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Rare Fra Angelico painting at auction – missing section of dismembered masterpiece -UPDATED with sale results

October 23, 2012

Lot 1 Fra Angelico, Scene from the Thebaid (1430-1435), Fra Angelico and Atelier (Vicchio di Mugello 1395-1400 – Rome 1455), tempera on panel, 27.5 x 38.5 cm, Estimate: EUR 200,000-400,000. This painting sold for EUR 445,000. (Click to Enlarge)

On Saturday, October 27, 2012, at LeClere in Marseilles a portion of the dismembered Thebaid by Fra Angelico will come to auction.  In 2001, this work was identified as the missing link among four other panels from a painting about monastic life. More information is available from the sale’s dedicated catalogue.

Composite showing five sections of the dismembered Thebaid by Fra Angelico. (Click to Enlarge)

It’s back again – the painting with an identity crisis – UPDATED with sale results

October 22, 2012

Who painted this work?

For the third time in slightly more than a year (to the extent that I know), this painting is back at auction, and it’s authorship still remains a mystery.  In October 2011 it sold in London for £4,750 ($7,605) with the author listed as “17th century Roman”; in April 2012 it appeared at Dorotheum ascribed to Pierre Mignard, estimated at EUR 20,000-30,000, it failed to sell; now it’s in the November 7, 2012, sale at Artcurial in Paris once again as 17th century Roman, with an estimate of EUR 8,000-10,000. According to Artcurial’s Elisabeth Bastier: “[N]ot all of the specialists of French painting of the 17th Century agreed with Mr. Kerpstern who gave the painting to Mignard at the Dorotheum.” This painting sold for 10,296.

So, who do you think painted this work? Contact me via the comments section.

$35 million 3D Warhol Statue of Liberty Painting – 3D glasses included? UPDATED

October 20, 2012

Statue of Liberty, Andy Warhol (1928-1987), silkscreen ink, spray paint and graphite on linen, 77-3/4 x 81 in. Signed “Andy Warhol” on the vertical overlap. Painted in 1962.
Estimate: Approximately $35 million This lot sold for $43,762,500 ($39 million hammer price plus buyer’s premium)

In a couple of weeks Christie’s will attempt to auction an Andy Warhol 1962 3D painting of the Statue of Liberty.  The separate 145-page catalogue does not have a publicly published estimate, but instead carries the phrase “Estimate on Request.” According to Judd Tully’s informative article about the work at, the painting has “an unpublished estimate in excess of $35 million.”  UPDATE: This lot sold for $43,762,500 ($39 million hammer price plus buyer’s premium).

More on the lots in this sale here.

$85 million might get you three Picassos – Are they any good? Who cares? They’re expensive. UPDATED with sale results

October 19, 2012

Lot 9. PABLO PICASSO, 1881 – 1973, NATURE MORTE AUX TULIPES, Signed Picasso and dated XXXII (upper right); dated 2 Mars XXXII H 9 à 11 1/2 Hs on the stretcher
Oil on canvas, 51 1/8 by 38 3/4 in., 130 by 97 cm. Painted on March 2, 1932.
Estimate: $35-50 million. This lot sold for a hammer price of $37 million.

The ability to separate the quality of art from its monetary value will continue to erode when several hundred million dollars worth of Impressionist and Modern Art are auctioned the first week of November at Sotheby’s and Christie’s in New York.  The evening sales of the boffo material flank the November 6 presidential election, another instance where huge sums of money have grossly distorted the notion of value.

Sotheby’s kicks off the November onslaught with a trio Picassos collectively estimated at $60-85 million.  Are they any good? Who cares?  They’re expensive.  In the old days of trophy hunting you ended up with an animal’s head on the wall, and a good story or two.  A decade or so later, that same relic, now with a touch of the mange, would be hard to give away let alone sell.   Not so today – trophy on the wall, a good story or two, and after a decade it’s probably worth a whole lot more.

Here are the remainder of the top five lots (by estimate) at the November 5 evening sale at Sotheby’s – actually there are six lots since two are estimated at $5-7 million:

Lot 17. PABLO PICASSO, 1881 – 1973, FEMME À LA FENÊTRE (MARIE-THÉRÈSE), Dated 13 avril XXXVI (upper left), Oil on canvas, 21 5/8 by 18 in., 55 by 45.7 cm. Painted on April 13, 1936.
Estimate: $15-20 million.

Lot 29. PABLO PICASSO, 1881 – 1973, PLANT DE TOMATE, Signed Picasso (lower left); dated 7 août 44 on the reverse, Oil on canvas, 35 7/8 by 28¼ in., 91 by 71.8 cm. Painted on August 7, 1944.
Estimate: $10-15 million. Bidding on this lot stopped at $8.75 million and it failed to sell.

