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Art History

November 7, 2013 | Posted by | No Comments

Treasure Trove of Missing Art

A newspaper box — seen in front of the Munich apartment building that is home to Cornelius Gurlitt, 80 — announces the discovery of 1,500 paintings that had been looted by the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s. Gurlitt had hoarded the missing modern works in his residence. His father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, was an art dealer who had overseen the confiscations of what the Nazis termed "degenerate art." Lennart Preiss / Getty Images

Reported by the Associated Press:

AUGSBURG, Germany — A hoard of more than 1,400 artworks found by tax investigators in a German apartment includes a previously unknown piece by Marc Chagall and works by some of the masters of the 20th century, authorities said Tuesday. Some of the works are believed to have been missing since they were seized by the Nazis.

Ingo Kallis hangs art by German artist Max Pechstein during preparations for the “Degenerate Art” exhibit in Museum Junge Kunst in Frankfurt Oder. Patrick Pleul / European Pressphoto Agency

Investigators searched the apartment in an upscale Munich district in February 2012 as part of a tax investigation that started with a routine check on a Zurich-Munich train in late 2010.

Authorities said they found 121 framed and 1,285 unframed works — including works by 20th-century masters such as Pablo Picasso, Max Liebermann and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and earlier works by artists including Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Gustave Courbet, Auguste Renoir and Canaletto. The oldest work dates back to the 16th century.

Employee Ingo Kallis hangs the etching “The Match Seller” (1920), by German artist Otto Dix, during preparations for the “Degenerate Art” exhibit at Museum Junge Kunst in Frankfurt Oder, Germany. Through Jan. 26, the museum is showing a selection of degenerate art. Patrick Pleul / European Pressphoto Agency

Prosecutor Reinhard Nemetz told reporters in the Bavarian city of Augsburg that investigators have turned up “concrete evidence” that at least some of the works were seized from their owners by the Nazis or classed by them as “degenerate art” and seized from German museums in 1937 or shortly after.

A painting by the German Expressionist Franz Marc, projected during a news conference, was among hundreds of works discovered by German authorities in a Munich apartment during a tax investigation.

“Degenerate art” was largely modern or abstract works by artists that the regime of Adolf Hitler believed to be a corrupting influence on the German people.

Officials are investigating whether the suspect in the case was in wrongful possession of the paintings.

A self-portrait by Otto Dix.

The paintings were found in one room at the apartment, where they were “professionally stored and in a very good condition,” said Siegfried Kloeble, the head of the customs investigations office in Munich. He said it took a specialist company three days to remove the paintings from the apartment; officials refused to specify where they are being kept.

Kloeble said investigators “think it’s unlikely that any more paintings were stored elsewhere” by the suspect.

An unknown work by Marc Chagall.

Meike Hoffmann, an expert on “degenerate art” at Berlin’s Free University who is helping the investigation, presented pictures of a selection of works from the collection.

They included a painting by Chagall that Hoffmann said isn’t included in lists of the artist’s work.

“These cases are, of course, of particularly high art history significance for researchers,” she said. Experts haven’t yet been able to determine where the Chagall came from, she added, describing the research as “very, very difficult.”

Another work, possibly by Henri Matisse.

Hoffmann also presented an unlisted painting by Henri Matisse, apparently dating back to the 1920s.

“When you stand in front of the works, see the ones that were long thought to have been lost or destroyed and in a relatively good state — some of them dirty but not damaged — you have an incredible feeling of happiness,” Hoffmann said.


October 10, 2013 | Posted by | No Comments

Forgotten Fabergé

A Fabergé statuette of Empress Alexandra’s Cossack bodyguard that has just been rediscovered and is up for auction. Photo: Walter Hill/lStair Galleries

According to The New York Times Arts Beat blog: Russian royals loved to collect figurines of their subjects. The Fabergé workshops produced about 50 sculptures in semiprecious stones and gold representing peasants, servants and the occasional Gypsy singer and street sweeper.

Two of the works, with glittering eyes and thick gray beards, realistically portrayed Imperial Cossack bodyguards. A depiction of Dowager Empress Marie’s servant Alexei A. Kudinov remains at Pavlovsk Palace near St. Petersburg. A statuette of Empress Alexandra’s bodyguard, Nikolai N. Pustynnikov, was long thought lost.

A depiction of Dowager Empress Marie’s servant Alexei A. Kudinov at Pavlovsk Palace near St. Petersburg

It was actually sitting in an attic in Rhinebeck, N.Y. In the 1930s, a Fabergé collector had acquired it in Manhattan from the dealer and industrialist Armand Hammer. It re-emerged this summer, with original receipts, when a descendant’s estate was cleaned out. Stair Galleries in Hudson, N.Y., will auction it on Oct. 26. (It is estimated at $500,000 to $800,000.)

