Skip to content

Brac-à-Brac

Nattier csse de Brac 1741In his magisterial catalogue of the Nattier exhibition held in 1999/2000, Xavier Salmon unravelled numerous confusions and misidentifications, including the painting (above) now in Detroit which had previously been called Mme de Vintimille. By reading the date correctly (1741, not 1744) and comparing the painting with the descriptions in the salon critiques of the day, Salmon established that the portrait was in fact of the “comtesse de Brac en Aurore” – but was unable to identify her for certain:

…nous n’avons pu determiner si elle était la dame d’honneur de Madame Louise, fille de Louis XV, que citent plusieurs documents d’archives, ou Élisabeth Lorimier, épouse de Paul-Émile de Braque, mort le 6 octobre 1744, et mère d’Élisabeth de Braque, née le 31 mai 1741, mariée en 1761 à François-Joseph, marquis de Choiseul-Meuse (peut-être ces deux dames n’en sont-elles d’ailleurs qu’une seule)

A visit to the Detroit Institute of Arts website adds nothing more: so, as the picture is in a public collection, it is perhaps time to resolve the question – particularly since the reason I came across the answer tells us about something quite different.

D’Hozier has an extremely long article (over 100 pages) on the genealogy of the de Braque family (tome iii, pp. 130–228): the comtesse de Braque is found on the penultimate page, as indeed Élisabeth Lorimier, daughter of a mPerronneau Lorimieraître de la Chambre de deniers, intendant et contôleur general des Écuries du roi; one of her brothers, who inherited the same office, was the subject of a lively Perronneau pastel (right) dating from the same period as the Nattier. You can easily persuade yourself of a family resemblance. Unlike the de Braques, her family was of recent nobility, having bought their nobility by purchasing offices (her grandfathers were a notary and a draper: the duc de Luynes noted the former with disgust when she was presented at court in March 1750). On 22.ix.1733, Élisabeth (at the age of 12 – she was born 26.vi.1721, and so was only 20 at the time of Nattier’s portrait) became the second wife of Paul-Émile de Braque, who, d’Hozier tells us, was “connu dans le monde sous le nom de Comte de Braque” (among his profusion of titles was also that of marquis de Braque). He was noble of the XII degree, and head of the fourth branch of the family.

Braque

As Salmon tells us, he did indeed die in 1744; what he does not tell us was that six years later, Élisabeth was remarried, to Joseph-François Damas d’Antigny, marquis de Ruffey (1706–1782), whom she outlived: fortunately on their marriage the king had provided Ruffey with a pension of 2000 livres of which she had the reversion, and she also received a further pension of 6000 livres awarded on the same basis in 1781 when Ruffey’s governorship of Dombes was suppressed. She was still drawing these pensions in 1793.

In 1741 no one but Élisabeth would have been titled the comtesse de Braque, and there is no reason to doubt that she was Nattier’s 20-year-old subject. But was she the dame d’honneur of Madame Louise?

In fact that lady appears some 25 pages earlier in d’Hozier, as the last in the line of the second branch of the family, noble of the XI degree and an extremely distant relation of the comtesse (in fact the fourth cousin, once removed, of her husband). She was Anne-Marguerite de Braque du Parc, born 20.i.1678. All d’Hozier tells us is that she was reçue at Saint-Cyr on 3.v.1687 – which of course may be one of the reasons why d’Hozier went to such trouble to establish the genealogy: proof of nobility was an essential requirement for admission to Mme de Maintenon’s school for poor girls. The Liste des Demoiselles de Saint-Cyr de 1686 à 1793 published in 1908 has a note against her name “cordelière à Gournay 1706” – a reference to the religious community at Gournay-en-Bray. By 1741, when Nattier’s portrait was exhibited, she was 63 years of age.

It was not until 1750, at the age of 72, that she was presented at court (just a few months after Élisabeth’s presentation) as a Dame de la suite de Mesdames les cadettes, and the archives Salmon refers to mention her as Dame de compagnie de Madame Louise or as Dame pour accompagner Mesdames les Cadettes: she is not however among the married ladies who appear under that title in the Almanachs royaux of the period. Fortunately the duc de Luynes records her appointment:

Du vendredi 11 [septembre 1750], Versailles : le Roi a déclaré aujourd’hui les deux demoiselles qui doivent être attachées à Mesdames les deux cadettes ; l’une est Mlle de Welderen : elle est Hollandoise et de grande condition ; elle a beaucoup de mérite, et est amie intime de Mlle de Tourbes, avec qui elle passe sa vie. La deuxième est Mlle de Braque : elle est fort pauvre ; elle est depuis vingt ans avec Mme du Tronc, veuve du lieutenant général des armées du Roi ; on dit qu’elle est fort aimable ; elle est amie de Mlle de Charleval.

(Mme du Tronc was Françoise-Angélique Sanguin du Rouillier (1673-1753), veuve de Nicolas-Alexandre Le Cordier, marquis du Troncq; Mlle de Charleval was another Dame de Mesdames; the following summer she married the marquis de Rouchechouart.) Madame Louise seems to have known Mlle de Braque from her days at Fontevrault, and presented her with a small three-volume set of Racine printed in 1750 with the following dedication (Bulletin du bibliophile…, 1899, p. 51; see also pp. 126ff):

Racine

Mlle de Braque lodged in the royal quarters at Versailles until her retirement in April 1756, when she was granted a pension of 10,000 livres. It is then that we become better informed about her, from a series of letters from Marigny preserved in the Archives nationales and mined by William Ritchey Newton in his useful study of La Petite Cour (2006), where my eye was caught by this sentence in a letter from Marigny to Mlle de Braque of 11.viii.1756 (AN O1 1828 384):

Madame Louise m’ayant aussi dit qu’elle voulait vous donner son portrait, fait par le sieur Dufrey, j’ai envoyé ordre pour que ce peintre le délive afin qu’il vous soit remis sans aucun retardement.

The “Dufrey” referred to is surely the Alsatian pastellist Franz Bernhard Frey (1716–1806) of whom there is an entry in the Dictionary of pastellists: he was employed by the Bâtiments du roi to make royal portraits in succession to Maurice-Quentin de La Tour whose patience was tested too far by the timekeeping of the princesses. One turns immediately to the accounts of the Bâtiments published by Engerand in 1901 to find the entry for the portrait: Frey did indeed make a portrait (which Engerand thought was in pastel) of “Madame Louise de France, en corps de robe richement orné, 2 pieds de haut sur 15 pouces de large” (a surprisingly narrow 65×40.6 cm), for which he charged 700 livres. The frame (no maker is named) must have been superb: it cost an additional 832 livres. But the accounts also show that the work was delivered in 1754 (and paid at the end of 1756). No copy was recorded in 1756: it was either an omission, or possibly a confusion, because two copies were recorded in 1755 but not paid for until 1760 when the year might have been confused. Those copies were made in oil, and in a more conventional format: 65×54 cm; together they cost 672 livres – a figure to remember next time you are told that pastel was popular because it was cheaper than oil.

Drouais Mme LouiseFrey later executed similar versions of Madame Louise’s sister, Madame Sophie de France, of which you can read more in my essay where its derivation from a painting by François-Hubert Drouais is discussed. It seems plausible that Frey’s portrait of Madame Louise is also connected with a Drouais portrait such as that at Versailles (right), although in 1754 Drouais, who was fifteen years younger than Frey, was not yet agréé and should not have been assumed to have priority (Laurent Hugues’s 1999 article suggests that he was given access to the court only in 1756). But the particular interest here was the involvement of the Bâtiments in producing gifts for servants rather than diplomatic gifts for foreign ambassadors etc.

The rest of the correspondence with Marigny provides us too with some glimpses of Mlle de Braque and her relations with Madame Louise who evidently held her in the highest esteem. Mlle de Braque wanted to stay on at Versailles, but the pressure on space meant that she had to be moved to the part known as the “Grand Commun”. (Ironically this was location of the office of the Chambre de deniers, held by Élisabeth Lorimier’s father and brother.) She was assigned the apartment that had been occupied by the recently deceased abbé de Pomponne, a former ambassador to Venice, aumônier du roi, conseiller d’état and chancellor of the Ordres du roi, and as you can see from Petit’s engraving after Jean-BaptistPomponnee Van Loo, a rather important figure.

Not content with that, Mlle de Braque insisted on repairs and improvement to the apartment which were estimated to cost 8000 livres. Marigny put his foot down, and forced her to cut back her expenditure to 6000 livres, but even then had to get the king’s permission, noting that the revised plans still included 4600 livres for “glaces, cheminées de marbre et menuiserie”.

But before you focus too much on the idea of conspicuous excess, the correspondence brings us back to the other side of life at Versailles which isn’t shown to tourists today: in 1758 Mlle de Braque wrote to Marigny to complain that the disposal of “tous les immondices et ordures imaginables” (in the manner which was common practice at the château, through a window in an upper floor) had broken her windows and damaged her furniture. Marigny sanctioned the installation of iron bars over the offending window, at the end of a corridor; but soon after (such were the pressures on sanitation) someone prised open the bars and resumed the practice. Marigny enlisted the duc de Noailles to deal with the problem.

Apart from that we find only minute references to Mlle de Braque. In the January 1760 issue, the Mercure recorded the public donations of silver to the mint to meet the costs of war: her respectable contribution (by weight, 27 marcs 6 onces 7 gros, or about 7 kilograms) was about half as much as given by the pastellist and violinist Louis Aubert, but much more that the 5m. 6o. 3½g. donated by another pastellist, Léon-Pascal Glain – curious names to find among a list of fermiers généraux, secrétaires du roi, présidents and duchesses, but precious morsels about the finances of these minor artists. Even the excessively wealthy banker Nicolas Beaujon gave only about four times as much silver as Mlle de Braque.Nivelon

Ritchey Newton tells us that Mlle de Braque died in 1778, when she would have been 100, but he provides no source. She may well have followed her patroness, Madame Louise, who in 1770 left Versailles to become a nun (under the name of sœur Thérèse-Augustine, dying in 1787): Versailles houses a portrait of her at that time by Anne-Baptiste Nivelon (right).

Advertisements

Identifying Russell’s petite fille aux cerises

Russell frame Vikery

In my recent post about the evolution of taste in pastels, I mentioned how important national schools have been, so that the English undervalue Perronneau, while the French reciprocate by ignoring Cotes. But by the end of the nineteenth century, John Russell had become a collectable name in Paris (albeit usually spelt with one l). There is no doubt that a major contributor to this was the presence in the Louvre, since 1869, of Russell’s Petite fille aux cerises. Copied dozens of times, and reproduced infinitely more often, her latest appearance is in the delightful new issue of the Dossier de l’art (no. 254) devoted to pastel, where the work is one of the chefs-d’œuvre to which a double page spread is devoted by Thea Burns in an excellent overview of the medium before 1800. Is it a portrait or a genre piece, the author asks, adding “aucune identité n’a été proposé pour ce charmant modèle.” The only reference cited for this pastel is to Camille Dorange’s 1990 article devoted rather curiously to Russells that happen to have been in French collections.

There is of course a far more abundant bibliography some of which you can find in the Dictionary of pastellists (just Google, or put into the search box, J.64.172; in the print edition it’s listed on p. 473 among the unidentified sitters), but until now confusions have persisted which are not discussed in the Dossier. As so often with Russell, these problems arise from George Williamson’s slapdash approach to cataloguing in his 1894 monograph. The pastel is signed and dated, but the date is no longer legible (at least not when I last saw it), so Williamson read it as 1780 since this allowed him to identify the Louvre pastel with the Girl with Cherries which Russell exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1781 (no. 372). That pastel was in all probability the one included in the artist’s posthumous sale, London, Christie’s, 14 February 1807, Lot 27, with the same title. Having made that conflation, it follows that the owner who left the picture to the Louvre must have bought the pastel as a collector. “M. Henry Vikery” appears on a label at the top of the frame, in larger type than the artist gets, in spelling which will raise the eyebrow of any English speaker, whether Brexit-voting or not. Geneviève Monnier, in her 1972 catalogue of the Louvre pastels, followed this narrative, as did I in earlier editions of the Dictionary.

In doing so we dissented from Maurice Tourneux’s 1908 article in the Revue de l’art ancien et moderne: always unwise, as Tourneux was a far more careful scholar than Williamson. He read the date as 1798, and told us more about the donor, a “M. Henry Vickery” who had died in Arsonval, leaving this pastel to the Louvre, and which the minister had been told orally depicted the donor’s mother. Of course this is the sort of legend that so often turns out to be fantasy, but in some cases can provide the vital clue: the starting point has to be to obtain the biographical details and test them for plausibility.

Immediately we see a problem: Williamson tells us that the pastel was in the artist’s posthumous sale, so (we infer) it can’t have descended in the sitter’s family. Further research on Vickery (see, for example, the entry in the otherwise useful Les Donateurs du Louvre) adds nothing to our knowledge beyond a further forename, Alfred Henry: but there the trail goes cold. There is no Alfred Henry Vickery to be found. And so the story died with the obscurity of this man.

Now that we know the answer, the steps I set out below will seem obvious, but they have been remarkably resistant to discovery. The first step was to examine the état civil for Arsonval, which does indeed record the death, not of Henry Vickery, but of “Alfred Dehenin Vickery”, aged 47:

VickeryAD death

As we shall see neither of these data is strictly correct. But the de Hénin looks particularly plausible since his wife, Joséphine Vangraefschepe, has a distinctly Belgian sounding name. We also find that “Alfred de Hénin-Vickery” appears in a deed in the Archives nationales (a part payment of 10,000 francs for a property in Bièvres in 1851), so this is the name he used. We can trace back their marriage, which took place at St Clement Dane’s in London, in 1855:

VickeryAD marriage

And from that we get Alfred’s father, Joseph Pace [recte Paice] Vickery. (There is another false trail here with a Joseph Pace Vickery and the widow of a soldier in the Coldstream Guards, but that is irrelevant.)

Vickery père was born in Lincolnshire in 1786 and died in Paris in 1858. In 1813 at St Marylebone he married a Mary Hall: a common enough name, not defined much more narrowly by the presence of witnesses including a Thomas and an Eliza Hall, nor by a friend, Cecilia Charlotte Jackson (although she was easily traceable to the future wife of a baronet; she was born in 1794):

Vickery Joseph Paice mariage 1813

The trail went cold until I found that Alfred’s real name was not Dehenin, nor Henry, but Dehany:

VickeryAlfred Dehany birth Somerset 1819

That allowed me to connect Mary Hall with the family of Thomas Hall, a wealthy sugar planter in Jamaica, who married a Mary Dehany. To proceed to the answer (which is confirmed by Mary Vickery’s name appearing as a legatee in her aunt’s will), the pedigree I have established is as follows:

Thomas Hall (1725–1772) of Jamaica ∞ Mary Dehany ( –1763)

Mary (1747–1815) ∞ Richard James Laurence (1745–1830)

Hugh Kirkpatrick Hall (1749–1788) of Bowden, Cheshire

William Hall (1750–1805) ∞ 1773 Mary Reid (1750–1794)

Mary (1784–1836×58) ∞ 1813 Joseph Paice Vickery (1786–1858)

Alfred Dehany Vickery (1819–1868) ∞ 1855 Joséphine Vangraefschepe

[From William’s liaison with Mrs Catherine Jones of St Johns, Worcester]:

William Jones Hall ( –1814)

Catherine Jones Hall ∞ 1829 George Bowles

Sarah (1755– )

Thomas Hall (1757–1839) ∞ Eliza Humfreys (1762–1800)

Eliza Ann (1789–1831)

Dehany (1759–1822sa)

Thus the “petite fille aux cerises” is, if the Vickery legend is to be believed, Mary Hall, the daughter of William Hall and Mary, née Reid, baptized at St James, Jamaica, 3 May 1784. In all likelihood the date on the pastel was 1788 (Williamson and Tourneux each getting one digit wrong), a date I find entirely plausible stylistically.

It is also highly plausible that the Hall family were clients of Russell. Despite the artist’s fervent Methodism, several other Jamaica planters were among his sitters. The Halls were interested in portraiture: Benjamin West famously depicted the petite fille’s aunt, also Mary Hall (later Mrs Richard Lawrence: but not to be confused, as she is in some sources such as the British Museum database, with the flower painter, née Mary Lawrence, who married Thomas Kearse in 1814) in the guise of Spenser’s Una in 1771:

WestB Mary Hall as Una 1771 Wadsworth Atheneum

William Hall, the petite fille’s father, was born on the family’s numerous plantations in Jamaica, but sent back to England to be educated at Eton. Extensive family correspondence is available in archives at the University of California at San Diego, which has made numerous documents available online. William returned to Jamaica on his father’s death in 1772, and the following year he married a Mary Reid. Among their numerous plantations was the Round Hill estate at Montego Bay. Records indicate fairly extensive lists of slaves, some of whom absconded (as seen from newspaper advertisements). Their only daughter, the petite fille, was born in 1784, and soon after they returned to England definitively, settling in Worcester (where William’s father Thomas had been born in 1725, and where Russell would make numerous trips throughout his career). Here Mrs Hall died in 1794, and was commemorated in a superb monument gracing the cathedral, the masterpiece of William Stephens:

mary-hall-monument

An excellent blog post by a local historian fleshes out the rather curious background to William’s will, proved in 1805, after he died having moved to Bath. There were substantial provisions for William’s two illegitimate children by one Catherine Jones: it seems that William maintained two establishments while his wife was still alive, on different sides of the river in Worcester (Mary at Bevere, Catherine at St John’s). The petite fille was then living at Queen Street West, St Marylebone (probably with her uncle Thomas), while her half-siblings lived with their mother who had moved with William to Hatfield Place, Bath. There seems to have been no enmity between the children: when Catherine Hall Jones married in 1820, her guardian issuing the bans was Mary’s husband Joseph Paice Vickery.

