July 14, 2021

The Palette is available to all interested with an e-Subscription

In this issue:

Head of a bear sets new record for a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci, selling on a single bid for £8.8m at Christie's
3 Quick Tips on Painting Feathers
Hunter Biden paintings pose ethical challenge for president
Artist uses his brush to turn Surfside’s pain into hope




Head of a bear sets new record for a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci, selling on a single bid for £8.8m at Christie's
The tiny "Post It note" drawing was sold by Thomas Kaplan, owner of the Leiden collection of Rembrandts, who bought it in 2008 based on a fax

A study of a bear's head by Leonardo da Vinci has sold for a record £7.5m (£8.8m with fees) at Christie's in London today. It was estimated to make £8m to £12m ($11.2m to $16.9m) but was hammered down under that estimate, to a single bid from a man and woman in the saleroom.

Measuring 7cm square, this tender silverpoint drawing on pale pink-beige paper was executed around 1480 and is one of eight known Leonardo drawings still in private hands, excluding those in the British Royal Collection and the Devonshire Collections at Chatsworth.

It was being sold today by the American collector Thomas Kaplan, who owns the Leiden Collection, renowned for its huge number of Dutch Old Masters, specifically Rembrandts. The drawing, thought to have been done from life, had been exhibited widely—notably in the National Gallery’s 2011 Leonardo exhibition (when it was exhibited next to Lady with an Ermine) and at the Long Museum in Shanghai (2017-18) as part of the Leiden Collection’s global touring show. Christie’s would not comment on the identity of the vendor, however, referring to it only as a “family trust”.

The work had previously been in the collections of the 18th-century British painter Thomas Lawrence (it bears his collection stamp) and the dealer Samuel Woodburn, who sold it at Christie's in 1860 for £2.50.

The previous record for a drawing by Leonardo was held by Horse and Rider (1480), a slightly larger sheet sold for £8.1m at Christie's in London in 2001.

The bear fax
Kaplan bought the drawing from the London-based Old Master paintings dealer Johnny van Haeften in 2008. (Van Haeften is also now director of exhibitions for the Leiden Collection, named after Rembrandt's hometown). "He couldn't come to see the drawing at the time so I faxed it to him—not the actual drawing, I did photocopy it first—and he bought it from the fax!" van Haeften tells The Art Newspaper. Kaplan's core interest lies in Dutch paintings but, van Haeften says: "I offered him the bear drawing because his son is called Leonardo." Kaplan, van Haeften says, "doesn't need the money, that's not why he's selling. He's only selling it because it's the only Italian Renaissance drawing in a collection of Dutch and mainly Rembrandt works—I don't think Leonardo even had a dirty weekend in Leiden!"

Stephen Ongpin, a London-based works on paper specialist, points out that while Kaplan is not an Italian Renaissance specialist, he has a passion for wildlife so the subject no doubt appealed. In 2006, Kaplan founded Panthera, an organisation devoted to the conservation of wild cat species. Speculating on who the buyer might be before the sale, Ongpin says: "Leon Black is the major drawings buyer at this level. The Getty's curator [Julian Brooks] has also been in town this week [from Los Angeles]. Or, as it's one of the last opportunities to buy a Leonardo, it's a trophy piece for someone who may not usually buy in this area. I imagine there will be some Asian interest."

Ongpin describes the drawing as "a tiny trophy, a Post It note Leonardo. It has a tenderness you don't normally see in Leonardo's work."

Beargain buy
Matthew Landrus, a Leonardo expert and Supernumerary Fellow at Wolfson College & Faculty of History, University of Oxford, tells The Art Newspaper: "I think the buyer should be very happy to have that for only £7.5m. I hope the new owner will continue to exhibit it, as it’s part of a series of studies that show Leonardo's interest in understanding a bear, its movements, anatomy, and comparative anatomy between bears and humans. He also studied cats, potentially for similar reasons." Landrus notes that bear and cat studies also relate to Da Vinci's costume designs.

He adds that the St Sebastian drawing that is at the centre of a new legal battle in France also would have an estimate of around £8m to £12m, were it to come up at auction at Tajan.

