18.11.2012: From Paris to Barcelona

1. Two for the price of one.


Bohèmesone of the current shows in the Grand Palais, Paris (until January 14th, 2013, admissions €13.-), plays on the double meaning of the word of the title in French, which refers both to gypsies, and to the marginal lifestyle led by advanced artists in 19th century, especially in Paris. The exhibition explores the common ground between them. It therefore offers you a double show, the first being a survey on gypsies in Western European Art (and 19th century Hungarian paintings), and the second on the struggles, miseries and works of art produced by impoverished, yet resolute free artistic spirits. Gustave Courbet’s (1819-1877) Bonjour Mr Courbet (oil on canvas, 1332 x 150.5 cm., 1854) from the Musée Fabre, Montpellier, offers the point of junction between the two worlds: the artist portrays himself as a wandering traveller, respectfully greeted on the spot by a middle-class friend and client. On the other hand, the show comes with a nice surprise for the Catalan visitor. Many of the paintings portraying the Bohemian Paris were in fact by Catalan artists living there at the time – a sense of accomplishment came from seeing Ramon Casas’ (1866-1932) Madeleine (oil on canvas, 117 x 90 cm, 1892, Museu de Montserrat) on the opposite wall from Edgar Degas’ (1834-1917) In a Coffee-Room or l’abshinte (oil on canvas, 92 x 68.5 cm, 1873, Musée du Quai d’Orsay).




2. Small is beautiful.


As noted, the Museu de Montserrat is one of the lenders to the exhibition in the Grand Palais (as a matter of fact, one of the major lenders to it). Part of the Benedictine Monastery in the hills of Montserrat, this not so little museum is living some extraordinary years under the leadership of Father Josep Laplana. It not only attracts new donations – except some very early purchases, the vast majority of the museum holdings have come in as gifts, but also dealing with major centres on an equal basis. On November 13th, it received two fine paintings  (The gipsy of pomegranate, c. 1904, oil on canvas, 114.5 x 147.5 cm, and Portrait of Sonia de Klamery, countess of Pradère, 1913, oil on canvas, 188 x 126 cm; see press note here) by Hermen Anglada – Camarasa (1851-1979), in a an 11-month loan from the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia – in exchange for Salvador Dalí’s (1904-1989) Neocubist Academy (oil on canvas 190x 200 cm, 1926), which travelled to París for the retrospective opening in the Centre Pompidou this Wednesday (until March 25th, admissions €13.-), that will then transfer to MNCARS in Madrid. Besides, the Museu publishes El Propileu, an interesting on-line news bulletin.




3. See you in Barcelona?

But precisely because of  this strong Catalan presence, the absence in the exhibition of any work by Isidre Nonell (1872-1911), was somehow disconcerting. In Nonell’s life and art, the two bohèmes clearly converged: his choice of earnest, human, not a bit topical portraits of gypsy women as his main subject gained him the establishment refusal, and a life as a bohemian artist in the Barcelona of the early 20th century – with some short stays in Paris. Works like Misery (oil on canvas, 75 x 100 cm,  1904, MNAC) shows that in his case, the double meaning of bohème was more than a happy troubaille. That said, and taking into account that one of the main sponsors of the Grand Palais show is Fundación Mapfre (the cultural arm of the Spanish insurance company), and that they will bring the show to its headquarters in Madrid in January 2013, I can only hope they will make it travel a little further east, so we can also greet it in this city.


