Gallery Owner Arrested For Trafficking Stolen Antiquities

A New York art dealer has been arrested and charged with possessing and selling stolen artifacts from nations all through Asia.

Nancy Wiener is accused of making use of her gallery in New York City, referred to as Nancy Wiener Gallery, to “acquire, smuggle, launder and sell millions of dollars’ worth of antiquities stolen from Afghanistan, Cambodia, China, India, Pakistan, and Thailand,” according to a complaint filed in Manhattan Criminal Court.

According to the gallery’s site, it has sold art to private collectors and museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum, Art Institute of Chicago and National Gallery of Australia.

A Baphuon Shiva statue from Cambodia, dated to the 11th century, that was allegedly purchased by Nancy Wiener in 2008 and which investigators believe was obtained by looting. Case State of New York v. Nancy Wiener/Screenshot by NPR hide caption

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Case State of New York v. Nancy Wiener/Screenshot by NPR

Jason Felch, an investigative reporter who writes about the trafficking of stolen art, described Wiener’s organization as “one of the country’s most prestigious Asian art galleries on Manhattan’s Upper East Side,” on his weblog Chasing Aphrodite.

The 12-web page complaint, which is signed by Particular Agent Brenton Easter of the Department of Homeland Security, reads less like a court filing than an art heist thriller.

It tells of an elaborate scheme, carried out with co-conspirators about the world, to purchase stolen artifacts and then cover up their origin to make hundreds of thousands of dollars promoting them.

Take, for instance, the story of an Indian sandstone sculpture from around the second century, referred to as “Seated Buddha #1.”

In 1999, Wiener allegedly sold the sculpture to Singapore’s Asian Civilisations Museum. When, years later, the museum asked for documents about the sculpture’s origin, Wiener gave them 3 answers: 1st, she mentioned it had belonged to “an unnamed European collector for at least 35 to 40 years,” then she said her own father had acquired it in India, and lastly she gave the name of a man she mentioned purchased it when “he was posted in Vietnam in between 1964 and 1966.”

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The name she gave was Ian Donaldson, a fact that later became relevant to investigators.

None of the 3 claims about the statue’s origin appeared to be correct. Investigators searching a storage locker rented by another art dealer discovered an “unlabeled laptop disc.” On it had been three images of Seated Buddha #1. In a single of them, the statue appeared “nevertheless wet as it lay on a dirty floor.”

The date stamp on the picture seems to be Nov. eight, 1992.

In 1999, Wiener allegedly sold this sculpture, listed as “Seated Buddha #1,” to Singapore’s Asian Civilisations Museum. Case State of New York State v. Nancy Wiener/Screenshot by NPR hide caption

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Case State of New York State v. Nancy Wiener/Screenshot by NPR

Meanwhile, Wiener acquired a second Buddha statue. She sold that 1, referred to as “Seated Buddha #2,” to the National Gallery of Australia in 2007 for far more than $ 1 million, saying that it had originally been purchased in Hong Kong by a man who “had been posted there between 1964 and 1966.”

The man’s name was also Ian Donaldson.

India’s patrimony laws, which spells out the appropriate of the country to retain its artifacts, took impact in 1972, according to the complaint.

A looted red sandstone relief from India, dated among the 1st and second century, that was bought by Nancy Wiener’s mother, Doris, in 2002 and consigned to Christie’s soon after Doris’ death. Case State of New York v. Nancy Wiener/Screenshot by NPR hide caption

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Case State of New York v. Nancy Wiener/Screenshot by NPR

The complaint also describes strategies Wiener appeared to have utilized to create the false air of legitimacy about possibly stolen artifacts she and her household owned.

For example, the state alleges Wiener attempted to consign a collection of 380 artifacts owned by her mother, Doris Wiener, to the auction residence Sotheby’s but did not have adequate documentation about their origin. So she consigned the collection to Christie’s New York instead.

According to the complaint, Doris Wiener had previously consigned some of the artifacts and re-purchased them at auction — so-named straw purchases meant to launder their buy history by adding apparent owners.

Christie’s did not ask for substantial documentation about exactly where the Wieners acquired the art and sold the whole lot in 2012 for $ 12.7 million.

