The Boston Museum of Fine Arts has added a new employee to its roster, a Weimaraner puppy named Riley.  Riley will patrol the gallery on a quest to locate insects or other pests that can damage fine art and tapestry. Unfortunately, Riley will not be visible to patrons.

It will be interesting to hear if Riley’s addition to the museum helps to preserve the artwork and prevent damage from insects and pests.

In recent art world news, the Board of Directors of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston has voted to extend the $10 million reward for information leading to the return of 13 art works (valued at half a billion dollars) that were stolen nearly 30 years ago.  The reward was to have reverted to $5 million at the end of last year had it not been for the Board’s recent vote.  The extension of the reward was done in the “hope of enticing tips that would help recover works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas, Manet and others that were stolen in the world’s largest unsolved art heist.”

The theft occurred just after midnight on March 18, 1990 when two thieves appearing as Boston police officers deceived museum guards in gaining access to the building, restrained the guards, and then left nearly an hour and a half later with the valuable art works.

While there have been multiple suspects throughout the years and the Federal Bureau of Investigation has said in 2013 that agents had determined who the thieves were (but did not reveal their names), and added that the thieves were no longer living, the statute of limitations has run out on the theft in 1995, but the investigation is ongoing.

Isabella Stewart Gardner, the woman for whom the museum is named, was a leading American art collector, art patron, and philanthropist, who passed away in 1924.  Gardner had stipulated in her will that “the vast art collection in her home, modeled on a 15th-century Venetian palace, remain on permanent display exactly as she left it.  Nowadays empty gilded frames that held some of the works that were taken in 1990 still hang on the walls.”

For further information about the theft and Isabella Stewart Gardner, see the following articles, Learn About The Theft and An Unconventional Life, via the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum website.

 

In recent art world news, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (“Met”) announced last Thursday that visitors will have to pay a $25 mandatory admission fee if they reside outside New York State under a new policy that goes into effect on March 1, 2018.  The Met’s existing “pay-as-you-wish” policy will continue for state residents, but such individuals will be required to present address identification when the new policy begins—those without it will not be turned away and will be asked to bring it on their next visit.  The existing policy will also continue for students from adjacent states, Connecticut and New Jersey.  A full price admission ticket will be valid for three consecutive days at the Met’s three locations, which include the Met Breuer and the Cloisters.

The change is said to reflect the museum’s efforts to create “a reliable, annual revenue stream after a period of financial turbulence and leadership turmoil, particularly given what the Met describes as a sharp decline in people willing to pay the current ‘suggested’ admission price, also $25.”  In particular, the change is intended to provide the museum with

a predictable source of revenue at a time when institutions all over the country face competition for private donations and patrons’ leisure time; declining membership; and dwindling public dollars.”

As one of the most prestigious art institutions in the world, the Met has long distinguished itself from other such institutions, among the likes of the Louvre, the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim, by not charging a mandatory admissions fee.  The museum has long sustained itself through a combination of private donations and public dollars (the city provides operating support each year since it owns the Met’s building on Fifth Avenue).  The city’s allocation (currently about $26 million), however, is subject to changing economic conditions and the discretion of the Department of Cultural Affairs.

Tellingly, over the past 10 plus years, even when Met attendance had risen from 4.7 million to 7 million visitors, the museum had observed a sharp decline in the proportion of attendees who paid the full suggested admission fee (from 63 percent to 17 percent).  The museum admission fees account for 14 percent (or $43 million) of the Met’s $305 million operating budget.  The figure is expected to increase to 16 or 17 percent (or $49 million) with the new policy change.

For further information on the Met’s new admissions policy and for art critics’ reactions to same, see “Met Changes 50-Year Admissions Policy:  Non-New Yorkers Must Pay” and “The Met Should Be Open to All.  The New Pay Policy Is a Mistake[,]” published online by the New York Times on January 4, 2018.

In a recent report, New York City (Manhattan) District Attorney, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., announced the formation of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit, which was created to work with U.S. Homeland Security to combat the trade of stolen antiquities.  The Unit was formed after a number of culturally valuable pieces were found in New York City.  The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office recently announced the return of three ancient statutes to the Lebanese Republic.  It will be interesting to see what other treasures this Unit will uncover.

