Monday, 14 December 2009

Bonnie Prince… Henry?

Bonnie Prince… Henry?
Treasured Scottish portrait is definitely not of Bonnie Prince Charlie, expert on Jacobite portraiture decides in the new issue of The British Art Journal. Read the report in the Scotsman
Now the Scottish National Portrait Gallery agrees: see the BBC website. More reports in Daily Telegraph, Independent,
Daily Mail, and watch on STV

Last year (2008) the Scottish National Portrait Gallery’s best-known and treasured portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie was claimed instead to be a portrait of his younger brother, Henry Stuart, Duke of York, who later became a Cardinal and wished to be known as ‘King Henry IX’ of Britain.

The pastel by Maurice Quentin de La Tour was acquired by the Gallery in 1994 for £22,000 and has been celebrated as such ever since. But then in 2008 Bendor Grosvenor, a director of the London portrait dealers Philip Mould Ltd, made his startling claim in The British Art Journal that the portrait does not show Charles but rather his brother, Henry Stuart, when he was Duke of York and before he was made a Cardinal.

At the time, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery dismissed the claim, partly because the expert on Jacobite portraiture, Dr Edward Corp of the University of Toulouse, France, had published the portrait as an authentic image of Bonnie Prince Charlie, in the standard work on the subject, The King over the Water: Portraits of the Stuarts in Exile after 1689, published by the National Galleries of Scotland in 2001.

Now Dr Corp has reversed his opinion in an article in The British Art Journal (Vol X, No. 3). The portrait is definitely not of Bonnie Prince Charlie, he has concluded, but indeed of Cardinal Henry Stuart.
‘Whether the portrait does or does not show Prince Charles really does matter,’ says Dr Corp.
‘It is not merely the catalogue of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery which needs to be corrected. The impression which an entire nation has derived of this important historical figure should also be changed. Before its acquisition by the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in 1994, the most widely circulated image of Prince Charles Stuart (or Bonnie Prince Charlie as he is popularly called) was an early portrait painted in 1729, when the prince was only eight years old, which showed him wearing Italian court dress. Since then this pastel by La Tour has replaced it as the “official” portrait of the prince, apparently showing as a mature armour-clad 27-year-old, the victor of Prestonpans, and the hero of the escape from Scotland after the Battle of Culloden. The portrait is now reproduced in all biographies of the prince, and has been selected to illustrate the article about him in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.’

Now Dr Corp agrees with Bendor Grosvenor’s arguments: ‘The weight of evidence – perhaps regrettably – supports Bendor Grosvenor’s argument that the pastel in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery shows Prince Henry rather than Prince Charles.’

Dr Corp has also concluded that there was once a pastel portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie, by the same artist, Maurice Quentin de La Tour, but that it has been lost, perhaps destroyed during the French Revolution in 1789. Dr Corp believes that the appearance of the lost portrait is recorded in a rare scent
bottle dated 1753 now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (above right).

The mystery is how the La Tour pastel in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery first became known as a likeness of Bonnie Prince Charlie. One red herring was the fact that the sitter was wearing armour, which was thought to be at odds with Henry’s religious vocation. Furthermore, Charles was known to have sat to La Tour in 1747, upon his return to Paris after the failure of the 1745 Rebellion.

However, Bendor Grosvenor was able to discover that Henry also sat to La Tour at some point between late 1745 and, crucially, before his creation as a cardinal by his godfather the Pope, Benedict XIV, in June 1747. Therefore, Henry’s depiction in armour was appropriate, for between 1745-6 he was in charge of a naval expedition to assist Charles’ rebellion in Scotland. Moreover, the portrait of Henry was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1747.

Dr Grosvenor, responding to the news of Dr Corp’s change of mind, said, ‘I am delighted that Edward Corp agrees with me. The Scottish National Portrait Gallery should now look again at re-identifying the sitter in this important portrait.’

Friday, 3 July 2009

Berger Prize Winner 2008 (awarded 2009)

The WINNER of the William MB Berger Prize for British Art History 2008 (books published 1 September 2007-31 August 2008) was announced at a reception hosted by Robin Simon, Editor of The British Art Journal, at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art on 2 July 2009.

