Posts Tagged ‘Arthur Wheelock’

Another New Vermeer?

June 9th, 2014
Saint Praxedis, Vermeer (?)
A copy (left) of the Saint Praxedis (right) by Felice Ficherelli hung together in Rome, 2012

On June 6, Christie’s announced that it was declaring the Saint Praxedis a Vermeer. According to Henry Pettifer, the head of Old Master paintings at Christie’s, after isotope analysis tests carried out by scientists at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and Free University, it was found that the lead-white of the painting was a precise match for that used in another early Vermeer, Diana and her Companions— “So precise as to suggest that the same batch of paint could have been used.” He stated that the research, including an analysis of the date and signature on the painting, amounted to “a compelling endorsement” of Vermeer’s authorship. In the event that the painting is accepted by art scholars as an authentic Vermeer, it will become the second once-doubted painting in ten years to be accepted into the painter’s thin oeuvre largely on the basis of technical analysis.

The auction house excepts the work could fetch about $13 million when it is auction in early July. The work is part of the collection of Barbara Piasecka Johnson, a Polish-born art-lover who amassed a huge trove of art after marrying Johnson & Johnson heir J. Seward Johnson. Piasecka died last year.

Auction
Old Master & British Paintings Evening Sale
Christie’s
8 King Street, St. James’s, London
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
at 6:00 pm

viewings:
Saturday, July 5 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
Sunday, July 6 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
Monday, July 7 9:00 am -4:30 pm
Yuesday, July 8 9:00 am – 3:30 pm

Click here to access the Christie’s PDF online catalogue entry for the Saint Praxedis which contains further art historical and technical information.

The Painting

The painting is believed to be a copy of a work by Felice Ficherelli (1605 – 1669 ?) from about 1640–45, now in the Collection Fergmani in Ferrara. It represents the early Roman martyr, Saint Praxedis or Praxedes, who squeezes a martyr’s blood from a sponge into an ornate vessel. The most obvious difference between the copy and the original is that there is no crucifix in the Ferrara work.

Critical Fortunes

The painting’s provenance before the mid-twentieth century is unknown. The collector Jacob Reder bought it at a minor auction house in New York in 1943. The painting was first publically viewed in 1969 when it was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a work by Felice Ficherelli in the exhibition Florentine Baroque Art from American Collections, no. 39. Vermeer’s signature in the lower left was noted in the catalogue after it had been examined by Ted Rousseau and members of the conservation department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

After the work appeared in New York exhibition, it was first published (1969) as a Vermeer by Michael Kitson, an art historian with the University of London. Kitson believed the signature was integral with the paint surface and “the form of the signature corresponds exactly to those on Vermeer’s early works, particularly the Maid Asleep.” Kitson likened the Saint Praxedis copy to Vermeer’s Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, for its “breadth of form and handling and a similar gravity (though not sickness) of mood.”*

In 1986, Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. enthusiastically embraced the work as an authentic Vermeer** the citing the stylistic and technical similarities with the two early Vermeers and the essentially Dutch character of the modeling of Saint Praxedis’ face, which he compared to the down turned head of Vermeer’s a Maid Asleep. Wheelock noted two signatures. One, at the lower left was the name “Meer ”and the date “1655.” On the suggestion of Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann, Wheelock advanced that the other inscription contained the word “Meer,” followed by the letter “N,” the letter “R,” then two lower case “o’s.” Wheelock holds that both the signatures and the date are integral to the paint surface and that the second could be interpreted as: “[Ver]Meer N[aar] R[ip] o [s] o” or “Vermeer after Riposo,” Ficherelli’s Italian nickname (Repose).

However, on the occasion of the 1994-1995 Vermeer Washington/The Hague exhibition where the work was shown by Wheelock as the earliest known painting by Vermeer, its authenticity was seriously contested by a number of art historians and conservators. Jørgen Wadum, then the chief curator of the Mauritshuis, firmly stated that the “Meer 1655” inscription had been added after the painting had been completed. Contrary to Wheelock, he believed the brushwork of Saint Praxedis had nothing to do with the brushwork of either the Diana and her Companions or the Christ in the House of Mary and Martha. He also noted that no smalt smalt, a dull blue pigment which is now obsolete, had been detected in the Saint Praxedis while both the Christ in the House of Mary and Martha and the Diana and her Companions had significant amounts of smalt.

When Saint Praxedis was examined by Marten Jan Bok, a specialist on the 17th-century Utrecht painter Johannes van der Meer, he was unable even to see the second inscription, and in any case, he wrote “nowhere in 17th-century Dutch painting will you find such an inscription on a copied painting.”

Ben Broos found that Wheelock’s interpretation of the signature as “Meer naar Riposo” was “wishful thinking” at best. “In my opinion, Saint Praxedis is the latest wrongly attributed Vermeer of the caliber of Van der Laan and Vrel.” Other experts such as Albert Blankert, Gregor J. M. Weber, and the National Gallery in London’s Christopher Brown have arrived at similar conclusions.

