-Gutjahr working from the shadows of a room in the Majestic Hotel. If Losbichler had had his hands dirtied by Holocaust-tainted property, then a door for restitution cases has been open in a city that, belonging to neutral Spain, at first seemed irrelevant to the matter. To make thinks even more complicated, the principal source of Ramon’s findings is the 1951-1969 correspondence between Losbichler and Germain Seligmann, a dealer in New York of Jewish origin.

From Bosch to the Courtauld

September 29nd, 2012

1. Books: Rush for Bosch!

 

I just received an email from the publisher Brepols reminding me next September, 30, their introductory offer expires for F. Koreny Bosch. Die Zeichnungen, the 456 pages (451 colour ill.) complete catalogue of the master’s drawings. 100 Euros, instead of 125 Euros: irresistible? Then buy it here now.

 

2. Putting together Peter’s puzzles.

 

The lists of works for the exhibition the Frick Collection in New York has just announced, lead to a natural question. Named  Piero della Francesca in America (February 12th to May 19th, 2013, catalogue by James Banker, Machtelt Israels, Elena Squillantini and Giacommo Guazzini) it will present Madonna and Child attended by Angels from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, alongside with the different panels of  his Sant Agostino’ altarpiece now in New York and Washington. But it will also show an additional panel from the other side of the Atlantic: Saint Augustine from  the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon. “Why?” – I asked in my email to Heidi Rosenau , Frick’s Head of Media Relations. She promptly provided me with the answer from guest curator Nathaniel Silver:

“The title of the exhibition, Piero della Francesca in America, signifies the fact that this is the first exhibition of his work in the United States. Significantly, all of the paintings were made for the artist’s native city so the exhibition is about Piero working in his hometown. While the vast majority of paintings in the exhibition are in American collections and this theme introduces the exhibition catalogue, it is not the show’s primary theme. The magnificent painting from Lisbon was, however, discovered partly as a result of Miss Frick’s acquisition of St. John the Evangelist. In 1947, Kenneth Clark attributed the Lisbon St. Augustine to Piero for the first time, a discovery catalyzed by the recently published Frick acquisition.”

Then, the exhibition will perhaps be the first step to see, one day, all the surviving panels from the altarpiece at one place – this time, the Saint Michael in the National Gallery, and Saint Nicholas Tolentino in Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan, stayed home.

 

3. Your man in Paris.

And there attending last night of the Biennale des Antiquaires at Grand Palais, last day of Richter’s exhibition in the Pompidou, and second public day in the new Islamic Arts wing in the Louvre.  I could write a long post on all of that, but what really caught my attention this time were the not so new salles n .18 and n. 1 of the infinite museum – that is Ruben’s 1621 – 1622 clever cycle for Maria de Medici’s self-celebratory hall in Palais du Luxembourg, and the extraordinary Byzantine (Barberini Ivory, first half of the 6th century) and Caroligian ivories (The Earthy Paradise, c. 870-875.) you find on your way to the Baroque feast. What make a great museum grand are these permanent, sometimes unexpected lessons.

 

4. When did it all start? (2).

Francesc Lacoma i Fontanet (1784-1812), Self-portrait, oil on canvas, 68.5 x 57 cm, 1805, MNAC, Barcelona.

Last week’s note dealing with the pioneering relationship between Pelegrí Clavé and German Nazarenes in Rome around 1845, prompted an interesting comment from Dr. Francesc Miralpeix, from the University of Girona. This is it:

“The connection of 19th century Catalan artists with their European colleagues can be pushed some years back. I will propose the generation of Solà, Campeny, and especially the little known, yet very interesting Francesc Lacome. I suspect they were the link with the Romantics and the Nazarenes”.

Here you have a nice subject for your thesis. Anyway, what strikes me from Pelegrí Calvé is his willingness to surpass the Nazarene model in its own field, and his decision to embark on an international career (in Mexico) after his Roman years. In this sense, I would say he was a forerunner of the great star of the following generation, Marià Fortuny (1838-1974) – a truly European phenomenon.

5. A bold choice.

 

The “guess-who’s-coming-to-dinner” way, by which top posts in Barcelona’s museums are provided, has struck gold over these last months. If Dr. Pilar Vélez (Barcelona 1957) was an excellent choice as director of DHUB (which will hold the city collections of decorative arts, dress, industrial design and graphic arts) in May, now filling her previous post as director of  Museu Marès with Josep Maria Trullén (Barcelona 1954), deliver good news again.  Mr Trullén is a good friend of mine, which is totally irrelevant, especially when taking into consideration his brilliant job of first transforming the Museu of Solsona, then the Museu of Vic into regional powerhouses that involved up to three  different public bodies, plus the Church. His years as director of the Museu d’Art de Girona was not that successful, but we can be sure he will now show this was not his fault, by no means. But who will take the crown in Girona? Stay tuned!

 

6. Another good reason for transferring to Italy.

Just in case you wonder about spending a long time in Italy, let me give you another good reason for the move. This upscale  bocetto (Glory of Saints, oil on canvas, 92 x 136 cm) by Corrado Guiaquinto (1703-1766) has been denied an export licence, so it cannot travel outside the country. It will be auctioned, therefore, by Antonina in the Italian capital on October 2nd, with the ridiculous estimate of 12,000 / 15,000 Euros. Why not buy it, and doubly enjoy your stay in the land that produces such kind of wonders?

 

7. Work in a Royal Palace, Central London.

My alma mater is looking for a marketing “s/he” – political correctness can be so creative! Working in Somerset House selling world-class exhibitions and art-history courses, might perhaps lure you? At £59,715-£66,923 pa you will better paid than the President of Spain (the increasingly busy man gets only €78,000, according to the new budget). Details in The Art Newspaper.

20 September 2012

1. Planning for Van Dyck.

 

Prado’s forthcoming signature exhibition, The Young Van Dyck opens on November 20th(until March 3rd, 2013). This is how it is planned to hang – according to the General Conditions for the installation contract, published last July, accessible here. As usual, the Friends of the Prado will offer a series of four conferences by its curator, Alejandro Vergara, and its chief restorer, Maria Antonia López de Asiain. (every Monday from October 1st,  fee €145).

 

2. Books: Matías Díaz Padrón, Van Dyck en España.

Dr. Matías Diaz Padrón (1935) heavy volumes (Van Dyck en España, 2 vols, Madrid: Editorial Prensa Ibérica, September 2012; 928 pages, €250.- on the publisher’s website) are his lifetime work, and an archive for his many discoveries in different Spanish collections. It was presented  last week in the auditorium of the Museo del Prado, where he served between 1970 and 2007, first in the Conservation Department, and then as curator in the Flemish and Dutch Schools Department.  Likewise, in an article in the last issue of the Archivo Español de Arte, he argues that a version of Van Dyck’s Saint Sebastian, now in the City Council of Palma de Mallorca, is in fact the lost original from the Monterrey collection.