Massachusetts Appeals Court Justice, Joseph A. Trainor, granted a motion for an injunction on the sale of important works of the Berkshire Museum.  The auction was to be hosted by Sotheby’s this week. The controversial injunction was entered two weeks after Judge John A. Agostini of Massachusetts’ Superior Court held that the Board of Trustee’s of the Berkshire Museum was permitted to pursue its plan to raise $50 M through the sale of art.

Justice Trainor entered his decision after the Massachusetts Attorney General, Maura Healey, filed an appeal three days before the scheduled auction. The Massachusetts Attorney General based her last minute appeal on the fact that the lower court did not consider, among other things, that the planned deaccession of important works would violate the museum board’s duties under its museum charter.

The museum’s controversial sale was to include the sale of two famous Norman Rockwell paintings – Shuffleton’s Barbershop and Shaftesbury Blacksmith Shop. Sotheby’s announced that it was disappointed that the Massachusetts Attorney General had decided to appeal, and that Justice Trainor entered the injunction.  The Board of Trustees of the Berkshire Museum has been fighting Margaret Rockwell, who represents the family of Norman Rockwell as well as other dissatisfied museum members.

An intriguing story recently ran in the Los Angeles Times regarding an 18th century masterpiece painting that has gone missing for more than a century.  The mysterious painting seems to have been hiding in plain sight in a Los Angeles home since the mid-1950s, but the exact location of the work is unknown.  The painting is known as “Española” (Spanish Girl) after the primped and powdered child that is the focus of the work.  The lost work is from a treasured set of 16 paintings by the artist Miguel Cabrera (circa 1715-1768), who is considered the “greatest painter of his age” in Mexico.  It is believed that the paintings left the country shortly before the artist’s death, but the whereabouts of Española have long remained unknown.

Curator of Latin American art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Ilona Katzew, has been perplexed over the lost painting since 2015 after receiving an eccentric letter written in the first person voice of Española and then signed as if by the young child.  Española wrote in late summer 2015:  “You should know that I am well and living less than two (2) miles from LACMA,” adding “I have been in the same family for I believe 60 years, although I do not know how I was acquired.”

Cabrera’s Española painting is part of a treasured set of casta, or caste, paintings.  More than 120 casta sets, which typically include 16 numbered paintings, are known.  The casta sets were painted in different formats by talented artists of varying skill.  Most of these sets have been divided up and individual paintings widely circulated.  Cabrera had painted just one set, which is considered the genre’s finest.

Two paintings from Cabrera’s set of 16 had gone missing long ago, but one of them, No. 6, was found hidden in a Northern California home.  The painting’s owner researched the work’s history and her surprising discovery landed on the cover page of the Los Angeles Times in April 2015.  Soon thereafter, LACMA acquired the painting.  And Española’s owner went to see it.  Española in her letter from late summer 2015 further wrote:  “My owner enjoyed seeing #6 and I am pleased that we are all now accounted for despite the diaspora.”

Several photographs showing details of the missing Española painting were enclosed in the envelope.  Although there are no known pre-modern images or written descriptions of Cabrera’s set, Katzew has little doubt of the authenticity of the painting.

Española’s letter revealed another astonishing detail.

If you ever gather a reunion of all my siblings, I would welcome the opportunity to be on display for a limited period of time.  I am not lost, I just do not wish to be found.”

A near complete reunion occurred several years earlier when 14 of the 16 paintings from Cabrera’s set were brought together from museums in Madrid and Monterrey, Mexico as well as a Los Angeles foundation, for a major exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art entitled “Tesoros/Treasures/Tesouros:  The Art in Latin America, 1492-1820” in 2006.  The paintings from Cabrera’s set had not been displayed together in at least a century.

Española’s letter was signed by her and neatly typed in the format of formal business correspondence, however, she did not include a return mailing address, telephone number, e-mail address, or any other way to get in contact with the owner.  The stamps on the envelope were not even canceled at the post office.