The New York Occasions reported some of the artifacts Wiener is accused of possessing “were stated to have been smuggled into the United States by Subhash Kapoor, a well-recognized Manhattan art dealer who is now on trial in India.”

The paper also quote Wiener’s lawyer, Georges Lederman, as saying, “We are examining the charges and will respond at the appropriate time.”

Arts &amp Life : NPR


Jackie Wullschlager on Picasso at London’s National Portrait Gallery

Representation and transformation, or power and sex? Picasso, over seven decades, turned those close to him into a pyramid of broken angles (his girlfriend Fernande Olivier), a puzzle of cubist forms (his dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler), arabesques of ripe, bulging shapes promising pneumatic bliss (Marie-Thérèse Walter, an additional lover), a Maori carving studded with nails and scars (his three-year-old daughter Paloma), a Sphinx folded into sheet metal (his wife Jacqueline Roque).

These are amongst scores of nevertheless astonishing metamorphoses of the human kind starring in the National Portrait Gallery’s Picasso Portraits. Portraiture was central to Picasso’s concerns, so this lively, engrossing show is inevitably a retrospective in miniature. It is also psychodrama. For the artist who acknowledged that “every act of creation is initial an act of destruction” juggled types, disconnected and rearranged characteristics, with a prodigality that opened up undreamt of possibilities for 20th-century painting, in techniques that had been necessarily ruthless — formally, aesthetically, emotionally.

You see the cruelty, as properly as the comic impulse, at after in the initial salvo of post-Impressionist portraits produced on a go to to Paris in 1901, when Picasso was not but 20. Brushed in broad gestural strokes the much better to highlight a grotesque countenance, “Bibi la Purée” depicts in jarring colours a pathetically grinning elderly Montmartre tramp. As biting is the large-scale portrait of jowly middle-aged writer Gustave Coquiot with lascivious expression and twirling moustache, black eyes boring into a frieze of writhing nudes in harsh electric light, which we see as a mirror reflection behind him.

A virtuoso composition about searching and voyeurism, this was a thank you for a flattering review, and drew on the myriad giants — Degas, Pissarro, Toulouse-Lautrec — who were still living presences in the fin-de-siècle French capital. The NPG stages an impressive laboratory of experiments to show Picasso exhilaratingly playing out such influences. The melancholy “Fernande with a Black Mantilla” co-opts both symbolism and a Spanish identity for his Montmartre girlfriend. The blue period “Sebastian Junyer i Vidal” exaggerates the bulbous forehead and shocked mien of Picasso’s friend and positions him alongside a scrawny prostitute — replacing a dog — to evoke Degas’s alienated genre image “L’Absinthe”.

‘Woman in a Hat (Olga) (1935) © Succession Picasso/DACS

In 1906 the Picasso we recognise breaks by way of: Philadelphia’s spare, raw “Self-portrait” constructed in enormous, blocky types reminiscent of Cézanne — who had just died — but going further in simplification and flattening. The clenched fist declares strength, the face like a carved ancient Iberian mask with its stylised eyes and hypnotic gaze implies a magical connection with the premodern art that would be foundational to cubism. The illusions of classic representation are gone.

The work’s immediate, figuring out precedent was the monumental portrait of Gertrude Stein — the NPG’s most important omission — on which Picasso laboured from 1905-06, placing a comparable mask head on a realistically delineated body. “Everybody says that she does not look like it but that does not make any difference, she will,” stated Picasso, and so she did. Picasso understood currently “there are so many realities that in attempting to encompass them all one ends in darkness. That is why, when one particular paints a portrait, one particular should stop somewhere, in a sort of caricature.”

‘Maya in a Sailor Suit’ (1938) © Succession Picasso/DACS

The cartoonist’s power is everywhere here, running through whiplash drawings — preening Cocteau as a cuboid dandy former acrobat Nusch Eluard with claw-like hands, lithe as a cat Picasso himself at 90 decreased to a staring skull — to the quixotic redeploying of idioms from his own and Old Master paintings with which Picasso primarily sustained the figurative endeavour.