3. Albert works.

Readers of this blog’s post of August 2nd, might recognise this Christ in Majesty (alabaster, 24 cm. high, c.1320) by the Master of Anglesola (first half of the 14th century), a personal discovery of Albert Velasco, curator at the Museu de Lleida. He has now published a complete study on the piece  (“Un nou fragment del sepulcre de Ramon Folc VI de Cardona, del Monestir de Poblet”, Aplec de treballs. Centre d’Estudis de la Conca de Barberà, n. 29, 2011, p. 209-219).

4. A  women’s landscape.

 

Some weeks ago I went to see two exhibitions, one in Girona (The landscape in the collection of Carmen Thyssen, Caixafòrum, free admission, until January 6th, catalogue for €30 at the door) and the other in Sant Feliu de Guíxols (Landscapes of light, landscapes of dreams. Monastery of Porta Ferrada, until October 8th, admission €6.-, catalogue for €25 at the door) of Catalan and European 19th – early 20th Century landscapes from the collection of Mrs. Carmen Thyssen Bornemisza. As you can expect from a private collection, there were ups and downs. But some of the rooms were really suggestive, like number 6 in the Monastery of Porta Ferrada, which was labelled “The interior landscape” (meaning house interiors). It read also as a short review of the role of women in fin de siècle art – and society. It started with the well-off middle-class wife, sitting comfortably with her husband in their private realm (Ramon Casas, Terrace, 160,5 x 121 cm, 1898; pictured above); continued with the outdoors, independent Parisian, showing off in public parks in the day and in crowded bars at nights, in an ambiguous mixing of freedom and easy availability (Herman Anglada Camarasa, Le Paon Blanc, oil on canvas, 78.5 x 99.5 cm, 1904); and ended with the marginalized, pregnant gypsy by Isidre Nonell (Pregnant Gipsy, oil on canvas, 95 x 80 cm, 1904), whose outplacing is underlined by the blurring of all space references – as though she were sitting in a void. In other words, the signs for a bigger, international project on the subject were there. On the other hand, the exhibition in Sant Feliu was presented as a preview of the future museum in the village housing loans from the same collection. She also announced plans for a large loan to the MNAC in Barcelona – both moves may affect its current display in an annex of Museo Thysen Bornemizsa in Madrid.

 

5. When did it all start?

Pelegrí Clavé (1811-1880), Jacob receives the bloody robe of his son Joseph, oil on canvas, 99 x 136 cm, 1842.

As noted, one of the implied, and really worthy messages of both Thyssen exhibitions is the connection of 19th century Catalan artists with their European counterparts. As they show, these contacts started going mainstream when Ramon Martí Alsina (1826-1894) adopted Gustave Courbet’s (1819- 1877) realism in some of his reasonably sized works – he reserved the really big ones for dramatic history scenes (as seen in Realisms. The Mark of Courbet, April – June 2011 in the MNAC). But perhaps we can take a step back, and consider the acquaintance of Catalan Nazarenes with the original German group in Rome in the middle of the century.  The subject was explored by Dr. Matilde González in her unpublished PhD thesis, and in some recent articles (“La contribució dels puristes catalans al Romanticisme històric”, Revista de Catalunya, n. 275-276, 2011; pp. 81 – 122, and “Una mirada al retrato romántico purista: de los nazarenos alemanes a los nazarenos catalanes”, Butlletí de la Reial Acadèmia de Sant Jordi, n. 25, 2011; pp. 57-78). It is well illustrated by the parallel between German’s frescoes in Casa Barthóldy, and the work by Pelegrí Clavé pictured above, which was bought in 2010 by the Museu d’Art de Girona (see the short note in yes, Wikipedia). The same relationship, but with the British Pre-Raphaellites is now explained, once again, in Tate Britain’s current Pre-Raphaellites Victorian Avant-Garde -until January 13th, admission for £4.- (although Brian Sewell does not really like the show, as we learn via the fantastic Art History News blog by B. Grosvenor). At the end of the day, Nazarens always put the same paradox on the table: was this back-looking group the first modern European movement, showing the latter avant-garde features of social reformism through art, near or pseudo-mystical preoccupations and artist leadership (instead of patron leadership)? How far were they from the Romantics of the previous generation? We need a European answer to that.

6. Goya, Goethe.

 

Both Francisco de Goya (1746-1828) and Johan Wolfgang Goethe (1749 – 1832) can provide some answers to the question above. There is news relating to them. On the one hand, the coming Dark Romanticism. From Goya to Max Ernst in the Städel in Frankfurt (from September 26th to January 30th, 2013, admission €10, catalogue €34.90), is preceded with an article in the FAZ pointing out that the Goethehaus, also in the city, could grow from being the house of an interesting collection of works by Goethe’s contemporaries, and become the first full-fledged Romanticism museum in Germany. On the other hand, fans of the Aragonese genius would love to learn the Prado has launched Goya en el Prado, a comprehensive website with all its Goya’s holdings – from sketches, and documents to the dark, and heavily restored Black Paintings.

7. Hirst, Adrià.

 

Ferran Adrià (Hospitalet del Llobregat, 1962), and Damien Hirst (Bristol, 1965) share something more than their common status as contemporary geniuses. But what about the differences? The chef was invited in documenta Kassel (12) in 2007; the artist is breaking attendance records with his current retrospective in the Tate.

9 August 2012

 1. Resurfacing Goya.

 

I learn via Artdaily, via The Telegraph and finally stopping at Koller Auktionshaus’s website, that this Zürich auction house will include the painting shown above in its sale on September 21, 2012 (lot 3034, Francisco de Goya, Lot and his daughters, oil on canvas, 91 x 125 cm). It was presented as a “new” Goya by the press reports, but for some reason they did not mention the logic behind this attribution. Not a problem, it has taken me just two emails (to Silvana Ghidoli, Koller’s Media Relations person, and to Karoline Wesser, Koller’s Old Masters’ specialist) to receive back a prompt, kind reply with the pre-catalogue schedule for the painting. It records a literature that goes from August L. Mayer Goya of 1924 (and a letter by him to the owner dated in November 12, 1923) to Jose Camón Aznar Francisco José de Goya of 1982, and includes Sanchez Cantón, Gudiol Ricart, Pierre Gassier with Juliet Wilson and Rita De Angelis.  In other words, the resurfaced work seems to come with blessings by the old specialists – but the nod from the current ones is always needed. Regarding to provenance, the work is listed as in a Linker collection in Bilbao in 1930, and later in a Swiss Collection – so further clarification for the 1933 – 1945 period would be useful. The estimate is CHF 600,000 – 800,000 (€ 500,000 – 666,000), which could prove attractive, since a much smaller contemporary The Appearance of the Virgen del Pilar to Saint James (oil on canvas, 47 x 33.3 cm, c. 1780) was sold by Christie’s London for GBP 453,250 on July 9, 2003.

