1. Parallel lives: Rico and Cézanne
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 Past, Museum 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).
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.