The NPG unpicks the legend that Picasso changed his style each and every time he changed his woman, emphasising rather a protean restlessness of manner. His very first wife, icy Ukrainian ballerina Olga Khokhlova, starts as a remote neoclassical beauty: the statuesque, naturalistic “Portrait of Olga Picasso”, whose restrained chromatic harmonies and delicate brushwork surprised absolutely everyone and won the Carnegie Prize. As the marriage unravels, she becomes a post-cubist joke in “Woman in a Hat (Olga)”: ashen and toxic green geometric segments, holes for eyes, mouth a turned-down black slit, all created more piteous by a jaunty purple hat.

‘Portrait of Olga Picasso’ (1923) © Succession Picasso/DACS

This was painted in 1935, following the birth to Marie-Thérèse Walter of Picasso’s daughter. The marvellous “Maya in a Sailor Suit”, crudely painted in a pastiche of children’s art, areas the shrieking toddler astride a log with a butterfly net, a cap signed by her father and a vagina-shaped knot amongst her legs, and offers a moment of light relief in the principal gallery dominated by a battle of the muses.

Walter and her successor Dora Maar came to physical blows in Picasso’s studio, and they tough it out here, as well. Blonde, supple, submissive Marie-Thérèse is transformed into bright, eroticised patterns — Picasso’s answer to Matisse’s odalisques — in works such as “Woman in a Yellow Armchair”, but looks perpetually sad (“I usually cried with Picasso,” she said.) By contrast Dora, tense, tough, intelligent, is depicted in broken planes and austere wartime colours harking back to Picasso’s Blue Period. “They’re all Picassos, not a single is Dora Maar,” she complained. But Picasso certainly chose her for her prospective to become the “Weeping Woman” of the second globe war.

‘Gustave Coquiot’ (1933) © Succession Picasso/DACS

In “Woman in a Hat” Maar’s face is a spiral of violent corkscrew twists and her torso is fused with a wooden chair suggestive of an instrument of torture. The sinister motif is reprised in MoMA’s “Woman by a Window” (1956), portraying Jacqueline in abbreviated linear type melded to her favourite rocking chair whose curves rhyme with the art nouveau architecture of Picasso’ s Villa La Californie. Regal, rigid, vigilant, her huge eye scanning studio, garden, viewer, Jacqueline is a postwar neurotic, a monarch-mistress surveying her domain, an archaic goddess.

Enthroned by Picasso, Jacqueline colluded magnificently with her art-historical manipulations: she becomes a harem figure right after Delacroix, a version of Manet’s “Lola de Valence” and, in rippling contours and elongated kind paying homage to El Greco, Picasso’s future widow, wreathed in funereal garb in “Jacqueline in a Black Scarf”. This was painted when she was 27 and had just moved in with Picasso. As his actual widow 30 years later, Jacqueline shot herself. Walter also committed suicide after Picasso’s death, even though Maar, following a breakdown, became a religious recluse with the explanation “After Picasso, only God”.

Even though neither definitive nor supplying new insights, this show is a extremely great recapitulation of how Picasso as a god of forms vitalised portraiture right after photography, unpacking the expressive potential of cubist fragmentation via miracles of deformation to proclaim that painterly distortion is truth.

National Portrait Gallery, London, to February 5 npg.org.uk Museu Picasso, Barcelona, March 16 -June 25 2017

Photographs: Succession Picasso/DACS

Section: Arts


A new gallery district for London?

Left - right Tim Butler and John Martin in the Lavery Room at Cromwell Place, Kensington - New gallery©Dan Weill

Tim Butler, left, and John Martin at Cromwell Spot. Photo: Dan Weill

Bond Street and Cork Street were after the beating hearts of London’s art trade. But Bond Street has been taken more than by style brands paying rents that make even effectively-heeled dealers gasp. As for Cork Street, a massive construction project has left a hole in its centre, and a lot of galleries have currently fled.

Some have gone to the East Finish, but its distance from the centre and increasing rents have sent several art dealers scuttling back to Fitzrovia, whose former fashion showrooms are comfortably close to Mayfair.

