20.11.2014: Museus, Ecos de la Biennal i altres coses.

1. En quin moment la passió per compartir l’experiència de l’art afecta aquesta mateixa experiència?   Aquesta és la pregunta clau (no gaire ben traduïda!) d’un article interessant al The New Yorker  sobre la massificació als museus (Peter Schjedahl “Art All Over”, 7 d’agost 2014 , online). Sense caure en el mite de l’esteta solitari, diria que potser del que es tracta és que els museus donin una oportunitat raonable de gaudir de les grans obres. De vegades, això voldrà dir restringir l’accés segons un horari d’entrada o qualsevol altres criteri objectiu. Però com que no tot el gran art és art famós, de vegades això voldrà dir intentar atreure més públic. 2. Ecos de Venècia. Aquesta crítica a The New Republic de la darrera Bienal d’Arquitectura de Venècia defensa que, enlloc de la modernitat internacional uniformitzadora,  el que s’ha donat entre els anys 50 i ara és un “situated modernism”  (“modernitat arrelada”?), és a dir, una adaptació local creativa d’un llenguatge nou més o menys compartit. S’hi destaca José A. Coderch i Josep Llinàs. 3. Europa, Europa. Gràcies a Le blog de l’Apahau, sabem que la Universitat d’Artois ha convocat un seminari sobre un grup d’intel·lectuals alemanys que, durant la Primera Guerra Mundial, es van preocupar de protegir els monuments històrics als territoris que l’exèrcit del Reich anava ocupant al Nord de França, Bèlgica, Polònia, els Països Bàltics i Itàlia. 4. Primer la reina, després potser els alemanys. A Your Paintingspromoguda per la BBC i la Public Catalogue Fundation, ja les està imitant la Royal Collection amb el seu Paintings Condition Survey. Ara arthistoricum.net, una “biblioteca virtual d’història de l’art” liderada per la Sächsischen Landesbibliothek, Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Dresden (SLUB), i la Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, es pregunta si no valdria pena fer un esforç similar per a fotografiar, classificar i publicar on-line tots els olis en col·leccions públiques o obertes al públic a Alemanya. 5. Clàssics de la web: Auf Deutsch. Des de 2001, ArtHist.net és un dels grans portals d’informació sobre l’actualitat en història de l’art, i un dels pocs que anuncia oportunitats laborals en museus, universitats i similars. No tè pèrdua. 6. Llarga vida al RKD! Si mai us trobeu amb un oli d’escola holandesa que us fa bona pinta, no ho dubteu: dirigiu-vos al RKD (Rijksbureau van Kunsthistorische Documentatie, www.rkd.nl). A mi m’acaben de soprendre gratament amb una atribució inesperada. 7. És culpa de l’iphone. foto escultura De tant en tant, aniré penjant fotos de les obres de les noves sales de XIX i XX del MNAC. Avui el bronze d’ Enric Casanova (1882-1948) titulat Voyou (23,4 x 13,5 x 16,5cm).

04.08.2014: Charles, Domenikos and the rest.

1. Charles’ summer.

Aachen is waiting us, Eurosceptic sinners,  with three big exhibitions on Charlemagne, who died there a merely 1200 years ago.

2. Domeniko’s last laugh.

Don’t miss the impressive El Greco and Modern Painting (up to October 5th in the Prado, Madrid). At the end of the show, you will feel as it was about El Greco and you, such is the influence of his art in our current visual culture. If you go there in September,  note you will need just a half hour  ride by high-speed train to reach Toledo, and see there El Greco: Arte y Oficio in  the Museo de Santa Cruz (September 9th – December 9th). Its curator is Leticia Ruiz.

3. Albert’s anniversary.

Among this year’s celebrations, there is the 500th anniversary of Dürer’s Melencolia I. The Met hosted a conference on the magnetic print you can see here. Susan Deckerman, curator of prints at Harvarvard Art Museum,  offered a very suggestive reading of the work by stressing the use of dividers as an instrument for both measurement and creation.

