Sunday, December 23, 2007


Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) spent most of his time at Le Pouldu (September 1889 to November 1890) in an auberge (inn) belonging to a Mademoiselle Marie Henry, known as the Buvette de la Plage . Gauguin’s social and artistic life in Le Pouldu revolved around this inn. He slept and ate there, painted, hosted his friends and artists and “fraternized with the maid” . Gauguin and his close companion, financier, and understudy Meyer de Haan had developed a regular routine that didn’t involve much more than eating, sleeping and painting.

Gauguin and de Haan decided to decorate one wall of the room as a gift to Mademoiselle Henry. This idea, over the course of the year, grew to all four walls of the room as well as the ceiling, and included portraits of the main inhabitants, paintings depicting daily life at Le Pouldu, theological and mystical images, exhortations and mottos. The innkeeper Marie Henry, had a daughter by de Haan, and later played a negative role in Gauguin’s life: she refused to return his works, which he had to keep in her inn for some time.

These paintings were not created to please critics, not even to please potential buyers. They were created for the artists themselves to enjoy while taking their meals and entertaining each other. Those paintings are still there and can be seen on this picture to the right : this room provides an intimate snapshot of the life of Gauguin that we could not necessarily learn through his letters or other paintings .

La Plage au Pouldu (Britanny, France) was part of the fabulous Henri Ford II's collection that went for sale on May 1980 ; the picture fetched $2.9 million. It has been kept by the Fords in a for many years. Gauguin would have been mad to learn about it.But he would have been madder to learn that
the total of the sale reached $ 18.3 million. Henri Ford II had said that he would come to the sale but then told the auctioneers that there was a strike in Detroit and that he preferred not to be seen at the sale :"It would look very bad, he said, if I was seen to have made 10 million (the amount of the estimate) or more while I was telling the automobile constructors to get stuffed for $1.5." When the autioneers told him the sale had made 18 millions, he was nonplussed and said:"Well done, Jesus, people are crazy." People really ?

Saturday, December 22, 2007


Peter Paul Rubens was born in 1577 in Westphalia to Jan Rubens and Maria Pypelincks. His father, a Calvinist, and mother had fled Antwerp for Cologne in 1568, after increased religious turmoil and persecution of Protestants during the rule of the Spaniard, the Duke of Alba.

Rubens was the most renowned northern European artist of his day, and is now widely recognized as one of the foremost painters in Western art history.

The Massacre of the Innocents refers to the Bible (Matthew 2:16) that describes a massacre of babies on order of King Herod after hearing of the birth of a new king, Jesus, in his realm. This incident, known as the massacre (or slaughter) of the innocents, exemplifying the horror of harming children with the power of the state, has inspired artists over many centuries : Giotto, Duccio, Fra Angelico, Bruegel, Tintoretto, Lebrun, Poussin, Doré...

In 2002, this picture (142 x 182 cm) painted in 1611-12 was sold by Sotheby's London for £ 49.5 million (then equal to some $ 86 million). The buyer was later revealed to be the Canadian press baron Kenneth Thomson, 2nd Baron Thomson of Fleet. The price was then the most expensive Old Master painting ever sold at auction. It is now on loan at the National Gallery London.

Towards the end of his life, between 1636 and 1638, Rubens painted a second version of the Massacre of the Innocents. This version was acquired by the
Alte Pinakothek in Munich in the XVIIIth century and it continues to hang there today. He died from gout on May 30, 1640. He was interred in Saint Jacob's church, Antwerp. The artist had eight children.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506), together with his brother-in-law Giovanni Bellini, was largely responsible for spreading the ideas of the Early Renaissance in northern Italy. In 1460, Mantegna became court painter to the Gonzaga family in Mantua. After that he only left Mantua for occasional trips to Tuscany and Rome. In about 1490, Mantegna began to produce engravings of great artistic and technical perfection, which contributed greatly to the dissemination of the Early Renaissance innovations north of the Alps.

Andrea Mantegna's composition of figures and objects compressed within a shallow space was based on his study of ancient Roman reliefs. He used a neutral background and sharply defined details to focus the viewer's attention on the kings' adoration of Christ. Mantegna died in Mantua, on September 13, 1506. In 1516 a handsome monument was set up to him by his sons in the church of Sant'Andrea, where he had painted the altar-piece of the mortuary chapel. The dome is decorated by Correggio.

In 1985, the Adoration -painted between 1495 and 1505- part of the collection of the Marquess of Northampton was one of the last paintings by Mantegna in private hands. It is rather small (21.5 x 27.5 ins) and was painted in tempera and oil linen laid down on a canvas. It was bought for $10.4 million by the P.Getty Museum of Malibu, Calif.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


When Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) settled in Paris in 1863, Romanticisim was very much in the wane. As he had been rejected by the Ecole des Beaux Arts, he had to drew on all possible sources. Courbet was one of his main source of inspiration. Camille Pissarro convinced Cézanne to adopt the broken brushwork and light palette of the Impressionists. He exhibited at the first and third Impressionist group shows, but soon lost faith in the goals of the movement.

"The greatness of Cézanne, wrote for the 1936 Salon in Paris the art critic Douglas Lord from the
Burlington Magazine, is now incontestable."

For somebody born almost a century earlier (1839) and then dead since 1906 it was indeed high time. At least it was a consecration. In 1980 the Paysan en blouse bleue (1897, 63.5x80 cm, oil on canvas), part of the famous Henri Ford II's collection's sale in May 1980, fetched 3.9 million de dollars bought by the Kimbell Art Museum of Fort Worth (Texas) whose collection of Impressionists is quite fabulous.