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Now there is a potential new location for art galleries: South Kensington. The district is currently wealthy in publicly funded culture, with the “Albertopolis” grouping of institutions devoted to science, natural history, fine art, style and music. The London art dealer John Martin is spearheading an revolutionary program to create a new gallery “hub” right beside these famed museums, and has teamed up with the home developer Scott Murdoch, whose business CWM is known for regenerating and rebranding underused areas in the capital, such as that retail good results story, Marylebone Higher Street.

Their project, dubbed Cromwell Place soon after the name of the street, would see a line of imposing stucco-fronted heritage buildings converted into a gallery cluster supplying 35,000 square feet of space. Below the program, the exhibition spaces on the ground floor can be configured to various sizes, according to needs above them is room for about 35 dealers to have their own offices and viewing rooms. The courtyard will be turned into a climate-controlled storage unit, portion of which may well be bonded, which means that functions could be imported temporarily with no attracting tax.

In making this strategy, Martin has drawn on his encounter each as a dealer and as one particular of the founders of the Art Dubai fair. He sees Cromwell Spot as combining the greatest of each worlds.

Cromwell Place, Kensington - New gallery (

“Huge rent increases are forcing dealers out of their ground floors and upstairs,” he says. Indeed, that is precisely what he did last year, moving to the initial floor in Mayfair’s Albemarle Street in response to an imminent tripling of his £90,000-a-year rent. He cites the instance of a nearby gallery whose rent went from £75,000 to much more than £350,000 last year. “With the polarisation of the art trade into the mega-galleries and the rest, the smaller players have a tough time locating somewhere to prosper and grow,” he adds.

Dealers at Cromwell Spot will be in a position to use the 16 ground-floor gallery spaces for their exhibitions, but will not have the fixed expenses there will be a consistently changing programme of shows in two-week cycles. “It will work for so numerous different organisations — for international galleries wanting a London presence for London galleries who require to move from increasing rents, and these wanting to move to a more central location,” Martin says.

As in a fair, the galleries and exhibitions will be submitted to a choice committee. “The opening hours will be really considerably like a fair, with days for our members and invited guests, when the space is intimate and private, then public days,” Martin says. “At present our proposal is for public days on Friday to Sunday, with the location closed on Monday.” The target, he says, “is to provide a two-week exhibition at about ten per cent to 20 per cent of the cost of performing an typical modern art fair for one week.”

Cromwell Spot is portion of a chunk of South Kensington that belongs to a household trust, administered by South Kensington Estates. It has agreed a 25-year lease for the project, and its chief executive, Tim Butler, is supportive. “This is the opportunity to do something transformational which reflects the culture and the heritage of the location,” he says. The scheme also fits in with SKE’s policy of encouraging individual businesses, whose original owners are nonetheless involved, rather than massive chains. Butler says there is already powerful support from London’s arts neighborhood: “They recognise what this idea means for the international arts world and London’s cultural scene. And it is in our interest to take a long-term view and invest in the future of our buildings, and the South Kensington area as a whole.”

Will it function? South Kensington, regardless of its museums, is nonetheless scruffy around the edges, particularly by the underground station. But there have been improvements with the upgrade of Exhibition Road, and if it lacks the concentration of smart restaurants and shops of some ritzier districts, the same goes for other London places that nevertheless sustain art gallery clusters. South Kensington is close to the city centre, and a fast-altering exhibition programme could indeed be a magnet for art lovers — and provide a increase for the whole area.

The spending budget is up to £10m, even though the buildings themselves, currently used as offices, are in good repair and will only want “a light touch” of restoration. The project as a complete would commence in 2018, with some exhibition regions probably opening earlier, and the final phase is set for 2020. Martin is seeking “expressions of interest” from art galleries, and is in pre-application mode with nearby organizing authorities. “By the summer I consider we ought to have a clear concept of the sort of galleries that will make it operate and then we aim to get the applications ready in the autumn — as soon as we have a date for opening,” he says.

