Miscellaneous – Art & Antiques Magazine http://www.artandantiquesmag.com For Collectors of the Fine and Decorative Arts Thu, 24 May 2018 21:50:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/cropped-artandantiques_red_icon-32x32.png Miscellaneous – Art & Antiques Magazine http://www.artandantiquesmag.com 32 32 Battle Gear http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/2017/09/antique-armor/ Tue, 26 Sep 2017 17:49:50 +0000 http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/?p=5560 Continue reading ]]> Antique arms and armor target collectors’ imaginations with deadly accuracy.

a pair of deluxe cased percussion pistols for two shots, Anton Vincent Lebeda, Prague, circa 1850

a pair of deluxe cased percussion pistols for two shots, Anton Vincent Lebeda, Prague, circa 1850.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) an embossed French cuirass, circa 1560–70 A German hand and a half sword Samurai armor in the classic style of the Tale of Genji A North Italian half-armor probably made for a prince of Savoy, circa 1600. A South German tournament helmet a composite cap-a-pie tournament armor a pair of deluxe cased percussion pistols for two shots, Anton Vincent Lebeda, Prague, circa 1850

“Back off, buddy, or I’ll end you.” That’s the message behind pretty much everything that falls under the heading of arms and armor. Some pieces shout it louder than others, but the message is clear, no matter if it was designed to kill a foe cleanly and quickly, or to protect its wearer, or to scare the enemy on sight in hopes that he’d surrender without the bother of spilling blood. The category spans millennia and covers almost anything that was made for combat, or made to resemble something used in combat. It is absurdly huge, as well, ranging from ancient material up to relatively recent firearms.

Modern collectors first encounter arms and armor in a museum rather than on a battlefield, and that’s not due to trends in warfare. A strong arms and armor display is worth every penny to a museum. It draws crowds, and it pulls in people who are the toughest to engage—boys and grown men who might otherwise think museums are not for them.

Dirk Breiding, the J.J. Medveckis Associate Curator of Arms and Armor at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, cites internal research showing that one out of two patrons visits the arms and armor galleries. “It was a very good result, and it’s a good bargaining chip with the administration,” he says. Jeffrey Forgeng curated the collection at the Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester, Mass., which closed in 2013. The Worcester Art Museum (WAM) accepted much of the Higgins collection and hired Forgeng. He reports that after the WAM installed Higgins arms and armor in its medieval galleries, “it went from one of the least-visited galleries to one of the most popular.” In fact, Forgeng’s professional path began with boyhood trips to see the arms and armor collection at the Met, “which was a treat for me on a Saturday.” By the age of 10, he was exploring other areas of the museum, but he ended up returning to his first love for a living.

Red Finer, director of the arms and armor gallery founded in London by his father, Peter Finer, can testify to the lure of his wares, particularly armor. “We’re the only [arms and armor] shop. It’s an opportunity to get closer to the pieces. Ninety-nine percent of people on the earth have never had a chance to get close to armor,” he says. “People are drawn to it. They want to touch it.” Though weapons certainly have their fans, armor seems to strike a deeper, more resonant chord, maybe because it suggests the shape of a person. “The more anatomical it is, in terms of pleasing the eye as a human figure, the more valuable it is,” says William Fagan of Faganarms in Clinton Township, Mich.

If you’re willing to substitute an open mind for an open wallet, you can find many entry points for the arms and armor field. James Julia, founder of an eponymous auction house in Maine with specialties that include American-made firearms, reports that today’s new arrivals focus on items used in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq. He says that in the 1950s, bidders sought firearms from before and after the Revolutionary War; by the 1980s, they wanted Civil War-era guns; and by the turn of the century, they were seeking weapons from the world wars. Fagan finds that popular culture influences what people ask him for. After the Pirates of the Caribbean movies came out, he received calls for swords that were used for piracy in the islands where the films were set. Fagan offered Caribbean cup-hilted rapiers, a weapon that fit the bill perfectly.

The priciest objects tend to be complete suits of parade armor from the 18th century and earlier. Parade armor is the knight’s equivalent of his Sunday best. It’s an exquisitely decorated armor that could withstand a fight, but which he donned for the same reason that a peacock spreads his tail feathers—to strut his stuff. “Parade armor only comes to market incredibly rarely,” says Thomas Del Mar, a London dealer who auctions in association with Sotheby’s and who dispersed some of the Higgins collection. “If you only collect high-quality parade armor, it’s tough to build up a collection of more than a dozen pieces in a lifetime.” Great examples of antique armor sell well, regardless. In July, Sotheby’s London auctioned an early 17th-century Milanese three-quarter length armor for just over £1 million ($1.3 million) against an estimate of £300,000–500,000 ($388,000–646,000). Del Mar, who helped write the lot notes, deemed it “the best seen at auction for four decades” for its type.

Though suits of armor were expensive when new and maybe more expensive as antiques, it didn’t make sense for fathers to hand them down to their sons in the same way that they would a fine watch, and not merely because suits of armor were pieces of military technology. They were items of haute couture, too. “Nobody wanted to be wearing his dad’s armor. It was social suicide,” Forgeng says. “It was a highly fashion-conscious society. Nobody wanted to wear armor that was out of date.” Breiding adds a keen observation about the connection between ultra-pricey luxuries of the past and the present that are sculpted in metal: “If you want a fantastic car, you buy it from southern Germany or northern Italy. If you wanted to buy the best suit of armor, you went to southern Germany or northern Italy. The infrastructure was always there, in that respect.”

Suits of parade armor are scarcest, but that doesn’t mean that less fancy examples are any cheaper or easier to get. Like most things that are assembled from dozens of individual components, suits of armor have a tendency to drift apart as the years turn into decades and the decades yield to centuries. “Finding full suits of armor on the market today is next to impossible. The demand is much greater than the pieces actually available. Only a few suits appear on the international market each year,” says Robert Weis of Hermann Historica in Munich, Germany. “So many collectors focus on buying armor parts, often trying to put suits together from matching parts they have been acquiring over the years. Helmets have always been the most important parts of European armor, so, especially, closed helmets are very sought-after. There are even collectors focusing on helmets only, not bothering with other armor parts.”

The rarest suits are homogenous—those that are composed of their original pieces and kept together through time. Anything else is a composite, a suit that is assembled from parts that are period-correct. In 2009, before Breiding arrived at Philadelphia, the museum scored what he deemed “a stunning coup” when it acquired a complete set of horse armor along with a complete set of human armor. Both were from the early 16th century, both were made in Germany and decorated with the same technique, and both were homogenous. The only way the two sets could have been better is if they were deliberately created to go together. “That was probably the most important arms and armor acquisition in the field in recent memory,” Breiding says.

David Williams, a Bonhams specialist in antique arms and armor, says, “Now more than ever, collectors want quality and condition, and really, the most important is condition.” When speaking of antique guns and crossbows and other shooting weapons, condition includes whether or not the thing can still do what it was built to do. In general, collectors want them to be capable of firing, even if they’ll never be used again. “Functionality goes with condition,” he says. “It’s important that they can be shot. If it’s in good condition, it can be fired under the right conditions, but it’s being bought as an ornament.”

Still, we are talking about arms and armor here. If a piece is damaged in a way that tells a thrilling story, it can be more tantalizing than an identical piece that’s survived without a scratch. In WAM’s medieval galleries, there’s a circa-1500 heavy steel German jousting armor that has deep gouges in the neck. “It gives you a fabulous window on the intensity of jousting,” Forgeng says. “It speaks to the impact delivered by jousting spears.” WAM also has an early-1600s German breastplate that was patched together after taking a few bullets. “It’s clearly an object that saved the life of its wearer on multiple occasions. If it had completely broken, it would have been scrapped,” he says. “It’s got a lot of personality to it because of the damage.” Del Mar recalls selling for mid-five figures “a wonderful helmet with cuts to the left-hand side of the skull, struck by a right-handed opponent. It added to the charm.”

Eastern arms and armor are about as coveted as Western material. Last November, Sotheby’s caused a stir when it offered the first Chinese Imperial firearm ever to come to auction. Dubbed “The Supreme Number One,” it fetched £1.9 million ($2.5 million) against an estimate of £1–1.5 million ($1.3–1.9 million).

Barry Ellsworth, a dealer in Santa Fe, N.M., handles top-of-the-line homogenous samurai armor. He says that it’s easier to get full suits of antique samurai armor than full suits of antique European armor, but only just. “It’s not harder yet, but it will be, and it’s getting more difficult,” he says. Broad commonalities hold true for samurai and European armor. Both doubled as items of war and fashion, and both have a point past which they stop being made as defensive tools and start being made to exploit romantic notions of the past (in Europe it’s the 19th century, and in Japan, it’s after Commodore Perry showed up in 1853). But with samurai, wearing your dad’s old mask and helmet was all right if your dad was a great warrior and you wanted to invoke his power for yourself. Gear from older generations was preferred, however. “The helmet and the mask are two of the most noble pieces of samurai armor,” Ellsworth says. “They would incorporate them [in the armor ensemble] because they belonged to their ancestors, whom they revered. If the helmet and mask are from an ancestor you admire, and their karma is good, then it’s good.”

The arms and armor market has been around for centuries. It remains stable and largely immune to speculative buyers. It didn’t come through the 2008 downturn unscathed, but it didn’t suffer unduly, either. The greater threat seems to be a lack of supply. Finer predicts that collectors of European armor will start turning to material they once disdained. “I think there will be increased demand for 19th-century objects. They can be snobby about them because they were made more as works of art,” he says. “It’s become such a challenge to find great earlier material. We still do quite a lot of business with museums, but once it’s in a museum, it’s off the market, and it’s not coming back.”

Fagan, who is 74, reports that business is booming. He credits the Faganarms webpage with bringing in much-coveted millennial buyers. “Our business has tripled in the last decade,” he says. “We have seen a shift from the dedicated gun-show followers and exhibitors to the enthusiastic 30-somethings who want to introduce an element of the past and history into their lives. Owning these historic things satisfies that desire without dominating the environment. Every indication that we have is for steady growth.”

By Sheila Gibson Stoodley

The Secret of Swiss Museums http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/2017/08/switzerland-museums/ Mon, 28 Aug 2017 19:50:30 +0000 http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/?p=5505 Continue reading ]]> Art institutions in Switzerland benefit from a national culture of unostentatious generosity.

Exterior view of the Kunsthaus Zürich

Exterior view of the Kunsthaus Zürich

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Otto Dix, The Parents I, 1921. Inside the Kunstmuseum Basel. Inside the Kunstmuseum Basel. Camille Corot, A Girl Reading Oskar Kokoschka, The Bride of the Wind Exterior view of the Kunsthaus Zürich Dmitri Kessel, Emil Bührle with his collection at Zollikerstrasse

No single museum in Switzerland merits mention in the same breath as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Louvre or the Tate. But anybody traveling by train within an hour radius of Zurich’s central station will encounter a plethora of public collections of art that taken together are almost unmatched in volume and quality.

In Zurich itself, there is the Kunsthaus, with works spanning Old Masters to contemporary art, and across Lake Zurich, the Rietberg with its superb sampling of African, Asian, and Pre-Columbian art. Traveling north from Switzerland’s largest city, there are remarkable collections in Winterthur, a focus of high-tech industries, and Schaffhausen, a medieval town on the edge of the roaring Rhine Falls that draws contemporary art enthusiasts to its Hallen für Neue Kunst, featuring stellar works by Sol LeWitt, Joseph Beuys, Dan Flavin and Donald Judd, among others.

To the east of Zurich is the former silk-and-linen center, St. Gallen, whose art museum ranges from the late Middle Ages through the early 21th century. To the southwest, Bern, the nation’s capital, harbors the world’s largest Paul Klee collection at a hillside museum designed by Renzo Piano. To the west of Zurich, in Basel, there are the Kunstmuseum, arguably the premier public collection in Switzerland, and the Fondation Beyeler, another Piano creation, with some 200 modernist classics, including 23 Picassos. And leaving aside Geneva and Lausanne, which lie beyond the arbitrary 60-minute train limit, that’s only an abbreviated list of public treasures in easy reach of Zurich.

