Sunday, April 28, 2019

“Monumental” at the Aquavella Gallery

Last Monday my wife asked me, “what are you writing about this week” and I replied, “I have come up completely dry”.  Penelope proceeded to speak to me about exhibitions around town.  Then, as so often happens, I got an email.  This time from my older son, Daniel.  He was teasing me by sending me an article about a Lucian Freud exhibition of Nudes, saying, “I presume this will be one of your blogs I’ll be reading about”.  Guess what, he’s right!

The article was by Hilarie Sheets who often writes for The New York Times though this appeared in “Introspective Magazine” a publication of which offers according to them, “The World’s Best Interior Design”. This is, however, a serious review of the exhibition “Lucien Freud: Monumental” at Acquavella Gallery in New York.

The Acquavella Gallery was founded by Nicholas Acquavella in the 1920’s.  His son Bill joined in 1960.  I came into my family business 5 years later and we interacted from time to time.  The first time I met Bill, my father asked me to bring a small painting by Eugene Boudin up to his gallery.  Since the painting was small and Acquavella’s gallery was only about a mile away, I strapped it to my bike thinking all the way, “What if something happens and I get hit?” (that was New York City, after all), “what would I tell the insurance company” Anyway, I delivered it safe and sound.  That was half a century ago and since then other younger members of the Acquavella family have signed on. To show what esteem the gallery is held in, the former director of the Metropolitan Museum, Philippe de Montebello, is now on their board. 

Acquavella has represented the estate of Lucian Freud (1922-2011) for some time now and has over the years shown various aspects of his work. The 13 paintings in the current exhibition show Freud’s full painterly style.   It includes depictions of some of Freud’s most important models from 1990’s until the artist’s death. David Dawson, Freud’s long-time studio assistant, friend, and now director of the Lucian Freud Archive, curated the show and wrote the catalog for the exhibition together with Philippe de Montebello. You could not call up Freud and ask him to paint your portrait (with some exceptions in the Royal Family).  He sought out his models, choosing carefully.

The renowned British art historian, Sir Kenneth Clark said in his 1956 book, The Nude. A Study of Ideal Art, made a distinction between the Naked and the Nude, considering the nude as an ideal representation of the naked body. By Clark’s definition Freud’s works are not nudes but might be called naked portraits.
Freud himself wrote, “Being naked has to do with making a more complete portrait, a naked body is somehow more permanent, more factual … when someone is naked there is in effect nothing to be hidden. Not everyone wants to be that honest about themselves, that means I feel an obligation to be equally honest in how I represent them. It is a matter of responsibility, in a way I don’t want the painting to come from me, I want it to come from them. It can be extraordinary how much you can learn from someone by looking very carefully at them without judgement.”

Still Clark did say, “… no nude, however abstract, should fail to arouse in the spectator some vestige of erotic feeling …”.  I believe that this would be in the eye of the beholder.

If you wish to see all the Freud nudes, you will have to go to the show or buy the catalog, but I will try to pick out a few to illustrate.  It’s hard to choose images when it comes to Freud since he is such a great artist steeped in the Old Master tradition.  Which is your favorite Rembrandt?

First up, what I would call, the epitome of monumental, Freud’s, “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping” 1995.  59 5/8 x 86¼ in. (151.3 x 219 cm.).  The model, Tilley, was introduced to Freud in 1990 by the artist’s favorite subject, the performance artist, Leigh Bowery. The treatment of the sitter’s expanse of flesh gives one the chance to fully appreciate Freud’s rich painterly style.  Freud’s impasto is not as thick as Van Gogh’s, but it gives rich textural quality to the surface.  Dawson says that Freud always wanted to know all his sitters and asked them lots of questions about their lives.  Somehow, I feel that one comes to know something of the actual person in this portrait.

Probably Freud’s most famous nude is this painting of the performance artist Leigh Bowery lent by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Some of the photographs I have seen say so much about the characters.  Here you have the photo of the sitter posing in Freud’s studio for ”Naked Man, Back View”, 1992, as well as the painting.

Photo by Bruce Bernard © Estate of Bruce Bernard

In “Large Interior, Notting Hill” 1998 has an amusing story.  Model Jerry Hall, who was married to Mick Jagger had a new born son, Gabriel. Freud was going to immortalize the occasion by painting the mother breast feeding her son.  Jerry Hall sat for the painting but when she didn’t feel up to it after many daily sittings David Dawson sat in for her. Freud’s whippet Pluto lies at the feet of the writer Francis Wyndham who is not identified in the caption.