4. Francesc’ offers.

My summer readings will include the last issues of the only-online Retrotabulum. Specially n.11, which director and founder Francesc Ruiz Quesada has entrusted to fellow specialist in Medieval art Rosa Maria Manote, for a study on Our Lady of the Spider,  a masterpiece by the Catalan sculptor Pere Johan (1394/1397-1458), which went lost during the Spanish Civil War.

5. Bartolomé’s treasures.
In a remarkable effort of international cooperation, the Meadows Museum and the Centro de Estudios de Europa Hispánica have published the complete catalogue of the Spanish Old Masters drawings collection in the Hamburger Kunsthalle (Jens Hoffman-Samland, ed., The Spanish Gesture. Drawings from Murillo to Goya on the Hamburger Kunsthalle,  not cheap at $75 on Amazon) . This press release from the Meadows recalls us that a great deal of the holdings originally came from the collection of Bartolomé Murillo. The book is published to accompany the current exhibition of a selection of the works in the Meadows (until August 31st), which will then travel to the Prado (October 30th, 2014 – February 8th, 2015).

6. Olyvia’s plan.

In this candid interview in London Evening Standard, star private dealer Olyvia Kwok teaches us about using museums and academia to maximize your investments in contemporary art:

“I got the Basquiat for $4 million. It is now insured for $12 million. We are going to place the painting in a museum so it will have a better provenance, because everyone likes things with more academic value. Once placed we will talk to Basquiat experts, find out some more information, someone will write about it, and we will put it back on the market for different collectors.”

It sounds like magical thinking, until you realise Koons will have his great show at Pompidou and  possibly Louvre next January (according to TAN). But as usual, Germans got it first: in summer 2012, fellow Frankfurter Liebieghaus and Schirn Kunsthalle coordinated to celebrate Koon’s output of sculptures and paintings.

7. Albany’s promise.

State New York University at Albany and specialist insurer ARIS have teamed up to “revolutionize the global arts and collectibles industry by developing industry-accepted identification and authenticity standards”. First results in 15 months, they promise in their press release.

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.

16.02.2013: Lampedusa’s visit to Museu Picasso

A note to the English readers: this week’s post is about a rather local issue, the legal status of the Museu Picasso de Barcelona. I am not sure it is of the utmost interest for the readers from abroad, so I am not translating it in full. Anyway, the basic facts are the following.

Until recently, the Museu Picasso was not an incorporated body, but just another department of Barcelona’s City Council. That meant, among other things, the Museum had to funnel all the revenue it generated to the City Council, and that their employees were not hired by the Museum itself, but by the City Council. Now the Council has finally decided to change that, and it has established a public Foundation to run the Museum, in partnership with a group of private sponsors.

I think this was the right thing to do. But I would also like to point out that, according to section 10 of the Articles of the Foundation, all the members of the new Foundation’s  Board will be appointed by the City Council – without  any provision regarding from where the Council will pick up the new appointees, nor about their respective qualities, qualifications or terms of service. I argue that this is a door that is open to unrestrained control of the Foundation by the ruling political party controlling of the City Council  – one of the old mistakes that the new Foundation was supposed to avoid. The text in Catalan develops this point, and some others of lesser importance.

20.12.2012: So clear, so great, so difficult to achieve

The Parliament of King James I (1208-1276), as illustrated in an incunabulum copy of the Constitutions, and other rights of Catalonia, published in 1495 (Arxiu de la Corona d’Aragó, Barcelona).

I had prepared a post with some good news about the arts this week – I felt that we all need a drop of optimism. But oddly enough, it is politics that puts a smile on my face today. The facts are quite simple: the majority party, centre-right Convergència i Unió (winner of the last general election with 50 seats out of 135), and the leading opposition party, centre-left Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (21 seats), have reached an agreement. They will, one, make the winner rule over these difficult times; and two, work together to give the people a say about its independence, in a referendum to be held between 2014 and 2016. Since the Spanish central government in Madrid is not that happy with the idea, we are facing one of these calm revolutions we saw in Europe after 1989. So clear, so great, so difficult to achieve. Today is a day of celebration, so next week I shall return to art business as usual.

Picture: The Parliament of King James I (1208-1276), as illustrated in an incunabulum copy of the Constitutions, and other rights of Catalonia, published in 1495 (Arxiu de la Corona d’Aragó, Barcelona).

