27.07.2014 Museums, sales, and the telly

1. A promising newborn

I am glad to come back with some good news from this hidden jewel called Museu Marés in Barcelona. On Saturday, June 27th it joined forces with four other museums founded by private collectors (Fundaçao Calouste Gulbekian in Lisbon, The Burrell Collection in Glasgow, Museo Poldi Pozzoli  in Milan  and The Benaki Museum in Athens) to set up the first European Network of Collector’s Museums. It is the brainchild of the Marés new director, Josep Maria Trullén, and the president of its Circle, Antoni Gelonch, a former top executive with Sanofi Paris (the two gentlemen wearing a tie in the photo).  Its Secretariat will be based in Barcelona. Full disclosure: I am also member of the Circle, and I can advance that more exiting news are on the way – keep alert!

 

2. Few words to tell the truth.

Posting about this new feature in the Museu Mares’ website is also a small homage to Silvia Llonch, its former Curator for Sculpture. Thanks to her ground-braking research, we can now enjoy this candid series of photos illustrating the provenance of  a number of sculptures in the Museum collections. Longer explanations might come in a future book, should she find the time for it.

3. London, and then Vic.

 If you liked the current exhibition in the National Gallery, Making Colour, you have the perfect excuse for a summer trip to Vic, near Barcelona. Its wonderful Museu Episcopal is hosting Pintar fa mil anys. Els colors del romànic , (Painting a thousand years ago. The Romanesque colours), curated by Judit Verdaguer. A conference on September 18tth, will bring in Dr. Manuel Castiñeiras, a pioneer in using research on materials as an aiding tool to trace back routes of artistic influence in the early Middle Ages.

4. Sherlock au service de la République.

The French authorities had filed claims for no less than 1,195 works of art missing from their public inventories. They are about to upload all their details in an open website called Sherlock, which will also record the rest of the works already missed, but not claimed yet.

5. Sales to Museums

 

Works one sells to museums are always something special. So let me post here The Darcawy Holy Man from of Marrakech, by Josep Tapiró, purchased by the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, and the Saint Andrew by Marià Fortuny, wich went to the Prado.

6. Simple tastes.

Should public museums issue an Acquisition Policy note stating their areas of interest?  No, says Miguel Zugaza, Director of the Prado in this report by the Court of Auditors (p.45 of the Allegaciones’ Annex).  The general principles can be deduced from the museum’s mission statement, he argues, and there is no point in going beyond it- “the criteria would be so open that they would be  just useless”.  I think he is right. But documents like this note in the National Gallery website provides you at least with a useful template.

7. Talking about the art market….

…. on the telly, with Carmen Schjaer from Christie’s Spain and doctor Juan F. Campo, a very active collector from Girona– another way to brush up your Catalan.

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).

 

 

28.10.2012: From Naples to Rome.

1. Sometimes it is just too late.

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

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

 

2. Also late, but still on time.

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

 

3. Books: The Brueghels at work.

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

 

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

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

 

5. Manuel works.

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

 

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

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

 

7. Roma locuta.

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

13.10.2012: From the Pyrenees to Sitges, via Rome.

1. It was just one century ago.

 

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

2. Between Van Gogh and Dalí.

 

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

3. Is this really a Vermeer?

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

4. Private hands in public venues.

 

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

 

5. First steps.

 

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

6. Time for a Baroque rescue effort.

 

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

7. Revelations in Sitges. 

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

From Bosch to the Courtauld

September 29nd, 2012

1. Books: Rush for Bosch!

 

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

 

2. Putting together Peter’s puzzles.

 

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

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

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

 

3. Your man in Paris.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

5. A bold choice.

 

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

 

6. Another good reason for transferring to Italy.

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

 

7. Work in a Royal Palace, Central London.

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

20 September 2012

1. Planning for Van Dyck.

 

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

 

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

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

3. Albert works.

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

4. A  women’s landscape.

 

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

 

5. When did it all start?

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

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

6. Goya, Goethe.

 

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

7. Hirst, Adrià.

 

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

30 August 2012

Nothing to be spared.

Luis E. Meléndez (1716 – 1780), Still life (apples, grapes, melon, bread, a jar and a bottle), oil on canvas , 52,5 x 75 cm, c. 1771; MNAC, Barcelona.

Apparently my last post with some ideas about the MNAC was well received, so I am closing these longer summer pieces (instead of the customary seven short news items) with some lines about the star museum of this blog. For those who want it in one sentence: the point I am making today is that MNAC must deal with all aspects of Catalan art, including the less brilliant ones.

Last week we said MNAC may profit from engaging itself in a cultural dialogue with a European accent. Romanesque, Gothic and fin de siècle Art Nouveau (know here as “Modernism”) were the times when this corner of the Mediterranean produced its best art. Therefore, the corresponding collections at the MNAC would provide it with the works most suited for the international layout we advance.

However, something would be lost were the museum not moving beyond these three movements. It is true that the Renaissance collections are near to non-existent, and that the best pieces in the Baroque and Neoclassicism sections are Spanish and Italian. That’s why the museum has tended to manage these collections as a mute custodian, just keeping them, and lending them to third parties only when asked. Even when this was its only role, the Museum could be more active in attracting the outside projects, and making them also be shown in Barcelona.