But currently he is ambitiously hunting beyond South Kensington, with a view to establishing comparable operations about the planet. “We have been talking to possible partners in the US and Asia,” he says enthusiastically. “And I’m certain our members would really like us to supply a worldwide platform for them as properly.”

cromwellplace.com

Georgina Adam is art industry editor-at-huge of The Art Newspaper

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Section: Arts


Michael Craig-Martin: Transience, Serpentine Gallery, London — ‘Beauty in ubiquity’

Michael Craig Martin's 'Untitled (Xbox control)' (2014)

Michael Craig Martin’s ‘Untitled (Xbox control)’ (2014)

“When I started drawing these ordinary, daily objects in the late 1970s,” Michael Craig-Martin says, standing in front of a characteristically garishly-coloured series of paintings, “I believed they were fairly stable in the planet. I assumed that they would not adjust over time. When I initial drew a light bulb I had no thought it would turn into a issue of design history.” Now the wiry outline of a light bulb, in vibrant pink, stands outdoors the Serpentine like a ghostly frame for a glimpse of Kensington Palace.

Craig-Martin’s show at the Serpentine, remarkably his 1st in a public gallery in his property city of London because 1989, reveals its theme through its title: Transience. Through his study of the objects that surround us — the factors that are so familiar we have turn out to be practically inured to them — he has revealed how fundamentally every thing has changed. “When I first began,” he says, “it was hammers and shoes. Nowadays, to draw ordinary issues — the factors we use most and are most familiar with — it has to be technological objects.”

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Craig-Martin’s flat, neutral style seems completely suited to the increasingly slick and smooth goods with which we now share our lives. The sharp black outlines, the blocks of colour, the drawings presented as precisely as the exquisitely engineered goods they represent. He began drawing them all from life, by hand — producing them generic via what he saw as a “style-less” graphic approach which, possibly inevitably, itself became an quickly recognisable style. Nowadays, he draws them on a pc, making use of a mouse, the medium they often seemed destined for. Representation and presentation have caught up with his planet — some of these performs would make impeccable ads for the goods they depict.

Michael Craig Martin's 'Untitled (light bulb)' (2014)

Michael Craig Martin’s ‘Untitled (light bulb)’ (2014)

Only two operates in the show function objects that are not in some way powered by electrical energy: a trainer and a carton of french fries. Both are unbranded however instantly recognisable (Adidas and McDonald’s respectively). They illustrate 1 of the most striking aspects of Craig-Martin’s evolving landscape of stuff. Whereas earlier paintings depict generic items — security pins, tools, paintbrushes, cassettes and so on — the new functions are nearly always branded. Even if that branding may possibly be absent from the representation (no logo), by means of their kind alone these are instantly recognisable and ubiquitous merchandise — an Apple iPhone or laptop, those Adidas sneakers or an Xbox controller. Forty years of documentation show how we have moved from the generic to the branded as well as from the relatively cheap to the surprisingly costly, from the hardware store to the Apple store.

This may possibly be a show of photos but it is really — if subtly — just as considerably a show about design. The art, in its deceptive blandness, reveals as a lot about the fabric of our each day lives as the most elaborate 17th-century nonetheless-life with its complex iconography of life, love and death. Craig-Martin may well have begun with a Duchampian eye for the neutrality of the “ready-made”, the located object which represented an unconscious evolution of sensible type as archetype — but now, in relating to the every day, he has been virtually forced to take his personal taste into account.

He comments on the ubiquity and unavoidability of these goods but is also seduced by them, as are we all. He jokes about when having to go out to get a pitchfork to draw (he in no way had a garden) but the iPhone is in his pocket. Alongside these items, photos of an electrical socket, a credit card and credit card reader make this clearly a show about consumption, but 1 made by means of our complicity in the method.

Craig-Martin is searching at the high-tech frames that include, convert and communicate info. The final room is defined by a continuous line drawing of a landscape of stuff, from batteries and bulbs to iPhones and headphones drawn straight on to the wall. Even though we may be absorbed in the screens and the sounds, the artist is nonetheless in a position to uncover beauty in the frame, in the outlines of the ubiquitous objects that surround us.

