Saturday, February 24, 2007


This painting by William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) begun in 1886 and finally exhibited in 1905 is now in the Manchester Art Gallery (England). Initially the Lady of Shallot is a poem by the Victorian poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892). It has been illustrated by William hunt, Dante Rossetti and John Waterhouse.

The Lady of Shalott is said to be representative of the dilemna that face artists to create work about and celebrating the world, or to enjoy the world by simply living in it. Thus the Lady is placed in a chaotic scene of swirling yarn which she appears to be tangled up in. Perhaps one of her most striking features is her explosion of wavy, windblown hair.

In 1961 this picture was sold for only 9500 Guineas (1 Gn = 1 Pound and 1 Schilling).

Friday, February 23, 2007


Rene Magritte (1898-1967 ) was born in Belgium. He spent his childhood and youth in Charleroi, an industrial city where life was very hard. In 1913 his mother committed suicide by drowning herself in a river, she was found later her head mysteriously wrapped in a cloth.

From 1916-1918 he studied off and on at the Art academy in Brussels. He began painting in 1920. He discovered surrealism around 1925 and in 1926 he painted "The Lost Jockey" which according to Magritte himself was his first successful surrealist painting.

But in 1926 he began working at a furious pace, averaging a new painting every six days and had a one-man exhibition the following year. Magritte was always a leftist and three times joined the Communist party but he couldn't stand the thought of his art being forced to follow ideological party lines. All the posters he did for the Communist party were rejected by its leadership.

His trade mark style is naturalistic-surrealist. His paintings represent recognizable scenes or objects and unites them with a world of dream and fantasy. In 1956 Magritte was awarded the Guggenheim Foundation artists fellowship, after that he began to photograph.
René Magritte died in 1967.

"Le Domaine Enchanté" is a suite of eight paintings that Magritte painted in 1953. Together, they provided the model for the largest single work in the oeuvres of this great Belgian Surrealist, a mural 72 meters in length installed in "The Chandelier Room" of the casino at Knokke-le Zoute, Belgium, a decor uniting several of Magritte's most magical, best known motifs. This painting was sold on auction in 1981 for $1.7 million.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


George Romney (1734-1802) was a noted English portrait painter and one of the leading artists in Britain during the last quarter of the 18th century. He was too a a prolific painter : at the height of his career he was more fashionable than Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough as a society portraitist.

In the last fifteen years of his working life, under the spell of his favourite model and muse Emma Hart, later the celebrated Lady Hamilton, he produced a sequence of Shakespearean and other fancy subjects which count among the most imaginative and poetic canvases of their time.

In 1773 he visited Italy and in 1775 he moved to London and into studios in Cavendish Square, part of the newly fashionable West End area. In 1776 Romney received patronage of Lord Gower and he painted this picture of his wife and kids at the same date. He died in 1802 in Kendal, Cumbria. He is a kinsman of the US politician George Romney.

In 1972, the Gower family portrait sold for $ 482,000, a good for this excellent artist who had however fetched as much as £60,900 for the delicious portrait of Mrs Davies Davenport (right) which was painted between 1982 and 1984 and bought in 1926 by the famous Lord Duveen (1869-1939). Duveen was the art dealer who sold so many Rembranbdts that people thought he was specializing in the Dutch painter.

This huge price for the time however came to a shock to the shrewd sir Duveen (he was not yet Lord) who was in Vittel for his usual summer season at the time of the sale and had commissioned a colleague to bid on his behalf. At
$300,000 in 1926, the Mrs Davies Davenport was the biggest price paid for a Romney so far. In comparison, the $482,ooo paid in 1972 for the Gower Family seemed inconsistent. The Davenport portrait is now at the National Gallery London.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


This picture by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) was painted in 1905 and belongs to his "période rose" following a depressed "période bleue". It is a moving picture of a young arlequin looking with compassion at a wounded acrobat who hurted his arm during a show in the circus. Pablo Picasso was then living in Paris and used to go often to the circus Medrano with his Fernande Olivier, a model, who would be his mistress for seven years.

It is the first Picasso to be exhibited (at the Paris Show in 1905) and the first also to be illustrated in Guillaume apollinaire's magazine
La Plume. It was also exposed to the Venice Biennale of 1905 and was eventually the first painting by the artist to enter a museum in 1911, the Stadtische Museum in Elberfeld (Germany).

In 1937 it was confiscated by Paul Josef Goebbels, minister of Propaganda of the Nazi governement in Germany, as representative of the "degenerated art" or "entartete kunst". It was sold by the Nazis in the galerie Fischer in Lucerne (Switzerland) to a Belgian collector named Roger Hanssen for 80,000 FS. Until 1988, it went into different private ownership.

