The discovery of a “new” Caravaggio painting is bound to be both newsworthy and controversial, and the unveiling of a Judith cutting of the head of Holofernes at Milan’s Pinacoteca di Brera is both. The painting, dated to 1606-07, was discovered in the attic of a house near Toulouse, France, in 2014. Not only is the attribution contested, but the painting’s exhibition at the museum has resulted in one of its advisory board members to resign in protest over the commercialization of the enterprise.
Caravaggio discoveries are rare but not unusual. The last major discovery was in 1991 with The Taking of Christ now at the National Gallery of Ireland. Another version of Judith Beheading Holofernes was discovered in the 1950s and is now at the Palazzo Barberini in Rome.
According to the Art Newspaper, the new discovery now on view at the Brera:
[W]ill be displayed alongside the institution’s Caravaggio masterpiece, the Supper at Emmaus (1605-06), a copy of Caravaggio’s Magdalen in Ecstasy (after 1610) and three works by the painter’s Flemish follower Louis Finson. The exhibition Caravaggio: a Question of Attribution (10 November-5 February), part of the museum’s “dialogues” series pairing works from its collection with key loans, will offer both art historians and the general public a unique opportunity to assess the controversial attribution for themselves, says the director James Bradburne.
The initiative, organised by the Caravaggio specialist and former director of the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples, Nicola Spinosa, has already divided experts. On 25 October, the art historian Giovanni Agosti resigned from Brera’s advisory committee in protest against the “uncritical” presentation of a painting that is “not only private property but for sale”. The work, which was discovered in 2014 by a French family who wanted to fix their leaky roof, was entrusted to Eric Turquin, a Parisian Old Master dealer who claims it could be worth €120m. “Brera is a museum of the Italian state, not a commercial gallery or a banking foundation. Presenting a painting in its rooms automatically confers authority on it,” Agosti wrote in a letter to Bradburne.
At the heart of the debate is the labelling of the work as a Caravaggio in the wall texts and exhibition catalogue. A museum “should not accept the conditions of a lender, especially if the lender is appointed to sell the painting”, Agosti says. The French Judith will be shown with a “clear disclaimer” that the attribution comes from the owner and not the museum, Bradburne tells The Art Newspaper. “There is no ambiguity about the uncertainties surrounding the painting.”
Technical research has so far proved inconclusive. The French culture ministry declared the work a national treasure in March, placing it under an export ban for 30 months while the Musée du Louvre conducts further study and the government considers whether to make an offer to buy it. Spinosa was among the Caravaggio scholars invited by Turquin to examine the painting, identifying it in his written evaluation as a lost original last documented in the early 1600s “even if we do not have any tangible or irrefutable proof”. Another expert, Mina Gregori, believes the work to be a copy by Finson, who is recorded as owning the lost Judith between 1607 and his death in 1617.
The exhibition will include an almost identical composition dated to 1607 and attributed to Finson, on loan from the Intesa Sanpaolo bank in Naples. However, the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica at Palazzo Barberini in Rome refused to lend the accepted, earlier version of Caravaggio’s Judith Beheading Holofernes (around 1598-99), La Repubblica reports. “I do not believe that it would have made sense to exhibit the Barberini Judith alongside the one found in France… From photographs it looks like a beautiful picture, but it is a Neapolitan prototype,” the director Flaminia Gennari Santori told the Italian newspaper.
Bradburne maintains that: “it is not the job of a museum to confirm the attribution of the paintings it borrows, only to decide firstly if the painting is necessary for the thesis of its exhibition, in this case ‘A question of attribution’ and secondly if it is of a quality that warrants being shown in a museum, which in this case—whether it is a Caravaggio or not—it certainly is.” While he concedes that museums can influence the market, Bradburne says the “only risk” in showing the French Judith is for the owner “if it does not garner the consensus of the experts”. The museum is due to host a day-long seminar with leading Caravaggio scholars before the end of January 2017.
A study for an early 18th century painting destroyed in 1945 during World War II has been acquired by the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Picture Gallery) at Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden. The final version of Francesco Trevisani’s (1656-1746) Massacre of the Innocents had been at the museum in Dresden for more than 200 years before it was incinerated. The new acquisition is the only known study.
According to the museum’s announcement:
Francesco Trevisani is considered one of the central Roman Baroque painters of the first half of the 18th century. He created the “Massacre of the Innocents” in around 1714 for Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni (1667–1740), one of the most influential and innovative art patrons of the time.
Before the artist painted the subject onto the huge canvas, more than four and a half metres wide, he painted the oil study (“bozzetto” in Italian) in preparation. The impressive dimensions of this study (75 x 136 cm) indicate that the draft was also presented to the client to give him an initial idea of its composition and colour scheme.