But how to account for this rich density and abundance of fine art? Two explanations stand out. There is a deep-rooted tradition of art philanthropy, unaided by the far more generous tax incentives enjoyed by American collectors. “Our colleagues in the U.S. are very surprised when they hear this,” says Josef Helfenstein, director of Basel’s Kunstmuseum, about first-time visits by American museum officials. They are even more startled to discover that, in most cases, Swiss donors of funds and art don’t expect museums to put their names on buildings or galleries, or even alongside works that were once in their private collections. “This generosity makes it a lot of fun to work here,” says Christoph Becker, the German-born director of Zurich’s Kunsthaus.

There is an equally important, and sometimes controversial, explanation for Swiss art riches. More than 150 continuous years of peace have made Switzerland a magnet for collections from neighboring countries in times of tyranny and war. The country was a marketplace for art looted by the Nazis. It also benefited from refugees who brought their collections to Switzerland and later donated sizable portions to its museums.

Among foreigners, the phrase “Swiss generosity” doesn’t always trip easily off the tongue. But a sense of public philanthropy, especially in the arts, has long existed in this alpine nation. Unlike in France, Britain, or Italy, there was no royalty or nobility in Switzerland to amass art that became essential to museum collections. The gap was filled by affluent merchants and tradesmen. Basel’s Kunstmuseum, for example, traces its origins to the Amerbach family, wealthy printers who personally knew Hans Holbein the Younger and collected his works. “The Amerbachs ran into financial problems and were forced to sell their collection, but wanted it to remain together in Basel,” recounts Helfenstein. So the city, with financial aid from its leading citizens and university, purchased the Amerbach collection in 1661 at a lower price than was offered by the city of Amsterdam and put it on public display a decade later in a building that was the earliest precursor of the Kunstmuseum. The Amerbach collection, including 15 Holbeins, still hangs in today’s vastly larger Kunstmuseum.

Zurich’s Kunsthaus is not quite as old as its Basel rival. It began in 1787 as a meeting place for an association of artists and their patrons who put works on public view. Today the association, known as the Zürcher Kunstgesellschaft, claims more than 20,000 members. “This is our real employer—not the city or canton of Zurich,” says Becker.The figures bear him out. The municipality and canton account for 40 percent of the Kunsthaus annual budget, while entrance fees and private donations make up the rest. In most cases, individual benefactors cannot write off more than 20 percent of their donations from their income. Corporations are allowed to report their gifts to museums as part of their operating expenses.

Private-sector generosity foots most of the bills for temporary exhibitions. Recent highly acclaimed blockbuster shows include a huge retrospective at the Kunsthaus of Alberto Giacometti’s masterpieces in plaster and other materials besides his signature bronze and a large exhibition at the Kunstmuseum of rarely seen figurative paintings by Jackson Pollock from the years before his famed abstract drip paintings.

Donor contributions also play an outsized role in financing capital projects for museums. Across the avenue in front of the 1910 neoclassic Kunsthaus, construction is underway for a Sf210 million ($207 million) extension that will double the museum’s floor space when completed in 2020. There was no big, single private-sector donor among the individuals, companies and foundations that shelled out Sf84 million for the project. And none of the galleries in the extension building will have donor names.

Basel’s Kunstmuseum counted on strong private-sector financial support to open its own extension in 2016. Half of the Sf100 million cost was borne by a single donor, Maja Oeri, through her family’s Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation, created from the Hoffmann-La Roche pharmaceutical fortune. Yet the structure, which houses the Kunstmuseum’s extensive contemporary art holdings, is known simply as The New Building. “Zurich isn’t Basel,” comments Kunsthaus director Becker about his rival museum’s deep-pocketed donors. “People here can be rich, though not immensely wealthy like some families in Basel.”

But affluence characterizes much of Switzerland. The country came late to riches compared to the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, places where the industrial revolution took hold at least a half-century earlier. But by the 1880s, St. Gallen’s fine fabric looms brought mounting export revenues. In subsequent years, chemical and pharmaceutical firms flourished around Basel, and by the early 20th century, Zurich emerged as a banking and insurance center. “Money creates taste,” notes Becker, “and when the Swiss had money, they acquired art. They did not consciously build art collections. They simply accumulated art and held on to it over generations.”

Eventually, these collections ended up in museums, small and large. In Winterthur, the Oskar Reinhardt Museum opened to the public in 1970 in the refurbished villa of the former scion of a merchant family whose art holdings were especially strong in 19th-century French paintings. The much larger and more varied collection of the Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation has made its works available on permanent loan to Basel’s Kunstmuseum since 1941.

Besides works from local collections, Swiss museums also benefited from foreign holdings brought over during Europe’s tumultuous 20th century. In 1939, at the notorious Theodor Fischer auction in Lucerne, Expressionist works confiscated from German museums and deemed “degenerate art” by the Nazis were sold off to Swiss museums and private collectors. The Lucerne auction acquisitions by the Kunstmuseum included such prized works as Portrait of the Artist’s Parents (1921) by Otto Dix, The Nizza in Frankfurt am Main (1921) by Max Beckmann, and The Wind’s Bride (1913) by Oskar Kokoschka.

To this day, the Kunstmuseum defends its Fischer auction purchases for possibly having saved the artworks from destruction. “No doubt there were people who didn’t think this art deserved to be in the collection of the Kunstmuseum, but history has shown how decisive and important it was,” says Helfenstein. However, critics point out that Fischer and other Swiss dealers went on to become agents for the sale of art looted by the Nazis from public and private collections in countries occupied during World War II.

The Rietberg Museum in Zurich owes its remarkable collection of non-Western art to the Nazi era and its aftermath. The bulk of the artworks were owned by Baron Eduard von der Heydt, a German-born banker who moved to Zurich in 1937, possibly on orders from the Nazis, and acquired Swiss citizenship. When World War II broke out, he became a secret paymaster for German agents in Europe and the United States. Once peace returned, the Swiss authorities arrested von der Heydt on charges that his wartime activities violated the country’s neutrality. But in 1948, a Swiss military court dropped the charges. By then, von der Heydt had promised to donate his prolific East Asian, Polynesian, and African collection to the city of Zurich as the foundation of the future Rietberg Museum, which opened in 1952.

Despite these controversies, philanthropy by Swiss citizens has always played the predominant role in swelling the collections of local museums. Becoming a member of a local association of museum patrons is a mark of cultural and civic pride. Markus Altwegg, president of the Foundation for the Kunstmuseum, the main private fundraiser for the Basel museum, explains how he goes about recruiting new donors. He and his fellow foundation board members cast a wide social net and invite likely candidates to temporary exhibitions at the Kunstmuseum, where they meet curators and administrators. If candidates accept visits to three or four additional exhibitions, they will be asked to donate a minimum of Sf10,000 annually for at least three years. “Many of them continue to do so for many more years,” says Altwegg.

For the most part, donors give a free hand to museum directors and curators in the purchase of new works—even those they personally dislike—as long as they are made to feel part of the decision-making process. “They must be convinced that acquiring a work is important not only for its quality, but also because of their own input,” says Becker. “Once that happens they will agree very willingly and generously.”

Occasionally, however, it takes donors a long time to be convinced. That was the case in 1972 when the Kunstmuseum, already renowned for its strong collection of contemporary American art, proposed to its fundraising board that the museum purchase two works by Walter De Maria—Suicide (1966–67) and Bed of Spikes (1968–69). When donors balked, the museum director, Franz Meyer, purchased the two pieces for himself. More than a generation later, the board finally came around. So, in 1996, Meyer, no longer the director, sold Bed of Spikes to the Kunstmuseum for its original acquisition price and two years later also donated Suicide to the museum, free of charge.

By Jonathan Kandell

Law of Return http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/2017/03/art-restitution/ Wed, 01 Mar 2017 21:43:31 +0000 http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/?p=5117 Continue reading ]]> Nazi-looted art brought to Israel after World War II now reposes in that country’s museums and is at the center of a debate over restitution.

Egon Schiele, Krumau – Crescent of Houses (The Small City V)

Egon Schiele, Krumau – Crescent of Houses (The Small City V), 1915, oil on canvas, 109.7 x 140 cm

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Jean Raoux, Young Girls Painting Outdoors Max Liebermann, Garden in Wannsee David Ryckaert III, The Alchemist Egon Schiele, Krumau – Crescent of Houses (The Small City V)

Egon Schiele’s Krumau: Crescent of Houses (1915) is among the modern masterpieces in the collection of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. It offers a bird’s-eye view of the Austrian village where the great Expressionist painter’s mother was born. The earthy browns and yellows of Krumau’s houses are lit up by the brightly colored laundry on clotheslines, flapping like distress flags and evoking an Old Europe on the verge of extinction.

The owners of the painting were believed to be a Jewish family who survived World War I but then perished in the Holocaust, leaving nobody to claim the work. And that’s why, says James S. Snyder, the international president of the Israel Museum, Schiele’s painting is “the most poignant story for us at the museum.”

Krumau: Crescent of Houses is at the crux of a searing controversy in Israel. A large number of cultural objects looted by the Nazis before and during World War II ended up in the newly created state of Israel, and critics insist that neither the government nor museums have done enough to identify these works and return them to their heirs. “Practice what you preach,” said Israel Peleg, chief executive of Hashava, the government-funded entity charged with locating and restituting Holocaust victims’ assets in Israel, in a blunt exhortation at a 2014 international conference in Tel Aviv. “At the very least, Israel must abide by the standards that it demands from the rest of the world.”

Israeli museum officials insist they are committed to identifying and restituting looted artworks in their collections. “We have been and continue to be proactive in this field,” says Snyder, who in January assumed the newly created role of international president for the Israel Museum’s worldwide activities, after 20 years as director. (His successor, Eran Neuman, took office on February 19.)

But the gap between the Peleg and Snyder positions is filled with thorny questions. How and why did art looted during World War II end up in Israel? How many significant pieces of looted art are there in Israeli collections? Why has it taken so long to identify these works and track down their rightful owners?

Israeli museums aren’t the only unlikely repositories of disputed works. Last September, the Neue Galerie in New York, whose co-founder, Ronald S. Lauder, has led international efforts to restore art stolen by the Nazis to their rightful owners, agreed to restitute Nude, a 1914 painting by Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, to the heirs of the family from which it was looted. And the Metropolitan Museum of Art is embroiled in a lawsuit brought by the estate of a Jewish businessman who fled the Nazis over rights to The Actor (1904–05), one of the most famous Picassos in the museum’s collection.

Most Nazi-looted cultural objects in Israel arrived via the Jewish Restitution Successor Organization. Founded in 1947 in New York by various American and international Jewish organizations, the JRSO viewed itself as the official heir of unclaimed Jewish assets after the war and Holocaust. The art, books, and Judaica that once belonged to Jewish families were amassed at various collection points in Germany. About 40 percent of these looted assets was turned over to the JRSO, another 40 percent was sent to the United States, and the remainder was divided between Jewish communities in Australia, South Africa, and elsewhere. The recipients often sold these assets and used the revenue to aid Jewish refugees.

The key figure in bringing this JRSO trove to Israel in the 1950s was Mordechai Narkiss, director of the Bezalel National Museum, the precursor of the Israel Museum. In those early postwar years, no thought was given to provenance because there was a widespread conviction that Israel, as the new Jewish homeland, should be a main recipient of looted cultural objects that went unclaimed. “When Narkiss brought objects from Europe to Israel, he believed he was saving them,” says Elinor Kroitoru, Hashava’s head of research. “Nobody back then thought that someday people would come here to claim them.”