It was then sold in 2 minutes at an auction held by Christie's of London to Mr. Akio Nishino, art director of Mitsubishi Department Store for 19 million pounds, i.e. 38.4 million dollars with the buyer premium.

Monday, February 19, 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 :
The Red Vineyard, created in 1888, now on display in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, Russia.

Van Gogh made between 1888 and 1889 seven studies of the Sunflowers, some are quite dark, others more flashy and colorful. The firts one was destroyed by a fire during WW2. He also made studies of cut sunflowers. He was very produ of his paintings of Sunflowers and wrote to hisbrother Theo :"You may know that the peony is Jeannin's, the hollyhock belongs to Quost, but the sunflower is mine in a way."

This particular Sunflowers (39.5 ins by 30.25 ins) came for sale in 1987 from the Chester Beatty (the US King of copper) collection and was sold as the result of the death of his widow. Before the auction, the picture was taken to Zurich, Tokyo and New York. The Trustees were impressed and gave the sale to Christie's. It was then the last one in private hands. The sale took place on March 30th 1987 and was a great occasion to anyone in the art world : even luminaries like Jeffrey Archer and Baron Heinrich Thyssen had to be seen at the sale.

The room's atmosphere was electrical when the auctioneer started the sale at an initial offer of £ 5 million. The bidding went quickly up in £500,000 steps to 20 million. The bidding wnet into a nail-biting duel between two guys bidding on the telephone. Finally, one of them James Roundell knocked him down for £ 22,500,000 without the premium which made the final price to £ 24,750,000 ($39.9 million). The actual buyer was the Japanese corporation Yasuda Fire and Marine Insurance that had his own private museum. Between October and December 1987, 170,000 people in Japan paid to see the picture in the Yasuda Museum. The Australian magnate Alan Bond had commissioned Christie's to bid for it up to 22 million pounds.

Six months later, in Novembrer 1987, the Irises by van Gogh went for sale on auction in New York. The Irises was painted by van Gogh while he was at the asylum at Saint Paul-de-Mausole in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France, in the last year before his death.

This time the auction took place after the Black Monday
of the 19th October when the Dow Jones lost 27% of its capitalization in one session of the markets. Even Christie's shares dropped more than 400 pences from a higher of 700p to a low point of 239p on December 10th. However the crash had little effect on the Art market due to a) the weakness of the $ b) the low world interest rates.

On the 11th of November, the buoyancy of the Art market was demonstrated when Sotheby's Parke Bernet sold the Irises for
53.9 million dollars to the Australian tycoon Alan Bond. The sale made the headlines of every newspaper in the world but unknown to the public (and to the media who never know anything significant) half the sum was advanced to Alan Bond by the vendor. Some months later, Bond was declared bankrupt and the Irises never stayed in his offices for his colleagues to be impressed. It so became -allegedly- the most expensive painting ever sold, setting a record which stood for two and a half years but actually it was a total usurpation as Bond never paid this price. Irises is now owned by the J. Paul Getty Trust and is on display at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, USA.

The record was beaten by Van Gogh's
Portrait of Dr. Gachet sold for $82.5 million on May 15, 1990 at Christie's, New York to the Japanese businessman Ryoei Saito who died in 1996.

Vincent van Gogh's
Portrait of Dr. Gachet was painted in June 1890 at Auvers-sur-Oise, during the last months of his life before his suicide. He made two versions of the painting, which differ in color. Both are oil-on-canvas and measure 67 by 56 cm (26" by 22") in size. The current location of the painting is not known, probably somewhere in the vault of a Japanese bank or two as the rumor says that its property is shared by two banks.

Saturday, February 17, 2007


Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal) (1697-1768) painted this View of the Old Horse Guards and Banqueting Hall from St Jame's Palace in 1749. Canaletto was born in Venice and he was a son of the painter Bernardo Canal, hence his mononym Canaletto ("little Canal").

As a painter he created vedute esatte (precise views), and also vedute ideale (imaginary or fantastic views), which are known as capricci, in these works Canaletto drew together architectural subjects from different sources and arranged them in an imaginative form to create a very consciously fictional and poetic image.

Canaletto painted two views of the same subject, the one below being today the property of the Tate Gallery London. In 1746 Canaletto arrived in London; he worked in England intermittently until 1755. His first works in England were the views of the Thames and the recently completed Westminster Bridge. In 1755 the artist returned to Venice permanently. In 1763 Canaletto was finally elected to the Venetian Academy of Fine Arts. His admission had been rejected previously, probably because view painting was not highly regarded by academicians. Canaletto died of a fever aged 71, on April 10, 1768.

