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Session 2: The Educated Eye? Connoisseurship Now

-It’s my great pleasure today to
introduce you to Bendor Grosvenor, director of Philip
Mould & Company. Bendor studied English
history at Pembroke College, Cambridge and the
University of East Anglia. He joined Philip Mould in 2005 and
oversees the galleries research, cataloging, and acquisitions. He is a member of the Lord
Chancellor’s advisory council on national records and archives and
the Lord Chancellor forum for history, manuscripts, and
academic research. Bendor has made several important
discoveries of lost works by artist such as Gainsborough, Lawrence
and Anthony van Dyck on whom he is an
acknowledged expert. He regularly published books
and articles on history, art history, and current affair. His talk today is why
connoisseurship matters. – Thanks very much. Lights. Can everybody hear me all right? Is this working? Yes, only just. How about that? My night club crudeness. Is that working? A bit of feedback? Right. I think perhaps I ought to
start with a quick definition of what connoisseurship
really is. Although it sounds fancy and is
loaded with sort of preconceptions we’ve heard about earlier this morning
and it sounds quite rarified, it is, in fact, a
very basic concept. It comes from [French language] in
French and in turn [Latin language] in Latin which means
to get to know. Connoisseurship is all about getting
to know the work of your chosen artist or artists so well that you
can recognize their work much like you would recognize a piece
of music by your favorite composer or recognize the author of a letter
not by the signature at the end after you’ve turned it over but the
handwriting on the envelope when you get it. Sometimes it really does happen
almost in an instant or a blink. Other times usually when there are
questions of condition involved it takes a little longer but
that’s really all there is to it. The connoisseurship I’m talking about
today isn’t about wider things such as taste and I hope we don’t
have to get into why attribution or authorship matters. If it doesn’t matter to you if the Mona
Lisa was painted by Leonardo da Vinci, well then you are probably
at the wrong conference. As a dealer who tries to make his living
by spotting misinterpreted pictures at auctions, I’m regularly
surprised by two things. First, just how unsettled The
Art Historical Canon is. We may think we all know who painted
what but actually we don’t. Of the over 200,000 oil paintings
in the UK’s national collection, for example, some 20%, that’s one in five either has no
attribution or an uncertain attribution. You can bet that many more
have a wrong attribution. Secondly, I’m surprised at just how a
few art historians are really able to recognize the artist
of a particular painting. I don’t mean to denigrate
art historians as a whole, I count myself as one. Merely to express my surprise
given how many art historians and art history graduates there
are out there these days but the ability to make attributions
or practice connoisseurship is so little practiced. I find it astounding that one can
look at the online collection of the major British museum and see
works which are by major artists but just called
circa of so and so. Even that some museums seem to revel in
the safe catch-all of English school for example and appear to
show no curiosity at all about the actual artist
as if they didn’t matter. It’s a bit like living
in a world where doctors are all fully trained and have passed
their exams and can write diligent papers on all manner of diseases but
cannot actually make a diagnosis. Perhaps the best way to illustrate
why I think connoisseurship matters is to give a brief demonstration
of what happens when it goes awry. I think I don’t share
Stephen’s optimism earlier. It seems to me that
sometimes we are in danger of going too far the other way in
the anti-connoisseurial direction and to use a little cliche
we may be in danger of having thrown out the
baby with the bath water. This doesn’t turn into
a Bendor Grosvenor son et lumière I’m going to try and do this without mentioning
pictures that I have been involved personally in buying either myself or
with my employer Philip Mould. This picture was deaccessioned by
a museum in the United States. The Saint Louis Art Museum had
offered to Christie’s in New York in 2010 as a work by a
follower of Van Dyck. The picture was spotted by my fellow
dealer Fergus Hall who believed that it had hidden virtues
and he was certainly right for conservation revealed that the picture
had been substantially overpainted. It is, in fact, a study for van Dyck’s now lost large
portrait the Magistrates of Brussels. The study Fergus found was soon I
gather be going on display at the Frick as part of their exhibition in
2016 on Van Dyck’s portraiture. In other words not only is this
painting indisputably by van Dyck but it would be a useful addition
to any museum’s collection so why did Saint Louis sell it? How would we feel if a
British museum sold it? It seems in this country we are
slightly immunized from such feelings because here we tend not to do
deaccessioning but that might change. Regional museums are now selling
works with increasing regularity and we cannot afford
to be too complacent. Here is another case. A slightly more ongoing one and
it’s from a much larger museum. A metropolitan museum in New
York is a keen deaccessioner and for that reason beloved
of dealers like me. The Met recently decided
to sell this study which used to be recognized a
rather important picture by Rubens but which in the 1970s, late ’70s I believe was doubted
by Rubens’s scholar Julius Held. The picture was offered at
Sotheby’s in New York last year as by a follower of Rubens
and described as a portrait of a young girl possibly
Clara Serena Rubens, the artist’s daughter. It had an estimate of
$20,000 to $30,000. This is a drawing of Clara Serena
Rubens in the Albertina by Rubens. I think the technical term, the spotting of the similarity
between the two is a dead ringer. I and many others were struck by the
sheer quality of the Met’s picture which was covered in a quite a thick
yellow varnish and a degree of overpaint. It’s beautifully
painted and for me, it sparked that immediate
light bulb moment that here, in fact, we were dealing with the
work as all the old provenance and literature had it by Rubens himself. It seems inconceivable to me that
someone else in Rubens’s circle would paint this unique and
intimate portrait of his daughter in his style and so well and it
is of course simply too good to be a copy of a lost
original which is a phrase in auction catalogs brings joy
to the heart of dealers like me. It doesn’t match immediately
our immediate impression of what a Rubens formal
portrait looks like but that’s because it isn’t a
formal commission. It’s an intimate study not
meant of public eyes. At the auction, the
picture fetched $625,000. I and many others in the trade
believed it to be by Rubens himself. I hadn’t seen the
picture cleaned and I don’t know what the
official verdict of it is today or whether it has been accepted by art
historians at the Rubenianum in Antwerp, the center for Ruben’s studies. I have to say I suspect it will
be once people see it cleaned and if so then The Metropolitan Museum
will have made a catastrophic error and sold what really should be
one of Rubens’s most impressive smaller portraits of his own
daughter for not much at all. The obvious question
will, therefore, be even if the Met was unsure
of the pictures attribution why did they take the risk of selling
such an obviously attractive if dirty picture just to
raise a potential $20,000? What happened to that institution’s
collective sense of connoisseurship? The ability to look
beyond the label, to look through the yellow varnish
and assess the picture’s quality on its own merits. Well, I believe it failed. You might wonder why the bidding
stopped relatively little if the picture really is a Rubens’s and
potentially worth a few million quid. What I can tell you
is that the picture I suspect would have fetched
far more at auction had it not been for
a certain anxiety amongst the trade that Rubens
scholarship at the moment is– should I say somewhat
unpredictable. Although people in the trade
firmly believe the picture to be by Rubens they knew that the
chances of getting an endorsement of attribution by
some Rubens scholars was in fact quite slim
and so the picture represented the greater
than usual commercial risk. The Rubenianum is an
interesting body to discuss with regards to connoisseurship. It is I should say an
invaluable institution, perhaps the best in the world
for the study and publication of research on an individual artist
but in terms of connoisseurship, you could say that it has
some potential weaknesses. The authors of the Catler Resiney
are a fairly disparate group, unlike the Rembrandt Research
Committee in which final decision are taken by one
well-established connoisseur, Ernst van de Wetering. The Rubens catalog is
a many-headed beast with different researchers given
different areas such as portraits, head studies, religious
pictures and so on. Some of them are excellent
and their volumes are models of their
type but to be honest, others cannot tell the difference between
a Rubens and a hole-in-the-wall. An example of where Rubens scholarship
can be a little uncertain is in this picture of Sir
Anthony van Dyck on display at the Rubens house in Antwerp which I thought I would
choose today to illustrate now that the UK has its very own
freshly minted portrait of van Dyck. For me, this picture is an
open-and-shut portrait by Rubens. Although, it’s in a slightly
compromised condition the hat has been
massively over-painted and has long been recognized as
Rubens’s own portrait of van Dyck when he was working for
him in his studio. Happily, most of the Rubenianum
scholars recognize this picture as indeed a work by Rubens
but ladies and gentlemen, it seems there are dark forces
afoot who are determined to take this picture away from
Rubens and give it to Van Dyck. Now, normally I’d be delighted
to see Van Dyck’s iconography gain another self-portrait. He’s my favorite artist
but this picture shows up how easily undermined attributions
in connoisseurship become be when it goes wrong
and in this case, it has been partly
undermined by science. It’s become fashionable of late
to say that connoisseurship has to work hand in hand with
science in order to arrive at an attribution but in fact, I don’t think we’re there yet. Often, science can, in fact, lead us down
entirely the wrong path when it comes to
making an attribution. This portrait of Van Dyck, for example, has recently been
analyzed by synchrotron radiation and this revealed, I’m quoting, another image beneath the pink
surface which was very similar to other self-portraits