Over 20,000 people visited the 5 days exhibition prior to the Ford's sale. The total of the sale reached $ 18.3 million. Henri Ford II had said that he would come to the sale but then told the auctioneers that there was a strike in Detroit and that he preferred not to be seen at the sale :"It would look very bad, he said, if I was seen to have made 10 million (the amount of the estimate) or more while I was telling the automobile constructors to get stuffed for $1.5." When the autioneers told him the sale had made 18 millions, he was nonplussed and said:"Well done, Jesus, people are crazy."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Eugène Boudin (1824-1896) is one of the first French landscape painters to paint in the open air, directly from nature. His numerous beach scenes form a direct link between the carefully observed Naturalism of the early 19th century and the brilliant light and fluid brushwork of late 19th-century Impressionism. His pastels, summary and economic, garnered the splendid eulogy of Baudelaire and Corot who, gazing at his pictures, said to him, "You are the master of the sky."

In 1857 Boudin met the young Monet who spent several months working with Boudin in his studio. The two remained lifelong friends and Monet later paid tribute to Boudin’s early influence. Boudin joined Monet and his young friends in the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874, but never considered himself a radical or innovator.

The "Plage" (beach) was sold on May the 13th 1980 at the huge Ford's Impressionist sale for $ 480,000. This sale comprised other Impressionists like Manet, Cézanne, Renoir, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Picasso and Modigliani. The audience was huge : about 1,300 people had gathered in four galleries at Christie's New York. The total of the sale was $18.3 million.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


René Magritte (1898-1967) was a Belgian artist who painted detailed realism but founded his first inspiration in the work of Chirico. His naturalism stems from the tradition of Magic that flourished in Belgium in the late XIXth century. His goal was "poetic painting" : illusionistic pictures that transform objects into images having different meaning through astonishing transformations.

In the late 1920s, some critics heaped abuse on his first exhibition and depressed by the failure, he moved to Paris where he became friends with André Breton, and became involved in the surrealist group. His work was exhibited in the United States in New York in 1936 and again in that city in two retrospective exhibitions, one at the Museum of Modern Art in 1965, and the other at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1992.

In 1997, after a year-long media attack on its purchase of René Magritte's La Grande Famille for $5.9 million the year before, the Utsunomiya Art Museum opened in Tochigi, north of Tokyo showing the famous Magritte. To my opinion, it is far from being the best of the artist and it is not worth that amount of money.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


"Man in Korean Costume" drawing made by Rubens, in 1617/18 -- black chalk and some traces of red chalk on paper, 38.4 x 23.5 cm. The depicted man is probably an European, and the costume is indeed a Korean Chosôn period costume . The drawing is part of a series of five drawings, the other four being men in Chinese costumes.

It has been speculated that the man in the costume is the China missionary Nicolas Trigault (alias Kin Nige, 1577-1628), who in January 1617 was together with Rubens in Antwerp. In the
background, Rubens sketched a small boat to emphasize that his sitter was a visitor from a distant place, but he was clearly more interested in the man and his costume than in providing a detailed setting. The drawing is one of Rubens's most meticulous portraits, enriched by the highlights added to the man's face.

Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) was the most renowned northern European artist of his day, and is now widely recognized as one of the foremost painters in Western art history.In 1983, this portrait was sold in auction for
£ 324,000 ($ 476,280) and it is now in the J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu, Calif.)

Monday, December 3, 2007


Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) was born in Westphalia to Jan Rubens and Maria Pypelincks. His father, a Calvinist, and mother fled Antwerp for Cologne in 1568, after increased religious turmoil and persecution of Protestants during the rule of the Spaniard, the Duke of Alba.

This painting (52 ins. down and 69 ins. across) executed in Italy where Rubens stayed between 1600 and 1608 represents a mortal, Paris, judging three goddesses, Hera, Athena and Aphrodite and deciding who is the fairest. Aphrodite was effortlessly sexual, both beautiful and charming; thus her ability to sway Paris and her position as Goddess of Love were more palatable to Paris.

Two centuries later, the picture appeared in 1815 in London in the hands of James Christie Jr. auctioneer who held it from the trustee of a certain H.Tresham who had recently died. It was auctioned off in June as lot 27 for 370 Guineas. More than a century later it was bought (1933) by a Mr. Robert Savage, a frame collector from Northampton, for less than one pound. When his wife was widowed she sent it with 39 other pictures to Christie's for sale in 1966. The people at Christie's catalogued it as the work of Lankrink, a 17th century copist of Old Masters and it was made lot 183 for the last sale of the summer season and appraised at 280 dollars.

But in the meantime, Sir Oliver Miller, Keeper of the Queen's Pictures, had a look at the canvas and declared "it smelt of Rubens." Other experts joined the band wagon and declared it a Rubens, including Gregrory Martin, keeper at the National Gallery and Michel Jaffé, professor of Fine Arts at King's College, Cambridge. So everybody in England learnt that a "lost Rubens" had been discovered and the picture was withdrawn for the important Old Master sale of November 1966. It was appraised at $ 225,000. And it happened what always happens in that case : the picture was talked down by the dealers and the press. So when the painting came up for sale in November, the room went dead and the auctioneer had to buy it in for the ridiculous sum of 24,000 Guineas or $ 70,560.

Some days later the National Gallery made a bid which a terribly disappointed Mrs Savage accepted. The Lankrink-Rubens hungs today in the National Gallery London. Another version of the Judgment is on display at the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain.


(this image is of the Young Marin II that is very similar to Young Marin I whose picture is very rare)

Henri Emile Matisse (1869-1954) is often regarded as the most important French painter of the 20th century. The leader of the Fauvist movement around 1900, Matisse pursued the expressiveness of colour throughout his career. His subjects were largely domestic or figurative, and a distinct Mediterranean verve presides in the treatment. Twice in 1906 Henri Matisse painted the same brooding young sailor in the same pose in the Mediterranean town of Collioure.

Critics have always preferred Le Jeune Marin II for its flowing strokes and color. Perhaps that was because they saw little of Jeune Marin I; Matisse sold it to Gertrude Stein's brother Michael, who twelve years later sold it to a Norwegian collector.

At the end of 1978, Marin I surfaced at exhibitions in New York and Zurich, a prelude to auction in 1979 at Christie's in London. There, in spirited bidding on the floor and by telephone, the oil was knocked down for $1,584,000, an auction record for 19th and 20th century paintings. Christie's would only identify the successful bidder as being from "across the Atlantic." Presumably that meant the U.S., although Jeune Marin II is in Mexico City.