The first picture on this post was sold in 1973 to an art dealer named Roy Miles, who had previously run a ladie's hairdressing salon, for £156,000 ($241,000). He was very much pleased later on when the Mellon Center for Studies in British Art let him know they would like to buy it. The Centre was founded in 1970 through a generous grant from Paul Mellon, KBE to Yale University.

Friday, February 16, 2007


This very nice picture is the work of Rogier van der Weyden (1400, Tournai-1464,Brussels), a Flemish painter (French Rogier de la Pasture) who, with the possible exception of Jan van Eyck, was the most influential northern European artist of his time. Though most of his work was religious, he produced secular paintings (now lost) and some sensitive portraits.

In spite of a tremendous career, considerable works and enormous influence during his life, the fame of Rogier van der Weyden quickly waned, and no painting by him had been signed or dated. By the end of the 16th century the biographer Carel van Mander had referred mistakenly to two Rogiers in Het Schilderboek (1603; "Book of Painters"), and by the middle of the 19th century his fame and art had all but been forgotten. Only through a meticulous evaluation of the documents have scholars over the past century been able to reconstruct Rogier's work and to restore the reputation of one of 15th-century Flanders' leading masters.

This picture shows St Ivo, bishop of Chartres cathedral, one of the most notable bishop of Rance at the time of the Investiture struggles and the most important canonist before Gratian in the Occident, born of a noble family about 1040, he died in 1116. In 1968, one director of Christie's saw at the house of Lady Baird a painting that seemed to him "one of the most beautiful, important Flemish pictures in the world." For two years, he researched the picture to establish the authenticity of the St Ivo of Chartres, known in his time as the "lawer of the poor".

After having established the authenticity of the St Ivo, Christie's talked Lady Baird into private sale on behalf of the National Gallery. It took months because Lady Baird was subjected to estate duty and the National Gallery had limited means. A gross price of £ 800,000 was finally established and when allowance has been made for estate duty and capital gains tax, the net cost for the Gallery was less than £ 500,000.

Saturday, February 3, 2007


Jasper Johns (1930- ), born in Augusta, Georgia, and raised in South Carolina, moved in 1949 to New York City, where he enrolled in a commercial art school for two semesters. Back in New York, following his service in the army (ca. 1950–51), Johns became acquainted with artist Robert Rauschenberg, composer John Cage, and dancer Merce Cunningham.

By the mid- to late 1950s Johns had already achieved fame with his paintings of targets, numerals, and American flags, and his work was exhibited in prominent museums and galleries in New York. "White Flag" of 1955, recently acquired by the Metropolitan from the artist's own collection, exemplifies Johns's early style, which engendered a wide range of subsequent art movements, among them Pop Art, Minimal Art, and Conceptual Art.

From the MOMA site :"Beginning with a flag (198 cm x 306 cm) that has no space around it, that has the same size as the painting, we see that it is not a painting of a flag. The roles are reversed: beginning with the flag, a painting was made. Beginning, that is, with structure, the division of the whole into parts corresponding to the parts of a flag, a painting was made which both obscures and clarifies the underlying structure."

If you can understand anything to this gibberish you are more sophisticated than me. Having said that Jasper Johns is a very successful artist and in 1988 this banal White Flag was sold for the crazy amount of 7 million dollars. The buyer was the Swedish real estate speculator and vintage car collector Hans Thulin.

The night before, Thulin had bid up to
16.8 million dollars for False Start (1959) by Jasper Johns too but was overbid by Samuel Irving Newhouse, Jr. , publisher of Advance Publications who knocked down the painting for $17 million. In 2007, it was privately sold again by David Geffen to hedge fund manager Kenneth Griffin for $ 80 million. The canvas had been bought in 1960 by art collector Robert Scull from Jasper's agent Leo Castelli for $3,150.

Some critics think interesting to say that the White Flag is "an incredible picture", being the ghost of the American flag consisting of encausting and newprint and blown up to just over four feet by six feet.

The late 80s were really the beginning of an inflation in Art prices that continues to this day with the coming on the scene of China, India, Russia and the Middle East. Furthermore, as long as the interest rates are low and the dollar weak, works of art on the international market will find buyers.

Friday, February 2, 2007


Claude Monet (1840-1925 ), founder of the Impressionism movement, broke free from the confines of traditional art to evolve into a groundbreaking landscape painter. Part of a series painted to capture a scene in various phases of daylight, his “Japanese Bridge ,” features a wooden footbridge spanning his Giverny home’s lily pond. The beautiful water landscape is given the remarkable depth of a view seen through a window.

It was part of the series of the Nympheas (waterlilies) that Monet painted from his home in Giverny, France. "It took me time to understand my waterlilies. I had planted them for the pleasure of it; I grew them without ever thinking of painting them", he said once.

In 1988 the Pont Japonais was sold in auction in London for £5.5 million.