by Van Dyck. Well, it strikes me that
this is clearly nonsense and the interpretation is based on
an impossibly small sample size. How many other early Van
Dyck portraits let alone other Van Dyck self-portraits, earlier ones of which there is
only one have been radiated by synchrotron radiation? How can we make a sample size? We’re now in the crazy world where
traditional connoisseurship is rejected in favor of
an entirely arbitrary and untrained type of connoisseurship
practiced by scientists looking at paintings
beneath paintings and anyone who’s trying
to interpret an X-ray will know how difficult it is
to try and be a connoisseur of a painting beneath the painting but because it’s a verdict
will know how difficult it is to try and be a connoisseur of a painting beneath the painting
but because it’s a verdict by scientists it seems we
must accept it as valid. The Van Dyck portrait was also
tested with 3D imaging devices in what’s called a mini dome which
apparently has 25,000 light bulbs and takes a picture like this. This apparently revealed and I’m
quoting from the news report, “That by looking at the
brushstrokes on the surface of the painting the researchers
found that it had been built up in layers continually revised
during its creation. A technique associated
with Van Dyck.” Art historians know that he
continually rethought his composition and technique as he went along. Rubens, by contrast, did not. He would paint according to a
preconceived plan improvising his earlier work meaning
that his brushstrokes would show up entirely differently
under 3D examinations. In other words, it’s more
nonsense but it seems to me that we haven’t yet amassed
nearly enough data to start making these sort of
blanket binary assumptions that some scientific
analysts like to make. We can only really begin to make
comparisons via synchrotron radiation and 3D mini domes after we’ve
synchrotron radiated every picture in Rubens’s oeuvre and Van
Dyck’s and so on and so on. The same applies to things
like paint analysis. Have we really taken enough samples
from paintings of all ages and of all types to be
100% confident in its use? The pigment Naples yellow, for example, was thought to be
in use in the 18th century only- from the 18th century but now it has
been identified in the 16th century. Any pictures ruled out by previous
analysis must now be ruled in. While the use of scientific
analysis in attributions is still in its infancy
let me make a plea that we should still
retain the primacy of what we might call
traditional connoisseurship. Science can usually help you
find out what a painting is not. It can point to something
being a later fake, for example, but it cannot at least it
can only really tell you definitively whether a specific artist
painted a specific picture. We may be able to prove scientifically
that Van Dycken pigments were used on a Van Dycken canvas
and a Van Dycken composition but that only leads
you to the certainty that the work was painted in Van Dyck’s
studio and there’s plenty of them. To be able to determine
whether it was painted by the master himself we need and always
will the connoisseur’s trained eye. I have selected just three pictures so
far by two artists I’m familiar with but what I think that helps show
is that even for big-name artists, some of the world’s largest
museums and centers of research are in danger of
occasionally not always, very occasionally, but those occasions
are important losing their way and my case is that surely art
history can do better than this. Before I suggest how we
might do better than this, let me quickly look
at how we got here and here I need to be frank about
connoisseurship’s weaknesses. I was recently asked to advise on
connoisseurship for a new play about to open in the West End. It’s called Bakersfield Mist
and it starts Kathleen Turner, she was big in the ’80s in
films like Jewel in the Nile. Ian McDermott who’s best known
as The Emperor from Star Wars and that was a great
moment for me, meeting the Emperor
from Star Wars. The play is all about a
connoisseur called Lionel, who’s going to see a possible
Jackson Pollock bought in a junk store for a few bucks by
Maude who lives in a trailer park. I was asked to attend a rehearsal
with the actors to tell them about how a connoisseur
assesses a painting before he makes an attribution
or she makes an attribution and to tell them about
connoisseurship or as Maude calls it when she’s told that her Pollock
isn’t by Pollock, horseshit. One of the main things Ian
McDermott wanted to know was whether a scene in the script where
his character assesses the painting in a blink was
really how it works. Did it really work
like this, he asked? How do you know just by looking
at the picture who painted it? Surely, there must be
more to it than that. Unfortunately, I had to tell
him that there really wasn’t and that’s the rub
of connoisseurship. The connoisseurs claim
to know just by looking but how do we explain that thought
process and that certainty? As one of the leading
connoisseurs of our time, the author of The
Pastel Dictionary, Neil Jeffares has said, “The lightbulb
in a single connoisseur’s head is invisible to the rest of
us and indistinguishable from self-delusion except by inference
from that expert’s track record.” As a result of this potential
for self-delusion, connoisseurship has over
the last 30 or 40 years, it was a skill which used to be an
essential foundation of art history and has now become something of an
endangered species easily dismissed and its practitioners occasionally
made objects of suspicions by those who choose not to
do it or who cannot do it. The pendulum of art history has,
as Stephen was telling us earlier, swung away from the close study of
the object in which connoisseurship was key to the study of its context
be it socio-political or economic and has swung even away from the
focus on individual artists in a headlong quest
for generalization. Consequently, connoisseurship for
many reasons and this alone, this as well has a bad
press these days. As one art historian brave enough to
be working on a catalog raisonné said to me recently connoisseurship
among some of her colleagues is referred to as the c-word
and there are other reasons for this damming of
connoisseurship. Of course, things aren’t
helped by the fact that when the connoisseur ships last
readouts these days as we heard earlier from Jonny Yarker is in the art
trade where it’s practiced daily by dealers like me but at
least that has the benefit of being able to define a proven
or otherwise track record. Then there is the undeniable problem
of plain bad connoisseurship which I’m sure Martin will
tell us more about shortly. First, there’s corrupt
connoisseurship ala Bernard Berenson and then there’s just
misguided connoisseurship with attributions given
by well-meaning scholars who simply do not
understand perhaps, for example, questions
of condition. In some cases, corrupt and
inept connoisseurship can combine to create the
perfect connoisseurial storm. In 1988 the late Professor Eric
Larsen who was at a university in California wrote a Van
Dyck catalog raisonné which was so bad it even had a fake
Van Dyck portrait on the front cover. It seems clear that he
took cash for attributions but not that it seemed to matter because for a good decade
Larsen’s catalog was held up as the backbone for all
Van Dyck scholarship because amongst the wider
public and many auction houses, not enough people knew about
Van Dyck connoisseurship to realize that Larsen
was at best hopeless. Charlatans like Larsen can show
that once a bad connoisseur gets their hands on an
artist that the whole oeuvre can be misunderstood
for a generation. The Van Dyck situation wasn’t
corrected until the publication by Yale of their own
catalog raisonné in 2004 but still, these days some publishers
of catalog raisonnés make the mistake of not first seeing if
their chosen expert is suitably qualified to be
connoisseur really reliable on a chosen artist before they
give them the publication gig. It shouldn’t be hard it seems to
me to have some kind of basic test but I think the main reason connoisseurship
is in something of a crisis is because of the essential
element of being a connoisseur isn’t appreciated or encouraged
enough anymore despite occasions like today and Mark and
Steven’s earlier optimism. That is, of course, the
art of close looking. Put simply many art historians and
their students do not get out enough. Academic art history has retreated
to the classroom to be taught from small images in
books or on screens. Too many art historians
spend more time discussing and debating pictures sometimes
in impenetrable psychobabble than looking at them and I mean
real nose to the canvas looking. Of course, there are
glorious exceptions. As we’ve heard, York is doing
marvelous things and that Marks’- was doing marvelous things
under Mark’s leadership. But often, the more senior
an art historian becomes, in fact, the less time he or she
spends looking at pictures themselves. As the artists who were in Ben
Street wrote recently in Palo, perhaps in the rush to lend art
history additional academic ballast, something has been overlooked. The honing of a visual literacy, the intellectual act of
looking at original objects. “This kind of looking primary, immediate, and
responsive,” he wrote, “Seems to decrease as one ascends
the academic ladder into the quiet and dusty attic of expertise.” Those of us who have tried
to get experts to pronounce on pictures will
recognize some of that. That’s why it seems to me the
connoisseurship’s center of gravity has now shifted towards the art
trade because we’re the ones who spend our lives looking
obsessively at pictures, not just good ones but bad ones, things in good condition
and in bad condition. One of the best ways to
learn to identify a Rubens, for example, is by looking
at endless copies of Rubens, good ones, bad ones,
later ones, period ones, as well as studio replicas. Then the real thing in
its luminescent quality becomes much more
easily recognizable, almost indeed in a blink. It’s my contention that not
enough art historians do this and so the connoisseurial
radar becomes flawed. How then can you start to restore
faith in connoisseurship again and why does it matter
that we should all get out and look more closely
at art once more? I don’t mean just go and stare
at canvases in a museum. I mean really roll
your sleeves up, go scrupulously through the racks
in your museum store with a torch and a magnifying glass, spend time in conservation studios
seeing pictures stripped down, and understand what is
and isn’t overpaint. Go to auction houses and look
not just at the good pictures but just as usefully to put them
into context, the bad ones. Everybody should do this, not just curators
but undergraduates, restorers, lecturers,
and professors. Not just for the odd day of