2. August Liebmann Mayer (1885 – 1944).

 

Who was this man writing letters of authentication to the first known owner of the Goya featured above? August L. Mayer was one of the foremost specialists in Spanish Old Masters during the golden interwar years, when discoveries of works by the great masters abounded. He combined his unpaid job as curator in Alte Pinakothek in Munich from 1909 to 1931; with his teachings in the University; his wide, ground-breaking publishing in the field; and his writing of expert paid reports for private collectors. The practice, then accepted, was however used from 1930 on as the excuse for a personal hunt aimed as his Jewish birth – fellow art historians falsely accused him of giving sporious attributions for bigger gains; Nazi authorities fined him savagely for not declaring these gains. After a penniless escape to France in 1936, Mayer’s destiny was sealed by a 1941 order of arrest. It was made effective in Nice in February 1944, 13,  followed by immediate deportation to Auschwitz. Mayer was killed there on March 12, 1944, few days after his arrival. However, it is only recently he found his name reinstated, thanks to the works of Christian Fuhrmeister and Susanne Kienlechner in Germany (2008), and Teresa Posada Kubissa in Spain (2010). Also quite recently, some paintings from his private collection have been returned to his heir in California (see an Alte Pinakothek note in this respect, and also the Wikipedia corresponding article). Last, but not least, we can also reveal a Catalan connection: Mayer was the expert behind the many attributions (including a Velázquez, and a Tintoretto) in the Gil Collection, loaned in 1916, and purchased in 1944 by the MNAC in Barcelona.

Further reading:

-Fuhermeister, Christian and Kienlechner, Susanne: “Tatort Nizza: Kunstgeschichte zwischen Kunsthandel, Kunstraub und Verfolgung. Zur Vita von August Liebmann Mayer, mit einem Exkurs zu Bernhard Degenhart und Bemerkungen zu Erhard Göpel und Bruno Lohse.” in, Heftrig, Ruth, Peters, Olaf, and Schellewald, Barbara, eds. Kunstgeschichte im “Dritten Reich”:. Theorien, Methoden, Praktiken; Berlin: Akademie Verlag 2008 pp. 405-429.

-Posada Kubissa, Teresa: August L. Mayer y la pintura española – Ribera, Goya, El Greco, Velázquez, Madrid: CEEH, Centro de Estudios Europa Hispánica, 2010.

3. The adventure of an independent mind.

 

Last week I received an email from Dr. Francesc Ruiz Quesada, a respected independent scholar on Late Medieval Catalan painting, inviting me to spread the word about his blog, called Retrotabulum. Do not expect the usual casual stuff, but a series of long articles on Bartolomé Bermejo (active between 1468 and 1501), one of the key painters in 15th century Spain. I went through the first two essays. If I understood Ruiz properly, his thesis is that Bermejo was not a mere follower of models imported from the then innovative and dominant Early Netherlandish masters, but a genius artist that, like his Northern forerunners Jan van Eyck (1390/1400 – 1441) and Roger van der Weyden (1399/1400 – 1464), succeed in shaping an iconography – conveying a certain iconology – of his own.  He puts his case forcefully in Retrotabulum n.2, entirely devoted to the masterpiece pictured above (Bartolomé Bermejo, Pietà of Canon Desplà, oil on canvas, 175 x 189 cm, signed and dated 1490), now conserved in a compromised  condition in Barcelona’s Cathedral Museum. The other aspect making Ruiz’s endeavour special is that he carries it independently, through self-publishing. This is especially remarkable, since his proposal has the potential to add a new dimension of our understanding of Northern Renaissance’s reception in Spain. For the same reason, it could open the door to fruitful connections with the investigations on similar issues in Bermejo’s Northern predecessors, and contemporaries.

4. We are all connected.

Ruiz Quesada’s Retrotabulum is also featured in a blog called Publicaciones sobre Arte Medieval, written by Dr. Joan Valero Molina, a specialist in Catalan Gothic sculpture. He delivers exactly what its title promises – news about many books and some articles on Medieval Art, with an interesting international approach. Another very readable blog on Medieval matters is the fortnightly Medieval Histories, by Dr. Karen Schousboe, a Danish Ethnologist. She devotes every issue to a particular place, and April’s second half issue dealt with Crisis in Catalonia, and further subjects regarding this corner of Europe – among them, the Creation Tapestry in Girona, so cited in this blog.

 

5. Raphael in Polish fashion.

 

Polish is a challenging language, and the claim by Wojciech Kowalski, Poland’s Foreign Office representative for the restitution of cultural goods, that he has been misinterpreted is not perhaps just a worn-out excuse. No, he did not announce the recovery of Portrait as a young man (1514-1515), a presumed self-portrait by Raphael, and one the most famous missing art works since the end of WWII, after being looted for Hitler’s projected Führermuseum in Linz in 1939, from Czartoryski’s family collection in Crackow  – in whose museum you can see, among some exquisite Rembrandts, Leonardo’s Portrait of Cecilia Galerani or Lady with an Ermine (oil on panel, 54 x 39 cm, c. 1489 -90). But what Kowalski really meant is even more intriguing: that he knows the work still exists; that he has been informed that it is hidden away in a bank vault; and that the affected bank is placed in a country whose laws are in favour of a restitution of the painting to its former owners (see reports here, and here). A summer flop or the canniest of tactics by an international expert in the field? While we wait to find out, let’s have a look at Poland’s continued efforts for the restitution of its national art treasures from both Nazi and Soviet plunderings – in this official website.

Addition: Not exactly a Nazi looting victim, but Lucas Cranach’s wonderful early work Madonna Under the Fir Tree, (1510) has been restituted to the Wrocalw Cathedral last July 27, The Art Newspaper reports. 

6. More on Berlin’s road to stardom.

 

The other summer talk is Berlin’s Museums administrators’ plans to relocate its Old Masters painting collections, now at the Gemäldegarie in the Kulturforum, into the Bode Museum in the Museumsinsel. They want to make room for his 20th century art collections (recently enriched by the great Pietzch donation), and give every museum area a special focus, in which all kinds of art forms are included. This logical, apparently inoffensive move comes, however, with a cost, since space is limited at the already filled up Bode (house of the notable Byzantine and Sculpture collections), and therefore asks for the downsizing of the exhibits. Giving their extraordinary quality, an international uproar, now reaching the German conservators themselves (reports The Art Newspaper), followed the official notice. Pr. Michael Eissenhauer, director of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preussischer Kulturbesitz, tried to calm everyone down with this letter (via Codart’s website), in which he announces the planning of a new building for the displaced collection. But he also reveals the reason behind the controversial decision, that is, the surprising approval by Germany’s Ministry of Culture of a €10 million grant for the refurbishment of the Gemäldegalerie, which, “although hoped for, was made much sooner than anticipated, and caught us off guard”. Let us praise him for his candid admission – but Berlin really needs better planning, since at stake are its chances to join London and Paris as Europe’s third art capital (see here the 1999 – 2015 Masterplan for the Museumsinsel; pictured above).