The winner is Thomas P Campbell for
Henry VIII and the Art of Majesty. Tapestries at the Tudor Court
440pp, hb £45, ISBN 9780300122343
Yale University Press for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art

The assessors remarked:
‘This was… almost a perfect book containing an incredible amount of research of all kinds, not only archival but on
every piece of tapestry. A wonderful and great work of detection and reconstruction, when something like 90% of the
material in question had been lost, and yet it still came up with a convincing analysis. The book is of great importance
to historians and political scientists as well as to art historians… It has repositioned tapestry where it always
belonged, at the centre of courtly patronage. The book ranged across major questions about the reign of Henry VIII
and his view of monarchy with immense tact and skill.’

The other five titles on the SHORT LIST were as follows:

Robert Hoozee, ed
British Vision: Observation and Imagination in British Art 1750-1950
424 pp, hb £39, isbn 978-9061537489 Mercatorfonds / Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Ghent
‘For once, here was a catalogue which matched in physical weight its ideas and originality. Robert Hoozee has been
thinking about British art for many years, and here are the fruits of his considerable and profound experience.
Remarkably, for an exhibition held in Belgium, this exhibition has done as much for British art as any show in
Britain over the past decade. Hoozee mined (at times obscure) collections throughout the UK to reveal a unique
strand in British art which, as the title of the book states, combines observation and imagination. It ought to become
an essential text for anyone wishing to understand British art and visual culture over the past two hundred years.’
The assessors wanted to stress the splendour of the very large exhibition, held in Ghent, which featured telling and
often startling conjunctions, and ranged right through, convincingly, to the late twentieth century.

Nicholas Tromans
David Wilkie: The People’s Painter
320pp, hb £65, ISBN 978-0748625208. Edinburgh University Press
‘… A most intelligent and persuasive account of the artist. As the author states, it is a biographical study which
aspires to be a social study of the artist’s career. It achieves both aims admirably. The prose is clear, at times amusing,
and the book is extremely well written, a good read – a rare thing these days among academic texts. The biography is
intriguing and the monographic aspect of the book brought most of Wilkie’s works together for the first time. A major
achievement for which both the author and publisher deserve congratulations and gratitude.’

Jason Rosenfeld and Alison Smith
272 pp, hb £35, ISBN 978 185437 746 3. Tate Publishing
‘The catalogue, like the exhibition, brings together a remarkable selection of images that poses important questions
about British art of the period and the course it took in the hands of such an outstanding painter, who was evidently
aware of contemporary European developments but yet trapped within a distinct aesthetic and cultural world.
Confronted some basic problems about British art. It absolutely forces people to take Millais far more seriously, even if,
finally, the enigma remains. It was an especially rewarding exhibition and the catalogue will endure.’

Elizabeth Prettejohn
Art for Art’s Sake. Aestheticism in Victorian Painting
320 pp, hb £35, ISBN 978-0300135497. Yale University Press for the Paul Mellon Centre for
Studies in British Art
‘… addressed the important question of British modernism by taking the starting point back in time. Ambitious and
original, full of sharp insights and fresh material. A really important book that offers a way forward for much further
research and reflection, and which also considered the topics in hand in an international context. Informed by
German idealism, and the writings of Pater and Swinburne, aestheticism in this account is not the trivial and
decadent fashion satirized in Punch, but a revolutionary movement that freed British painting from the relentless
march of modern commercialism and industrial notions of progress. The author’s provocative analyses of the work of
Solomon, Moore, Burne-Jones and Pater especially are revelatory and change how we view these artists and writers.’

David Watkin and Philip Hewat-Jaboor, ed
Thomas Hope Regency Designer
520pp, hb £50, ISBN 978-0300124163. Yale University Press for The Bard Graduate Center for
Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture
‘As close to the definitive work on Hope as we are ever likely to get, and it will remain the standard work. A
tremendous amount of research and fresh and intiruging material, amplifying David Watkin’s earlier endeavours on
the subject. The book firmly establishes Hope as one of the most influential designers and illuminates every aspect of
his wide interests. Wonderful. A seductive publication produced to the highest standards… it is difficult to see how a
catalogue on this subject could look much better.’