4. Destination Madrid

Should you cannot make it to Bohèmes in Paris, think about waiting for them in Madrid. The Spanish capital is now a must-go for fans of Old Master’s and 19th century art, and the Museo del Prado will be its centrepoint.  Young Van Dyck  is inaugurating this Thursday in the Prado (until March 13, 2013, admissions €12,.-), Martín Rico, the landscaper is already there (until February 20th, 2013, admissions €12,.-), and two interesting works had joined the party a bit earlier:  Portrait of a Young Man  (oil on canvas, 68, 6 x 55.2 cm, 1630 – 1635) by Velázquez (1599-1960), from the Metropolitan (until January 23th, 2013), and the rediscovered, and heavily restored  Titian’s (c.1489 – 1576) Saint John the Baptist (oil on canvas, 195 x 127.5 cm, c. 1555, reclaimed by the Museum from the parish church of Nuestra Señora del Carmen in Cantoria in the province of Almeria; until February 10th, 2013). Add to that Goya and the Infante Don Luís (Palacio Real, until January 20th, admissions €5.-), about the Aragonese genius and one of his most important patrons,  the opening for the first time in history of Duchy of Alba’s family collection, in their Palacio de Liria  home (from December 1st to March 31st, 2013, admissions to be announced) – arguably the most important, and historically charged Old Master’s collection in Spanish private hands. Among the 150 or so works, expect the Titian, Goya, Rubens, Zurbarán, Renoir, and Chagall highlighted by the press – and also the only two pure landscapes by Ribera known to date. But  just in case you have a more modern taste, Gaugin and the Voyage to the exotic (until January 13th, admissions for €10.-) is open for you, with its international loans, in the nearby Museo Thyssen – Bornemisza.


5. And from Madrid to the stars


Coll & Cortés, a leading Madrid Old Master dealership which opened its shop in Calle Justianano just some ten years ago, has put a new milestone in on its road to stardom. If 2012 has already  seen their first official participation in TEFAF Maastricht, and in the inaugural Frieze Masters, London, they can now head to a merry Christmas after convincing the Metropolitan Museum, New York, to buy a stupendous The Penitent Saint Peter (1612-1613, measurements not given) by  José de Ribera (1591-1652; see report in NYT) from them.  This work from the artist’s early years comes 40 years after the Met’s last  purchase of a painting from the Spanish School, and it was discovered by Gianni Pappi, the Italian researcher who established the hitherto anonymous Master of the Judgement of Salomon was hiding the artist’s entire early output (as seen in The Young Riberain the exhibition at Museo del Prado from April 5th to August 25th, 2011).


6. Getting closer

We read in Le Figaro that the Musée Courbet of Ornans isnearing the fabulous 4 million euros asked by the Japanese owner of Gustave Courbet’s (1819 – 1877) masterpiece The Oak at Flagey (also known as The Oak of Vercingetorix, oil on canvas, 89 cm x 100 cm, 1864). It seems that the support shown by private firms (€2.5M) and the general public (€200,000  by a thousand donors) will prompt public authorities in the region and Paris to offer the remaining €1.3M, therefore backing the bid by Mr. Claude Jeannerot, the noted president of the regional council of the Franche-Comté, of transforming the town (population 4,000) into a Courbet’s international hotspot.



7. Porticvm works.

A year ago, we noted the launch of Porticvm, a half-yearly online journal on Medieval Studies managed by a group of young Catalan researchers, and focused on publishing the studies of their colleagues around Europe. They have just released its fourth issue, with no less than three studies coming from Italy. For the local news, there is an interesting article by Lorena García Morato, in which she bravely downsizes the catalogue Master of Roussillon to just four works, and also advances Arnau Pintor as his real name (Lorena García Morato, The Master of Roussillon. A catalogue raisonné, p. 64 – 79). The Master’s or Pintor’s Calvary (c.1415-1425, tempera on panel, 114,5 x 80 cm) from the Kunstmuseum Basel was one of the interesting discoveries (for the general public) in Catalonia 1400. The International Gothic Style,  the exhibition  hanging in the MNAC in Barcelona last spring (March, 29 – July, 15, 2012).



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.

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).

19 July 2012

1. Shaken, not stirred.

It is already half a year that the new director of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Josep “Pepe” Serra, has been sitting in his new chair. Not exactly sitting, since the dynamic forty-something has been actively seeking public awareness and consent with his ideas and plans. If I grasped them during an open, candid speech last week, then his goal is to uncover the talent hiding in the Museum’s vaults, and open its doors to all kind of interesting proposals. It is difficult to say if he is following a very detailed plan for it. In his own words, he is still “shaking the house”, and identifying who among the personnel is open to embrace the challenge. His boost goes well beyond simple rehanging, but a fittingly sense of trial already pervades some of the new rooms – from the exquisite, yet diminutive Isidre Nonell (1872-1911) / Lluís Claramunt (1951 – 2000) drawings confrontation, to the exaggerated, stand-alone homage to Antoni Tàpies (1923-2012). Anyway, the time for inking the details in black and white is not that far off: Mr Serra announced that he will deliver an executive plan in October for 2013-2018.