It is only in recent years that Israel has redoubled efforts to identify and restitute stolen art and other cultural objects. The collapse of Communist regimes reopened the issue in the 1990s with the discovery of stolen artworks in Russian and Eastern European museum collections. But the resurgence of interest in looted art came a half-century after the war, making the task of restitution all the more difficult. Children of collectors who were killed in the extermination camps are fast disappearing themselves, leaving few potential heirs with any direct knowledge of the stolen art. And documents to trace the provenance of these works have become harder to locate, if they exist at all.

In the meantime, many looted paintings and drawings flowed into the marketplace. They were then purchased, often innocently, by collectors and eventually were donated as bequests to museums. Among the more startling examples is Boulevard Montmartre, matinée de printemps, painted in 1897 by Camille Pissarro as part of a series portraying the famed Paris thoroughfare in different weather and seasons. This Impressionist masterpiece was owned by Max Silberberg, a prominent Jewish industrialist from Breslau, Germany, who sold most of his art collection at auction and was later murdered in Auschwitz. It was purchased in 1960 by a wealthy American couple, John and Frances Loeb, who bequeathed the painting to the Israel Museum in 1997. “We have many Pissarros in the museum,” says Snyder. “But of all of them, this was probably the most important one.”

Put on display, the work came to the attention of Gerta Silberberg, daughter-in-law of Max Silberberg. She negotiated an agreement in 2000 that allowed the painting to be displayed at the Israel Museum while she was alive. After Gerta Silberberg died, her heirs sold the Pissarro at a Sotheby’s auction for $32 million in 2014. But her estate donated some of the funds to the Israel Museum to acquire works in memory of the Silberbergs.

One of the issues raised by the Silberberg case is whether the Pissarro and the rest of the collection was sold under duress. Records show that the works were auctioned in Nazi Germany in 1935, before the period of forced sales began. The Pissarro actually sold for a record price at the time. If the Silberbergs had survived the Holocaust and retained the assets from the auction, says Snyder, “it might have been harder to make the case for restitution.”

Because of its deep pockets, the Israel Museum has the resources to trace the provenance of works in its vast collection that might have been plundered by the Nazis. Two full-time researchers are assigned to that task. The museum also maintains a website (http://www.imj.org.il/imagine/irso/en) that lists all paintings, drawings, prints and items of Judaica in its collection believed to have been looted. Over the last decade, about 20 restitutions have been made.

But smaller institutions don’t have the resources available to the Israel Museum, and sometimes they are embarrassed when the provenance of works in their collections is revealed. That was the case with The Beggar, painted in the 1920s in Paris by the Minsk-born Jewish artist Eugeniusz Zak and stolen from an unidentified art collector by the Nazis. Brought over to Israel by Narkiss as part of the JRSO cache, the painting ended up in the collection of the Museum of Art in Ein Harod, Israel. While on display there, it was identified in 2015 by a Polish Ph.D. student as looted art.

Zak is obviously not in the same category of Pissarro or Schiele. In fact, few looted artworks worth millions of dollars are believed to be in Israel awaiting restitution. Of the 2,000 cultural objects that the Israel Museum received from the JRSO, many were domestic items that would have had more personal and emotional importance than artistic or material value.

In the early 20th century, middle- and upper-middle-class Jews affirmed their social standing by purchasing paintings and drawings. “They may not have bought Rembrandts, but they could afford local, contemporary painters,” says Snyder. The museum made a decision two decades ago, he adds, “that if people came forward to claim things—even if they were objects of no consequence—we had to help them.”

Judaica is a separate issue. Many Jewish ceremonial objects of artistic value—including Torah holders, Shabbat candlesticks, hand-washing pitchers, and menorahs, all in silver—survived the Holocaust for the most perverse of reasons. The Nazis collected the finest Judaica, intending to build a museum that would serve as a repository for the relics of the people and culture they sought to annihilate.

Understandably, most of the Judaica looted from synagogues destroyed during the war and transferred to Israel will remain in its museums.

By Jonathan Kandell

Pile On http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/2014/08/twentieth-century-carpets/ Thu, 28 Aug 2014 18:26:47 +0000 http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/?p=3247 Continue reading ]]> Twentieth-century carpets weave strands of modernist geometry and color abstraction into traditional formats, taking textile into the realm of fine art.

Marianne Richter, Granen flatweave carpet, 1949, Marta Maas-Fjetterstrom AB, hand-woven wool, 64 x 95 inches.

Marianne Richter, Granen flatweave carpet, 1949, Marta Maas-Fjetterstrom AB, hand-woven wool, 64 x 95 inches.

Featured Images: (Click to Enlarge) C.F.A. Voysey, Donnemara carpet, first quarter 20th century, hand-woven wool, 135 x 136 inches; Marianne Richter, Granen flatweave carpet, 1949, Marta Maas-Fjetterstrom AB, hand-woven wool, 64 x 95 inches. Ivan da Silva Bruhns, pile carpet, second quarter 20th century, hand-woven wool, 106 x 163 inches; C.F.A. Voysey, carpet, first quarter 20th century, hand-woven wool, 128 x 151 inches;

From Sweden comes a large, intricate flat-weave carpet with the bordered rectangles-within-rectangles type of design familiar from oriental examples. Except this one’s color scheme is like nothing ever seen in Samarkand or Bokhara—all various shades of purple. Amid the diagonal stripes and diamonds, instead of the traditional regular lozenges it has little de-centered blobs, like amoebas doing their own thing. A French pile carpet, bursting with bright reds like poppy blossoms, set off by pale greens and dark brown splotches, seems more like an abstract painting than a textile. And from England comes a square, handwoven wool carpet whose design of vines, flowers, and bulbs recalls a medieval tapestry. These three carpets, by Marianne Richter, René Crevel, and C.F.A. Voysey, respectively, came on the block this past June at Wright, a Chicago auction house that specializes in 20th-century design, and they represent the aesthetic diversity and boldness of modernist carpets, a genre that has long been recognized by designers but is increasingly finding favor among collectors as works of art.

The sale, Wright’s first dedicated solely to carpets, made $1,038,060 in 72 lots, testifying to an untapped enthusiasm for 20th-century pieces. Sale expert Michael Jefferson says, “I found there was a real void in terms of market attention on carpets in general. Christie’s and Sotheby’s in New York had done them, mainly with oriental rugs. But we thought, let’s do something totally different, shift people’s thinking.” Wright started offering what Jefferson calls “Moroccan carpets that are contemporary incarnations of nomadic tribal carpets” and then went on to “prop them up with things that are outside the tradition, start to break out of that box of conventional wisdom.”

Among the most prominent pieces “outside the tradition” are Swedish carpets, such as the purple Richter. Not that Scandinavia doesn’t have a tradition of rug-making. In the Middle Ages, textiles from the Near East and Central Asia reached Northern Europe, and Nordic weavers adapted the techniques to their harshly cold climate, creating very deep-piled shaggy rugs called ryas that kept kings and commoners alike warm during the long, dark winters. In time, these textiles fell out of fashion with the elite and were consigned to the dubious realm of folk craft, where they remained until the early 20th century, when design pioneers like Marta Maas-Fjetterstrom were inspired to do something completely new with them.

From 1919 until her death in 1941, Maas-Fjetterstrom operated MMF, a firm that still exists, designing her own rugs and inviting artist/designers such as Richter, Barbro Nilsson, and Ann-Mari Forsberg to join her and carry on the work. “I find no more inventive and creative work than the MMF studio,” says Jefferson. “Maas-Fjetterstrom did her own design and her own weaving and then passed it on to other people. You see this great opening up of creativity. All of them are women artisans.”

Influenced by austere theorists such as Le Corbusier and Josef Albers, the MMF artisans managed to hew to strict modernist design principles and rigorous standards of hand work while still imbuing their carpets with rich and even exuberant colors and patterns. Most of them appear somehow ancient and modern at the same time, and this visual-cultural tension gives them power and flexibility of application. “From a style standpoint,” says Jefferson, “they lend themselves to a range of decors and interiors and are very rich and vibrant to the eye. But they don’t give offense in an austere, minimalist environment, and they also relate to ornate interiors, for example, chinoiserie.” At the Wright sale, a red-dominated Falurutan flat-weave carpet made by Nilsson in 1952 brought $112,500 against an estimate of $50,000–70,000, while a Bla Plump flat-weave by Maas-Fjetterstrom herself went for $35,000 against an estimate of $20,000–30,000.

French Art Deco carpets represent another major area of creativity and demand in the 20th-century carpet market. “The Deco market has been robust for decades,” explains Jefferson. “It’s been sustained by a broad interest in the various things that surround it, by the great art that circles around it. The furniture of E.J. Ruhlmann and Eileen Gray is as strong as it’s ever been.” The great Ruhlmann himself was also a carpet designer. Those who collect Deco carpets tend to have cohesive Deco interiors whose floors virtually cry out for such coverings, which are rare and tend to be expensive. The Franco-Brazilian designer Ivan da Silva Bruhns is a special favorite. A pile carpet of his, with textured herringbone-like elements in various reds woven at uneven intervals into an airy, open background of light tan, recalls Synthetic Cubism. At Wright it sold for $93,700 (est. $50,000–70,000).

While there are many other schools and types of modernist carpets, the third main division of the genre, and the earliest in terms of time, is English Arts & Crafts. Kicking off the 20th century, this movement, spearheaded by William Morris and inspired equally by medieval traditions and modern socialism, sought to bring hand-crafted excellence to the masses. While it failed to keep costs down far enough to make its products affordable, it did succeed in creating beautiful and impressive works that meld modern and archaic elements, but in a very different way than MMF. Charles Francis Annesley Voysey, originally an architect, was the premier carpet-maker among the Arts & Crafts adherents. He favored plant and animal forms and a flowing, organic style, and created his patterns separately from his borders so that the designs could be fabricated in a variety of sizes. A hand-woven Donnemara carpet by Voysey brought $30,480 at Wright’s June sale.

Twentieth-century carpets are also being championed by a small selection of dealers, notable Doris Leslie Blau in New York, whose owner, Nader Bolour, comes from a long line of Iranian rug experts and curated Wright’s recent sale. Another gallery with Persian roots, the Nazmiyal Collection, also in New York, has discovered the genius of modern Scandinavian carpet design and now has a strong sub-specialty in the area. And Swedish modernist carpets can often be found at the prominent Stockholm auction house Bukowksis, in the land of their origin.

But Is It Human? http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/2013/02/cave-paintings/ Thu, 28 Feb 2013 19:51:44 +0000 http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/?p=2316 Continue reading ]]> New finds in the caves of Spain raise the question of whether Neanderthals made art.

Dr. Alistair Pike of the University of Bristol

Project lead Dr. Alistair Pike of the University of Bristol removing thin calcite crusts for dating from paintings on the Main Panel in Tito Bustillo Cave, Asturias, Spain.

Featured Images: (Click to Enlarge) Portraits of three reindeer and an Ibex Dr. Alistair Pike of the University of Bristol Researcher removing samples for dating from the Anthropomorph Chamber Researchers removing samples from paintings

The cave paintings of Altamira were discovered in 1879 by the nine-year-old daughter of a Spanish nobleman named Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola. She was exploring the cave with her father—who was enticed by recent excavations of prehistoric artifacts in Spain and France—when she spotted a herd of bison grazing overhead. The sophistication with which they were drawn was astonishing. They showed a sureness of line unlike anything known from the Ice Age, a realism eons apart from the engraved mammoth tusks familiar to archaeologists. Invited to visit Altamira, King Alfonso XII was so impressed that he crawled on his knees to view the deepest caverns. The archaeological establishment had the opposite reaction. With the exception of a couple of Spaniards, experts dismissed the cave paintings of Altamira as a hoax: While “crude” ivory fetishes could be reconciled with Ice Age “primitives,” the notion that a Cro-Magnon could draw as well as Ingres simply didn’t fit accepted ideas of human progress.