7. A place under Picasso’s sun.

 

The Art Newspaper reports a huge pre-booking success for Picasso’s retrospective in Milan (Pablo Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso in Paris, curated by Director Anne Baldassari, September 20th, 2012 – January 6th, 2013; Palazzo Reale, admissions from € 4.50 to € 9.-). It is another stop of the four-year-long international tour set up by the French museum, as a tool for self-promotion and revenue towards its current renovation and extension works, scheduled for summer 2013. Barcelona’s Museu Picasso has therefore one year to establish itself in Picasso’s changing constellation. Its current exhibition programme could help, since it underlines the museum’s characteristic origins as a donation by the artist and his related ones (Picasso Ceramics: a present from Jacqueline to Barcelona, curated by Marilyn McCully and Michael Raeburn, from October 26th, 2012, to April 1st, 2013); and its potential as a centre for alternative research – with a very promising exhibition on self-portraits, titled I, Picasso and curated by Dr. Eduard Vallès (from May, 28 2013 to September 1, 2013), who has already delighted us with his Picasso versus Rusiñol (May 28th – September 5th, 2010). They will be side-supported by some short, document-based exhibitions around the Museum’s 50 anniversary. That all makes more striking the absence of a clear research plan in the new guidelines (in Catalan), presented on June 12th –especially when a brand new Centre for Knowledge and Research was added last year, complete with a purpose-renovated annex. We hope City Council’s promise of administrative independence for the Museu does not go overlooked too.

2 August 2012

1. Hilda comes back home. 

Thanks to trustee Andrew de Mille, I discovered, in early July, Sir Stanley Spencer RA’s (1891-1959) fascinating art and Gallery in Cookham, Berkshire, which this year celebrates its 50th anniversary and is still entirely run by volunteers – entertaining a special relationship with the V&A, and some other important institutions. The Art Fund now spreads good news for them. The magnetic Hilda with the Hair Down (59.4 cm x 43.5 cm, pencil on five pieces of paper, joined, 1931), picturing Spencer’s first wife, is again hanging on the Gallery’s walls, after being bought in the Christie’s sale on May 23th this year. The acquisition is the common effort of Francis Carline (nephew of the sitter, who spotted the work on sale), the Stanley Spencer Gallery (40%) the Art Fund and the V&A Purchase Fund (sharing an about 50% slice) and the Friends of the  Gallery (GBP 10,000, nearly all their available founds). The work is the fourth most expensive drawing by Spencer bought at auction. As a matter of fact, the market is very selective with Spencer’s drawings. The vast majority of his generous outpost (artnet lists more than 640 drawings sold at auction) hovers at the £1,000 –  £3,000 level, but works of exceptional quality drive buyers wild. In the top five, estimates between £12,000 and £60,000 lead to final prices ranging from £87,650 to £142,500 (including commissions). The exception? This new drawing, with which the auction house tried to build on previous achievements – but its overestimate of £100,000 – £150,000 was eventually defied by the intelligent purchaser, who got it for £97,250 (including commissions). Still a brave and confident purchase, since it is the only portrait among the top fliers.  

Update August 16, 2012: Andrew de Mille emailed me the correct figures for the funding of the purchase.

2. And Courbet’s oak is on its way, too.

 

Gustave Courbet’s (1819 – 1877) virtuoso masterpiece The Oak at Flagey (also known as The Oak of Vercingetorix, oil on canvas, 89 cm x 100 cm, 1864) left his native Franche-Comté not long after the artist’s death, when his sister Juliette sold it to Philadelphian businessman and philanthropist Henry C. Gibson (1830-1891). Following his will, the oil was gifted to the Pennsylvania Academy of Art in 1896. It remained there until its auctioning at Sotheby’s New York in 1987, where it was bought for reportedly $450,000 by Japanese furniture emperor Michimasa Murauchi, and headed to his museum in Hachioji, near Tokyo, that opened just in 1982. Following his announcement this March that he is selling the entire collection (made up of French Barbizon and Impressionist works), Claude Jeannerot, the energetic president of the regional council of the Franche-Comté, raced to Japan and won an exclusive right of purchase for the painting for the Musée Courbet of Ornans. Mr Murauchi is asking €4,000,000 for it, of which Le Journal des Arts now reports nearly €2,000,000 is already secured, thanks to an ongoing appeal that has won over both significant official support, and no fewer than 350 private donators. Jeanneret, which was key in the acclaimed renovation and reopening of Courbet’s house museum in July 2011, is now pushing the French authorities into declaring the work an “œuvre d’intérêt patrimonial majeur”, so donors will become entitled to a tax cut worth 90% of their gift.

3. From great drawing to great painting.  

More on drawings. This blog’s star museum, the MNAC in Barcelona, has announced the acquisition of an important drawing by Joaquim Mir (1873-1940) named Sketch for “The Beggars Cathedral” (charcoal, pencil and white gouache on paper, 48 x 62 cm, 1898) – which refers to the building you see in the background, Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Família in 1898, at an early stage of its construction (see a contemporary photograph here). The Museum website’s title for the drawing links it to Mir’s painting below, also in the MNAC collections (The Beggars Cathedral, oil on canvas, 209 cm x 253 cm 1898): both works share the same composition and approach to the subject – at that moment Barcelona trembled with the achievements and conflicts of late 19th century industrialisation. But on close examination, one can see the differences between the two works. In fact the 25 year-old Mir did not keep the drawing’s everyday scene in the painting, but summed it up in a statement on hard times brought by infirmity and advanced age – in contrast with the healthy, young man at work, who stares from the right corner. The announcement came out just a week after the new trophy had actually crossed its threshold – a sign of the fast, very welcomed pace of the new manager’s drive.  

4. Books: Honouring Xavier Barral Altet.

 

I learn from La Tribune de l’Art some good news for the noted Catalan Medievalist Xavier Barral i Altet (Barcelona, 1947), Emeritus Professor of the University of Rennes, director of the MNAC between 1991 and 1994, and known by a wider public thanks to co-authoring  (with George Duby) La Sculpture: le grand art du Moyen Âge (Skira, 1989). On the occasion of his 65th birthday, no fewer than 129 of his Medievalist colleagues from around the globe had put up a weighty Festschrift titled Le plaisir de l’art du Moyen Âge. Commande, production et reception de l’oeuvre d’art. Mélanges en homage à Xavier Barral i Altet (Éditions Picards,2012; 1208 pages, €120 on the publisher’s website). Some of the Catalan contributors deal with some brisk subjects in the field – Manuel Castiñeiras and the Tapestry of the Creation from Girona; Gerardo Boto and the hotly debated newly-found cloister in Palamós, both in North Catalonia.    