My last image is “Sunny Morning, Eight Legs” 1997, borrowed from the Art Institute of Chicago.  It shows Dawson, who sat for a number of Freud’s portraits and Pluto.   The extra pair of knees poking out from under the bed was Dawson’s idea.

I am sorry to miss this exhibition which is up through May 24. The material for this blog was all gathered on line.  I had no response to two emails to Aquavella’s publicist and one to the gallery directly.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Notre-Dame de Paris

I had another Missive brewing but decided I could not ignore the fire at Notre-Dame.   As one art historian said the day of the fire, “This is the worst art disaster in my lifetime”.

Notre-Dame sits of the Isle de la Cité right in the center of the Seine.  If you have visited Paris, you have seen it.  It is a very exclusive area where some of the City’s wealthier citizens live.  What is interesting is that it is not just a great monument to gothic architecture, but it is also a place of worship where people pray and hear mass every day. 

Notre-Dame de Paris, Our Lady of Paris, there are other churches called Notre- Dame in France and other parts of 
the world, but this is the grandest of them all … The Queen.  The Cathedral was begun in 1160 and mostly finished a century later.  During the French Revolution in the 1790’s, it was ransacked, and sculptures and paintings were damaged, but the structure stood.  In 1804 Emperor Napoleon I held his Coronation in Notre-Dame. The liberation of Paris in 1944 was celebrated there as well.

International attention is often attracted to a work of art not by its inherent qualities.  Leonardo’s, Mona Lisa, became world famous only when it was stolen in 1911.  In the case of Notre-Dame it was Victor Hugo’s novel “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”.  All the attention the Cathedral received from the book ushered in major restoration from 1844-1864 under the guidance of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc and it was he who added the great spire which was lost last week.  I was surprised to learn that Notre-Dame is visited by twice as many visitors per year (13 million) as the Eiffel Tower.

Photo by Philippe Wang, Getty Images

I remember buying a book in the Pelican Series (paperback) in 1966, hot off the presses called, “An Outline of European Architecture” by the German/British architectural historian, Nikolaus Pevsner.  You can still buy it on Amazon for $1.99.  There I learned about “flying buttresses” used in the first gothic cathedrals such as Notre-Dame.  These arched exterior supports were not incorporated into the initial architecture of the Notre-Dame but were added when stress fractures began to appear in the thin upper walls as they cracked under the weight of the vault. 

When I first saw a CNN notice that smoke was seen coming from Notre-Dame, I did not think much about it and went to lunch.  When I came back an hour later the news showed the horrendous photos of shooting flames and billowing smoke coming from the Cathedral.  I was surprised at how emotionally upsetting the sight was.  I am not even Catholic and have not been inside the Cathedral all that often. It was just always there when I was regularly in Paris.  It felt a bit like being told that a close friend was deathly ill, and they did not know if she would survive.  Then the rumors started.  I saw notices on line that the Cathedral would not be standing by the following morning and it seemed totally believable from some of the images.  

Later reports said that much of the wonderful stained glass and works of art were left unharmed. This was a miracle in itself considering the heat of the fire and that lead held the pieces of stained glass in place.

Photo by Christophe Petit Tesson

Many of the priceless artifacts in the cathedral were saved, such as the “Crown of Thorns”, because they were taken out before recent restoration work had begun or some brave folk rescued them at the start of the fire.  Speaking of miracles, the most amazing save was the Coq Gaulois (the Gallic Rooster), a symbol of France, which was above the steeple and when it went down with the ceiling below it. The coq was still in one piece though it was made of copper, a metal with a low melting point!  Of course, there is water damage as well from the firefighters who by all accounts had acted heroically.

The French intellectual Bernard Henri-Levy said of this tragedy, “a treasure of civilization, for those who believe in heaven and for those who don’t”—a symbol of “the Europe of civilization … of grandeur and softness.”  With all the bad news we have been receiving lately from all over the world and particularly at home, this was a moment when the world seemed to come together to mourn.  Aside from the well wishers internationally, President Macron rushed to the scene of the blaze and he and the mayor of Paris promised restoration of the damage.  Macron estimated the cost at 1 billion dollars and a 5-year repair time.  French billionaires and major art collectors. the Pinaults and the Arnaults, immediately pledged $340 million towards restoration.  Contributors large and small from around the world have joined them.