Matisse initially became famous as the King of the Fauves, an inappropriate name for this gentlemanly intellectual: there was no wildness in him, though there was much passion. He is an awesomely controlled artist, and his spirit, his mind, always had the upper hand over the "beast" of Fauvism. Matisse died of a heart attack at the age of 84 in 1954. He is interred in the cemetery of the Monastère Notre Dame de Cimiez and a Matisse Museum was opened in the area.

Sunday, December 2, 2007


This painting by Jackson Pollock (1912-1956), American Abstract Expressionist painter, was done on an 8' x 4' sheet of fiberboard, with thick amounts of brown and yellow paint drizzled on top of it, forming a nest-like appearance.

Born in Wyoming, Pollock grew up in Arizona and Chico, California, studying at Los Angeles' Manual Arts High School. In 1930, following his brother Charles, he moved to New York City, where they both studied under Thomas Hart Benton at the Art Students League of New York. Pollock was introduced to the use of liquid paint in 1936, at an experimental workshop operated in New York City by the Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros.

Pollock's most famous paintings were during the "drip period" between 1947 and 1950. He rocketed to popular status following an August 8, 1949 four-page spread in Life Magazine that asked, "Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?" At the peak of his fame, Pollock abruptly abandoned the drip style.

He died in a car accident on August 11, 1956 killing with him one of his passengers Edith Metzger. His wife , the Abstract painter, Lee Krasner survived him until 1984.

This painting was originally owned by publisher Samuel Irving Newhouse and displayed at the Museum of Modern Art before being sold to records producer David Geffen and then allegedly to Mexican financier David Martinez Gunzman in 2006. Martinez denied to have any right on the picture that was sold off by Sotheby's New York auctioneer Tobias Meyer for $ 140 million to a buyer who to this day decided to remain anonymous.

Saturday, December 1, 2007


Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) for whom color was the chief symbol of expression, was born in Groot-Zundert, Holland. The son of a pastor, brought up in a religious and cultured atmosphere, Vincent was highly emotional and lacked self-confidence. In 1886 he went to Paris to join his brother Théo, the manager of Goupil's gallery. In Paris, van Gogh studied with Cormon, inevitably met Pissarro, Monet, and Gauguin, and began to lighten his very dark palette and to paint in the short brushstrokes of the Impressionists.

After a while he decided to go south to Arles where he hoped his friends would join him and help found a school of art. Gauguin did join him but with disastrous results. In a fit of epilepsy, van Gogh pursued his friend with an open razor, was stopped by Gauguin, but ended up cutting a portion of his ear lobe off.

In May of 1890, he seemed much better and went to live in Auvers-sur-Oise under the watchful eye of Dr. Gachet. Two months later he was dead, having shot himself "for the good of all." During his brief career he had sold one painting.

This picture used to belong to the Florence Gould' collection which Florence bought in 1965 for $700,000 from Robert Oppenheimer, one of the father of the atomic bomb. Twenty yeras later, the Gould's collection was for sale on auction and the van Gogh went for $ 9.9 million to an unknown buyer. People then assumed it was Mr. Alfred Taubman, president of Sotheby's Parke Bernet himself or a certain Mrs Amalita Fortabat, heiress to the South American cement empire.

Monday, November 26, 2007


Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) was a French leading painter in the development of the Impressionist style. Renoir was born in Limoges, Haute-Vienne, France, the child of a working class family . As a boy, he worked in a porcelain factory where his drawing talents led to him being chosen to paint designs on fine china .

Renoir filled his work with the joie de vivre of a happy temperament. When we look at his work we know that we are the casual stroller who takes in this slice of life in passing but nothing more. However he makes us extremely happy to see it. A prolific artist, he made several thousand paintings. The warm sensuality of Renoir's style made his paintings some of the most well-known and frequently-reproduced works in the history of art.

In the 1890s Renoir began to suffer from rheumatism, and from 1903 (by which time he was world-famous) he lived in the warmth of the south of France. The rheumatism eventually crippled him (by 1912 he was confined to a wheelchair), but he continued to paint until the end of his life. In 1919, Renoir visited the Louvre to see his paintings hanging with the old masters. He died in the village of Cagnes-sur-Mer, French Riviera, on December 3.

In 1977 his Baigneuse Couchée fetched $ 660,00 at a auction sale in New York City. Two of Renoir's paintings have sold for more than $70 million : Bal au moulin de la Galette, Montmartre sold for $ 78.1 million in 1990.

Monday, November 19, 2007


John James Audubon was born in Santo Domingo, present-day Haiti, in 1785. He grew up in France, where his loving stepmother encouraged his interests in drawing and the outdoors. His father sent him to the United States in 1803 to avoid Napoleon's draft. Over the next 17 years, Audubon unsuccessfully wandered from career to career, and place to place.

In 1820 Audubon began his masterpiece, The Birds of America. From then on, he devoted most of his time to painting birds, with the intent of printing as engravings life-size portraits of all the kinds of birds in the United States.

Unable to secure financial backing in the United States, Audubon went to Europe in 1826. There he found both subscribers and engravers for the project. The first prints were made that same year.

Over the next twelve years, Audubon divided his time between London and America. When abroad, he supervised the engraving and coloring of the prints. In America, he traveled in search of birds to paint. He died in 1851.

The Birds of America by John James Audubon, is a fantastic representation of the flying species and more of the United States in the 19th century. There is now an Audubon Society that promotes the knowledge of Audubon and of the animal world of America.

The University of Pittsburgh is fortunate to own one of the rare, complete sets of John James Audubon’s Birds of America. It is considered to be the single most valuable set of volumes in the collections of the University Library System (ULS). Indeed, only 120 complete sets are known to exist.

