Art News Roundup: Birthday Bonanza Edition

For those of you who didn’t read it earlier this week, my article on the latest art restoration disaster in Spain – and some questions about institutional oversight of cultural heritage within the Spanish Episcopate – has been republished on The Federalist this morning. As always, my grateful thanks to Joy Pullman and her team for wanting to share my scribblings with others. If you enjoy what you read, or want to take issue with what I’ve written, comments over on The Federalist site are as gratefully appreciated as they are over here.

On a happier note – that is, as far as the Spanish art world is concerned – next year marks the 200th birthday of the Prado Museum in Madrid, universally considered to be one of the greatest art collections in the world. Earlier this week, the museum announced a veritable bonanza of special exhibitions that will begin this fall and continue throughout next year, to mark the institution’s bicentennial. As expected, the major exhibitions – which include shows on Fra Angelico and the Florentine Renaissance, one hundred of Goya’s drawings, and a show comparing the works of Velázquez, Vermeer, and Rembrandt, among other exhibitions – will be taking place at the Prado itself. However, in a highly unusual move, the Prado has also organized two traveling exhibitions that will be sent out to other parts of Spain.

Of these, the largest single show is going to Barcelona later this year; I’m planning to see (and review) “Velázquez and the Golden Age” at the Caixa Forum in late December. Meanwhile, the “On Tour Through Spain” show will send at least one work (and in some cases more than that) from the Prado’s permanent collection to every autonomous community in Spain. Sites include, but are not limited to, the Dalí Museum in Figueres, the Museum of Fine Arts in Badajoz, the Museum of Spanish Abstract Art in Cuenca, and the Museum of La Rioja in Logroño. Even the Spanish overseas territories of Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa will get in on the occasion. If you love great art, and why would you be subscribing to this blog if you didn’t, make your forthcoming travel plans accordingly.

And now on to some other art news headlines for the week.

Renoir Restitution

A continuing problem in the art world, as well as for the international legal system, is the thorny issue of works of art which changed hands in the period before, during, and after World War II. Just this week, three major stories in this vein have made headlines. First, the grandchildren of a woman whose portrait was painted by Matisse lost their latest appeal to recover the painting from the National Gallery in London. The work had been entrusted by the woman who was the subject of the portrait to an individual who turned thief shortly after the end of the war, as Berlin was being occupied and divided. Second, it turns out that four French 18th century drawings in the collection of the sister of Nazi art-hoarder Cornelius Gurlitt, whom I have written about previously as you may recall, were stolen from a family in Paris, only one of whom survived the Holocaust. Those works have now been returned to the owners’ heirs. Finally, a Renoir which the Nazis stole from a bank vault in Paris in 1941, where the owner had stored his most valuable paintings during the German invasion, has been returned to the granddaughter of the original owner; four other Renoirs and a Delacroix from the same collection are still missing.

REnoir

Flipping Fantastic

The National Gallery of Denmark has just opened a rather interesting exhibition, “Flip Sides”, in which works of art in the museum have been turned around and hung so as to display their backs. We often don’t realize that there is a great deal of information to be learned from the back of a picture. Sometimes there is a second work of art on the back, such as in the case of Leonardo’s portrait of Ginerva de’ Benci here in the National Gallery in Washington. In other cases, the back of a picture tells us about a piece’s history and provenance, shows how the artist went about creating their work, or demonstrates that the artist was reusing their own or someone else’s materials.

In the example from the exhibition shown below, we’re actually being fooled by the artist, for Cornelius Norbertus Gijsbrechts (c.1630-1675) was a famous trompe-l’œil painter. In this case, the rather Surrealist “trick of the eye” that he painted is the very realistic-looking back of a painting, shown on the front of a painting. “Flip Sides” runs through March 10, 2019.

tromb

Discovering Dixon

Not being a specialist in decorative arts, I must confess that I’d never heard of American Arts and Crafts designer Eda Lord Dixon (1876-1926) until I read this very interesting and well-researched article about her life and work. It turns out I’m not alone in my ignorance because, as the article itself points out, when a magnificent silver and enamel hand mirror by Dixon was gifted to the Metropolitan Museum of Art back in 2014, she was “virtually unknown.” In her day, Dixon was primarily known for her enameled jewelry, but she also produced luxury household objects such as jeweled boxes (like the one below, also owned by The Met), finger bowls, cigarette holders, and even a solid silver enameled chalice engraved with a verse from the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. With more attention (quite rightly) beginning to be drawn to Dixon’s work, this is a good time for collectors to bone up on her biography, style, and materials, before heading to your local consignment shop or flea market in search of lost treasure.

L.2017.25.1a, b

Bring Warmth to Someone

It is difficult to say exactly what it is about the autumn that makes many of us go into a kind of social hibernation.  It may be the angle of the sun as it skims lower along the horizon which reminds us of time flying past, or the curl of the leaves as they turn brown and rustle off the trees to the ground.  With less sunlight, shorter days, and colder temperatures, you would think that, logically, human beings would seek to come closer together to share warmth and solace.  Only nowadays we don’t tend to do this: we bundle up and go off to our respective hobbit holes, which may be nice and snug, but they are not very communal.

If you happen to have more than one pet, or have observed how animals on a farm behave, they tend to stick together, particularly when it is cold and dark, for warmth and companionship.  Yet for all the time we humans spend together outdoors in summer, as soon as the season turns we begin retreating indoors and into ourselves.  Were it not for holidays, many of us would have little in the way of non-work-related interaction at all: and some of us will not have any even then.

It has long been said that one reason the Scandinavians were such early pioneers in mobile phone technology was because they were so isolated from one another during the long winters that ravage their region.  We can all associate in our minds the concept of Scandinavian people wanting to be by themselves, even in harsh weather.  Yet as it turns out this is not really much good for the descendants of the vikings, or indeed for any of us.

The world of cinema is a good way to see this.  The legendary Swedish-American film star Greta Garbo did not actually want to be alone, as it turned out, she wanted to be left alone – but in her case, the reputation established about her ended up isolating her, making a Garbo sighting in New York something like seeing a fluke of nature rather than a human being.  In the wonderful Danish film “Babette’s Feast”, we see how the villagers’ cottages are all huddled together for practical protection, but they are generally such reserved and quiet people that they make no connection with one another outside of church, until the charity of a French cook brings them all, at least for an evening, together into warmth and love, despite the cold.  And in the Norwegian film “Kitchen Stories”, men in an isolated farming community in Norway are so desperate for basic human affection and companionship, that for much of the film they cannot even bring themselves to say so.

Autumn and winter holidays are all very well, but they are one day affairs, and the nights are now going to be long and cold for quite a few months up here in the Northern Hemisphere.  Perhaps as this season proceeds you will consider ways that you can reach out to others in unexpected ways, by offering to drop by or asking them to come over, or even just picking up that mobile device as intended, to make the darker hours pass more easily.  Those with families can bring those without into their circle, for example, or three or four individuals can make an effort of getting those individuals together to share some time in both talking and listening.

In serving others in this way, not only will you be doing good for someone else, in making the dark time of year seem a bit less dark, but you may also be doing yourself a very good service in turn.


Couple Having a Meal Before a Fireplace
by Quiringh van Brekelenkam (c. 1650)
Private Collection