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Berger Prize for 2008 Long List published 25 June 2009

The Long List for the William MB Berger Prize for British Art History 2008 (for books published 1 September 2007-31 August 2008) is below. The Short List of six will be decided at the end of June 2009 and published here and the Prize will be awarded at a ceremony in London on 2 July 2009

• William L Pressly, The Artist as Original Genius: Shakespeare’s “Fine Frenzy” in Late Eighteenth-Century British Art, 236pp, hb $80, isbn 978-0874139853,
University of Delaware Press 2008
• Lena Cowen Orlin, Locating Privacy in Tudor London, 368 pp, hb £61, isbn 978-0-19-922625-2,
Oxford University Press
• Tatiana C String, Art and Communication in the Reign of Henry VIII, 170pp hb £50, isbn 0754663051, Ashgate
• Ron Broglio, Technologies of the Picturesque. British Art, Poetry, and Instruments, 1750-1830, 236pp, hb $50, isbn 978-0838757000, Bucknell University Press
• Marian Kamlish, George Morland, A London artist in 18th-century Camden, 136pp, pb £11.95, isbn 978 0904491 74 6, Camden History Society
• Nicholas Tromans, David Wilkie: The People’s Painter, 320pp, hb £65, isbn 978-0748625208,
Edinburgh University Press
• Michael JK Walsh, Hanging a Rebel: The Life of CRW Nevinson, 352pp, pb £25, isbn 9780718830908,
The Lutterworth Press
• Robert Tittler, The face of the city. Civic portraiture and civic identity in early modern England, 272pp, £55, isbn 978 0 7190 7501 8, Manchester University Press
• Peter Lord, Winifred Coombe Tennant. A Life through Art, 255pp, hb, isbn 978-1862250659,
National Library of Wales
• Elizabeth Eger and Lucy Peltz, Brilliant Women. 18th-century Bluestockings, 160pp hb £18.99, isbn 978 1 85514 389 0, National Portrait Gallery Publications
• Jason Rosenfeld and Alison Smith, Millais, 272 pp, hb £35, isbn 978 185437 746 3, Tate Publishing
• Robert Upstone, Modern Painters: The Camden Town Group, 160 pp pb £24.99, isbn 978-1854377814,
Tate Publishing
• Robert Hoozee, ed, British Vision: Observation and Imagination in British Art 1750-1950, 424 pp, hb £39, isbn 978-9061537489, Mercatorfonds / Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Ghent
• Clifford S Ackley, ed, British Prints from the Machine Age: Rhythms of Modern Life 1914-1939, 224pp, hb £24.95, isbn 978-050023847, Thames & Hudson
• Mark Bills and David Webb, Victorian Artists in Photographs: The World of GF Watts, Selections from the Rob Dickins Collection, 256pp, pb £12.50, isbn 978-0954823078, Watts Gallery, Compton, Surrey
• Nicholas Tromans and Emily Weeks, ed, The Lure of the East. British Orientalist Painting, 224 pp pb £24.99, isbn 978 185437 733 3, Tate Publishing
• Judy Egerton, George Stubbs, Painter, 655pp, hb £95, isbn 978-0300125092, Yale University Press for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art
• Ian Kennedy and Julian Treuherz, The Railway: Art in the Age of Steam, 288pp, hb £35, isbn 978-0300138788, Walker Art Gallery, National Museums Liverpool / The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City / Yale University Press
• Miles Wynn Cato, Parry: The Life and Works of William Parry A.R.A. 1743-1791, 214pp, hb £25, Miles Wynn Cato, Welsh Art
• Kay Dian Kriz, Slavery, Sugar and the Culture of Refinement, 288pp, hb £35, isbn 978-0300140620,
Yale University Press for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art
• Elizabeth Prettejohn, Art for Art’s Sake. Aestheticism in Victorian Painting, 320 pp, hb £35, isbn 978-0300135497, Yale University Press for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art
• Elizabeth E Barker and Alex Kidson, Joseph Wright of Derby in Liverpool, 224 pp, hb £40, isbn 978-0300117455, Walker Art Gallery, National Museums Liverpool, Yale Center for British Art, Yale University Press
• Julia Marciari Alexander and Catharine Macleod, ed, Politics, Transgression and Representation, 288pp, hb £40, isbn 978-0300116564, Yale University Press / Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art
• David Watkin and Philip Hewat-Jaboor, ed, Thomas Hope Regency Designer, 520pp, hb £50, isbn 978-0300124163, Yale University Press for The Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture
• Arthur MacGregor, Curiosity and Enlightenment Collectors and Collections from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Century, 288pp, hb £45, isbn 978-0300124934, Yale University Press
• Edgar Peter Bowron and Peter Björn Kerber, Pompeo Batoni: Prince of Painters in Eighteenth-Century Rome, 230 pp, hb £40, isbn 978-0300126808, Yale University Press in association with The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
• Thomas P Campbell, Henry VIII and the Art of Majesty. Tapestries at the Tudor Court, 440pp, hb £45, isbn 9780300122343, Yale University Press for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art
• Anna Gruetzner Robins, A Fragile Modernism: Whistler and His Impressionist Followers, 256pp, hb £40, isbn 978-0300135459, Yale University Press for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art
• David Solkin, Painting outside the Ordinary. Modernity and the Art of Everyday Life in Early Nineteenth-Century England, 288pp, hb £45, isbn 9780300140613,
Yale University Press for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art

