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Monthly Archives: December 2016

Most Valuable Paintings in Private Hands

Rembrandt van Rijn
“Portrait of Jan Six”, 1654
oil on canvas, 112 x 102 cm.
Six Foundation, Amsterdam

Not only the most important work by Rembrandt still in private hands, but also one of the best portraits from the Dutch Golden Era. In the 1650s Rembrandt created some of his most accomplished masterpieces, such as “Aristotle with a Bust of Homer” (1653, Metropolitan Museum) or “A Woman Bathing in a Stream” (1654, National Gallery).

“Conversion of Saint Paul”, 1600
oil on cypress wood, 237 x 189 cm.
Odescalchi Balbi Collection, Rome

This work is one of two paintings by Caravaggio of the same subject, commissioned by Cardinal Cerasi. The large painting was created in 1600, the same year in which Caravaggio completed one of his undisputed masterpieces, “The Calling of Saint Matthew”. Impressive in size and quality of painting, this work ranks among the most important religious scenes by Caravaggio.

Hans Holbein the Younger
“The Madonna With the Family of Mayor Meyer (The Darmstadt Madonna)”, c.1525-8
Oil on panel, 146.5 x 102 cm.
Reinhold Würth collection, Germany

This monumental painted is arguably the most important religious scene ever created by Holbein. The work was commissioned by the Bürgermeister of Basel Jakob Meyer zum Hasen, who opposed the Reformation

Diego Velázquez
“Prince Baltasar Carlos on horseback”, 1636
oil on canvas, 144 x 91 cm.
Duke of Westminster collection

Diego Velázquez´s “Prince Baltasar Carlos on horseback” has all the magnificence you can expect in a great baroque painting. It is a very good Velázquez, arguably his only masterpiece still in private hands, and it could be the centerpiece of any major museum able to persuade the Duke of Westminster to sell it

Leonardo da Vinci (attributed to)
“Salvator Mundi”, c-1500-1510
oil on wood, 65.6 x 45.4 cm.
Private collection, New York

Leonardo da Vinci is known to have painted a “Salvator Mundi” for King Louis XII of France. Considered lost by art experts for decades, one of its alleged “copies” was acquired by a group of art dealers in 2005, and reattributed (NOT unanimously) to Leonardo. In late 2011, this work was included in the exhibition “Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan” at the National Gallery of London.

Saved masterpieces – UK keeps old masters

The most famous painting saved for the UK in recent years is Raphael’s “Madonna of the Pinks”. In 2003, shortly after failing to acquire Rubens’ “Massacre of the innocents”, the Getty Museum offered the Duke of Northumberland an impressive £35 million for the small -29 x 23 cm.- but masterful painting, believed to be one of the finest old master paintings in private hands.

In early 2004, the National Gallery released a public statement declaring that the sale of the Raphael would be a “serious loss” for the nation. And after numerous donations, including an impressive £11.5m from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Duke accepted to sell the masterpiece to the National Gallery for £22 million, 13 million less than the sum offered by the Getty Museum. Saved.

5 years before the Raphael’s acquisition, Sotheby’s announced the auction of the rediscovered Cimabue’s “Madonna and child enthroned (The Benacre Hall Madonna)” (c.1285-90), the only one Cimabue in private hands, and one of the less than a dozen works that can be attributed to this early master. Of course, the tiny panel (described as the most important early panel to be offered for sale in a generation) draws a lot of interest from many museums and private collectors all over the world. The National Gallery tried to acquire this highly important work, and the government finally decided to accept the Cimabue in lieu of estate taxes for The Gooch Estate. A few days before the sale, the panel was withdrawn from the auction and purchased by the London Museum for around $8 million.