One set containing 436 planches in color printed in London in 1827 went for sale on auction in 1977 and fetched $320,000. It was then the highest price reached by a printed book.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


Jean Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806) was Boucher's star pupil. His figures moves with a grace that links him with Tiepolo whose work he admired. He painted with a breadth and spontaneity reminiscent of Rubens. But Fragonard had the misfortune to outlive his era : his pictures became outmoded as the French Revolution approached. After 1789, he was reduced to poverty, supported ironically by Jacques Louis David who recognized his achievements and who made a fortune under the Napoleonic era.

Fragonard died virtually forgotten in they heyday of this Imperial era. This painting -whose full title is Psyche showing her sisters her gifts from Cupid- too had been forgotten by the public and the art dealers all together and when it was rediscovered in the ex-Rothschild House of the 7th Earl of Rosebery, Mentmore Towers, it was attributed as "The Toilet of Venus" by the French painter Carle van Loo ( 1705-1765). When the whole collections of Mentmore Towers went for sale, an expert from Christie's thought it could be attributed to Boucher which was quite a good bet by the way.

But when he checked on the Boucher's catalogue he did not find any mention of such a picture : so it was put on auction as attributed to van Loo and the auction house bought it in for
$8,800. After the sale, Christie's expert thought that the next possibility was Fragonard as he had worked 5 years in the studio of Boucher. The Wildenstein catalogue on Fragonard mentioned that he had painted a picture of this subject as a pupil but that it was "an untraced work."

After further expertise with the National Gallery London, Christie's resold it in 1978 for almost £ 500,000 ($850,000). It is now the property of the National Gallery which could have bought it a year earlier for 8,800 quid.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


A bottle of Lafite-Rothschild 1805 was sold on auction in London in 1978 for the modest sum of $ 14,524 . Today a bottle of Lafite-Rothschild cuvée 2006 is available for $368 but must be bought by case of 12 bottles which makes the whole purchase jump to $4,416. To me it is not Art anymore but sheer snobism to buy such a bottle of wine. And plain stupidity to drink it.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


Peak of stupidity or snobism, this 1787 bottle of Chateau Lafitte, stamped with the initial T.J (for Thomas Jefferson, later President of the USA) was sold in 1985 for $1.3 million to the heir of the Forbes group, Chris Forbes.

Chris Forbes who is by the way a very charming man came to London with his private (corporate) jet and immediately after the auction flew back to the USA in the hope to get in time to put the bottle on Thomas Jefferson's table which was on loan to the Forbes Museum from the Maryland Museum for the evening opening of an exhibition.

You do no want to know how much would cost in those circumstances the privilege to own the bottle of this prestigious vinegar. I am a wine amateur but the idea makes of me a Budweiser fanatic. Those super-riches have amusements of another nature. Are they nuts ? It is not even pretty. Anyway it will make happy a bunch of gullibles who will be be ecstatic and crack silly jokes about the price of one glass of Lafitte 1787 once owned by Jefferson.And it will make Mr Forbes feel powerful and richer in his little museum.


James Tissot (1836-1902) give us a glossy and accurate mirror image of European high society. He was at home both in Paris, where he lived and exhibited in the 1860s, and in London, where he spent a professionally successful decade after the fall of the Paris Commune in 1871. Tissot's art belongs to an international milieu of high fashion on both sides of the Channel, today he would depict people wearing Dior, Vuitton and others luxurious fashionable items.

This painting that should be called Banc de Jardin pour Riches considering the expensive fur skin which has been pulled on the bench represents his mistress Mrs Kathleen Newton and her kids. The phrase "Social Realism" is usually applied to art that reveals truths about the oppressed working class, but it would seem no less applicable to Tissot's documentary revelations about high society in the 1860s and 1870s. However to be realistic this Social Realism should be dubbed Capitalist Realism.

This Social Realistic picture was sold in 1983 for $842,000 (£561,000).The descendants of the people in the picture probably bought it to have a closer and better look at their glorious ancestors.

Friday, November 2, 2007


Jacob Abraham Camille Pissarro, known as Camille Pissarro, was born on July 10, 1830 on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas, Danish West Indies; to Abraham Gabriel Pissarro, of Sephardic (or "Morrano") Jewish ancestry, and Rachel Manzano-Pomié, a Dominican of Spanish descent. His parents sent him to Paris at age 12 to a small boarding school. It was there that the director, seeing his interest in art, advised him to take "advantage of his life in the tropics by drawing coconut trees." When he returned to St. Thomas in 1847, this advice had been taken to heart.

He moved to Paris in 1855 and studied there with the French landscape artist Jean Baptiste Camille Corot. He later became associated with the Barbizon school. Afterwards, he came under the influence of Claude Monet and other impressionists. During the Franco German War he lived in England, where he made a study of the landscapes of Joseph Mallord Turner. On his return to France he settled in Normandy. An active, productive Master of his art until the end, Camille Pissarro succumbed to blood poisoning on 13 November, 1903 in Le Havre, France.

His landscapes have a naturalism that places him close to the Barbizon school and a firm classical structure shared only by his good friend Paul Cézanne. This Blvd Montmartre in Paris is part of a series of the same scene that he painted under different weather conditions in 1897.

In 1973 it went on auction for £ 161,764 in London ($275,000). The scene to the right is another version of Blvd Montmartre at night which is now property of the National Gallery London. Whilst in England in the 70s and back in the 90s, Pissarro was introduced to the art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel who bought two of his London’ paintings. Durand-Ruel subsequently became the most important art dealer of the new school of French Inpressionism.

In March 1893, in Paris, Durand-Ruel organized a major exhibition of 46 of Pissarro's works along with 55 others by La Gandara. But while the critics acclaimed Gandara, their appraisal of Pissarro's art was less enthusiastic. During his lifetime, Camille Pissarro sold few of his paintings. By 2005, however, some of his works were selling in the range of $ 2 to 4 million.

Pissarro died in 1903 and was buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Jacopo Bassano del Grappa (1510-1592) also known as Jacopo da Ponte, painted this picture in 1542. Bassano started painting in the workshop of his father and then launched himself in the painting of a large variety of religious scenes. After 1560 he devoted his talent to pastural scenes that made him quite famous in Italy. Bassano specialized in the production of Biblical, pastoral scenes featuring peasants and animals. His paintings were admired for their richness of color and complex designs.

