The Courtier In The Federalist: “Jacob And His Twelve Sons” @ The Frick

My latest for The Federalist is out this morning, reviewing the terrific exhibition “Zurbarán’s Jacob and His Twelve Sons: Paintings from Auckland Castle” now at The Frick Collection. If you have the chance to get to New York between now and the closing of the show on April 22nd, it’s well worth your time, as I explain in the article. My thanks as always to my (very patient) editor Joy Pullman, who somehow manages to condense my excessive art history verbiage into something readable.

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Thought-Pourri: Pop Song Edition

I’ll be in New York on Saturday to review the “Zurbarán’s Jacob and His Twelve Sons: Paintings from Auckland Castle” exhibition at The Frick Collection. It only occurred to me after the fact that a) I’m going to New York on St. Patrick’s Day, which does not bode well for getting about, and b) the starting route for the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade is, effectively, in front of The Frick, which also does not bode well. I plan to keep myself in a culturally appropriate good mood by downloading some pop songs by The Corrs onto my Spotify. So let’s continue with that poppy spirit in this week’s roundup of some interesting news from the art world.

I’m A Not-So-Little Teapot

For those of you who, like me, are encouraged by news of amazing finds whenever you go to a flea market or have a hunt about on Ebay, take a look at this story which has grossed one lucky collector somewhere around $800,000. It seems that this individual bought an old, cracked porcelain teapot in an online auction in England for around $20, thinking that it might be more valuable than its asking price. After consigning the piece for sale at his local auction house, it was identified by experts as a piece made by John Bartlam, a potter working in South Carolina in the mid-18th century: note the palmetto, the state tree of South Carolina, which also appears on the South Carolina state flag. The dating makes it possibly the earliest known porcelain teapot to be produced in America, and as such the piece is of tremendous historic importance, despite its somewhat shabby state of repair at present. The teapot was purchased by a London antiques dealer on behalf of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and should be heading back to these shores for the first time in over 300 years, unless the cousins refuse it an export license.

Teapot

Going To The Chapel (Not)

I encourage you to read this interesting story from Apollo Magazine, which details the history of the charming Chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows at Eton College in England, built between 1914-15 in the style of a small, Italian Baroque church. Thanks to the entrenched anti-Catholicism of the British establishment, the chapel had to be built with no windows, only skylights, and initially Catholic students at Eton were forbidden from worshiping there. The interior features many different colored marble panels, and despite the lack of windows on the sides, the light flooding in through the skylights reflects off of the surfaces and creates a jewel-like effect. This building is definitely something worth seeking out, should you find yourself thereabouts.

Eton

How Much Is That Corgi In The Painting

As regular readers know, I’m always encouraged by museum curators who try to make more of their holdings available to the public, particularly when so much art is languishing in basements and attics at public expense, but without the ability of the public to engage with it. Sometimes real treasures are found when a museum cleans out the cupboards, and such is the case with the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, which has just completed a three-year dig through its holdings. Of particular note is the charming “Portrait of Mrs. Anne Dashwood” (c. 1770) newly attributed to the great English portraitist George Romney (1734-1802), making this a find of significant value both to Romney’s catalogue raisonné and from a purely financial point of view. Corgi lovers, take note.

Romney

Thought-Pourri: Garish Gods Edition

I received a very gracious email this week from Dr. Diana Kleiner at Yale University, thanking me for my positive review of her survey course on Roman Architecture. She wanted me to let my readers know that the course is also available at Coursera, and those who wish to do so can make it a more fully interactive experience there with class assignments, projects, and the like. Again, even if you have only a passing interest in architecture, I strongly recommend this course as both highly interesting and informative, whether you want to understand the types of concrete construction or dome engineering methods employed by the Ancient Romans, or you just want to know the best spots for gelato in the Eternal City (Dr. Kleiner’s got you covered, there.)

And now, on to the news.

Classical Colors

Speaking of classical architecture, San Francisco’s Legion of Honor has just opened a fascinating new exhibition titled “Gods in Color: Polychromy in the Ancient World”. Many ancient buildings and the sculptures that decorated them were decorated with vibrant, sometimes garish colors that have faded or disappeared over time, but today scientists can use advanced technology to present us with fairly accurate approximations of what these things originally looked like. For most people it’s rather startling to realize that the stark, white or gray public buildings which we commonly see around our cities and towns, though often based on classical originals, would be considered unfinished by someone from ancient Knossos, Athens, or Rome, thanks to their lack of color. The exhibition runs through January 7, 2018.

Exhibit

Mini Murillo

Meanwhile here on the East Coast, The Frick in New York has just opened a small show on portraiture by the great Old Master painter Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682). One of the most popular and influential artists of his time, particularly in the area of religious painting, Murillo is among the most important painters of Spain’s artistic Golden Age of the late 16th to early 18th centuries. While he painted very few portraits, this compact exhibition at The Frick contains 5 of them, including three members of the upper classes in the Seville of Murillo’s day, as well as the only two self-portraits of the artist known to exist. They display a kind of restrained genius and lack of overt sentimentality which makes them particularly appealing to a present-day audience. Murillo: The Self Portraits at The Frick runs through February 4, 2018, and then will head to the National Gallery in London.

Murillo

Strasbourg Shuffle

Last week, the French city of Strasbourg symbolically returned two paintings to the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria. I write, “symbolically”, because thanks to existing cultural repatriation agreements between Austria and France, the pictures are going to stay where they are for now, at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Strasbourg. The works in question are a “Landscape with Mercury and Argus” attributed to the Flemish Renaissance painter Lucas Gassel (1499-1570), and a fantastical landscape painting with animals (including an American Bison?) being rampant all over the place titled “The Earthly Paradise” by the Dutch Mannerist painter Roelandt Savery ( 1576-1639). Neither of these artists is particularly important, frankly, though perhaps Savery is comparatively better-known, thanks to his several rather extraordinarily luxurious depictions of the dodo bird. Curiously, these paintings were looted from the Vienna museum by the Nazis during the Anschluss, in order to decorate the Reichskanzler headquarters in Berlin, but no one quite seems to know how they ended up in Alsace-Lorraine after the war.

Gassel

Paradiso

Valuing Vigée Le Brun

Regular readers will recall my review in The Federalist of the major Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842) retrospective at The Met last year, which included most of the best royal and aristocratic portraits created by Queen Marie Antoinette’s favorite painter. Perhaps in the wake of heightened awareness of the artist generated by that show, Christie’s New York has just auctioned a (very beautiful) self-portrait of the (very beautiful) artist for over $1.5 million: more than three times its estimated sales price. The picture was painted in Vienna in 1794, one of several cities where Vigée Le Brun and her daughter lived after fleeing the French Revolution. While not a record sales price for the artist, the result at least suggests the possibility that greater awareness of the artist’s work among potential collectors, thanks in part to the 2016 exhibition, has correspondingly led to an increase in the perceived monetary value of her work: a well-documented phenomenon in the art trade.

LeBrun