Lot 42. PABLO PICASSO, 1881 – 1973, FEMME À LA ROBE VERTE, Dated 1er Mai 56 II on the reverse, Oil on canvas 36 1/8 by 28 3/4 on., 92 by 73 cm. Painted on May 1, 1956.
Estimate: $6-8 million. Despite two actual bids (not “chandelier bids”), this lot failed to dell at $5.25 million.

Lot 19. CLAUDE MONET, 1840 – 1926, CHAMP DE BLÉ, Signed Claude Monet and dated 81 (lower left), Oil on canvas 25 7/8 by 32 1/4 in., 65.7. by 82 cm. Painted in 1881.
Estimate: $5-7 million.  This lot sold for a hammer price of $10.75 million.

Lot 33. PAUL CÉZANNE, 1839 – 1906, LA FEMME À L’HERMINE, D’APRÈS LE GRECO, Oil on canvas
20 7/8 by 19 1/4 in.
53 by 49 cm
Painted in 1885-86.
Estimate: $5-7 million. Bidding on this lot stopped at $3.2 million and it failed to sell.

If leading museums won’t buy these antiquities – why would you? UPDATED with sale results

October 18, 2012

The middle figure with weight on right leg, left leg bent at knee with slight twist to her body, her left arm around the waist of the left-hand figure, her right arm slung across the torso of the right-hand figure with her hand resting on her shoulder, the figure on the right with her right arm resting on shoulder of middle figure, the figure on left with her right arm resting on the middle figure’s arm and her left arm around her waist, each figure with tendrils of hair falling onto shoulders, in low relief behind are an oinochoe, altar and low stool with phiale
27 in. (68.6 cm.) high
Estimate: £100,000 – £150,000 ($160,200 – $240,300) HAMMER PRICE  £420,000.
Private collection, UK.
with Antonio Otano, Bilbao, Spain, 1981.
Private collection, Spain; thence by descent to the present owner.

Increasingly, major museums are following the American Association of Museum Directors guidelines and are limiting their antiquities acquisitions to those works only with a pre-Nov. 1970 provenance, a date coinciding with of the ratification of a UNESCO accord on cultural property protection (this is not to say that works with a pre-1970 provenance are not subject to repatriation claims because several source countries have laws preventing the export of patrimony that were enacted years and decades prior to the UNESCO action).  This follows years of high profile lawsuits against some of the nation’s leading institutions that resulted in the repatriation of looted antiquities (along with pending litigation and threats of litigation).

Moreover, as the New York Times reports, collectors are having a harder time disposing of works – either through sale or donation – of non pre-1970 works:

Alan M. Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor, is … [a]n antiquities collector … eager to sell an Egyptian sarcophagus he bought from Sotheby’s in the early 1990s. But he is stymied, he said, because auction houses are applying tighter policies to the items they accept for consignment.

So, why would a collector consider purchasing any of the four items illustrated in this post from the Christie’s September 25, 2012 Antiquities sale in London?  None of them, and dozens more, has a verifiable pre-1970 provenance (according to the auction catalogue).

Striding forward with left leg advanced, with incised details of the scales along the legs and the joints of the feet, the S-shaped neck and long bill curved, the round eyes inlaid with glass, bulging beneath ridged brows, the wood body gilt, the bronze tail with incised feather detail
13 in. (33 cm.) high
Estimate: £40,000 – £60,000 ($64,080 – $96,120) HAMMER PRICE  £85,000.
Private collection, France; acquired on the Paris art market prior to 1982, and thence by descent to the present owner.

The obverse centred with Herakles striding to right, left leg advanced, right arm raised above head holding club, wearing tunic with incised borders, belt slung diagonally across chest, left hand gripping the right wrist of the bearded centaur Nessos who turns back to face the hero, arms reaching out in a gesture of supplication, forelegs bent beneath body, flanked to the left by a standing draped female, draped male, perhaps Iolaos, and sphinx with long curling tail and head-feather, and to the right by standing draped female with incised decoration on border of himation and dotted detail on drapery, and a similar sphinx, rosettes in the field; the reverse with siren in profile to right with wings upraised between two confronting panthers with curling tails, rosettes in the field; swans in profile beneath handles, a bearded male head on handle-plates, the rim with diagonal wavy lines, alternate black and red tongues on shoulders, band of black beneath upper register with red border, rays above foot, details in added red
16¾ in. (42.5 cm.) high, 22 in. (56 cm.) diam. incl. handle-plates
Estimate: £40,000 – £50,000 ($64,080 – $80,100) THIS LOT FAILED TO SELL
Private collection, Switzerland, prior to 1972; thence by descent.

