Thought-Pourri: Happy Hippo Edition

It’s been a big week for art news since last week’s roundup, gentle reader.

The very, very big news is that Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi”, which I shared some thoughts about earlier this week, sold for a whopping $450 million last night at Christie’s in New York. This is by far the highest amount ever paid for a single work of art in any art auction, ever, far outstripping the previous auction record holder, Pablo Picasso’s “Les Femmes d’Alger (Version O)”, which sold for $179 million back in 2015. Despite the naysayers – and there are many – at the end of the day a Da Vinci is a Da Vinci, even if it’s a Da Vinci that’s not in especially good nick.

Meanwhile, the other big story is that rival auctioneer Sotheby’s is currently licking its chops, after the Massachusetts Appeals Court halted the sale of the Berkshire Museum’s auction of a series of paintings from its permanent collection, including two works by Norman Rockwell which had been donated to the museum by the artist himself. While the pictures in question are not of great importance in art history, the really interesting item here is how the courts will address the question of deaccession, which is always a thorny subject when it comes to art law. I’m not going to weigh in on the pro’s and con’s of the practice, but it will be interesting to see what the final result is, and whether it sets any precedents.

Anyway, on to some other, less portentous news items.

Happy, Happy Hippo

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of William, the Ancient Egyptian hippopotamus that has long been a symbol of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Met has just opened a new exhibition featuring the beloved blue beastie. In addition, William will be feted with lectures, activities, and even cookies and cocktails named in his honor. William being, of course, the best of all possible boys’ names, and my childhood wish to become an Egyptologist notwithstanding, I’ve always had a soft spot for this little sculpture; perhaps I should look into obtaining a reproduction for myself. Check the Met’s website for a full of listing of exhibition and event details.

Hippo

The Queen’s Cranach

Technology once again comes to the rescue of the art world, in identifying a lost work by one of Germany’s most important Renaissance artists. Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553) is perhaps best known for his paintings of naked ladies, who are so physically unappealing that it’s hard to understand why his pictures were so widely collected. He also painted portraits however, and it turns out that one of these – long thought to be a copy – was purchased by England’s Queen Victoria as a Christmas present for her German husband, Prince Albert. Personally, I don’t much care for Cranach, whose work was commissioned mostly by Northern Europeans with bad taste (probably because they couldn’t produce anything to rival what was being painted in Italy at the same time.) Nevertheless, it’s an interesting story, down to the rather grisly preparation method – pigeon tendons! – which helped confirm the authenticity of the picture.

Cranach

Clearly Contemporary Claptrap

Speaking of unappealing works of art, I’ve been saying for years that most of the Contemporary Art world is rather boring, and highly derivative in nature, since it constantly has to try to shock the viewer due to an inability to demonstrate much of anything in the way of skill and creativity. Marcel Duchamp hung a urinal on a wall and titled it “Fountain” a century ago, after all; much of what is supposedly avant-garde these days has been said by others, elsewhere, in more interesting ways. So it was particularly refreshing, in this review of a show at Turin’s brand-new OGR complex juxtaposing Ancient, Classical, and Contemporary Art, to find a reviewer who apparently agrees.

Turin

Restoring Russian Ruins

A few years after The Wall came down, we were visiting some friends in Munich who hoped to finally get back their family estate near Potsdam, which had been taken by the Soviets when Germany was divided after World War II; they eventually managed to secure the property and restore it. White Russians, on the other hand, have been waiting to reclaim their ancestral homes for roughly a century now, thanks to the Russian Revolution which broke out in November 2017. Some of these palaces were preserved, but the majority have long been ruins. This interesting piece in Art Daily is just a sampling of some of the problems faced by those trying to reclaim their family’s homes – such as, how do you get people to willingly travel hundreds of miles out in the middle of nowhere to fix up falling down old houses?

Estate

Sorolla and Stock Sale

For many years now, New York art dealer Otto Naumann has been one of the most hallowed names in the world of Old Master painting – and is certainly the most important dealer in this genre in the United States. Now that he’s retiring from the trade, Naumann has decided to sell off his remaining stock through Sotheby’s. In addition to Renaissance and Baroque religious, mythological, and still life paintings, works that will be coming to the auction block include some of what Old Master collectors would consider “Modern” art, such as this beautiful work by Joaquín Sorolla (1863-1923) of a Castilian peasant pouring himself a glass of water. On their website, Sotheby’s has more on Naumann, his collection, and the upcoming multi-day sale of his stock, which will take place between January 26-31, 2018. If you happen to have a few million sitting around, or know someone who does, this is a sale not to be missed.