2. A Phoenix on your wall.

Bought by the Museum in 1952 without a clear attribution, deposited in an office of Barcelona’s City Council, smoke-damaged there by a fire in April 1985, stored in the MNAC reserves, and finally rediscovered two years ago, The Conversion of Saint Paul (oil on canvas, 243 x 257 cm, c. 1614) by Juan Bautista Maíno (1581-1649) shines again with some of its past glory, after a thorough restoration. The man behind the move, conservator Francesc Quílez, suspected Maíno’s hand when he first spotted the work in 1996 – but he did not find the time to pursue his guesswork. It was only in 2009, when he chanced upon the 44.5 x 32.2 “modellino” for the work in Maino’s great retrospective catalogue in the Prado, that he had no doubt that a real masterpiece was hiding behind the darkened canvas. Now they are showing both the sketch and the final work, complete with some introductory texts, videos, and radiographies, in one of the MNAC’s upper rooms. Except for final ones, you can forget about the rest, and go directly to Mr Quilez’s essay on the website (only in Catalan, sorry), in which he convincingly argues this work confirms Maíno as something more than just the brilliant pioneer of  “caravaggism” in Spain. He was in fact an inquisitive spirit, ready to absorb many contrasting influences, even if that could lead to mixed (but really interesting) results, as shown in this “new” work – the bulk of his output is held in the Prado.

3. The Italian holidays of two British Tizianos.

If your chosen destination for the summer hiatus is Veneto’s jewel called Padova, you could complete Giotto’s must-see Capella dei Scrovegni (on-line bookings here) with a visit to the Musei Civici agli Erimitani next door. There you will be among the first to enjoy two recently rediscovered works by Tiziano, confirmed by specialists Andrea Donati and Lionello Puppi, which travel from two different British collections for the current exhibition Tiziano e Paolo III. Il pittore e il suo modello (from 7 July to 30 September 2012, admissions €10.-, no sign of a catalogue, but at least a fine review in La Repubblica). The smallest of them is a fresh self-portrait painted during his advanced years (oil on cardboard, 40 x 27.7 cm), the other a portrait of Pope Paul III (oil on canvas, 128 x 98 cm) that, according to this press note by the Italian Culture Department, should show him humble enough to win Emperor’s Charles V support. In other words, both works bear out Tiziano’s powers in giving elegant, but subtly incisive renderings of powerful, yet human, beings – for more about this point, have a look at the three portraits of Paul III at Capodimonte Museum in Naples.

4. Lessons from the art market.

In my annual trip to the centre of the world (that is London, for us Old Master freaks), I attended the first hour of Sotheby’s Old Master Evening auction, devoted to Dutch and other Northern European artists. Oud Holland art is not really my field, but even for the newcomer it was clear that dealers and collectors were not taking Sotheby’s name-based catalogue very seriously. They were focused solely on the works, and the quality they showed. Therefore, some of the star lots sporting resounding names only just reached the low estimate or even failed to sell; while other low-key artists with attractive works had their day – my preferred one was Hendrik van Steenwijck the Younger (1580-1649) Saint Jerome in his study (lot 17, oil on oak panel, 40 x 56.2 cm, estimate GBP 100,000 – 150,000, final price without premium GBP 280,000), in which, if I am not too presumptive, the painter had revisited an old ecclesiastical subject and set it in the clean-cut, unpretentious atmosphere fostered by the Reformation. A final reconciliation, however, was reached with the last lot in the section, The surrender of the Royal Prince during The Four Day’s Battle, 1st-4th June 1666 (lot 24, oil on canvas, 75.5 x 106 cm), a true masterpiece by the renowned sea-battle painter Willem van de Velde the Younger (1633 – 1707). The GBP 1,500,000 – 2,500,000 estimate was dwarfed when a new bidder, attended to on the phone by a young dealer standing next to me, joined the fight at 2 million, duelled against a sole opponent for several electric minutes, and eventually won it for a nearly record-setting GBP 4,700,000 (GBP 5,305,250 with premium) – the ultimate record was achieved by rival house Christie’s last 6th December, when it sold Dutch men-o-war and other shipping in a calm, (oil on canvas, 86.3 cm x 119.3 cm, sold) for GBP 5,921,250 (including premium).