Trevisani’s “Massacre of the Innocents” was part of a cycle on Jesus’ childhood which Ottoboni probably commissioned to mark the 25th anniversary of his appointment as a cardinal and vice-chancellor of the Holy Roman church. Four artists worked on the cycle, which originally comprised eight paintings. Of the five works from the cycle still known today, four were purchased in 1743 by Augustus III, Prince Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, for his collection of paintings in Dresden. As well as the “Massacre of the Innocents”, the other paintings are “The Three Magi in front of Herod” by Sebastiano Conca, “The Adoration of the Magi” by Giuseppe Bartolomeo Chiari and “Rest on the Flight into Egypt” by Francesco Trevisani, all three of which are still in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister.
The emotion-laden rhetoric of the imagery is typical of Late Baroque painting. Trevisani places the figures as if they are on a stage, giving them passionate gestures and facial expressions. He uses this rhetorical repertoire to portray the scene described in the Gospel according to St. Matthew when baby sons were massacred on the orders of King Herod immediately after Jesus’ birth (Matthew 2:16). Herod wanted to do away with the new-born king of the Jews, Jesus of Nazareth, his putative rival.
Darcy Bradbury, representing the donators, commented, “We are very pleased to bring this important work to the City of Dresden. The subject matter of our painting is tragic, and the destruction of the original masterpiece in the last, terrible weeks of World War II was also tragic, a reminder of the terrible human consequences of war. Dr. Blobel, a Nobel prize winning scientist and founder of “Friends of Dresden”, who contributed his entire Nobel prize award to the restoration of Dresden, was protected as a young child by some kind and courageous citizens of Saxony from the worst consequences of war. As American Jews, that story spoke to us so deeply. By giving this painting to the people of Dresden, we hope that it can remind all of us of the both the terrible and beautiful things that humankind can do. “.
Marion Ackermann, Director General of Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, announced, “We are very grateful to the donators in the USA for this generous gift. This study will give our visitors a specific impression, for the first time, of the appearance of this large-scale painting by the Roman artist before it was destroyed in 1945. I would like to thank the donators Karen S. W. Friedman, Edward A. Friedman, Kristin Friedman, Gary D. Friedman, Theodore N. Mirvis, Ruth Mirvis, Darcy Bradbury and Eric Seiler on behalf of Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden. The “Friends of Dresden” association (New York City) made the organisational aspects of this donation possible, for which we would also like to thank Günter Blobel.”
A painting relegated to a museum storeroom has recently been authenticated as a study by the famed 17th-century Flemish artist Jacob Jordaens for Meleager and Atalanta, a large work about a mythological subject in the Prado – and it’s worth an estimated £3 million (approximately $4 million). According to the Times of London, the study, owned by the Swansea Museum in Wales for about 150 years and thought to be an 18th-century copy, caught the attention of “art historian Bendor Grosvenor, a presenter on BBC1’s Fake or Fortune,” who suspected it might be important. He brought in “Ben van Beneden, the director of Antwerp’s Rubenshuis museum, who authenticated the work.” The discovery will be featured on BBC4’s Britain’s Lost Masterpieces Wednesday, September 28, 2016 at 9PM (then on their website).
According to the Times article:
After the Swansea work was cleaned by restorer Simon Gillespie, it was sent to the Courtauld Institute [in London], where experts analysed the frame maker’s marks and dated it to between 1619 and 1622.
“This really narrowed it down, but we also knew that the Prado thought its painting . . . was done in two parts on two canvasses — one from the early 1620s and the other from the 1640s,” said Grosvenor, who established that the Prado work was almost certainly painted in a single year during the late 1620s and that Jordaens had joined two pieces of canvas.
He and van Beneden agree that the painting in Swansea is a preliminary work for the Prado version. “It is Jordaens trying out his ideas before he did the one which is now in Madrid,” said Grosvenor.
From the Prado’s website comes this description of the iconography:
This mythological scene is drawn from the Metamorphoses of Roman poet Publio Ovidio Nason [known as Ovid], one of the texts on ancient mythology that had the greatest intellectual impact on 17th-century Flemish artists. According to Ovid, Diana had sent an enormous wild bore to ravage the region of Calydon as punishment after the king failed to make the promised sacrifices to her. The king’s son, Meleager, was an experienced hunter and he gathered his most skilled colleagues to kill the beast. One of them was Atalanta, a brave huntress who was the first to wound it, making it easier for Meleager to kill it. As thanks, he gave her the bore’s head, which provoked grumbling and envy among the other hunters. Meleager’s uncles were offended and, considering themselves more deserving of the trophy, they took it away from Atalanta. This infuriated Meleager who fought and killed his uncles, thus angering his mother. Her intervention led to his sudden death, fulfilling an ancient prophecy.