the year but all the time, as much as possible. The good news is anyone really can do
it if you give it enough practice. It’s not that difficult and
above all it’s good fun. See, I believe that
connoisseurship can help us learn so much more
than simply who painted what. How useful to be able to discern
where the hand of Rubens ends and that of his studio assistant
begins when such things are rarely if ever documented. Connoisseurship is not just about spivvy
dealers like me try to make a quick buck. Connoisseurship matters because
art historians and museums are sometimes in danger of
becoming detached from two of the most fundamental
purposes of their job, to help preserve our heritage and
to accurately inform the public about the pictures
they’re looking at. If we don’t get that right, then
everything else art historians like to do, from contextualizing
to interpretation, falls apart immediately. I believe that the success of the
new crop of television programs and news stories which try and
demonstrate who painted what, which invariably rely on some
form of connoisseurship, demonstrate that this is actually what
the wider public really want to know. I’d like to end on that last
point about preservation and in my roundabout way
of trying to defend or actually not trying
to defend but resulting in defending every
genre of art history, I’m now going to
include conservators because one of the areas I think
that we suffer from a lack of connoisseurship is
actually in conservation. Conservators are often brilliant
technicians but they sometimes have not a clue about the technique
of style of a particular artist. I’ve seen restorers adopt an
identikit approach to paintings as if they’re painted in a
uniform way and could be cleaned and restored as such but that, of course, is rarely the case. On many occasions, I’ve had
to stand over restorers and point out for example that Van
Dyck painted this or that way and that this or
that glaze isn’t, in fact, overpaint
but original paint. To show why I think
that connoisseurship has such a valuable role
to play in conservation, let me end with what is probably
the most single important painting in Western art history, Michelangelo’s Sistine
Chapel ceiling. I recently went to Rome and saw
the ceiling for the first time and as I was standing underneath
it with my binoculars being jostled this way
and that by the crowds, I’m afraid I got a
terrible shock. I always used to think the critics
of the Sistine Chapel restoration were being slightly myopic
or a little bit obsessive and that trained restorers surely
at this level were infallible and couldn’t possibly
damage pictures, but how wrong I was. The Sistine Chapel
has been subjected to the most brutal
over-cleaning imaginable. I don’t mean the exposure
of the bright colors which we see looking so nice
here which most people fixate on but the actual removal through
simple abrasion with solvents and a rough sponge of the
crucial darks and shadows which gave the ceiling so
much meaning and form. Though we don’t have time
to go into debate here as to whether Michelangelo worked [?]
on the ceiling or purely in fresco, it seems to me that the whole
approach to the cleaning of the ceiling was
fundamentally misunderstood. My contention is that
if the restorers had in fact been real trained
connoisseurs of Michelangelo’s work and were not just pure
technicians and had a feeling and an eye of how Michelangelo
intended his pictures to work, they might not have
made the same mistakes. I don’t think I can really make a greater example of why
connoisseurship matters, thank you very much. – Thank you, Bendor. I think it’s better to keep questions
for the debate afterwards. Our second speaker
is Martin Myrone. Martin joined Tate in 1998 and he has
worked on a range of exhibitions and display projects
at Tate Britain, including Gothic
Nightmares in 2006, John Martin Apocalypse
in 2011 and ’12, and William Blake’s 1809
Exhibition in 2009. He is the co-curator of the
forthcoming Tate Britain exhibition British Folk Art that
opens on June 10th. He was founding co-convener
of the Tate Research Centre, British Romantic Art
between 2010-2013, and co-investigator of the Tate University
of York research project Court, Country, City: British
Art 1660-1735. As lead curator,
British art to 1800, he works with the team of curators
and assistant curators responsible for the research and development
of the British collections from the 16th to the
early 19th century. Please join me to
welcome Martin. Today he’s talking about the
limit of connoisseurship. Thank you. – Thank you. Should I just adjust this? There you go. Is that going to be okay? Does that sound okay? I’ll start speaking. My submitted title for today was
the limits of connoisseurship, I missed off an s in my email. I do believe there’s more than
one limit to connoisseurship and that was reflected
in my original title. In the last day or two I had a quick rethink and thought actually my title might
be a little bit more emphatic. It should be
connoisseurship, so what? -I’m told because of all the webiness
of today I’m not meant to swear but you get the inference, connoisseurship, so what? Because as much as I was delighted
to be part of today’s conversation, I’m very flattered to
be invited to join, I also have a reservation
in the back of my mind. I wonder what are we
talking about today, what are we really
talking about today? That I think is we’re going
to try and drive towards, work towards, in the comments I’m going
to make over the next 20 minutes or so. I’ve organized my comments around
three capsule case studies. I’m not going to
give much detail, they’re just little snippets drawn
from the experience of myself and my immediate colleagues at Tate
and from our routine work as curators to our research issues
relating to the collection. The third is
acquisitions related, and all three concern late
18th-century British art. I’m going to swiftly run through
those capsule studies twice. The first time around, I’d like you to consider the
question of what sort of skills, knowledge, activity is involved
and what of those skills, knowledge, and activities
can properly be considered under the rubric of connoisseurship
and only under that rubric. Is the term actually useful? Is the term actually meaningful? Second time around, I
would like to think, perhaps a little
bit contentiously, about whether connoisseurship even
matters in each of these cases, and if it matters, in what way. That will lead me to my final
comments and the bigger question at stake here perhaps which is
less around the value and validity of connoisseurship in itself
and rather around the value of even asking the question
of its value and validity. Who is asking the
question and why? To take a quick step back
and by way of a preamble, I feel like, as other speakers
today doubtless will, I should position myself. I am an almost stereotypical product
of the so-called new art history of all those years ago, the 1980s and 1990s. Though my working life has been in
the context of national museums. I trained initially at UCL
very much in the shadow of the still relatively newly
founded Oxford Archer, one of the organs of
the new art history which a number of the staff there
were closely involved with. Postgraduate studies at the Courtauld
Institute of Art with David Sulkin, he’s been mentioned
already today. A job at the British galleries at the
V&A during its early planning stages and then a job at the Tate just at
the point it became Tate Britain. All those contacts still was quite
definitely a sense about new historical and curatorial practice
being set against the old which has played out discursively but also at an
organizational level and in strategic planning. Connoisseurship was not a term
which was actively used at least in a positive sense. If connoisseur and
connoisseurship were reference at all it tended to be
either in a historical sense or with a broadly
negative inference. The resistance to the term and at least
some of the values associated with it found focus in at
least two ways. Firstly in challenging the
primacy of connoisseurship over other art
historical methodologies and the idea that establishing authenticity
was a sufficient end in itself. Secondly, there was resistance
to the overly neat distribution of art historical practices across
different sectors of the field with connoisseurship the
absolute province of the museum where it may be allied closely
to the art market and social and contextual art history absolutely
the province of the Academy. The connoisseur insisting
on the sanctity of art was one of the cast of characters that
the youthful director of Tate Britain, Stephen Deuchar, outlined in his
contribution to the Clark debate on the two art histories in a
very kind of important seminal and debate published a
few years later in 2006. Along with the academic,
the curator, the educator, and the museum director all equally
exasperated with one another. Stephen’s was a balanced account
and there’s been nonetheless but there has been nonetheless
a more widespread tendency for these characters to circulate in
a temptation perhaps to place them in an overly neat chronological
framework with a pattern of succession and displacement thus
giving rise to the language we’ve heard something of
today of crisis and decline but simply it hasn’t
always been this way. It used to be much better it’s
better in the olden days. At the last academic event I
attended here at the Mellon, Conal Shields mentioned in passing
the entrance space to an exhibition. He worked in the 1976, the Tate of
Constable and the presence there which you can see in these slides of
a biscuit tin decorated with flat for the mill and there’s the- I guess they were still
typing caption in those days, kind of hand-typed caption accompanying
it raising it very reflexive way the question of Constables’
reputation and reproduction. This shows a little
curatorial gesture which I think quite elegantly
opens up questions of taste, reception, reproduction, and cultural value or you
might think elements of a new art history long before anyone
would have considered it as such. Similarly, William Vaughn’s
1970 exhibit at the Tate around William Dobson’s
Endymion Porter, that’s the painting on the
right in this plan of the show has near legendary status as a
contextual didactic exhibition including lots of text panels, lots of text prints, there’s
a gun, there’s medals, coins all sorts of stuff in
order to explore the context and meaning of this painting. Lots more stuff than you can see in any
exhibit currently at Tate Britain. I personally doubt that there was
ever a golden age of curation simply arising from and embodying
the pure values of connoisseurship at least as far back as there was
any sort of alternative available. To turn then to my capsules. At the first is a picture