Other works saved for the UK and exhibited now in the National Gallery includes Bernardo Daddi’s “The coronation of the Virgin”, acquired in 2004 for more than £1.5 million, or “The Montalto Madonna” by Annibale Carracci, acquired the same year. The last work was auctioned at Sotheby’s London in July 2003, and a temporary export ban was placed on it immediately after the sale

Of course, sometimes the export bans failed: Michelangelo’s “Study of a Mourning Woman” -one of the very few drawings by the artist in private hands- is now in a private American collection after UK museums failed to raise the money to keep it in the nation. The work was sold for £5.9 million in Sotheby’s, July 2002, and made its way to the US in early 2003.

But the National Gallery is not the only receptor of “saved” treasures. Sir Joshua Reynolds’ spectacular “Portrait of Omai ” is now one of the stars of the Tate Gallery thanks to the £12.5 million donated by an anonymous benefactor after the government placed a temporary bar on the work, sold in December 2002 for £10.7 million. Equally important was the saving of Turner’s “The Blue Rigi”, one of the best watercolors by the artist, sold for a record £5.8 million in 2006, and now exhibited at the Tate. More modest, but also important, was the temporary export ban place on an Anglo-Saxon gold coin that allowed the British Museum to acquire it for £350,000 in 2006.

And in 1999, the Art world was shocked when the Kimbell Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas, tried to acquire Sandro Botticelli’s “Madonna and child (Madonna of the roses)” previously in the collection of the Earl of Wemyss. The extremely appealing work had an asking price of £15 million, an affordable sum for the wealthy Texan Museum. Few weeks later, and after numerous donations, the Scotland Gallery bought the picture for £10.5 million.

The Duke of Sutherland collection is considered to be the most important private Art collection in Great Britain (not counting the Royal Collection), featuring Raphael’s “Bridgewater Madonna” and a 1657 Rembrandt’s self-portrait that is, in my opinion, the most important old master painting still in private hands. So when the 6 th Duke of Sutherland died in 2000, the Gallery feared that his incredible Art collection could be sold to a foreign collector. Fortunately to the Scots, the most important paintings from the collection have been long-term loaned to the Gallery, and Titian’s “Venus Anadyomene” was purchased by the Gallery for more than £11 million in 2003. Also, it is said that the new Duke desires to keep the collection in Scotland.

So, case closed?

No, it isn’t.

Titian’s ” Portrait of a young man” , an extremely beautiful work by Titian owned by the Earl of Halifax, and exhibited in the National Gallery of London since 1992, it’s still for sale. The asking price of this masterpiece -for sure one of the most important old master paintings still in private hands- is a huge £50 million, much more than any other work ever acquired by a Museum, and also above the highest price ever achieved by an old master painting (the $76.7 million “Massacre of the innocents” by Rubens) Will the directors of the British Galleries find the money necessary to keep this work in the United Kingdom? Or will the Titian be part of the artistic exodus, doing its way to a private collection overseas? Well, one thing is sure: after spending $70 million in another supreme Titian (the “Portrait of Alfonso d’Avalos”), the Getty Museum -a terrible predator for the old masters paintings- will not ask for this great work.

And there is more: in 2007, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam confirmed that the Institution was trying to acquire Rembrandt’s “Portrait of Catrina Hooghsaet” from the Penrhyn Castle collection in Wales for an impressive £40 million. The Penrhyn family had already sold a Jan Steen masterpiece to the Rijksmuseum for more than £8 million in 2004, but the Rembrandt will represent a more terrible loss due to its evident historical and artistic significance.

Of course, there are still a considerable number of masterpieces in British private collections at risk of being sold (thought not explicitly for sale) For example, Rembrandt’s “Judas and the Thirty Pieces of Silver” (1629, Marquess of Normanby collection) or the highly important “Portrait of Edward Grimston” by the Flemish master Petrus Christus, property of the Earl of Verulam. Buy all these masterpieces in the UK could cost hundreds of millions pounds, but the Government should find a way to keep them in the country. Tax incentives, export limitations. No measure is excessive when we are talking about securing a National Heritage.