Friday, 3 April 2009

Van Dyck at Tate Britain: Robin Simon's Daily Mail review

Daily Mail Friday 20 March 2009
Capturing the glitz of a great era

Anthony Van Dyck’s dazzling pictures reflect the glitz and glamour of the most sophisticated court this country has ever seen. He transformed portrait painting in Britain from the moment of his arrival in as a precocious twenty-one-year-old in 1620. As this exhibition shows, his example continued to shape portraiture in Britain until well into the twentieth century. Van Dyck flourished under Charles I and did more than anyone to foster a doomed society’s outrageously lavish vision of itself. He himself was dead, in 1641, before tragedy struck, but in 1649 with the execution of the King, the world that Van Dyck had done so much to create vanished as if it had never existed. While it lasted, London was a great place for a portrait painter to be. In order to cut the right figure and curry favour, courtiers had to emulate Charles I’s passion for art collecting and patronage. Immense collections were built up overnight, stuffed with masterpieces by Titian or Raphael, while portraits and spectacular party pieces were commissioned from living masters, especially Rubens and his star pupil Van Dyck. The exhibition includes two vast paintings from the Royal Collection. One is ‘The Greate Peece’, a portrait group of Charles, his queen Henrietta Maria and their two eldest children, set in front of a view of the Thames and Westminster. Van Dyck manages his gigantic canvas with apparent ease. The children are painted with extraordinary tenderness, and the picture brilliantly combines, as was intended, majestic scale with a vision of domestic harmony. In the same room is Charles I on horseback with M de St Antoine, specifically designed to be seen as a ‘hole in the wall’ at the end of the gallery in St James’s Palace. It is another triumphant combination, this time of portrait painting with full-blown baroque theatricality. A much more intimate portrait is of Van Dyck’s mistress, Margaret Lemon, a rarely seen jewel. She was a ‘demon of jealousy’ who resented her lover painting other women and tried to bite his thumb off to end his career. Fortunately for Charles I and his court, and for us, she failed.

The exhibition is on until 17 May

Monday, 23 February 2009

Pompeo Batoni in Lucca

The British Art Journal, Vol. IX, No. 3
(Winter 2008/9)