To February 14, serpentinegalleries.org

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Section: Arts


Goya portraits at the National Gallery

A servant braids the hair of a lovely young lady in a white dressing gown. Her face glows by the light of a single candle on the table exactly where her husband, Infante Don Luis, plays cards — a game of patience, solitario in Spanish. He is 31 years older than her, and simply because she is only the daughter of a cavalry captain, their marriage has cost him his position at court: his brother the king has exiled them to a remote country estate.

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A gaggle of retainers, including a dandy secretary with cheeky grin and dashing headband, watch the card game. Don Luis himself, vacant features a play of vanity and doubt, looks ahead uninterested, yet his detached expression pulls in all spectators as nervy witnesses to his insecurity.

“The Loved ones of the Infante Don Luis” (1783-84), Goya’s very first royal picture, opens the National Gallery’s exceptional exhibition Goya: the Portraits and, like so significantly else about the painter, is a paradox. What requires centre stage is the marginalisation of a prince, as Don Luis the man actions out of the public role assigned him by history. So does Goya: into the composition he has ambitiously inserted himself. He sits before a blank vertical canvas, subverting a straightforward portrait into this horizontal panorama of a hierarchy disintegrating.

A century soon after “Las Meninas” (1656) — Velázquez as model is in no way far more than a breath away all through this show — Goya dethroned monarchs and created immortal the architects, bankers and civil servants of the Enlightenment. He depicted reforming minister of justice Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos with sparkling eyes and mobile mouth but posed right after Dürer’s “Melancolia I” (1514), a troubled intellectual bowed by the cares of workplace. He imbued economist Francisco de Cabarrús, delivering a radical speech in a fur-trimmed lime suit, with the lively, exaggerated gestures of Velázquez’s buffoon Pablo de Valladolid.

However authority competes with disorder: in red silk and pearly waistcoat, the prime minister “Count Floridablanca” (1783) is resplendent as the sun itself, responding to supplicants — such as, wittily, Goya himself — in the shadows. “The Count of Altamira” (1787), a small particular person and director of a liberally inclined bank, adopts a commanding posture as well, sitting at a yellow-draped table — except it is as well high for him, and he appears like a trapped, awkward doll. Never thoughts: he is, exceptionally, reunited right here with “The Countess of Altamira” — mask face, sparkle of pink satin — and their son Manuel, both from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The boy holds by a string a pet magpie, with Goya’s calling card in its beak, attended by two murderous-searching cats.

The show marks the deep shift in influence from kings to citizens, heralding the birth of civil society

Privilege and tension, manage and freedom, flattery checked by honesty, tradition infused with urgency: everywhere, Goya’s ambiguity and infinite nuances mesmerise. How he inaugurated the modern day portrait, where human personalities and interior universes shine via the most stately charades of pomp and energy, is not only one particular of art’s excellent stories but, as the National Gallery unravels in this once-in-a-generation exhibition, also marks tremendous social modify: the gradual shift in influence from kings to citizens heralding the birth of civil society.

There are outstanding loans: ten masterpieces from the Prado, and the last-minute arrival of the stellar pair “Charles IV in Hunting Dress” and “María Luisa wearing a Mantilla” in the gilt wood frames in which they have hung in the Palacio Actual in Madrid because 1799. These allow us to adhere to this sweeping drama amongst a tight band of Spanish aristocrats and intellectuals in the shadow of the French Revolution, and to appreciate the improvement of Goya’s artistry in chronicling it.

The informal hunting portraits with which the two kings, bulbous-nosed Charles III — intelligent, well-known, famously ugly — and dim Charles IV sought to seem approachable, for instance, are separated by a decade. The former is stiff even though charming, the latter a miracle of light flowing, flickering, animating the unimaginative, portly, affable monarch who wanted absolutely nothing much more than to be left to ride with his hounds.

No excellent tragic painter was ‘more absorbed, in his untragic moments, by fashion than Goya’

Fifteen years later, the portrait of his despotic son “Ferdinand VII in Court Dress” (1814), brilliantly expresses restrained dislike in the language of ostentatious formality. Although his pose is respectfully full frontal, Ferdinand’s head is offset to his left, his chain and robe hang off-centre, so that he appears twisted — physically, morally — rather than upright as he stands squat on flabby legs and feet. Goya lavishes his most radical brushwork — darting blobs, dots, drags of paint — on the sumptuously brocaded robe, scintillating in contrast to its unprepossessing owner. Alongside hangs a portrait of Ferdinand’s proper-hand man, the Duke of San Carlos, who, swaggering back on a cane that fails to propel him forward, imitates the gestures of a stuttering old soldier ridiculed in the satirical print “Capricho 76”.