Over the following decades, more caves were explored, and more paintings were found, some as nuanced as those in Altamira. Gradually scholars came to accept Cro-Magnons’ artistic prowess, and modern artists assimilated it. In 1905–06, Henri Matisse used cave painting as a source for his Fauvist masterpiece Le bonheur de vivre. In 1908, one of Sanz de Sautuola’s most virulent critics, the French archaeologist Émile Cartailhac, published a monograph on Altamira in which he confessed to having been “blinded by some dangerous spirit of dogmatism.”

Last summer, Altamira was once again under scrutiny, one of 11 Spanish caves that Bristol University archaeologists reevaluated using a new dating technique. By measuring the radioactivity of calcite deposits on the paintings, they determined that some of the artwork was significantly older than previously believed. Encrustation covering club-shaped markings at Altamira was found to be at least 36,500 years old—10,000 years older than expected. And in the nearby El Castillo cave, calcite accretions on a red ochre dot were determined to be more than 40,800 years old. Those dates opened up the possibility that the artists were not all human. The earliest paintings could have been the work of Neanderthals.

Homo neanderthalis lived in northwestern Spain as recently as 42,000 years ago, at least briefly sharing the territory with our own species, Homo sapiens, which was emerging from Africa and spreading across Europe. During the overlap—before Neanderthals retreated south and went extinct—there was enough interaction to leave four percent Neanderthal DNA in the modern human gene pool. The notion that we’re part Neanderthal, genetically, first revealed in 2010, came as a serious shock, for it suggested that a mere 1,500 generations ago we could interbreed with another hominid, and that we did so with some frequency. We are finding that there is less and less to distinguish our species, to explain how we came to dominate life on Earth, let alone justify our hegemony. Crows use tools. Dolphins are empathic. Chimps can learn language. Art seems to be the only activity left to set us apart.

As a result, the question of who made the cave paintings of Altamira and El Castillo was tainted by the dangerous spirit of dogmatism from the moment the re-dating was revealed. The discoverers set the tone by hypothesizing that Neanderthals were the artists. “There is a very good chance that this is Neanderthal,” team leader Alistair Pike told Nature, leading to a barrage of media interest and a bitter response from pundits including Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones. “It is political correctness gone prehistoric,” he fumed. “This urge to big-up the Neanderthals is a symptom of our self-loathing.”

Neither side is supported by anything more substantive than wishful thinking. The most ancient paintings in northwestern Spain might be more than 40,800 years old. Neanderthals may have left northwestern Spain more recently than 42,000 years ago. Either way, humans could have been in northwestern Spain at the time, and if they were around, they might have been the artists, the audience, or just oblivious bystanders. Given present evidence, the debate is meaningless. The only conceivable purpose is to reassure ourselves that all creatures are our kin (in spite of the damage we’ve done to them), or to convince ourselves that human superiority is inviolate (and that our voracious consumption of global resources is justified). Much as Cartailhac’s assessment of Altamira reflected his cultural bias, what we see in these earlier cave paintings mirrors a contemporary societal divide.

Attempting to interpret paleolithic images only takes us deeper into ourselves. We may recognize the bison painted by our ancestors at Altamira—or the famous bulls of Lascaux or the horses of Chauvet—but that doesn’t mean we know why they were painted. The problem is exacerbated when the painting is abstract, a line or a dot. Of course many theories have been advanced. One of the first, posited by the French prehistorian Henri Breuil in the early 1900s, is that cave painting is the visible trace of magical hunting rituals and that the abstract symbols frequently flanking animals represent traps and weapons. During World War II, German émigré art historian Max Raphael countered that the animals stand for clan totems and that the cave paintings are concerned with battle. By the 1960s, hunting and fighting were out of style, and human sexuality was in, which gave ballast to the hypothesis advanced by French anthropologist André Leroi-Gourhan that the paintings were about sexual duality. (His proposed symbolism didn’t just encompass animals. Dots and lines were male; triangles and ovals were female.) Today sexual interpretations remain fashionable, albeit in terms more pop-cultural than psychoanalytical. The American paleobiologist Dale Guthrie has spent the past decade arguing that most markings are “below-the-belt” paleo-graffiti.

If the interpretation of figurative art can run the gamut from magic to sex, virtually any theory can explain the meaning of a 40,000-year-old dot potentially painted by a Neanderthal. It’s the ultimate expression of artistic ambiguity, the earliest known Rorschach blot (albeit probably not conceived as such). Maybe the location was what mattered, and the dot just marks it. Or perhaps the dot is the inadvertent record of a forgotten action. The red ochre appears to have been blown onto the wall. Was blowing a technique of painting or was painting a byproduct of breathing? The power of this ancient artwork stands in its enduring elusiveness.

“Después de Altamira, todo es decadencia,” Pablo Picasso famously proclaimed upon exiting the Altamira cave. After Altamira, all is decadence. The quote may be apocryphal, since there’s no record of Picasso’s visit in the Altamira guestbooks, but his admiration for Ice Age art has been noted by acquaintances including Brassaï and André Malraux. In Brassaï’s case, discussion concerned the 23,000-year-old Venus of Lespugue, two castings of which Picasso owned. “One conforms to the damaged model, the other is whole, restored,” wrote Brassaï in Conversations With Picasso. “Picasso adores this very first goddess of fecundity, the quintessence of female form, whose flesh, as if called forth by male desire, seems to swell and grow from around a kernel.” Naturally Picasso borrowed freely from the statuette, giving his own expression to the quintessence of female form in his 1933 Femme au vase.

The liberating influence of Ice Age imagery was one of the great forces in 20th-century art. Matisse’s Le bonheur de vivre and Picasso’s Femme au vase are just two of the foremost products. Prehistory offered artists an apparently ageless archetype, formidable enough to topple academic ideals. (“I promise you the most intense emotion you have ever experienced,” wrote Amédée Ozenfant, describing the cave paintings of Les Eyzies in his 1928 book Foundations of Modern Art.) Modernists saw a primal quality in prehistory—a cross between Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Josephine Baker—which they sought as an antidote to decadent culture. Their interpretation had no more scientific justification than the hypotheses of Breuil or Leroi-Gourhan. If anything, it was less tenable. But unlike Leroi-Gourhan and Breuil, these artists transformed their hazy notions into profound painting and sculpture.

And in that respect, they got prehistory right. The caves of northwestern Spain are striking not only for the age of the oldest paintings, but also for the youth of the newest ones. In Altamira, Alistair Pike found some made just 11,000 years ago, sharing space with 35,000-year-old artwork. Some wall compositions emerged over hundreds of generations, evolving as abstract and figurative motifs overlapped physically and interacted visually. These overlays weren’t due to lack of space—other walls remain blank. Rather, there seems to have been some sort of collaboration: 25,000 years of pictorial riffing. If Neanderthals were responsible for the first markings, then the riffing happened across species. Without literally drawing on the walls, 20th-century artists picked up the conversation.

That isn’t to say they had the same intentions, or that intentions remained consistent over the 25 millennia within the caves. Intentions don’t have to match, or even to be known, in order for creative influence to happen. If anything, the opposite is the case. Misinterpretation is a mighty engine of innovation.

Modernism has now run its course. The art of Matisse and Picasso retains its power, as does that of the paleolithic precursors, but the notion of an Ice Age idyll now seems ridiculous. As the debate over Neanderthal art suggests, we are still formulating our new version of prehistory. That vision will depend on art as much as science.

The time has come for a new collaboration across the ages. The red dot of El Castillo is an apt point of departure.

This article originally appeared in the March issue of Art & Antiques Magazine as “But is it Human?”

By Jonathon Keats

Surround Sound http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/2011/09/surround-sound/ Thu, 01 Sep 2011 04:04:50 +0000 http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/?p=1202 Continue reading ]]>

Now known mainly for electric shavers, alarm clocks and coffee makers, the Braun company made its name as a manufacturer of radios and a pioneer in plastics. The firm, founded in 1921, embodied German design principles that seamlessly meshed form with function. Through the 1980s, its instantly recognizable “raised-A” logo (still in use today) appeared on a range of high-end hi-fi equipment, such as the iconic SK4 record player dubbed “Snow White’s Coffin,” designed by Dieter Rams.

As early as 1935, the firm hit on the idea of combining a radio set with a phonograph player for maximal audio gratification. Twenty years later, designer Wilhelm Wagenfeld created this version of the concept, the portable “Combi” radio-phono set, which is now one of the rarest and most collectible Braun items. The example shown here was offered on June 28 at the Quittenbaum auction house in Munich, where it sold for €4,500. The vanilla yellow, mustard yellow and olive green of its plastic body shell are nicely set off by the bright red of the buttons, dials and phono arm.

Wagenfeld was a Bauhaus alumnus who went on to success as a commercial designer—which earned him plenty of money and scathing criticism from purists like Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. While at the Bauhaus in Weimar, Wagenfeld co-designed the famous “Wa24” lamp, and in the 1930s, post-Bauhaus, created the “Kubus” glass containers and the “Max & Moritz” salt and pepper shakers. In the 1950s, when he designed the “Combi” for Braun, he had his own design office in Stuttgart, West Germany. —John Dorfman

Frame Stories http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/2011/06/frame-stories/ Wed, 01 Jun 2011 04:02:33 +0000 http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/?p=1117 Continue reading ]]> By Jonathan Kandell

In Barcelona’s clubby art world, everyone knows Ramón Cordoba, and he knows how to make their paintings look their best.


Ramón Cordoba de Dalmases has never taken up a paintbrush, put his collection on display or stamped his name on a gallery or museum.

Yet as Barcelona’s master framer for the last four decades, he has achieved a renown enjoyed by only the most elite painters and gallerists in the thriving world of Catalan art. His frame shop, Astrolabius, has catered to giants like Joan Miró and Antoni Tàpies; luminaries like Eduard Arranz-Bravo and Josep María Riera i Arago; scores of other Catalan painters; hundreds of collectors; and several leading museums, including the Prado in Madrid and the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

Buttressing his professional stature is Cordoba’s reputation as a bon vivant, gourmet and immaculate dresser: “Last night, I dined with Barcelona’s most elegant man,” began a 2005 article on Cordoba by a columnist in a leading local newspaper, Avui. A hyperactive social life is a prerequisite for his continued success, says the 73-year-old framer, who always wears a tailored suit, white shirt and silk tie. “Whenever I go to the opera, I can count on meeting up with three or four clients who remember they have paintings they want framed—and they will show up at my store over the next couple of days,” he says. In addition, his vast social network is a great advantage to younger artists, whom he tirelessly promotes with collectors.

But the foundations of Cordoba’s business are his lifelong passion for painting and his deep affinity for artists. In secondary school, he was the only student who was in the habit of visiting art galleries and museums.

Lacking the talent or inclination to paint, he went off to Zurich, Switzerland to study architecture, a career he never practiced upon his return to Barcelona. Instead, he gravitated toward a group of young, rising Catalan artists—Jordi Alumà, Francesc Artigau and Ramón Aguilar Moré, among them—and decided to open a small workshop for framing. “We were all so poor that they would help by cutting wood for the frames, and of course I would then give them a discount—or accept paintings and drawings as payment,” says Cordoba. This was the late Franco era, when collectors were few in number and too conservative to embrace the more contemporary, abstract styles of Cordoba’s friends.

Within three years, Cordoba established himself as the preferred craftsman of the new wave of Catalan painters, who initially represented 90 percent of his clients. Not only were the quality of his frames noticeably better than those of his competitors in Barcelona, but he was one of the first local framers to use mat and adhesives with a neutral pH to avoid acid corrosion of the artworks. “I knew from my Zurich university days that these materials existed, and I would bring them back from trips to Switzerland,” says Cordoba.