The petite fille was a wealthy heiress, inheriting the residual share of her father’s fortune, including a provision of £12,000 secured on the Worcester estate in Jamaica. That legacy became the subject of legal proceedings not concluded until the 1860s. Neither Joseph Paice Vickery nor his son seems to have had paid employment, and reports in 1844 that Joseph held £5000 of forged Exchequer bills may account for his emigration to France, where he lived at 44 rue de l’Ouest, Paris 14e before his death in Hesse-Homburg. His estate was valued at less than £300. There is nothing to suggest that the Vickerys were art collectors, and it is far more probable that this was indeed a portrait de famille.

We don’t know when Mary Vickery herself died: she is named in litigation documents in 1836, and predeceased her husband. But we do I think know, with reasonable confidence, that the Louvre pastel is a portrait of a girl who fitted perfectly into Russell’s clientele, and is an excellent example of his work at the height of his powers.

Postscript – 7 December

An eagle-eyed reader, Tim Clarke, has drawn my attention to the fact that Worcester has a long history of growing cherries. The Cherry Fair in Bewdley is located very close to Kidderminster where John Russell was also recorded on his numerous visits to the area.

Museums, indemnities and the Government Obscurity Scheme

Mendoza1When the Mendoza report on museums (covering some 2000 institutions in England, with an accompanying “strategic review” dealing with the top sixteen) was released on 14 November, there was limited reaction. An editorial in the Guardian the following day was justly critical of its whitewash of the level of arts funding in the UK (the figure above from Mendoza shows how this is declining from a pitiful level, less than the Tories paid the DUP to cling onto office), while Mendoza’s letter printed the day after indicated what seemed to me a shocking level of complacency about so fundamental an issue. (At the same time the Leonardo sold at auction for $450 million, close to half the UK government’s annual support for the entire museums sector.) The reports are both unreadable due in part to the forest of rebarbative acronyms (apparently quangos are now called ALBs – arm’s length bodies – but I’m not sure how many readers can tell their ALBs from their elbows). In any case I certainly didn’t get through them, but I did notice a few points of general interest and one which leads to another particular concern of mine.

In addition to the points made by the Guardian, I was struck by the absence of an international comparison on funding levels. Paragraph 23 of the strategic review is the only reference to this, but the source it links to is virtually useless. Within the UK the sources of funds it identifies are unimaginative; much of it comes from the lottery, a tax on stupidity. This paragraph is particularly alarming: it will nudge the philistines in government in the wrong direction, and seems to undermine the recent initiatives to make images more freely available:

Digitised collections offer new opportunities for both research and commercial purposes. … Museum trading arms are increasing their use of digitised collections to generate income, for example, by licensing images from the collection, while also allowing free use for educational and research purposes. Art UK, an online centralised platform for art museum collections, is exploring how it can offer a licensing service to generate income for its members.

Equally alarming is the idea of “dynamic collections management”: the sequence chosen in this list gives a clue to the priorities the author may have had in mind (and it probably wasn’t what Lady Wallace or other benefactors were thinking):

All museums should have robust and active collections management plans…covering object disposal, acquisition, accessibility and use, to maximise their effectiveness and purpose

Alarm bells start when evidence is cited in a survey in which 40% of respondents do NOT think that the purpose of a national museum is to preserve and display collections.

I was also worried by the almost total absence of references to scholarship in the two documents: the word occurs once as a heading, twice in adjectival form – but all three vacuously, rather than in the context of any profound analysis of how museums contribute to knowledge. (Instead they are seen in civil service terms as focuses for public engagement and tourism: the word “visitor” occurs 69 times in the main report alone, and “visitor experience” four times.) In particular there is nothing here to encourage funding for fundamental research as opposed to adjuncts to entertainment or tourism; nothing to ensure that museums can continue to employ senior researchers of international repute engaged in highly specialised investigations, or free institutions from the tyranny of blockbuster exhibitions to generate the funding Government refuses to provide.

The term “national museum” (while better than ALB) bespeaks a lack of ambition. The British Museum and National Gallery are by any measure world class institutions. They should be respected, trumpeted and funded accordingly. But it is clear from these reports that both political parties are equally uninterested in invigorating the UK’s place in the museum world, with increased funding, a serious acquisition budget and a commitment to world class scholarship.

There was also rather less about Brexit than I should have expected. People who work in or use our museums will in almost all cases have a positive view about Europe, but neither they nor the general public are likely to see this in terms of Article 151 of the EU treaty. Yet for Europeans this is the framework within which they view the international exchange of cultural knowledge arising from the freedom of movement of works of art to international loan exhibitions. They will cite (although few people in the UK have ever heard of it) the European Parliament resolution on cultural cooperation (2000/2323 (INI)).

But little of this is mentioned in the Mendoza reports, which are strikingly insular. Although the strategic review recognises that the 16 major institutions are more likely to be affected by Brexit than the rest of the sector, it refers us to the Mendoza review for the shortest and most useless imaginable discussion (a couple of paragraphs on p. 69). The strategic review summarises HMG’s current priorities as rather patronisingly “promoting Britain abroad through cultural diplomacy, especially post Brexit, and contributing to tourism, highlighting the UK as a special place to visit.” The emphasis is on tourism and revenue generation rather than any sense of a common European culture; and it is notable that of the twelve international cooperation initiatives cited in paragraph 41, all but one were with countries outside the EU. But Britain’s ties with Europe are far closer than with China or Latin America when it comes to eighteenth century painting: Liotard and Perronneau came to London, while most British painters went or wanted to go to Italy. Even Neil MacGregor, the arch-exponent of world culture, works in Germany, not Beijing.

But I want now to come to one of the tiny details in Mendoza which has escaped all commentary I have seen. It caught my eye only because of the attempts I’d made to gather information for my recent blog post on the hazards of moving pastels.

This is one of the main recommendations from the Mendoza review.

6. Work with ACE to promote the Government Indemnity Scheme to borrowers
and lenders, and ensure that it continues to deliver good value for money. This
also means boosting confidence in the scheme and making sure that commercial
insurance is reserved for exceptional cases. Where commercial insurance is
necessary, this means simplifying the process.

For anyone unfamiliar with the Government Indemnity Scheme (“GIS”), there is a good deal of information about the mechanics on the Arts Council’s website as well as a lengthy pdf including guidelines for national institutions. I shall assume you know these in what follows. So what was Mendoza getting at? Why does “confidence in the scheme” need to be “boosted”? What changes is he nudging government to make to improve its take up and why?

Although you will know from this blog that I no longer lend pastels, I have (since 1981) lent pastels, drawings and other works of art to international travelling exhibitions and have some limited experience of what lenders are interested in. Fundamentally their concern is that handling is of the highest standard, and that if there is an accident, agreed value claims will be met in full and without delay. One of the mysteries to me is that the values I’ve suggested to commercial insurers have never been challenged before the loan is agreed. I’d perhaps worry whether that meant a vigorous discussion after any claim.

Interestingly a useful (if a little old) international survey commissioned by the EU, Study No. 2003-4879 (easily available online) reinforces this need for transparency and clarity for the acceptability of such schemes. It also highlights some of the quirks of international insurance terms (e.g. owners of portraits need to be aware that German insurance contracts explicitly exclude the “fictitious” value attached to family portraiture). Of these the most important technical point concerns the so-called waiver of subrogation. Currently the GIS, if it does pay out, retains the right to sue the negligent carrier or museum who caused the damage. Many foreign borrowers won’t accept this. I very much hope that the government will stick to its position on this: the moment you exonerate carriers from responsibility, damage becomes far more likely. I hope that relaxing it was not what Mendoza meant.

But I want to discuss more generally the climate of secrecy surrounding this scheme, and indeed other aspects of the museum world and of the art world generally. Private collectors have reasons (good and bad) for wanting to hide their wealth. Dealers understandably want to conceal their sources (many clients baulk at paying a dealer three times what he paid last month), leading to the absence of provenance information which can bedevil Nazi era restitution claims. But shouldn’t museums think differently?

In preparation for the talk I gave on accidental damage to pastels, last August I sought information from several major galleries, from parliament, from DCMS and from the Arts Council concerning transportation protocols, accidental damage, the GIS and claims history. My experience was uniformly uninformative, despite all these bodies being covered by the Freedom of Information Act. Three months later, after reviews and appeals and references to the Information Commissioner (with whom several cases are still under investigation), I have very little information to provide the comfort that a foreigner would want about the operation of the GIS and the reliance that can be placed on its undertakings.

Based largely on published information (although this can be very hard to find: DCMS’s accounts are worth starting with) and the unpublished statements available in the House of Lords library, one can extract a picture of a scheme that is heavily used and with apparently extraordinarily low claims rates. They are hard to square with anecdotal accounts of handling damage (do museums take so much better care of GIS covered objects than of their own permanent collections?), which of course was why I wanted the hard facts.

Then there are the apparent anomalies in the data. For example, under the scheme museums have to tell Arts Council what indemnity limits they need. The latest Government Main Supply Estimates (2016–17, p. 269) list “indemnities in force” totalling £13,761,415,000 (of which the two largest are Tate, £3.2 bn, and the National Gallery, £2.6 bn). Yet despite this the “amount reported to Parliament by Departmental Minute”, according to the DCMS annual report and accounts to 31 March 2017, is only £6,253,500,000. No, I can’t either; and no one at DCMS or Arts Council seems willing to do so. [PS see the very helpful comment posted below]

What makes this all the more confusing is whether the Secretary of State has in fact laid this information before parliament as he is required to do under s.16A National Heritage Act 1980. These statements used in the past to be read to the Commons and recorded in Hansard. But the latest discussion you can find online is in 2006. Since then the statements have been treated as “unpublished papers”. You can read them in the library of the House of Lords, but it seems that no one does. And the librarian tells me that the last statement they have is to 31 March 2015. After much discussion with DCMS (I can say no more at this stage), one further unsigned draft statement to 30 September 2015 was produced, but they claim to have no later statement nor the signed version of that – despite the column in the DCMS accounts detailing amounts to 31 March 2017. Arts Council claim to hold only the 31 March 2015 certificate as the sole example of a document issued twice a year since 1980 for a scheme they are supposed to administer. Indeed one of the emerging issues from my enquiries was who if anyone has a complete picture of how this scheme is operating. It’s impossible to assign responsibility for what may be incompetence or intentional neglect, or merely confusions (perhaps even mine) that could be dispelled by a simple policy of open discussion and disclosure.

Let me turn now to the data on claims. The numbers (extracted like teeth from Arts Council) are astonishingly low: since 2012, a total of less than £300,000 with no payments at all in some years. Without a breakdown (into for example cost of repairs for minor accidental damage versus market value of works stolen) it is hard to say much more about these numbers. Further the numbers seem to bear no relation whatever to those “liabilities crystallised” (i.e. payment or provision for actual claims) in DCMS’s accounts: I have asked for a reconciliation, but do not expect it any time soon.

Low claims for government indemnity schemes are not that unusual on an international basis: for example, this from a lecture by Frank Bergevoet at the International Exhibitions Organisers conference April 2010:

It can be seen from our research that in the past five years more than 5600 indemnity requests have been accepted within 18 member states of the EU. Out of these 5600 applications only 7 damage claims were reported with a total amount of about 80,000 euro’s [sic] being paid out.

Why have there been so few claims under GIS? Can one infer that moving objects is very low risk? Does a low payout mean low loss (our museums and handlers doing a brilliant job) or just tough loss adjusting (the scheme so restrictive that lenders can’t rely on it)? One reason may be that the excess is so high, particularly since it is estimated that 80% of commercial insurance payouts for art transport are for compensation for damage rather than total loss, and much of this will be in the low thousands – below the level at which a claim can be made. And as I’ve mentioned in my pastel transport talk, insurers don’t pay for losses due to inherent vice: I have no data for how often that objection has been made. So what lenders really want to see openly discussed is actual claims processed.

That is what is so difficult to find. For example in a case in 1992, a canvas by Robyn Denny was damaged by a water leak while waiting to be exhibited at the Barbican. A year later proceedings were issued in the High Court over a disputed claim, but I can find no account of the final outcome, which I assume must have been settled before the court reached a decision.

Zoffany

Rather more interesting is the case of the Zoffany painting (The Mathew Family, above) destroyed in the fire at Clandon several years ago. Neither DCMS nor Arts Council provided any information on this, despite the claim and payout (of £4.2 million) being widely reported in the press (as a payout by the GIS). But you can, if you know what you are looking for, piece together what seems to have happened from DCMS accounts. It appears that (and I invite DCMS and Arts Council to correct me if I am wrong) a claim was made by the owners; the amount of £4.2 million was provided for in DCMS accounts. The claim was then found to be invalid (perhaps because Clandon did not meet the GIS indemnity standards, but I am speculating). Nevertheless the claim was paid by the Government on an ex gratia basis. In other words the lender found that he had not been legally covered at all. And Arts Council can claim that this wasn’t a claim under the GIS. I can see why that is not something the government would want to publicise, although as a lender I would want to know both parts of that story, and when I could rely on the whim of the government minister.

We should also note that the £4.2m Zoffany claim was dwarfed by the non-GIS items in the same fire, or the 2004 fire of the Saatchi and Tate collections in a storage warehouse. Or even the evidence Nicholas Penny is reported to have given to the Burrell enquiry: the Herald Scotland on 6 September 2013 said that he “has had knowledge of 10 major accidents during his career in museums and galleries in Britain and the US.”

So it is not that there is no risk that catastrophic losses will (equally rarely) occur: it is that the public find it very difficult to understand the value (and price) of risk. There is here a neat confusion of risk and premiums saved which mean we can miss the fact that Government is subsidising the museums. The figure of £15m per annum saved (as repeated in Mendoza) is an old estimate which does not seem to be sourced or revised. Voters readily think that that £15m is public value added by the Scheme; the same logic would leave you smug in the years when you don’t insure your home, and disappointed in the year when it burns down. The real public saving is at best the profit element in an insurance premium (by way of illustration, a leading art insurer’s most recent accounts disclose a 10% underwriting profit on gross premiums written in the relevant division); the rest is a concealed transfer of value from taxpayers to museums that doesn’t normally get seen as such. Sssh! I can hear some of you say – don’t let those nasty élite-hating leave voters hear of this (don’t worry – they don’t read my blog).

And then there is the real question: if your £500 million Leonardo is destroyed in an air crash, what is the point of paying yourself a cheque for that amount?

Postscript (23 November)

When I wrote the post above, I had completely forgotten that the GIS had been discussed in blogposts at Art History News and The Grumpy Art Historian some five years ago. The Art Newspaper article to which they refer is no longer online, and I long ago archived (i.e. lost) my copy. It’s somehow reassuring that many of the same points are made, and I also note that the  estimate of savings to museums of avoiding commercial insurance discussed in those posts is the same £15 million claim that currently appears on Arts Council’s website and in Mendoza. But is it right? In Gerry McQuillan’s very helpful comments below he alludes to the Van Gogh exhibition which the previous articles also discussed, where the commercial premium saved was estimated at £6 million in relation to total sum assured of £2 billion. That would seem to suggest that the total “value” of the GIS, where the “indemnities in force” amount to £13.8 billion, might be substantially higher than £15 million – perhaps closer to £40 million. (Of course you can’t simply multiply £6m x 13.8/2…)

 

Monochrome at the National Gallery

38.65One of my rules when blogging about current exhibitions is to try to avoid saying the same thing as every other critic. I prefer to write before I see other reviews: easier said than done, particularly when the review in The Times appears the very morning (Thursday) I’m invited for the “press view” (the National Gallery PR team observes a strict hierarchy of previews in which money and influence play their inevitable role: they are after all how museums survive today). The difficulty is exacerbated when the topic is outside my specific expertise (but the exhibition is so broad I doubt any single person could claim otherwise) – but I try to write (or at least sketch) my pieces without reference to the press release, and ideally to form some sort of idea of what “should” be in the exhibition before I’m prejudiced by what’s actually there. That may be terribly unfair, but it’s the best way to avoid the ruts and furrows ploughed by the other third-tier hacks who are just one up from NG members (Friday).

Imagine therefore (perhaps it’s one of your nightmares) sitting down to an art history exam paper, and the question is:

Curate an exhibition called Monochrome. List a dozen items you would include, state why, and write an introductory essay (1 hour).

What you would come up with is likely to say more about you than about the subject. The variety of answers however gives you a clue as to just how enormous this topic could be. And I guarantee that none of you will have included a great many of the delightful, fascinating and instructive choices made by the curators of the present show. Nor are many of you likely to have assembled and curated your imaginary exhibition with the intelligence and humour they have brought to a show that is sure to be a success in visitor numbers (the primary metric in today’s hard-headed museum world) and at the least a talking point for all of us.

Divided into seven sections, covering seven centuries, some might even see a parallel with the V&A’s over-ambitious Opera exhibition: of that (the less said the better) I can only comment (as Schopenhauer noted) that the medium is usually unendurable since it depends on getting everything right, which happens very rarely. Opera has some interesting exhibits, but the density of those is too low.

Monochrome’s sprawling ambition is sure to include something to annoy everyone, but it has throughout plenty oTitianf plums. That might not be the mot juste – the plum after all, with its luscious deep colour, is the antithesis to the exhibition’s thesis, as we realize when we pass through the door into the third room where we encounter just that colour in Titian’s La Schiavona (National Gallery; left), whose lower right corner alone includes her invitation to this show. I can’t help a puerile observation that “plum” too is the meaning of one of the curator’s names, in a spectacular example of nominative incongruity.

But to go back to our undergraduates, what might they have suggested (it’s a safe bet that Titian would not be among them)? I gather there’s a television programme which even I don’t watch in which contestants have to guess not the answer to a question, but the answer least likely to have already been given by a group of (presumably South London bus-riding) viewers. I put down Whistler’s mother (it’s reproduced in the catalogue, but presumably couldn’t be borrowed: that its absence does not undermine the exhibition makes you realise that it is broad enough to rest on many other shoulders, and perhaps shifting some precious objects wasn’t so strictly necessary as it might be in a monographic show). Bridget Riley (yes). Yves Klein (no). I knew that people of a certain age would probably be thinking of living sculptures in Watteau, brought to life in Peter Greenaway’s films (the Pygmalion legend would surely have made an appearance); but they’ve become tacky with the pavement outside the Gallery (no). But the trendy equivalent for today’s youth must surely be Malevich’s Black Square (yes). Incidentally, it’s not square, at least not in the version shown here; and I ran out of patience trying to find out from the catalogue whether this is the same version as the one Tate Modern showed in 2014.