Living so long — he died in 1828 aged 82 — Goya caught the ebb and flow of political regimes and person alter. The hopeful child “Luis María de Borbón y Vallabriga” at his geography lesson in 1783 is, by 1800, a pensive, below-confident young cardinal. A vibrant-eyed daughter in “The Duke and Duchess of Osuna and their Children” (1788), whose exquisite green-grey harmonies mirror family members closeness, becomes the reclining figure, navel provocatively visible, in gleaming white silk, the energetic folds contrasting with her motionless classical pose, in the daring “The Marchioness of Santa Cruz” in 1805.

No great tragic painter, Robert Hughes noted in his biography, was “more absorbed, in his untragic moments, by the minutiae of style than Goya”. He dresses up himself, a bullfighter in 1 self-portrait right here elsewhere, his sensitivity to the erotic frissons of fabric blends with acute psychology.

He leavens the heaviness of Queen María Luisa (1799), plump, toothless, nonetheless incorrigibly flirtatious, with delicate touches — pink bow, fan subsequent to her heart, mantilla into her hair — to recommend her pathos at ageing, a pathos enhanced right here as she faces the magnificent Duchess of Alba in Goya’s most famous portrait (1797), in Britain for the 1st time.

Tall, slender, fine-boned, La Alba too wears the mantilla, with gold-embroidered blouse and red knotted sash: passion blazing through black filigree lace. This is sex as power: her expression is chilly, her gestures imperious as, one particular hand on her hip, she points with the other towards words traced in the sand at her feet: “Solo Goya”.

Only Goya: a painter’s sexual fantasy about a haughty patron, probably, but above all a proud reference to his supremacy as artist. Sand slips like time, the duchess died a few years right after this portrait we care about her and her whole world only due to the fact a genius evoked for ever how they thought and felt. This is the most enjoyable, profound, spectacular show of the year.

‘Goya: the Portraits’, National Gallery, London, to January ten

nationalgallery.org.uk

Slideshow photographs: Fondazione Magnani Rocca, Parma, Italy Colecciones Reales, Patrimonio Nacional Museo Nacional del Prado. Madrid The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Courtesy of The Hispanic Society of America, New York Minneapolis Institute of Art Duquesa del Arco Private Collection, Spain

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Section: Arts


The Face of Britain: The Nation Through its Portraits, National Portrait Gallery, London — evaluation

Simon Schama curates an exhibition that explores British portraiture through themes

Self-portrait by Gwen John Simon Weston by Nicky Philipps

Self-portrait by Gwen John Simon Weston by Nicky Philipps

“The faces which look out at us from the past are the surest indication we have of the which means of an epoch.” So stated the art historian Kenneth Clark, and I think Simon Schama would almost certainly agree with him. A new exhibition curated by Schama, The Face of Britain: The Nation Via its Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery in London, shows above all that portraits, be they painted, drawn, printed or clicked, are about some thing much more than a simple likeness they are a reflection of the time and situations of their creation. And, in fretting about the ephemerality of today’s selfie-snapping, I suspect that Schama is attempting to put his finger on the meaning of our personal age.

Schama’s central thesis on portraiture, which he also develops in a book and forthcoming BBC2 series, is that it emerges from a “triangular collision of wills amongst sitter, artist and public”. For the most part this is accurate, although art historians and curators have a tendency these days to see “tension” everywhere. A literal example of such a collision is Graham Sutherland’s doomed 1954 portrait of Winston Churchill, the story of which is engagingly told in the exhibition with preparatory studies and archive footage.

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The portrait was commissioned by the Homes of Parliament. Sutherland, a gifted, perceptive but rather stubborn artist, chose not to stick to the suggestions (if he knew it) of the wonderful 18th-century portraitist Joshua Reynolds: if a painter “cannot make his hero speak like a great man he must make him appear like one”. Rather, Sutherland saw before him an old, occasionally shambling man prone to dozing off. So that is what he painted.