Influenced by Tintoretto and Titian, he established a workshop in Bassano with his four sons: Francesco the Younger (1549–1592), Girolamo (1566–1621), Giovanni Battista (1553–1613), and Leandro (1557–1622). They shared his style, and some works are difficult to attribute precisely.

In 1969 the infamous Norton Simon -who had once caused enormous trouble in a sale at Christie's - bought the painting for $ 655,200. It is still in the Norton Simon Art Foundation in Pasadena, Calif. The huge price paid by Simon underlined then a growing tendency that works of impeccable beauty, preservation and authenticity did not have to be by the biggest names like Rubens and Titian to fetch high prices.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770) was the sparkling star of eighteenth-century decorative painting in Italy. He was a virtuoso master of the fresco medium, sought after not only in Italy but also in Germany and Spain. As a colourist, Tiepolo is unsurpassed, progressing from the rather dark tonality of his early works to his characteristically sunny palette from the early 1730s.

Tiepolo was born in Venice, Italy. At 19 years of age, Tiepolo completed his first major commission, the Sacrifice of Isaac. By 1750, his reputation was firmly established throughout Europe and in 1753, he was richly in demand locally and abroad, where he was elected President of the Academy of Padua.

In 1761, Charles III commissioned from the painter a large ceiling fresco to decorate the throne room of the royal palace of Madrid where he died on March 27, 1770.

This picture -Allegory of Venus entrusting Eros to Chronos (292 x 190 cm.) painted in 1754-58- has a terrific history. At the turn of the XXth century, the House of Henri L. Bischoffsheim in Audley Street in Mayfair London was redecorated but nobody paid sufficient attention to the ceiling of a drawing-room that displayed this fantastic painting by Tiepolo. At the death of Mr. Bischoffsheim's widow in 1922, once more nobody paid attention to this ceiling and the House was acquired by the Egyptian embassy that totally overlooked the fantastic asset they had upon their head.

In 1962 an Italian expert, Pr. Antonio Morassi, published a catalogue of Tiepolo's paintings that mentioned this picture in Mayfair House and referred to an article of 1876 in which the author described the painting as a forming part of the ceiling of "one of the grandest houses in Mayfair, London, present whereabouts unknown."

This was not lost for everybody. In 1964, one director of Christie's was browsing through this book and checked who was now living in this house. When he saw that it was the United Arab Republic embassy he picked up his phone and asked for a visit from the Cultural Attaché. It was granted and here he found the Tiepolo on the ceiling. Five years later, the Ambassador decided that the picture represented a great fire risk and that it was not relevant to the UAR collections. So the Egyptian governement of Gamal Abdel Nasser decided to sell and to use the proceeds for the conservation of the temples in the Nile valley.

It was not easy to remove the Tiepolo from its place as the frame was screwed to the ceiling. When it finally came up for sale, it was bought by the National Gallery in London for 390,000 Guineas ($ 982,000). In the meantime a copy of the master was made by a local artist John Lewis for £ 350 which now proudly fills the emptiness left by the master's picture.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


Amedeo Clemente Modigliani (1884-1920) was an Italian artist born in Livorno of Jewish heritage, practicing both painting and sculpture who pursued his career for the most part in France. There he developed a unique style : today his graceful portraits and lush nudes at once evoke his name, but during his brief career few apart from his fellow artists were aware of his gifts. Modigliani had to struggle against poverty and chronic ill health, dying of tuberculosis and excesses of drink and drugs at the age of 35.

In 1965, the Young Farmer fetched £ 22,320 at Parke-Bernet in New York and Christie's sold it for £ 59,574 in 1969 in Tokyo. It was the first sale of Christie's in Japan which was a great success. In 2006, the portrait of the art dealer Paul Guillaune who helped Modigliani in his débuts went for $ 4.8 million under the hammer at Sotheby's to Nahmad Gallery, dealers in New York.

After the First World War, Modigliani returned to Paris. After several successful exhibitions in England, English collectors started to buy his paintings. But by the end of the year Modigliani became seriously ill with tuberculosis. On January 24 1920 he died. On the following day the pregnant his companion Jeanne Hébuterne committed suicide. A portrait of her went for $26.9 million in a sale in 2006 ; it had fetched $15.1 million in 1998.

The artist and his companion are buried together in the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Their orphan daughter Jeanne (1918-1984) was adopted by Modigliani’s sister in Florence; later she would write an important biography of her father Modigliani:Man and Myth.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


Rembrandt Harmenszon van Rijn, born 15 July 1606 in Leiden, was the son of a miller, Harmen Gerritsz. van Rijn (1568-1630), and his wife Neeltgen van Zuytbrouck (1568-1640). The youngest son of at least ten children, he left the University to study the fundamentals of painting with the Leiden artist Jacob Isaacsz. van Swanenburgh (1571-1638).

Rembrandt was enthusiastically praised by the secretary to the Prince of Orange, Constantijn Huygens (1596-1674) who admired particularly Rembrandt's ability to convey feeling through gesture and expression.

But in 1660 almost ruined Rembrandt had to turn himself into an art dealer to survive.

In 1663 a plague that ravaged Amsterdam claimed the life of his lifetime companion Hendrickje Stoffels . Four years later Titus married Madgalena van Loo (1642-1669), but the following year, in 1668, he also died, the victim of another plague epidemic. When Rembrandt died on 4 October 1669, he was buried in an unknown rented grave in the Westerkerk, Amsterdam.

This portrait of an old man was painted in 1651 and belonged to the collection of the Duke of Devonshire in his Chatsworth House in the Derbyshire (England). In 1969 it was auctioned off for 300,000 Gns ($ 756,000) to art dealer Edward Speelman of 175 Piccadilly, London.

