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.

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 art world news, artworks that had been seized by the Nazis from German museums and later discovered hidden away by Cornelius Gurlitt, a reclusive Munich art collector who had amassed a collection of 1,500 artworks acquired by his Nazi-era art dealer father, have arrived at the Kunstmuseum Bern in Switzerland.

Select artworks from the Gurlitt collection are scheduled to go on view this fall on November 2, 2017.  The artworks included in the exhibition are only those whose provenances are known.  The origins of the remaining pieces from the collection are still under investigation in Germany.  Mr. Gurlitt, who had passed away in 2014, had bequeathed the entire collection, which includes art by Otto Dix, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Franz Marc, to the museum.

The highly anticipated exhibition is titled “Degenerated Art” and will be one of two simultaneous displays of select artworks from the Gurlitt collection.  The Kunstmuseum Bern will display about 200 of the 1,500 pieces from the collection.  The exhibition will focus on art that was seized by the German authorities and deemed “degenerate”.  “Degenerate” was a term adopted by the Nazi regime in Germany to describe virtually all modern art.

A separate set of artworks from the Gurlitt collection will be displayed at the Bundeskunsthalle museum in Bonn, Germany set to open on November 1, 2017.  That exhibition will include about 250 artworks that are believed to have been looted from private Jewish art dealers.

A related post on the Gurlitt collection entitled “Germany Extends Funding For Another Year To Establish Provenance Of Looted Art From Nazi Era” was previously published on the Art Law blog in March 2016.

 

 

In recent art world news, premier international art fair Art Basel opens later this week on Thursday, June 15, 2017 and runs through the entire weekend in Basel, Switzerland.  In this art collectors’ paradise, modern and contemporary art works will be showcased by nearly 300 galleries from 34 countries.  The world’s leading galleries will exhibit the works of over 4,000 artists and an intensive program of art talks will be offered each day.  Cultural institutions in Basel and the surrounding area will offer exhibitions and events during Art Basel 2017.

Art Basel’s conversations program will feature 23 talks by prominent art world authorities. According to Art Basel’s website, “[t]he series begins on Wednesday, June 14 with the Premiere Artist Talk devoted to Annette Messager and moderated by Dr. Maria Balshaw, Director of Tate, United Kingdom.  Among the other leading artists, gallerists, collectors, art historians, curators, museum directors and critics from across the world, speakers include artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster in dialogue with Kasper König, Artistic Director of Skulptur Projekte Münster 2017, and moderated by Hans Ulrich Obrist; artists Candice Breitz and Zanele Muholi who will discuss how young African artists can build recognition for their work; and artist Vadim Zkharov in conversation with Margarita Tupitsyn, Independent Scholar, Critic and Curator, who will present a political discussion on Russian Conceptualism.”

All conversations panels will be live streamed on Art Basel’s YouTube channel and on its website.

Art Basel is being held at Swiss exhibition site Messe Basel, featuring a hall designed by international architects Herzog & de Meuron of Basel.

Art collectors can get a preview of the art works that will be on display at Art Basel 2017 by accessing the online art catalog.

 

 

In recent art world news, recent restitution efforts of the Netherlands for returning looted art have come under scrutiny.  Some international critics assert that Dutch policies for restitution of looted art have become stricter once again.

Following World War II marked a “period in Dutch history when a cold cynicism toward Holocaust survivors meant that thousands of masterly works were rescued from the Nazis only to end up as Dutch national property” in which many of the works were displayed in Dutch museums.  The Allies returned about 8,000 to 9,000 works of art that had been found in Germany to the Netherlands.  This represented less than half of the works reported missing by the Holocaust survivor claimants.  By the early 1950s, the Dutch government announced that the restitution process had been completed and had stopped accepting claims – only about 500 to 1,000 works had been returned to their rightful owners at the time.

The Netherlands was once ridiculed for its obtuse efforts at recovery of looted works, but in the late 1990s the country embraced “progressive and pioneering efforts that have led it to be considered a model for enlightened restitution.”  While there were efforts in some European countries after the war to compensate victims of Nazi looting, new scholarship and media coverage in the 1990s persuaded other countries to review their own restitution policies in an effort to improve the restitution process.

In recent years, the country’s restitution policy requires the government panel that determines restitution cases to balance the interests of national museums against the claims by Holocaust survivors or their heirs.  In particular, the policy requires the panel to weigh “the significance of the work to public art collections” against the emotional attachment of the claimant.

As a recent example of the effect of the policy, in 2013, a claim for the Bernardo Strozzi painting entitled “Christ and the Samaritan Woman,” filed by the heirs of a German-Jewish refugee, was rejected because the work was important to the Dutch museum that displayed it.

According to Anne Webber, chairwoman of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe, “[t]he balance-of-interests test means that even if a claimant submits a claim to the restitution committee for a work of art, and even if the panel finds that the claim is good, is right, the claimants don’t automatically get their painting back, nor do they get any remedy.”

Last fall the Dutch culture minister had outlined some planned changes to the country’s current restitution policy, including term limits for members of the restitution panel and the establishment of a “World War II Expertise Center, a centralized contact point for information and research that will open this autumn, as part of the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam.”