I also thought there might be more physics. If Malevich isn’t black enough (I checked my Russian dictionary to confirm that Malevich is close to the word for painter or dauber, and found the illustrative example “the devil is not so black as he is painted”), surely we would get examples of Vantablack, whether just as a scientific sample to illustrate its stated capacity to absorb 99.96% of incident light, or in some realization by Anish Kapoor, reported last year as having the exclusive right to paint with it? But this seems not to have made it. Perhaps this is the meaning of “exclusive right”. Or maybe it’s there, but I just didn’t see it.

We do get a physics lesson, in the form of the last room, which I felt belonged more to the Science Museum than the National Gallery. It’s witty in its way, but if you’re old enough to remember sodium street lamps the effect is very familiar. I can’t help but comment that this so-called exhibition of “painting in black and white” starts and finishes in yellow.

Indeed the curators confess that they use the terms “monochrome” and “black and white” or “greyscale” interchangeably: but they are not. Black, white and grey are all devoid of colour (at least in theory); a room illuminated with light of a single frequency is monochrome. But whatever the technicalities, as you walk round this exhibition you are constantly aware of colour trying to creep in. The caption to the Barocci sketch, for example, describes it as in “grey monochrome”, but then goes on immediately to discuss its “warm brown hues”. The British Museum’s Sine Cerere et Libero friget Venus (cat. 22) is described in the NG catalogue (where Latin however is abolished) as “chalk, ink and oil on paper”, while the BM description is “black chalk, pen in black, brush and oils in brown, grey, white, yellow and pink” [sic].

While the exhibition is beautifully designed and presented (as we have come to expect at the National Gallery), once again it is let down by the use of LED spotlighting. The whole point of the Ingres Odalisque (above, at the top of this post) is surely the delicate pink of the drapery which disappears into a mess in the harshness of this set-up. (Incidentally the Metropolitan Museum now claim that the work is exclusively autograph: “since the early 1980s there has been agreement that the work is solely by Ingres”, while the catalogue and captions here still argue for studio assistance. Is this a conscious downgrading? The Met also say that the work is unfinished, while this (I think) is not discussed in the NG catalogue.)

Needless to say the catalogue is reproduced in full colour throughout. And again it’s excellent value, although the absence of full critical apparatus as noted above is the sacrifice commerce exacts. Alternate chapters are contributed by the two curators, largely seamlessly (they evidently share a common view of the scope of the exhibition far narrower than my group of imaginary dreamers). There is some duplication – as for example on p. 71 where the concept of “dead colouring” is mentioned, and it is said that it can be traced back to 17th century Netherlands. On p. 81 the other curator comes to the same concept (without referring back), this time identifying the source as the 1604 Schilderboek. In fact (for what it’s worth) I think it goes back at least to 16th century Italy, with Lomazzo’s treatise (“…che pajono corpi senza il lucido della trasparenza, e sua vivacità…”), which Haydocke (1588) translates as “dead colours”.

My undergraduates would probably have thought about monochrome in the context of visual response to low lighting conditions (they can get plenty of practice in National Gallery exhibitions, although it would be unfair to mention the Giacometti on press day). They’d probably have listed lots of nocturnal views (more than just the Barocci). But the whole idea of modelli (which is explored in some depth) surely overlaps with the realisation of the inchoate and the power of the imagination, themes which aren’t really explored here at all fully. And while I’d promised myself (on the don’t-do-what-other-reviewers-inevitably-will) not to mention a popular BDSM novel/film, I can’t resist alluding to Diderot’s far more obscene story about the président de Brosses with his explanation for the power of the sketch.

The undergraduates will also have alluded to the old disegno v colore debate. I doubt if I alone will have been puzzled by where the lines in the sand are drawn around the exhibition’s scope. Drawing is excluded – the subject is after all “painting in black and white”: yet Goltzius’s wonderful, if bizarre, drawing in pen and ink over chalk (cat. 46) is included. If the argument is that the support is prepared canvas which in one sense makes it a painting, then why are works on paper allowed? Unless of course anything that takes your fancy and is interesting enough…

But for me the intellectual thesis of an exhibition on painting in monochrome would surely be based around a schema in which colour is on the horizontal axis (running from black and white to full colour), while drawing/painting is on the vertical axis (running from graphic lines to fully modelled surfaces). So drawing (bottom left) is excluded, as is full colour painting (top right). (I suppose bottom right would include paintings by Piet Mondrian…but that is certainly a different story.) But top left should include surfaces modelled in a single hue in any two dimensional medium. For me that includes media like mezzotint, whose raison d’être is the exploration of light and shade.

Oddly however (apart from a passing allusion on p. 155) the exhibition ignores mezzotint, but has quite a lot about reproductive line engraving. We also have the trompe-l’œil by Étienne Moulinneuf (incidentally, p. 151, there is no doubt about his date of birth – 30 December 1706, in Marseille – since the 1969 article on his father) which seemed to attract a good deal of interest at the press view. Of course the whole point of this is that it only makes sense because of the tinge of green he is able to capture to depict the broken glass. This genre (which the catalogue might leave you thinking was Moulinneuf’s alone) was very popular at the time, if somewhat forgotten now; in one dictionary “verre cassé” is a synonym for a trompe l’œil painting. Moulinneuf certainly didn’t invent it; I think that title goes to Gaspard Gresly, who applied the same treatment to Dupin’s print after Watteau of Les Enfants de Silène.

My fictional students might also have recollected ways in which clever cross-hatching in monochrome drawings can create the illusion of colours – whatever you may think of the origins of the drawing known as the Bella Principessa (and I do not suggest it should have been borrowed), the scientific analysis demonstrated the trick remarkably.

When you remove hue from painting, one looks for other ways to engage the senses. Curiously the word “haptic” occurs in Olafur Eliasson’s essay but not elsewhere (or if it did, I missed it): yet this is precisely what I felt was missing in, for example, the trompe-l’œil section. Patrick Baty’s recent Anatomy of Colour whets your appetite for more on the texture of oil paint. But what about pastel? How wonderful it would have been to discover Liotard’s lost–

pastel d’un bas relief de platre pendu sur une tapisserie de damas bleu, representant des enfants qui jouent avec une chevre, cizeaux pendus, et une fiolle avec une huile suptile.

Pillement Blauerhof 18Indeed many of Liotard’s trompe-l’œil and cameos which have survived would have brought the question of texture to the fore. Pastel and oil paint of the same hue are really quite different. Hugh Douglas Hamilton’s pastel of Canova’s studio would have been absolutely relevant (if too hazardous to move). But so too would have been the blue scenes (left) and winter landscapes of Pillement, or the so-called grisaille pastels developed by the Irish school (Frye, Healy – the Castletown Hunt below – etc.) and perfected by Joseph Wright (seventeenth-century plumbago portraits might also be mentioned). The development of other forms of soft black chalk (Citoyen Coiffier‘s crayon noir-de-velours, Conté crayon etc.) all converge with mezzotint in a chapter explored in Noir, the recent exhibition at the Getty which this show avoids more or less entirely.

Healy Castletown hunt

Monochrome will get people talking. It will show people many things they don’t know, and show some they do in a different light. It is perhaps too much to ask for a tighter focus, but if I had to sacrifice something it would be the last three rooms. There is an unmistakable twentieth-century creep appearing inexorably at the National Gallery which I hope can be resisted. Leave that to Tate.

Postscript (30 October)

My attention has been drawn to the exhibition Gray is the color: an exhibition of grisaille painting, XIIIth-XXth centuries held at the Rice Museum, Houston, October 1973 – January 1974, curated by Patrice Marandel. It is referred to in the bibliography of the present exhibition, although I had not seen it when I wrote the piece above: I would probably have noted (in assessing the ingenuity of the choices) that it includes a closer selection of objects than my imaginary undergraduates might have chosen. (The catalogue is available to consult online at archive.org, although you do have to register to do so.) It’s not just that some twenty artists are present in both exhibitions, but it too starts with stained glass, proceeds to illuminated manuscripts and even embraces the verre-cassé pictures I mention above (albeit with different examples). Curious.

 

Transporting pastels to exhibitions

Here now is the second of my talks given at the seminar Le Pastel: regards croisés sur une technique singulière on Tuesday. As before you can find full references, bibliographies etc. for the talk in the online Dictionary of pastellists, and in particular in the Prolegomena. An earlier post is also relevant. As with all posts on this blog, these are personal opinions.

Slide29

Let us now turn to the issues raised by moving pastels.

I’m not going to take you through the long history of pastel damage. You can find lots of examples in my Prolegomena: Rosalba writing about broken glass; Oudry sending a picture to comte Tessin in Stockholm, with instructions to open it to remove all the pastel that would surely be found on the inside of the glass. You may at the end of this talk have some sympathy with the Duke of Hamilton who insisted that a pastel be carried 40 miles to his palace “on a man’s back”, although museums aren’t allowed to do that now.

The basic position in museum policy remains that “unfixed pastels are usually too fragile to travel.” This was formalised as far back as 1963 in a Unesco document, and it has been reiterated for example by the loan principles agreed by the Bizot Group of leading museums worldwide. It remains the standard position of most of the major museums who collect pastels.

Slide30

But nevertheless we have to discuss the matter because several recent exhibitions have been promoted on the basis that the technical issues of transportation have been solved: here for example is the promise of “safe handling…through advances in methods of art transportation”; I want to challenge that claim.

Slide31

You may say that large numbers of fragile works of art are being moved all the time, and you rarely see any evidence of damage: we shall see that that is to misunderstand the problem. Some people suggest that the risks of damage are outweighed by the scientific value of showing these works which would otherwise rot away in store rooms. But that isn’t how the issue is presented to lenders or museums when they approve loans. You can’t take calculated risks when you can’t calculate the risk.

During this talk I want to identify some of the biases and other cognitive errors that endanger the debate. You’ll hear later on from people involved in the scientific attempts to find solutions, but I want instead to illustrate the problem from a practical viewpoint, and I shall draw learnings from the worlds of finance, insurance, medicine, sport, natural disasters or even food logistics to inform or illuminate the discussion.

The first thing we should note is “survivor bias”: because the pastels that we study today have survived in good condition, we ignore the ones that are unexhibitable or destroyed.

Slide32

The fact is that a great many pastels have suffered damage. Often we don’t know why or when or how, but we do know that it has happened. One wonders what happened to the Liotard of Lord Mountstuart at the Getty when we compare it with the replica kept safely by the family. We simply don’t have the information to say what caused the losses (the degradation was evident before the pastel left Scotland for Los Angeles, presumably by air), but we can wonder if they had anything to do with the fire which destroyed Mount Stewart in 1877, which at the very least would have required hasty evacuation.

Damage is surrounded by a wall of silence from owners and museums, fraught with conflicts of interest and covered in a veil of ignorance, as we still don’t know the exact mechanism of why pastels degrade.

Proper risk management tells you not just to look at the probability of an adverse event, but to multiply that by the consequences. That is why a pastel is so much more in danger than an oil painting. The response can be highly nonlinear and disproportionate. Think of a haemophiliac child: it’s not that he’ll fall more often than a normal child, but that if he does, the consequences are life-threatening.

Slide33

A good example of this principle is when it comes to glass breakage. This is one of the biggest hazards for pastels, with far more serious consequences than for oils. Note too, since paintings usually weren’t glazed in the 18th century, any glass they have now is toughened and less likely to break. So the experience derived from moving oil paintings can give false confidence.

Pastels with broken glass appear frequently, not only in the saleroom. You can even find the frame falling apart with poor handling: joints opening, or whole sections dropping off.

The routine way to protect glass in transit is to tape it. As you can see from the picture, this doesn’t even protect the pastel. But as we now know, you mustn’t tape the glass of pastels as it creates static electricity which can lift particles of pigment onto the inside of glass.

In fact this transfer can also arise just from cleaning the glass – particularly if you’ve decided to mitigate the breakage risk by adopting one of the new specialised glass replacements: if you don’t clean them very carefully, so-called low static glazing can easily become fully electrostatic.

Slide34

This SLIDE shows how this phenomenon occurs differentially with some pigments, in this case white: nothing is visible when the glass is removed and laid down against a white background, but against black, you can see that the transfer from the pastel it covered occurs up to edges in a way that shows it isn’t contact transfer. We just don’t understand the phenomenon fully.

Slide35

Pastels are astonishingly easy to damage by poor handling once out of the frame. Unprotected backs can lead to smudging or tears. I’ve seen hundreds of tell-tale fingerprints near the edges: they are the pastels you don’t see in museums or exhibitions. This can happen in the auction room: dealers with little intention of purchasing insist on seeing them out of the frame. Also in the photography studio, dazzling lights increase the accident risk, and can even melt pigments.

But when they get to the framers, there’s a hazard most people aren’t aware of.

Slide36

This is what the gesso room looks like. That white dust gets everywhere, and if you are mad enough to unseal a pastel anywhere nearby, it will soon be covered in this stuff which can never be removed. And even the most talented carvers and gilders are quite capable of screwing the fittings too tight, and shattering the glass a second time. Worse: some will resort to powered ratchet screwdrivers to do so. Which is what unsupervised logistics staff routinely do when your back is turned: they simply think you’re being fussy in asking them not to.

When we run through the standard insurable risks, pastels fare worse than oils because of disproportionate consequences. Thieves are unlikely to take the care required for pastels to survive undamaged, particularly if they remove them from the frame.

In a fire, pastels can be damaged beyond repair without the flames reaching the work, as was accepted in a law case concerning a Degas pastel of Grecian Dancers. The court accepted the evidence that-

The heat and the humidity had caused molecular change, the effect of which depended on the extent of the heat and the humidity. In simple terms, he [the expert witness] considered that the heat and humidity were similar in effect to an oven and the crystals were cooked and became like flour; in consequence, they lost their adhesion and shine…  Loss of adhesion: The pastel appeared in good condition, but with time each particle of pigment would fall away. He did not consider that long term damage would have been visible in 1995 [four years after the fire]

To prevent fire museums have sprinkler systems. They can be faulty: when the Mona Lisa was lent to the Met in New York in 1963, it was drenched by such a fault. It survived; a pastel would not have.

Slide37

With flood, the risks are obvious, and infinitely more severe for pastel than for oil. Even condensation from humidity can cause irreparable water marks, especially on external walls. Don’t assume that museums are immune from this: here’s a major American museum which can’t control the moisture levels outside or in.

[SLIDE omitted] Worse than a damaged pastel is a badly restored one.

But unquestionably the main concern with pastel transportation is the issue of shock and vibration. From the earliest days of pastel people have tried to remedy this inherent defect of the medium by devising various methods of fixing. These were rarely successful, and it’s far from clear that fixing applied 200 years ago is still effective. But the price was too high.

Slide39

You can see the change in colour from Cotes’s Chambers, which Russell wrote about and of which he probably made the copy that shows the original colour. Worse, you can get unsightly tidemarks, as in La Tour’s autoportrait. This is just one of many examples of ill-thought-through attempts to manage risk: we may even term this “iatrogenic risk”.

So what happens when an unfixed pastel is moved? We often see reports from museums that “condition checking before and after the journey indicated that there was no visible change to the work”: in other words, they’ve completely missed the point. Damage doesn’t usually result in a neat pool of powder resting on the bottom spacer which you can photograph to support a claim from your insurance company. In any case most insurance policies (including the UK Government Indemnity Scheme) offer no cover for “inherent vice or a pre-existing flaw”, which probably excludes this sort of damage even when it is visible. This is an area that is rarely discussed with lenders: if a pastel does suffer damage during transportation resulting from its friable nature, both lender and borrower may be in for a surprise. However extracting claims data is extremely difficult, even when requested from public institutions covered by the Freedom of Information Act.

Instead of the heap of powder you get at most a subtle alteration of luminosity that results from alterations to bonding at microscopic level (as the court found in the Degas case). Generally this is imperceptible. This invisible damage is one of the most important features of moving pastels. It is exacerbated by data bias: older photographic records are often too poor in quality to reveal the deterioration over time or link it to specific traumas. This is also made worse by damage denial or the causal-immediacy problem: people who don’t believe there’s anything wrong continue moving pastels. This is like boxing where a doctor examines the fighter after each match and can’t see any damage, but a decade later the cumulative brain damage becomes evident.

You can find exactly the same cognitive errors in financial markets and even with natural disasters. There is “ostrich behaviour”, where we simply don’t act on theoretical risks; “optimism bias” where we don’t take precautions believing that “it wouldn’t happen to me”; “single action bias” where implementing one precaution means we don’t bother with the others that are equally important. And “amnesia bias”: even after a catastrophe, the measures we introduce to prevent it are forgotten after a period.

But if you must move a pastel, what is the best way to prepare it for transportation?

The first question is whether to open the pastel. This is where the gap between protocol and practice can be biggest. If you don’t open it, you have no idea what’s inside: you just hope for the best. The tension of the canvas may have gone, so that if they are tipped forward the pastel will touch the glass. The spacing is usually too small. Worse, you can’t check whether the spacers are secure or liable to fall during the journey potentially destroying the work. That isn’t solved by travelling horizontally, as they can still slide across the surface.

Slide40

There’s an even worse hazard, with works on multiple sheets where the paste has dried out and the paper starts to slide.

But if you do open the pastel, you not only break the integrity of what may be an original assembly, you greatly increase the risks of accidental damage. Where do you cut the backing seal safely when you don’t know what’s underneath? I’ve even encountered cases where the spacer is glued to the front of the pastel and glued also to the glass: a nightmare to open safely.