At age 33, he opened Astrolabius, the frame store that has become a mecca for local collectors. They were increasingly replacing painters as Cordoba’s main clients, and were reluctant to visit his workshop in a remote working-class neighborhood. The name Astrolabius—or in English, Astrolabe, referring to the navigational instrument that calculates the locations of celestial bodies—was suggested by an artist friend who was also a practicing astrologer and used the device to draw his charts. “I liked the idea that it was a name not directly linked to framing or painting,” says Cordoba. “Clients are more likely to remember Astrolabius than Art-Mart or Wood-Art or some other inane store name.”

Cordoba launched his career in a Catalan art world that viewed itself as equal to that of any European country and a rung above the rest of Spain. Picasso spent his formative years in Barcelona before moving on to Paris. And of course, Miró, Dalí and Tàpies pulled the center of gravity towards Catalonia. But who you know has always been essential in the chummy Barcelona art scene, especially decades ago when Cordoba was just getting started.

He wasn’t quite 30 when he was introduced to Miró at the home and studio of Josep Llorens Artigas, a famed ceramicist, in the village of Gallifa, some 30 miles northwest of Barcelona. Miró often fired his own ceramics with Llorens i Artigas and his son, Joan Gardy-Artigas, a painter and sculptor and a former schoolmate of Cordoba’s. Both men suggested that Miró make use of the rising, though still little-known, framer. Beginning in 1967, Cordoba made scores of frames for Miró. “He would always call me el noi dels marcs (the kid of the frames),” says Cordoba, who soon added a number of Mirós, some of them personal gifts from the artist, to his growing art collection.

A few years after meeting Miró, Cordoba used another personal go-between—Eudaldo Serra, his then father-in-law and a prolific collector of Polynesian art—to become the framer for Tàpies, as well. Over the last three decades, many, if not most, of the artist’s works on display in Barcelona galleries, including the Maeght (a branch of the famous Paris gallery), were framed by Cordoba.

Over a half century of framing, Cordoba has developed a deep historical appreciation of his craft, and during a visit to the National Museum of Catalan Art he offers me a crash course in the evolution of frames. The museum, which includes many non-Catalans in its extensive collection, is housed in the Palau Nacional, a pompous neo-Baroque-style edifice built for the 1929 World’s Fair on Montjuïc, a hill overlooking the harbor. After an extensive renovation, the museum reopened at the beginning of the year. This is Cordoba’s first visit to the newly refurbished galleries, which contain collections that cover Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, 19th- and 20th-century art.

Singling out paintings for their frames rather than their artistry, Cordoba begins the tour in the Baroque galleries in front of an undated still life of three ceramic vases and a metal chalice by Francisco de Zurbarán (1598–1664) who is far better known for his haunting religious portraits.

“This is a perfect example of a marco directo,” he says, “a frame that is placed directly on the edge of the canvas, in order to keep it in place and to protect it.” The frame, he surmises, was the original one or was crafted in the second half of the 17th century soon after the canvas was completed. He describes it as carved and polished wood, layered with gesso and rabbit collagen, then rubbed with ocher-red soil, and finally layered with gold leaf.

Hanging nearby is a Claudio Coello (1642–93) portrait of Charles II, circa 1683, showing the Spanish monarch with the typically elongated jaw and prominent lower lip of the Hapsburg family. Pointing out a green gap separating the frame’s two moldings, Cordoba dismisses its craftsmanship by calling it “a modern frame meant to look old.”

In the modern-art wing of the museum, we stop in front of a large painting from 1898, Corpus Christi Procession from the Church of St. Mary of the Sea, by Ramón Casas (1866–1932). The left and right sides of the frame have a half-dozen vertical grooves and then at each corner a diagonal band or fast covered in gold leaf that breaks the verticality and binds the joints attractively. “This is a frame that wants to be more modern than the painting,” says Cordoba.

He picks out two more frames of special interest. There is Portrait of My Father (1925) by Salvador Dalí (1904–89), for which the artist chose a mediocre frame covered with false gold leaf and polished with a liquid that gives it an old-looking luster. “Dalí hated his father—and it shows,” says Cordoba, noting the frame’s defects. Finally, we view Port by Night (1900), a beautifully eerie depiction of mist-shrouded boats at harbor by Lluís Graner (1863–1929), but marred by a bulky, blotchy silver-gray frame. “A horrible frame,” says Cordoba. “It wants to be more important than the painting and unfortunately succeeds in calling attention to itself.”

Cordoba’s residence, a townhouse less than a block from his store, is a virtual advertisement for his own craftsmanship. Almost every inch of wall space is covered by paintings, most of them framed by Cordoba. He selects several that display different techniques.

A painting by the Catalan artist Jordi Alumà (born 1924) of two tugboats bobbing in Amsterdam harbor seems an apt subject for a “floating” frame; the artwork is recessed below two polished oak wood moldings, one pale and the other dyed dark. An abstract oil by the Catalan-Uruguayan modernist Joaquín Torres-García (1874–1949) has an olive-wood frame with a carved woven inner molding that echoes the painting’s own abstract woven pattern; moreover, Cordoba has deliberately chosen an outsized frame—5 inches wide on each of the painting’s four sides—for an artwork that is only 22 inches long and 18 inches wide. And for a circa 1910 portrait of a lady by Laureà Barrau, Cordoba crafted a frame in the style of that period by painting its oak wood in red, then in black, and rubbing it with a rag before it dried to expose some of the red.

He can make the simplest frame in three hours, while a triple-molding frame will take more than five(that doesn’t include the time it takes for the various parts to dry). “First I draw a molding, then saw the piece and sand it down to just the right specifications,” says Cordoba. “This is the work I most love doing.”

While Cordoba launched his career by selling most of his frames to young, still-unknown artists, nowadays more than 9 out of 10 clients are collectors. Many are referred to him by artists whose paintings they have purchased. “The moment somebody walks into my shop, I can usually tell from the wrapping paper who the artist is,” he says. “And it always shocks clients when I guess right before they even show me the work.”

With about 1,200 moldings on display at Astrolabius, clients are all too happy to defer to Cordoba’s judgment on the most appropriate frame for their paintings. He inquires whether their homes are decorated in traditional, contemporary or eclectic styles. “If it is a house with a very contemporary design, I will use a minimalist frame even for an El Greco,” he says.

We spend a rainy Friday visiting several artists who often commission Cordoba to frame their paintings. Our first destination is north of the Gothic Quarter, in the upscale commercial Sarrià neighborhood, the location of dozens of art galleries. We are meeting up with Santi Moix, 50, a New York-based painter and sculptor whose style is usually abstract. But he is back in his native Barcelona for a gallery exhibition of 60 watercolors he did to illustrate a Catalan edition of Huckleberry Finn timed for the centennial of Mark Twain’s death.

“I always use Ramón here in Barcelona because he is the ‘mayor’ of framers,” says Moix. Cordoba did the wood frames in simple white.

It was personal tragedy that accounts in part for the artist’s enthusiasm for Huck Finn and the Mississippi River theme in this show. When he was two years old, Moix’s parents—Gypsies living in a slum on Barcelona’s outskirts—were swept away by a river during a flood that destroyed their community. The orphaned Santi was raised by a well-known physician and took his last name. Some of his watercolors in the gallery do not directly refer to scenes in Twain’s masterpiece. There is, for example, a vignette of Huck on a driftwood platform wedged between two trees above the swollen Mississippi.

“I got the idea from a newspaper photograph of a man who survived a flood in the Philippines by climbing on top of a similar driftwood platform,” says Moix. “In my watercolor, the danger is absent, and instead it conveys Huck’s freedom—he can dive from the platform into the waters and swim away.”

We next head to the medieval El Born district, where the streets are so narrow that only pedestrians and cyclists can get through. The Santa María del Mar Church, begun in Romanesque style in the 13th century and finished in the Gothic style 200 years later, is still the dominant landmark in the neighborhood. We climb four stories to the top of an 18th-century building where Ángeles Muntadas-Prim lives and works. Her technique is mixed media, mainly mineral pigments and acrylic. She paints while kneeling on the floor. Intense reds and blues are the most prominent colors. She traces nerve-like patterns as well as human silhouettes, especially Asian figures.

“I traveled through Asia and it shows,” says the 44-year-old artist, who is writing a doctoral thesis on the cobalt-blue dye trade between China and the early Islamic world. “It is my favorite color.”

There are a dozen paintings ready for framing. “Ángeles paints very anarchically, so I can choose any sort of frame style—Renaissance, Baroque, contemporary—and they all work well,” says Cordoba. Muntadas-Prim never argues. “Ramón is as much an artist as I am, so I just let him do as he wishes,” she says.

Cordoba’s enthusiasm for artists who haven’t yet gained full recognition was on display on a visit to Julio Barrionuevo, 46, a painter whom the framer has given studio space above his vast workshop in L’Hospitalet, a blue-collar suburb southwest of Barcelona. On the 3,000-square-foot ground floor below, five longtime Cordoba assistants labor over back orders for frames and repair torn canvasses that date back a century or more.

Barrionuevo first gained a following for his paintings of cigars floating disembodied on the canvas in all sizes and angles. His more recent works superimpose thickly applied black acrylic drawings of labyrinths or nets on blow-ups of Google satellite maps of New York, Paris, London and Vienna that are painted in basic mineral pigments of red, yellow and black. “I like basic colors—they make the paintings more sober,” says Barrionuevo. Not only does he allow Cordoba complete freedom to pick out the frames but accepts his suggestions that some paintings—especially the largest ones, which are 7 feet by 6 feet—are better without a frame.

The last artist we visit, Eduard Arranz-Bravo, is the most successful, with paintings that sell for five and six figures on both sides of the Atlantic. Not only has Cordoba framed hundreds of his paintings and drawings, but he also owns more than 80 of his works. Arranz-Bravo, 70, lives and paints in a contemporary three-level house on a hill high above Barcelona, with spectacular views of the city and the Mediterranean and a lush, green, sloping garden surrounding his swimming pool. His studio is bathed in soft, indirect natural light from an angled skylight. His windowless bedroom is a monk’s cell, with just enough space for a bed and bookcases.

Arranz-Bravo gets up at 5 a.m., works until lunch at 2 p.m., and resumes painting until 7 p.m., when he collapses on his bed to watch TV over a light supper and then falls asleep. He complains about upcoming trips abroad to promote his work at gallery shows. “I just want to get back and paint,” says Arranz-Bravo, who nonetheless takes time today for his monthly lunch with Cordoba.

On this occasion, the venue is El Tritón, a posh restaurant popular with upper-crust Catalan families and located in the university district west of the harbor. It is a typical social meal generously hosted by Cordoba for a collector friend, Arranz-Bravo and a younger painter—all of them clients. A mound of crayfish is quickly devoured, then filets of grilled Mediterranean bass, and finally, for some of us, cuajada con miel—milk curds with honey—with a couple of bottles of chilled white Catalan wine. The two artists and the collector pump Cordoba for news about other artists. He regales them with some humorous anecdotes and then a sad one about an aged artist who is going blind yet insists on painting.

Inevitably, talk turns to Spain’s deep recession, and the mystery of why the Barcelona art market has survived relatively unscathed. Fine paintings and gourmet food apparently remain basic necessities for Catalans with disposable income. “Art prices have remained high, and come to think of it, so have restaurant prices,” says Cordoba with a mock expression of pain as he removes a high-denomination euro note from his wallet and watches the waiter sweep it away with the bill. “Goodbye, little one; we barely got to know each other.”

Brit Mod http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/2011/03/brit-mod/ Tue, 01 Mar 2011 05:01:00 +0000 http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/?p=897 Continue reading ]]> By Sallie Brady

After a long period of neglect, 20th-century British sculptors are once again basking in the art market’s sunshine.