25.11.2012: A tale for a country

Ramon Casas (1866-1932), Madeleine. Oil on canvas, 117 x 90 cm, 1892 (Museu de Montserrat). Photo: Museu de Montserrat.

Sorry folks, but this week, instead of the usual seven shots post, I feel it is time for the occasional 750-word-long op-ed. My subject today is how to present Catalan art to the world, which is perhaps not the hottest issue in the field, but is at least one that is familiar, and hopefully attractive, to the readers of this blog.

My little thoughts had been ignited by the reading of a very interesting Master thesis by Laura M. Cales, a young researcher from the University of Colorado. Her chosen subject is the relationship between the works of two fin de siècle Catalan painters, Ramon Casas (1866-1932) and Santiago Rusiñol (1861-1931), with the Parisian sources of their style. The relationship has always been portrayed as merely dependent, with Casas and Rusiñol just behaving as talented yet delayed followers of French Realism and early Impressionism. Cales contends this view, and argues it is a result of relying on a wrong conceptual framework. In her own words:

If we do not privilege the dichotomous ideological constructs of center and periphery/province, modern and retraso, and so forth, and reject the notion of Spain as a late-comer to European modernity as a framework for assessing some of the country’s artistic production, then we may situate Casas and Rusiñol’s relationship with Parisian art and culture as a meaningful, intercultural activity that allowed for critical self-distance and a process of learning, appropriating, and translating different forms of promoting and making art.

(Laura M. Cales, The Barcelona – Paris Connection: A Response to the Critical Framings of Ramon Casas and Santiago Rusiñol’s Engagement with French Art and Culture, Thesis for the degree of Master’s of Arts, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, 2012; p. 106, retrieved from ProQuest, at http://www.proquest.com).

I would certainly counter-contend, and say that Spain and Catalonia were in fact late-comers, and that Paris was really a cultural hub that attracted, and fed, a great deal of European and American periphery talent, thanks to its impressive succession of artistic innovations. But this does not downgrade Cales true contribution. That is, her effort to reintegrate periphery and centre into a wider picture, and to advance the understanding that the dynamics involved in a cultural transfer process always imply a degree of cultural creativity and dialogue.

These ideas of “critical and creative appropriation”, and “intercultural exchange” can also be fruitful when considering other moments in the history of Catalan art. As we have seen in this blog, Dr. Castiñeiras’ study on the Romanesque Tapestry of the Creation (wool on wool, 358 x 450 cm, end of the 11th century – beginning of the 12th century, Museum of the Cathedral of Girona) has revealed it as a speculum principis (“mirror for a prince”) for the young Ramon Berenguer III, count of Barcelona, taking a step further an iconography program that was set by the Coronation “Star” Mantel, presented to the German Saxon Kaiser Henri II some decades before -among some other earlier works (Manuel Castiñeiras, El tapís de la creació,  Catedral de Girona, Girona, 2011; pp. 32, 93-94 and 114).

On the other hand, it means nothing especially original to say that the same concept of transfer works for other parts of Europe. As posted here in August, we can put the Czech Madonna from Roudnice (by the Master of the Trebon Altarpiece, c. 1385 -1390, Convent of Saint Agnes of Bohemia, National Galleries in Prague) side by side with Pere Serra’s (active in Barcelona between 1357 -1408), Our Lady of the Angels (c. 1385, MNAC, Barcelona), and discuss both of them as “translations” of the International Gothic Style born in French and Northern Italian courts.

Digging a little deeper, I think we could perhaps use these kind of examples to advance a certain understanding of national culture. I like to call it “thankful understanding”, meaning that the fine works of art of a certain national school, always owes something to the achievements of another one from a near, or far, nation. In an ideal world, cultural institutions like the MNAC (you know we are talking about a museum) would foster this kind of approach in their projects.

All in all, and thanks to Laura Cales, we can now feel comfortable with these brand new concepts like “intercultural exchange” or “creative appropriation” when talking about late 19th century Catalan art. I think we can be perfectly happy with that, since it is nothing more and nothing less than using our current vocabulary to tell a very old tale.