Slide41

Travelling without glass raises other problems. How do you transport the unframed pastel in a dust-free environment and secure it so the surface can’t make contact? A method that effectively clamps the edges may be placing strain on the weakest spot of the pastel. But there’s an unexpected issue that emerges from recent research on the vibrations of canvas: the assembly with backing board and glass provides a very significant additional level of protection from vibration. So by trying to solve one problem you exacerbate another.

And if instead you decide to replace the glass with toughened or laminated glass, the extra weight itself can weaken the frame and increase shock levels.

The next question is what type of packing to use. Some institutions are still using large triple-lined museum cases, with up to five pastels in a case, ensuring that the boxes are too heavy to move without hydraulic equipment which itself creates vibration.

Slide42

One danger is that too much packing can create an illusion of protection: it’s like boxers practising in safety helmets which have now been abandoned since they have been found to cause greater long-term damage than unprotected sparring. Twenty years ago research showed that a double case was preferable to a triple case because it was lighter, and because the foam insulation can’t be optimised for all levels. But even a 50 kg case still needs mechanical handling. The same problem can arise with clever ideas such as transport at 45°. The obvious logic is that a single case is even better.

But you need to be careful that using the lightest possible case to mitigate shock may make it harder to buffer the humidity and temperature levels adequately. These are always mentioned in protocols, but what is actually done in practice to manage them? The answer is often very little.

Slide43

Yet as we know this is why joints in frames open up. And what you may not have thought about is that the same thing happens to the pastel strainer. Even if it doesn’t cause failure, warped strainers show as cockling at the corners. Unlike an oil on a stretcher, there’s nothing you can do when the pastel strainer loses tension; relining or transfer to another secondary support is always hazardous. Pastels are more likely than oils to be oval, which makes these problems worse. The impossibility of cutting the wood along the grain more or less ensures that the joints will open up, of both frame and strainer. And original glass ovals are cut by hand: their entire weight can rest on just a few sharp points, so they are hugely vulnerable to breakage from shock transmitted through the frame.

Slide44

As for the transport vehicle, so-called air-ride suspension involves tail-lifts (image left) which need the engine to be running when the vehicle is stationery: you don’t need a meter to detect unacceptable levels of vibration from these.

You will say that this is mitigated by using the right kind of foam (image right). But there is still no consensus as to whether this is soft polyurethane or polyethylene such as Plastazote. And you very rarely see anti-static foam used (it is usually produced in a “shocking pink” colour), although it is close enough to triboelectric materials even with a framed pastel to make investigation into this hazard worthwhile.

Slide45

Here’s a simple experiment that I did with a wooden frame supported on a standard foam, repeated by driving over the same stretch of road a second time with the addition of very soft alveolated polyurethane. This was in a passenger car which actually has far lower vibration levels than larger vehicles. You can see that the shocks were damped – by perhaps 30–40%. Incidentally the highest peak while the car was moving was when I drove quickly past some road works where a pneumatic drill was being used. These are the things you can’t control. Also getting the picture into or out of the vehicle involved the biggest shocks. We just don’t know what the trade-off is between a few big initial shocks and lots of little ones, or between shock and vibration. (That’s why experts don’t even agree about road versus air.)

We should note here “science bias”: because dataloggers conveniently collect shock levels, we assume that is the only danger: vibration is harder to record. But because there’s something which can be measured, we ignore factors that can’t. We test one modern sample, and extrapolate to the behaviour of works created 300 years ago with quite different materials. Bad science should not silence common sense.

Common sense does however tell you that when a heavy case is dropped, the energy has to be dissipated somehow, and there is a risk that some ends up at the molecular level weakening the bonds that hold the pastel together.

Slide46

But the most comprehensive research on moving paintings shows that damping solutions simply don’t work, and in many cases magnify the input vibrations without reliably attenuating output. Mixing layers of foam of different hardness can’t overcome the issues. We haven’t really progressed fundamentally since the Heath-Robinson approach taken for the transport of the Saint-Quentin pastels 100 years ago: we have merely added a bit of foam here, an air-bag there like the wheels-within-wheels of Ptolemaic cosmology before Copernicus. Shock levels from road transport simply can’t be eliminated. They are always worse than the flat zero line for leaving the pastel at home.

There’s even the risk of contact between pastel and glass if the canvas tension is too loose or the space too small. When I raised this with the organisers of one recent exhibition, the response was to insert wadding beneath the pastel. But this led to polyester being placed in direct contact with vellum, despite the fact that this combination is known to generate static electricity. Another example of a poor solution creating new risks.

One of the difficulties here is the reluctance to share experience. I had to use the Freedom of Information Act to find out if pastels sent to a recent exhibition travelled horizontally or vertically, and had to pursue the process to appeal. Even when it comes to a description of the protocols and techniques people are developing, you can encounter a wall of silence.

Apart from the question of vibration, and assuming your pastel has arrived at the exhibition location unimpeded by fire, flood or theft, is everything then OK?

Not necessarily. One possible problem which I’ve never seen discussed (and may take on a larger dimension post-Brexit) concerns customs clearance. Government border agencies have extensive rights to examine any object crossing borders to safeguard against illicit substances, be they explosives or drugs (couriers may not always be present, particularly at airports where cargo handling takes place in secure areas). It is difficult to imagine that should their attention fall upon a pastel, they would bring the necessary skill to investigate it safely.

Your pastel is likely to arrive some weeks before the show. Where will it be hung temporarily?

Slide47

Many museums continue to use moveable storage racks which create appalling levels of shock/vibration, not only when the pastels are viewed but when nearby pictures are taken out. Even fixed racks are often sufficiently near moving racks to be affected by the vibration.

Have all the other exhibits been put in place first, and all necessary holes drilled? Are you going to fix new hanging furniture to the back of already weakened 18th century frames, and will the staff remember to screw these by hand? Will all the pastels be moved by hand, or might trolleys be used (if so even the pressure of the tyres is an issue that has been investigated)?Slide48Or maybe this type of machine is to be used with larger pastels? When the pastels are unpacked, will all the best efforts of the transport protocol to ship at an angle of 10°, 45° or whatever be undermined to get the work out of the box?

Slide49

Aren’t they in fact often turned over when wrapping, directly contrary to most instructions? Are the pastels to go on temporary partitions or display stands which may be subject to floorboard vibrations? You might think I’m exaggerating, but footfall on parquets from groups of visitors was a sufficient hazard to oil paintings to be the subject of specific investigation with shock levels akin to transport.

Slide50

More so is the possibility of the institution hosting concerts in nearby galleries with loud music: there’s even an hilarious video showing the “Met Workout” – gymnastics classes held in its galleries. The Louvre also hosts these.

Slide51

Lighting is perhaps the one area where almost all museums understand the dangers. It’s in fact more of a problem for watercolours than for pastels. But it is certainly an issue, as you can see from comparing both versions of the maréchal de Saxe’s green uniform with the print showing the proper colour of his uniform; or Lady Berwick’s red elbow hidden by the frame. And you need to calculate the exposure not just for opening hours, but special events, set up and even cleaning.

Even the installation of exhibition lighting can be a risk to the exhibits. Official loan standards recognise this, recommending that the lighting be installed before the exhibits arrive to minimise the risk of damaging objects that are being installed; but these guidelines are routinely ignored. This is understandable for pastels since their uneven surfaces are exacerbated by raking light, so adjustments after they are hung are often required.

Slide53

And when the doors close at night, there’s the housekeeping to worry about: floor polishers vibrate and can easily touch the skirting. Even the dusting should be done by hand, not with a vacuum cleaner.

Slide54

Finally the biggest risk is often when the exhibition is being dismantled. All the best laid plans can be put aside in the confusion which, for the exhibition where this painting was smashed, was described as “pandemonium” by a trustee of the institution concerned.

Slide55

So to summarise. Pastel damage is a real problem. Whenever you move a pastel, you put it at risk from a large number of hazards. And the evidence is before you if you look for it of pastels which are dull or used, if not completely ruined, where by far the most credible explanation is transport.

Let me offer two suggestions. The first is a test as to whether the science of pastel transportation has reached even a basic level. The test is this: what is the equivalent of a single 10g shock, such as you might get in an airport cargo handling bay, in terms of shocks of 1g from air cushioned road travel? Demonstrating a clear answer to that question seems to me basic.

Second: all responsible museums arranging to borrow or lend pastels should insist on taking and publishing ultra high resolution images of the pastel before and after each leg of the journey and return. Only thus can we begin to identify when damage occurs.

Both of these ideas are necessary for progress, but not in themselves sufficient to support the contention so complacently displayed in the Royal Academy at the start of this talk.

For centuries pastels were protected by being too unfashionable, too boring to be borrowed. They moved only when people died, and even then not always though the salerooms. The lending exhibition is broadly speaking a recent phenomenon, and is putting our pastels through a trauma that may take many years to reveal its consequences fully, when it will be too late to reverse. Our biases and prejudices blind us to these risks just as President Trump denies climate change. Of the impact on our pastels from this revolution in museology, it is still too early to judge, in the rather wiser words attributed to Zhou Enlai.

The evolution of taste in pastels

To accompany the new exhibition of nineteenth century pastels currently at the Petit Palais, L’Art du pastel de Degas à Redon, a two-day seminar Le Pastel: regards croisés sur une technique singulière was held in Paris on Monday and Tuesday. I gave two talks yesterday morning, of which the first is in this post. The second will appear later. My theme concerned two different aspects of pastel exhibitions. You can easily find full references, bibliographies etc. for the talk in the online Dictionary of pastellists, and in particular in the Prolegomena.

Slide1

Let me first of all say a few words about the scope of my talk. I am discussing only pastels made before 1800. I consider nineteenth century pastels to be completely different objects which just happen to use a similar medium. Degas and his contemporaries did not revive the dix-huitième: they may have been inspired by it, to some degree, but they were led to something far removed visually and aesthetically.

But the history of connoisseurial appreciation of the dix-huitième pastel does of course go back before 1908, and we must start with that general revival of interest in 18th century art which is so often associated with the Goncourts.

Slide2

Our understanding of this has advanced considerably thanks to the excellent La Caze exhibition 10 years ago, and the subsequent colloquium at The Wallace Collection in London entitled Delicious Decadence. I’m going to assume that you are familiar with both publications. But it may surprise you to learn that the word “pastel” hardly occurs at all in the proceedings: only one pastel is actually mentioned, and that in passing.

Carole Blumenfeld’s excellent article in the La Caze catalogue discussed a number of the pioneers in this rediscovery: Daniel Saint, His de La Salle, baron d’Ivry, baron de Beurnonville, Laurent Laperlier – although Henry de Chennevières subordinated their roles to just three figures: François Marcille, Louis La Caze and Hippolyte Walferdin. To these Blumenfeld judiciously added the marquis de Cypierre and Paul Barroilhet. But how far did their interest extend to pastel?

Slide3

If we look at the collections they and others formed – and exclude groups of portraits in museums or still belonging to descendants of the sitters, as well as the stock of dealers – surprisingly few people acquired pastels systematically. My figures indicate only about 120 collectors owning more than four 18th century pastels, and of these fewer than 30 owned more than a dozen. Topping the list was indeed François Marcille, with more than 50 pastels, Camille Groult a close second. Among Blumenfeld’s figures, the only others with more than half a dozen pastels were Laperlier and Cypierre, of which Laperlier’s collection was more important. The other great collections – Doucet stands out – were formed a little later, when the revival had taken hold. But in almost all these cases, the substantial pastel holdings were matched – or rather trumped – by prodigious holdings of oil paintings or drawings. Marcille’s 55 pastels for example were part of a collection numbering at least 2700 works.

Slide4

I don’t have the time to offer biographies of each of these figures. What I can say is that they had surprisingly little in common: there were painters and financiers, nobles and nouveaux. Some were prodigiously wealthy, some were not. Some were politically ultra, others progressive. Curieux indeed.

There is a further aspect to this: many of these nineteenth collections included pastels only by certain big names: La Tour, Perronneau, Chardin, Greuze, Boucher, Prud’hon, Fragonard. To these were added Rosalba, and by the turn of the century the English artist John Russell, invariably misspelt. Apart from those two and Perronneau, the others were all the subjects of the Goncourts’ essays in L’Art du xviiie siecle, which started to appear in 1859. And we have to ask how deep was their understanding of pastel – indeed how many of those late 19th century records of pastels by La Tour, listed but not confirmed in B&W and now disappeared without trace – were actually correctly attributed? This was an era when ludicrous misattributions and misidentifications were endemic.

Slide5

In 1863, the Goncourt brothers visited princesse Mathilde and were shown into her painting studio, which was “encombré de ces choses qui ne sont des objets d’art que pour les femmes, un faux pastel de Boucher, de faux pastels de Chardin.” Just a year later, this pastel entered the Goncourt apartment in the rue Saint-Georges:

Slide6

They had seen it in a sale where, like all other competent pastels, it was catalogued as by La Tour, a description they recognised as false. The brothers were excited to find it on their return from a fencing lesson:

Un commissionnaire nous apporte des Commissaires-Priseurs un magnifique pastel de Perroneau, pour lequel nous avions donné commission, dimanche, à une vente de tableaux de l’École française. Nous nous habillons, mettons des cravates blanches, allons dîner chez la Princesse, revenons et fumons une pipe, en adoration devant notre Perronneau, posé sur la table de notre chambre.

The magic took its effect: the entry for New Year’s Eve is:

En regardant le Perroneau et nos tapisseries de Beauvais, je songe que le xviiie siècle a eu, dans son ameublement d’art, le velouté.

But of course the pastel they had bought was not by Perronneau either, despite the label they affixed to the frame. They paid Fr 330 francs in 1863; at their sale 34 years later it fetched ten times as much, Fr 3000 – still only about €15,000 after inflation in today’s money. It is in fact by Vigée Le Brun.

Slide7

Remember too Reynaldo Hahn’s account of the Goncourt view on Perronneau’s superiority to La Tour and Chardin – the “other two pastellists”; and that travel to find out more about other schools was quite unnecessary. Was this based on deep understanding – or rather social bluster, claiming an exquisite sensibility denied to lesser mortals? This was 1895: although the Louvre had recently acquired its third Perronneau, Hahn and Proust had only seen La Tour and Chardin on their visit the day before this dinner. Proust wrote his unpublished essay about Chardin at this time, but he mentions Perronneau in his novel only after visiting Cent pastels in 1908.

Museums

It’s a sobering thought, but perhaps one that should not surprise us. Because quite simply the opportunity to see pastels in public collections was very limited in the mid-19th century. The collection at Saint-Quentin was barely accessible until it was placed in the Palais de Fervacques in 1856, and only moved to the present musée Antoine-Lécuyer in 1886.

The collection at the Louvre was of course the most important, and certainly well copied by the end of the 19th century. We can begin to glimpse the evolution of taste by looking at the holdings in the Louvre from its inception in 1793 when it took over the royal collections and those of the Académie royale. Excluding sheets with touches of pastel, the Louvre now owns about 200 pre-1800 pastels, representing the work of approximately 70 pastellists of whom these are the top dozen:

Slide8

These names probably won’t surprise you, although the exclusions are remarkable. There was no Liotard pastel until 1982, and there is still only one. Apart from a handful of Russells, the neglect of non-French pastellists is systematic: nothing by Copley, Cotes, Gainsborough, Gardner, Hamilton, Hoare, Mengs, Rotari, Schröder or Tiepolo.

But we should also look at the date of acquisition of these holdings.

Slide9

The peak in the 1820s is probably a glitch in the inventories, and should probably be added to the ancien régime endowment representing one-third of today’s holdings. That in the 1940s includes wartime recuperation. But the peaks in the 1860s, the 1910s and the last 15 years do represent waves of real interest. Of the 27 La Tours, a dozen were there at the start, another ten were added around 1910, while the 3 additions since 1950 have all taken place in the last 12 years.

Slide10

Over the years numerous pastels were offered to the Louvre: there have been some astonishing refusals – among them the président de Rieux now in the Getty, as well as the abbé Nollet in Munich. Even the full length Mme de Pompadour was initially refused before the Louvre changed its mind. Mme Roslin’s self-portrait was offered but rejected in 1847. As we shall see that was a mistake with sad repercussions.

One might expect that museum acquisitions worldwide would provide a valuable chart of leading taste across all schools. Sadly that seems not to be the case. Only a handful of museums have both the funds and the skills to set trends in taste. For others the pastels they acquire have been through legacies or random acts that reflect specific interests (for example when the sitter in a portrait has a connection with the museum) rather than a planned programme of acquisition. I have records of some 6500 pastels in public collections worldwide, so to sift these I made an arbitrary decision to look at acquisitions only in the last 30 years. I can’t say I pursued this with 100% accuracy, but I found details of some 300 pastels acquired in that period by 104 institutions. But when you exclude those acquiring only a single or couple of works, the number reduces to just 20 institutions worldwide:

Slide11

Even here, I’m including the V&A which received two wonderful Nattier pastels by legacy 30 years ago which have never, and probably never will, come out of storage: they are an exception to the general rule that British institutions dislike all pastels, and hate French in particular. But the names topping the list will surprise no one here.

Equally there are no surprises when we analyse the acquisitions by the names of the artist, where perennial favourites dominate:

Slide12

Among the 85 pastellists, only two dozen were represented by 4 or more works, and even these numbers are distorted by special interests. Thus Guildford House and Geneva respectively collect Russell and Liotard. Perhaps the most curious phenomenon was the interest shown by a number of minor US galleries in acquiring single heads by Luti from a group that appeared at auction some years ago. Many of these acquisitions were driven by skilful dealers.

Art market

Their influence can be followed in the saleroom. You can find more detail on all this on my website, and I don’t want to get bogged down in dry statistics or arguments about inflation. But here is a summary of the pastels which sold for more than $100,000: there are 89 pastels by 29 artists.

Slide13

Prices for pastels collapsed at the end of the eighteenth century and only really revived with the second wave of interest towards the end of the nineteenth century, reaching a zenith in the first quarter of the twentieth century.