When Alberto Giacometti’s Walking Man I (1961) strode off the auction block for an astounding $104.3 million in Sotheby’s London salesroom last February, it was a milestone not only for the artist but for the entire sculpture world. When Amedeo Modigliani’s Tête (1910–12), sold for $59.5 million at Christie’s Paris in June, it seemed that sculpture’s reputation as painting’s poor cousin had finally been erased. As art dealers report strong interest in modern sculpture, particularly among new collectors in their 30s and 40s, the timing couldn’t be better to rediscover one of the 20th century’s most exciting sculpture movements, which savvy buyers are learning is still accessible and largely undervalued.

The British school in particular is seeing a revival of interest on both sides of the Atlantic. With the Royal Academy of Art mounting the first exhibition in 30 years devoted to modern British sculpture (through April 7), top galleries featuring modern sculpture shows, a new museum devoted to Barbara Hepworth opening this spring and important pieces appearing on stands at the world’s leading art and antiques fairs, this segment of the art market is unfashionable no more.

“Modern British sculpture” is a broad category, in theory spanning everything from the work of late Victorians such as Alfred Gilbert, noted for his London public monuments, to—if you believe the curators of the Royal Academy’s Modern British Sculpture exhibition—Damien Hirst. Usually, however, it refers to artists who began working between the wars, such as Leon Underwood, Jacob Epstein, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth; artists who really came into their own after World War II, such as Kenneth Armitage, Lynn Chadwick, Eduardo Paolozzi, Reg Butler, Robert Adams, Bernard Meadows, Geoffrey Clarke and William Turnbull; and artists such as Elisabeth Frink, Anthony Caro and Michael Ayrton who worked in the 1960s, ’70s and beyond. All these sculptors shared a common interest in innovating with materials—they cast pieces in bronze; carved out of stone, marble and wood; created with wire, bone and steel; and experimented with open forms that allowed their pieces to interact with the landscape.

Of all of the modern British sculptors, the best known internationally are the two who continue to command the highest prices, often in the six and seven figures: Henry Moore (1898–1986) and Barbara Hepworth (1903–75). The lives of these artists, who grew up not far from one another in Northern England, followed similar arcs, with early preference for sculpture over other mediums and studies at the same art schools, followed by travels abroad. Hepworth would return to England, marry the artist Ben Nicholson and make her home in the artists’ colony of St. Ives, where she perfected her abstract forms. In 1931, she was the first artist to “pierce a hole in a solid mass,” which, along with the taut strings she integrated into her work, aptly portrayed the tension in her life (she famously shipped her triplets off to be raised elsewhere so she could focus on her work). Her St. Ives studio, with a collection of works in situ, can still be visited today, and is well worth the journey to Cornwall.

While Moore enjoyed a much larger international reputation than Hepworth ever did, some critics say that the mid-century sexism that rewarded him with numerous commissions worldwide, actually helped her in the long run: Moore’s pieces became increasingly repetitive and monumental as he aged and traveled constantly, while Hepworth, with more time to spend on her work, continued to innovate.

Looking back, early 20th-century Britain was actually slow to pick up on the abstract movements on the Continent, but as young artists such as Hepworth and Moore won scholarships to Paris and Rome, elements of Cubism, Fauvism and Futurism began showing up in their work. The Victorian figurative mode gave way to abstraction. Artists were also inspired by the ethnographic sculpture and antiquities they spent hours sketching at the British Museum. The true high point of the current Royal Academy show is a gallery that juxtaposes the works of modern British sculptors with the pieces from the British Museum that they studied.

Leon Underwood (1890–1975), who still remains surprisingly undervalued despite the fact that he taught Moore and is dubbed the father of modern British sculpture, found inspiration on his early travels through the Mayan and Aztec ruins of Mexico. Underwood, in turn, pointed Moore to works of art from this region that were on view at the British Museum. Indeed, Moore would later credit the reclining statues at Chichén Itzá for his own trademark supine form. The Robert Bowman Modern gallery in London is offering an intriguing example of Underwood’s modern Pre-Columbian work at its first exhibition of modern British sculpture (through April 7), including The Liar (1953) a richly patinated bronze mask cast by the artist himself with an asking price of £18,000.

This period’s most renowned portrait sculptor was actually American, though he eventually became a British subject. Jacob Epstein (1880–1959) was the New York-born son of Polish-Jewish immigrants. He moved to London and then to Paris to study at the École des Beaux-Arts, where he hobnobbed with Rodin, Brancusi and Modigliani and developed the distinctive, Impressionistic sculptural method that critics dubbed “the mud pie.” When the artist moved back to London he carried with him a letter of introduction from Rodin which kicked off a lifetime’s worth of prestigious commissions from the Who’s Who of the era. Albert Einstein (1933), George Bernard Shaw (1934) and T.S. Eliot (1951) are among the bronze Epstein busts that Bowman is selling in his current show for prices of £40,000 and up. He is also bringing them to his booth at TEFAF in Maastricht (March 18–27). Another important Epstein bronze, a portrait of Sir Winston Churchill (1946), who was not the most compliant sitter, will be with MacConnal-Mason Gallery at Art Antiques London (June 9–15).

Epstein is also known for public monuments that contrasted dramatically in style with his portrait work. Roughly hewn from fieldstone or—in the case of the magnificent Adam (1938–39) on view at the Royal Academy show—alabaster, they challenged public taste with unabashed sexuality. He was the right man to receive the commission for Oscar Wilde’s tomb (1912) at the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, which for many years was covered with a tarp.

Art historians agree that the grit of postwar Britain molded the work of its artists. Media entrepreneur Chris Ingram, who began collecting modern British art with a vengeance 10 years ago and has amassed a trove of 300 pieces, says, “There was quite a bit of hardship in postwar Britain. We had experienced two world wars in rapid succession; we were rapidly losing our empire; there was a lot of debt. For some reason this edgy, challenging, and sometimes, downright grim work appealed to me.”

While Ingram had always been interested in art his keen business instinct sniffed out a category that was well-priced and undervalued. He was interested by the way the works reflected the era, particularly pieces by Elisabeth Frink, whose husband’s wartime shrapnel injuries appeared in her disturbing bronze heads. Ingram’s collection, which is on loan to the Lightbox gallery in Woking, England, was exhibited in January at Sotheby’s London alongside Jorge Lewinski’s fantastic black-and-white photographs of British sculptors at work.

Despite the austerity and gloom of the ’50s, Ingram notes “there was an extraordinary flow of artistic talent in those days,” a phenomenon that was not lost on the international art world when Britain entered into global art competitions. In 1952, the nation didn’t send its painters to the Venice Biennale; it sent its sculptors: Chadwick, Butler, Armitage, Meadows, Adams, Clarke, Paolozzi and Turnbull all showed their bronze, steel and pitted-metal works in the exhibition New Aspects of Sculpture, which became the talk of the art world. Critic Herbert Read quoted T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, famously describing the British pavilion as “the geometry of fear.”

Four years later the Brits would triumph again when Lynn Chadwick was awarded the 1956 International Sculpture Prize at the Venice Biennale, beating out none other than Alberto Giacometti. To this day, Chadwick’s thought-provoking pieces, with their geometric heads and cloaked bodies, are instantly identifiable and internationally pursued. Serious collectors will want to note that a rare piece from that seminal 1956 Venice showing will be for sale at London’s Masterpiece fair (June 30–July 5) when Osborne Samuel Gallery offers Chadwick’s Teddy Boy & Girl (1955), from a bronze edition of six. Osborne Samuel is also bringing a grouping of Chadwick and Henry Moore sculptures to Maastricht this month.

For collectors in New York, Tasende Gallery of La Jolla, Calif., will be bringing Chadwick sculptures, including some pieces from the 1950s, as well as Moore drawings and sculpture, to The Armory Show–Modern (March 3–6). At TEFAF, an important monumental Moore bronze, Mother and Child: Block Seat (1983) will be with Landau Fine Art of Montreal, Canada.

In 1958 Kenneth Armitage (1916–2002) had a one-man show at the Venice Biennale and the Tate bought Diarchy (1957), a seven-foot sculpture. Armitage’s distinctive abstract bronzes suggest crowds walking on the streets or groups in conflict. Robert Bowman is offering the model for the sculpture, one of six lifetime casts, for £85,000.

Those rising stars of the 1950s Biennales were well noted by American museums and galleries, which began including them in exhibitions and actively purchased their works. Peggy Guggenheim and MoMA bought pieces as early as the 1952 Biennale. “There was a strong interest in British sculpture in the States during the 1950s and 1960s,” says James Rawlin, Sotheby’s senior director of 20th-century British art. In addition, he points out, some “very, very good” private collections of modern British art were assembled in the U.S. during that time and subsequently forgotten. “We often get calls from Americans who may have inherited these works and have no idea what they have,” says Rawlin, noting how much of this sculpture fell out of fashion in the 1980s and 1990s.

But one artist whose reputation has thrived on both sides of the pond is Anthony Caro (born 1924), the noted sculptor in metal who studied with Moore but then set out to follow his own aesthetic. With his painted silhouettes of geometric steel, Caro’s can’t help but look perpetually young, as Mitchell-Innes & Nash gallery of New York demonstrated in December at Art Basel Miami Beach with a stand devoted to Caro and the late painter Kenneth Noland. At the Masterpiece fair this June Hazlitt, Holland-Hibbert of London will feature a collection of very good Caros.

No doubt, this year’s major show at the Royal Academy and its satellite exhibitions is drawing much-deserved attention to modern British sculpture. It will also be Hepworth’s year, with the opening in May of the Hepworth Wakefield in Yorkshire, which will house 40 pieces donated by the Hepworth estate. A two-hour train ride from London, it’s a perfect day-trip or a weekend when partnered with a visit to the neighboring Yorkshire Sculpture Park, which features some of the country’s finest monumental pieces set on spectacular acres of England’s North Country. Hazlitt, Holland-Hibbert, which has a long history of bringing Hepworth pieces to the now-discontinued Grosvenor House fair, is planning a special exhibition devoted to her this year at Art Basel (June 15 to 19).

Some major works of modern British sculpture will be appearing on the auction block in the coming months. Christie’s London has already announced the offering of Hepworth’s Biomorphic Theme in their 20th-century British art sale on May 26 (est. £120,000–180,000) and Sotheby’s London will be selling a rare Lynn Chadwick Steel and Copper Mobile in their sale on May 25 (est. £150,000–250,000). Collectors can also look forward to fairs that showcase the works of these artists, particularly the previously mentioned June events in London, Art Basel and the 20/21 British Art Fair (September 13–18).

Experts caution that this category is not going to remain undervalued forever. “In 2005 we saw a real move in the market,” says Bowman, “with new collectors entering into it. Five years ago a Hepworth would have sold for £50,000–60,000. Today it would go for £200,000–300,000. A Henry Moore that would have sold then for £60,000–70,000, today will go for £200,000–300,000.”

Among the works of second-tier artists, some discoveries can still be made. Five years ago one of Michael Ayrton’s classic Minotaurs sold for £5,000–10,000, while today such a piece would bring £20,000–30,000. Reg Butler’s Young Girl (1951) for which Ingram paid £15,000 in 2005, today would now fetch three times that amount. “This generation of artists working in the 1950s and 1960s are almost entirely deceased,” says Sotheby’s Rawlin. “That era of sculpture-making is over.”

Modigliani Finds a Dealer http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/2011/02/modigliani-finds-a-dealer/ Tue, 01 Feb 2011 05:01:52 +0000 http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/?p=848 Continue reading ]]> By Meryle Secrerst

Excerpted from the forthcoming book Modigliani: A Life, by Meryle Secrest, published by Alfred A. Knopf.