Sutherland’s portrait was also truthful for its time. Churchill hated it. To everyone’s discomfort, the presentation ceremony went ahead, broadcast on television from Westminster, where Churchill mocked the picture by calling it a “remarkable example of modern art”. In these days, to contact art “modern” was one thing of an insult. Some years later, Clementine Churchill’s private secretary burnt the painting, to her employer’s delight. (Or so the story goes Harold Wilson utilised to claim it was not destroyed, and, touching the tip of his nose, would add: “I know exactly where it is.”)

Churchill had wanted a lot more manage over his image, like most holders of power. Elizabeth I directed Nicholas Hilliard to show her face with “no shadow at all” — that is, no wrinkles. And the exhibition showcases two instances of Margaret Thatcher’s portrait meddling she insisted on smiling for Helmut Newton’s camera in 1991, in case not doing so produced her appear “disagreeable”, even though for Rodrigo Moynihan’s oil portrait of 1983/85 Thatcher not only changed the colour scheme, but even the depiction of her eyes. Her interference is blamed by the National Portrait Gallery for “a compromised painting that speaks of artistic flare extinguished”, even though in truth it is tough to see much artistic flare in Moynihan’s work usually.

The exhibition reveals a lot of such entertaining tales, and there are gems worth seeing. The self-portraits by Gwen John and Lucian Freud are among the ideal you will see, and they prove — perhaps inconveniently — that portraitists excel when totally free to ignore the demands of paying sitters. Nicky Philipps’ portrait of the Falklands veteran Simon Weston, for example, is that uncommon thing: a good modern portrait in oil. And the wit of James Gillray’s satirical caricatures still resonates today.

There are limitations, nonetheless, and they are mainly self-imposed. Like the series and the book, the display explores the history of British portraiture not chronologically but by way of themes “power”, “love”, “fame”, “self” and
“people” (as in “ordinary people”, not posh ones). In the book (and doubtless the series) the thematic approach works when it is held together by Schama’s wide selection of portraits, his enthusiasm, and some of the best writing on British portraiture I have read. But take Schama away, replace his energetic presence with wall text and labels, and the themes at times fail to provide.

What ought to have been a defining moment in the gallery’s mission to showcase British history by means of portraiture is alternatively an inconsistent, somewhat forced display. That it is spread about the developing in separate rooms (or in curatorial-speak, “interventions”) does not help. And nor do the themes look always to make sense. The Chandos portrait of Shakespeare is often a pleasure to see, specifically when rival Shakespeare portraits are “discovered” almost weekly. But it fits oddly right here in “fame” (and by the staircase), for Shakespeare was not a celebrity in his lifetime in the way we would recognise today. Certainly, the Chandos portrait is so in contrast to history’s vision of fame that 19th-century viewers felt the require to tinker with it, giving Shakespeare longer hair to make him look much less like an accountant and much more like a playwright.

The gallery says the exhibition “has been created in wider discussion with National Portrait Gallery curators”, and at occasions the display does really feel like the operate of a committee. Nowhere is this much more apparent than in the “Introductory” section, where the 5 themes are introduced as follows: Margaret Thatcher for “power” the abolitionist William Wilberforce for “fame” George Leigh Mallory (by Duncan Grant) for “love” the 19th-century black actor Ira Aldridge for “people” and a self-portrait by the Scottish painter Anna Zinkeisen for “self”. These are all fine portraits, but such box-ticking shows how subjective a thematic interpretation of British portraiture must be.

This is not, as a result, the face of Britain as it truly existed. Right here you will discover no imperialists, no rich merchants, and surely no slave traders. As an alternative, it is the face of Britain we want had existed inclusive, romantic, and (mostly) agreeable. From within this thicket of political correctness, we struggle to draw any broader conclusions about the history of the British face, or the artists who developed it. But perhaps that is not the point. For these curated faces inform us a lot more about present ideals than past realities.

npg.org.uk

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Section: Arts