Slide14

We can see this clearly in individual cases, such as that of a Perronneau pastel (left) which belonged to Laurent Laperlier, but fetched a mere 48 francs (about €200 in today’s money) in his 1867 sale. Auction prices are made by two competing bids, and a sole enthusiast does not represent a market revival. The purchaser was the other enthusiast, the baron de Beurnonville. In 1925 it sold for a more respectable 17,000 francs. Marius Paulme bought, and at his sale four years later it went for 70,000 francs (€175,000) – about 1000 times more than at the Laperlier sale. Today it would be worth rather less.

The Perronneau known as the comte de Bastard in the Louvre was sold in 1881 for 5000 francs (about €23,000). Seventeen years later it was still only worth €40,000 in today’s money. But at the Jacques Doucet sale in 1912, it fetched 128,000 francs, equivalent to nearly €600,000 today.

The Jacques Doucet sale in 1912 marked the high point in French pastels, with La Tour’s Duval de l’Épinoy (right) reaching about €3 million today, double the estimate. Writing in the Burlington magazine, Robert Dell, its first editor, revealed typically British fury: “Is it in accordance with common sense that a masterpiece by Fragonard [le songe du mendiant] should fetch 137,500 francs, and a masterpiece by Latour, who can hardly be counted the equal of Fragonard, 660,000? The truth is that prices have no sort of relation to artistic value.” But they do tell us about taste.

This revolution in saleroom prices, which lagged some way behind the development of individual enthusiasms, occurred simultaneously in London and Paris, and applied to English as well as to French pastellists. At the Angerstein sale at Christie’s in 1896, the 1000 guineas (€130,000 today) achieved by a Lawrence (one which had taken him all of three weeks to complete) was the highest price ever paid at auction for a pastel. It was soon exceeded by Russell’s Persian Sibyl, for which Charles Wertheimer paid 1100 gns (Christie’s, 1899; about €150,000 today). The 1908 sale of the Gardner portrait of Lady Fawkener for 1250 gns (again about €150,000 today) brought the artist out of obscurity, and created a self-fuelling dealers’ bonanza – although in fact a Gardner had been sold four years previously, at the Townshend Heirlooms sale, when it was miscatalogued as by Reynolds.

Slide15

There it fetched 35 times as much as a Rosalba, while the unattributed pastel by Katherine Read still went for four times the price of the Rosalba.

These relativities are evidently unstable, and these prices were not sustained. It was not until 1993 that a British pastel reached a level equivalent to six figures today. Since then Hugh Douglas Hamilton and chalk drawings by Gainsborough and Wright of Derby have become popular.

Slide16

Perhaps the most surprising performer has been Liotard. Although known for high prices when he was working, his masterpiece, Le Petit Déjeuner des Mlle Lavergne, sold in 1801 for £89 (about €8000); in 1835 for £31 (€4000); in 1916 for £1260 (€130,000); and in 1918 for £1450 (€100,000). No other published price for a Liotard reached that level until the 1986 purchase by the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston for a reported SwFr 2 million (€2,400,000) – but that was a response to the Getty’s purchase of the little girl, Frederica van Reede, for an undisclosed sum a few years before. Thereafter some 15 Liotards have sold for over £100,000, dominating the tables by number and value.

Liotard’s market value coincides with the burgeoning literature devoted to him. But it cannot be said that academia has played a significant role in the taste for or even in the study of pastels. There is almost no appetite for object led research. So we need to turn to public exhibitions,

Exhibitions

Slide17

The salons of the Académie royale have of course been the subject of much academic research – although those of the Académie de Saint-Luc, far more important for pastel portraits, have been largely overlooked. But these were shows of contemporary art. Pastels were mixed with paintings, arranged by size and format.

During the 19th century, the neglect of 18th century pastels in loan exhibitions reflects that in the saleroom.

Slide18

If we look at loan exhibitions including more than ten 18th century pastels, worldwide, I can find only 15; of these, the six in Paris all took place after 1874. These too were heavily dominated by pastels supposed to be by La Tour. There may have been one or two by Coypel, Rosalba or Perronneau, but no pastel by Vivien, Valade, either Vigée, Labille-Guiard, Lenoir, Loir, Lundberg, Boze, Ducreux, Glain, Nattier: these were all unknown as pastellists.

Slide19

The Exposition de Cent pastels represents the start of attention on the 18th century pastel in its own terms. It changed a great deal:

  • It made collecting pastel socially acceptable
  • It introduced the medium to a broader audience
  • It introduced them to minor pastellists such as Jean Chevalier, Duplessis, Frey, Guérin, Hall, Hoin, Labille-Guiard, Mérelle
  • It even made English pastellists such as Cotes and Gardner acceptable.

Standards of scholarship however left much to be desired, as anyone can see by comparing the livret with the commemorative catalogue, where at least two dozen new “identifications” were supplied by Roger-Milès’s fevered imagination. But perfectly good works (such as La Tour’s princesse de Rohan,

Slide20

now in Stockholm) were rejected as anonymes, in favour of copies and misattributions. As a quick tally, of the 118 pastels in the livret, only 102 made it into the final catalogue, not all of which are known today; I reckon that some 25 were given imaginary identities, perhaps ten were given to completely incorrect artists (Vigée Le Brun to Carmontelle or Perronneau; Valade to La Tour; Gardner to Reynolds etc.), while a dozen (mostly given to La Tour) were simply copies. The point was made by Maurice Tourneux at the time, and more recently by Xavier Salmon in the context of the 2004 La Tour exhibition. I make it again in the broader context of “not every pastellist is La Tour”.

But Cent pastels was a start. It was rapidly followed by the even larger Exposition des pastellistes anglais du xviiie siècle – but this was a dealers’ show, riddled with error and diluted with watercolour. The First World War intervened, but by 1920 there was a return of interest led initially by dealers’ shows but culminating in a re-run of Cent pastels, but with sounder scholarship: the 1927 Exposition de pastels français des xviie et xviiie siècles.

Slide21

Again a livret and a full souvenir catalogue, and this time as well as including further unknowns, such as Allais, Berjon, Davesne and Frédou, an attempt was made to cover the earlier period, with pastels by Nanteuil, Vaillant and Vivien. The English interlopers – indeed all foreign pastellists – were excluded. There remained some errors: among nearly 150 pastels, about a dozen were wrongly identified and a similar number misattributed. Despite the inclusion of many smaller names, it reinforced the perception of La Tour and Perronneau as the only ones who matter. In general it established a strong level of interest in 18th century French pastel, and led to the inclusion of pastels in a series of loan exhibitions in Paris, Amsterdam, London, Vienna and Venice in the 1930s.

Slide22

Paul Ratouis de Limay finally published his survey of French 18th century pastellists in 1946, but it was largely based on work done before the war (he was 65 when it appeared). And while there were similar, but even less accurate, summaries of German (Brieger, 1913) and English pastellists (Sée, deeply flawed) there remained no comprehensive study of the field until far later.

Slide23

The next war cast a pall over the dix-huitième which lasted through the 1980s. You can see too what happened in terms of cross-border movement: although a couple of dealer-led shows in Paris and London like the Pastellistes anglais distorted the statistics for the 1910s, the transport of pastels for international loan exhibitions was very rare until very recently. This is a point I shall come back to.

Of course it’s not correct to say that pastel shows ended in 1939. Pastels continued to appear in more general exhibitions. The huge Marie-Antoinette show in Versailles in 1955, with over 1000 exhibits, included some 30 pastels. (In contrast the 2008 Marie-Antoinette exhibition included only 6 pastels.) A similar number and ratio for the Royal Academy exhibition of British portraits in London in 1956. But pastels in larger shows took a lower and lower profile. The Royal Academy’s winter exhibition of 1968, France in the eighteenth century, had 1035 exhibits, but only 5 were genuine pastels. Portraits publics, portraits privés at the Grand Palais in 2006 and the Royal Academy the following year included no pastel.

Apart from a few commercial shows pastel exhibitions were rare in the post-war period. Special shows of the Louvre and Saint-Quentin collections were held in the 1950s; the next exhibition with more than a dozen pastels was that of the Carnavalet’s permanent collection in 1984. After that you had to wait 13 years for the Versailles exhibition, again of its own holdings. In 2001 the Hermitage did the same.

Slide24

By far the largest was the Warsaw exhibition of 2015 with some 250 of its own pastels from all periods.

Slide25

2004 saw the tercentenary celebrations for La Tour with 50 pastels from public and private collections travelling to Versailles and exhibitions of permanent collections at Chantilly, the Louvre etc. with a joint catalogue: the simultaneous hub idea which never really caught on. But the event gave a huge fillip to pastel exhibitions.

Slide26

Recent years have seen a number of monographic exhibitions: Rosalba, Tiepolo, Liotard, Perronneau.

Slide27

The Vigée Le Brun show had some 32 pastels in Paris, although only 5 made it to the US leg. But a feature of this and the Liotard and Perronneau shows which may be termed “availability bias” is that for these artists, the relative strength of their œuvre in pastel compared with their oil paintings may have been distorted by the difficulty of borrowing their best work in the more fragile medium. Some people left the Liotard exhibition thinking he was a far better miniaturist, painter and draughtsman than pastellist.

Slide28

The most important recent shows devoted exclusively to the eighteenth century pastel by multiple artists was held by the Met in New York in 2011: 44 pastels of its own and local collections, mainly focused on big names, but mixing pastels from all schools.

But the need has remained for loan exhibitions so as to extend knowledge beyond domestic boundaries and the inner circle of the big names.

This survey prompts questions:

  • Should French pastels be mixed with British, Italian, German and other schools?
  • Should 18th century works hang with later ones?
  • Should pastels hang among oil paintings, drawings or miniatures?
  • Should they be hung sparsely in single rows, or in dense multi-level displays?
  • How should they be lit (ambient or directional), and against what colour walls? Should there be shows with different levels of illumination: one night a month reserved for pensioners, or fifteen minutes each hour at general low levels?

Let me try to draw some conclusions.

  • Taste is influenced but not formed by individual enthusiasts. Whether they are ahead of their time or remain disregarded is, like treason, a question of dates.
  • Museum purchases, saleroom prices and social acceptability are all driven to a far greater extent by dealers and perhaps increasingly by auction houses.
  • Taste has been and remains strongly name-driven. A Gardner or even a Liotard is nowhere until someone pays a spectacular price.
  • European collections largely remain national. Only from America is Europe viewed as a single country.
  • Neglect and ignorance persist, and exhibitions are crucial in breaking this down.
  • But fragility remains the big barrier to those shows…my next talk.

Banning the sale of ivory

DEFRAMichael Gove is secretary of state for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The departmental logo is as illiterate as that of DCMS: both presumably have a teenage graphic designer who believes you can’t have commas at the end of a line. It may be the end of the line for more than the comma however if the latest plans for banning the sale of ivory are implemented as currently envisaged. They would kill the portrait miniature in private collections.

The stated purpose of the rules is to …

send a global signal that trading ivory is not acceptable. We will send a strong signal that the UK does not condone continued demand for ivory

The repetition of the phrase tells you that this is about signalling, not thinking. No one is going to defend the obviously revolting trade which results in the slaughter of elephants, nor take issue with the accurate statement that–

Sales of ivory products, including larger items of solid ivory, present a risk in terms of opportunity to pass off illegally-sourced ivory as legitimate

But there is nothing here that leads to the conclusion that any of this would stop if we ban the sale of antique portrait miniatures. I won’t attempt to summarise the history of the various recent attempts to deal with this problem, but my view is that Gove has adopted a plainly populist measure which will find favour with animal rights campaigners, and has done so oblivious of the concerns of the small minority of private collectors.

You can see the consultation here, and reply to it either by email or by completing the online form. I’ve done so, and set out below my answers to some of the questions.

 Do you have any evidence on how our proposed ban would affect the arts and antiques sectors, or individuals who own ivory items?

As an art historian specialising in pre-1800 portraiture I regard it as imperative that the exemptions from the proposed rules are strengthened so as to exclude totally and unambiguously all works of art of more than 100 years of age. Including them in the ban serves no useful purpose and will save the lives of no elephants. Failing to do so is merely a cover for the incompetence of draftsmen framing the legislation. But such a sledgehammer will amount to the greatest act of peacetime vandalism since the dissolution of the monasteries.

Antique works of art caught by such a ban will become unsaleable, except to museums. It is however highly unlikely that museums placed in such a privileged position will pay anything like the market value established before the ban. Worse, some valuable works may struggle to find a museum interested in acquisition at all. The history of art is often subject to such fashions (I myself have particular expertise in pastels, which were highly fashionable in the 18th and again in the late 19th century, but are now of no interest to museums in the UK – although today some US museums have started to collect again). So it is not inconceivable that works once, and potentially in the future, regarded as of serious aesthetic importance might fail to find any museum home.

With no other market, collectors will lose interest. When they die, works will presumably be given to relatives who in most cases won’t know how to look after them. The proposals are far from clear as to the restrictions on works caught by the ban. If they can be given to non-museums, you will simply find that a barter market emerges which will undermine the point of any ban, and result simply in great inconvenience to owners. When this happens (demonstrating the absurdity of the measures) the rules will then be tightened, ultimately making it illegal to own such objects at all.

Antique ivory must be kept in conditions of carefully controlled humidity, failing which they will deteriorate (ivory is prone to splitting). Professional restoration and conservation are expensive interventions which few collectors (and fewer subsequent owners) will undertake for works which have effectively been rendered valueless.

Collectors will find that their works have been appropriated, potentially in breach of their rights under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights. This gives every person the right to peaceful enjoyment of their possessions. A ban would only be lawful if it achieved a fair balance between the general public interest and the protection of collectors’ rights. You may expect legal cases to be fought on whether a pointless measure that cannot possibly save elephants’ lives does strike such a balance.

Do you agree that the Government should include a de minimis exemption to an ivory ban?

The black pigment most widely used by all artists (in oil paint, pastels, miniatures etc.) of all periods since Roman times is ivory black. Today it is made by charring bones of other animal species, but until recently the highest quality black was made (as the name suggests) from burnt elephant ivory. As the chemical formula is simply carbon, and the process kills DNA, there is no way of telling whether a particular painting has a tiny quantity of ivory incorporated in it. Were this ban not to include a de minimis exemption, the entire world of old master painting would be affected. It is the absurdity of that suggestion that should make legislators pause before imposing the ban on portrait miniatures just because the support has not (yet) been burnt.

Do you have any views on what the scope of the de minimis exemption should be? Should it be qualified, or refined, further than proposed in the consultation document?

The exemption should extend to any case where the value of the object derives primarily from the workmanship rather than from the materials incorporated.

What thresholds of ivory content should be set for a de minimis exemption, by either percentage, volume or weight?

As argued above the test should rather focus on the source of value. Where a portrait miniature is worth say £1000 but the thin sheet of ivory on which it is painted is worth say £50 the position will be clear. It will be said that since there is no market in unpainted ivory sheets the second value cannot be provided, but it is obviously underpinned by the price of the lowest value miniature of the same size. However it would be helpful if the Government were to produce a fixed scale showing the material value of ivory sheets of various sizes and weights which would make it simple to see that specific items gained exemption on this basis.

As a further illustration of the definitional problem, consider the portrait miniature which consists of a thin layer of watercolour weighing less than 1 gm applied to a small oval sheet of ivory (of say 3×2 cm, weighing perhaps 5 gm) set in a gold box weighing perhaps 100 gm. Or the same miniature removed and set in a cheaper, smaller and lighter mount. All that will happen with any set of rules based on such parameters is the vandalism of removing mounts to pass specific tests.

Consider further the problem of some miniatures executed on card where the artist has inserted a small slip of ivory underneath the faces to achieve a certain luminosity. I describe this technique in my catalogue of the works of Jacques-Antoine-Marie Lemoine (Gazette des Beaux-Arts, February 1999). Should these miniatures fall on a different side of the line than the rest of his oeuvre in miniature?

How should the de minimis exemption operate in practice?

It would be helpful if there was a general exemption for things like portrait miniatures where it is obvious that the test I propose above would be fulfilled. Any system of expert certification (for fees) is likely to interfere with owners’ quiet enjoyment.

What do you think the scope of the items of artistic, cultural, or historic significance exemption should be? How should artistic, cultural, or historic significance be defined?

Any object valued primarily for its artistic, cultural or historic significance rather than for its intrinsic material content.

 Do you agree that the Government should include an exemption to allow continued sales of items containing ivory to museums or between museums?

Yes and no – i.e. only on the general approach set out in my other answers.

I am puzzled that there should seem to be specific encouragement for deaccessioning.

I am also sceptical that “museums” should enjoy special rights over private collections, which are sometimes owned by specialists who take at least equal care over their objects. Museums are not the only sources of cultural validation. Museums often store unfashionable objects out of sight and measures which simply result in expanding these storage facilities and deprive those really interested in these possessions cannot be in the broader public interest. Private collectors can serve a vital role in preserving heritage which happens not to be valued by current museology. When tastes change, loans from private collections often turn out to be significant items in exhibitions, and in most cases private collectors will make their work accessible to serious academic researchers.

Has thought been given as to the definition of museum? Would it for example permit me to sell (or even donate) my miniatures to the Louvre (who have a far greater interest than any UK museum would have)?

It should be observed too that the international dimension seems to have been ignored wholly in this consultation. Even for exhibition loans, the existence of different sets of rules for each jurisdiction (including those in transit) vastly complicates the paper work and administration. But if works can be given or bartered with parties unaffected by UK rules, they will be completely ineffective.

Do you have any views as to which public body should be responsible for enforcing the ban?

If as proposed in the paper the exemption extends only to “significant artistic, cultural or historical value”, it will as the paper suggests require some form of control. The paper suggests a “certification scheme administered by a panel of licensed specialists”. I very much doubt that will be workable in practice. Where (as in the case of portrait miniatures) much of the expertise is with the trade, how are conflicts of interest to be avoided?

Similar proposals in the field of copyright have led to expensive and bureaucratic collecting agencies being formed for the purposes of extracting profit from silly rules. This has nothing to do with protecting wildlife.