But it can do more. First, it can foster a more thorough research of its own collections – which include these four wonderful still-lifes by the misfortunate Madrid court painter Luís Meléndez (1716 – 1780). They also feature some Catalan works – among them, the paintings of Antoni Viladomat (1678-1755), which can deepen our understanding of the moment. Another suitable subject could be the history of these collections, and its relation with the MNAC as a museum. Since they were not seen as obviously Catalan, why were they incorporated? When? How well did they fit into the general discourse of the museum?

But perhaps more interesting, they could be used for a kind of broader research. Given the lack of outstanding works, the MNAC could focus itself on some other questions, e.g.: can the absence of great masters from Catalonia be explained just on economic grounds? Since the Catalan artists were not serving a growing, self-centred Madrid court, what other clients did they cater to, and what roles did their art play? Why did their works follow certain models, and why did they ignore others? In which moment was the decision made, to start something of their own? Which parallels can we find in Europe?

Sure, an exhibition on these subjects will not become the season’s continental blockbuster. But dealing with them is a job the MNAC can do, and can give the lead to more general patterns across Europe. And that could be welcomed by someone else – at the end of the day, we did not lose the the train of post Medieval Europe, but like some other Europeans we were not travelling in first class.

 

23 August 2012

The name as a challenge – or why it is a bit too early to change MNAC’s name.

Master of the Trebon Altarpiece, Madonna from Roudnice (detail), Prague, c. 1385 -1390, Convent of Saint Agnes of Bohemia, National Galleries in Prague.
Pere Serra (active in Barcelona between 1357 -1408), Our Lady of the Angels (detail), c. 1385, MNAC, Barcelona.

This summer’s longer piece (instead of the usual seven shots post) is about museum names. Just like people’s names, they are a link to its history, and a lead to its current place in the world. One of my preferred ones is “British Museum”, which I find rather odd, since there is little in its collections coming from Albion. In fact, most of them are inherited from Empire, as a result of sheer looting, and ruthless appropriation for some. But in some cases they were brought in in an act of rescue, and most importantly, they can work now as a tool for international dialogue. In fact, calling such a worldwide collection “British” asks for an continuous effort of openness, and wide-ranging research from that very British institution – otherwise, it would be better they just return the works, even it that means abandoning them to an uncertain fate. Not something that will happen any time soon, since the recent BM exhibitions, Treasures of Heaven. Saints, relics, and devotion in Medieval Europe (June 23th – October 9th, 2011), Hajj: Journey to the heart of Islam (January 26th – April 15th, 2012) or even Shakespeare: Staging the World, (July 19th – November 25th, 2012) show its people are doing their job.

However, this effort is not always made. Without leaving London, and our field of interest, Catalan and Spanish (quite) old art, we can point to Martí de Sas and Miquel Alcanyís Saint George Altarpiece  (660 cm x 550 cm, tempera and gold on pine panel, first quarter of the 15th century) in the V&A. It was a work left in oblivion since Judith Berg–Sobré’s investigations on the history of the Spanish altarpiece in 1989, until Matilde Miquel Juan, from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, came forward with an extensive article in the Spanish review Goya (“El Gótico Internacional en la ciudad de Valencia. El retablo de san Jorge del Centenar de la Ploma”, Goya, 336, 2011, pp. 191-213). In between, the V&A had not featured this major Gothic International work in any exhibition or research project.

The case with MNAC in Barcelona is similar. I hope regular readers of this blog already know what these four letters stand for, but in case your have forgotten, can you make a guess? Its current director is aware this is a tricky question, and that “Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya” might be not the first thing to come to mind. That’s why he proposed to change its name in order to make it attractive to the non-insiders. After a summer storm followed, he modulated his words, by saying that he was refereeing to the acronym MNAC, not the whole denomination, and by suggesting inserting the international magnet word “Barcelona” just in certain cases.

In my opinion, it is too early for this move. The MNAC should not to change its name, because it is not yet working as the national museum of art of Catalonia. It has all the resources to do it: a good collection, especially strong in the Romanesque, and a talented team working within its walls. But very few of their projects have had this international approach that the museum needs to work as national representative – some of the notable exceptions were “Romanesque Art and the Mediterranean. Catalonia, Toulouse and Pisa (1120 – 1180)” (February 29th to May 18th, 2008), and “Prague, Paris, Barcelona. Photographic Modernity from 1918 to 1948(May 18th – September 12th, 2010).

How could this international message be defined? I got a first idea about it while visiting the Convent of St. Agnes of Bohemia, home of one of the Czech National Galleries in Prague. Its wonderful (and tourist-free) collection shows Bohemian medieval painting negotiating the French, Italian, German and Byzantine influences, to eventually give birth to something unique. In the same way, there is not a single work in the MNAC without a foreign connection. In the end, Czechs, Catalans, and many other peoples in the continent follow the same European pattern of incessant exchange. And this fact could give the basis for the MNAC’s place in the international stage: a case study of how one of these “minor” European cultures has been able to connect with its peers, both receiving huge influences and making some significant contributions.

In other words, the challenging bit of MNAC’s name is “Catalonia”, which might sound somehow enigmatic for foreigners. Using the museum collections as a tool for international dialogue could help filling the gap, while fulfilling part of MNAC’s mission. Once we all have achieved it, we could start thinking about exciting names.

 

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).