Ed Ruscha’s Twentysix Gasoline Stations

For an idea that came to undermine the set relationship between art and its audience in 1963, Ed Ruscha’s lightbulb moment was alarmingly simple. “I had this notion to make a book and I had been photographing gasoline stations across America,” he said. Ruscha’s resulting title visually recorded 26 of the stations he had passed on Route 66 on his journeys between his home in Los Angeles and his parents’ home in Oklahoma throughout the early 1960s. The print run initially ran to 400 copies and, by circumventing the usual display of artists’ work and attempting to belittle the value of a mass-produced product, the photographic artist book became a pioneering moment in 20th Century art.

It also presented an obvious challenge to his contemporaries’ photography. Ruscha’s book arrived four years after American road photography was shaken up by Robert Frank’s seminal photo record of his and his family’s trips across the country, titled The Americans. Beat author Jack Kerouac, in the foreword to Frank’s now-iconic set of black and white images, said the Swiss photographer had “sucked a sad poem right out of America”. Another quote by a contemporary art critic said: “The pictures took us by ambush then … [Frank] established a new iconography for contemporary America, comprised of bits of bus depots, lunch counters, strip developments, empty spaces, cars, and unknowable faces.” Ruscha’s images are not concerned with the aesthetics of the petrol stations nor appear to be making a critical comment on them. Like Frank he was training his eye on another part of the American everyday experience but his photographs don’t pack any kind of punch. “I just wanted to explore the subjects dead head straight on without much emotion,” he said.

With the exception of Edward Hopper’s Gas of 1940, petrol stations had not appeared as a focus of artistic contemplation and Ruscha makes no attempt to drape the pumps in a warm early evening light as Hopper does. He did explore the iconography of the stations in a series of paintings that became his signature through the 1960s that certainly took some of their clues from the Hopper painting. Ruscha was concerned with the sites in response to themes of landscape, place and culture. “What used to belong to the Navajo and Apache indians now belongs to the white man and he has gas stations out there. So I started to see [them] as cultural curiosities.”

The key with his artist book is to look beyond the photographs and see the other elements that make up the pages and which Ruscha was meticulous in designing. “I changed the form about 50 times at the printers,” he admitted. Big decisions were made about the front cover typeface – three lines of impact lettering spaced out at top, middle and bottom with a protective frosted sleeve diminishing the impact of the blood orange text. Inside Ruscha maximises more white space, bringing a neutrality to the images that are not numbered and supported only by the sparsest of literal descriptions; “Texaco, Sunset Strip, Los Angeles” or “Self Service, Milan, New Mexico”. The images are generally presented chronologically but crucially not all, undermining any order or rigid documentation of the stations that might give the book a sense of purpose. The reader starts out in “Bob’s Service, Los Angeles, California” but doesn’t end in Oklahoma City. Instead Ruscha signs off with “Fina, Groom, Texas” to give the sense of having begun a return journey. The only aspect of the book that Ruscha came to regret was its numbering of editions as it has granted the original copies an order of value rather than something equal as a mass produced product. The books were originally sold for a few dollars through ArtForum magazine after being rejected by the Library of Congress.

What the books did for Ruscha’s art was to better realise his driving intentions or feel for engaging with the world with a perplexed aloofness.I felt when I got going on the books that it was really the red meat of my work. It was the choice bit. Although I was painting pictures at that time, I felt that the books were more advanced as a concept than the individual paintings I had been doing. I realised that for the first time this book had an inexplicable thing I was looking for, and that was a kind of a “Huh?” That‘s what I’ve always worked around. All it is is a device to disarm somebody with my particular message.”

He followed up Twentysix Gasoline Stations with two sequels: Thirtyfour Parking Lots in 1967 and Nine Swimming Pools in 1968, the latter in colour. An artist aesthetic had definitely come into play by the time he headed into the air with a professional photographer to document the parking lots of Los Angeles and later a handful of the city’s swimming pools that had caught his eye in the aerial trip. Both are perhaps too beautiful or artistically pleasing to make anyone feel confused. Ruscha explored similar work with unnumbered titles at the same time. Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966) and Royal Road Test (1967), in which he threw a typewriter out of a moving vehicle and then photographed the strewn pieces, allowed him to bring his ideas to an audience without them visiting a gallery, even if the ideas remained hidden or empty.