It will be tempting to suggest that such a panel operate on a similar basis to the Arts Council’s Reviewing Committee for the Export of Works of Art (a committee on which I myself have served). But even there, where the Waverley Criteria have been honed over many years, they can be difficult to apply. Setting the new criteria for ivory objects is likely to be exceedingly difficult. Further, the RCEWA works effectively because the committee is large enough to represent a wide range of views, and these members serve for no fee because the works they consider are of national importance and we regard it as our public duty to offer our advice.

Assembling similar committees for a vastly larger number of cases would be extremely difficult in practice. It would be harder to recruit specialists to serve since most of the items will be of far more specialized interest than those referred to the RCEWA. This will lead to bottlenecks, delays and expense that would be devastating to the antiques business and highly detrimental to London’s position as the centre of the world’s art trade.

Do you have any views as to the sanctions that should be applicable to those found to be in breach of this ban?

Significant sanctions should only be imposed on those who deliberately or dishonestly seek to avoid the rules. Dependent on the final form of the exemptions, inadvertent breaches seem highly likely (this is the usual result of absurd and draconian legislation) and should not incur criminal penalties.

Do you think that it should be for those involved in the sale to demonstrate that an item falls into an exempted category?

No. It is this which is the most chilling feature of the proposals. Almost all other criminal law requires the state to prove its case. The proposal seem to envisage that collectors should be required to go to considerable expense to justify what in most cases (assuming a sensible exemption system is introduced) is blindingly obvious. If you own a miniature by Smart or Hall why should you have to pay someone (who probably knows less than you about it) to confirm the fact?

 Do you have any views as to the sanctions that should be applicable to those found to be in breach of this ban?

Significant sanctions should only be imposed on those who deliberately or dishonestly seek to avoid the rules. Dependent on the final form of the exemptions, inadvertent breaches seem highly likely (this is the usual result of absurd and draconian legislation) and should not incur criminal penalties.

Do you have any other comments about this proposed ivory ban?

No measure in relation to antique works of art will save any elephant. The proposals have been revived purely because the minister hopes to secure the animal welfare vote, not because they will assist London to maintain its antiques trade. If implemented as envisaged, they run the risk of inflicting hardship on that trade, and misery on the collectors whose enthusiasm, knowledge and dedication to their interest would under all normal circumstances be regarded as wholly laudable.

It is time for ministers to abandon populist measures and revert to intelligent government. The proposals should be dropped.

Postscript, 14 October

An eminent Continental miniatures expert has drawn my attention to a similar issue in France. Last year a blanket ban on ivory trading was proposed, but after vigorous lobbying the proposals were amended to restore sanity to the antiques business. All works made before 1947 (as self-certified by vendors) are exempt. Here is the account which appeared in La Tribune de l’art on 15 May this year:

Patrimoine – Ivoire et isolation par l’extérieur – Un arrêté paru le 17 août 2016 au Journal Officiel traduisait dans un texte ce que la ministre de l’Environnement avait annoncé : rendre illégal tout commerce de l’ivoire. Certes, cet arrêté prévoyait des dérogations pour les œuvres fabriquées avant 1975. Mais la dérogation devait être demandée systématiquement, pour chaque objet, selon une procédure très lourde. Le préfet avait quatre mois pour répondre faute de quoi la décision était réputée négative. Il était presque impossible pour les antiquaires et sociétés de vente aux enchères d’entamer une démarche aussi chronophage pour des objets qui souvent ne valent que quelques milliers d’euros, et l’administration n’aurait de toute façon pas pu traiter toutes ces demandes si elles lui étaient parvenues, faute d’effectifs. Du coup, le commerce d’œuvres en ivoire était devenu pratiquement impossible ces derniers mois en France. L’arrêté interdisait également « l’utilisation commerciale » de l’ivoire ce qui en toute logique empêchait par exemple les expositions d’œuvres d’art en ivoire dans un musée sans que celui-ci demande une autorisation (en trois exemplaires, avec un délai de quatre mois pour la réponse).

Les différents syndicats du marché de l’art – aidés par le ministère de la Culture, nous a dit Jean-Pierre Osénat, président du Symev – ont donc entamé de longues discussions avec le ministère de l’Environnement et les associations de protection de l’environnement afin de leur expliquer pourquoi il fallait faire évoluer ce texte. Et ce travail a été efficace puisqu’un nouvel arrêté a été publié, qui corrige en grande partie les défauts du premier. Seul le commerce de l’ivoire brut ou des objets modernes exécutés en ivoire (et en corne de rhinocéros) est interdit, l’achat et la vente d’œuvres d’art anciennes étant autorisé dans les conditions suivantes :

  •  les objets fabriqués avant le 2 mars 1947,
  •  les objets fabriqués entre le 2 mars 1947 et le 1er juillet 1975 composés en tout ou partie d’ivoire ou de corne, lorsque la masse d’ivoire ou de corne présente dans l’objet est inférieure à 200 grammes.
  •  les touches et tirettes de jeux en ivoire des instruments de musique à clavier ;
  •  les archers des instruments à cordes frottées.

Par ailleurs, l’utilisation commerciale est autorisée « lorsqu’elle a pour seul but leur présentation au public à des fins scientifiques ou culturelles par des musées ou d’autres institutions de recherche ou d’information scientifiques ou culturelles ».

Remarquons néanmoins que toute vente et utilisation commerciale d’un objet en ivoire ou en corne devra faire l’objet d’une déclaration qui sera entrée dans une base de données nationale. Le vendeur devra également garantir l’ancienneté de l’œuvre. Ces deux dispositions ont pour objectif de suivre le commerce et de s’assurer que les objets vendus sont bien anciens. Des dérogations sont également prévues pour les restaurateurs qui peuvent travailler à partir d’ivoire importé avant 1975.

Des orgies de couleurs: Degas at the National Gallery

coverEveryone loves Degas, and everyone will love the new exhibition of the Burrell pastels at the National Gallery which opens on Wednesday, marking the centenary of the artist’s death. I’ll leave it to other reviewers to come up with adjectival encomia (all in the superlative), but we are assured of massive attendances and a measurable increase in visitor numbers. (The only thing lacking is a hefty entrance fee – always a reliable way of making the public feel they are getting value.) All good things, even if it slightly feels as though an opera house has opted for La Bohème instead of a Rameau revival or an Alban Berg. Degas’s popularity means that he is represented in hundreds, perhaps thousands, of shows; the National Art Library holds catalogues for nearly 100 monographic exhibitions of his work (this is the fourth the National Gallery has hosted since 1996).

That of course is not quite fair: imagine instead an undiscovered, or little known, Puccini, as I suspect few visitors will be familiar with the Degas pictures in the Burrell. (Or perhaps a chamber work, as the exhibition, with only 30 pieces, is of admirably manageable size: I am a great fan of small exhibitions.) No one of course will now remember the exhibition at the Tate of the whole Burrell Collection in 1924.

As the exhibition literature reveals, there are some 22 works by Degas in the Burrell Collection, all reproduced in the catalogue (alongside others from the NG’s own collection, and one which Burrell gave to another institution), although two weren’t allowed to travel. The 20 that did are described as “13 pastels, three drawings and four oil paintings”, although of course Degas’s obsession with experimentation strains such rigid classifications (where do you put “pencil and oil on paper”?). But much of the point of the show is the extraordinary series of late pastels with their immediate, vibrant colours, so it is a little strange that the press release chooses an early-ish oil (albeit a great one, The Rehearsal, no. 11) as the exhibition image (it was seen in London as recently as 2015, and in the meantime has travelled to Melbourne and Houston). The girl on the cover (above: no. 29) is however more typical; but is she really a “Dancer adjusting her shoulder strap” when she wears no costume?

There is a highly readable, beautifully produced and affordably priced catalogue, which includes the missing works and is obviously intended for a longer shelf-life than just the exhibition. The title page identifies the authors as “Vivien Hamilton, with Julien Domercq and Harriet K. Stratis, contributions by Sarah Herring and Christopher Riopelle”, while the final page gives the exhibition curator as “Julien Domercq, with Christopher Riopelle”, the press release giving this role to Domercq alone. In any case all (and the teams behind them) are to be congratulated.

The press release promises that the catalogue “includes new technical analysis of his pastel works”, and you may imagine that I turned to this with some interest. The literature on Degas is simply enormous, and a great deal of attention has already been given to technical analysis of his work. Stratis’s essay deserves reading as closely as she has evidently looked at the pastels, and she brings a depth of experience from her association for many years with the Art Institute of Chicago which holds one of the great collections of Degas works on paper.

For previous publications on Degas’s pastels the contributions of Anne Maheux are particularly relevant, and it is curious that her small catalogue of the 1988 exhibition in Ottawa included much more scientific information, including chemical analysis of a kind the National Gallery presumably thought too specialised for readers of the new catalogue. Maheux’s approach also included far more about the historical influences on Degas’s interest in the medium (reproducing works from Bassano, Rosalba, La Tour, Chardin, Delacroix and Millet), while the new catalogue simply reproduces the Geneva version of La Tour’s autoportrait à l’œil de bœuf, the reference to which (p. 35) seems to have slipped out of place; it does not seem to relate to any broad discussion (if it is intended to illustrate eighteenth-century pastellists’ non-use of fixatives, it may not be the best example, as La Tour did, unusually for that time, employ them in various ways).

It’s a trivial point – although as the claim is frequently made, and in two of the present essays, a short digression is in order – as my own view is that whatever inspiration Degas derived from the dix-huitième, he used pastel in a completely different way (the exhibition is properly entitled “drawn in colour”; La Tour and his contemporaries painted in pastel). It is true that the early no. 12 comes closest to a painterly technique (chronology is easily lost as the organisers have opted for a thematic arrangement), but to me this is worlds away from the Enlightenment tidiness and immaculate finish of La Tour, the “machiniste merveilleux”. It’s closer in a way to Bassano with its exploration of the fall of light on multiple figures.

Degas Preparation Burrell

No. 12. Preparation for the class. The Burrell Collection, Glasgow (35.238). © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

Degas of course was brought up among his father’s collection, which included work by La Tour and Perronneau (my only contribution to Degas studies is the tiniest of footnotes in Theodore Reff’s Burlington Magazine article in May 2011 where I identify one of the pastels Degas had inherited from his father, wrongly attributed to La Tour; it was actually by Ducreux). As Reff points out in his book, Degas: the Artist’s Mind (1976, p. 115), Degas’s friends were also interested in these works: the painter Émile Lévy bought this Perronneau pastel. Curiously the only work which crept into his own pictures was the Perronneau oil portrait, formerly known as Mme Miron  (Dominique d’Arnoult’s re-identification of the sitter as Mme Hogguer seems unconvincing as the eyes are a different colour), also part of his father’s collection; it appears in the background of Degas’s pastel portrait of his sister Thérèse of around 1869. But to me much the most revealing thing is Degas’s rather clumsy attempt to copy a La Tour pastel of an unknown Homme en habit marron. The original (left, below; no. J.46.3192 in the online Dictionary of pastellists), again from his father’s collection, is now in the musée Jacquemart-André (an attribution to Valade has recently, but incorrectly, been suggested; in 1918 however the experts thought the copy was an original eighteenth-century work):

Degas’s copy (right), now in the musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts in Lausanne, was, bizarrely, attempted in oil. It cannot be explained as juvenilia: his father only bought the La Tour in 1873, when Degas was already 29. What it shows is that, at heart, Degas was no dix-huitiémiste: his work took off when he was liberated from the control and precision of the art of the past, and his pictures became literally inundated with colour and light. As you see triumphantly in the current show.

Or at least you may be able to, once your eyes accommodate to the low levels of lighting permitted by the conservators. For pensioners like me, this is a real struggle; and I think museums showing exhibitions of works on paper should seriously consider offering an evening with access restricted to the over 60s where the light levels are increased from the 37 lux I measured this morning to say 75 lux. For 2-3 hours that will have no material impact on the light log for these works. It is however worth noting that light damage for Degas pastels is a far more serious problem than for most eighteenth century pastels, bar the few that made extensive use of lake pigments; Degas’s use of recent aniline dyes is probably responsible. And while it is difficult to assess the impact under exhibition conditions, I suspect quite a lot of wall-power has by now been lost. Would we today agree with the reviewer in the Spectator in 1924 who thought Les Bijoux (no. 10) the best?

The catalogue’s production values and price are however only achieved by the omission of the critical apparatus that one used to expect from all exhibitions in major galleries (that for the 1988 exhibition in the Met, New York is exemplary, and even now available online at no charge). This is particularly regrettable for the Burrell pastels as there is no single place to trace their numerous discussions in the literature or even their exhibition history since the publication of the Lemoisne catalogue raisonné – before most of us were born. There is a brief mention of the importance of the frames which Degas designed for his work, but none is illustrated. (They stand in contrast to Durand-Ruel’s penchant for taking old Louis XV or Régence frames, often stripping back the gilding; and because Degas’s pictures have a different aspect ratio than the art of the ancien régime, slips, often quite wide, have had to be used.) There is no index. I may have missed it, but nowhere could I find the artist’s name given in full (elsewhere in the gallery, and throughout the press material, the full Hilaire-Germain- continues). Since the titles of the works are rarely Degas’s own, it is perhaps excusable that they are given only in English (in contrast to Tate’s practice in 1924: does this say something too about assumptions about visitors’ knowledge?).

The essays on Degas and on Burrell are both fascinating. To our astonishment we learn (from Hamilton) that Burrell never displayed his Degas at home, preferring his mediaeval tapestries (of which a full catalogue raisonné has just been published). Curieux indeed. Domercq’s biographical note on Degas manages in a few deft strokes to distinguish Degas from his cohort of Impressionists; in observing that “the medium almost becomes a subject in itself” he summarises the exhibition astutely. I’ve hijacked his quote from Julie Manet’s Journal for my title (I can’t help mentioning, from the same source two years before, 1897, Julie’s trip to Orléans, which she found a really sad town, lifted only by a Perronneau I’ve discussed before in this blog, and their version of the National Gallery’s Drouais of Mme de Pompadour).

Domercq may regret mentioning the artist’s anti-Semitism, which, in the current fevered mood of political correctness, is likely to be picked up by reviewers (most of France thought Dreyfus guilty, although Degas’s position was extreme), while it is as irrelevant to the brilliance of these pastels as would be the politics of a mathematician who proved the Riemann hypothesis to the validity of the demonstration (remember however Michael Dummett’s shock on discovering Frege’s diaries). Or nearly so: perhaps you take the line that Degas’s art is a commentary on the hardship faced by ballet dancers, a sort of social realism – while of course these abstract works of pure colour, still lifes in motion, bear the same relationship to this subject matter as Puccini’s waves of luscious sound do to Mürger’s novel. Degas was no Zola.

Degas’s views on Dreyfus offer perhaps further evidence of his eccentricity. This was a painter who, astonishingly, detested flowers; and, for someone whose art involved constant innovation and experiment, it is even more surprising (remember that a section of the exhibition is entitled “Modern Life”) to discover that he had a strong dislike of recent inventions such as aeroplanes or even bicycles, and dismissed the telephone as “ridicule”.

But there are a couple of other things that the catalogue does not discuss. Burrell was a canny Scot who knew a thing or two about transportation (that’s where his money came from, and his brother was an engineer). In the terms of his will he stipulated that his collection shouldn’t be loaned outside the UK, since he was worried about the hazards of moving precious and fragile works of art. While the gallery is closed for rebuilding, in order to be able to lend the objects to exhibitions worldwide, the owners needed to pass an act of parliament to override his wishes. Of course that wasn’t required for loans to London (there have been previous loans, for example five pastels were lent to Liverpool in 1989: nos. 9, 10, 19, 23, 32), but the Burrell Collection (Lending and Borrowing) (Scotland) Act 2014 has permitted some of the Degas pictures to travel overseas already. Four were lent to the major retrospective Degas: A New Vision held in Melbourne and Houston 2016–17; of these, condition issues apply in particular to the two pastels (nos. 17, 19). Much has been said (look up the press and parliamentary records of the debates and committees leading up to the 2014 act: here’s a link to the views of the previous NG director, who was also renowned for his opposition to popular blockbusters) about the spirit of Burrell’s bequest, and how transport has improved – but is air travel for pastels today safer than sea transport for tapestries in Burrell’s day?

19 Red skirts

No. 19. The Red Ballet Skirts. The Burrell Collection, Glasgow (35.243) © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

When no. 19 returned from Houston it was reported that undulations in the lower area appeared to have increased. That is after at least 20,000 miles in the air (apart from the 440 miles trip to Liverpool, and of course the original journey from France) – and before the second 700 road miles round trip to London (it had already made that journey in 1924 when Burrell lent his collection to the Tate). No one knows how to compare the dangers to pastel (see my earlier blog post) from travelling by air (where the main hazard is the possibility of a few severe shocks in the cargo handling area, while the constant vibration during flight doesn’t register on shock meters and so is usually ignored) with the very frequent but lower shock levels throughout a road journey, even with air-ride suspension and foam-lined cases. Whether polyurethane or polyethylene is the better type of foam is disputed between their proponents as vigorously as the conflict of the Big-Endians and the Little-Endians, but to me both factions are Pollyannas.

The National Gallery did pioneering work on methods of crating pastels some twenty years ago (Saunders & al. 1999: see my Prolegomena for a full discussion and detailed references), demonstrating that their double-case system was better than the Art Institute of Chicago’s triple-case system, while acknowledging that you couldn’t optimise the vibration damping for both upper and lower tier trays. Curiously the National Gallery are using the same two-tier system for transport to this exhibition, even though the logical conclusion – that a single case is even better – has been adopted by other institutions for pastels (it’s also easier to move these by hand than a 54 kg double crate). As readers of this blog will know I am yet to be convinced that the problems of transporting pastels have been solved. (There are differences between 18th century practices and those of Degas, but there are also common issues.) Nor can I explain why it was decided to ship one of the pastels (no. 32) vertically while the others travelled horizontally. (The conservator recommended addressing the tension problem by tapping out the keys in the stretcher; I find it difficult to see how to do so without endangering any loose pastel. The vertical/horizontal/45°/10° debate continues among specialists, whatever the tension problems.)