Sorolla

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Thought-Pourri: Art News Roundup

I’m continuing with this weekly roundup of interesting news items about art, architecture, and design, because so far it seems readers are reacting positively. I’ve not settled on a permanent title for this feature, so if anyone cares to make suggestions on a more clever moniker, please share your thoughts in the comments! And now, on to the roundup.

Event: “Beauty and the Restoration of the Sacred”

This looks to be quite an event, if you are going to be in the Chicago area on October 29th – but you need to act now.

The Catholic Art Guild will be holding a day-long conference titled “Beauty and the Restoration of the Sacred” at The Drake Hotel (my favorite watering hole in the Windy City), featuring some of today’s most prominent voices advocating for the creation, preservation, and greater appreciation of beautiful art. The speakers will be writer and philosopher Sir Roger Scruton, architect Duncan Stroik, art/architecture professor Dr. Denis McNamara, and artist Anthony Visco. If you’re a fellow conservative interested in the arts, these are all individuals with whom you are already very, very familiar. The opportunity of getting to hear and meet all of them at the same event is an opportunity not to be missed.

The day will begin with Latin High Mass at the magnificent Baroque Revival church of St. John Cantius, which is without question the most beautiful church in Chicago, and then proceed to The Drake for presentations, dinner, and a concluding panel discussion. Frankly, if I could manage it with my schedule, I’d be there myself. So you’ll have to attend for me, and share your reactions with the rest of us in the Comments section.

PLEASE NOTE: Tickets must be purchased in advance, as they will not be available at the door, and you *must* book by Monday, October 23rd.

Conference

New Exhibit: Norwegian Nonsense

By way of complete contrast to the preceding, but demonstrating why such conferences are critical in this day and age, the four finalists for this year’s Lorck Schive Kunstpris – the most “prestigious” art prize in that country – are now on display at the Trondheim Kunstmuseum. Among these, perhaps the silliest is Mattias Härenstam’s “Limitation”, which features a dead birch tree attached to pulleys that drag the dessicated specimen around the gallery. I’m sure this is all very profound if you’re a Norwegian atheist with more bad taste than brains, but not falling into any of those categories myself, my recommendation would be to just ignore this show entirely, and instead go explore Trondheim’s superb Nidaros Cathedral, built between about 1000-1300 A.D.

Trondheim

Follow Up: Dalí, Disinterred

Regular readers will recall from these pages my reports on the long-standing efforts of psychic Pilar Abel to prove that she was the illegitimate offspring of the great Catalan Surrealist Salvador Dalí (1904-1989), as the result of a (ahem) dalliance which she claimed took place between her mother and the artist back in the 1950’s. After many years of wasting everyone’s time and resources in several unsuccessful attempts to establish her paternity claim, it appears that the courts have finally had enough. A judge in Madrid has now dismissed the suit, and ordered Ms. Abel to pay associated costs, including those incurred during the disinterment of the artist’s remains back in July.

Dali

New Exhibit: Dalí, Designer

Speaking of Salvador Dalí, one genuine, platonic partnership which the artist actively engaged in during his lifetime was with Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973). To mark their many years of collaboration, the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida has just opened a new exhibition examining the work of the artist and the couturier, running through January 14th. Although today Schiaparelli is far less known than her contemporary and rival, Coco Chanel, for several decades until her retirement in the early ‘50’s, Schiaparelli was a force to be reckoned with in the design world, creating haute couture for women who wanted something more edgy than the more sensible, minimalist designs presented by Chanel. Schiaparelli collaborated with Dalí on a number of designs which blurred the line between art and clothing, including the famous “Lobster Dress”, worn here by the infamous Duchess of Windsor.