I’ve bored several people in this room with over the
last couple of years. It is or at least purports to
be a likeness of Edward Orpin, the Parish Clerk of
Bradford-upon-Avon, painted somewhere around 1760 to 1770
on the basis of the age of the sitter. A simple public inquiry from
someone writing a study of the sitter’s son and
organist in Bath prompted a reexamination of this
picture in the Tate store. It’s been in the national collection
since 1867 when it was purchased for the National Gallery
at the Wiltshire sale. The provenance and
even about early date more than a half a century of exhibition
and literary reference established that this work was by
Thomas Gainsborough. It remained a Gainsborough
at the National Gallery and then after transfer in 1919 the
Tate Gallery for the next 90 years. It wasn’t just any
Gainsborough in that context, it was one of the Gainsborough’s
very greatest pictures. This is a mock-up of a hang that was
current at the National Gallery in the last 19th century where
we see Edward Orpin in the left paired with Sarah Siddons on the right
with The Watering Place in between. This hang drew
particular commentary. It’s a stock feature of guidebook
commentaries and an art historical commentary seeming to present a neat trio
of the painter at his best, his greatest landscape, his
greatest female portrait, his greatest male
portrait neatly arranged. This is how things remained all the way
through to 1958 when Ellis Waterhouse in his catalog of Gainsborough’s
works demoted it on the basis of what he’d seen in the 1953 Tate
exhibition of Gainsborough’s paintings. That move was heretical
enough to elicit a separate dedicated note on the subject at the
very front of his catalogue and if you look at his 1958 catalogue There’s a little note right
at the beginning saying, “I’m sorry but this isn’t
Gainsborough and I have to- lots of works aren’t
Gainsborough anymore but this one I need to tell
you it’s not Gainsborough.” That we might say is a triumph
for pure connoisseurship for everything else about this
picture is exhibition history, is provenance, is
institutional history, is reception history all conspired to say
this really should be a Gainsborough. Connoisseurship is not yet
they’ve been quite so successful in suggesting a believable alternative
and I’ll come back to that point. The second case study happens to
be another painting associated with Gainsborough in
the Tate collection. This is a small oil
landscape of a generic and idealized countryside purchased
acquired by the Tate in 1958. Waterhouse did consider this to be a
securely a shifted work of about 1770. When the painting was
examined, conserved, cleaned, and researched on arrival at the
Tate the curators were less sure. Technical and formal observations
by Martin Davis the sitting curator of the National Gallery looking
after the British pictures recorded and notes kept helpfully on
file questioning attribution mainly around he was very
bothered by the sheep. Didn’t think the sheep
were very good. These kinds of blobs of sheep
rather than very convincing sheep and the construction of the
tree-trunks you should see to the left there and to the right
that didn’t quite ring true. It was designated manner of and
it remains so to this time and John Hayes in the 1980
catalog of the landscapes refers to it as perhaps the most deceptively
close to Gainsborough style and technique of the many imitations
and pastiches against his work. A meter inquiry a few months ago
opened up the question again on the basis of
our file records, our examination of the work
and several conversations, the question of attribution
was though left unresolved. The picture appeared I’m
told only fleetingly, in an episode of the popular
TV program Fake or Fortune. I’ve not watched it but I’m
told somebody reported that it’s seen on
the racks briefly. There is clearly more work which
could be done about this picture. The third work is a picture that
we were able to acquire years ago, a pastel initially identified as a John
Russell of an unidentified sitter. Having taken an interest in the purchase
of this work we pursued research into the identity and a sequence
of events I can’t fully recall it. In quick succession we widened our
checking of the mounts at the wit, we asked Neil Jeffares if
he recognized the painting, the pastel and heard from the vendor
with the same result that the work was, in fact, to be identified as Ozias
Humphry and had once been sold as such identified as an
African Prince in 1909. From that point we were able
to then take further work drawing out compelling technical
and formal resemblances between this work and
documented Humphrys and filled out the
ownership history taking it back to Humphry’s
illegitimate son William Upcott and we also re-identified the past
as a portrait at the running footmen at the Dutch ambassador in exile in
London in the 1790’s Baron Von Nagel and this work is now on
the wall at Tate Britain. Happy ending. Now in each case, there
are things which happened which you might call connoisseurship
and that they involve judgments based on visual experience
and technical understanding rather than documentary data because
there are arguably questions of tastes and value and play, but would also be perfectly possible
to describe each of these episodes without referencing
connoisseurship at all. Indeed, we might observe that
the work of identification, attribution, and evaluation undertaken
here is of a wholly mundane nature. It is everyday work,
nothing to shout about unless you are particularly intent and
claim the limelight for some reason and there are other
things going on. Connoisseurship would allow an
only very partial understanding of any of these works. Going back to Orpin. The question of attribution is clearly
an important and interesting one. It has helped determine
whether this picture has been on display or in store
and it has been in store as far as I can tell since
1958 but is the question of whether this is by hall
or hone or beach or pine, all names among others
that remain in the mix anywhere near is interesting
as the question of how this work could spend 150 years
as one of Gainsborough’s greatest works. That’s the greater issue. Connoisseurship gets
us nowhere near it. It doesn’t allow people to
start thinking about this. In the case of the landscape, I’m sure there is
more work to be done. We have a prominence extending
into the 19th century that there might be that
our state of knowledge about Gainsborough’s technique would allow us a more definitive
view than was possible in the 1950s, but in these straitened times, at least among the
national museums, can we really make
this a priority? Even if we felt able to secure
the attribution to Gainsborough, I’d be inclined to ask
again, “So what?” So what? We will have gained a small [sound cuts off]- We do not have
limitless resources and we do not have
limitless time. We need to make decisions
about what comes first, what we do first, where
we put our time, where we put our money, where we put our resources, and where can I ask the authority
for making those decisions lie, not I would hope anyway for the
makers of Fake or Fortune. Then thirdly, the
Humphry passed on. That bit of work around attribution
and identification adds to our knowledge of the picture, but it does not answer all the questions
which you might properly ask about it. If in another context
we wanted to look at this work as a representation
of a black male servant at the end of the 18th century. How relevant were the questions
that connoisseurship address be? Does it matter that it
dates from the 1790s? Yes. Probably, yes. But it does matter. That is the context of the
revolutionary Dutch campaign against the save trade
status of this. All of that’s important. Does it matter that it’s a
work by Russell or by Humphry? Probably not at all. Perhaps, marginally if we
consider the relative status and cost of works by these
artists at that time. Instead by not addressing the
question of race and representation, we would do the work and
our public a disservice and we would diminish this
work as a work of art. Still, I think there
is hardly anyone who had dispute the basic value of
establishing date and authorship. The question of quality is
perhaps that much more tricky, it can hardly be ignored in a
museum context where wall space and money are limited resources, but what weight you give to that
issue of quality is another matter. Assessing a work as a greater or
lesser art historical significance or greater or lesser visual
interest in the context of a display or
acquisitions planning– Sorry. And is assessing a work as a greater
or lesser value in the context of a display on acquisitions
planning really something that could only be described
as connoisseurship are noted in the
latest art newspaper. Martin Kemp proposes that we don’t
use the word connoisseurship, we talk about judgment by eye because
it allows the practices associated with connoisseurship to
be tied much more closely to technical artistry and
conservation science. He’s suggesting that there’s
a different way of talking which actually brings disciplines
together in a positive way. Then also, why do we need to
believe in the connoisseur as an individual who carries all those
skills in his head or up his sleeve, in the pocket of his pinstripe
suit or at the sleeve of his Gentilly worn cardigan if it’s
the weekend and he’s in the country? Why close ourselves
off from the reality which we see every day working
institutions of collaborative working and shared knowledge? In fact, there is evidence that
we have reached a sort of entente or at least we believe we have, we’ve heard from Stephen, pointing
towards that this morning. The editors of the Sotheby’s Institute
of Art and Authenticity volumes said as much referring back to the
exhibition and a closer look deception and discoveries at the
National Gallery in 2010 where they suggest connoisseurship
and other art historical methods seem happily to
sit side by side. Now, I’m quite certain myself that
this sort of stasis or entente is illusory. I’m less… I’m doubtful as Bendor
perhaps that there’s the potential for this leaven. We’re going to hug each other and you’re
delighted with each other’s opinions. Instead, there is an active and ongoing
struggle for relative authority between the different parties who
operate within the field of art history in the widest sense because
that is how the world works. We could and should be
more explicit about that. However, with all this in mind, we then have to ask why there are
those who would insist on the primacy of the term who want to believe and
want to resuscitate connoisseurship? Beyond that, ask who those people
are and what stakes and investments are involved? This perhaps to push the point, takes us into uncomfortable
territory for it might lead us to do what we don’t do or