A not very good self-portrait by Rembrandt appraised for $ 20/30,000 sold for $ 103,000 in April 2008. After his death Rembrandt came to oblivion. His painting of the Night Watch was refused by every art dealer and eventually was accepted by a gymnasium at the condition that a small portion of it at the top be trimmed to fit the height of the walls of the gymnasium.


Pieter Cornelis (Piet) Mondriaan, after 1912 Mondrian, ( 1872– 1944) was a Dutch painter. He was an important contributor to the De Stijl (The Style) art movement and group, which was founded by Theo van Doesburg. He evolved a non-representational form which he termed Neo-Plasticism . In 1912, Mondrian moved to Paris and changed his name (dropping an 'a' from Mondriaan) to emphasize his departure from life in the "artistic backwater" of Holland.

While in Paris, the influence of the style Cubism of Picasso and Braque appeared almost immediately in Mondrian's work. Paintings such as The Sea (1912) and his various studies of trees from that year still contain a measure of representation, but they are increasingly dominated by the geometric shapes and interlocking planes commonly found in Cubism.

Mondrian achieved full artistic maturity about 1921 and then he went on painting the same picture. His public was always small and he did not have a one-man exhibition until 1942. Today his paintings are hotly competed for but in his lifetime he sold only a few, and then very cheaply. He lived the life of a friendly hermit, his natural asceticism making poverty into a style.

In 1940, he left for New York City, where he would remain until his death.
The new canvases that Mondrian began in New York are even more startling, and indicate the beginning of a new idiom that was cut short by the artist's death . Piet Mondrian died of pneumonia on February 1, 1944 and was interred in the Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

Mondrian painted this Composition in 1930 that fetched the historical price record for an abstract picture of £ 1.5 million in 1983 (2.3 million dollars). It was bought by the powerful Japanese art dealer Shigeki Kameyama. In 1989 Kameyama bought Picasso's Au Lapin Agile on auction at Sotheby's for 40 millions dollars and De Kooning's Interchange for $20.68 million. Three years later he bought Andy Warhol's 1962 painting of images of Marilyn Monroe, which he sold later to the Cleveland Museum.

Since then a lot of riche Japanese collectors went bankrupt and have left the international Art market but still the prices of Art have continued their upwards movement.

Friday, October 12, 2007


Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) worked as an apprentice painter, painting flowers on porcelain plates. Having saved some money, in 1862 Renoir entered the Atelier Gleyre and there made friends with Monet, Sisley, Bazille and later Pissarro and Cézanne. Renoir achieved recognition earlier than his friends.

In 1879-80, he sent several portraits to the official Salon, among them
Portrait of the Actress Jeanne Samary and Portrait of Mme Charpentier and Her Children. In the 1880s, he abandoned Impressionism for what is often called the “dry style”. In 1886, the art dealer Durand-Ruel exhibited 32 of Renoir's paintings in New York, thus opening the American market for Impressionism. Renoir died in Cagnes on 3 December 1919 and was buried in Essoyes.

This picture painted in 1876 is an oil on canvas (65.9 x 49.8 cm.) represents Henriette Henriot, an actress at the Odéon theatre in Paris. Renoir painted several portraits of her, notably a Madame Henriot in a boy costume (below).
The picture above
was sold in 1962 for £ 5,500 only and fetched £ 33,875 in a sale in Tokyo, Japan in 1969. It is now on the walls of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, a gift from the Adele R. Levy Fund.

Renoir was one of the great worshippers of the female form, and he said `I never think I have finished a nude until I think I could pinch it.' One of his sons was the celebrated film director Jean Renoir (1894-1979), who wrote a lively and touching biography (Renoir, My Father) in 1962.

Currently most Renoir's works sell in between $100,000 and $ 2 million.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) was born at Fontenay-aux-Roses, near Paris, into the family of a high-ranking official in the French War Ministry. After an idyllic and happy childhood, in 1886, Pierre entered the University of Paris to study law. In 1893, he met 16-year-old Marthe de Méligny, of whose real name of Maria Boursin Bonnard was not aware of until they got married 32 years later. From their meeting a large part of his art revolved around her notably this veritable hymn to voluptuousness.

This woman spread out for all to see after lovemaking is the epitome of unveiled intimacy, violent, passionate and sombre and, in the end, very "fin de siècle" ; she is certainly his Marthe.

After seeing this painting, the famous art dealer and publisher Ambroise Vollard asked Bonnard to illustrate a collection of Paul Verlaine's poetry. His paintings of the late 1890s are very personal and intimate like this Indolente (1899).

In 1918 Bonnard was made the honorary president of a society of young French painters. In 1926 he bought a house named 'Le Bosquet' at Le Cannet on the Côte d'Azur. The house remained his main place of residence and work until his death. The same year, 1926 year, he visited the USA.

In 1983 this picture sold for £ 302,400 ($471,744). It is an oil on canvas, 96x106 cm now in the Musée d'Orsay, Paris.

Thursday, October 4, 2007


Willem de Kooning ( 1904 – 1997) was an abstract expressionist painter, born in Rotterdam. His early artistic training included eight years at the Rotterdam Academy of Fine Arts and Techniques. In the 1920s he worked as an assistant to the art director of a Rotterdam department store. In 1926, De Kooning entered the United States as a stowaway on a British freighter and in 1927 he settled in Manhattan. In October 1935, De Kooning began to work on the WPA (Works Progress Administration) Federal Art Project, and he won the Logan Medal of the arts.

Developing a bold style of gestural paintings, he produced figure paintings and abstract, urban landscapes throughout the 1950s. In the following decade, pastoral themes replaced the urban violence of his earlier expressionist work. In 1963, de Kooning moved from a Manhattan loft to his newly built studio in the East Hampton community of the Springs. The North Atlantic light and flat beaches of Long Island inspired the luminous paintings of de Kooning's later career.

He made many canvasses about women, all distorted and rather monstruously looking. For that reason, he has sometimes been accused of being a woman-hater.

Known for his draftsman's hand and "bravura brushstroke," de Kooning never settled into a single style. "You have to change to stay the same," he would say, and following his own wisdom, he constantly reinvented himself.

