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.
-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.