I know, gentle reader, I know: I didn’t post a longer-format piece on Tuesday. I was feeling under the weather on Monday, and thus the motivation to write on Tuesday simply was not there. So to make it up to you, instead of the usual 3 art news stories that I normally provide in the weekly art news roundup, today I’m providing you with twice the recommended allowance. Enjoy.
This one completely flew under the radar until earlier this week, but a major portrait by Diego Velázquez (1599-1600) lost to art history since the middle of the 18th century has been identified, and is coming up for auction at Sotheby’s London on July 3rd. Olimpia Maidalchini Pamphilj (1591-1657) was the sister-in-law of Pope Innocent X – not the saintliest of pontiffs – and reportedly his paramour, as well. She’s not exactly what one would expect in a mistress to one of the most powerful men in the world, but then he wasn’t much of a looker, either; Velázquez’ famous circa 1650 portrait of the pope is still hanging in the gallery of his family’s palazzo in Rome. The estimate is $2.5-3.8 million, but given its fairly solid provenance and state of preservation, I’d expect it to fetch something on the high end of that, if not more.
Speaking of unattractive paintings for sale, the is-it-or-isn’t-it Caravaggio painting “Judith and Holofernes” (1607), which has been making the rounds in the art press for years now, has been withdrawn from auction in Toulouse, where it was scheduled to go under the hammer today with a pre-sale estimate of $170 million. Apparently it’s been sold to a private collector, who intends to put it on display in a museum. A number of experts continue to have doubts about the picture, as Art News explains, and to be honest, I’ve always found something rather odd about the whole thing, even without being an expert in the work of Caravaggio (1571-1610). For starters, regardless of where the painting was found, one does not bring a major rediscovered work by one of the most important Italian painters of all time to auction in a place like Toulouse which, with all due respect to the people of that city, is a provincial capital: you sell it in London or New York. If you’re not sure that you can get an export license, then at the very least you sell it in Paris. Still, the thing is done, and perhaps if the piece does eventually go on public display somewhere, more experts will have the chance to study and think about it.
Whether your favorite is “Chicken Soup with Rice”, “Pierre”, or “Alligators All Around”, chances are there’s a particular book by Maurice Sendak (1928-2012) that brings back fond memories of childhood. So for those of you who find yourselves in Manhattan this summer or fall, you’ll definitely want to march along to the Morgan Library to see their new exhibition on Sendak’s work for opera and ballet, including productions of Mozart’s “Magic Flute”, Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker”, and other classical performance pieces that appeal to children. Sendak often used the collections of drawings and prints at the Morgan for inspiration, and at his death left over 900 original drawings to the Library, a number of which are part of this exhibition. Below, you can see Sendak’s design for the proscenium curtain of an opera based on his most famous book, “Where the Wild Things Are”. “Drawing the Curtain: Maurice Sendak’s Designs for Opera and Ballet” is at the Morgan Library in New York through October 6th.
Among the many architectural elements lost during the devastating fire at Notre Dame de Paris in April was the Cathedral’s Gothic Revival clock, which was smashed in the collapse of the roof and central spire. Unfortunately, schematic drawings for the timepiece were also destroyed, and restorers were either going to have to redesign it solely from photographs, or try to come up with some kind of an approximation. Miraculously, however, a researcher has located a nearly identical clock, sitting unused in the attic of the Parisian church of Sainte Trinite. It seems that when the parish decided to switch to an electronically-controlled clock system, the mechanical version was taken out and put into storage. Although the Sainte Trinite clock is, understandably, not quite as grand as that which once graced Notre Dame, restorers believe that its mechanism can serve as a model for recreating the one lost in the Cathedral conflagration.
Saved St. George
Speaking of restoration, remember that horrible, “Dragon’s Lair” restoration job in Spain on a Medieval sculpture of St. George and the Dragon? After months of painstaking work and spending tens of thousands of dollars, restorers have managed to reverse the damage, and return the piece to what it used to look like. Spain has, of late, become increasingly famous in the international art press for these botched restoration jobs – the ghastly “Beast” Jesus, the horrific “St. Anne and the Virgin”, etc. – and there remains a lack of consensus on the part of both the State and the Episcopate regarding the care of these art objects. A French system, in which the State controls all cultural property, is not the ideal solution, but unless the bishops start cracking down on educating and disciplining their own priests, this sort of costly nonsense will only continue.
We often think of the great American painter Winslow Homer (1836-1910) as someone who spent a lot of time observing nature, and depicting man’s often conflictual relationship to it. What many may not be aware of however, is that Homer served as a correspondent artist for Harper’s Weekly magazine during the Civil War, and brought images of the people, places, and events of that conflict to readers around the country and indeed the world. Thus, an upcoming exhibition at Harvard titled “Winslow Homer: Eyewitness” will be an eye-opener to many, as it explores Homer’s efforts to try to capture a sense of the front lines at a time when photography of these events was only beginning to have an impact on the public consciousness. It should also raise questions as to what degree Homer manipulated what he observed in order to more clearly reflect his own views, since we know that Civil War photographer Matthew Brady (1822-1896) also did some creative editing in what were previously believed to be purely on-the-scene photographs, including re-positioning bodies of the dead to achieve more arresting compositions. “Winslow Homer: Eyewitness” opens at the Harvard Museums on August 31st, and runs through January 5th.