The new catalogue also is coy about questions of condition which of course overlap with decisions about suitability to lend. (Here’s a paradox: do you lend the work which is in perfect condition (and so has everything to lose) or the one which has already lost its fleur (demonstrating its vulnerability)?) Of no. 23, for example, we are told only that “this pastel has a wonderfully dense textured surface.”

23 Theatre box

No. 23. Women in a Theatre Box. The Burrell Collection, Glasgow (35.231) © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

Perhaps that is because it was unfixed; the pastel was however worked very densely and heavily compacted. But there is substantial fading of colour and suggestions of previous mould and possibly water damage in parts. And when the pastel travelled to Liverpool in 1989 (although not mentioned in the catalogue or the new conservation report), there was only a 3mm gap between the glass and the pastel surface, leading to a substantial transfer of material to the inside of the glass. You can see this from a photograph taken after the pastel’s return from Liverpool in 1989:

Burrell 35_231 1989

Photograph taken in 1989 reproduced in Norville-Day & al. 1993

The transfer of pastel to the inside of the glass has been known since the earliest times (see for example the 1747 Oudry letter I quote in the Prolegomena: “le transport détache toujours quelque partie qui s’attache à la glace et ternit l’ouvrage”), but the mechanism for it is not fully understood (static from perspex or other polymeric glazing substitutes, or just protective tape on the outside of traditional glass, can cause it, but it can arise without either). This outing would have been a good opportunity to add to our knowledge, but I am told by the National Gallery that no scientific investigation (e.g. involving deglazing) of the kind conducted and published after the Liverpool exhibition is taking place.

Since it is reproduced in the catalogue, I mention also what may be the most important work in the collection (after The Rehearsal), namely the portrait of Edmond Duranty. This is executed in a curious mixture of media using pastel and a paint described in the present catalogue as gouache but in earlier sources as tempera (perhaps using the white rather than the yolk of the egg). Whatever the medium, it has not adhered to the support, and so what (for me at least) would have been one of the stars of the show has prudently been omitted (“le pastel ne veut pas être tourmenté” in the words of a mid-eighteenth century critic). According to the review in the The Nation & The Athenæum, 29 March 1924:

The Burrell Collection, which is at present on loan at the Tate Gallery, consists mainly of pictures by French and Dutch artists of the latter half of the nineteenth century. There are several pictures by Degas, not, on the whole, at his best, except in the fine portrait of M. Duranty.

One should be careful at drawing inferences from photographs, but a comparison of a detail from the reproduction in Ian Dunlop’s 1979 monograph (the earliest colour image I could find) and the present catalogue (I am informed that the image in the new catalogue was taken in 2009) does seem to show some loss of definition:

Duranty 1979v2017

No. 2. Edmond Duranty. The Burrell Collection (not exhibited). Details reproduced from photographs taken before 1979 (left) and in 2009 (right)

But some of this may be due to different quality reproduction. (Incidentally I don’t approve of bleeding reproductions over the centre fold.) You can’t assess condition from photographs (unless the losses have become literally catastrophic). (An Artwatch sequence of images of a Degas pastel in Denver which appears to show a loss of pastel in a sequence of images should be treated with similar caution; the same pastel appears in the rather larger Degas exhibition opening in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge next month – an event which will surely be of interest to all visitors to the National Gallery show, but is seemingly not mentioned at all in the NG catalogue.)

This isn’t the place for a full debate about the wisdom of moving pastels, nor about the sharing of information and scientific data when it happens. Modern labour law prevents us from insisting that pastels “be carried on a man’s back”, as another canny Scot, the Duke of Hamilton, insisted (Hamilton Palace was some 40 miles from Edinburgh). But perhaps these are issues that should be debated, since there is an expectation at the Burrell that the National Gallery will reciprocally lend its Degas pictures when the museum reopens.

Postscript – 25 September 2017

I’ve now received revised information from the National Gallery indicating that conservation findings from the present exhibition will be published at some stage. This will helpfully supplement the now rather old findings of Norville-Day and Saunders mentioned above.

Vigée Le Brun’s “Italian girl”

Vigee Le Brun gA little detective work has unlocked the story of one of Mme Vigée Le Brun’s quick pastel sketches.[1] The identification of the “Italian girl” and the full history follow from this apparently enigmatic label on the back of the work:

Label

The pastel dates from Mme Vigée Le Brun’s London trip in 1803 to 1805. Here she had resumed her travels despite being allowed back to Paris. She was not received with universal enthusiasm: although Reynolds had called her paintings of Marie-Antoinette and Mme de Polignac “as fine as those of any painter…either living or dead” (Northcote 1819, ii, p.100), Edwards (1808) decried the fact that her portraits commanded “thrice the sum that Sir Joshua Reynolds received”, while Hoppner criticised “the imposing quality of smoothness…spread over the works of the insipid, as a kind of snare to catch the ignorant”, and that upon this and on “a feeble, vulgar, and detailed imitation of articles of furniture and dress, rests the whole of Madame Le Brun’s reputation.” (Oriental tales, London, 1805, p. xi). But that quality was completely absent from the immediacy and directness of her sketches of friends.

The circles she moved in are well documented, in her own Souvenirs, in recent biographies (such as that by Geneviève Haroche-Bouzinac) and in the 2015 exhibition organized by Joseph Baillio, and in particular included a group of internationally renowned musicians and performance artists, among them Giuseppina Grassini, Angelica Catalani, Viotti and the Chinneries: indeed the withdrawals from William Chinnery’s bank account[2] with Drummonds reads like a Who’s Who of the musical and artistic talent of the day – including a payment of £100 to Vigée Le Brun, presumably for her 1803 portrait of Margaret Chinnery, now in Bloomington, Indiana.

They also included payments (totaling some £400) to the Italian composer Francesco Bianchi (1752–1810) and his wife, the singer Jane Bianchi (1776–1858), who both enjoyed considerable celebrity at the time.[3] Bianchi, from Cremona, wrote nearly 80 operas in his career, and came to London in 1795 to direct a revival of one of the most popular, La Vendetta di Nino; during his stay in London he put on another fourteen operas at the King’s Theatre. Jane was the daughter of John Jackson, a surgeon/apothecary in Sloane Street, and had appeared at the Concert of Antient Music from 1798 on. On 15 November 1800 she married the composer at St James’s, Piccadilly.

Shortly after a single child was born to the union, baptized Caroline Nelson Bianchi (1801–1807) – a name which reflects how closely they moved in the same circles as Vigée Le Brun, and evidenced further by the drawing by Thomas Baxter, a protégé of the admiral, who depicted Mme Bianchi and Emma Hamilton (on the right) seated at a square piano at Merton in 1805 (Royal Museums Greenwich):

Madame Bianchi and Emma Hamilton

Vigée Le Brun’s portrait of Caroline, hitherto unknown and identified by the somewhat obscure label discussed below, was probably executed the year before.

The following year we can conjecture that Caroline was a guest at the birthday party held for Nelson’s illegitimate daughter Horatia, reports of which appeared two days later in the Morning Chronicle (31 October 1806):

Morning Chronicle Fri31x1806 Horatia Nelsons party

Sadly however Caroline died just two months later, an event recorded in The Gentleman’s Magazine for February 1807 (p. 180):

Gentlemans Mag ii1807p180

She was buried at St Mary Abbots Church in Kensington on 2 February 1807. Bianchi had by then been separated from his wife, and never recovered from his young daughter’s death. Three years later, on 27 November 1810, he committed suicide, “broken-hearted for the loss of his child” in Leigh-Hunt’s phrase.[4] In accordance with his will,[5] he was buried beside her:

Bianchi will

A stone in the churchyard (now long gone) recorded (inaccurately):

Kensington stone

Jane remarried the following year, in Brighton. Her second husband was another singer, William Pardy Lacy (1788–1871), and she continued to perform under the name Mme Bianchi-Lacy. Another child would play a crucial role in identifying the portrait of her half-sister: she was baptized (at St Marylebone) Angelica Elisabeth Lacy (1814–1891), quite possibly after La Catalani.

Angelica herself would have a distinguished performing career as a singer and pianist. The Musical Library (April 1835, p. 31) recorded the debut, with the Antient Concert, of “a new candidate for vocal fame – Miss Lacy, daughter of Mrs Bianchi Lacy…This young lady greatly resembles her mother in delicacy of style and correctness of intonation”. An international career followed, taking her to Vienna, where (15 May 1838) Liszt played at a concert she gave. In 1846 she married Graf Lothar Aurelio Karl Leopold von Rothkirch und Panthen (1822–1903), later a Generalmajor in the Austrian service. The marriage however does not seem to have been a success: while he continued in the army (he commanded the Austrian army at Tobitschau during the Seven Weeks’ War with Prussia in 1866), by 1855 “Countess Rothkirch” was recorded in Ealing in the Post Office Directory. Soon after she moved to Clifton, Bristol, where she remained until her death in 1891 (her name appears as Angela, Countess Rothkirch in the registers and census that year). She left the Vigée Le Brun pastel of her half-sister to Joseph Griffiths Swayne (1819–1903), a celebrated obstetrician at the Bristol General Hospital. It remained among his descendants until 2017, the label above being initialled “FLS” for Swayne’s daughter Frances Louisa.

 

[1] The pastel, hitherto unpublished and unrecorded, is J.76.14  in the online Dictionary of pastellists (the description and attribution here are subject to the usual qualifications on that site). It appeared at auction in Somerset in August.

[2] It is reproduced in extenso in an appendix to Warwick Lister, Amico: the life of Giovanni Battista Viotti, Oxford, 2009, pp. 401ff.

[3] There are useful biographies in the Oxford DNB, in Grove and in Highfill, Burnim & Langhans.

[4] The old court suburb: or, memorials of Kensington…, London, 1855, i, p. 178.

[5] Prerogative Court of Canterbury, prob/11/1517, 14 December 1810.

Reflections on the Perronneau exhibition

For lovers of pastel, the event not just of the year, but of our lifetimes is currently on in Orléans (until 17 September [now extended to 22 October]): the first ever retrospective of Jean-Baptiste Perronneau, who many of us believe was the towering genius in that medium – as important as, and a better colourist, than La Tour; an artist more sophisticated than the now-fashionable Liotard and more profound than the ever-fashionable Rosalba.Perronneau Desfriches Cp78 copy

Were those claims validated by the current show? That will take time to answer fully. And apart from the reassessment of Perronneau’s art, how did the exhibition itself do in more mundane terms – loans, presentation, catalogue etc.? That question is easier to answer: very well indeed. The staff at the musée des Beaux-Arts (headed by Olivia Voisin, but with paper conservator Valérie Luquet playing a vital role) deserve our warmest thanks, as does Dominique d’Arnoult on whose 2014 monograph the exhibition is founded.

The exhibition space is a suite of rooms in the basement of the musée, attractively designed and lit: the light levels are well within conservation limits, but the works are still clearly visible. The lighting is not so harsh as to distort the subtleties of Perronneau’s palette (the vogue for ever increasing temperatures has thankfully been arrested). Directional light can throw up occlusions in glass (with shadows appearing as blemishes on surface) and can highlight surface imperfections, but few troublesome examples were evident.

More important is the intelligent arrangement, which is chronological, with sensible divisions: five phases of Perronneau’s career laid out in seven rooms, with a further space for his posthumous reputation. Each room is given its own wall colour, from a range of pastel shades (do not judge them from images on social media, as the tones are a metaphor for the elusive nuances in Perronneau’s art). This colour coding helps overcome disorientation within the complex enfilade of openings and vistas, but I could not help feeling that these attention-seeking hues were more Ladurée than La Tour, and that their sugar-plum hyperactivity was at odds with the high seriousness of Perronneau’s art: he may have been a rococo painter, but he was not a painter of the Rococo.

Exh shots 14

That raises one of the particular issues for any Perronneau catalogue: he doesn’t reproduce well, because of his subtle nuances, to a greater extent than any other pastellist, and a fortiori any oil painter of the time. One of the issues with the 2014 catalogue raisonné was the decision to print half the book in black and white. But the exhibition catalogue hasn’t completely avoided criticism: despite the use of digital images of exceptionally high quality, the choice of a silk rather than gloss paper stock seems not to have optimised the colour settings, and the result is that many of the reproductions look too dark.

There are two approaches to organising monographic exhibitions of this kind. One is to court popularity by including only the artist’s best (or best known) work, often arranged thematically according to the latest vogue. The other is to take a scientific approach, including the widest range within the œuvre, however difficult, telling the story coherently (usually chronologically) and clearly; every autograph work extends our knowledge of the artist, and should be included. This exhibition firmly establishes its scholarly credentials with the latter approach. The chronology throws up few problems, and was largely well established even before d’Arnoult’s work (a couple of possible anomalies are noted below).

The show adds an excellent range of didactic and contextual aids. Boxes of pastel, displays of fabrics and touchable samples that bring out the haptic element of Perronneau’s materials are used to good effect, as are maps and archival documents which are all of real assistance in drawing visitors into Perronneau’s world. The final section is devoted to the nineteenth and early twentieth century connoisseurs whose love for Perronneau created the mystique, not to say shibboleth, his name has since enjoyed, albeit for an élite that this exhibition now seeks to democratise. It was, if we believe Reynaldo Hahn, Edmond de Goncourt’s view that Perronneau ranked “très au-dessus [de Chardin et de La Tour]”; while in 1884 Henry de Chennevières, a conservateur at the Louvre, dismissed Liotard’s pastels as not worth “le moindre ouvrage d’un élève de Perronneau.”

That brings us to the crucial issue for this show, and to the first question – the reassessment of Perronneau’s art. Everyone knows that borrowing pastels from major collections is next to impossible, for conservation reasons some of us continue to think are valid (by way of disclosure, I did not lend for this reason), so it is inevitable that a Perronneau show will omit some of his greatest work. That is no criticism of the superhuman efforts of the organisers. And while specialists may know those works and adjust expectations for their absence, others may not be able to do so, and will reach a potentially distorted assessment of his merit. It’s a tricky point, but it is the reviewer’s unhappy responsibility to make it with some clarity lest the general viewer goes away with the wrong impression.

Inevitably with pastellists who were also oil painters there is a further selection bias (as we saw in the Liotard 2015 exhibition in London) that exaggerates their skills in oil over pastel, as the former are more readily borrowed from major institutions. The 48 pastels by Perronneau, including the substantial holdings of the host museum (one hors catalogue), represent about a fifth of the known œuvre, while the 24 of his oil paintings constitute about one third of his surviving output in that medium. Nevertheless, we cannot blame this alone for the fact, as the exhibition makes all too apparent, that Perronneau was capable of producing works of the widest range of achievement (both in oil and pastel). One of the surprises here was that, in addition to some great masterpieces in oil (Orléans’s own Jousse or the National Gallery’s Cazotte, which looked really well; among the greatest oils, only Oudry was absent), there was a succession of frankly rather dull paintings which failed to sparkle. Who would think that the author of Mme de Sorquainville could also be responsible for Houbronne d’Auvringhen? And even the excitement of Dominique d’Arnoult’s important discovery of the painting of Charles de Lorraine, by far Perronneau’s most ambitious undertaking, must, it is sad to say, be accompanied by a certain disappointment that it is not more lively. One senses why he did not do more on this scale. For me too this is further evidence that while Perronneau was often a good, and occasionally great, painter, he was usually better in pastel, and (except where ruined) even his less inspired pastels have a something extra.

From the time when the artist himself sent his works to Paris from remote towns to the Salon, they have been moved relentlessly. He did not fix them (two at least we know were fixed by Loriot, one certainly years after Perronneau had delivered it, and after it had been sent to Paris to the Salon and returned to Orléans). This means that a great many of his pastels are now compromised. In this note I have tried to avoid too much discussion of the condition of works in private collections (the lenders rather deserve our gratitude for sharing their treasures with the public). But it is fair to say that the exhibits from museums as well as private collections showed condition issues to varying degrees.

Perronneau Mme d'Arche copy

While it could never be more than pure fantasy, one has to imagine how this exhibition would have left us feeling had it been possible to borrow more of the great masterpieces in pastel: among those a dozen that immediately come to mind, from the Louvre, Huquier, Mlle Huquier, Cars, “Bastard”, Bouguer, Van Robais, Tassin; from the Met, Olivier Journu (indeed the absence of any Journu portrait from his most fruitful trip was painfully felt); from Chicago, the enfant “Lemoyne”; from private collections, the Ollivier pendants or the 1772 man wrongly called Miron (J.582.1623). Among the pastels in the exhibition, perhaps only the superb Desfriches (reproduced at the top of this post) matches these in both quality and condition: all will surely agree that this is one of the supreme achievements in eighteenth century portraiture. (Coming close must be Drouais, the gorgeous Chevotet pendants, and the delightful Mlle Pinchinat en Diane all from Orléans; and five pastels from private sources (nos. 24, 38, 61, 66, 100) – three of these from just one Swiss collection, of which my personal favourite is the exquisite lady (no. 38, just above) formerly known as Jacquette d’Arche.) For however strong a pastel may have originally been, in any calculus of wall power today it is the product (not the sum) of quality and condition that matters. Think too of the last opportunity to see even two dozen Perronneau pastels together: the great 1927 exhibition in Paris. But those two dozen included six of the best.

To assess Perronneau, there must also be some point of reference. What does one do about his rivals? Are they to be omitted altogether, or a representative sample included? Can one do it by reproduction in the catalogue? Not really, any more than reproductions of the absent Perronneaus would suffice; the best alternative is the simultaneous hub idea, where several institutions with significant holdings arrange coordinated shows – an idea that seems invariably to fail at the hurdle of museum politics.