What price do you put on Notre-Dame?

“The French Institute Alliance Française” (FIAF) has created the  FIAF Notre-Dame Restoration Fund” to collect funds on behalf of donors.  If you would like to join the  effort, you can reach out to Maia Plantevin, Development Coordinator, to make a tax-deductible donation at or 646-388-6604. 100% of the proceeds will be donated to Notre-Dame restoration efforts. 

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Tiepolo in Milan: The Lost Frescoes of Palazzo Archinto

Yes, I am writing about a Frick Collection Exhibition again.  It’s not my fault if they keep doing interesting shows!  This one intrigued me because I wanted to find out how they found a lost fresco.

An important fact when studying Tiepolo … there were two of them: Giovanni Battista (called Giambattista) (1696-1770) and his son, almost as famous, Giovanni Domenico (known as Giandomenico) Tiepolo (1727-1804).  The subject is of particular interest to me as I have always loved the work of the both of the Tiepolos. Here, however we a dealing only with the work of Giambattista.

I was particularly curious about this exhibition’s subject because my gallery bought a ceiling fresco by Tiepolo about 60 years ago. Unfortunately, in the process of removal half of it came off on the canvas and the other half was left on the ceiling.  Even though this happened before I joined the firm, I was there for the tax examination when the Internal Revenue Service accused my family of collusion with Sotheby’s, because when we put the canvas at auction it brought so much less than we had paid, and we had claimed the loss on our tax return.  Yes, a totally ridiculous claim but I learned a lesson.   Our lawyers settled with the IRS.  As a young person I was furious.  This was crazy.  The lawyer, however, asked me would I prefer to pay the IRS X or their firm 3 times X to fight it!

The frescoes of the Palazzo Archinto were “lost” for a different reason.  The allies bombed the hell out of the Palace during World War II and there was nothing left to remove!  The Frick has attempted to put Humpty Dumpty together again or at least give us an idea of what we are missing today, The current  show brings together 50 works of art and artifacts relating to the ceiling frescos.  They include paintings, a number of preparatory drawings, photographs and books.  Together they give us an inkling of how sumptuous the palace must have been.

There is also a 160 page catalog.  Usually, a catalog is done in aid of an exhibition.  In this case I get the distinct impression that the exhibition was done to justify the publication.  There is an abundance of material in the catalog about the Archinto family with portraits of its principal members as well as works of art that had once belonged to the family.

I remember my first exposure to Tiepolo’s mastery of  ceiling painting was on a visit to Wurzburg when I was young, my mother called me just to tell me to be sure to go and see the ceiling in the Residenz. It was well worth the visit!

The five ceiling frescoes Tiepolo painted for the Palazzo Archinto, in Milan in 1730-31 was his first major commission outside of Venice.  How did this happen?  Milan had lots of artists of their own. The Archinto family had long been one of the city’s most prominent, renowned for their library and art collection.  They had commissioned book illustrations from Tiepolo and must have been aware of the impressive mural projects he was beginning to get from patrons in the Veneto.

Quite possibly members of the family had travelled to Venice and seen the frescos in a palace there such as The Triumph of Marius,  from the Palazzo Ca' Dolfin of 1729, now in The Metropolitan Museum.  Hiring a rising young star from Venice for the redecoration of their residence would have furthered their prestige.

In 1916 Henry Clay Frick bought his only work by Tiepolo and it was the painted sketch, modello, for the Archinto Perseus and Andromeda ceiling.  Thirty  years later the fresco was gone. So this show is a bit like seeing an old photo of a lost loved one.  It isn’t going to bring them back but it is a “souvenir”.  Here is the Frick “Perseus and Andromeda” sketch.

Photo by Michael Bodycomb

The ceilings were recorded in photographs before World War II and the Frick show includes a few rare images taken in 1897 lent by an archive in Milan.

Photo by Centelli & Molfese issued by
Azienda di Servizi alla Persona Golgi-Redaelli

Another of the 1897 photographs is shown with one of the most elaborate oil sketches “The Triumph of the Arts and Sciences, from the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga Lisbon.

Photo: Luisa Oliveira

Photo: Centelli & Molfese issued by
Azienda di Servizi alla Persona Golgi-Redaelli

The show will be up until July 14, Bastille day, but that is for another day and another place!