Both in the form of a hunting pantheress, leaping forward with mouth agape revealing lolling tongue and sharp fangs, with pointed ears and whiskers, heavy teats, and upwards-curled tail, powerful leg and chest muscles clearly delineated, with incised markings to indicate coat, one with single incised line showing spine, the other with double incised line, both with forelegs resting on a socket in the form of an antelope head with long twisted horns, integral attachment plate beneath hindlegs
16¼ in. (41 cm.) long max. (2)
Estimate: £100,000 – £150,000 ($160,200 – $240,300) BIDDING ON THIS LOT STOPPED AT  £65,000 AND IT FAILED TO SELL.
Private collection G. O., London, 1990s.

Free – Download more than 300 Met Museum catalogues

October 14, 2012

One of more than 300 Metropolitan Museum of Art catalogues now available free online.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has just made more than 300 catalogues available as free downloads, and has made hundreds more available for reading online in part or in their entirety.  As reported on ArtDaily and elsewhere:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art today launched MetPublications, a major online resource that offers unparalleled in-depth access to the Museum’s renowned print and online publications, covering art, art history, archaeology, conservation, and collecting. Beginning with nearly 650 titles published from 1964 to the present, this new addition to the Met’s Web site, will continue to expand and could eventually offer access to nearly all books, Bulletins, and Journals published by the Metropolitan Museum since its founding in 1870, as well as online publications.

Some of my personal favorites that can be downloaded include Egyptian Art in the Age of the PyramidsThe Glory of Byzantium: Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era, A.D. 843–1261Hudson River School Visions: The Landscapes of Sanford R. GiffordJusepe de Ribera, 1591–1652Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi, and Painting in Renaissance Siena, 1420–1500.

You no longer need to worry about shelf space – you just need room on your computer. Thank you Met!

Great artistic discovery- extremely rare studio of Van Eyck drawing

October 6, 2012

Studio Jan van Eyck, Crucifixion of Christ, c. 1440. Gold and silver stylus, pen and brush and lead slate pencil, over a preliminary drawing in black stylus (charcoal?), 25.4 x 18.7 cm.

Four decades ago a man at an estate sale in the Netherlands who liked the frame surrounding this drawing bought the image for 10 guilders.  The drawing, believed to be a 19th century copy, turns out to be an original 15th century drawing from the studio of Jan van Eyck, according to Art Daily.  It will go on view at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen on October 13, 2012, as part of the exhibition “The Road to Van Eyck.”

More from the article:

According to experts, the drawing is from the studio of Jan Van Eyck (Maaseik?. c. 1390-1441) and is one of the greatest discoveries in early drawing ever. The work will be on show from Saturday 13 October in the exhibition ‘The road to Van Eyck’, together with more than ninety masterpieces by artists such as Jan van Eyck, Jean Malouel and Claes de Werve.

The drawing: The crucifixion of Jesus is taking place amidst a mass of people, before a high horizon on which, in the distance, is the city of Jerusalem. The drawing is staggering in its consistently refined and highly detailed execution. Based on the painting-like way of drawing, the use of shapes and the application of a rare technique with gold and silver stylus, which is also used in other work by Van Eyck, the drawing can with certainty be attributed to the studio of Jan van Eyck.

The discovery: Friso Lammertse, curator of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, was preparing the exhibition ‘The road to Van Eyck’ when a professional colleague drew his attention to the drawing. Where exactly the drawing was at that moment was unknown. But the drawing was eventually tracked down and in the last few months has been exhaustively examined. The drawing was presented during the ‘Van Eyck Studies Colloquium’ symposium, held in Brussels in September. There was a lively debate over its attribution to Jan van Eyck. There is, however, no doubt that this is an exceptionally important drawing, one of the greatest discoveries in old art in recent decades.

Eating Gelato on Rome’s Spanish Steps? €500 fine!

October 2, 2012

The law will prevent tourists from eating snacks around many of the architectural treasures in Rome’s ‘centro storico’ Photo: ALAMY

The Telegraph has this eye-popper of a story: “Eating a gelato on the Spanish Steps may be at the top of a list of things to do for many visitors to Rome, but it could land them with a €500 (£400) fine from today.” Here’s more from the Telegraph story:

Under the law, tourists are prohibited from eating pizza, sandwiches, panini or any other snacks around many of the monuments and architectural treasures in the ‘centro storico’ or historic centre of the Eternal City.

They include the marble fountains of Piazza Navona, which is thronged with cafés, restaurants and street artists, as well as the stone walls which surround the Pantheon, a former Roman temple converted into a church, and Via dei Fori Imperiali, the broad approach to the Colosseum, the ancient Roman arena where gladiators once fought.