Lillies of the Valley Egg, 1898 Image courtesy of The Forbes Collection

“This is really a major addition to the literature — it’s a historical discovery,” said Gerard Hill, a Fabergé specialist who researched it for Stair. Fabergé fakes have been proliferating lately, Mr. Hill added, but he is convinced that the forgotten Cossack is real. “The expression in the face — nobody can do that these days,” he said.

Fabergé artisans carved sardonyx, nephrite and cacholong to capture Pustynnikov’s careworn forehead, creased boots and chest medals.

The Coronation Egg, 1897 Image courtesy of The Forbes Collection

The figurine was part of mounds of Soviet booty that Hammer helped sell off to shore up the Communist regime with hard currency. According to “Selling Russia’s Treasures: The Soviet Trade in Nationalized Art, 1917-1938” (M. T. Abraham Center/Abbeville), a forthcoming book by nine Russian scholars, “Hammer effectively acted as the main intermediary in the efforts made by the Soviet government to ‘export the world revolution,’ a role which proved quite profitable.”

Objects that he imported, with czar provenance, have reappeared in the last few months. A two-inch metal cross brought $5,100 at a Skinner auction in Boston. An enameled icon painting of the Resurrection sold for $50,000 at Humler & Nolan in Cincinnati.

Hen Egg, 1885 Image courtesy of The Forbes Collection

More Imperial possessions are going on view in the next year. The Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg is renovating a palace in St. Petersburg for his Fabergé collection. Another Russian billionaire, Alexander Ivanov, keeps adding to his Fabergé museum in Baden-Baden, Germany. In November, an exhibition at the Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis, “The Romanovs: Legacy of an Empire Lost,” will contain some of Hammer’s wares.

September 19, 2013 | Posted by | No Comments

Oppression Leads to Expression: Tibetan Art

What do you know about Tibet? I’m betting it’s not from what you’ve seen in the headlines about the small Asian country – because there haven’t been any. I have to admit, I am somewhat ignorant of the state of affairs in the country. Tibet has been under military occupation of China since 1951.


Tibet is largely isolated from the Western world. What we don’t see is that each day the lives of Tibetans are under attack. Past basic human rights violations, sources of pride and culture like the Tibetan flag and national anthem, are banned. Possessing a photo of the Dalai Lama can result in imprisonment, or torture. Expressing ones desire for freedom will result in detainment, and even torture.

Rabkar Wangchuk, Spiritual Mind and Modern Technology, 2013, acrylic on canvas, 78 x 48 inches, The Shelley and Donald Rubin Private Collection

So it is with excitement and haste that the Art World sees one of the the first Tibetan Art Exhibitions to come to the United States. From a country whose message we rarely hear, we may hear their voices perhaps only through their art. Curator Rachel Perera Weingeist reached out to Tibetan artists all over the world to create the exhibition, “Anonymous: Contemporary Tibetan Art.” Creating the show as an anonymous comment from Tibetan artists, Weingeist believed more artists would be able to freely express what they experience under military oppression without fear of later consequences. To her surprise, the artists still chose to sign their names to each work, wanting to stand behind the image of Tibet they have chosen to share.

Anonymous: Tibetan Contmporary Art,

The show is a candid reflection of modern Tibetan life featuring more than 50 sculptural works, paintings, mixed media, and film from 27 different artists. A vast majority of the exhibition’s themes center around the conflict between the Chinese and Tibetan governments. Under Chinese regime, Tibetan names are not even recognized to exist. On official identification, Tibetan names are replaced with “First Name Unknown” or “XXX.” This is the subject of one artist’s work in the exhibit, photographing an Identification Card, with all of the information complete, less the name, which reads “XXX.”

Jhamsang , "Mr. XXX," 2010,

As Stephanie Strasnick reports for ARTNews, the exhibition has at times a solemn tone, with still seeing hope in some of the artworks. Much of the work is a comment on the merging of the traditional Tibetan arts culture and the contemporary images we know in the Western world today.


Kesang Lamdark, "Dorge Drakkten", 2012,

Kesang Lamdark, "Dorge Drakkten and Kiss", 2012,

Funding and a majority of the artworks were generously loaned to the exhibition by Shelley and Donald Rubin, who donated a vast collection of Himalayan art to the Rubin Museum of Art in New York. “Anonymous: Contemporary Tibetan Art” is on view at the Dorsky Museum at SUNY New Paltz through December 15 and will travel to the Fleming Museum at the University of Vermont and the
 Queens Museum of Art in New York next year.


September 12, 2013 | Posted by | No Comments

Majour Discovery Made

As a society, we live with a kind of air of ignorance – we like to believe we know all, have seen all, and think we are all. We have experts from everything from the most minute aspect of a spaceship, to experts on microscopic critters that walk the depths of the ocean floor.

