Sunday, July 8, 2012

London Town

One more comment on the Masterpiece Fair, in order to add a note of art education, they held a one day symposium with the director and the curators from the Wallace Collection.  The lectures all related to the Wallace’s wonderful collections.  But personally, I found the director’s, Dr. Christoph Vogtherr, the most interesting because he spoke about how paintings were displayed in the 18th century and how their hanging related to what is acceptable today.

As I mentioned before, the fair is not the only art event in London at this time.  First come the modern auction sales and the following week the old masters.  Therefore, it is a perfect time to hold Master Drawings’ and Master Paintings’ week.  It adds up to an incredibly busy time in London.  This year, of course, art weeks are flanked by the Jubilee for the Queen’s 60th year on the throne and the summer Olympics.  That should bring London’s already slow moving traffic to a total standstill!

My challenge was how to best divide my time.  Sotheby’s and Christie’s had auctions in fields of interest overlapping each other.  There must have been 10 or 12 over four days .   Also, there were over 35 galleries to visit.  Needless to say, it is not possible to do it all but I did my best to see what I thought would be of interest.

In the auctions the biggest price of the week occurred at Christie’s for the John Constable of “The Lock” which was sold by Baroness Carmen ‘Tita’ Thyssen-Bornemisza  for 20 million British Pounds plus the commission.  Since Spain acquired her deceased husband’s collection and her pictures are on loan at the resulting museum in Madrid this caused quite a stir.  Sir Norman Rosenthal, a trustee of the Thyssen Museum, and former exhibitions director at the Royal Academy in London, quit in protest over the sale of the painting.  The Baroness, however, did go in with a guarantee from Sotheby’s that she would get a minimum no matter what happened.  It was announced before the lot was sold that the guarantee was in turn guaranteed by a third party who would be bidding on the lot.  Rumor has it that the guarantor is a Russian.  Since the picture brought the minimum of the estimate of 20 million pounds I presume that ‘The Lock’ is headed for Russia.

Another interesting lot at Christie’s was a small picture by Pietro Lorenzetti (active in Sienna between 1306 snd 1345) showing Christ between Saints Paul and Peter.  The estimate was 1 to 1.5 million pounds but it sold for over 5 million with commission.  Not only were there bidders in the room and on the telephone but also on the internet.  When the bids came from the latter the screen flashed ‘Texas’.  So we all know that there is a Texan interested in buying early Italian paintings.  Unfortunately, his or her bid was not high enough to acquire the picture.

In the Master Drawing and Master Paintings departments I have made it to probably 85% of the galleries.  It’s more physical work than you may think.  Though the British have mercifully discovered air conditioning, elevators or lifts as they call them are not all that common.  So at many galleries you walk up and down 1 to 3 steep flights. Happily, in many cases it is worth the trek.

Johnny van Haeften, a renowned dealer in Dutch 17th century painting was looking for something different to show this week.  He hit upon a superb idea.  One of his ancestors is a known artist, Nicolaes van Haeften (1663-1715) so Johnny decided to do an exhibition in his office above the gallery with paintings by his namesake.  He owned some, borrowed others and found prints done after a number of the pictures.

At some galleries they have a theme for what they are exhibiting such as at Rafael Valls, he is showing paintings in grisailles (various shades of grey) while Deborah Gage has hit on a water theme, including lakes, rivers and waterfalls.

When I travel I always try to visit some private collectors and if possible see their collections.  I was lucky enough to make two such visits this year. A friend of mine since the 1970’s has built up a beautiful collection of paintings of nature which fill her apartment floor to ceiling.  Most are 19th century with a smattering of 18th century as well.  I particularly relate to the northern schools of Germany and Denmark, I would have liked to take some home! 

I was also privileged to see quite a number of paintings from a family collection, many were, however, out on loan to museums throughout the world.  What I did see was extremely eclectic.  I must say that I enjoy it when a collector says to me, “we buy what we like.”  Somehow, that always makes me smile.

My last afternoon in London I also managed to squeeze in an hour at the National Gallery.  It is definitely one of the greatest old master museum collections in the world.  In artists working before 1500 alone, I could find names like Giotto, Duccio, Giovanni di Paolo, Uccello,  Leonardo, van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden.

There was certainly no lack of art to keep me occupied during this past week in London!

Note: Last week due to a technical glitch the video was a day late.  You can link back to it here.


  1. What a super tour! Thank you SO much! Please please keep it up. Yours is the best blog on the web!

  2. Thanks Nick,

    It is good that Penelope did not hear you say that. She already thinks that i have a swell head!

    I am like the comedian who says stop stop with one hand and keep it coming with the other