Fines will range from 25 euros up to 500 euros, in what one Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, described as a war against the sandwich.

“It is forbidden to encamp or erect makeshift shelters and stop to eat or drink in zones which have a particular historic or architectural value,” reads the ordinance adopted by Rome city council.

The law is intended to “guarantee the protection of areas of merit in the historic centre.” Similar bans have been adopted in Venice, where eating snacks on the street is prohibited in St Mark’s Square, as well as Florence and Bologna.

You can bet there will be some bizarre/amusing videos on You Tube involving fine wielding carabinieri and teary/outraged panini eaters.

Turkey on the offensive to repatriate antiquities – restitution or blackmail?

October 1, 2012

The top half of the “Weary Herakles” statue recently returned to Turkey by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Efforts by Turkish officials to repatriate antiquities they claim are looted have gotten more aggressive and some museums are crying foul.  According to a front page New York Times article, museums that refuse to return artifacts claimed by Turkey will be cut off from any future loans for exhibitions. Turkey asserts 1906 as the cut off date for the export of antiquities, rather than the generally accepted Unesco convention date of 1970. Given how effective Italy has been in repatriating illegally excavated works from The Getty, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other institutions, this move by Turkish officials should come as no surprise to the museum community.  What remains to be seen is how many more countries will pursue similar efforts.

Smithsonian: Looters Are Selling Artifacts to Fund War in Syria

September 26, 2012

Palmyra, Syria. Photo: Flickr user James Gordon

The looting of Syrian archaeological sites and museums during the present civil war was never a matter of “if” but “when” – and that “when” is now. The Smithsonian:

War zones are dangerous places, for both people and cultural heritage. Lately, Iraq, Afghanistan and Egypt have endured high-profile looting or looting attempts on archaeological sites and museums. Now, Syria has joined the inglorious list as priceless artifacts are being stolen, smuggled and even traded for weapons.

Interpol has gotten involved. The situation got to a point where they posted this warning in May:

The on-going armed conflict in Syria is increasingly threatening a significant part of the cultural heritage of mankind. Roman ruins, archaeological sites, historic premises and places of worship are particularly vulnerable to destruction, damages, theft and looting during this period of turmoil.

The INTERPOL General Secretariat therefore joins UNESCO’s warning of the imminent threats to which Syrian cultural heritage is currently exposed and is strengthening its co-operation with other international partner organizations for a coordinated response to this menace.

Meanace, indeed. The notice was posted as part of an appeal for the return of a group of mosaics looted from the Roman ruins of Apamea, near Hama.

An article in Time paints a vivid picture of how Syrian artifacts are being used as fodder for the war machine:

Abu Khaled knows the worth of things. As a small-time smuggler living along the porous border between Syria and Lebanon, he has dabbled in antiquities as much as the cigarettes, stolen goods and weapons that make up the bulk of his trade. So when a smuggler from Syria brought him a small, alabaster statue of a seated man a few weeks ago, he figured that the carving, most likely looted from one of Syria’s two dozen heritage museums or one of its hundreds of archaeological sites, could be worth a couple thousand dollars in Lebanon’s antiquities black market. So he called his contacts in Beirut. But instead of asking for cash, he asked for something even more valuable: weapons.

“War is good for us,” he says of the community of smugglers that regularly transit the nearby border. “We buy antiquities cheap, and then sell weapons expensively.” That business, he says, is about to get better. Fighters allied with the Free Syrian Army units battling the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad have told him that they are developing an association of diggers dedicated to finding antiquities in order to fund the revolution. “The rebels need weapons, and antiquities are an easy way to buy them,” says Abu Khaled.

But it isn’t just the rebels accused of stealing, as an article from the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports:

In Reyhanli, a small Turkish village near the border with Syria, a newly arrived Syrian refugee from the famed ancient desert town of Palmyra told AFP that the museum there had been looted and reported large-scale theft at the site.

“These are the shabiha, the Assad gangs (militiamen) who do this,” charged Abu Jabal, giving a fictitious name. “The army is there, and oversees everything.” An amateur video posted online on August 17 shows seven or eight sculptures and busts crammed into the back of a pick-up truck. Soldiers can be seen chatting alongside the vehicle.

“We have studied what our Syrian colleagues are saying, and it is indeed soldiers. Everything leads us to believe that the army is stealing antiquities in Palmyra and elsewhere,” Spanish archaeologist Rodrigo Martin told AFP.

It seems that in Syria, unlike Egypt, neither government nor rebel is willing to protect Syria’s treasures.

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