Jordaens chose to depict the fable’s culminating moment. On the right, Meleager’s uncles snatch the trophy from Atalanta. Angered, the hero brandishes his sword to kill them. In a tender gesture of fear, Atalanta attempts to halt Meleager’s vengeful fury. The scene is completed by the group of hunters on the left. The position of their weapons and arms, and the movement of their dogs, mark the composition’s rhythm and lead the viewer’s gaze to the main event.
Pontormo’s 1530 Portrait of a Young Man in Red Cap depicts a self-assured 18-year-old Florentine aristocrat named Carlo Neroni – less confident is the National Gallery’s hope to raise £30.7 million to keep the painting, which had been on view at the estimable London institution, from being exported. The painting was sold to a non-UK buyer in 2015, despite a loan agreement, according to the Guardian, in which the present owner pledged to the National Gallery that it would not be sold while hanging at the museum.
According to a December 23, 2015 statement from on the British government’s website:
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has placed a temporary export bar on Portrait of a Young Man in a Red Cap by Pontormo to provide an opportunity to save it for the nation.
It is one of only 15 portraits by the old master to survive – the majority of which reside in Italy. Academics believed the painting was lost forever when it disappeared in the 18th century, only to be rediscovered in a private art collection in 2008. The portrait was then re-attributed as a genuine Pontormo and published by Christie’s old master specialist Francis Russell.
The initial deadline April 22, 2016 deadline for raising the funds has been extended until October 22. Significantly, works acquired following an export license referral are usually done so at much less than market value, but this different according to The Art Newspaper:
Normally when works are export-deferred, public collections can often make a private treaty purchase, buying them at a greatly reduced price because of tax concessions. But in this case, the tax has already been paid, raising concerns that this could make it harder for British institutions to raise the necessary funds.
The National Gallery is in discussions with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Treasury to determine whether the tax paid could be refunded to the gallery. The tax was very high, and The Art Newspaper understands that if this was refunded, the gallery would need to raise less than £12m to buy the work. It might also be able to draw on its own Getty Endowment and secure grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund (or its associated National Heritage Memorial Fund) and the Art Fund.
The Art Fund is keen for the tax issue to be resolved. Stephen Deuchar, its director, argues that when tax has been paid on an export-deferred work such as the Pontormo, “this should be refunded to any UK museum that is able to raise a matching sum”. Deuchar says that this would be “completely consistent with the Treasury’s existing system of tax concessions to encourage the acquisition of nationally important works by public museums”.
About the seller and the buyer, The Art Newspaper adds:
The portrait was rediscovered by Francis Russell, an Old Master specialist at Christie’s, who published it in the Burlington Magazine in 2008. Although Russell has never identified its owner, the portrait has been in the family of the Earls of Caledon since 1825. In 2008, Nicholas Alexander, the seventh earl, who owns Caledon Castle in Northern Ireland, lent the rediscovered work to the National Gallery in London …
The unidentified buyer is foreign, and Russell has suggested that it may well be a New York-based collector with close links to the city’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Russell says that the painting was bought in such a way “that it couldn’t be bought in a tax-efficient way by an institution” in the UK. An export licence was deferred by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport at a valuation of £30.7m.
We’ll likely know the painting’s fate in the next couple of months; meanwhile, don’t look for it at the National Gallery – it was pulled off view in May 2015.
Sweden’s National Museum has just acquired a large still life by the 17th century Dutch painter Jan Weenix who, along with his cousin Melchior d’Hondecoeter, was one of the most significant painters of the genre during the Golden Age of the Netherlands.
According to the museum’s announcement:
Nationalmuseum has acquired a large, masterfully executed game still life dating from 1684 by the Dutch Baroque painter Jan Weenix (1640-1719). The painting represents dead game placed next to a sculpted fountain in the shape of a putto. Weenix’s elegant style of painting corresponds to a general shift in taste in Dutch art after the middle of the 17th century, when many artists adopted a similarly refined style accompanied by an interest in aristocratic figures and settings.
Weenix was a highly successful painter in his day, celebrated for his game still lifes and hunting scenes. His father, Jan Baptist Weenix (1621-1660/61), and cousin, Melchior d’Hondecoeter (1636-1695), were both acclaimed artists, and it was from them that he learned his trade. Weenix was born in Amsterdam in 1640, but by 1649, his family had settled in Utrecht, where he eventually became a member of the painters’ guild of Saint Luke. By 1677, he had moved to Amsterdam, where he continued to reside until his death in 1719. His first works, from the 1660s, are genre scenes set in Italianate landscapes or exotic ports modelled after his father’s compositions. After 1680, he gradually abandoned these popular themes in favour of the game still lifes and flower pieces for which he is best known.
