Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sacre Bleu! Featured Fragonard Fails at Christie's, as Do Memling and Arcimboldo

Giambattista Tiepolo oil sketch, one of the few high points of Christie's Old Masters sale
How will the Christie's publicity machine spin this?

The morning Old Masters sale had few enough high points, though a sparkling Giambattista Tiepolo oil sketch sold for $5.2 million (the highest of the day's sales), about mid-estimate, and a splendid Thomas de Keyser portrait, selling for $1.25 million, left its $500,000 high estimate in the dust.

But the afternoon sale, which broke out the French works, was abysmal, with nearly half the works unsold -- among them the catalogue cover, Fragonard's "The Good Mother."  It was expected to reach $5 to $7 million but the bidding died at $4.2 million. 

Memling's "Virgin Mary Nursing the Christ Child" and a painting attributed to Arcimboldo were among the spectacular flops in the morning sale.

The Memling had an estimate of $6 to $8 million, but the $5.5 million high bid evidently didn't reach the reserve.  The Arcimboldo may have been done in by doubts about its attribution (see the post immediately preceding).

Remember the Pieter Molijn that the Getty Museum restituted to the heirs of Jewish art dealer Jacques Goudstikker last March?  For all the publicity then, no sale today.

Update:  Well, the Christie's press release is out, and there's a bit of good news:  The Thomas de Keyser was purchased by the National Gallery, so one of the loveliest paintings in the sale (see photo in preceding post) should before too long be on public view.

Photo and text Copyright 2012 Laura Gilbert

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Christie's Old Masters Preview: The Ones to Watch

Memling, Virgin Mary Nursing the Christ Child
A painting stolen for Nazi war criminal Hermann Goering, one of the few Memlings still in private hands, and a work that might or might not be by the strange Arcimboldo are among the offerings at Christie's Old Masters auction next week.  The highlights:

Hans Memling, Virgin Mary Nursing the Christ Child.  One of the few paintings by the great 15th-century Netherlandish artist remaining in private hands, this tiny devotional image (less than 7 inches in diameter) has an archaic gold ground but also the sweet delicacy one expects from Memling, and masterful detail.

Estimate: $6-$8 million (the highest in the sale), with a third-party guarantee.

Tiepolo, Arrival of Henry III
Giambattista Tiepolo, Arrival of Henry III at the Villa Contarini.  This large, 28-by-42-inch oil sketch for the fresco decoration of the Villa Pisani has a provenance more interesting than the event depicted (the French king stopped there once).  First recorded in the possession of a friend of Tiepolo, it was later owned by the Rothschild family, then seized by the Nazis for Hermann Goering.  After the war, it was recovered by the Monuments Men, returned to France, and restituted to the Rothschilds.

Estimate:  $4-$6 million, and perhaps worth every penny -- it's darn good-looking, with sophisticated color, and the fresco, according to the catalogue, is a wreck.

Fragonard, The Good Mother.  Probably better known for his playful erotic scenes, the Rococo artist was also a master at landscape and genre painting, which this work shows off magnificently.  It appears to be in pristine condition.

Estimate:  $5-$7 million.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Anthropomorphic Portrait of a Man.  It's a bit much to call this a "portrait" rather than, say, a "face."  Is it also a bit much to call it an Arcimboldo?

It was sold in 1999 as "manner of Giuseppe Arcimboldo" and flipped the next year at Sotheby's as autograph.  Of the latter, connoisseur and dealer Richard Feigen wrote in the September 2008 Art Newspaper, "A painting attributed to the rare painter, Arcimboldo, was sold at Sotheby's, New York, for $1.5m.  It has never been accepted as by Arcimboldo himself."  Christie's catalogue calls the attribution "secure."  What will the market think?

Estimate:  $3-$5 million.

Gerrit Dou, Young Lady Playing a Clavichord.  This painting is alone reason to welcome auctions -- for a few days there's a chance to see a major work that had been "whereabouts unknown for generations," says the catalogue.  It turns out to have been owned by the same family for almost a century but apparently not exhibited (or cleaned) during that time.

Dou, a Dutch master of the small work, last year got a record $5-million-plus at Sotheby's.  Estimate: $1-$2 million.