5. Grassroots art history or the case for local, well rooted museums.    

It all started with an email from the Museu Diocesà de Lleida (170 km east of Barcelona), inviting me to their current exhibition, Fragments of a past. Pere Garcia Benavarri and the altarpiece of Saint John’s curch in Lleida. It did not look that exciting at first glance, since the artwork on display, that is the six panels by Pere Garcia Benavarri (doc. 1445 – 1485) — the only ones, with the seventh at the Isabella Gardner Museum in Boston, of which we know the whereabouts — all belong to the MNAC in Barcelona, next door home. But I was wrong – as already pointed by the fact that the invitation by  the Museum’s Head of Communications, Marga del Campo Andión came along with her well-written press clip, and the cell phone exhibition’s curator: conservator Albert Velasco. I therefore felt this could be an occasion to prove three things about the current state of our museums: first, that a new generation of well prepared and engaged young art historians has stepped in; second, that their talent is somehow tapped because museums have been nurtured mainly by public funding, and managed accordingly; third, that they have yet to win private support and civic praise. And I got the evidence. Albert’s talent is evident from the first exchange of words, and this little, well-crafted exhibition could only be his brainchild, as the result of his long years of research in the field, and his sharp sense of opportunity – the works came in exchange for the Museum’s loans towards MNAC’s just closed exhibition Catalunya 1400: The International Gothic. Although two private sponsors are listed in the credits (La Caixa, a bank, and an unheard of local foundation appropriately called Res Non Verba (“Deeds not Words”), the exhibition is not raising significant interest among the local press. Which is a shame, because we are dealing with the central altarpiece of the most important church in Late Medieval Lleida (after the Cathedral) –  this is what Albert himself explains in the book published for the occasion  (Fragments d’un passat. Pere Garcia Benavarri i el retaule de l’església de Sant Joan de Lleida, Lleida, 2012, 156 p., €20 at the museum’s desk), in which he also makes the important discovery of Flemish source for the Saint Jerome pictured above. Moreover, the show wants to be the first of a series called Dispersed works, which aim to return home the lost heritage of the city, even if it is for a short time. Our talking took us long and wide, so I asked him to explain more things about the Museum, especially about acquisitions. He promised me, and delivered, the list you can read in the following note.  

6. Consistent, well-paced, and publicly-founded.

These are the three common features of Museu de Lleida 2003 – 2011 acquisitions, as listed below. They are the result of a well-designed policy of buying Lleida’s local school works, with a preference for stone sculpture. In one case an item bought as “anonymous” could then be attributed thanks to the good eye of the Museum’s curatorial staff. One can only hope this good job will attract an increasing private support in the future. The list:

– Master of Albesa (14th century), Our Lady and the Child (painted limestone, 113 cm x 28 cm x 36 cm). Coming from the collection of Gaspar Homar it was bought by the museum from dealer Olga de Sandoval, Barcelona, in 2004 for an undisclosed sum – see a picture of it at p. 191 of the article by Albert Velasco and Joan Yeguas, “Noves aportacions sobre l’escola de Lleida d’escultura del segle XIV”, Urtx. Revista d’Humanitats d’Urgell, 2010, pp. 175 – 205).

– Master of Albesa, Saint Anthony Abbot (limestone, 115 cm x 38 cm x 22 cm). Coming from the collection of George Grey Barnard it was bought by the museum from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (deaccession), New York, in 2007 for an undisclosed sum – see a picture of it at p. 192 of same article by Albert Velasco and Joan Yeguas.

– Bartomeu de Robió (doc. between 1360-1379), Saint Thomas and Saint James (painted limestone, no measurements given, ca. 1375), a fragment of the predella of a dismantled altarpiece (see a picture of it at p. 181 of the same article by Albert Velasco and Joan Yeguas); other fragments in Museu Marés, Barcelona and a private collection.  It came form collection Hartman’s in Canet de Mar (Castell de Santa Florentina), and it was bought by the museum in 2007 from dealers Galeria Bernat, Barcelona, for an undisclosed sum.

– Bartomeu de Robió (doc. between 1360-1379), Imprisonment of Saint Andrew (limestone, 47 cm x 57 cm x 9 cm), bought by the Province of Lleida for €85,000 in February 11, 2009 from dealer Manuel Barbié – see the official note, with a video where you can see the piece and the matching fragment already in the museum. It came from a dismantled altarpiece devoted to Saint Andrew in the Church of Santa Maria de Castelló de Farfanya (another fragment in the MNAC); on permanent loan to the museum.

– Pere Garcia de Benavarri (doc. 1445 – 1485), Resurrection (upper panel of a lost altarpiece, tempera on pine wood, 112 x 97 cm, c.1450) from the parish church of Benavarri, bought by the Province of Lleida for €22,000 in March 25, 2009 at Balcli’s (an auction house in Barcelona); on permanent loan to the museum. – Pere Espallargues (active in the late 15th century), Saint Roch (fragment of a larger altarpiece, tempera on panel, 46 x 18 cm; ca 1490-1500), bought by the Province of Lleida for €4,000 in December 21, 2010 at Balcli’s, Barcelona; on permanent loan to the museum.

– Bartomeu de Robio (doc. between 1360-1379), Our Lady and Child from the Monastery of Santa Maria de Bellpuig de les Avellanes (painted limestone, 108 x 43 x 26 cm), bought by the Generalitat for €130,000 in March 16, 2011 at Balcli’s, Barcelona; on permanent loan to the museum (pictured above).

–  Joan Pau Guardiola, aka Joanot de Pau (active 1500-1530), Miracle of Our Lady of the Rosary and the Cologne Knight (fragment, oil and pastiglia on panel, 88.3 cm x 66.1 cm), bought by the Generalitat for £7,500 at Christie’s London in October 26, 2011, as an anonymous master of the Spanish School”, on permanent loan to the museum – the fragment with Our Lady of the Rosary is kept at the Museu Cau Ferrat, Sitges (see a reconstruction here).

Updating August 2, 2012: Albert Velasco noted us a ninth acquisition:

–  Master of Anglesola (first half of the 14th century), Crist in Majesty (alabaster, 24 cm. high, c.1320), a fragment of the upper half of the body that, after its acquisition and Albert’s visit to the Monastery of Poblet (South Catalonia), could be associated with lower part of the body still attached, as part of the ornamentation, to Count Ramon Folc VI of Cardona sepulchre, buried there. Bought by the Generalitat at Balcli’s in March 2008. See an image in p. 242 of Albert’s article “Els Apòstols de la desapareguda portalada de Santa Maria de Tàrrega”, Urtx. Revista d’Humanitats d’Urgell, 2009, pp. 229 – 247. He published a second artcle:  Albert Velasco, “Un nou fragment del sepulcre de Ramon Folc VI de Cardona del monestir de Poblet”, Aplec de Treballs, 29, 2011, p. 209-219.

7. Olympic art.

 

It has nothing to do with Old Masters, but the only bit of the opening ceremony I really enjoyed, the firing of the Olympic cauldron, proved as good as fine ageing painting in delivering a powerful message – in this case one of uniting the 204 participating states in peaceful competition, which goes directly to the roots of the Games in Ancient Greece. Cauldron designer Thomas Heatherwick explains it in this article on Phaidon’s website (Thomas Heatherwick ‘huge relief’ at Olympic opening, www.pahidon.com, retrieved on July 29th, 2012).