5. The Prussian teenager is growing up.

Berlin is growing up to become the next international hotspot for art from all ages. Already nurturing an extremely live contemporary scene (which you can follow at the excellent berlinartjournal blog and its spin-off sugarhigh), the city has seen very long queues in the final months of 2011 for the Renaissance Faces exhibition. True that since 1990 the city has lived under the never-ending resettling of its pre-1945 fabulous collections, but you can read the latest quarrel on the matter as a kind of adolescent turmoil. Following the very generous donation of some 150 important Surrealist and Expressionist works (Miró, Dalí, Pollock and all the rest involved) by Ulla and Heiner Pietzch (a czar of the plastic trade), the city planers have decided to clean out the Gemäldegalerie of its collection of Old Masters (including the famous 18 Rembrandts), and, while waiting for a new building, show them in a shorter version in the Bode Museum, already house of the Byzantine and Medieval collections – the world largest in sculpture from this period. The petition against the move (which I signed) cannot mask the fact that, as Isabelle Spicer writes in this report for the French Journal of Arts, with better planning, this could be the last step before the Museuminsel turns up as the new Louvre.

6. Setting the day.

Summertime is a hard time to fill the newspapers’ cultural pages with real news, and that is one reason why they are not ashamed to make good use of old stories. Irene Hernández Velasco writes in the Spanish El Mundo this interesting piece on paying a visit to the origins of the Gregorian calendar. If you ever wonder why the Russians, following the old and unstable Julian calendar, celebrate Christmas 15 days after you, here you will find the definitive proof that made Pope Gregory XIII (1502 – 1585) proclaim the bull “Inter Gravissimas”, by which 4th October 1582 became 15th October that year. It consisted of drawing a meridian on the floor of the “Torre dei Venti” (“Tower of Winds”, where the Vatican Archives are now kept), and opening a little hole in one of Il Pomarancio’s (Nicolò Circignani, c.1517 – after 1596) frescos on the wall – matching the open mouth of an angel blowing. On 21st March 1581 the Pope was shown how the sunbeam that, entering through the hole, should have touched the meridian at the point marked by springtime equinox, in fact deflected some 60 cm beyond – because the equinox had taken place ten days before. The changes introduced by the new calendar of counting leap years (once every fourth year, except in the years ending in 00) explain the additional days of discrepancy within Old Caesar’s calendar.

7. She keeps her smile…

… despinte huge cuts in public funding for culture.

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?

26 April 2012

1. Seizing the trouble.


The Congress of the United States is considering a “non-seizure” act, the Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity Clarification Act, aimed to protect artworks entering the country for exhibitions and other cultural activities from legal claims by previous owners. Such kinds of provisions do exist in other countries. In the UK, for instance, Parliament passed special legislation in the matter in 2007 (the current part 6 of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act of 2007), mostly to fence off some exhibits in the Royal Academy’s From Russia show from claims by Pierre Konowaloff, heir of the Bolshevik-stripped collector Ivan Morozov.  The American version, however, wants to include an exception to immunity: the Nazi-victims, whose claims could overcome the non-seizure protection. A letter by Nazi-plunder researcher Orial Soltes, published on the ARCA blog, points out the absurdity of limiting the exception to “Nazi”, e.g., victims in the Nazi-controlled lands (but not their associates). He even argues that the exception should be extended to all plundered victims, and that therefore the proposed act should not be passed. But, as it is already known, museums will be reluctant to include disputed works without some assurances. On the other hand, there is a good reason to make an exception in favour of Nazi victims, and also in favour of Soviet victims: both were robbed by extraordinarily evil regimes that deserve extraordinary legal treatment – and surely it will be great news if Russia accepts this view as Germany has already done. For a recent successful restitution following seizure in the US, see this report about Christ Carrying the Cross (1542, 81 x 72 cm) by  Girolamo de Romano Il Romanino (c.1485 -1560), returned to the Gentili family and lost by the Museo de Brera (Italy) that lent the work to the Brogan Museum in Florida. The work is headed for auction in Christie’s New York on 6th June.

