My latest for The Federalist is out this morning, reviewing the stylish, albeit temporarily-shuttered exhibition, “Dewing’s Poetic World” at the Freer Gallery of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art.
Thomas Wilmer Dewing (1851-1938) was a distinctive American painter who specialized in ethereal, quiet images of elegant ladies in landscapes and interiors. He was prominent at the turn of the previous century, but today he isn’t quite a household name, at least not in the same breath as some of his contemporaries. After looking at a number of examples of his work over the past few years, I think he needs to be critically and popularly reassessed via a large-scale, comprehensive exhibition somewhere; while the show at the Freer isn’t a full retrospective, it does provide some very beautiful examples of his paintings and drawings. It also affords us a rather important opportunity to look at the extraordinary frames for Dewing’s paintings by his good friend and prominent Beaux-Arts architect, Stanford White (1853-1906) of McKim, Mead, and White fame, as he often worked with Dewing to provide art for the interiors of the homes and private clubs the firm designed.
Currently all of the Smithsonian museums are closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic, but the show is scheduled to run through November, so hopefully visitors to the Nation’s Capital will be able to see this very pleasing exhibition sometime soon.
And now, let’s take a look at some other art news stories which I hope you’ll find of interest, as you shelter in place.
Collected for Commerce
With markets tanking all over the place, the wealthy are increasingly using their art as what some of us have always known they view it as: a commodity to be sold, rather than a treasure to be cherished and then passed down. As Bloomberg reports, some of these collectors are being faced with an unpleasant surprise since “lenders are appraising art at lower values. Asher Edelman, whose New York-based company Artemus currently offers maximum 40% loan-to-value ratio on art financing and takes possession of the works, estimates a decline of 20% to 30% on initial and final appraisals from a month ago.”
Although Bloomberg is silent regarding who is selling their art, as Art Market Monitor noted recently in analyzing market surveys, younger collectors are more likely to “flip” works of art that they have owned for a short time:
The survey found that millennial collectors are transacting in the most variable of sales channels, across trade, auction and online sales. They are also flipping works from their collection at the highest rate, with an average resale period below four years. It appears the strategy among the youngest base of art collectors is to seek out risk at a lower price level in order to build wealth.
Will this crisis result in a significant readjustment to art market prices, or will we continue to see a work by Basquiat valued more highly than one by Bronzino? I have no predictive powers here, but I think it more likely that there will be a short-term correction, followed by a return to price increases, at least for Modern and Contemporary Art. The truth of the matter is that while a great deal of the work fetching 10’s or 100’s of millions of dollars these days is, frankly, rubbish, that fact is entirely reflective of the times in which we live. In an age of faith, religious art is highly valued; in an age of philosophy, classical art is highly valued. What does the most highly valued art at market tell us about the present age? I shudder to think.
Absconded from Oxford
A particularly brazen art theft took place at Oxford University on Saturday night, when thieves broke into the Christ Church Picture Gallery and stole three Old Masters valued at over $12 million. The paintings – “A Boy Drinking” (c. 1580) by Annibale Carracci (1560-1609), “A Rocky Coast With Soldiers Studying a Plan (c. 1640) by Salvatore Rosa (1615-1673), and the oil sketch of “A Soldier on Horseback” (c. 1616) by Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641), shown below – were donated to the College in the 18th century. To my eye, these aren’t the most valuable pieces in the museum’s collection, which includes works by Fra Angelico and Da Vinci, among others. It makes me suspect that they were stolen to order, as much as art experts tend to say that this never happens. At present, how the thieves got into and out of the Gallery unseen remains unknown, although there’s some speculation that they may have fled on a boat; the museum itself is, not surprisingly, temporarily closed.
Given to Cleveland
It may be temporarily closed due to Coronavirus, but patrons of the Cleveland Museum of Art have reason to be grateful to one local couple. Joseph and Nancy Keithley have donated over 100 works of art to the Museum, including pieces by many of the most famous names of Modern Art, from Bonnard to Picasso to Wyeth. Among the paintings given by the Keithleys is “Tulips” (1914), a still life by Henri Matisse (1869-1954) shown below. Given the date of its execution and the fact that one presumes Matisse was painting in the springtime, this places its creation just a few months before the outbreak of World War I – a fact which adds a certain poignancy to the piece, given how many would go on to die in fields normally filled with blooms such as these. The entire collection was scheduled to go on public display this Tuesday, but for now the public will have to wait until the present malaise makes its exit.