Amedeo Modigliani (1884–1920) was a charismatic figure about whom legends began to accumulate long before his death. His creative power, striking good looks and extravagant way of life set him apart even in Paris’ bohemia at the turn of the century. A new, full-scale biography, Modigliani: A Life (Knopf, $35), due out on March 4, dispels many of the Modigliani myths. The author, Meryle Secrest, has published numerous biographies of art-world figures, including Bernard Berenson, Salvador Dalí and Kenneth Clark.
In this exclusive excerpt from Modigliani: A Life, we pick up the story in 1907. The Italian-born painter and sculptor has been living in Paris for a year, and the money his indulgent family sent with him has run out. He has found his way into the same circles as Picasso, Braque, Utrillo and Apollinaire, but is still in search of his artistic direction. Modigliani has no dealer and cannot sell enough work to make a living, so he finds himself depending on the charity of a fellow Italian, the café owner Rosalie Tobia.

Rosalie Tobia was owner of a tiny restaurant, Chez Rosalie, on the rue Campagne Première, narrow, smoky, and dimly lit, reeking of boiled cabbage, which she ran with her son Luigi. While she stirred the soup with a wooden ladle, Luigi, in shirt sleeves and wrapped in a blue apron, would be drying glasses and dishes with a filthy rag. Rosalie had posed in the nude for Bouguereau, Carolus-Duran and Cabanel, and had had lovers. At that stage it was impossible to imagine, since she was completely shapeless, with sagging breasts, a dirty dress, and some sort of net or Neapolitan kerchief covering her stringy hair.

Chez Rosalie advertised itself as a crémerie, serving café au lait and chocolate, but was, in effect, a kind of personal charity. Rosalie would trudge to Les Halles before dawn each morning to buy the day’s provisions, returning on the Métro with a sack on her back. She had a quick temper, one that concealed a warm heart. Any stray dog or cat at the door was sure of a meal. She also fed mice and the rats in nearby stables, to the exasperation of her neighbors. Starving artists were another specialty. She would assemble a group at one of her four marble-topped tables, disappear into her minute kitchen, and appear with an enormous bowl of steaming spaghetti, then bang it down in the middle of the table. There would be cheap wine and few leftovers. Those who could pay, did. Those who could not, ate anyway.

Lunia Czechowska, who knew Modigliani in the last years of his life, explained that Rosalie had her protégés but Modigliani was in a category all his own, “her god.” He liked the Italian dishes she favored with plenty of oil and would say, “When I eat an oily dish it’s like kissing the mouth of a woman I love.” If he had nowhere to stay he would bed down on sacks in the back and, on good days, help Rosalie peel the potatoes and string the beans. On bad days, she would try to get him to pay his bill and he would reply, “A man who has no money shouldn’t die of hunger.” That would start a fight. According to Czechowska, Modigliani’s solution would be to start talking in French, which Rosalie barely spoke, and that would end the matter.

Payment was simple: another drawing, Rosalie complaining all the time that she had too many already. The legend, probably true, is that she kept them, covered with grease, in a kitchen cupboard, the rats gnawed away at them, and when she thought of cashing them in it was too late. But then, art appreciation was hardly Rosalie’s strong point, despite the Modiglianis, Kislings, Picassos, Utrillos, and the like on the yellow-stained walls. The Russian Cubist painter Marevna (Marie Vorobieff) tells the story that, to atone for some of those free meals, Modigliani once painted a fresco on one of her walls. Rosalie was so disgusted that, next day, she made Luigi cover it up with white paint.

Gino Severini, the Futurist painter, recalled that he was having dinner one evening in a Montmartre café when Modigliani appeared, sans le sou and looking very hungry. Severini invited him to join him, and Modigliani ordered a meal. Severini, however, had no money either and was eating on credit. As the end of the meal approached Severini became more and more anxious. What was he to do? Modigliani knew him well enough to know that, once under the influence, Severini would collapse with laughter. So Modigliani quietly slipped him a small amount of hashish. It was an instant success. When the bill was presented Severini immediately saw the funny side. He smirked, he giggled, he let out a belly laugh. It really was a joke. It was a riot. He cried with laughter. He was doubled up. He almost rolled on the floor. Evidence that he made a total spectacle of himself was not long in coming; the owner threw them both out.

Modigliani was exhibiting, trying to sell his work, and looking for a dealer. No longer was the Salon, that fortress of the artistic establishment, the only place an artist could exhibit, or even the Salon des Réfusés, established by the Impressionists in the 1860s. Now there was the Salon des Indépendants, established by such artists as Georges Seurat, Odilon Redon, and Paul Signac. And there was yet another anti-establishment venue, the Salon d’Automne. The creation of a prominent architect and writer, Fritz Jourdain, the Salon d’Automne attracted a socially prominent crowd when it opened its doors in October 1903. At the Petit Palais, Proust, in white tie and tails, mingled with the politician Léon Blum and the aristocratic Comtesse de Noailles. It was a success on every count and became at once a major goal of every young unknown. In 1907 the Salon accepted seven works by Modigliani: the portrait of his friend the German artist Ludwig Meidner, a Study of a Head, and five watercolors.

Again, nothing sold. But in this case, it hardly mattered. The event also exhibited 48 oils by Cézanne, the master of Aix who had died the year before. His watercolors were concurrently on view at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune. Modigliani was taken by storm. “Whenever Cézanne’s name was mentioned, a reverent expression would come over Modigliani’s face,” the art historian Alfred Werner wrote. “He would, with a slow and secretive gesture, take from his pocket a reproduction of ‘Boy With Red Vest,’ hold it up to his face like a breviary, draw it to his lips and kiss it.”

Modigliani was always sketching portraits of his friends, and once at Montmartre he joined the legions of “café artists” who made the rounds in the hope of finding willing sitters. Their methods varied little, according to Sisley Huddleston, an English writer who wrote about Montparnasse and Bohemia in the years between the wars. The artist, portfolio under his arm, would enter the café, size up the situation, and then wend his way through the tables. He was likely to stop hopefully and smile. At the least look of enquiry he had drawn up a chair and begun work. From long experience he knew the subject would be a lady, preferably wearing a splendid hat to which he would give close attention. If the artist had done his work the portrait would be flattering, the lady delighted, and her escort perfectly willing to buy. Most artists, Huddleston said, were lucky to find three willing subjects a night, and if they all bought he was even luckier.

Modigliani could be seen almost every night at the Rotonde, with his nonchalant walk, his blue portfolio always under his arm, and then “drawing ceaselessly in a notebook the pages of which he was forever tearing out and crumpling up,” wrote Francis Carco, a novelist and friend of the artist. Conrad Moricand, a painter, author, and astrologer, often watched him at work. He wrote that Modigliani would look with concentration on the face before him and then begin to draw with an incisive pencil. “His working method was always the same. He would begin with the two essential points, first the nose of his model, which one finds emphasized in all his work, next the eyes, with their different polarities, then the mouth and finally the outline of the face, delicately indicated by cross- hatching.” As he began work his handsome face would contort itself into the most frightful grimaces and he would be deaf to everything going on around him, including the constant jokes and teasing. “He was usually good for four or five drawings like this, sometimes more, that were superb. The rest were usually dissolved in drink.”

It took seven more years, but in 1914 Modigliani finally found a dealer. He was Guillaume Chéron on the rue la Boétie, a small, round, fat man who is portrayed by Modigliani with a bulbous nose above what passes for a moustache. Chéron began life as a bookmaker and wine merchant in the south of France and transferred to pictures after he married the daughter of Devambez, a well-known dealer, and moved to Paris. Chéron knew nothing about art, and most memoirists paint him as boorish as well as ignorant. But he needed clients, realized the importance of publicity, and sent out booklets extolling the virtues of buying art as a financial investment. All that Chéron required were paintings, as cheap as possible. Those were the days when dealers collected stables of artists and paid daily stipends to get the work. Modigliani received 10 francs a day. Chéron provided a studio, paints, brushes, canvas, a model, and the necessary bottle of brandy. The studio was in the basement, leading to several lurid accounts of Modigliani’s incarceration in a dungeon with a single window, locked in until he had produced a painting. Since the “basement” also contained a dining room where Chéron and guests lunched every day, the account seems as fanciful as most of the other reminiscences about Modigliani. He certainly did not complain about his quarters. He was absolutely delighted to have a job. “Now I’m a paid worker on a salary,” he told his friends. He and Chéron soon parted company, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Max Jacob, one of the many fascinating characters in the circle of Montparnasse in those days, had arrived in Modigliani’s life. Picasso biographer John Richardson wrote, “The pale, thin gnome with strange, piercing eyes . . . was a Frenchman—brilliant, quirkish, perverse—with whom [Picasso] found instant rapport . . . [H]e was infinitely perceptive about art as well as literature and an encyclopedia of erudition— as at home in the arcane depths of mysticism as in the shallows of l’art populaire. He was also very, very funny.” Jacob, a poet, artist, writer, and art critic, knew and liked Modigliani, and the sentiment was returned. Jacob had studied philosophy, could recite poetry with as much confidence as Modigliani, was addicted to ether and henbane, and was an alchemist. He had introduced Picasso to the Tarot and probably did the same for Modigliani. He was also adept at palmistry and famously had read Picasso’s hand and perhaps Modigliani’s as well, though there is no record of this. But his main gift seems to have been as a facilitator, with a vast network of friends. Hearing that Modigliani and Chéron had parted ways, Jacob had an inspired idea: he would introduce him to Paul Guillaume.

Like Jacob, Guillaume came from a modest background and, also like Jacob, was born with an innate aesthetic sense, rising like a meteor from an entry-level job as a clerk in a rubber-importing company to a collector of African statues and then an expert on primitive art. He was still only in his early 20s. On the other hand he had met the poet and art critic Guillaume Apollinaire, who immediately sensed his unusual abilities and introduced him to the world of artists and sculptors. Most of them were looking, as was Modigliani, for someone who instinctively appreciated and understood their work and had the wit to promote it. In that respect Guillaume was heaven sent. Aspiring art dealers usually started business in a modest way in the rue de Seine on the Left Bank with the goal of eventually reaching wealthier clients on the Right Bank.

Guillaume, who did not have any time to waste, started in the rue de Miromesnil, “a neighborhood dominated by the opulent, historic, institutional galleries,” as the art historian Marc Restellini has written. It was the maddest folly from a business viewpoint, since artists like Picasso, Matisse, and Derain had already found their dealers, but for unknowns it was an enormous piece of luck. Somehow Jacob, like Apollinaire, was convinced that Guillaume would become famous, as indeed happened with remarkable suddenness, and he decided to introduce the two men. The trick would be to have Guillaume meet Modigliani as if by accident. There are conflicting versions of this story, but they agree on some details. Jacob set the scene with care. He had a date to meet Guillaume one afternoon at the Café du Dôme. Modigliani, as agreed, would arrive ahead of them and make a show of passing his drawings around. His table would be nearby. Jacob was convinced that Guillaume would soon “discover” him.

All of it happened as Jacob planned. Guillaume drifted over to Modigliani’s table, liked the drawings, and sat down. From here the versions differ. In the first, when asked if he had any paintings to show, Modigliani curtly said he did not. No doubt Modigliani thought of himself as a sculptor, but after having gone to all the trouble to stage a rendezvous it is hardly likely that he would have brusquely rejected the invitation he had been angling for. The second version is more likely. When Guillaume asked the same question Modigliani, who perhaps had been hoping to be asked about sculpture, nevertheless admitted that he did paint “a bit.” He complained to Jacob about it afterward. But he did accept the invitation and Guillaume did, indeed, become his new agent.

Like Derain and Giorgio de Chirico, whom Guillaume also represented, Modigliani painted several portraits of his dealer. Guillaume, who dressed with fastidious attention to detail, was as short as Modigliani but not as good-looking. The proportions of his face were against him—cheekbones too wide, forehead much too low— and he had a certain humorless habit of parting his hair strictly in the middle and plastering it down, something that may have made him look older but did nothing to correct the imbalance. He took to wearing hats with sizable crowns, which solved the problem of proportions, and two of Modigliani’s portraits show him hatted. On a portrait painted in 1915 Modigliani has appended “Novo Piloto,” and that was literally true. Modigliani desperately needed a guiding hand along with the publicity only a clever dealer could provide. A year later, Guillaume is still wearing a hat and an arm rests negligently along the back of his chair. A right hand is visible, and just below it, Modigliani has signed his name. Did he feel he was under Guillaume’s thumb? Was he being sufficiently grateful? An article written by Guillaume some months after Modigliani’s death in 1920 offers some clues.