2. Too much money is bad.


A book recently published in Germany is causing a controversy that is beginning to spread to some other parts of the continent. According to reports, Kulturinfarkt (“Culture Heart-Attack”, by Dieter Haselbach and others, €20.60 on publishers web Knaus) claims that too much public founding for arts is inefficient and undermines the chances of sorting out real talent. Its provocative proposal is to cut 90% of current German public founding for art to just 50%. In the website of the Italian Il Giornale dell’Arte, you will find this interesting interview discussing the matter with Stephan Frucht, chairman of the Kulturkreis der Deutschen Wirtscahft, the artists supporting fund set up by the German Industry Association.

3. A New Wetering’s Rembrandt.

As the Guardian explained in its breaking news piece of last 28 March, the Old Rabbi, newly attributed to Rembrandt, housed in the superb collection at Woburn Abbey, was down to Ernst van de Wetering,  head of the Rembrandt Research Project. It is not the first time that Wetering has newly attributed works to Rembrandt. Last December, he upheld the attribution of Old Man with a Beard (18 x 17.5 cm, see a press release) in the Rembrandthuis in Amsterdam, and in 2007, he authenticated Rembrandt Laughing (22.2 x 17.1 cm, oil on copper; see the video of Wetering himself presenting the work, and his article in the Kroniek van het Rembrandthuis  of June 2008), bought in a provincial English auction house and now in a private collection. Although recognized as the most important expert on the Dutch master’s paintings, Wetering’s opinions sometimes find opposition. One of the most interesting cases is Tobias and Anna (40.3 x 54 cm, oil on panel). It was accepted by Wetering and his team at the Project in 2010, in the fifth volume of their Rembrandt’s Catalogue Rainsonné. But it has never been accepted by Dr. Jeroen Giltaij, senior curator of Old Master paintings at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, which actually houses the painting (on loan from the Foundation Willem van der Vorm). In a rare move on transparency, the Museum has posted two videos of both specialists discussing their arguments (Giltaij here, and Wetering here), on occasion of the painting’s new presentation after cleaning and rehanging.

4. The quiet raise of the digital catalogue.

The Getty Foundation has just issued Moving Museum Catalogues Online, its first and downloadable report on the challenges and opportunities involved in the online versions of artworks catalogues. It comes out from the Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative, a project formed together with 9 major Americans museums (which curiously do not include the Newyorkers MOMA and Met). Putting the matter in a nutshell, it is known that the main difference between the physical text (the book) and the online hypertext is that the oldest has a beginning and an end, whereas the newest does not: it is just a starting point (see this comment on this point by Gregorio Luri, a brilliant education researcher based in Barcelona). This boundless nature of the online document leads to the biggest challenge for the online catalogue: to simultaneously maintain the integrity of the catalogue, and its openness to the ever-growing resources and changes available on the web.

5. You are the finder.

Another of my preferred art related blogs is Bendor Grosvenor’s Art History News. He has now launched an attribution challenge to its followers. It consists of guessing who the artists are behind the anonymous works included in the BBC’s Your Paintings online database, which features the paintings catalogued by Public Catalogue Foundation. Grosvenor’s initiative is an example of these simple, interesting new things that can be achieved by combining a clever use of the Internet tools with a gentle management by an expert.

6. Books: Didier Martens’ Peinture flamande et gout ibérique.


In our last post we praised the current exhibition at the MNAC in Barcelona for following a sensibly balanced approach to the Catalan part in International Gothic, a cross-European artistic movement. This is exactly what Jacques Foucart first applauds about Didier Martens’ book on Flemish Painting in the Iberian Peninsula (Didier Martens, Peinture flamande et gout ibérique aux XVème et XVIème siècles, Brussels, Le Livre Timperman, 2010, 333 pages, €60 at the publisher’s website), in his extensive review at La Tribune de l’Artone of the best art history news sites on the web.

7. Middle Ages at half-price.

Brepols Publishers is offering a 50% discount on a selection of its catalogue. It is rich in books on Medieval manuscripts, and some other specialist subjects, that normally only come at a price. The list has to be requested online at info@brepols.net.