In 2002,  Jon Boone wrote, “In looking at Saint Praxedis one does have a hard time understanding its attribution to Vermeer. It is a second-rate copy of a mediocre painting by an undistinguished artist, with certain features—such as the awkward wrap-around hands—antithetical to Vermeer’s sensibility as well as his draftsmanship. While the face itself is beautiful, certainly more charming than that of the original, it is still a facsimile face, a close copy of the source.” And further: “The Saint Praxedis attribution is severely strained, failing the standard of Ockham’s razor: The simplest explanation covering all the facts of the case is that the painting is a copy executed either by the original painter, Ficherelli, in Florence, or by another artist in Ficherelli’s circle.”***

In fact, there is no evidence that Vermeer had ever visited Italy or that the Ficherelli’s original, or an eventual copy, had ever traveled outside the country.

Ivan Gaskell had written earlier “that as a result of, first, examining the painting while exhibited in Washington (scarcely optimal conditions) in conjunction with Vermeer’s two early history paintings, secondly, of discussing the work with specialist colleagues, and, thirdly, reviewing the published arguments, I feel unable to accept an unqualified attribution of Saint Praxedis to Vermeer.”

In his 2008 complete catalogue of Vermeer’s painting, Walter Liedtke does not even mention the Saint Praxedis, while in 2009 he wrote “the repetition is probably by the Florentine painter [Fichherelli] himself.”****

* KITSON, Michael. “Florentine Baroque Art in New York.” Burlington Magazine, Vol. 111, No. 795 (Jun., 1969). 409-410.

** WHEELOCK, Arthur K. Jr. “‘St. Praxedis’: New Light on the Early Career of Vermeer.” Artibus et Historiae, Vol. 7, No. 14 (1986). 71-89.

*** BOONE, Jon. “Saint Praxedis: Missing the Mark.” In Essential Vermeer. 2002 <http://www.essentialvermeer.com/saint_praxedis.html>

**** LIEDTKE, Walter: Vermeer: The Milkmaid. The Metorpolitan Museum of Art, New York. 2009. note 5, 23.

Vermeer exhibition catalogue

October 16th, 2011

Human Connections in the Age of Vermeer
by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.  and Danielle H.A.C. Lokin
Scala Publishers Ltd
2011

This book focuses on the many forms of communication that existed in seventeenth-century Dutch society between family members, lovers, and professional acquaintances, both present and absent. The forty-four carefully selected Dutch genre paintings include major works by many of the finest masters of the period, including Johannes Vermeer, Pieter de Hooch, Gerard ter Borch and Gabriel Metsu. Vermeer’s three masterpieces about love letters form the core of the exhibition as they are profound examples of the power of communication. Dutch artists of the seventeenth century portrayed the wide range of emotions elicited by the various forms of communication, not only in the manner in which they render gestures and facial expressions of personal interactions, but also in the ways in which they show men and women responding to the written word. The painters often introduced objects from daily life that had symbolic implications, among them musical instruments, to enrich the pictorial narratives of their scenes. Published in conjunction with the exhibition Communication: Visualizing the Human Connection in the Age of Vermeer  (2011-2012), which celebrates the 400th anniversary of the diplomatic exchanges between Japan and the Netherlands, this book connects the pictorial and the literary aspects of Dutch cultural traditions during the Golden Age.

It’s Vermeer year in Japan

March 12th, 2011

Communication: Visualizing Human Connection in the Age of Vermeer
Kyoto Municipal Museum, Kyoto
June 25 – October 16, 2011 (curator: Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.)

second venue:
Bunkamura Museum of Art, Tokyo
December 23, 2001 – March 14, 2012

date to be announced:
The Miyagi Museum of Art
34-1 Kawauchi-Motohasekura, Aoba-ku, Sendai, Miyagi

After the arrival of Vermeer’s Geographer, it’s the world premiere of Vermeer’s Woman in Blue Reading a Letter after its restoration.

exhibition website (in Japanese only):
<http://vermeer-message.com/>

Rembrandt’s face discovered in Jan Lievens paintings

February 3rd, 2009
rembrandts

Its not every day that one discovers a portrait of Rembrandt. But now, not one, but four previously unknown images of Rembrandt’s face in works by Jan Lievens have been identified by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., curator of northern baroque painting at the National Gallery of Art.  Wheelock said he became “vaguely conscious” that it was Rembrandt’s likeness with the artist’s puffy jowls and famous bulbous nose while he was doing research for an exhibition on Lievens soon opening at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Although it is well known that Rembrandt and Lievens had shared ideals and experiences in the first years of their careers, this discovery sheds new light on the intimate side of their relationship.  According to Wheelock, it is Rembrandt who sits in the center of Lievens’  The Cardplayers (detail lower left) making it earliest known image of Rembrandt, just 17 years old. Rembrandt’s features can also be made out in Lievens’ Lute Player (detail upper left).

Although  considered in his own age a child prodigy, art  history has been less kind to Jan Lievens than Rembrandt.  During his adolescence, Lievens’ works were sought by princely patrons in The Hague and London before he reached the age twenty-five. But with the stellar rise in Rembrandt’s fame as the greatest artist of the Dutch golden age, Lievens’ own artistic reputation inexorably declined. This exhibition affords an overview of Lievens’ life and art drawing much needed attention to this neglected master. The catalogue essay argues that in many respects Lievens was the initiator of the stylistic and thematic developments that characterized both artists’ work in the late 1620s.

Jan Lievens: A Dutch Master Rediscovered runs February 7 to April 26 at the Milwaukee Art Museum. See the excellent website dedicated to this spectacular exhibition.