11.11.2012: From Nonell to Van Eyck

1. The rise of the online auction

I do admit: it is not without a drop of envy that I report about these two extraordinary examples of 19th century Catalan art coming to auction – I wish I myself were handling them!  Isidre Nonell (1872-1911), and Joaquim Mir (1873-1940) shared formative years in the informal Colla del Safrà (The Saffron Gang, named after their use of strong colours, especially red), where they made their first attempts to free themselves from fin-de-siècle, bourgeoisie-loved  late Impressionism, in favour to of a more direct form of realism. However, they developed their styles in to two different ways: Nonell dug stubbornly in the social (gypsy) underworld, and found new depths for his style on the way (from which Picasso took good lessons while in Barcelona); Mir embraced an exalted, exhilarating vision of nature. This is what you can see in Nonell’s Soledad, old Gipsy (oil on canvas, 1908, 100 x 81 cm, signed) and The pound in Can Pau Segimon (oil on canvas, 1905-06, 133 x 202.5 cm, signed), perhaps not at their peak, but certainly at a very high level. In any case, Setdart, the online auction house in charge, is not shy about estimates, nor the strength of the market: €600,000 each, offered on two consecutive dates (November 27 and 28). At that price, they would become the second most expensive Nonell ever sold at auction, and the Mir that smashed the previous record, by nearly doubling it. Will this aggressive approach pay out? That is something hard to know, since Setdart distinguishes itself by not making the final price public, nor indeed the fact whether the lot has been sold or fallen below the reserve price.

2. From the American and French Revolutions to the outbreak of the First World War

It is called Nineteenth Century Art Worldwide and it is a peer-reviewed, on-line semestral journal published since 2002 by the AHNCA (Association of Historians of Nineteenth Century Art), an American learned society affiliated to the CAA (College Art Association). Its Vision Statement notes that “for too long nineteenth-century art historical studies have focused on France and, to a lesser extent, Great Britain, the United States, and Germany. The editors of the journal are making a particular effort to solicit articles that cover the arts in other areas of the world as well”. Regarding Catalan and Spanish art however, I could find only two excellent exhibition reviews. So why not start changing things with a scholarly comment about the Martin Rico retrospective now in the Prado, or your interesting findings about some of the artists featured in the previous note (or Gaudí, for that matter)? You will find their Guidelines for submissions here.

3. Books: Collecting Spanish Art (the bright side)

The Frick Collection is publishing the proceeds of its 2008 conference on the hunger for Spanish Art among the most active collectors in the States. All authors are noted specialists from both sides of the Atlantic, and collectors discussed include Isabella Stewart Gardner, Henry Clay Frick, Charles Deering, Archer Huntington, Algur Meadows, and yes, William Randolph Hearst (Jose Luis Colomer and Inge Reist, ed., Colleting Spanish Art: Spain’s Golden Age and America’s Gilded Age, New York, 2012; 376 p., $90.- at the Frick’s online bookstore).

4. Books: Collecting Spanish Art (the dark side)

This book, published last September, traces William Randolph Hearst’s (1863-1951) aggressive buying campaign of important pieces from the Spanish heritage, notably architecture –  including up to nine complete cloisters (Maria José Martínez Ruíz and José Miguel Merino Cáceres, La destrucción del patrimonio español. W. R. Hearst, el gran acaparador, Madrid, 2012;  704 pages, €32.- on the publisher’s website)His methods were not always clean, and the research gives a detailed account of his ways to put pressure on, and attract the will of officials in charge. For a broader picture on the matter, the reference work in the field is Francisco Fernández Pardo El Museo desaparecido. Dispersión y destrucción del patrimonio artístico español (Madrid, 2007; 5 volumes, apparently out of print, but available in some university libraries at home, and abroad).