Thomas de Keyser, Portrait of a Gentleman.  Judging from this 1627 portrait, de Keyser should be a household name despite the missing flecks of paint and the clouded areas at the bottom and the right.  The face and ruff -- gorgeous.  Estimate: $300,000-$500,000.

A couple of others to watch: a wonderful oil sketch, newly discovered, of The Assumption of the Virgin by the incomparable Rubens (left, estimate: $2-$3 million) and a 1756 double portrait of children by Francois Hubert Drouais (below, estimate: $1.2-$1.8 million).  Then there's a passel of works by Pieter Breughel the Younger -- landscape and fables copied from his father's work.

Christie's at Rockefeller Center, viewing January 21-24, sale January 25.

Image of Dou, from Christie's catalogue.

Other photographs and text Copyright 2012 Laura Gilbert.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Italy Caves on Restitution, Defaults After U.S. Seizes Painting in Florida

"Christ Bearing the Cross Dragged by a Rascal" by Girolamo de' Romano ("Romanino")

A federal court in Florida last week cleared the way for the heirs of a Jewish art collector to take possession of a painting that, according to the U.S. government’s complaint, had been illegally seized and auctioned by French Vichy authorities in concert with Nazi occupiers in 1941.

The painting, “Christ Bearing the Cross Dragged by a Rascal” by 16th-century artist Girolamo de’ Romano, was in the United States as part of a 50-painting loan from Milan’s Pinacoteca di Brera to the Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science in Tallahassee, Florida. 

Painting Seized at 11th Hour

On November 4, 2011, a mere two days before the painting was scheduled to return to Milan, the U.S. Attorney’s Office began the federal court action.  That same day, the painting was seized by U.S. Customs and Homeland Security officials amid a blast of media coverage.

Neither the Brera nor the Italian government, which owns the Brera, answered the U.S. government’s complaint, and on January 3 the court entered a default judgment against them.

According to papers filed with the court, the art collector, Federico Gentili di Giuseppe, had amassed a collection of more than 70 works, some of which his heirs have been attempting to recover.  In 1999, a French court ordered the Louvre to return five paintings, and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Princeton University Art Museum have settled with the heirs, the papers say. 

Schiele's "Portrait of Wally"

The last high-profile painting that was seized by the government off the walls of a museum – first by New York State and then by the Feds -- was Egon Schiele’s “Portrait of Wally,” which was on loan to MoMA from the Leopold Museum in Vienna.  It took 10 years to settle that case.

Seizure was permissible in both instances because MoMA and the Brogan failed to get U.S. State Department certification granting these works immunity from seizure.

The Italian government and the heirs of Gentili di Giuseppe had been in negotiations for some time before the show that included “Christ Bearing the Cross” was due to close, and in July the U.S. Attorney requested the Brogan to keep the painting beyond the show’s end date, until the ownership dispute was resolved.

Reporting on the dispute in October, the New York Times stated that Chucha Barber, the Brogan’s chief executive, hoped that the publicity might bring the museum much needed donors.

No such luck.  The museum will shutter its doors indefinitely on January 15 while it figures out how to become financially viable, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. 

Princeton settled the heirs' claim to Pintoricchio's St. Bartholomew
Images: Top, Wikipedia; bottom, Princeton University Art Museum website

Text Copyright 2012 Laura Gilbert 

Friday, January 6, 2012

They’re Back: Two Small Portraits by Hals Join the Big Boys

Hals, Anna van der Aar, oil on wood, 1626
Two small, magnetic portraits by Frans Hals that have been in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum since 1929 are at last on permanent display.

Hals, Petrus Scriverius
In the museum’s huge, 228-work “Age of Rembrandt” show in 2007, these roughly 9-by-6.5-inch paintings of Petrus Scriverius and his wife, Anna van der Aar, were unexpected standouts – unexpected because they are so darn beautiful yet were hardly ever on view.

At the time, I asked curator Walter Liedke when we might see them again, and he said, “The small works will be back.”   When the Rembrandt show was taken down, though, and the Dutch galleries rehung, these two were nowhere to be seen.

Four years later, they were stars again, this time in Met’s Frans Hals show.