Recycled Art

1. Mandy Russell discovered a great way to repurpose plastic switch plates–she turned them into felted book covers. In the Winter 2015 issue of Pages magazine, she explains that the plates’ firmness makes them perfect for wet felting, and the openings can become little windows. To wet felt a plate, Mandy begins by wrapping 3′ lengths of wool top fibers both horizontally and vertically around the plate, until the entire plate is covered. The wet felting process involves adding dish soap and hot water to the wool and gently rubbing it, rinsing it with hot water, and repeating those steps 5-8 times until the wool is well felted and tight around the plate. See the rest of the article to see how the covers and pages are sewn together, creating a uniquely bound—and very cozy—book.

2. Artist Rae Missigman found creative inspiration in the unlikeliest of places—the laundry room. She discovered that after going through a wash cycle, dye-trapping sheets are perfect for mixed-media recycled art: “Once I realized they could trap large amounts of dye,” she says, “I began to experiment with using them in my art.” Not only did they show off deep, vibrant color when dyed, but they were also very strong. Once laundered, they are sturdy and fabric-like. Rae uses these dye-trapping sheets in Art Lesson Vol. 5: Recycled and Re-inked: Bold, Colorful Embellishments. She first mists a shallow pan and the sheet with water, then adds several drops of acrylic ink (in analogous colors) to the pan. The sheet is placed in the pan and left to sit a few seconds to absorb the ink, then removed and placed on scrap paper to dry. Sheets can be cut into shapes or strips and sewn like fabric, and added to any mixed-media project.

3. For an artist, old or discarded books are a treasure trove of recyclables: pages, covers, and even a worn spine can be used for art. In “Books Unfurled: Altered Book Art” in the Fall 2014 issue of Paper Art magazine, Kathy Baker-Addy shows how an entire book can become a dimensional, sculptural recycled art piece simply by cutting and folding pages. Gather a group of about 50 pages in the front, middle, and back of a book that’s about 1″ thick, and hold them together with binder clips. Slide a cutting mat under about 5 pages and, with a craft knife, cut swirls, stars, leaf shapes, or other continuous designs into the pages; you can incorporate folded pages as well. Make sure to leave the pages attached to the book. When all pages have been cut, allow them to cascade out, arranging the pieces as you want. Kathy suggests practicing first on scrap paper to test your designs. See the rest of the article for how to turn the book into a showpiece.

4. Hardware store finds can be repurposed into reusable printmaking tools. In her book Printmaking Unleashed, Traci Bautista says hardware stores can be gold mines for items like plastic sink and bath mats, and fence materials. To start, spread fiber paste over a plastic page protector and add a few drops of fluid acrylic paint. Place an open-design bathmat, plastic fence material, and pieces of a plastic needlepoint canvas over the paste and press with a brayer. Remove the fence material and canvas, and dab on acrylic paint through the bathmat with a foam brush. Add a touch of white paint. Continue to add paint through the bathmat, and remove it to reveal the final print.

5. Instead of tossing empty aluminum cans into the recycling bin, use them to create mosaic art. That’s what Dawn Hunter did in “A New Kind of Pop Art” in the March/April 2014 issue of Cloth Paper Scissorsmagazine. Start by drawing a simple design on tissue paper, then transfer the design to a piece of rigid foam insulation board by laying the tissue paper on top and poking shallow holes about ¼”-½” apart through the tissue and into the surface of the board with an awl. Paint the image with acrylic paint, approximating the colors of the cans you’re using. Cut the tops and bottoms off the cans, cut the cylinder apart, and trim any ragged edges. Sort the cans by color and cut them into a variety of shapes. Beginning at the top of the design, place the can pieces one at a time, gently poking through the metal and into the board with with an awl. Put glue on the tip of a wire nail and push it into the board until the head is flush with the metal.