Windsor

New Exhibit: French King, Dutch Art

Another exhibition worth taking in, should you be so fortunate as to find yourself in Paris in the coming months, is “François I and Dutch Art”, which has just opened at The Louvre and runs until January 15th. King François I of France – sometimes jokingly referred to as, “Le Roi Nez” due to his prominent beak – was a major art collector and patron at the dawn of the French Renaissance. He famously managed to coax an elderly Leonardo Da Vinci to leave Italy, and go into semi-retirement at a country house located near the king’s principal residence in the Loire Valley. As this new exhibition points out however, François’ substantial art collection included much more than just the “Mona Lisa”, as he was particularly keen on acquiring or commissioning altarpieces, portraits, and scenes of everyday life from contemporary Dutch artists. Among the most interesting works is this very early genre scene by Bartholomeus Pons (active 1518-1541), depicting workers taking barrels down into a wine cellar. The picture has the crystalline precision one expects of Dutch painting from this period, combined with keen observations of everyday life, and a superb understanding of the complexities involved in rendering believable architectural perspective.

Pons

Thought-Pourri: Art And Architecture Stories For Your Perusal

Event: The Future Of Architecture

The National Civic Art Society will be hosting a discussion at the ultra-posh Cosmos Club here in the Nation’s Capital on Tuesday, November 14th, titled “”Dramatic Cultural Change and the Future of Architecture.” The speakers, Duo Dickinson and Michael G. Imber, are not only both practicing architects, but journalists as well, each having substantial experience in writing and speaking about a variety of topics and trends in the field of architecture. They will be looking at the role which architecture ought to be playing in contemporary society, and the question of whether it should be embracing, rejecting, or otherwise adapting architecture of the past to the needs of the future. The event is free and open to the public, but you must register by following this link.

Dalí, Disappeared

Check out this absolutely fascinating story from Allison McNearny at The Daily Beast about the mystery surrounding a lost Salvador Dalí painting of Jesus. In February 1965, the great Catalan Surrealist was scheduled to visit prisoners on Rikers Island, the New York City incarceration facility well-known to viewers of the “Law & Order” television franchise. Too ill to attend, he instead sent a painting of the Crucified Christ, which he quickly executed that morning in his suite at the St. Regis Hotel. What happened next would be perfect fodder for an investigation by Jack McCoy, et al., including forgery, larceny, official corruption, and multiple trials. To this day, no one knows whether the painting still exists.

Magritte, Illuminated

Speaking of the Surrealists, an iconic work from that art movement is up for sale, if one of my readers wants to buy me an early Christmas present. “L’empire des Lumières” (1949) by René Magritte is one of a series of similar works which the Belgian painter created to tickle the mind’s fancy. The lower part of the picture depicts a street scene at night, illuminated only by street lights or unseen lamps burning within the buildings; completely incongruously, the sky depicted above is that of a bright, sunny day. Magritte painted several variations on this theme into the early ‘50s, and these are currently in display in various art museums around the world, including both the Guggenheim and MoMA.

This particular painting however, which is the very first in that series, was acquired by Vice President Nelson Rockefeller in 1950, and has never come under the hammer before. It’s being auctioned by Christie’s New York during its Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale on Monday, November 13th. The sales estimate is $14-18 million, but this is such a famous and important work of Modern art, and carries such an elite pedigree from a provenance point of view, that I would expect it to fetch a far higher price.

A Fool And His Money?

And in fact, a deep-dive into trying to understand the prices for Modern and Contemporary Art, versus those paid for Old Master and Romantic Art, are the thing in this interesting article over on Blouin ArtInfo. Michael Podger examines in detail a phenomenon which I’ve often written about in these pages: the comparatively paltry sums obtained at auction for Old Master paintings, as compared to works by Modern and Contemporary Artists. Podger takes the proverbial bull by the horns, digging deeply into the wealth of sales data on works by major artists such as Raphael and Titian.

He concludes that while many of the Old Masters are comparatively immune from the vicissitudes of trendiness, current monetary values may reflect not only a lack of appreciation for the skill employed in the creation of these older works, but also a lack of knowledge and sophistication on the part of current collectors when it comes to the subject matter of these pictures. “What this suggests is that the market sets no real store by the craft evident in Old Master paintings or by the care with which they were painted,” he notes, before comparing the work of Agnolo Bronzino and Peter Paul Rubens to that of the (grossly-overrated) Jean-Michel Basquiat. “Or perhaps many Old Master paintings are simply too subtle for contemporary tastes and require study and knowledge before they reveal themselves fully. Because of this they fail to offer the instant visual hit that many collectors crave.” It’s a long analysis, and as a blog post it can’t possibly touch on all of the causes for the present state of the art market, but it’s well-worth reading.

Mag