26 July 2012

1. Which is by whom?

 

Only until October 7th, the Museo de Bellas Artes in Bilbao exhibits this pair or portraits of Isabella of Valois (1546 – 1568), third wife of the Phillip II of Spain (1527-1598). Both come from the noted Madrid private collection Várez-Fisa. The first of them (oil on canvas, 104,5 x 84 cm, c.1560) by Antonio Moro (1516/1520 – 1575/1576) is a classic example of his restrained, rigorously geometrical and achingly detailed style, by which the Dutch laid the foundations of the Spanish Habsburg portraiture. The second one, a slightly enlarged copy (113 x 94,5 cm) by the Spanish Antonio Sánchez Coello (1531/32 – 1588), less careful in the particulars and a somehow more relaxed – most probably because of his learnings from Titian, as the note by Miguel Falomir in the MBB website argues. Which is by whom? Your guess! On the other hand, the museum has recently published its 6th annual Bulletin, featuring articles by specialists on some of the works in the collection (including a piece by Jordi Camps on their magnificent Catalan Romanesque Majesty).

2. Giving these days (6).

The more I hear rumours about David Balsells’ (Lleida, 1947) retirement, the more I long for him to keep his current position as Chief Curator for Photography at the MNAC – the star museum of this blog. His last coup was winning Joan Colom’s (Barcelona, 1921) complete archive, including the collection of 9,000 author’s prints and corresponding documents. Colom is a key figure in Catalan photography, thanks to his trademark punchy snaps of street life in Barcelona’s hard boroughs (see here some examples from the collections of Fundació Foto Collectania). The President and the Director of the MNAC have given a helping hand in closing the deal, securing Colom a pension in exchange of his generous, unrestricted donation. All in all it is another achievement by Balsells, who in his 16-year tenure has been able to attract other important gifts from authors and collectors alike. Let’s hope he will find the time and the will to train his successor.

 

3. The magic of words.

In a recent piece, Katherine York claims museums are “social enterprises”, and puts the focus and the praise on the many ways they already generate income (“Museums are already social enterprises”, the guardian on facebook, July 23, 2012). But what makes her article noteworthy is her point, that the return expected by museum-goers is not one of financial nature, but of spiritual nature. This is the key paragraph: 

“Museums are places where people find quality and a depth of experience, where they are encouraged, respected and challenged. The museum experience is one of well-being and calm enrichment. It is unique, improving and heart warming. It offers value for money”.

I feel lured by her mixing of management and near-religious language, and also for her visitor-centred approach – in which only the will to “challenge” may offer some very little room for the old “awe for the past” that museums were supposed to foster. But I must agree she brilliantly captures a line of defence museums should marshal in these difficult times. Besides, she provides further evidence of the argument that museums are taking the place of other social-gluing institutions, like churches – they also would like to encourage, respect and challenge, providing some solace in the process.

  

4. The Legend of the Black Romantic.

 How did Dark Romanticism unfold in visual arts? What is the reason behind Romanticism, Surrealism and Expressionism’s key artists being drawn to “the realm of the unfathomable, mysterious and evil”? Was it a proper visual arts movement, or just a deluxe illustration for ideas coming from literature? These are the questions to be answered by Dark Romanticism. From Goya to Max Ernst, a major exhibition just announced by the Städel Musem in Frankfurt for this September – running until January 20, 2013. Featuring more than 200 works by, among others, Goya, Fuseli, Blake, Friederich, Blechen, Géricault, Delacroix, Hugo, Moreau, Redon, Böcklin, Stuck, Klinger, Munch, Magritte, Bellmer, Dalí and Ernst, it will focus on some Western Europe countries. We wonder about its weight in the rest of the continent, including Russia.

 

5. Books: a triumph by Louis Antoine Prat.

All the French names cited above are also featured in Louis Antoine Prat’s relatively new book Le Dessin Français au XIX siècle (Loure Éditions, Musée du Quai d’Orsay, Somogy, 2011; 661 pages, €195 on the publisher’s website). Prat is a noted drawing’s scholar and collector (the Caixaforum in Barcelona showed his collections’ highlights in 2007), and in this very generous review, which follows his teaching as Professor for History of Drawings in the École du Louvre from 2007 to 2010, he offers surprising findings to the non specialist – e.g. the many facets of Delacroix’s genius or the firing imagination of Victor Hugo’s mind.

 

6. Transferring the State’s privileges.

 

Like in France or Italy, pre-emption at auction is one of the privileges bestowed to public bodies by both Catalan and Spanish heritage regulations. Thanks to it, a public representative can purchase a lot for the latest bid, even if he has not entered the bidding, by just giving a proper sign to the auctioneer.  In these times of shrinking public funds, I guess public officials will not fancy this relatively reasonable device, which harms the buyer but not the seller (at least in theory). Instead, they can be tempted to turn to more damaging practices: plainly denying the export license for the artwork, or declaring it a “national treasure”, with no intent of purchasing it, therefore placing the whole transaction in an embittering limbo or leading it to a certain loss.  Perhaps a little change in the law might soothe some cases, if the pre-emption right could be transferred to a buyer (national or foreigner) that agrees to either (a) donate the work of art to a public institution, in exchange for a generous tax-exemption; or (b) to loan the work for a long term, again to a public institution – with a quite decent tax-exemption; or (c) keep it privately, but always within national soil, receiving just a gentle tax cut.

7. Road to Russia.

 

Knowing about my wish to travel to Russia one day, a friend suggested to me by way of introduction Andrei Sokurov’s  (1951) tour de force at the Hermitage, “Russian Ark”  (2002), and Andrei Tarkovsky (1932-1966)  Andrei Rubliev (1966). But it could be that once I got in Moscow, I found myself in the middle of a pharaonic overhaul, in which also Barcelona’s architect Ricardo Bofill wishes to take part, according to a piece in Le Figaro  (Béatrice de Rouchebouet, Le grand pari de Moscou, lefigaro.com, July 22, 2012). Anyway, other tips on Russian films on art welcomed!