In the 80s, Willem de Kooning was diagnosed with, in all probability, Alzheimer's disease. After his wife, Elaine, died on February 1, 1989, his daughter, Lisa, and his lawyer, John Eastman were granted guardianship over a Wilhem De Kooning, alcoholic and sick.

Woman-hater or not, his work was appreciated and sought after well before his passing : in 1983, this picture of Two Women fetched $1.2 million on auction.

When Willem de Kooning died in 1997, he was remembered as the first modern art star. His giant, eruptive works, long career and turbulent lifestyle made him one of the most complex and romantic figures of the 20th century.

Friday, September 28, 2007


French Impressionist Claude Monet (1840-1926) painted in 1901 this oil on canvas (25x36 ins) representing Charing Cross bridge in London.

In 1899 Monet began painting London scenes, seeking to elicit an emotional response through the use of color and light. Monet wrote, "The Thames was all gold. It was beautiful, so I set to work in a frenzy following the sun and its reflections in the water."

Monet stayed in London after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 with his friend Alfred Sisley and both were impressed by Turner's and Constable's work.

This picture is part of the Ryerson collection and was auctioned off in 1963 for $ 64,680.

Monday, September 24, 2007


This is not a joke nor a painting but a real telephone receiver made by Salvador Dali (1904-1989) in the form of a lobster in 1936. In the early 1930s, Dalí promoted the idea of the Surrealist object, of which this is a classic example. The Surrealists valued the mysterious and provocative effect of such unexpected conjunctions. Dalí, in particular, believed that his objects could reveal the secret desires of the unconscious. Lobsters and telephones had strong sexual connotations for him, and he drew a close analogy between food and sex. He made this Lobster Telephone for Edward James, the British collector who was the most active patron of Surrealist artists in the 1930s, notably of Salvador Dali.

In 1981 the Tate Gallery Liverpool bought it for £ 19,000 ($42,940). Prior to the sale, in the 40s, this curious phone was at the house of Edward James in London where he used to host lots of artists or their relatives. At the beginning of the war, Elsa Schiaparelli's niece, Bianca, was staying at James' s house but the Italian designer warned James that she was a spy. When Italy declared war on Britain, the police came to the house and saw Bianca talking to a friend with this telephone. At the end of the conversation, she hung up saying "good bye, darling." They were so convinced that they had encountered a mad woman talking to a lobster that they left without questioning her."

Thursday, September 20, 2007


This image was painted by Dirk Bouts (1410-1420/1475). Netherlandish painter, born probably in Haarlem and active mainly in Louvain, where he was city painter from 1468. His major commissions there were the Last Supper altarpiece for the church of S. Pierre (still in situ, 1464-67) and two panels (out of a projected set of four) on the Justice of Emperor Otto for the Hotel de Ville (Musees Royaux, Brussels, 1470-75).

His style was highly influential and was continued by his two sons, Dieric the Younger (c. 1448-90/91) and Aelbrecht (c. 1450/60-1549). Particularly popular were small devotional images of the Mater Dolorosa and Christ Crowned with Thorns.

This painting is now at the Musée Royal des Beaux-Arts at Antwerp (Belgium) and was bought in 1965 for $ 44,100. Bouts painted other Madonna and Child, one of the most famous being held at the Musée du Louvre in Paris, France.

Friday, September 14, 2007


In July 2008, a Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) show at the Metropolitan in NYC was insured to the tune of $1.2 billion. This 149-work show was the first -- and last -- serious attempt ever mounted outside of Great Britain to present the full scope of the works of William Turner. It was fantastic.

Turner was a magician and poet of color and light and atmosphere who transforms grim reality into a surreal, dreamy land which is both intimate and universal at the same time. As Constable used to say "Turner has airy visions painted with tinted steam".

He was born in London in 1775 and his father was a barber. His mother died when he was very young. The boy received little schooling. His father taught him how to read, but this was the extent of his education except for the study of art. By the age of 13 he was making drawings at home and exhibiting them in his father's shop window for sale. He started as a watercolorist and was the preminent watercolorist of his time. He quickly achieved a fine reputation and was elected an associate of the Royal Academy. In 1802, when he was only 27, Turner became a full member. He then began traveling widely in Europe.

Turner left a large fortune that he hoped would be used to support what he called "decaying artists." His collection of paintings was bequeathed to his country. At his request he was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral in 1851 when he died.

This picture The Temple of Jupiter Panellenius restored was sold for £ 2,100 in 1876 and fetched £ 324,000 ($ 518,400) in 1981. Today part of the Richard L.Feigen gallery in Chicago, Ill.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) painted this "Jardin du Poète "(the Garden of the Poet) while he was in Arles, South of France, in the late 80s where he painted more than 200 canvases in 15 months. He became enthusiastic for the idea of founding an artists' co-operative at Arles and towards the end of the year he was joined by Gauguin. But as a result of a quarrel between them van Gogh suffered the crisis in which occured the famous incident when he cut off his left ear (or part of it).

The Jardin, part of the fabulous Ford's collection that went on sale in New York on May 13th 1980, fetched in presence of an audience of 1,300 people the fantastic sum of $5.2 million.

Poor Vincent had sold only one painting during his lifetime (
Red Vineyard at Arles; Pushkin Museum, Moscow, made in Arles, November 1888, Oil on Canvas, 75 x 93 cm), and was little known to the art world at the time of his death, but his fame grew rapidly thereafter. Van Gogh shot himself on 29 July 1890, just 20 months after painting The Red Vineyard and only five months after it was sold. His brother Theo died the following year and Gauguin left France for Tahiti. For the vignerons of The Red Vineyard, unaware of the artistic turmoil in their midst, life probably went on much as normal.