Already in his early game pieces such as this large and ambitious painting, signed and dated 1684, Weenix shows the full command of a master. Exquisitely painted and observed, the picture evokes the image of an idyllic park landscape with a strolling amorous couple and an exotic harbour scene in the distance. The central motif combines meticulously rendered animal trophies (a swan, a peacock, small birds, a hare) and hunting gear (a gun, a pouch, a hunting horn), decoratively arranged at the base of a sculpted fountain. A longhaired black-and-white hunting dog seated on the fountain-base is shown suddenly distracted by a dove beating its wings, which adds a lively note to the composition. Like his cousin Melchior d’Hondecoeter, Weenix became famous for rendering the textural and colouristic beauty of his subjects. A characteristic of his work is his inimitable application of paint in rendering different textures such as an animal’s pelt or plumage. Here the various textures of the birds’ rich plumage are skilfully reproduced in nuances ranging from a soft and shimmering silky white to a hard metallic blue. The predominantly subdued colours of the surrounding landscape and the soft evening light impart warmth and luminosity to the still life’s more saturated colours.
Elegant hunting or trophy still lifes were much in demand in Holland in the 17th century. Hunting was a royal sport and a favourite aristocratic pastime, strictly regulated and illegal even for the rising bourgeoisie. It has therefore been suggested that game still lifes were often acquired by wealthy burghers in order to lend themselves a degree of social prestige.
At the beginning of the 18th century, hunting still lifes became increasingly popular for wall decorations, and many of Weenix’s works were painted to order as wall-panels. Justly famous is his series of large game pieces painted between 1702 and 1712 for the hunting lodge of Johan Wilhelm, Elector of the Palatine, at Bensberg near Düsseldorf. These have been interpreted as allegories of abundance placed at the feet of the Elector. Goethe saw these impressive canvases in situ in 1774, and observed that Weenix had surpassed nature in visually rendering every tactile value of his subject.
The painting comes from the art collection of the Swedish businessman and Consul General Karl Bergsten (1869-1953), housed in the Villa Dagmar in Stockholm. Its acquisition by the museum was made possible by generous donations from the Axel and Nora Lundgren Fund and the Wiros Fund. Nationalmuseum has no budget of its own for new acquisitions, but relies on gifting and financial support from private funds and foundations to enhance its collections of fine art and craft.
Inventory number: NM 7310
Currently hanging on a wall at the National Gallery in London is a 16th century painting – Virgin With Child, St. John the Baptist, and Mary Magdalene, by Francesco Mazzuola, called Parmigianino (1503-1540) – from a stately English country home that the Getty hopes to secure. But they will first need an export license; and that, as they say, is the tricky part. According to the Los Angeles Times: “The museum said the painting has been in private hands for more than 400 years and that a private sale is being arranged through Sotheby’s.”
Until an export license is applied for, we won’t know the price; suffice it to say, it’s in the millions.
The Getty’s director has had his eyes on the painting since his days at Britain’s Fitzwilliam Museum. But the export license hurdle can sometimes be a problem. As the Times notes:
The Getty faced a similar situation when it sought to acquire an early Rembrandt self-portrait from a dealer. The museum ultimately prevailed in 2013 and received an export license.
But the Getty’s 2002 bid of $46.6 million for Raphael’s “Madonna of the Pinks” failed to go through when the British government stepped in to help with a rival bid.
The painting, executed between 1530 and 1540, is considered to be one of the finest late Renaissance works in private hands and said to be in excellent condition.
Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle in County Durham in North East England has acquired Dieric Bouts’ St. Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child, thanks to funding from Art Fund, Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), and a number of private donors. The painting, a superb work rich in detail, came from Penrhyn Castle where Edward, Lord Penrhyn originally bought it for about £100. In November 2015, the Government placed a temporary export bar on the painting, and the work was finally secured for £2,290,650.
According to the museum’s press release, the painting is “an outstanding 15th century painting deemed an important British cultural asset” and its acquisition initiates “a partnership with York Art Gallery and Bristol Museum & Art Gallery.”