at least don’t admit we do when we sit in a room like this and look
forward towards the speaker and say, “Well, who is that speaking? With what authority
do they speak? Where do they come from?” There’s a moment in Mass when
you’re invited to look around, you have to shake
hands with every– I’m not suggesting you
actually shake hands, but you could do that thing which we
don’t do in these academic events because academia and the academic discourse
closes us off in the world supposedly. Which is why we look
around and we say, “Are they wearing a suit? What suit is it? Are they wearing a tie? What sort of shoes
have they got on? What accent are
they speaking with? Where do they come from? How are they educated?” Because that is all part of how we
position ourselves in the world. It’s all part of how we
perform in the world. It’s all part of how
we put in motion, affiliations, and allegiances
which are important because it’s part of what gives us
or takes away from our authority. There is a crude dividing
line, crude but important. A line in the sand perhaps, which marks a point on a spectrum
leading from interest to disinterest, the private to the public. I should be absolutely
clear at this point that I am not saying that someone
active in the commercial world cannot be disinterested, public-spirited,
outright generous. They can be,
unfortunately often are. Nor that someone working
in the public realm, in a public gallery
most obviously, may not have selfish or
commercial interests. They may, but there is a
difference nonetheless. At the end of the day, we have to suspect that connoisseurial
judgments in the commercial realm are made with an eye
to making money, maybe not immediately, maybe
only in a deferred way, maybe only as a result of the
reputational gains which may be made, but that is their motivation
and their reason to exist. If they deny it, then their clients
and investors really should be told. Even putting that to one side, it is absolutely the case
that the disinterestedness, the sense of public duty which may be
espoused by a commercial gallerist is an elective disinterest, an elective sense of
public duty and it matches in a way that I think
should be unsettling, a tradition of a
patrician activity. The disinterest and the sense of public
duty overwork in a public museum is really should be a contractual
obligation is our job. What is at stake right now I think is
much more than the rather slight matters, a rising connection with a particular
practice of connoisseurship that mundane skill set
which is more thinly and irregularly distributed
than was once the case remains a pretty
indisputable value. What is at stake is the relative
of authority of the commercial and public sectors. – We have reached this point, this point of supposed
crisis and renewal. We have reached this
point, less perhaps, because of any decline in standards
or corruption of art history because the economic and political
support for a public art history and art history pursued in
the name of the public, has been so much under attack. I fear that any champions
of connoisseurship are, whatever values
they may espouse, more likely to be part of the
problem than the solution. Thank you. – I also think it’s pretty clear
that you’ve got very different ideas of what art history is- – -and the degree in our
relationship between the discipline and the social practices. I’m just going to
ask you questions. My first question
and we then open, of course, the questions
of the public, is the relationship between
connoisseurship and language. Connoisseurship is the
practice of naming artworks and at the same time
connoisseurs usually are quite, let’s say, they resist the
practice of articulating and verbalizing what they seen. You before said that the
comparison between the two Rubens were self evident and many
other connoisseurs from Bernard Berenson to [?] I think they could say
they usually don’t explain why certain images
look the same. I wanted to know whether you can
elaborate on that and then, Martin, the same
question is to you. Is it a way you redefine connoisseurship
as part of the daily practice of curators and art historians. These involves also the practice
of naming things as part of the research process. I just wanted to know what you both think
about the problematic articulation of what you see in a painting. – Well, it’s a very good point. That is something I tried to
be frank about in my paper that I think all connoisseurs
find it difficult to articulate how that light bulb
comes on in our head. Part of the reason I tried
to stress the importance of one’s track record is that that
seems to be one of the few ways that we can begin to-
because essentially, we have to trust
the connoisseur, we have to trust connoisseurship because
it is so difficult to communicate. It’s a purely
cognitive reaction. Once you stand in front of a picture
and once you try and break it down, it is possible to explain about
brushstrokes and things like that, but it’s never
very satisfactory. Quite often I’d like to focus on the
more obvious signs of originality and spontaneous creativity. Things like pentimenti and the
vigorousness of how something is painted is more easy to convey
than trying to say, “Well, this looks like
how Rubens painted.” I can tell you that
because in my mind, I’m flipping through
my mental rolodex of 20 other Rubens’s from
the same period I’ve seen. Now, give me an hour and I
could probably bring them all up on a screen and show you, but it’s still a
difficult process. – I think the question of the
limits of language and the limits of words as a means of describing
and embodying and responding to works of art, this is was a huge
area for thought. I mentioned Martin Davis’
report 1958 that Gainsborough landscape which is very detailed and saying there’s something
wrong with the painting here, something wrong with
the painting here, but he ends up saying, “We have found it somewhat
difficult to put down in writing, points who should probably be obvious
to a person looking at the picture.” That is the scene
of connoisseurship, as it were, that
without documentation or without being able to
translate into words, really, there is just
something which is wrong. I don’t know. It’s such a big topic. I don’t think it’s easy to take a position
on that other than saying oh it’s all about subjectivity. This clearly isn’t just about
subjectivity, but it is about risk. That brings in an issue of risk and
it brings in an issue of authority. The question then
becomes, will you, as the person responsible
for that painting, whether it’s as a buyer, or
a seller or as a custodian, will you take the risk of working
with one opinion or another? I think there is an inequality
between different fields about the level of risk
that you’re able to take. I’d say in a public museum, that
we’re much less ready to take risk. As I said, it does also bring in
that question of relative authority; who is going to make that judgment
and what stakes and investments are involved in that judgment. I guess one of the things that
the new artistry training of the ’80s and ’90s did, to pass a whole
generation of scholars, is raise the question of whether
the pursuit of pure disinterest and their purely disinterested the
academic and practice is even feasible. – A reminder, slightly, of
Churchill’s comment on democracy. He said it’s the worst
form of government, did you consider all
the alternatives? You could probably say the
same that connoisseurship. It’s the worst form for
attributing paintings until you look at the
other ways of doing it. – Thanks. I’m asking the questions about
language because it seems to me that we moved away from, they say, a moral inspired connoisseurship
just look at brush works outlines, earlobes, and hair to another
form of connoisseurship that tries to unearthen the sort of
presentational, compositional schemes. Try to enters into the
minds of the painter, and try understand why he or she would
have made those particular choices, including those attributes thinking about
the architectural framework and so on. That’s why language becomes
particularly difficult. Roberto Longhi in the ’30s already was talking
about representational facts. It was talking about the fact
that he could see connections between paintings even if the
style was very different, the brushwork, I mean, and mostly
because the brush work sometimes is also subject to
issues of functions. An artist can change the style, the brush works of whether he’s aiming
at a higher or lower audience and so on. The issues of language of how to
articulate these invisible forms, not just brush words becomes
a particular important one. – Well, the composition can only take
you to a copy or a studio version. It can’t take you
to the real thing. To determine whether
something is by the master you need to examine their
application of the paint, that’s the only way to do. – I think the other
thing you might do is go back to point that
Annie made earlier on, which is to distinguish between
attribution and connoisseurship. It seems to me that their component
parts and what I’ve perhaps suggested or try to suggest in
my comments there, is that the component parts of
what makes up connoisseurship, you could pick a part and call
them another things; attribution, authentification,
sitter identification, all those other things that
you do which get clustered under the term connoisseurhip. What connoisseurship seems to
represent is not those skills, not those activities, not
those things that we do, but rather a set of
values which gloss over and connect those activities
in a Marxist sense, mystifying gesture. -Other questions
from the public? -Micheal Daley from ArtWatch. Can I say I feel like a dog
between two bones here, both of the talks were, for me, immensely interesting. I left art school in 1968 and
went on to the new left. I never expected when I set
off to come here today that the class war would be
so alive and so proactive. – I’m not wearing a cardigan. – That was you,
isn’t it perhaps? – There should be such dissension and
such antipathies within the art world. The notion of connoisseurship, it seems to be seen with a
certain distaste in one sector of the art world and which is
suspicious of the other sector. The distinction between the art
trade and the museum world or the academic world is
essentially misplaced and bogus. From the perspective
of an artist and I think there are no
artists speaking today, everybody is in the art trade, in the art business, whether there are
academics, or curators or dealers. The really interesting question is
to what extent should the interests of social theory and class
warfare or whatever, impinge on our understanding
and appreciation of art? Bendor Grosvenor, it was absolutely
correct to say that you can distinguish, you can tell the difference
of one thing from another. The quarrel that I would have Mr.
Grosvenor, is that he’s leaving out one
of the biggest distinctions or as just finally addressed it in
the case of the Sistine ceiling. The differences between restored
works and not restored works can be as great in terms of
appearance as the differences between this member of a
studio and another member. There are lots of things that are not
being addressed but the essential point, that it matters to be able to
tell one thing from another, I think, is indisputable. It can’t be gainsaid. Anybody who has ever taught in an
art school knows that you learn to distinguish very quickly which student
did which work in a large group. You do that within weeks. Students don’t have to sign their
works, you recognize them all. People in the business do have
this ability to tell one thing from another and it does matter, I would suggest. I think it matters rather more than
social theories, which come and go. -Martin? – I don’t disagree. I think in the course
of my commentary, I did say and there’s
the central point, no matter how we state it is, I think you would find it really
hard now to find somebody, anybody who would absolutely come out
and say questions of attribution, sitter identification and dating do not
matter in the practice of art history. We could probably
imagine certain sorts of imaginative artists oracle practice
where those things don’t matter, which is much more to do with the response
or aesthetic responses or so forth. That’s a pretty kind
of marginal area. I think what I would observe based
through my own training experience is that the idea that people have
never been looking at pictures for the last 30 years or the idea
that there’s this vast chasm between art history as it’s practiced
in museums and in the Academy and the commercial sector, I just don’t recognize it. I think making the point
that this is vast chasm becomes itself very politicized
and I think is made, I just am not sure where it’s
coming from a lot of the time. – What was the nature [?] you seem
to be making the pain to make throughout your talk? You seem to be talking about
disinterestedness on the one hand and social relevance
on the other. Wasn’t that the the
gist of your paper? – No, I don’t think so. – I’m sorry. – No, I’m sorry. No disinterest– I can’t say it now. Disinterest is the quality
of the judge, right. Whether a judgment is made out
of a sense of public duty and a sense of disinterest or whether
it’s made in a marketplace context and that’s the distinction that
has drawn between the public and the private between the
interests and disinterested. – What does that reside in? In the commercial sector you can
say dealers have gotten interest and they can turn the penny. Curators have interest. They can build
their reputations, they can jet around the world. What’s the force of the
distinction in real terms, in the real world? – The force is, and
I did say that. I think it’d be kind of Utopian
to imagine that museums and academic departments don’t involve
questions of personal preferment and development or so forth. At the end of the
day, we are obliged, it’s written in law in terms
of freedom of information, in terms of our obligations
and our duties to act in the public service and that’s
not true in the commercial realm. They may choose to but
they do so electively. That is a distinction that elective
disinterest is a complicated idea. -Erm, yes, there was a question here. – What I was fascinated
by was, actually Martin, you answered a mass of questions that I
was going to ask the previous speaker. Which surely in the
world in which we live which everybody wants a return
on the money that they put in, you have the benefit, Bendor, of being
able to spend, you have a sixth-sense. I’m not saying that in the public
sector they don’t have a sixth sense as well but you have the luxury of
time and funding to investigate much more deeply rather than the
unit- I’m sorry on private funding rather than the
public funded Museum. Which has to answer to
many, many criteria. I would just suggest that there
is a place for it everywhere. A sixth sense is something that
also you may have initially but you develop it by constantly
looking infinitely deeply at one specific thing which in the
public sector they do not have. I don’t know whether
other people agree but I just think that’s the
division between the two that you probably will get a better return
on your money from the public sector, – I’m not really
sure what to say. On the time question, certainly, I have the luxury of being able to
spend weeks on one painting hen I don’t at all blame colleagues
in auction houses or museums who are not getting
things right all the time because they have so little
time to look at each picture. I recognize I have a
luxury in that regard. However, I don’t think that
should preclude museums from taking a keen interest and almost
that public duty is more overriding to correctly inform the public of the
pictures in the National collection. It doesn’t necessarily need
to be the work of weeks and weeks to
recognize a picture. – They just don’t
have the staff. – Well I don’t know
if it’s necessary. There are staff issues of course but
just to pick the Tate’s example and the Tate Britain didn’t
help herself recently by losing in unfortunate
circumstances experts on two of our leading
British painters. It seems to me, I mean maybe I’m
thinking in in a slightly OCD way of trying to order the world and
say we must know who did this and who did that but I think
is an overriding public duty to inform the public
of what they own. Particularly as I say we don’t
have in this country a sessioning but that is one case where
it can go horribly wrong if we don’t take care to
know what we do have. -There was a question
here in the front. – My name is Fergus Hall, I’m a
dealer in cardigan carrying, would be connoisseur
I’m certainly trying. I’m fallible as I
think we all are. A couple of points I wanted
to raise with the panel. I suppose in terms of the
financial interest of a dealer, I suppose that that clearly there is
a financial interest for a dealer but I think it’s important to say that
dealers rarely sell off major works without having a further and it’s
there’s independent expert opinion. I think it’s a bit of a red herring
to the current discussion. Although perhaps maybe the
difference between an art dealer and a museum curators a bit like
the difference between a chicken and an egg in a bacon
and egg breakfast. The chicken is interested
but the pig is committed. That is to say that there’s
quite substantial penalties for being wrong as a dealer. That is to say the ultimate sanction being
that you go bust and you disappear. There’s a certain
Darwinian process by which bust dealers
stop being problematic because they already have gone
under and good dealers survive because you have
to be quite good. The other point I wanted to make is
because I’ve got a lot of sympathy, Martin, even though I think I’m on the polar
opposite in my heart with your point. I do agree with you that the connoisseurship
doesn’t need to be mystical. I think the key point there is it
I believe conduct connoisseurship is ultimately a banal skill but like
running 100 meters in 9 seconds is a banal skill but not
many people can do it. I think it’s like anything else. You’ve got to have some certain natural
ability and you’ve got to work at it. If I train 10 hours a day
and was 20 years younger, I still wouldn’t be able to run
at 100 metres in 10 seconds. Some people are good at it and
some people are less good, that’s just life in which any skill
set one can possibly imagine. I think it’s ultimately
about empiricism. It’s about natural ability and working
at it and the working at it bit is really about empiricism. The blink instinct which Bendor
talks about and he’s right, it’s so often it is a blink, it’s a sort of yes I know
it is by blogs but often and this hasn’t
been talked about, it’s not always a blink because
sometimes you’ve got an early work so it’s juvenilia, he doesn’t he hasn’t become
himself yet or it’s a late work where he’s either
deteriorated or got better. His eyesight might be bad, he might
be painting with his fingers, what have you. In which case so the middle period
picture that’s a good quality, good condition is
an easy blink issue but there’s a lot of
issues around early works, late works and poor
condition works where you have to use what
Daniel Kahneman discusses. He’s wrote a seminal
book called Thinking, Fast and Slow. He’s a Nobel Prize winner. I think connoisseurship
is just like that. Your series one thinking is the blink
instinct and your series two thinking is engaging analysis. What you’re quite rightly talking
about about breaking it down because quite a lot
of it objective. Before I must forget, I must finish this rant but just as
a fellow van Dyk and Rubens lover, along with Bendor,
to give an example, a lot of confusion is arising
around early works and distinctions between van Dyk and Rubens but a lot of
it can be unpicked in an objective way, not purely subjective. I think the muscular connoisseurship
is the marriage of the objective and the subjective. To take van Dyk and Rubens, the objective would be to say because I tend to highly agree with
Bendor’s comment about the the portrait of a van Dyck is
clearly by Rubens, is Rubens is hotter and wetter and
smoother than the young van Dyk. Van Dyk liked texture. He normally painted
on canvas or paper. Rubens painted on panel. Rubens’ palette is hotter and it
is wetter and van Dyk’s drier. A lot of these issues, once you know those
objective assessments, a lot of the confusion that’s recently
arisen seems entirely unnecessary. Over here, I shall– Actually, I would like
to intervene now. I think considering
connoisseurship and the training of the eye as a
natural activity like running, may be a little bit dangerous
because if you follow the debate between connoisseurship
about Chinese paintings, the Western and Eastern
scholars completely disagree because they look and
describe and define artworks in completely different ways. They can’t agree on basic
connoisseurial issues. It seems to me that these
distinctions that you make between subjective and
objective’s is an important one, but something that has not
been very well articulated. It’s very difficult to understand
besides the technical aspects like whether it works on panel
or use the oil as a binder, and try to be quite
as sophisticated when it gets to the subjective
qualities of art work. – It is ultimately empiricism. Ultimately, you say people
disagree and of course they do, but it ought to be possible to come
to a sensible consensus on the basis, ultimately, of empiricism. – I think we have also witnessed
some scholars working on the idea of objectivity where
they found that even the notions of objectivity is
culturally related. For me, it’s becoming difficult
to accept an idea of objectivity and empiricism that is defined
solid and unchanging. What do you think? – I’m actually hugely sympathetic
of what you said there and thank you for refining and adding
to what was clearly [?] points in the context of
my own commentary. I suppose that one of the
points I was trying to make and which I would return to now, is that slow thinking and quick
thinking in the blink of the eye, I kind of understand all that. That question of who has those
skills and demystifying them but acknowledging that they do
build up and that some people are better than others, absolutely in sympathy of that. Absolutely right. There’s a couple of questions
arising with that. One, which is who gets the
opportunity to make those judgments and what weight is given
to those judgments. It isn’t just to do with
whether it’s a van Dyk or not or whether it’s a
Gainsborough not, there are all sorts of other
forces which get involved there. We need to be aware
of those forces. It’s not to say we don’t
make those judgments, it’s just where the force is in play so
we understand where those judgments sit within a larger world
that we’re all living in. That’s one thing. Then secondly, yes, we
can apply slow thinking, quick thinking, blink, stare and decide whether a painting
is by one artist or another but there are other questions you
can ask about that same painting where that question of attribution
may possibly not be as important. It is an end to itself. It is very important and I think
almost everybody’s going to say it’s important but what
weight do you give to it and what end do you see it working towards
is a slightly different question. – Thank you. – Not much more to add,
really, just that as I said, we are in danger of losing that. Although we now seem to be all
agreeing it is a good thing but we’re in danger of losing
that fundamental foundation because not enough students are currently
practicing it being taught it. – Following actually this point, what do you think about this and
extra forces you were talking about, both of you, which is this sort of
cultural baggage it affected our eye? Is that somehow depended on a social
phenomenon and it’s culturally trained? – There’s a great thing
called scopophilia. Has anyone heard of scopophilia? Critics of connoisseurship
came up with this one, which is apparently the practice
of looking at a painting from the subjective male
point of view and judging it saying this woman is not
pretty enough in this picture. It was a great stick to
beat connoisseurship with if you could give it
to philia and everyone, of course, would, “Oh my God,
pedophilia, scopophilia– ” and all that kind of thing. Yes, some people quite determined
to to be to connoisseurship from that point of view. -My response to that would be, is baggage the right term? Baggage suggests there is
a pure instinctive eye which is then loaded with something
which is exterior to it, which is the world. Whereas, actually, [?] instruction,
really [?]- [crosstalk] –how far our eyes already made. In contemporary debates
about whether this painting is by this artist or another, we can put that to one side. We can deal with that when we’re
talking about the 17th century or the 18th century, but then actually dealing with it
in terms of a reflexive practice is a bigger challenge but
it is also important because it has real
ramifications as well. – I do wish we’d all get a little
bit less angsty about things. [?] we’d love to wring our hands
and say, “What about this? What about that?” I think we should all just relax a bit
and not be so worried about values and class what jumpers or
cardigans we’re wearing. Just focus on the objective. As Fergus said it’s
all about empiricism. Let’s go back to looking straight
at the painting and closer. – Of course, you’re
espousing a position which portrays your
own position in that. -I like the idea of relaxing but the
same time we cannot be naive about– Other questions. They are many. There’s one there
just behind you. Yes. – Hello, I’m Pat Hardy
from the Museum of London, creator of paintings,
prints and drawings. Given the comment that
was made, I think, in the first talk about the the
now primacy of the visitor and the audience experience, I just wondered what our two
speakers thought about that and the importance of
attribution/connoisseurship on the display of pictures in galleries in
permanent displays and exhibitions? – Not withstanding
present company, I was a little bit critical of
the Tate’s much-vaunted rehang because I thought just having
a label which says this is by so-and-so and all
this isn’t enough. I will stick in the mud. I think it’s not that the
public’s reaction to a picture is not more important
than what the picture is, what the picture can
tell the public. I don’t believe that at all and I
don’t believe that most people go to museums to have some kind of Alain
de Botton-esque art therapy moment. I think most people go because
they want to be informed. [?] principles, perhaps. There’s a picture by Kneller
in the Tate rehang, which is painted in German before he
came here and it’s a religious subject. Someone going along to
the British hang of Tate might think that it’s an important
part of British art history, but was painted before
he ever got here and because the label
doesn’t say anything about that you’re left
slightly in the dark. – The question of those
elements of a work which might come in at
adding connoisseurships have you about dating
and identification. That is even when we strip
out as much interpretation as possible that still remains
a thing which we provide. Again, there’s the
assumption, the expectation, that any visitor needs that as a
hook, as a point point of reference. I think that’s
terribly important. I suppose that there is a
question which I don’t know- and other people who have
addressed this through displays and through curatorial work. There’s a question of
what I’m referring to is mundane everyday curatorial
work actually can communicate in that better to [?] because
maybe it’s more interesting when we think of this actually. I’ve taken the opportunity
to communicate and relay that might be something that
we collectively could do more of. – I suppose it just begs the
question when we’ve been talking about curatorial resources and shouldn’t
therefore we be devoting more time to that if that’s what the
expectation of the public is that they need to know
what every art work is. – Yes. – There was a piece of work
which is I don’t think portraying anything but there’s been a piece of research on
the use of online resources of Tate, which I was reading
through days ago. It turns out that most people visit the
collection website in order to find out information about works of
art and what they want, pictures and more information about
the pictures in the collection which is quite
heartening, isn’t it? – Thank you. My name is Susan Willis and what I’m
hearing in this wonderful morning is that we need to pay attention
to what Steven was referring to, which was this subject of collaboration
because we have great knowledge and great skill in curators and great
knowledge and skill in dealers. Everybody has the same vested
interest to help the public love art, live art, appreciate
art, buy art, collect art, give
it back to museums, let the public’s share it,
understand it and love it. If there’s some way for people in
different fields of art to work together on projects or exhibitions, it’d be a wonderful
thing for everybody. – Yes, I agree wholeheartedly. That’s why I think we should
have and this conference is one of Martin’s post-match
shaking hand moments, so well done to Mark and
Martin for for putting it on. I would just point out one specific
thing and I don’t mean to pick on Tate, sorry Martin. -I’ve gotten used to it – [laughs] It’s Tate policy at the
moment not to endorse or comment on attributions and pictures brought
to them by members of the public or people in the trade. They came to that conclusion. I don’t know, I suppose I can’t speak for them but for
fear of being involved in filthy lucre. Now other museums, National Portrait Gallery and the
National Gallery don’t have that policy. It seems a shame to me the
leading repository of knowledge of English paintings
in this country, British paintings, refuses to comment
publicly on new discoveries. I think that should
be readdressed. – Clementine Kerr, Christie’s. I was actually about
to raise myself. Thank you, Bendor. I wants to ask Martin if he
could comment on that policy. My experience, certainly, is that
curators are equally frustrated, some of them, that they’re not able
to talk openly with auction houses and dealers about their opinion. It’s seems to be
mutually beneficial. We contact experts to
ask about pictures that aren’t necessarily going
to come to the market. They might be remaining
in private collections and it’s a wonderful opportunity for
them to see a wealth of pictures when they’re dealing
with a fixed collection. Actually, in other cases, I contacted the curator
about a picture which has ended up in
a public collection. She was frustrated that she was
told- I think there had just been an extra drive that curators really
shouldn’t be speaking to auction houses. She said if she had just had the
opportunity to work on this picture a bit, she would’ve been able to establish
quite how important it was. She said that she would actually
requested that this be something that Tate acquire, which they then didn’t have
the opportunity to do. I’d love to know the
rationale behind it. – I don’t know I can comment
on a Tate policy issue and what kind of brief to
represent Tate in this context, but I would say more generally, I suppose there’s two
things in response to that. One, which is the question of risk
again and public institutions are risk averse and generally risk
averse and many of their activities and need to be. Because if you get it wrong then it
was public money and public time which is being spent. There is an authority which comes
with an institution almost regardless of who is actually populating that
institution and what kind of cardigans they wear and and so forth. There’s that question of risk which I am sure it’s part along
with their commercial question is part of any thinking
behind that broad policy. That’s one thing I would certainly
say in response to that. Secondly, and this is
a very general point, it’s not to say they can in reference to
that particular policy strictly defined. I’m feeling that maybe I’m
just getting old and- – Martin, you look great. – I’m not the young man anymore. There’s a slight sense that there’s
a language of public service and the language of public duty, which we’re at risk of losing
among national museums and at risk of loosing
in the public sector, mainly in reference to in commercial
activity and economic pressures that are on us and the need to undertake income-generating
activity and rationalize ourselves in that way. Also in funny way because
the language around access. As you might imagine, many of the principles of access in
New Zealand’s which I hold very dear and I’ve been inculcated
into my way of thinking. There’s a fixity or numbers
and on mass audiences, which perhaps has arguably risen to
the fore and at the expense of some, perhaps rather old fashioned
sense of duty and public service that we’re very public facing and
quite rightly very public facing. There are other things which need
to sit alongside of that as well. – There was another
question in the back. – Is this is in
response to this? Well Martin you would be well placed to comment on this actually – I would spend eight or nine years taking