Perronneau Drouais Orleans copyThe approach taken here is a little strange. Of the vast number of pastels by more minor artists, there is no example – although Orléans might easily have supplied from its own collections examples by artists such as Coypel or Valade (the former’s self-portrait would neatly have faced Drouais, right; for the latter, see figs. 40a, 40b in my essay in the catalogue). They have however chosen to display, towards the end of the exhibition, in a room containing several quite weak Perronneaus, two of their own pastels by Chardin and La Tour. The latter is the one formerly known as the abbé Réglet (hors catalogue), and although run-of-the-mill for La Tour, its stunning characterisation and precision make it clear immediately why La Tour always had the edge in Paris (it is only when you see larger numbers of La Tour pastels together that the narrowness of his art can begin to pall). Of the beauty and profundity of the Chardin nothing further need be said.

An earlier room contains the other pastel interloper: La Tour’s famous self-portrait, in the Amiens version. Perhaps this was intended to serve as foil to the Perronneau portrait of La Tour in Saint-Quentin, which in the event was not lent. The La Tour, which never struck me as the best of his self-portraits, sat oddly isolated, its point lost. But surprisingly the opportunity for an even more compelling comparison was also lost: from its own recent acquisition, should Orléans not have put side by side Perronneau’s Mme Tourolle (for the dating of which, see under cat. 13 below) and La Tour’s Mme Restout from only a few years before?

The confrontation would have perfectly illustrated the differences. Perhaps the organisers thought better of rerunning the competition from which Perronneau spent the rest of his life escaping: to submit his posterity to the same ordeal a step too far. But while Perronneau would never win a direct confrontation with the obsessively neat and prodigiously talented La Tour, even this very early piece shows a propensity for fantasy and colouration that took him in a different direction. This exhibition allows us to follow him at least on a good part of the way.

Errata and suggestions for the exhibition catalogue

There follow some minor points on the catalogue. (Disclosure: I am the author of one of the essays in it, but while I should have preferred to offer these notes before the catalogue went to press it was not possible to do so.) Some of these points are discussed in my lecture at last week’s Perronneau colloque. The comments represent my personal opinion.

p. 9 It is odd to refer to Liotard as Étienne without the Jean. On his rejection from the Académie it is worth citing here my recent discovery of the original competition [http://www.pastellists.com/Essays/Liotardiana.pdf, p. 18] which significantly revises the date.

p. 15 “Perronneau ne possède rien”: after 8 years of his most productive period this seems unlikely. Rather as the correction in the notary’s copy of his marriage contract suggests, he simply refused to enumerate his assets.

p. 19 The gas cloud from Laki arrived in Amsterdam late June/early July according to the two contemporary sources in the article (Thordarson & Self) Arnoult 2014 cited in support of the date “3 November 1783”. By then deaths in Amsterdam were at a normal rate as my research in the Gaarders Archief showed.

p. 21f Ollivier was the Garde-Général, never the Intendant (the former is a commission, the latter an office, which is why there is so little biographical information on him until my research).

p. 25 Beaujon: why not cite Baillio’s original article, or my essay with the rediscovered pastel http://www.pastellists.com/Essays/VigeeLeBrun_Beaujon.pdf , or even just the Dictionary J.76.139 where readers can see the pastel and follow the links?

p. 27 Fig. 18. It is worth noting (since Cahen mistranscribed the name) that another prize winner was the Genevan miniaturist Robert Mussard (not Mullard) who was another friend.

p. 32 For Mlle Besnier see the Dictionary of pastellists where she has her own article and the sad biographical details of her and her sister.

p. 39 Christian Michel is more equivocal than d’Arnoult about the suggestion that this is an autoportrait. A comparison with the Cochin print in my opinion rules this out.

p. 40 Liotard fils letter: for “Beyers” read “Reyere”.

p. 48 The labels for fig. 39a / fig. 39b / fig. 39c are missing.

p. 49 The photo reproduced as fig. 40b is in fact a cropped version of J.47.307, not J.47.304 as described in the footnote. They are close replicas.

p. 53 The treatise on miniature is attributed to Boutet, but not the later appendix on pastel which is generally thought not to be by him as I discuss elsewhere: http://www.pastellists.com/Suppliers.html#B

p. 54 The identifications of the Michel de Grilleau couple are not settled, and there are good arguments both ways.

Catalogue (by number)

1          “Il pourrait figurer l’un de ses proches parents”: why, particularly if it is not by Perronneau himself? There is nothing to suggest his immediate relations would have been the subject of such a portrait from any other artist.

13        This soft, beautifully modelled and harmoniously coloured pastel looks much more sophisticated than other early work, and I am sceptical about the logical inference from the inscription. I would probably put it a few years later purely stylistically. A general note on J numbers (i.e. those cited in the online Dictionary of pastellists) might have been helpful to explain the otherwise obscure reference to J.46.133. However considerable caution is required with the far-fetched story of the Fozembas pastels which I think are more likely later pastiches than evidence of updating hairstyles. (See also J.46.1329. Desmaze mentioned both Mme Fozembas and “Mme Nata Roux”; Goncourt picked up the latter as different person, but this was probably a misspelling of Mme Fozembas’s maiden name. Her husband was a painter, a pupil of Delaroche, admitted to the Salon only after numerous attempts; the story may have been invented; and there is no obvious connection between the Fozembas and Cuvillier/Boucher families. There were no pastels or other portraits de famille in the posthumous inventories of Mme veuve Boucher or of Mme Cuvillier.)

16        Georges de Castellane, and his wife née Florinda Fernández y Anchorena [no hyphen before y]: the pastel was bought in London in 1936 by André Weil, not the Castellanes. It is unclear when and where “83 Pa” [J.582.1881] was purchased, as d’Arnoult conflates this with J.582.1854.

18        The text omits the location (Oréans, mBA).

20        This painting was (presumably upon reconsideration) omitted from the exhibition. The text of the entry seems to envisage that it might be an autograph study for the Hermitage portrait, but it is in my opinion a later copy. There still seem to be issues with the chronology of Perronneau’s painting: Arnoult 2014 seemed to accept the suggestion that the sitter was about 12 rather than 16, but still dated the Hermitage painting to c.1745 (the caption to fig. 25 now states 1744–46). For cat. 20 a date of c.1744 is proposed. The baptismal entry for the sitter, not in Arnoult 2014, as well as the letter was first transcribed and published by me.

21        There’s a lengthy discussion on the problems of the portraits of or not of d’Aubais in my essay http://www.pastellists.com/Essays/Perronneau_Aubais.pdf, although of course the original objection was d’Arnoult’s.

22        It would be helpful to be clearer about what is actually claimed for this pastel. Is it that 128 Pa might possibly be a reworking of the 12 Pa (in which case it should appear in the later section) or that is probably is the same picture (in which case it should be renumbered as 12 Pa). The absence of the earlier pastel seems inadequate evidence to suggest that this is an altered version: is there any indication of erasure apart from the signature? Why change the date without changing anything else? Perronneau had a habit of fiddling with his signed dates. The technique here strikes me overall as too late for 1746; to me it fits perfectly for the 1754 date which it bears.

23        The signature is unusual, as is the colour of the coat. The technique of the jabot is unlike Perronneau’s normal handling. The damage to the forehead does not appear in the recent photographs.

24/25  The comparison of the prices of pastel and oil versions is a little dangerous. The initial payment includes the sittings etc., and will always be higher than any repetition whatever the medium.

26        Mlle is unambiguous; Louise-Suzanne de La Roche ( –1750) was Mme de l’Épée.

29        The identification as Aubert remains conjectural.

32        It may not be clear how much of the new information on this sitter was published on my blog in 2015, the definitive version of which is my article at http://www.pastellists.com/Essays/Perronneau_Sorquainville.pdf

33        I express no view as to whether this oil painting is indeed by Perronneau (it is difficult to suggest any other name); but should it have been exhibited?

34        La Fontaine was born 1704.

36        Both La Tour’s birth and death dates are known exactly. The correct url is http://www.pastellists.com/Articles/LaTour.pdf

37        This is on parchment, not paper. The catalogue photograph reveals some curious markings all over the face which I saw in natural light in 2013; they are not so easily visible in the exhibition lighting.

38        Does the puzzling inscription refer to the date of execution or of reception? One month before reception, it cannot be that of contemporaneous execution; the error in the month suggests that the inscription may have been later.

39        The puzzling links between this pastel and the San Francisco pastel 411 Pa cannot easily be explained. I have not seen the latter, and wonder if it is completely “right”.

41        Jean Valade was born in 1710, not 1709 (baptised 27.xi.1710, Poitiers, Saint-Paul). He advanced to full reception at the Académie in 1754.

42        “Johan George Wille” [sic] indicates a certain confusion regarding foreign names which recurs elsewhere.

47/48  Although I may have suggested the new identification of the sitters, the proposal remains problematic, and requires too much space to set out all the (inconclusive) evidence.

49        Pierre Buffereau de la Varenne: the (1658) is unattached, but is presumably a revised date of birth. His dates were 1656–1721 according to Cuénin, but the birth is uncertain.

54        It is unclear to me why d’Arnoult assumes the 1755 pictures (132 Pa, 133 Pa) were in pastel.

55        There are important differences with the notary’s paper version of this contract, which includes significant alterations not present in this engrossment, including the alterations of his wife’s name initialled by her parents throughout and the deletion of the list of his assets. For my annotations of the various people included, see http://www.pastellists.com/Misc/Perronneau_chronology.pdf. Just a few examples: “un Sieur Isaac Van Ryneveld hollandois” is the subject of a Tocqué portrait. For “Laurent Laroche” read “Sauveur Laroche”. The banker “Louis Daniel” and the allegedly missing “Raguenaud de Lachainaye” are the same person, Louis-Daniel Ragueneau de La Chenaye (not his grandson Armand-Henri Raguenaud de Lachainaye, as indexed in Arnoult 2014); he was the son-in-law of Jean-Louis Babault.

58        Dimensions omitted: probably c.60×48 cm, although the sight size is smaller.

59        Lycett Green has no hyphen.

62        193 Pa is of M. Eymard. A link to http://www.pastellists.com/Essays/Perronneau_Lyon.pdf might have been helpful. The identification of 195 Pa and 196 Pa is speculative.

67        For more information and a possible identification of Moule see http://www.pastellists.com/Suppliers.html#M. The Perronneau chronological table has more biographical information on Maelrondt. And for more information on the prices of pastel materials (this was evidently a price for royals), see my Prolegomena: http://www.pastellists.com/Misc/Prolegomena.pdf. There is more on Stoupan at http://www.pastellists.com/Articles/STOUPAN.pdf. The claims of the Maison du pastel to date back to 1720 are considered at http://www.pastellists.com/Suppliers.html#R

68        For more on Chaperon (not de Chaperon), see http://www.pastellists.com/Articles/Chaperon.pdf. A searchable transcription of much of the treatise appears on http://www.pastellists.com/Misc/Treatises.pdf

70        Pierre-Honoré Robbé de Beauveset was not born in Vendôme, at an uncertain date, as so often stated, but in Paris, on 29 mai 1714, and baptised 5 juin 1714 at Saint-Leu-Saint-Gilles (AN LXVI/416, 7.i.1730: I don’t think this is to be found in any published source).

71        Laurent Cars was born/baptised at Lyon, St Nizaire, 28 mai 1699. His mother was Marie Barbery, not Babuty – it was one of Laurent Cars’s sisters who married Greuze’s brother-in-law.

75        This is probably not of Lucy (not Lucie) Young, Countess of Rochford, but a birth in 1714 would make this even less likely. GEC states that she died in 1773 aged 50, and I am unaware of any recent evidence to the contrary.

76        Markgraf, margrave or Margrave? Karoline Luise here, but Caroline Louise elsewhere (de Bade p. 130 etc). If Baden-Durlach, then “HessenDarmstadt”.

84        There is an entry on Jules-Alexandre Patrouillard Degrave, with his year of death (1932), at http://www.pastellists.com/Suppliers.html#D .

86        Mme Perronneau was actually baptised Charles-Louise Aubert, presumably with her grandfather as parrain. The date can be fixed to between November 1740 and February 1741. Mme Gabriel was the sister-in-law of the celebrated architect, Ange-Jacques Gabriel. The advertisement which I found may not have led to the recovery of the lost pastel, as I find it surprising to think that Perronneau would have opened the sealed work and added a new date; unless of course it had been damaged. There has been some confusion about the identity of the sitter caused by an erroneous label on the back of a photo formerly in the files in Orléans: the eye colour confirms this is not of Perpétue-Félicité, Mme Cadet de Limay, as d’Arnoult justly corrected. Alexandre-Joseph-Urbain Perronneau was baptised 10 novembre, not septembre (cf. chronologie, p. 179; three different months are given in Arnoult 2014: cf. pp. 158, 184, 365, 369).

p. 152: “Karl, prince von Hessen-Kassel” [sic]

87        This appears to be on parchment rather than paper.

88/89  According to various sources, Denis MacCarthy, seigneur de Beaujé et Fonvidal came from Castle Cloghan near Skibereen; his wife was Jane Fitzgerald from the Waterford family. An inscription on an old cloister wall in the rue Saint-Louis, Bordeaux gives Denis’s exact dates, 13 avril 1719 – 18 juin 1796. Although they had no son, a daughter Anne (born 1756) was educated by the Blue Nuns in Paris. His elder nephew was Donal, or Daniel, not Donald.

90        It is unclear why this is thought to have belonged to Dumas père. The longer discussion in Arnoult 2014, p. 297, appears to rely on the preface to Dumas fils’s 1892 sale in support of this, but the passages cited do not refer to Dumas père but to Dumas fils. Indeed Ytriarte says that Dumas père did not have the time or money to buy many pictures etc. The miniature appears rather to be signed “C. Lebelle”, not E. Le Bel; its relationship with a 1783 watercolour by Ch. Le Bel, engraved by Gaucher (v. Saunier 1922, p. 26 n.r.) is unclear. He is surely the “Lebel” listed, with the address left blank, in the Étrennes orléanaises in 1775 (p. 86) as a “peintre en mignature”. It does not seem that he should be conflated with the pastellist Antoine Lebel.

92        The identification of the Saint-Aubin sketch in the salon livret is ingenious, but leaves open the question as to whether the rectangular pastel in the exhibition was originally framed with oval spandrels or is a second version. The “joüe brullée” may still refer to the Mademoiselle Gaugy: that would be consistent with my tentative identification of her as Ursule-Rose Gaugy (1754– ), fille des parents mariés à Martinique.

93        The stencilled code on the back indicates that the pastel was sent to Christie’s for evaluation but not consigned for sale.

95        This was also in Amsterdam 1934, no. 37. (95, 96 & 107; p. 18 B): all the names ending sz are abbreviations of patronymics and need a full point (if they should appear at all). Claude de Narbonne-Pelet, baron de Salgas was born in 1728; he was the subject of a pastel by Belle de Charrière.

98        The 1918 sale, albeit much delayed, was the posthumous sale of the collection formed by Albert, vicomte de Curel rather than of his son (no doubt he was by then the beneficiary).

100      Pauline Isnard-Laurent was baptised in Saint-Denis-en-Val 3.ix.1762; she is 9 or 10, not 14 at the time of the portrait. The confusion may have arisen because the person who wrote the inscription on the back misread Perronneau’s date as 1777, and deduced she was 14; this age has now been subtracted from 1772 to yield a birth “vers 1758”.

101      There are a number of fragile steps to reach this suggested identification. By deleting (from the original notice in Arnoult 2014) the reference to the Nonnotte portrait of Jean-Pierre, the logic looks even stranger.

102      This is not “Arnoult, 2014, 358 Pa” as stated, but 367 P.

103      While indeed the identification is conjectural, it is mildly supported by the fact that Jacques-François Chéreau’s aunt was married to Jacques-Gabriel Huquier, and that he was present at the inventory of veuve Huquier in 1775. “Chéreau” with an accent seems to be the commoner spelling (although accents weren’t written at the time).

104      The combinations of languages in the names and titles of Karl von Hessen-Kassel and his wife, recte Lovisa (Luisa on p. 166, Louisa on p. 180), are confusing.

p. 170   Both 1909 and 1923 editions were co-authored with Léandre Vaillat. “Jacques Émile Blanche” elsewhere is hyphenated.

114      For “Non repr. in” read “Non repr. In” or better, reword. “Russel” may have been misspelled at the time, but shouldn’t be now (the 1908 livret was correct).

Additions to the exhibition not in the catalogue

(Only paintings and pastels are noted here.)

Nonnotte, portrait of Desfriches, huile sur toile (Orléans, mBA)

Anonyme, portrait de Jean Hupeau et de sa famille, huile sur toile (Orléans, mBA)

La Tour, portrait d’un abbé (dit abbé Réglet), pastel (Orléans, mBA; see Dictionary, J.46.2679 where full details may be found)

Perronneau, Mme Boyetet de Boissy, pastel (J.582.1056 )

Chronologie pp. 177ff

1708, 1730 &c  these entries based on the new documents I first transcribed

1760     for “hospice” read “hôpital”

1766    “9 novembre” Various dates given throughout Arnoult 2014, pp. 134, 158, 365, 369. Although he was baptised 10.xi.1766, is it certain that he was born the previous day?

1772     for “16 avril” read “6 avril”; the tenant is René-Jean Lemoine.

1781     for “de sir Harris” read “de Sir James Harris”. Delete “Gazeta” (that’s what Vedomosti means).

1783    for “40 ans” read “42”

1784    The application for dispensation was published on my blog and essay.

Lettre p. 182

For a slightly different transcription and gloss, see my Perronneau Documents file http://www.pastellists.com/Misc/Perronneau_chronology.pdf

Bibliographie

A number of copy editing issues (including those with italics in titles) remain despite my previous corrections.

Index

There remain a number of confusions, with separate entries for “Bade, Caroline Louise de”, and “Hessen-Darmstadt, Karoline Luise von”. “Leszczynska, Marie” [sic] appears before “Le Grix”. “Maupeou, René Charles-Augustin de” appears to combine elements of father and son. Although supposedly an index of proper names, a long list of entries such as “Portrait d’un homme…” appears, under P (this is a peculiar convention rather bafflingly followed by many French publishers).

%d bloggers like this: