This seems a good moment to start a series of posts about what’s on in London galleries and museums this month. There’s a pretty good choice this December. Repton’s Red Books are the subject of an exhibition at the Garden Museum. The National Gallery has a free exhibition of Lorenzo Lotto and charging ones of Mantegna and Bellini, and Pictures from Samuel Courtauld’s collection. Annie Alber’s weaving is at Tate Modern. At the RA there are some particularly fine, even if sometimes disturbing, works on paper by Klimt and Schiele from the Albertina in Vienna. The British Museum meantime offers ‘I am Ashurbanipal: king of the world, king of Assyria’. And these are only some of what’s on.
London Art Week, (https://londonartweek.co.uk/) which started a few days ago on Thursday 29th and ends in a few days’ time, seems a good place to start. It’s a collaboration between over 40 leading Mayfair and St James galleries and auctioneers who positively encourage visits from the general public in the hopes of wider publicity and finding new customers. Many put on special exhibitions or store up particular treasures for the occasion. There are in fact two such weeks annually, with the more established one in the summer, but this additional event is running well. Obviously one can’t mention or even get round to seeing everything but since this column is written for pleasure rather than out of commercial motivation I make no apologies for just mentioning the things I liked best.
Sam Fogg in Clifford Street (https://www.samfogg.com) has a fine display of predominantly medieval antiquities. I was particularly taken with a series of early sixteenth-century glass roundels (c 1520-30) with religious subjects or armorials, and areas of a lovely golden yellow achieved through the use of silver stain. They are priced between £4,000 and £7,000. Among many other fine things is a single leaf of Kufic script from a Qua’ran, perhaps originating in ninth-century Damascus. That is priced at £20,000 which seems either a lot for a page or very little for such a rare and beautiful survival over 1,200 years old.
The very grand, but friendly, Robilant and Voena (https://www.robilantvoena.com) in Dover Street have focused on the effect of Artemisia Gentileschi on subsequent painting. As one of the best and best known of seventeenth-century female artists, she could hold her own against nearly all but the very greatest painters of her time, regardless of gender. She is also very now in the year of “Me Too” since she was raped by her father’s studio assistant Agostino Tassi and chose to appear as a key witness in the action her father brought against him for damages to the value and reputation of his unmarried daughter as his property. To ensure the veracity of her evidence it was felt necessary to torture her. Some things at least have changed!
The National Gallery recently paid £3.6 million for her self portrait as St Catherine from about 1616 which alludes, in her representation of herself as a tortured martyr, to these events. On offer here in Dover Street is another painting by her, a full length, very fine and rather later (1625 to 1640) portrait of Antoine de Ville which she signed by painting the silver trinkets around his neck to form her initials. It won’t be cheap -price on application! Amongst other delights in the same gallery is Pompeo Batoni’s half length 1762 portrait of George Craster, in full red, blue and gold regimentals, painted in Rome and combining swagger with sensitivity I feel as good as anything he did. It has excellent provenance by descent and the painter Nathaniel Dance who was working in Batoni’s Roman studio at the time observed of it “Pompeo has made one of the best heads he ever painted”. It is fairly priced at about £550,000.
In Jermyn Street, Galerie Neuse (http://www.galerieneuse.com) from Bremen have a wonderful display of goldsmiths’ work hosted by the textile dealers S Frances. Amongst many excellent things is a very fine baroque silver helmet-shaped ewer and basin made in Augsburg around 1720 by Johann Daniel Schaffler. It entered the Royal Household when Mary of Teck, subsequently Queen Mary, married the then Duke of York and future George V. It was subsequently used, as the inscription on the reverse of the basin attests, to hold the water employed at the christening of their various offspring including the future Edward VIII, and by repute but not noted on the inscription, the present Queen’s father, George VI. It is an outstanding example of how history and association add interest and indeed value to something that was outstanding right from the time it was made.
Finally the major auctioneers have pulled out all the stops. In particular Christies offer some exceptional lots. Tonight, December 4th, a drawing by Lucas van de Leyden of a young man with a sword is amongst some 200 lots to be sold by Rugby School to benefit its endowment funds. It is arguably the last drawing by the artist, of which only 28 are recorded anyway, that remains in private hands and might well make over a million pounds. On December 6th the evening old master sale includes a superb Van Dyck Portrait of Princess Mary (1631–1660), daughter of King Charles I of England, full-length, in a pink dress decorated with silver embroidery and ribbons, date-able to 1641. It is estimated to go for between £5 and £8 million.
The events go on until this Friday 7th December and if you in the Mayfair and St James area it’s well worth dropping by to any of the 42 galleries involved, even if you have neither the intention or the means to buy anything. If of course you have you would be even more welcome!