24 May 2012

1. New Old Brueghel.

Pieter Brueghel The Elder, ca. 1558, Museum Mayer van den Bergh © Musea stad Antwerpen

The research-fuelled, smoothly running wellspring of new works by great old masters keeps flowing as usual. This month has delivered a new drawing to us by Pieter Brueghel The Elder (1525/30 – 1569). As this piece in Artdaily explains, last November, Manfred Sellink, director of the  Museums of Bruges and a specialist in Brueghel, received a photograph of the work: he soon passed it to his colleague Martin Royalton-Kisch (retired curator for Dutch and Flemish Drawings in the British Museum), and both concluded it was the real thing. The attribution to Brueghel has been made on stylistic grounds, but if the Dutch sentence Onder het ultraviolet licht werden ook sporen van een signatuur in de linkeronderhoek leesbaar” means what I am guessing, the Museum’s official note also states that “traces of a signature could be read under ultraviolet light in the lower left-hand corner”. It further explains that thanks to the Italian paper used, the fine drawing can be dated between 1552-54, during Brueghel’s years in the peninsula. Most of the rare drawings by Brueghel are in public collections (among them, 5 in the Louvre, 2 in the NGA Washington, 4 in the British Museum), but this will be one of the few in private hands. It will be included in the coming exhibition Pieter Brueghel unseen! at the Museum Mayer van den Bergh, Antwerp (Pieter Bruegel ongezien!, from 16 June to 14 October 2012, admissions up to €8, no catalogue announced), curated by Sellink himself. On the other hand, this is not the only work by Brueghel The Elder to come up recently: last November, the Museo del Prado presented its new acquisition, the large The Wine of Saint Martin’s Day  (tempera on line 140 x 270.5 cm, c. 1565 – 1568, signed), found in a private Spanish collection (see its report here).

2. No more expensive, dusty scholarship.

 

Thanks to B. Grosvenor’s Art History News blog, I learn that on 31 May the Getty Research Institute will launch its Getty Research Portal  – and this link will then be active. It is an online gateway that will give access to already 20,000 digitized art history texts, published before 1923 and offered by a number of international institutions. But its potential is huge, as this optimistic statement from Getty’s press release puts it: “Because the Getty Research Portal only aggregates the metadata of the digitized texts and links to them, instead of keeping the texts on a server, there are no technical limitations to how much material can be collected”. I hope one day it will also link to the Biblioteca Digital d’Història d’Art Hispànic (Digital Library for Hispanic Art History), launched and maintained by the Art Department of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, in collaboration with other local research centres. It is a digital depository, focused on Spanish art, with 500 documents dating from 1633 to 1959.

3. Researching, and then publishing against the grain.

 

 

Memoria Artium, the joint venture in art history publishing set up by six Catalan public universities (UB, UAB and UPC in Barcelona, URV in Tarragona, UdL in Lleida and UdG in Girona) plus the MNAC (Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya), is quietly building a catalogue on little know subjects, mostly of local interest. This is the case with the recent “Pintura Catalana del Barroc. L’auge del col·leccionista i l’ofici del pintor al segle XVII“, by Santi Torras (“Catalan Baroque Painting. The rise of the collector and the painter’s trade in the 17th century”; 520 pages; Barcelona, 2012, ISBN: 978-84-490-2681-2; €50, available at bookshops), which deals with an art normally disregarded as mere provincial. Some authors, however, take a broader perspective: Cristina Fontcuberta Famades Imatges d’Atac. Art i conflicte als segles XVI i XVII (“Images of Attack. Art and conflict in the 16th and 17th centuries”, 542 pages; Barcelona, 2011, ISBN: 978-84-490-2671-3; €50, also at your bookshop) is presented as the first overview on combative, social critical art in Europe William Hogarth’s time (1697-1764).

 

4. Bob Haboldt.

Bob Haboldt, one of the important dealers in Northern Old Masters is celebrating his 30 years in the trade with a book and a shared exhibition in his galleries in Paris, New York and Amsterdam, as explained in this note at the Connaissance des Arts blogs. The book, title Singular Vision,  features 500 of the numerous Old Masters paintings and drawings he has dealt with, and include essays by noted scholars (hard to find anywhere, I guess you can order the book directly from Haboldt staff at oldmasters@haboldt.com). To know more about it, have a look at this interview he gave last March. It was part of the series of talks with dealers that Paris Tableau fair’s organization posted on their website.

5. Black wizards never make deeds.

Annuntiation, by El Greco.

A ruling by the Spanish Supreme court last March reaffirmed the right of Barcelona’s City Council to receive the gift from Julio Muñoz Ramonet’s (1912-1991) will, which includes this vibrant painting by el Domenicos Theotocopoulos El Greco (1541-1614) along with the rest of his art collection. But this was not exactly a gift. As this article in El País explains (José Ángel Montañés, “Ingeniería Financiera en 1950”, El País, 14 May 2012), the collection is comprised of some 80 works. They were kept in a deposit in the Museo de Arte de Barcelona (the predecessor of the MNAC) since before the Spanish Civil War broke out (1936-1939), as  collateral for a public loan given to a failing textile company. In 1944 Muñoz, one of the most notorious “new personages” of the Franco regime, purchased the company. He immediately received a notice of debt for the loan plus interest of 6.3 million pesetas (the traditional Spanish currency we are hear spoken about too much these days). But in a characteristic coup d’effet, he managed to downsize it to 3.2 million pesetas, based on such creative grounds as there being damage to the collection by mismanagement and the loss of certain items. Four years later, in 1950, he made the company sell him the collection for 4 million pesetas, and immediately wrote to the Museum’s director, threatening that he had to pay the loan debt and retire the works from the museum. They reached an agreement rapidly: Muñoz was paid by the city Council 4 million pesetas, not for the whole collection, but for just 29 of the paintings (plus 2 “gifts”), allowing him to take home nearly 50 remaining works (including the Greco). He then used the money to repay the loan. In other words, he acquired 50 works for free. And, as the journalist puts it, the City Council “had already paid for the paintings” it is now claiming. Muñoz family heirs are still resisting, and made an appeal to the Constitutional Court – it could therefore take some years before we see the paintings hanging in the MNAC’s rooms again.

6. Who watches the watchmen?

This month art pilfering dispatches started with a half smile on the face of Venetian Count Cristiano Barozzi’s and his imaginative nicking scheme, consisting of replacing his friends low-key master paintings with high quality digital copies (see a recap of the story by Sol. G. Moreno in Ars Magazine). But the recent news about the plundering of the Library of the Girolamini in Naples is less humorous. 240 old books have recently been recovered in Verona, further harnessing the link between the total 1,500 volumes that disappeared over the years and the former director of the library, Massimo de Caro. He is now under arrest, but before tacking up the post, he was working in (and possibly owned) an antiques books shop in the city of Veneto. An international quest for the rest of the missing books has been launched – see this article for full details: Tina Lepri, “Biblioteca dei Girolamini: sequestrate a Verona 240 volumi sotratti a Napoli”, Il Giornale de l’Arte, 20 May 2012, online. The Library, which officially enjoys the highest degree of public heritage protection, is housed in a large convent that also displays a magnificent art collection.

7. Sure you will fancy that one?

 

I came across this interesting panel in the catalogue for the auction on 1 June at Bassenge Berlin. It sports a not very saleable subject, and its measurements of 52 x 42 cm cannot conceal it was cut out from a larger piece. But its attractive qualities (“attractive” being the word used when “exceptional” does not apply to a nice work of art) have prompted the name-guessing game among some specialists in Valencian painting between 15th and 16th centuries. Do you fancy joining in?