[?] to give opinions [?] what I did. In terms of connoisseurship or
attribution and an incredible managed by the fact that I was able to answer
questions see objects whether they were privately owned or belonged to a dealer. That, in a sense, helped
me build up my databank. I still do it now today and that makes
sense because I’m allowed to do it. I think my world would be visually
and intellectually impaired for curious curators to have that
and also to be able to get opinions or to ask opinions as well
from the trade, I think that’s important to stress. There are dealers, people
who work in auction houses, who have that expertise. I would be very happy as a curator
to have someone from the trade to come in and talk
to me about a work of art from a collection if they were best qualified to do so. But that’s just my opinion. [laughs]. – Thanks. – Splendid. – Hi, my name’s Charlotte Woodhead from
the University of Warwick. I’m coming from completely
different point of view because my research is actually in
the law to do with art and heritage. The thing that struck me, really, was the theme of authority
and that you were talking about and who has the authority
to make these decisions. I think it links very closely with
this idea of public duty as well and recognizing the need
to correctly identify particular works for the
public benefit as a whole. I think it also links as well to private
individuals who own works as well. I wonder whether you had any thoughts
in terms of the authentication boards and those people whose approval
you have authentication you need before you can
actually sell the work of art. The fact that views may change
over time and so really, it’s that idea about
the link but only to the public benefit
of identifying works, but also to the fact that
it can have on individuals and linking that back to authority
instead of sorting that out. Whilst in the UK there’s not the same
problem of sending your painting off to another authentication board
and it may be destroyed. There are issues that
may arise and I wonder whether you had any
thoughts on that. – Maybe Bendor has. Umm -Well, I do get very anxious
about authentication boards, actually, because it’s slightly test
and what Martin was saying earlier about who we can trust. The authentication bodies boards lead
to restriction of connoisseurship and understanding and expertise
because they become quite quickly, little fortresses and who have
to guard their reputation. In some cases, especially
with modern artists, they have to guard
their own stock, their own inventory. The article that Martin mentioned by
Martin Kemp in the art newspapers that he’s busy it seems, and I know others are as well, of trying to come up with some
structure for authentication and we can tick a box. Once we’ve ticked the three or four boxes
we can decree a work to be by Rubens. I would resist that very strongly
because I think we should try and collaborate as much as possible
and have Martin’s view of the Mellon Centre and Martin’s view of the Tate and
Christopher Brown at the Ashmolean and everybody should be able to
contribute to an authentication. – Your question. Yes. I think we’ve got time. The microphone, please. – This is related to an earlier
point in the discussion but I think it
actually comes back. Many people have described
the connoisseural skills as something banal every day. I agree with the point
about demystification and actually there is a
wonderful tradition, English tradition, going
back to Jonathan Richardson at the beginning of
the 18th century. He was very keen on the idea
that people could learn to be good connoisseurs and I
certainly agree with that as a person in education. Having said that, I don’t want to
undersell the very interesting things that could lead to thereafter. It seems to me,
Martin, your talk, I would read your first
example rather differently, you said rightly, I think that the
question of why people accepted that portrait is a
Gainsborough for 150 years is an absolutely
fascinating question. Although maybe the question
of who else it might be by is also quite an
interesting question. Wouldn’t we need some skills
of the kind that I don’t know, you call it the judgment of the eye
or you could call it connoisseurship or whatever you want to call it but
you need some skills of that kind in order to address that kind
of question wouldn’t you? – Yes. Because then there was
a question of judgment of what were they
actually seeing. [?] kind of period on as well and thinking about what is what we see
now what they saw 1900 or in 1867. Brian is jumping out of his chair. – One of the reasons that
it remained in Gainsborough for such a long time is because
we knew nothing about [?]. For what it’s worth, [?] and
I say that because I say it. – I’ll note that for the [?]. – You could say I’ve got no authority
to say that because authority is a word that we fear. We live in a world of
anarchy of the Internet and so it makes it even harder for
anybody to claim to have authority. It is loaded with all the things
you say and I accept that. It’s precisely because no one
bothered to look at all the aspect around Gainsborough and what
the early catalogs have done, everything goes thrown in the
part by the major artist. Until you unravel that, this is exactly what Ben has
been talking about this and that needs to be done still
but no one wants to do it anymore because it’s discouraged, it seems a lesser species of
history and so on and so forth. I merely made an observation on
that one particular picture, I could say things about the third
picture as well since we sold it to you but I won’t. – Maybe over lunch. – We’re running a bit over time
but there are two questions that you perhaps can
give them quick. – Yes. Martin, I hugely enjoyed your paper
and I think you’re absolutely right to call into question the
disinterestedness of certain portions of the trade. I sort of want to pose a general
question which as a member of the trade, I would be extremely nervous
to see the authority of attribution entirely resting in
individual members of the trade. I therefore think that the Academy
and museums have a responsibility to retain a degree of authority to be able to have the final say on
works of art and on their attribution. Therefore is part, and it’s something
we should be asking ourselves, is how do the Academy and museums take
some of this responsibility back. – I’m not going to answer that. I think it’s actually the right
question to be asking at this juncture. It’s a very good question. When I said at the
beginning I said yes, there’s the connoisseur and
connoisseurship and some people when they talk about
[?] decline, fine. I sense there’s something else going
on as well and I think that shift in authority, the shift in resources and the question
what kind of resource and time and application is perhaps what’s sitting
into the surface of this debate. Not withstanding the merits of
the debate on its own terms. I think it is it is to do with
where does authority lie and where judgments get
scrutinized and assessed. The slippage there between
connoisseurship is a set of practices which could be broken down
and probably into elements, maybe not as mechanistically
as some people would push for but it can break them down
into certain elements. The connoisseur as a figure
and I think would be careful to distinguish between them. The advocacy of the qualities
of connoisseurship ends up a bit too quickly
also being an advocacy of a certain kind of
character or caricature. – There is the last question. – Thank you. My name is Jos Hackforth-Jones and
I’m based at Sotheby’s Institute and I really want to reinforce
what the last few questioners have been saying and that is that
while I think connoisseurship might be the wrong
word of educating, I can’t overstate what I think is the
significance of educating the eye in the Academy. What part of what we do in some of
our MAs is what we call the object based approach as indeed do Christie’s
education and the court hold. I think what I’m a
little bit uncomfortable with is hearing this sense from
experts that knowing the authorship of a work is something that can
be done in the blink of an eye because educating art historians
in this field is a time consuming and serious process. We find, for instance, in our
MA in fine and decorative art, that the students are intensively
exposed to the artwork with the front of the back of
the artwork to conservation, to scientific processes to thinking
about fakes and forgeries. It takes a long time to
build up this expertise. One of the things that
always interests me is that when students move to an extended
piece of writing like a dissertation, that they then don’t
trust their eye, that very often they move
into their comfort zone which is probably doing something
more conventionally art historical. I guess what I wanted to do was
just make a very strong case for educating the eye as part of the
broader approach within the Academy that works alongside other art
historical methodologies. – Very briefly. It’s Annie [?] again. You didn’t tell us if I could have
one more question before lunch but I’d just like to mention something
else which I think is very important. We’ve been talking about the
trade versus the museum as if it is a kind of versus. One needs to think back to
the time when even in [?] actually did a joint catalog
with Martin Butler from the Tate and think how much scholarship in
general and the wider cultural context of that has benefited
from that Turner catalog. Also what I wanted to say is
that when I trained at the Tate and learnt about constables, it is notoriously difficult
in terms of connoisseurship, I was enabled to learn a lot by
seeing pictures were brought in by the trade as well. I mentioned this because now I
no longer work at the Tate, I am called on for that
expertise which was, in effect, a publicly funded investment
in a member of staff. I’m now giving back in the
widest sense especially to public bodies like the Heritage
Fund indeed if I may add, the art font to at the moment have a
particular case that hinges on attribution, it’s entirely
confidential of course. I think it’s terribly
important that we understand that if we can all work
together and pool our skills, it ends up going back
in for the public good. If these objects acquired with public
money or money raised through charities, then the public benefit again. It is a whole system that goes
around in a very beneficial circle. – Yes. I did restrain myself
very much in my paper by not showing any
personal discoveries but if I can have a boast that my
proudest moment was finding a van Dyk in the store room at
the Bowes Museum, which had been overlooked
for centuries. Now, it’s the, I think, one of the most
visited pictures. – I’m sorry we
have to cut there. It’s time for lunch. We’re already running over time. Please join me to thank [?]. -I suppose we convene
again in one hour.

Reynold King

5 Replies to “Session 2: The Educated Eye? Connoisseurship Now”

  1. Bernard Berenson kept coming to mind.

    all occupational practitioners sort [overlappingly] into blinkers, plodders, and …. quacks. Bias comes from the need for a monopoly on merit/virtue.

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