During this time, Katzew was well into her research for her upcoming exhibition entitled “Painted in Mexico, 1700-1790:  Pinxit Mexici,” which is said to be the most comprehensive museum survey ever devoted to the period and is set to open at LACMA later this month on November 19, 2017.

Katzew is hopeful that Española’s owner will stop in to see the exhibition and perhaps get in contact again.  She has even made space for Española on the wall next to the painting’s “rediscovered sibling,” No. 6:

‘[No.] 3.  From Spaniard and Castiza, Spanish Girl,’ its full title, is an especially important picture in the set because of its uniquely sumptuous details.  The Spanish father, dressed in a dove-gray frock coat and tri-corner hat, is an aristocrat.  The castiza mother, offspring of a Spaniard and a mestiza (half Spanish, half Indian), is dressed in regal splendor—embroidered silks, delicate lace, pearls on her wrist and an extravagant coral necklace.”

For further information on this fascinating story, see “A masterpiece of Baroque painting, missing for more than a century, is hiding somewhere in L.A.,” published online by the Los Angeles Times on October 22, 2017.

In recent art world news, two new museums devoted to the late iconic French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent are opening this month.  The first is in Paris, which was the home of Yves Saint Laurent’s fashion empire, and the second is in Marrakech, which was the designer’s adopted city from which he drew inspiration in creating his fabled designs.  The museums represent years of work by the foundation established by Yves Saint Laurent with his business and life partner, Pierre Bergé, who passed away last month.

The Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris opened on October 3 in the hôtel particulier at 5 Avenue Marceau where Saint Laurent operated his fashion studio for nearly 30 years.  The building operated as Foundation Pierre Bergé—Yves Saint Laurent’s headquarters since 2004 and was converted into an exhibition space in the style of the original couture house by way of a €4 million refurbishment.

The Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech is set to open on October 19 in a new €15 million cultural center on Rue Yves Saint Laurent.  The pink granite, brass and brick museum also includes permanent and temporary gallery space, a research library, an auditorium, a conservation studio and a café.  The museum shares a personal connection to Saint Laurent through its proximity to the renowned Jardin Majorelle, a botanical garden that the designer and Bergé saved from destruction in 1980.

The museum in Marrakech will focus on the influence of Moroccan culture while the emphasis of the museum in Paris will be on the late designer in the broader context of the fashion industry.  The highlight of the museum in Paris is a recreation of Saint Laurent’s atelier (studio) filled with an assortment of swatches, samples and personal effects.

The [F]oundation’s collection of 5,000 haute couture garments and 15,000 accessories and archival materials will rotate between the two [museums], with 1,000 items, including 250 outfits, held in Marrakech at any one time.”

The new museums were supported through the efforts of Bergé who raised funds by selling most of the art collection he had built over time with Saint Laurent and his treasured library of rare books.  Christie’s three-part auction “sale of the century” in Paris in 2009 raised nearly €375 million for the Foundation and other charities.

Many in the art world may not know (myself included) that the late Impressionist artist Claude Monet was a significant art collector in his lifetime.  Monet possessed numerous paintings, including masterpieces, by both his predecessors and his contemporaries, from earlier artists Delacroix and Corot to artists during his time, namely, Manet, Renoir and Cézanne.  As a collector, Monet discreetly purchased art at auctions or from art dealers.

The Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris will be showing 77 paintings, watercolors and sculptures owned by the artist in an upcoming exhibition entitled “Monet Collectionneur” (“Monet the Collector”) opening September 14, 2017.  A number of the artworks come from the museum, which owns the world’s largest number of Monet works, as well as many other artworks that were once owned by the late artist and were donated by Monet’s second son, Michel.  Additional Monet works are on loan from New York’s Museum of Modern Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, and various museums throughout the world in Brazil, Japan and Germany.

Monet’s motivations for collecting art were very different from those of the typical art collector.  According to curator Ann Dumas of the Royal Academy of Arts in London,

[i]t was rare for artists to buy [art] as an investment.  Their overwhelming concern was admiring what another artist had done.  They often really loved other artists’ work and using it as an example and an inspiration.  It was much more personal and tied to their own creative process.”