5. Collecting for the nation

The UK’s Arts Council has published a 2010 -2012 Report on the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme, which it administers. Under this scheme, taxes are paid not with money, but with significant artworks – called in France dation en paiement, and in Spain and Catalonia “dació en pagament”. It seems it works very well, being able first, to identify important works of art; second, to find the way to value them fairly  – taking advice also from the trade, raising offeror’s valuations when necessary, and making the final figures public; and third, to allocate them to different public collections across the country (see Appendices in the report). The 2011 / 2012 exercise was extraordinary. Ruben’s (155-1640) grisaille sketch The Triumph of Venus (oil on panel, 34.5 x 48.5 cm; 1628; now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge) was the star acquisition of the season, which closed with 24 objects accepted (and 9 rejected), valued at 31.3 million GBP, and paying 20 million GBP in taxes. This is a difference that needs some explanation: when the offeror (tax debtor) offers a work whose valuation exceeds the tax amount owned, it is the recipient institution who raises the difference – sometimes with the help of other public or private charitable institutions. In other words, the Art Council has been successful in not turning the Scheme into a state-controlled system to buy valuable pieces from a vendor under tax pressure at a bargain price – but a fair price. Next exercise they will start with the Cultural Gift Scheme, by which the offeror makes a lifetime gift of an artwork against income, capital gains, or corporation taxes.

6. We need a new word for that: “Expohell” (or “Mostrificio” in Italian)

I learn through Adkronos that the foundation behind Florens, the International Biennale on Cultural and Environmental Heritage (Florence, November 3 -11), has presented there its report on “Exhibiting in the Middle of the Crisis. The Italian Exhibiting System between 2009 – 2011” (see the press note and the full report). Their findings are very interesting: no less than 11,000 exhibitions every year (30 per day), held in 4,500 exhibitions centres (only a third in museums) planted in 1,500 different towns. 65% of the exhibitions were dedicated to contemporary work, and 10% to photography  – Old Masters got less than 3%. The good news was that 90% of them were free, therefore not asking to pay for something that presumably was already very cheap. Director of research Guido Guerzoni asked for “less ephemera and more museums, less quantity and more quality, less past and more future [why, sorry?], and more sensible cultural planning”.

7. Eyck’s magic

Are you fond of underdrawings, the kind of secret masterpieces hidden beneath the painted surface of a Medieval or Renaissance painting? Then take a look at closertovaneyck, the website that, under the leadership of Belgium Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage the Getty Foundation, opened some months ago to follow the restoration process of Hubert and Jan van Eyck Ghent Altarpiece (1432). Besides other features, it allows you to compare side by side macrophotographies and infrared reflectographies of the different panels, therefore revealing the Eyck brothers’ magic touch in transforming a black-and-white sketch into one of the finest colourings examples ever made. The wonders of the digital era!

04.11.2012: From Provence to Switzerland

1. Parallel lives: Rico and Cézanne

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

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

2. Sold! 

Noche en Cadaqués

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

3. A bargain?

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

4. Make your own Rijk

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

5. From Charles to Beatrix

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

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

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

7. Make art, not war

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

28.10.2012: From Naples to Rome.

1. Sometimes it is just too late.

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

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


2. Also late, but still on time.

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


3. Books: The Brueghels at work.

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


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

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


5. Manuel works.

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


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

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


7. Roma locuta.

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

18.10.2012: From Raphael to the end.

1. At the roots of Raphael’s art.

Raffael (Raffaello Santi, 1483–1520) Sketch for the lower left section of the “Disputa”, c. 1508/1509 Black chalk (charcoal?), pen and brown ink, over stylus, outlines pricked for transfer, on beige paper, 282 x 416 mm Department of Prints and Drawings, Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main

Raphael. Drawings.  The exhibition opening in the Städel Museum in Frankfurt on November 7th (up to February 3rd, 2013, admissions from €10.- to €14.-, catalogue for €34.90, press release here), promises far more than what you might suspect from its dry title. Completing Städel’s nine sheets with thirty-seven international loans (the Queen Elisabeth II, Louvre, Uffizi, et al.), it will present them grouped in four thematic areas that reflects Raphael’s use of drawings as the primary tools to develop his thinking as artist: “Madonna and the Child”, “Abstract Ideas”,  ”Historical Narratives”, and the different drawings for the decoration of Capella Chigi in Santa Maria della Pace in Rome. By doing so, curators Dr. Joachim Jacoby and Dr. Martin Sonnabend (from the museum itself) want to give the clues on how Raphael found the narrative solutions that will mark Western art forever. An international symposium will be held between  January 18-20, 2013.


