26 April 2012

1. Seizing the trouble.


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

2. Too much money is bad.


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

3. A New Wetering’s Rembrandt.

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

4. The quiet raise of the digital catalogue.

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

5. You are the finder.

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

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


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

7. Middle Ages at half-price.

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

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