“Because he was very poor and got drunk whenever he could, (Modigliani) was despised for a long time,” Guillaume wrote, “even among artists, where certain forms of prejudice are more prevalent than is generally believed . . . He was shy and refined—a gentleman. But his clothes did not reflect this, and if someone happened to offer him charity, he would become terribly annoyed.” Who could forget his “strange habit of dressing like a beggar” that nevertheless “gave him a certain elegance, a distinction—nobility in the style of Milord d’Arsouille that was astonishing and sometimes frightening. One only had to hear him pompously reciting Dante in front of the Rotonde, after brasseries closed, deaf to the insults of the waiters, indifferent to the rain that soaked him to the bone.”
One spring day in 1914 Alberto Magnelli, an Italian artist four years Modigliani’s junior, who happened to be in Paris studying Cubism, was strolling along the boulevard Montparnasse in a westerly direction toward the railway station. It was a beautiful morning, and he was thinking of other things when he realized that the conductor of a tram, also traveling in his direction, was ringing his bell violently and simultaneously applying his brakes with a great screeching noise. He looked up and saw a man on the opposite sidewalk crossing the street in front of the tram, walking like an automaton straight toward it. He was bound to be hit. With a start, Magnelli realized it was Modigliani.

In a flash Magnelli had sprinted across the street and flung himself at Modigliani, whose eyes looked glassy and enormous. He wrote, “I do not know how I managed to get in front of him in time.” He was so close to the tram that it scraped him as it passed. As for Modigliani, he had been knocked to the ground and seemed, at that moment, to have come to his senses. He was helped over to the sidewalk and the nearest café table, which happened to be at the Rotonde. Magnelli ordered a round of drinks. About his narrow escape from death, Modigliani did not say a word.

A Passionate Patron http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/2011/01/a-passionate-patron/ Sat, 01 Jan 2011 05:01:36 +0000 http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/?p=809 Continue reading ]]> In Kingston, Jamaica, curator-artist David Boxer lives with an encyclopedic collection of his nation’s best art.

By Edward M. Gómez

Not too long ago, a slogan for Jamaica’s tourism industry advised, “It’s not just a beach. It’s a country.” Apparently, some visitors needed to be reminded that the sun-drenched island was, in fact, an independent state with a complex society and a vibrant culture. A British colony until 1962, Jamaica became world-famous for reggae music in the 1970s, but its political, business and cultural leaders wanted their homeland to be known for more than an irresistible, throbbing bass line.

That very goal was given a big boost in 1974 by the opening of the National Gallery of Jamaica, a government-funded repository of the country’s visualarts patrimony. The museum collects, conserves and displays the creations of academically trained and self-taught artists alike. Housed in a nondescript modern building on the waterfront in downtown Kingston, a district of low-rise blocks whose street plan dates back to colonial times, the National Gallery has benefited almost since its inception from the contributions of David Boxer, an art historian, collector and artist in his own right who served as the museum’s first full-time director and curator starting in 1975. Today he serves as director emeritus and chief curator. A Kingston native, Boxer earned an undergraduate degree in art history from Cornell and master’s and doctorate degrees in the same field from Johns Hopkins.

After finishing his studies in the U.S., Boxer returned to Jamaica. It was Edna Manley, a well-known education-and-culture activist and modernist sculptor, who had recommended that the young art expert come back to take over the helm of the recently established National Gallery. The daughter of an English cleric and his Jamaican wife, Edna Manley was the wife of Norman Manley, the political leader who had steered Jamaica toward independence. She had become a close friend of Boxer’s when he made a documentary film about her sculpture in 1972. The two shared interests in music, Jamaican culture and art. Later, Boxer wrote a monograph about her work, which was published in 1990. “She was perhaps the most important cultural figure in the three decades leading up to Independence,” Boxer observes, “and continued to play a key role as a cultural activist in post-Independence Jamaica.”

In his own work as a painter, Boxer has assimilated such influences as surrealism, post-Cubist gestural abstraction and a vigorous tachiste mode of handling paint. His work shows some of the anxiety that pulses through the work of Francis Bacon; the romanticism of Joseph Cornell; and an interest in myth, archaeology and the spiritual, especially in relation to subjects like slavery and Jamaica’s colonial past. Boxer was one of the first Jamaican artists to create mixed-media installations, bringing together old photographs, his own paintings and found objects in art environments that evoked a poetic, psychologically charged sense of the past. As an avid collector of paintings, drawings and sculptures made by his countrymen, Boxer is someone whose sensibility has been deeply influenced by his consideration of what it means to be a Jamaican—the heir and representative, that is, of a tiny country with a multi-layered and multicultural but sometimes unsettling history.

With such a sensitivity in mind, Boxer’s installation of the National Gallery’s permanent collection highlights ways in which Jamaican modern artists—some of whom studied in Britain or the U.S.—used modernist styles to depict such local subject matter as the landscape, Independence-era national heroes and urban or rural scenes. In part, they used art to both reflect and help shape a sense of an emerging country’s national identity. Boxer has also supported the work of his country’s contemporary art-makers and, in particular, of its distinctive outsider or self-taught artists, who are known locally as the “Jamaican Intuitives.”

This term, which replaced the ill-fitting labels “naives” or “primitives,” came from “The Intuitive Eye,” Boxer’s title for the first of a series of influential exhibitions of this kind of art, which he organized for the National Gallery in 1979. Two more came later, in 1987 and 2006. All three examined in depth the work of these legendary artists—many of whom have died in recent years—including Mallica Reynolds (who was known as “Kapo”), Leonard Daley, Everald Brown (“Brother Brown”) and Ras Dizzy (whose real name was Birth Livingstone).

“Since the late 1930s, when commentators began to articulate ideas about a ‘Jamaican School,’ the achievements of self-taught artists working outside the parameters of academic art were usually only footnoted,” Boxer says. Later, his exhibitions “brought these artists to the fore” in discussions of Jamaican art. Their work is not about trendy art theories or styles, he explains. Instead, as he puts it, these autodidacts’ main concern is with the content of their work, which addresses “the realities and surrealities of their daily and spiritual lives” and those of their communities. Boxer says: “Theirs is “not ‘art for art’s sake,’ but rather, as someone once described African art, ‘art for life’s sake.’”

Boxer began collecting the Intuitives’ work in 1975. Today, he owns one of the most comprehensive collections of Jamaican art in the world. Much of it is on display in his large house in Kingston, where he has lived for many years. Surrounded by trees and enclosing a patio and other cozy, open-air spaces, it is the kind of languid-looking Caribbean pile that would not be out of a place in a novel by Graham Greene. “The original part was built in the 1920s, using materials, like the floor tiles, which were imported from Cuba,” Boxer explains.

Each room of the house offers revelations and treasures, from some of Boxer’s own early paintings and a group of wooden carvings by the Jamaican Intuitive William “Woody” Joseph in the ground-floor salon to Forerunner (1941), a bust of a young man carved from yucca wood by Edna Manley in the curator-artist’s high-ceilinged study upstairs. Also on display in that room are a modern-style portrait of Boxer in oil on hardboard by Colin Garland and, on an easel, Young Male (1980), an oil-on-canvas by the same artist, who was born in Australia and made Jamaica his home for much of his life. Garland, who brought a Surrealist or magic-realist mood to many of his subjects, was inspired by Haitian and Jamaican self-taught artists, as well as by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, the 16th-century Italian painter who created fantastical portraits of heads made up of fruits and vegetables.

Just off Boxer’s study, the wall of a side hall is filled with small works by various Jamaican artists, and a separate sitting room nearby houses his collection of African statuettes; carvings by the Intuitives; artifacts from era of the Taino, a pre-Columbian people of the Caribbean; and assorted antiques, including a wooden-toy police constable with whirligig arms.

Among his holdings of works by the Intuitives, Boxer owns several ballpoint-pen drawings on paper by Ras Dizzy, an itinerant poet who had no fixed address but instead showed up regularly at the homes of friends and admirers. They took the wandering artist in, offered him meals and listened to his tall tales of world travel. In Ras Dizzy’s well-known blurring of fantasy and reality, for example, he claimed to have gone head to head in the boxing ring with Muhammad Ali and to have ridden the range with John Wayne and his movie-cowboy cohorts. Ras Dizzy’s Pop-flavored paintings in poster paint on illustration board depict race horses, palm trees, prize fighters, cowboys and fortune tellers. They have become increasingly rare—and coveted— since his death in 2008.

Boxer also owns enigmatic, mixed-media-on-plywood paintings from the early 1940s by John Dunkley, a Jamaican artist whose body of work, historically speaking, holds one of the earlier places in the Intuitives’ canon. Dunkley’s visionary works seem to recognize the presence of immortal spirits of rivers, forests and stones. Boxer says, “No Jamaican works move me as much as these dark canvases, with their quiet, brooding poetry from which emanate the stirrings of a sensitive but troubled soul.” In his art, the collector notes, Dunkley “presents a very personal dream world—slightly alien, otherworldly, but still intensely Jamaican.”

Boxer’s collection also features semi-abstract pictures done in house paint on board by Leonard Daley, an artist who lived in a single-room dwelling in the hills outside Kingston that was covered with his own hand-painted designs. Daley died four years ago. With their churning compositions filled with primordial-seeming birds, snakes, organic shapes and abstract forms, Daley’s paintings bring to mind the Surrealist drawings and canvases of American modernists of the late 1930s and early 1940s that later gave way to the various styles of full-blown Abstract Expressionism. “We have to go back to Bosch and Brueghel to find an artist capable of conjuring up hybrid creatures of such imagination,” Boxer enthuses, noting that Daley’s compositions are marked by some “complex, intuitive spatial dislocations.”

Despite limited resources in a belt-tightening era, the National Gallery of Jamaica still produces high-quality exhibitions. Last summer, Boxer oversaw a curatorial team that assembled “Young Talent V,” a survey of work by up-and-coming Jamaican contemporary artists. Lately, he has been preparing a book about his collection of Jamaican photography from the 1845–1920 period, in collaboration with the British art writer Edward Lucie-Smith. Some 400 images have been selected for the book; they capture the look and atmosphere of Boxer’s homeland during a time when aspects of the old, colonial-era infrastructure were giving way to modern industry, and when many Jamaicans’ social customs and worldview had not yet been dramatically affected by influences emanating from the U.S., after their island’s separation from Britain. A follow-up volume focusing on Boxer’s collection of 20th-century Jamaican photography is being planned.

As the Jamaican newspaper columnist Norman Rae noted a few years ago, Boxer has “emerged from under the mantle of Edna Manley’s encouragement…to rival and perhaps surpass [her] as the most influential figure in the development of the Jamaican art scene.” The biggest “monument” to Boxer’s achievements, Rae wrote, is the National Gallery of Jamaica itself, whose survival has often appeared precarious but whose mission has been vital to the cultural life of the country.

For Boxer, whose tastes and scholarly interests are wide-ranging, commitment to the visual arts unquestionably means recognizing both trained and untrained artists. “The greatest of the Intuitives have produced works that are uniquely theirs,” he says. “For myself and other aficionados, they are among the finest artworks produced anywhere in the 20th century, and they have been for me life-enhancing antidotes to the acres of vacuous contemporary works that too often parade as ‘high art’ in the art centers of the West. I love this art.” In the home of what is, in effect, a veteran curator’s private museum, those works have found a passionate and caring custodian.