The exquisite city of Lucca is famous for its romanesque architecture, for one of the best restaurants in Italy, and for being the birthplace of Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924), whose 250th anniversary has been noisily celebrated all over the world. The city now has another favourite son, Pompeo Batoni (1708-87), not that is has seemed to care very much about him hitherto. With a spectacular exhibition (6 December 2008-29 March 2009) in honour of Batoni’s tercentenary all that has changed. The show, in the restored Palazzo Ducale, was an unequivocal triumph, to the relieved amazement of the organizers, the city fathers and the regional government, all of whom had plenty to lose: because it was the first art exhibition on this scale ever mounted in Lucca. This act of faith – really, a leap in the dark – was amply rewarded, with hordes of visitors, major international attention and press coverage and, no doubt, economic benefits for the fine chefs and hoteliers of this enchanting town. Furthermore, the exhibition was bigger, better, and set in more splendid surroundings than in its previous venues. At the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (21 October 2007-27 January 2008), it was very well displayed and accompanied by a good conference. At the National Gallery in London (20 February-18 May 2008), in contrast, it was rather cramped, insufficiently supported by proper educational initiatives and as a consequence rather poorly attended. All of this suggested a failure of nerve on the part of the gallery, which let down the outstanding work of the curator, Edgar Peters Bowron, whose lucid and civilized catalogue is a model of its kind and looks set to remain the most appealing guide in English to this attractive although ultimately elusive painter. In London, a conference was only finally mounted thanks to the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.
In Lucca, the vast spaces of the Palazzo Ducale were cleverly articulated by discreet design while affording plenty of room to display many of the huge altarpieces and allegorical canvases that formed as large a part of Batoni’s output as his well-known Grand Tour portraits. The exhibition, which had a separate catalogue edited by Liliana Barroero and Fernando Mazzocca, with contributions by others including Bowron, made some efforts to set Batoni within the traditions of pious ‘arts and crafts’ from which he emerged. This was rather canny, since Batoni was occasionally capable of straying into cloying religiosity (The Blood of the Redeemer at the Gesù in Rome was mercifully not on display), and he himself embodied the most active piety with evident delight in the pleasures of the flesh (in his personal life as well as his paintings), a combination that almost defines the High Baroque. It is hard to believe there was ever a more accomplished draughtsman than Batoni, and there was a small but satisfying selection of sketches on view, including several from Eton, one of which, ‘after the Antique’, shows a satyr with a graphically detailed full-frontal erection. Whatever it has done for boys or beaks over the years, in the context of quite so many glorious nudes it was tempting to see this drawing as in some sense a self-portrait.
The Lucca exhibition also suggested the pan-European extent of Batoni’s clientele. Some of this material can make the modern viewer wince, notably the full-scale micromosaic re-working, ordered by Clement XIV for the Empress Maria Teresa, of Batoni’s oil of The Emperor Joseph II and his brother (cat. 66, 67), but it was quite right to show the two in unnerving contiguity. And there were many, many unequivocal treats on view, including the Bacchus and Ariadne (cat. 81) commissioned in a moment of chutzpah by Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn as a confronto to go with a Perseus and Andromeda from Anton Raphael Mengs then in Spain (the Mengs was stolen by the French en route and sold to Catherine the Great, and so the confronto was frustrated). Time and again, similarities to contemporary French academic painting came to mind, and perhaps the model in Batoni’s Martyrdom of St Bartholomew of 1749 (cat. 30) was even identical with that employed for Joseph-Marie Vien’s sole essay into the unconventional, his Sleeping Hermit (Louvre) painted in Rome in 1750.
Batoni was a phenomenon, and it seems curmudgeonly to retain any reservations at all in the face of such marvellous painting. And yet, for all his accomplishment, it is only rarely that one feels like saying of this particular force of nature, ‘Eppur, si muove…’ Robin Simon

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Andrea Palladio at the Royal Academy: Robin Simon's Daily Mail review

Andrea Palladio: His Life and Legacy. Royal Academy, London
31 January-13 April 2009

‘The stately homes of England
How beautiful they stand,
To prove the upper classes
Have still the upper hand…’
Noel Coward sings The Stately Homes of England

This is an exhibition about the man who invented those houses. English aristocrats making the Grand Tour of Italy in the eighteenth century were stunned by the country villas that Palladio had created on the mainland near Venice. The visual impact of this show makes you appreciate how it happened. Huge models of his villas, churches and palaces, many cut open or hinged in sections, are in every room. And so, if like me you find plans and elevations tricky to imagine as the finished article, the work has been done for you. Palladio’s drawings are things of unimaginable beauty in themselves. There are also glorious paintings by the likes of Canaletto, El Greco and Tintoretto to make this a feast for the eye as well as the imagination.

Palladio was the first person to marry the forms of classical architecture with the country house. Until Palladio came along, they were just big farms. Suddenly, these working estates reflected the graceful palaces that noble families had become accustomed to in Venice and Vicenza. Palladio designed those too. When they went to church on Sunday, they entered his adaptations of Roman temples. Or visiting the town hall, they would find themselves staring in wonder at Palladio’s transformation of a muddled medieval market into a public building straight out of ancient Rome. This is the astonishing Basilica in the centre of Vicenza, and a vast model in this exhibition shows how Palladio’s genius turned it into a vision of harmonious proportions. He cheated, by fiddling the dimensions of the openings so that the wonky streets inside the market appear to be aligned.

Palladio changed the face of Europe. Just look around. At the Royal Academy itself, the National Gallery, or the Banqueting House in Whitehall. And throughout England we still have those stately homes, even if they prove that it is now the National Trust that has the upper hand…