The lapses of the Dutch restitution process after World War II and the Dutch efforts to address them are the subjects of a new exhibition entitled “Looted Art—Before, During and After WWII,” which recently opened on May 12, 2017 at the medieval Bergkerk cathedral in Deventer, The Netherlands.

In recent art news, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (“The Met”) announced earlier this week that it is planning the largest exhibition of Michelangelo works in its history set to open later this year.

The exhibition will be entitled “Michelangelo:  Divine Draftsman and Designer,” and will include 150 drawings, three marble sculptures, the artist’s earliest known painting (“The Torment of Saint Anthony”), and other works, curated from 54 public and private art collections throughout the United States and Europe.  A substantial body of complementary works by other artists will be included for comparison and context.  According to The Met’s website, the “exhibition will examine Michelangelo’s rich legacy as a supreme draftsman and designer.”

The Met presently has three works by Michelangelo, two of which are drawings (“Studies for the Libyan Sibyl,” and “Design for the Tomb of Pope Julius II della Rovere”) and the third, a sculpture entitled “Young Archer,” which is on loan from the French government.  Due to their sensitivity to light, the two drawings are typically not exhibited, but they will be included in the upcoming exhibition.

The anticipated exhibition is scheduled to open November 13, 2017 and will run through February 12, 2018.  The Met’s Curator of Italian and Spanish drawings, Carmen C. Bambach, a specialist in Italian Renaissance art, is organizing the exhibition.

For further information on The Met’s upcoming Michelangelo exhibition, see Exhibition Overview on The Met’s website.

The US. District Court for the District of Columbia recently denied a preliminary injunction seeking the reinstallation of a controversial “anti-police” painting at the U.S Capitol complex.

David Pulphus, a student artist from Missouri’s First Congressional District, and William Lacy Clay, the congressional representative for that district, filed a lawsuit claiming that their First Amendment rights to free speech were infringed upon when the Architect of the Capitol, Stephen T. Ayers, removed Pulphus’s painting from a display of student art.

Pulphus’s painting was selected to represent Clay’s congressional district in the 2016 Congressional Art Competition, and was hung in the Cannon Tunnel in the U.S. Capitol complex in June 2016 with the other winning artwork.  The painting was removed several months later by the Architect of the Capitol (who oversees the competition), after receiving several complaints that the painting was “anti-police.”

The Court prefaced its opinion stating that “[a]lthough the Court is sympathetic to plaintiffs given the treatment afforded Pulphus’s art, under controlling authority this case involves government speech, and hence plaintiffs have no First Amendment rights at stake.”

Read the Court’s opinion here.

The “Fearless Girl” was created by sculptor Kristen Visbal and erected in Bowling Green in honor of International Women’s Day in March.  The statue has become wildly popular.  Although set to be removed next week, it will remain in place until early 2018.  However, not everyone is supportive of the artwork.

Fearless Girl Statue by Kristen Visbal New York City
Photo by Anthony Quintano, used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license (unaltered)

“Fearless Girl” defiantly faces Wall Street’s famous “Charging Bull” statue, which was created by sculptor Arturo Di Modica, who copyrighted and trademarked his creation.  Di Modica believes “Fearless Girl” subverts the meaning of his artwork, and his lawyers have accused the company that commissioned the statue of improperly commercializing D. Modica’s bull in violation of the copyright.

Read more here and here.

The New York Times recently reported that its readers are divided on the issue of whether the original intent of the artwork should be able to stand over time and how much public art is protected.  Read the article and NYT’s readers’ comments here.

 

In recent art news, the New York Times ran a story on this week’s opening of the “Mummies” exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.  In the exhibition, more than a dozen specimens are on display, some of which have not been on public view in more than 100 years since the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  The new exhibition explores how and why two ancient civilizations, ancient Egypt and pre-Columbian Peru, separated by a distance of about 7,500 miles, practiced mummification.

One of the mummies known as Mummy No. 30007 or the “Gilded Lady” did not assume her name by accident – her coffin is intricately decorated with linen, has a golden headdress and facial features, and possesses an air of divinity.

She’s so well preserved that she looks exactly how the people of her time hoped she would appear for eternity.”  To modern scientists, however, it is what they do not see that is just as intriguing, that is “[w]ho was this ancient woman, and what did she look like when she was alive?”

The icon of today’s mummy investigations is the CT scanner, which provides archaeologists with an inside view of the millenniums-old specimens without damaging them.  This is in stark contrast to just a century ago when scientists would typically unwrap their finds or specimens often harming them in the process.

The Gilded Lady was never unwrapped as archaeologists instead used state of the art CT scanning to create a 3-D print of her skull that helped a forensic artist with the reconstruction of her features.  Scientists were even able to determine her potential cause of death from tuberculosis about 2,000 years ago, and age (in her 40s) dating back to Roman-era Egypt.

The exhibition was organized by David Hurst Thomas, curator of North American archaeology, and John J. Flynn, a curator of fossil mammals, both at the American Museum of Natural History.  The exhibition is scheduled to run through January 7, 2018.

For an overview of the exhibition, see “Unraveling the Mystery of Who Lies Beneath the Cloth” published by the New York Times on March 23, 2017 and the American Museum of Natural History website.