Jan 312011

There is a good story on the ArtWatch web site (below) about Gombrich’s questioning of the National Gallery’s picture cleaning policy; naturally The National Gallery brought out it’s big guns to squash such cheek in spite of the eminence of their questioner. Many years later and after much destructive cleaning Gombrich was proved right. I am glad to be abler to report that this unpleasant experience did not dim Gombrich’s courage to go on questioning the establishment.

Without his help I would have got nowhere with my questioning of the Rembrandt scholars. It was he who insisted on a meeting of the governors of The Burlington Magazine over their refusal to publish my paper. Not that the final publication (Feb.1977) made the slightest difference to subsequent scholarship. Though my paper ripped the red carpet from under them, the scholars continue as before de-attributing works, disregarding the evidence and long-standing opinion. They continue destroying Rembrandt today.

When his doubts about cleaning were finally proved justified, Gombrich wrote “I believe it was Francis Bacon who said “knowledge is power”. I had to learn the hard way that power can also masquerade as knowledge and since there are very few people able to judge these issues, they very easily get away with it.”

I hope his backing of my questions will soon evoke the very same response.


Jan 142011

Chardin - Boy with a top

Chardin - Boy with a top

The Chardin show is great, they bill him as the painter of silence. He is so unassuming. 25% of his life’s work (over 50 paintings) are there; a comprehensive show from first to last. His first painting was of bottles and a glass of water and a silver cup and nearly his last was more or less the same. The development was very gentle, so slow that one might miss it altogether. He develops from a good, very careful craftsman, through seeing, to feeling and finally to an exquisite chamber music of colour; his pyramid of over ripe strawberries you could almost smell, his senses are so alive. It is a life of enjoyment, a meditation made visible.

The wonderfully reassuring thing about him and his public is his lasting success. Completely at odds with his times: Watteau, Boucher and Fragonard were the prevailing taste, yet he enjoyed success. Louis XV bought his pictures so did some of his court, the King gave him a state pension and a studio. He is probably the most influential French painter of them all. Even today the man in the street seemed to be thrilled by him. It could be argued that some French critics, contrary to the general rule, can still respond to subtle visual stimuli, thanks to Chardin’s refined vision. His subject matter is life at its simplest, bourgeois not royal. He is the first French revolutionary and was patronized by the king.

He was clearly an admirer of Vermeer but whereas Vermeer was a painter of light; Chardin loved the objects themselves; he can lay the bloom on a plum, or the fuzz on a peach with one perfectly judged brush stroke, he masters the textures of furs, feathers, pots, oranges, eggs, bottles, stone or wood. He can paint the back of a velvet chair in the middle distance in one flat pink that could not be more velvety. A commissioned portrait of a boy with a top, so unassuming, so touching. Everything he laid eyes on he promotes to quiet glory. This is visual art at it’s richest.

Jan 102011

The presentation of Maitani’s façade in Orvieto, was very well received in Todi. I really do believe that I have persuaded the 25 or so people present, including the mayor of Todi, that Lorenzo Maitani was a truly major figure in sculpture. The Museo Lapidario is beautiful but so well hidden that I was amazed that so many people managed to find it; in fact the cinema space was at maximum capacity.

I made a special introduction to the DVD to try to persuade them that the four pilasters were all his design as I realized that the locals had been brought up to believe that Maitani was more of an architect than a sculptor. The scholars have focused on the handwork: which assistant carved what, rather than the quality and consistency of the whole. I was surprised just how much evidence there was available to prove Maitani’s authorship of the whole. I will add this new section to complete the argument in the DVD.

Maitani had an amazingly advanced knowledge of anatomy for his time but it was by no means perfect. In particular he made the same mistake in the muscles of the shoulders and upper arms consistently throughout the entire sequence of pilasters. He also had a strange way of depicting the lowest ribs with an arched ridge, which appears throughout. These consistent mistakes make his authorship of the whole certain and easy to appreciate. It may be a little more difficult to see the fluency of movement of the figures in the relief space but his exceptional command of drapery is outstandingly obvious. I demonstrate how this can be achieved.

This DVD will soon be available in Italian as well as English.

I have been invited to show all The Museum of Artists’ Secrets in Todi this summer.