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.

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.

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.