Bouts was born in Haarlem, the Netherlands. According to the National Gallery of Art’s biography:
The date of birth is not known, though circumstantial evidence points to the time between 1415 and 1420. Bouts moved from Haarlem to Louvain and there married a well-to-do citizen, Katharina van der Brugghen; the marriage probably took place by 1447 or 1448, but the first document mentioning Dirck Bouts in Louvain is dated 1457. It has been suggested that Bouts emigrated to Louvain sometime between 1444 and 1448 and, further, that he might have visited Bruges or Antwerp after leaving Haarlem. Wolfgang Schöne and Georges Hulin de Loo, however, believe that Bouts returned to Haarlem after his marriage and remained there until 1456/1457. After the death of his first wife, Bouts remarried in 1472 or 1473. He made his last will and testament on 17 April, and apparently died on 6 May 1475. His two sons, Dirck the Younger and Aelbrecht, were artists. Aelbrecht painted more or less in the style of his father. Dirck the Younger’s style is not known to us.
The Bowes Museum release includes the following about the painting, its acquisition, the participants who made the purchase possible, and when it will be publicly accessible:
The patterned tiles lead the viewer’s eye through the composition, to the colonnade and landscape beyond. The face of St. Luke, which portrays both age and character, displays the key characteristics associated with Bouts’ portraiture. The expensive damask cloth of honour is exquisitely rendered, as are the tiled floor and marble columns. The detailed landscape beyond the colonnade, showing a walled town receding into a mountainous horizon, demonstrates why Bouts is viewed as one of the most important early Netherlandish landscape painters.
The majority of the funding came from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) which, thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, awarded The Bowes Museum £1.99million.
The Museum will lead on the project and acquire the painting before embarking on an innovative partnership with York Art Gallery and Bristol Museum & Art Gallery to deliver a diverse and exciting activity programme surrounding the painting, across the three venues, with each partner focusing on different aspects of the programme and sharing learning. All three galleries have excellent Old Master collections and the acquisition of this major painting allows each to highlight their holding of early Netherlandish painting while reaching different audiences across the country.
Adrian Jenkins, Director of The Bowes Museum, said: “During the 15th century, Netherlandish paintings were admired all over Europe for their visual sophistication, imagination and invention, and those by Bouts and his workshop were no exception. This work exhibits all of those characteristics and we are extremely pleased to have secured its long term future in the UK with the help of the Art Fund and HLF.”
The painting will also become the focus of a scientific investigation and conservation project, led by staff at the National Gallery, after which it will be displayed at The Bowes Museum before travelling back to the National Gallery for display. It will then spend a longer period at each of the partner galleries and form the basis of exciting activity programmes.
Culture and Digital Minister Matt Hancock said: “It’s fantastic news that this stunning painting will remain in the UK for the public to see. I’m delighted that the export deferral has allowed this outstanding work of art to find a new home at The Bowes Museum.”
Laura Pye, Head of Culture at Bristol City Council, said: “We are thrilled to be welcoming Bouts’ St Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child to Bristol in 2018. High profile loans of this nature help us to reinvigorate our galleries and provide our visitors with magnificent new art to enjoy. I’m looking forward to seeing the masterpiece alongside our own excellent Old Masters collection and developing new ways for communities in Bristol to participate in our events programme.”
Laura Turner, Senior Curator of Art and Science at York Museums Trust, said: “We are thrilled that Bouts’ St Luke Drawing the Virgin and Childwill remain in the UK. With such a strong collection of Old Masters at York Art Gallery, we have an affinity with the work and consider it to be of great national importance.
“We look forward to receiving the loan in 2018 and introducing a programme of events at York Art Gallery that will celebrate the acquisition and share more information about the painting with the public.”
The exhibiting of the painting, together with the outcomes of research and the programme of activities, will aim to keep the public fully informed about the artist, the artwork and the context, to engage interest and encourage participation.
At the end of the long-term project the painting will be housed at The Bowes Museum, where it will become part of the permanent collection.
As well as making a significant financial contribution to the acquisition, the Art Fund was able to further support through acting as the purchaser, and then making a gift of the work to The Bowes Museum. This ensured that the work could be purchased without additional tax, meaning that the museum could acquire the work for a significantly reduced price.
“The assistance of the Art Fund in supporting the Bowes in this practical way demonstrates how their support for UK Galleries and Museums goes beyond straightforward financial support,” added Mr Jenkins.
Stephen Deuchar, Art Fund director, said: “The art historical significance of this unusual subject is considerable; indeed there is nothing like it in any other UK collection. It’s a great coup for The Bowes Museum, and we were happy to help. We are particularly supportive of their plan to show the work at other UK museums, as well as at the Bowes, in the years to come.”
Ivor Crowther, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund North East, said: “We’re delighted to support this project which will not only save an important cultural asset for the nation, but also enable people across County Durham, York, Bristol, and further afield to explore the story behind the painting and enjoy it for generations to come.”