The opposite conditions apply with the collecting of paintings and drawings. It’s true that there are sceptics who say that it’s impossible to put together a great collection of old master paintings today. But that “impossible” is always there as a challenge, and there is something exciting about being shown a recently assembled collection of Old Masters, created in defiance of the pessimists.
"The true collector is an artist, squared. He chooses paintings and hangs them on the wall. In other words, he paints himself a collection.” (Marcel Duchamp)
The softer the science, the more advisable it is to open a subject with an enlightening quote of an authority in the field. Yet in contrast with what Duchamp’s name is commonly associated with, this essay does not attempt to limit or de-limit what art and artist may mean.
On March 16, the much anticipated exhibition reuniting Titian’s six great mythological paintings for Philip II of Spain opened at the National Gallery. The opportunity to see all six together was unprecedented, and was one that had not been enjoyed by their creator, nor even perhaps by their original owner. Titian had executed them and dispatched them from his base in Venice piecemeal over a period of about a decade (c.1552–62), and he never went to Spain. They were not destined for any particular residence, and there is no clear evidence that when in the Spanish royal collection they were ever arranged as a group in a bespoke space. Yet the six paintings were certainly conceived as a cycle, unified by size, shape and theme, and in the beautiful and moving display at the National Gallery this unity is further emphasized by their newly carved matching frames.
The current pandemic and the global movement for racial justice have made clear that the decisions our society makes in this pivotal moment will affect how our history will be written. One set of those decisions involve the future of Confederate statues and other monuments symbolizing racial oppression, many of which protesters across the United States and Europe have toppled, tagged, and removed. This has brought up a larger question, one that’s familiar to curators, museologists and others working in the field of preservation: If societies are understood through the objects they leave behind, then what is it that ours will choose to keep?
Ever since I was at the Courtauld Institute and then at the Victoria & Albert Museum, I have thought that it was diminishing to look at religious works as just another aesthetic experience or tessera in the history of art when once they had a numinous aura. I remember the outrage of curators at the State Russian Museum in St Petersburg when they caught people kissing the icons, which was bad for their conservation, of course, but I could not help feeling at the time, the early 1990s, that a piece of important territory was being reclaimed.
I can claim to have shared a sofa in Annabel’s nightclub with Jodie Foster (born 1962) in 1986, and to have chatted up Luise Rainer (1910-2014) – who won the Best Actress Oscar in 1936 for The Great Ziegfeld and then again in 1937 for The Good Earth - at a party in London in 2006, my role here is above all that of the anonymous nobody in the darkness of the cinema we all long to be allowed to visit again one fine day.
In March 1993, at a chance encounter on the floor of The European Fine Arts Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht, I heard myself utter these words: “Annelette, if my doctor told me I had six months to live, I would go to the Isle of Bute and publish that incredible kunstkamer painting by Guillam van Haecht that only I know about.” Listening to myself, I could only wonder what was wrong with me. If I knew what mattered that much to me, why in the world hadn’t I done it in the long quarter-century since I had made the discovery? Was I waiting for that talk with the doctor? Why shouldn’t I always be doing what is most important to me?
Many years later, I showed a photograph of the Ceruti to a Venetian friend in the hope he could explain the strange assortment of fish, turnips, onions, wine vinegar and a red earthenware pot. My friend smiled and said, "These are the ingredients of a typical Venetian zuppa di pesce. The fish are the red mullet and sole of the upper Adriatic." As Marcella Hazan tells us in The Classic Italian Cook Book, “The very idea behind fish soup, is that it can turn virtually any combination of fish into a succulent and satisfying dish.”
On Sunday, March 8, the Exhibition, Hans Baldung Grien: Heilig | Unheilig (Hans Baldung Grien: Holy | Unholy) was closing at the Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe. It was the first monographic exhibition on the artist to take place for sixty years, when Karlsruhe hosted the last such exhibition. As exhibitors at TEFAF Maastricht, we took the opportunity to see it before the opening of the fair. Little did we know, as we squeezed into a small rented car and headed for the autobahn to Karlsruhe how our world would change in the next three weeks.
Interior View of the Niewe Kerk, Haarlem by Pieter Saenredam is shortlisted as one of the highlights at TEFAF Maastricht 2020 by Vereniging Rembrandt (Rembrandt Association). The selection was made by Paul Rem, conservator at the Paleis Het Loo and member of the advisory board at VR.