17 may 2012

1. What an amazing job they have done.

The Tapestry of the Creation during the restoration process, showing the reverse side.

A few months ago, I posted here about the start of the restoration of the Tapestry of the Creation (wool on wool, 358 x 450 cm, end of the 11th century – beginning of the 12th century), and the accompanying publication of Dr. Manuel Castiñeiras’ study on the piece (The Creation Tapestry, Girona, 2011, 216 pp.; ISBN 978-84-930063-3-4; €20 from this website). A recent visit to Girona’s Cathedral Museum, where it was returned last March, confirmed me the excellent outcome achieved by the restorers of the Centre de Restauració de Béns Mobles de Catalunya (the public Catalan restoring centre), who have cleaned the delicate textile in a meticulous manner, removing up to 265 old repairs. But as the official report on the process explained, the real value of it was hiding on the back. The reverse of the tapestry, protected for centuries by burlap now peeled off, preserved the original colours almost intact, and retained bits that were missing on the face side. This led to the discovery, among others things, of purple as the colour of the Christ’s himation (robe), and the rest of a title referring to Hercules attached to a figure in the top right corner. Both point to the royal and Gregorian connections advanced by Castiñeiras in his book. In this album at fickr.com you can access a nice set of zoomable pictures recording the tapestry before restoration, after restoration, and the glorious reverse side.

2. Medieval South Michigan.

The Western Michigan University Medieval Institute has celebrated its 50th anniversary International Congress on Medieval Studies. Held from 10 to 13 May on its campus in Kalamazoo, it was, as usual, an impressive gathering of more than 3,000 Medievalists from around the globe.  It offered 574 different sessions, sponsored by an array of institutions, each of them comprising some three conferences, roundtables or seminars. A certain Catalan presence was felt. The North American Catalan Society sponsored two sessions (n. 39 Against the Grain: The Experience of Subject Religious Communities in the Medieval Iberian and Western Mediterranean World and n. 451, Exercise and Accommodation: Women and Power in the Medieval Iberian and Western Mediterranean World); Professor Manuel Castiñeiras talked about Paradise Lost: The Porta Francigena and the Beginning of the Great Portals in Romanesque Art (session n. 79), and in different papers on Catalan-related topics sprinkled here and there, subjects included kings, crusaders, chronicles and a surprising amount about food.  The call for papers for the 2013 Congress is open.

 

3. A What’s On for art history academics.

 

The ArtHist website (www.arthist.net) seems to be on the way to becoming the point of reference for art historians who want to know where the next important academia gathering will take place (besides, it also offers excellent reviews on new books). At the moment, it leans towards Germany, US and UK events, but it is more and more active in including the French ones as well – an alternative for France is the Apahau’s blog (Association des Professeurs d’Archéologie et d’Historie de l’Art des Universités) at http://blog.apahau.org/. I would like to hear about a Hispanic-related news service, so please let me know if you are aware of it. And for those who think art-historians meetings are required to be boring, just think about the call for papers by The Renaissance Society of America for their 59th meeting. Subject matter: The Violent Lives of Artists in Early Modern Italy; time and place: April 2013 in sunny San Diego, California.

4. Copying, this old issue.

 

Laura Gilbert penned a very interesting article in The Arts Newspaper on the so-called “appropriation practices” by contemporary artists, and how properly they actually addressed the issues with copyright involved in that kind of exercise – contrary to the general assumption (No longer appropriate? TAN, 9 May 2012, online).  Using previous works as models is an old art practice, sometimes fostered even by the creators themselves, as a teaching tool and also as a way to sell copies of their prints. This has been explained in many studies: one of the most recent, by Fransiska Gottwald, deals with Rembrandt, (Das Tronie. Muster-Studien-Masterwerk. Die Genese einer Gattung der Malerei vom 15. Jahrhundert bis zum Rembrandt, Berlin, 2011, 228 pages; ISBN: 978-3-422-06930-5, from €39.90 at the publisher’s website; a review here). Perhaps the difference is that what we face now is pure, simple, direct copying posing as sophisticated criticism. Gilbert also writes in her blog art-unwashed.

5. A double restitution case?

The restitution case Saher vs. Norton Simon Museum presents some very attractive nuances. As this article in the Los Angeles Times explains (Mike Boehm, “Suit over Norton Simon art work enters a final phase”, Los Angeles Times, 2 May 2012, online), the special feature of this case is that the pair of panels in discussion, Adam and Eve by Lucas Cranach (1472-1553), looted under Goering´s orders in 1940 from the Amsterdam dealer Jacques Goudstikker, was already the object of a restitution deal in the 1950s, between the Dutch State, which had received it from the US Army, and Goudstikker’s heirs. Marei Saher, one of the current heirs, is now attacking the agreement, saying it was the result of “unfair negotiations”. The Norton Simon Museum (Pasadena, CA), which owns the work, is shielded by the “external restitution” doctrine, under which, the US must stand by the restitution decisions made by the foreign governments to which the US Army returned works after the war. But to make things even more complicated, look at whom the Museum acquired the works from. In the 1960s, the Dutch government sold the painting to George Stroganoff-Scherbatoff, who then resold it to the Museum. The sale to Stroganoff might have involved some element of restitution, since he claimed the paintings were expropriated by the Bolshevicks from his ancestors in Russia, and then sold to Goudistikker in an auction staged in Berlin in 1931 to raise funds for the struggling Soviets. Ms Saher’s representatives are dismissing this claim.

6. Not that much to celebrate?

Divine Liberty, Francisco de Goya, c. 1812-14. Album C, 115, Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

 It seems that the current darkish mood in Spain has reached the Museo del Prado too. In a small, carefully curated exhibition marking the bi-centennial of the first Spanish Constitution in 1812, the museum has decided to pair a contemporary print of the book with some of the superb drawings by Francisco de Goya (1746-1848), plus one of his oil portraits of King Ferdinand VII (Temporary installation: Constitutional ideas in Goya’s work, Room 38, until 12 August, no separate admission). They portray the great hopes the new text brought in, but also the potential for violence and disillusion that was looming on the horizon. You can have a look at the exhibits, with comments, on the exhibition’s website.

 

7. Don’t panic, it’s just a change of cycle.

But no hurry to buy them!

 According to this article in the Washington Post (Associated Press, “Maya exhibit at Penn Museum in Philadelphia seeks to dispel apocalypse myth  in December 2012”, The Washington Post, 4 may 2012), devoted to the current exhibition Maya. 2012. Lords of Time in the University of Pennsylvania´s Penn Museum, co-curator Loa Traxler can deliver some good news to the world. What has been misunderstood as Mayas predicting the end of the world for this 21 or 23 December, she declared, is nothing more than the end of the first 13-segments-long cycle of their “Long Count” calendar. A new cycle is therefore about to begin, and the Museum has embraced this optimistic message both in time and economic terms: the show runs until 1 December 2013, and admissions are flying high between $18.50 and $22.50.