1. Which is by whom?
Only until October 7th, the Museo de Bellas Artes in Bilbao exhibits this pair or portraits of Isabella of Valois (1546 – 1568), third wife of the Phillip II of Spain (1527-1598). Both come from the noted Madrid private collection Várez-Fisa. The first of them (oil on canvas, 104,5 x 84 cm, c.1560) by Antonio Moro (1516/1520 – 1575/1576) is a classic example of his restrained, rigorously geometrical and achingly detailed style, by which the Dutch laid the foundations of the Spanish Habsburg portraiture. The second one, a slightly enlarged copy (113 x 94,5 cm) by the Spanish Antonio Sánchez Coello (1531/32 – 1588), less careful in the particulars and a somehow more relaxed – most probably because of his learnings from Titian, as the note by Miguel Falomir in the MBB website argues. Which is by whom? Your guess! On the other hand, the museum has recently published its 6th annual Bulletin, featuring articles by specialists on some of the works in the collection (including a piece by Jordi Camps on their magnificent Catalan Romanesque Majesty).
2. Giving these days (6).
The more I hear rumours about David Balsells’ (Lleida, 1947) retirement, the more I long for him to keep his current position as Chief Curator for Photography at the MNAC – the star museum of this blog. His last coup was winning Joan Colom’s (Barcelona, 1921) complete archive, including the collection of 9,000 author’s prints and corresponding documents. Colom is a key figure in Catalan photography, thanks to his trademark punchy snaps of street life in Barcelona’s hard boroughs (see here some examples from the collections of Fundació Foto Collectania). The President and the Director of the MNAC have given a helping hand in closing the deal, securing Colom a pension in exchange of his generous, unrestricted donation. All in all it is another achievement by Balsells, who in his 16-year tenure has been able to attract other important gifts from authors and collectors alike. Let’s hope he will find the time and the will to train his successor.
3. The magic of words.
In a recent piece, Katherine York claims museums are “social enterprises”, and puts the focus and the praise on the many ways they already generate income (“Museums are already social enterprises”, the guardian on facebook, July 23, 2012). But what makes her article noteworthy is her point, that the return expected by museum-goers is not one of financial nature, but of spiritual nature. This is the key paragraph:
“Museums are places where people find quality and a depth of experience, where they are encouraged, respected and challenged. The museum experience is one of well-being and calm enrichment. It is unique, improving and heart warming. It offers value for money”.
I feel lured by her mixing of management and near-religious language, and also for her visitor-centred approach – in which only the will to “challenge” may offer some very little room for the old “awe for the past” that museums were supposed to foster. But I must agree she brilliantly captures a line of defence museums should marshal in these difficult times. Besides, she provides further evidence of the argument that museums are taking the place of other social-gluing institutions, like churches – they also would like to encourage, respect and challenge, providing some solace in the process.
4. The Legend of the Black Romantic.
How did Dark Romanticism unfold in visual arts? What is the reason behind Romanticism, Surrealism and Expressionism’s key artists being drawn to “the realm of the unfathomable, mysterious and evil”? Was it a proper visual arts movement, or just a deluxe illustration for ideas coming from literature? These are the questions to be answered by Dark Romanticism. From Goya to Max Ernst, a major exhibition just announced by the Städel Musem in Frankfurt for this September – running until January 20, 2013. Featuring more than 200 works by, among others, Goya, Fuseli, Blake, Friederich, Blechen, Géricault, Delacroix, Hugo, Moreau, Redon, Böcklin, Stuck, Klinger, Munch, Magritte, Bellmer, Dalí and Ernst, it will focus on some Western Europe countries. We wonder about its weight in the rest of the continent, including Russia.
5. Books: a triumph by Louis Antoine Prat.
All the French names cited above are also featured in Louis Antoine Prat’s relatively new book Le Dessin Français au XIX siècle (Loure Éditions, Musée du Quai d’Orsay, Somogy, 2011; 661 pages, €195 on the publisher’s website). Prat is a noted drawing’s scholar and collector (the Caixaforum in Barcelona showed his collections’ highlights in 2007), and in this very generous review, which follows his teaching as Professor for History of Drawings in the École du Louvre from 2007 to 2010, he offers surprising findings to the non specialist – e.g. the many facets of Delacroix’s genius or the firing imagination of Victor Hugo’s mind.
6. Transferring the State’s privileges.
Like in France or Italy, pre-emption at auction is one of the privileges bestowed to public bodies by both Catalan and Spanish heritage regulations. Thanks to it, a public representative can purchase a lot for the latest bid, even if he has not entered the bidding, by just giving a proper sign to the auctioneer. In these times of shrinking public funds, I guess public officials will not fancy this relatively reasonable device, which harms the buyer but not the seller (at least in theory). Instead, they can be tempted to turn to more damaging practices: plainly denying the export license for the artwork, or declaring it a “national treasure”, with no intent of purchasing it, therefore placing the whole transaction in an embittering limbo or leading it to a certain loss. Perhaps a little change in the law might soothe some cases, if the pre-emption right could be transferred to a buyer (national or foreigner) that agrees to either (a) donate the work of art to a public institution, in exchange for a generous tax-exemption; or (b) to loan the work for a long term, again to a public institution – with a quite decent tax-exemption; or (c) keep it privately, but always within national soil, receiving just a gentle tax cut.
7. Road to Russia.
Knowing about my wish to travel to Russia one day, a friend suggested to me by way of introduction Andrei Sokurov’s (1951) tour de force at the Hermitage, “Russian Ark” (2002), and Andrei Tarkovsky (1932-1966) Andrei Rubliev (1966). But it could be that once I got in Moscow, I found myself in the middle of a pharaonic overhaul, in which also Barcelona’s architect Ricardo Bofill wishes to take part, according to a piece in Le Figaro (Béatrice de Rouchebouet, Le grand pari de Moscou, lefigaro.com, July 22, 2012). Anyway, other tips on Russian films on art welcomed!