2. Return to the adopted home.

This fine sketch by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (The Vision of Saint Anthony of Padua, oil on canvas, 61 x 39.7 cm), was looted to Paris, alongside the larger final work (165 x 200 cm) by Maréchal Soult, around 1810 – during the Napoleonic invasion of the Peninsula.  The larger final version ended up at the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin, but was destroyed by a bombardment in 1945. The smaller preparatory study however passed from private collection to private collection, even crossing the Channel (read the full story in artdaily ). It finally came to auction at Christie’s in December 2010 as “Studio of Bartolomé Murillo”, but the keen eye of the people from Caylus, the Madrid Old Masters gallery, spotted it, and bought it for a mere 10,000 pounds. They will include it in the forthcoming Paris Tableau  fair (Palais de la Bourse, November 7 – 12, admissions €15).


3. Met’s books are for free, forever.

Fancy browsing The Treasure of San Marco’s, Venice the 1984 exhibition catalogue of this hard-to-see trove of riches? This is what the Metropolitan Museum offers you for free, via MetMuseum , its new online service. In an unprecedented act of generosity, and public service, mighty Met is putting online,  and free to download, all of its out-of-print publications (including bulletins), plus previews and links for purchase for the in-print ones. Each of the current 645 records also provides access to the corresponding WorldCat ‘s record – another good reason to push Catalan and Spanish libraries into joining this international library catalogue.


4. One of us.

On October 17th, Dr. Bonaventura Bassegoda (Barcelona, 1954) was admitted as a new member of the venerable Reial Acadèmia Catalana de Belles Arts de Sant Jordi, thanks to his achievements in art history research. His inaugural discourse clearly showed he was accepting the honour with a commitment to further work. He presented Josep Puiggarí i Llobet (1821-1903), still a poorly known collector, who can however be considered one of the first Catalan art historians. As proof of its potential value, Bassegoda revealed the existence of 5 albums of illustrations for a Puiggarí’s gigantic, never completed history of the Spanish dress. By copying the examples he found in Medieval sculpture and paintings, Puiggarí inadvertently left a record of works that are now scattered or presumed lost –information that can prove very useful to today’s researchers.


5. Albert works.

The new exhibition at Palau Antiguitats  (Pau Roig, gravats, i els mestres del paisatge del segle XVII al XIX, until January 18, 2013), is certainly the brainchild of owner and director Albert Martí Palau. Picking up an almost forgotten artist, Pau Roig i Cisa (1879-1955), he focuses on his less know facet as engraver, only to go further in the narrowing process by showing only Roig’s 1923-1931 series on landscapes.  He then complements the show with some examples of other European’s master engravers, starting with the Old Dutch from whom Roig found inspiration, and ending with nearly–contemporary, fellow countrymen Carlos de Haes and Enric Galwey. The result is a well framed exhibition, which, I hope, will help to rescue from obscurity this interesting, intelligent artist.


6. I am the excited owner of this one.

Ok, I do admit the first time I show a photo of this oil painting (Jules Garipuy, The ascent to the chapel of the Divino Amore, 74 x 112), the comment was “what a nice little cheap picture card”. But forget prejudices about popular religion as subject matter, look at the quality of it – and above all, consider its attractive combination of a rather unknown artist, Jules Garipuy (Touluse, 1817 – 1893), and a perfect match of style, place and date: “Rome, 1846″ says the signature. At that time, the international mix of artists living in the city were trying to move on from the previous, and still strong Nazarene idealistic influence, and turned to a kind of soft realism – which is precisely what this painting shows. And of course, this is only the first step of a long researchingthat looks quite promising.


7. Autumn’s spleen.

Blame it on the season, but this is the second project I have heard about this month relating to art and death. Through Apahau’s blog, I learn that the organizers of LUCAS Graduate Conference 2013, have launched an appeal for papers on Death: The Cultural Meaning of the End of Life. The very broad terms they use for establishing the key question of the meeting (“How have different cultures imagined the end of life?”), might betray their feeling that the field remains basically unexplored. The Conference will be held in the Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society, on January 24th-25th 2013, and the deadline for proposals is November 15th.