I like to believe there is a lot we still don’t know and that magic things exist which we may never understand. So, it should be no surprise that we are still discovering the unknown. Look at the animal kingdom’s discovery this summer – welcome to the family the teddy-bear like olinguito! This raccoon-like, 2 pound carnivore has been hiding in the depths of the foggy and dense forests of Colombia and Ecuador.


Much like the olinguito hiding in the cloudy mist high up in the trees, van Gogh’s “Sunset at Montmajour” has been hiding in an attic, waiting to finally be authenticated. For the past century, this work has been considered a fake until Monday, when the Van Gogh Museum announced that the work of art was a genuine creation of the earless man himself.

Van Gogh, Sunset at Montmajour, 1888,

Painted in 1888, “Sunset at Montmajour”, should now be considered one of van Gogh’s most quintessential pieces, painted during the same period as his iconic works “Sunflowers,” “The Bedroom,” and “The Yellow House.” I’m surprised the truth wasn’t evident sooner as the setting in Arles around Montmajour was one the artist visited and painted frequently.

Van Gogh, Sunset at Montmajour, 1888,

James Roundell, art dealer and the director of modern art from the Dickinson Galleries in London and New York, said it is common to have early van Gogh works come to surface, but a piece from his mature years is very rare. What is most intriguing about this discovery is that in this piece he is working in the tradition of 19th century landscape painting, known more to the impressionist era than the later post-impressionist. In the February of 1888, van Gogh moved to Arles and began studying the landscapes of Provence and working “en plein air,” much like we see from Monet and Renoir.

Monet, Painting by the Edge of a Wood, 1885,

Set at dusk, the painting reflects similar coloring to some of the classic romantic landscape work iconic to John Constable. Van Gogh’s scene depicts the rolling and forested plaines surrounding Montmajour, with details of wheat fields and the ruins of the Benedictine Abbey in the background. The inclusion of the Abbey eludes to even more romanticism, specifically Caspar David Friedrich’s, “Abbey in the Oak Forest.”

Caspar David Friedrich, Abbey in an Oak Forest, 1810,

Beginning September 24 for one year, the painting will be on view at the Van Gogh Museum when it will be added to the current exhibition “Van Gogh at Work.” After one year, it is unknown what the current owners wish to do with the piece.
August 20, 2013 | Posted by | No Comments

Awe-chetecture: Mesmeric Middle East

As an Art History major, people always ask me: Who is your favourite artist? In my opinion, the mark of a great artist will leave one in awe. The classic painters of our time no doubt had unparalleled talent, but it is not the art of painters or sculptors we know from the Renaissance or the nineteenth century that leave me breathless, but rather the detailed and devoted work found in Middle Eastern architecture. What comes to mind when you think of Middle Eastern decoration and architecture? The Taj Mahal? The Dome of the Rock? While both are incredible feats, especially for their time, this is just the surface of the artistry found in Islamic architecture.

Taj Mahal, Agra, India, 1653

Islamic ceramic tiles are one of the most distinctive features in Islamic Art. Glazed tiles have been one of the most effective means of achieving chromatic harmony. The use of wall tiles as decoration only began in the 9th century.

Windows, Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem, Israel, 691,

The development of glazed tiles during the Abbasid dynasty went hand-in-hand with the growth of the ceramics industry. The first Islamic tiles were over-glazed with polychrome lustre, meaning designs were painted on the glazed surface with various metallic oxides, and were then fired.

Ceramic Bowl, Abbasid Dynasty, 9th Century, Iraq,

In Eastern Islamic practice, tiles are arranged in geometric, vegetal and epigraphic motifs. Human or animal motifs are rare, as these images go against the words of the Qur’an, and is seen as a sin. In Western Islamic lands, geometric motifs are most dominant.

Floral Theme, Islamic Glazed Tile,

One of the most breathtaking pieces of architecture that features incredible tile work is the Sheikh Lutfallah Mosque, in Isfahan, Iran, built in 1611. The Mosque and adjoining city-square were commissioned by Shah Abbas, the leader who relocated the Safavid dynasty’s capital to Isfahan.

Lutfallah Mosque, Isfahan, Iran, 1611,

The Dome of the Lutfallah Mosque to this day is virtually untouched, and has not been restored to the same extent as the mosque’s front portal. The apex of the dome features tile work replicating a sunburst made of medallions ascending in size, which flow with the curve of the dome. The medallions feature flower motifs against the monochromatic color scheme. The art of the ceramic tiles was said to be so perfect that the artists were credited by having their names enscripted into the tiles.

The Dome of the Lutfallah Mosque, Isfahan, Iran, 1611,

Could you answer the question: What is your favourite artwork/artist? What artworks do you find jaw-dropping-awe-evoking-awesomely-awesome? Share them with us!




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