In the picture to the left which is the first of the three vineyards painted by Vincent van Gogh just before his death, the artist appears to have depicted with considerable accuracy a virus-infected vineyard. In September 1888 (two months before The Red Vineyard, suggesting a protracted harvest), he had painted his first vineyard canvas, The Green Vineyard, a daytime rather than evening representation of the same subject. Among the green sprawl of the vines are hints of red. The red leaves are indicative of' the leafroll virus that reduces yield and delays ripening, as well as suggesting the presence of phylloxera. This was a colossal problem in France at the time, ravaging Provence's vineyards towards the end of the 19th century.

Over 20,000 people visited the 5 days exhibition prior to the Ford's sale. The total of the sale reached $ 18.3 million. Henri Ford II had said that he would come to the sale but then told the auctioneers that there was a strike in Detroit and that he preferred not to be seen at the sale :"It would look very bad, he said, if I was seen to have made 10 million (the amount of the estimate) or more while I was telling the automobile constructors to get stuffed for $1.5." When the autioneers told him the sale had made 18 millions, he was nonplussed and said:"Well done, Jesus, people are crazy."

Sunday, September 9, 2007


In spite of his French name, Martin Carlin (1730-1785 ) was born in Germany and emigrated to Paris to become an ébéniste . He settled there with other German and Flemish craftsmen and took employment in the workshop of Jean-François Oeben, whose sister he married.

He was never famous nor rich during his lifetime. Until his death in 1785, Martin Carlin was the ébéniste most frequently employed by the marchands-merciers to mount porcelain plaques on furniture; this piece is likely to have been made for one of them.

It wont be a consolation to his dead body to know that in 1972 a secretaire like this one sold for $ 312,500 and that two centuries after his death the same piece fetched exactly one million dollars on auction.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007


Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, 1st Marquis of Púbol (1904 – 1989), was a Spanish Catalan surrealist painter born in Figueras, Catalonia, Spain. Dalí was a skilled draftsman, best known for the striking and bizarre images in his surrealist work. His painterly skills are often attributed to the influence of Renaissance masters. His best known work, The Persistence of Memory, was completed in 1931. Salvador Dalí's artistic repertoire also included film, sculpture, and photography.

The most notorious of the Surrealists because of his outrageous self-promotion, encouraged by his greedy wife Gala, who had been married to Paul Eluard before, Dali is IMHO one of the most talented painter and draftman of all times. His eccentric megalomania that was only a provocative game and a form of self-derision that few people really understood have pleagued him all his life. But he has his fans and admirers because his genius is unequivocal and the troubling charm that his work exudes will attract amateurs and the general public for the times to come.

His Enigme du Désir (Desire enigma), ma mère, ma mère, is symptomatic of the incomprehension that falls on Dali's work at times : it represents an indescriptible object that has no sense, no real form, no meaning. Probably like the desire itself was the message that Dali tried to convey.

This picture made in 1929 was bought in 1946 by Mr Oskar Schlag, a psychoanalyst living in Zürich, who hung it in his waiting room to see his clients's reactions. In 1981 the Staatsgemaldesammlungen Munchen bought it for £ 453,600 ( $ 816,180).

Sunday, September 2, 2007


Johann Gutenberg’s Bible, the first real book to be printed (in Latin) using the technique of printing (movable type) which Gutenberg invented in the 1450s, was initially owned by the Benedictine monastery, S. Jacobus in Würzburg, Franconia. There are copies on paper and copies on velum.

There are 48 known copies of the Book of which 6 are in Great Britain. The British Museum owns two copies on velum, one was bequeathed to it in 1846 by
British politician Thomas Grenville. It was bought at MacCarthy-Reagh's sale in 1817 for 6260 francs which was a fortune for the time.

Apart from the two copies of the Gutenberg Bible in the British Library there are 46 other complete copies of the Bible or substantial fragments worldwide. The country with the most copies is Germany (12), the United States has eleven and the United Kingdom six and not eight as falsely stated by Wikipedia. The Bodleian Library in Oxford has a complete copy printed on paper with a fascinating history. It was given by Erhard Neninger, mayor of Heilbronn, to the local Carmelite monks, probably in 1475. In 1633, during the Thirty Years War, they handed it over to the Swedish general Axel Oxenstierna (1583-1654), in order to buy off the army. The Bodleian Library bought it in 1793 for £100 from the French cardinal Étienne Charles de Loménie de Brienne.

There is a copy in Cambridge University Library. It has been digitalised, and is accessible from within Cambridge University. This copy is of special interest because, around 1469, Heinrich Eggestein, a printer in Strasbourg, used it for a new edition of the Bible which he produced.

Eton College has a copy on paper, notable for having retained a very early binding, made in the German university city of Erfurt. It is richly decorated, perhaps also in Erfurt.

At Lambeth Palace in London, the palace of the Archbishop of Canterbury, there is a copy of volume 2, printed on vellum. This copy is of great interest as it was decorated in England, very beautifully and very expensively. The Gutenberg Bible was sold out already before printing was finished and it was evidently distributed widely from the earliest days. This may well be the first printed book to have reached England, but its first owner is unknown.

The John Rylands Library in Manchester has a copy on paper. Nothing is known about its early history. Its first recorded owner was George John, second Earl Spencer (1758-1834), ancestor of the late Lady Diana.

The copy now in the National Library of Scotland was acquired by the Advocates' Library, shortly before 1806 from David Steuart, Lord Provost of Edinburgh. It contains splendid South German decoration.

The first copy that attracted attention was discovered about 1760 among the books of the French statesman Cardinal Jules Mazarin. The Bible, printed at Mainz, probably required several years of work; it began in 1452 and was completed not later than 1455 and printed in an edition of about 180 copies. The text of the Bible is Latin. Colored initials and other illuminations were hand drawn after the pages were printed. The Gutenberg Bible lacks many print features that modern readers are accustomed to, such as pagination, word spacing, indentations, and paragraph breaks.

In 1978, the General Theological Seminary's Gutenberg Bible was given for sale on auction to Christie's : it sold in New York for $2.2 million. In 1987 an other Gutenberg Bible went for sale from the Carrie Estelle Donehy Foundation and found a buyer for $ 5.9 million.