Again I asked Liedke about them, and he said they would soon be on permanent view in a freestanding display case in the Rembrandt-Hals gallery.

And now they are, holding their own among some of the most famous Dutch paintings in the Met’s collection, including Rembrandt’s “Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer.”

The Hals portraits newly installed
The two portraits are on one side of the case.  On the other is a small night scene, "An Evening School," by Gerrit Dou.

Images:  First and second from the Metropolitan Museum website.
Text and third photo Copyright 2012 Laura Gilbert

Monday, January 2, 2012

Taking Stock at Year-End: The Google Search

Richard Prince (left) and Larry Gagosian
As some of you have no doubt noticed, thanks to you my articles published here and elsewhere frequently appear in the top five of Google search results, even months after they are published. 

Today I performed some searches on Google (using Firefox) for rankings of news that I broke and exhibitions that I reviewed.

Cezanne loan nixed
Here are results -- as of this morning -- for some of my top-ranked articles, indicating what words I typed in, the number of results for that search, and who placed above or below me.  I could include more stories but you get the idea, and my gratitude.

Search:  Russian art loan embargo      
Number of Search Results:  1,190,000

            1.  My New York Observer article on Chabad v. Russian Federation, the court case that triggered Russia’s embargo on loaning art to U.S. museums
            2.  Jerusalem Post
            3.  New York Times
            4.  New York Times
            5.  Los Angeles Times

Search: Richard Prince copyright lawsuit
Number of Search Results: 153,000

            1.  New York Times
            2.  My New York Observer article breaking the news of Prince’s strategy on appeal and what happened to his unsold, copyright-infringing paintings
            3.  New York Observer
            4.  New York Times
            5.  New York Times

Soutine portrait
Search:  Soutine Bacon
Number of Search Results: 141,000

            1.  My review of the Soutine/Bacon show held in New York
            2.  New York Times
            3.  Huffington Post

Search:  Metropolitan Museum cancels loans
Number of Search Results:  106,000

            1.  My Observer article breaking the news that the Met had canceled loans to Russia in response to Russia’s art embargo
            2.  New York Times (kindly and appropriately crediting my article with breaking the news)

Search: Picasso Marie Therese lamour fou
Number of Search Results: 17,300

            1.  My review of the "Picasso and Marie-Therese: L’amour fou" show at the Gagosian Gallery
            2.  Gagosian
            3.  Artnet
            4.  nymuseums
            5.  New York Magazine

On loan from Koons
Search:  Jeff Koons Old Masters Metropolitan Museum
Number of Search Results: 39,400

            1.  New York Observer (kindly and appropriately referring to my article, which broke the story)
            2.  My story uncovering Koons’ secret loans of his Old Masters to the Met
            3.  Telegraph

Search:  Poussin fails to sell
Number of Search Results:  3,560,000

            1.  My piece on Poussin’s “Ordination” flopping at Christie’s
            2.  BBC
            3.  Wall Street Journal

Search: Cervera Hebrew Bible Metropolitan Museum
Number of Search Results: 104,000

            1.  My piece on the opening of the Cervera Hebrew Bible display at the Met
            2.  My piece on pages of the Bible showing unicorns in the context of French and Islamic art
Search: Richard Prince Larry Gagosian copyright infringement
$2.43 million paid
Number of Results:  7,670

            1.  The Art Newspaper
            2.  My story (different from my Observer article mentioned above) exclusively revealing some of the buyers of Prince’s infringing paintings and how much they paid

Search: Rauschenberg Short Circuit
Number of Search Results: 8,660

            1.  New York Times
            2.  My piece analyzing Robert Rauschenberg’s “Short Circuit”

Search: Passion in Venice Man of Sorrows
Number of Search Results: 292,000

            1.  Museum of Biblical Art
            2.  Amazon
            3.  Wall Street Journal
            4.  New York Times
            5.  My review of the “Passion in Venice” show that examined the Man of Sorrows at New York’s Museum of Biblical Art

Images: Top from Artinfo, Cezanne and Soutine pulled from the internet, bottom image from court documents. 
Image of Koons loan and text Copyright 2011-2012 Laura Gilbert