Sunday, April 7, 2019

“The Young Picasso – Blue and Rose Period”

Whenever, I hear there is another Picasso exhibition, I think haven’t we seen it all and I am always happily surprised to see his work shown in a new light. This exhibition at the Beyeler Foundation in Basel, Switzerland focuses on Picasso’s blue and Rose periods. This show is a reduced version of one in Paris at the Musée d’Orsay last year, amazingly, the first show ever in Europe to focus on this period of the artist’s life.

Pablo Ruiz Picasso (1881-1973)was born in Málaga, Spain but spent most of his adult life in France which had been the art capital of the world since the late 17th century. Leading the art movements of the day he became one of the most famous artists of all time and his works still bring extraordinary prices at auction. As communications move faster and faster, just think, Picasso was alive when the radio was invented at the end of the 19th century and today we can get auction results in real time. The headline from The Art News Paper was “Multi-Billion-Dollar Picasso Show heads to the Beyeler”.   My first reaction was what hyperbole, what show is worth billions?  Well, remember, these days it only takes 9 or 10 Picassos to reach those figures!

In my opinion, great artists first learn how to draw and then add their own inspiration but that is not always considered true today.  In Picasso’s case there was no choice.  At 13 he attended the School of Fine Arts in Barcelona, where his father, also an artist, taught.  In 1897, he began his studies at Madrid's Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, which was Spain's top art academy at the time.  By the beginning of the 20th century he was developing his own style. This is one of my favorite periods of his work and it is the subject of the current exhibition at the Beyler Foundation.

The art dealer Ernst Beyeler (1921-2010) and, his wife, Hilda Kunz (1921-2008), created the Beyeler Foundation in 1982.  They commissioned Renzo Piano to build the museum in Basel, which opened in 2007.  Its purpose was to display the Beyelers’ private collection of established modern works as well as their tribal collection   Exhibitions are done putting the collections in context.  Interestingly, the Beyeler has no Picassos from either the Blue or Rose periods. The earliest Picasso in the collection is a sketch for Demoiselles d’Avignon.

I dimly remember first seeing Les Demoiselles d'Avignon at the Museum of Modern Art as a small boy and being a bit confused by it.  I am sure I reacted the same way other art lovers looked at this painting in 1907, whose style they were not prepared for.  Of course, because of its original title The Brothel of Avignon it was at first seen as salacious, but I was not into that at the age of 7!

Before 1907 Picasso’s work had been far more naturalistic.  The Harlequin character from the Italian commedia dell'arte was a favorite Picasso figure during his Blue Period of 1901-1904.  Here is a great one in the Beyeler exhibition done in 1901 when Picasso was just 20 years old. It was lent by the Metropolitan Museum, so I was well acquainted with it.

Another Blue Period work in the show is La Vie (Life), 1903 from the Cleveland Museum.  According to the Cleveland Museum website, “In 1901, depressed over the suicide of a close friend, Picasso launched into the melancholic paintings of his Blue Period… restricted his palette to cold colors suggestive of night, mystery, dreams, and death.”  The limited palette may also have been because he could not yet afford more interesting and expensive colors.  The picture has been interpreted in various ways and with this information I will let you make up your own minds as to it meaning.

To show how wide the Beyeler has cast its net, this is a picture I have never seen before, a painting lent by the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.  It is also from 1901 and called “Arlequin et son Compagne” (Harlequin and his Companion). It does not look like this date is going well!

Looking at the Rose Period paintings just a few years later (1904-1906) we see   Picasso sticks with the theme.  There is The Seated Harlequin of 1905 where the unsmiling performer looks out from a red background lent by the Berggruen Museum. This museum is one of the National Galleries of Berlin which houses the collection of another art dealer in modern masters, Heinz Berggruen.

My final image is The Nude Young Woman on a red background dated 1906, one year before Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.  You can already see the new direction in which Picasso’s approach to the figure is going. This was lent by the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris.

Museums like to lend for exhibitions that further the history of art and bring works of art together that will enhance our understanding of the artist. Even so Blue and Rose period Picassos are rarely lent but the Beyeler succeeded with this show that is truly a blockbuster!

Bringing you this Missive was not as simple as most.  After several emails with the Foundation and their Legal department I had to apply to ProLitteris Bildrecht, the Swiss equivalent of The American Artists Rights Society to whom they forwarded my request.  After being questioned as to what my motives were and I finally convinced all that my blog was pro bono and like a review, then more discussions between the Artists Rights Society and the Foundation’s legal department the way was finally cleared for me to use the press images above.