As Monet’s art collection was kept very private during the artist’s lifetime, for the Musée Marmottan Monet, curating an exhibition on Monet the art collector has proved challenging.  Monet did not maintain records of his art collection, unlike artist Edgar Degas who was another significant artist-collector of the period.  It was reported that curating the exhibition was akin to a “police investigation.”

Complicating matters even further, the records of Monet’s personal belongings at Giverny, which were prepared at his death in 1926, were destroyed in World War II.  Nevertheless, the museum’s team of curators had managed to document 120 works as having been unequivocally owned by Monet.

The curator of the exhibition, Marianne Mathieu, said of the artist’s collection that “[t]he collection resembles Monet himself:  It’s the eye of Monet, it’s his selection,” and that “[t]he collection reveals another reality:  an artist with a very open mind.”

The museum’s exhibition is set to run through January 14, 2018.

 

Norman Rockwell is as famous as apple pie for his iconic depictions of American life.  Once shunned by the art world as an ordinary illustrator, Rockwell’s saccharine vignettes are now prized paintings.

The recent auction sale of a painting of three umpires for $1.6M USD at auction reveals that even mere studies by the artist are valuable. Research of his works prior to the auction at Heritage Auctions (an internet based auction gallery that is headquartered in Dallas, Texas with showrooms all over the country), revealed that Rockwell, best known as The Saturday Evening Post cover artist, created the painting of three umpires in the rain as a study (16 in. x 15 in. oil on paper) for his iconic 1949 magazine cover entitled Tough Call. The original painting also known as Game Called Because of Rain, Bottom of the Sixth, or The Three Umpires is in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Although thought to be a print, luckily, additional analysis of the work was conducted and its status as an original work by Rockwell was established. The painting, which had been given by the artist himself to John “Beans” Reardon, one of the umpires depicted in the painting, remained in Reardon’s family until the auction gallery was contacted regarding the potential sale of sports memorabilia.

Iconic film directors and friends, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, have been enthusiastic collectors of Rockwell for decades. Notably, in 2016, Lucas donated $1.5M USD to the Norman Rockwell Museum, which facilitated a traveling art exhibition of the museum’s work. The highest grossing Rockwell painting at auction, Saying Grace (1951), was sold in 2013 for over $46 M USD (over twice the high estimate).

It was reported that Lucas was the purchaser of the $46M Rockwell, which was to be showcased in his forthcoming Lucas Museum for Narrative Art.  However, Saying Grace is not represented on the Lucas museum’s website.  Earlier this year, Lucas received unanimous approval for his $1B museum to be built in Exposition Park in Los Angeles, California. The museum will open in 2021. Lucas intends for his museum to “be a barrier free museum where artificial divisions between “high” art and “popular” art are absent, allowing you to explore a wide array of compelling visual storytelling.”

I wonder if Albert C. Barnes were alive today whether he would support Lucas’ vision.

 

In recent news, an original Willem de Kooning known as “Woman-Ochre” was found at an estate sale by owners of Manzanita Ridge Furniture & Antiques, a New Mexico furniture and antiques shop (the owners include Buck Burns, Rick Johnson and David Van Auker).

Unaware that the work was an original de Kooning that had been stolen thirty years before, the antique dealers brought the work to their shop and marketed it as a decorative piece.  However, after the painting received significant interest, the dealers researched the provenance and determined that the work was the stolen art.  As a result of their efforts, the painting has been returned to its original owner, the University of Arizona Museum of Art.  Reunited with the Museum, the work (which had been cut from its frame during the heist thirty years ago) “fits like a glove” in its original frame.

In November, the Museum will have a special presentation regarding the “Woman-Ochre” entitled Out of the Vault – Art Crime. Museum Curator Olivia Miller and Registrar Kristen Schmidt will present on the theft of the de Kooning and Meredith Savona, a Special Agent with the FBI’s Art Crime Unit, will discuss art theft.

This recent discovery demonstrates the need to conduct proper provenance research.