Surprisingly, rather than being offered in the main Old Master paintings evening sale which follows tonight, Head of a Bear was sold among the clocks, works of art and furniture of The Exceptional Sale. On the choice of this context, Stijn Alsteens, the international head of Old Master drawings at Christie’s London, says: "The owner was attracted to The Exceptional Sale because it presents a variety of works of art from different disciplines, all united by their exceptional quality. Christie’s has successfully sold several drawings of exceptional quality and value in other sales than those solely dedicated to Old Master Drawings, notably Raphael’s Head of a muse, included in the Old Master Paintings Evening Sale of December 2009, and six sheets from Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo’s Punchinello series, included in the Old Master Paintings Evening Sale of December 2019." The Art Newspaper


3 Quick Tips on Painting Feathers

Wondering how to paint feathers? Feel your paintings are too tight? Want to loosen up?

Then follow these quick tips for painting feathers for chickens and other birds:

Consider the passages of light and shadow versus each individual feather. Think: Big Shapes! You must get the main structure down first. You’ve got to paint the bird before the feathers!

To paint those big shapes, use big brushes and stand back from your painting while looking at your reference subject. Don’t get in too close to your artwork to paint details before the structure is complete.

Look for lost edges! Don’t make every edge sharp. Soften the edges where needed and lose them where you can. Less is more. It is the suggestion of feathers that makes the painting interesting — not each individual feather.

Follow these tips and you will be painting beautiful birds! Fine Art Connoisseur


Hunter Biden paintings pose ethical challenge for president

The White House has established an arrangement that would allow President Joe Biden’s son Hunter to sell his artwork for tens of thousands of dollars without knowing the identity of the purchaser, an agreement established in attempt to avoid any potential ethical concerns surrounding his sales.

Under the arrangement, a private art gallery owner will set prices for his work and will handle all bidding and sales, but will not share any information about buyers or prospective buyers with Hunter or anyone in the administration. The deal was first reported by The Washington Post.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that the gallerist would reject “any offer out of the normal course” and that the administration believes the agreement “provides quite a level of protection and transparency." A person familiar with the arrangement noted that it requires the art dealer selling Hunter's work to turn down any buyer or offer that seems out of the ordinary, including any that comes in above the asking price. The person was not authorized to discuss the arrangement publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

After careful consideration a system has been established that allows for Hunter Biden to work in his profession within reasonable safeguards,” Psaki told reporters.

“Of course he has the right to pursue an artistic career, just like any child of a president has the right to pursue a career.”

It marks one of the first high-profile tests of the president’s commitment to much more stringent ethics rules for his family and administration officials than his predecessor, Donald Trump, who had a daughter and son-in-law working for him in the White House and often spent taxpayer dollars at his own properties. On his first day as president, Biden signed an executive order requiring stricter ethics commitments from all administration personnel, but Hunter’s private dealings have drawn scrutiny in the past, with some critics expressing concerns that he sought to profit from the use of his father’s name during his lobbying work and work with a Ukrainian energy company.

Hunter Biden has now shifted his focus to the art world. According to an interview in Artnet, Georges Bergès, the art dealer that will sell his work, plans to host a private viewing for the president’s son in Los Angeles and an exhibition in New York. The paintings cost anywhere from $75,000 for a piece on paper to half a million dollars for large-scale paintings, the dealer said.

That’s considerably more than a typical up-and-coming artist without much experience or many sales under his belt, and it’s one of the reasons Richard Painter, a White House ethics lawyer during the George W. Bush administration, says he’s uneasy about the arrangement.

“I’m baldly surprised at the pricing,” he said. “That’s part of the appearance problem.”

The concern, he said, is that regardless of who purchases the paintings, such high prices suggest Hunter Biden is profiting off his father’s name. Painter worried that foreign governments could fund the purchase through a buyer, or lobbyists could purchase the painting to win favor with those in Biden’s orbit, even if Hunter and his father don’t know the buyer’s identity.

Painter said ideally, Hunter would have waited to sell his paintings until his father left office, to avoid any appearance of impropriety — but since he’s turning to this avenue to make a living, the buyers and prices for each painting should be disclosed and recused from any work with the administration.

“I would not have chosen the secrecy route. I would have gone with the transparency route,” he said.

The executive order Biden signed reestablished and expanded on many Obama-era ethics rules. It restored a two-year ban on departing senior appointees communicating with their former agency and expanded that ban to include communications with senior White House staff. It also reestablished the Obama-era two-year ban on lobbyists working on the issue they lobbied on within the administration, among other things. He also committed before taking office that none of his family members will work in his administration.

Painter said that while the agreement concerning Hunter Biden's paintings are not ideal, the administration overall has displayed a marked improvement on ethics matters over Biden's predecessor.

“It's minimal compared with Trump," he said. “We definitely have far fewer problems with Biden." CLICKORLANDO.com


Artist uses his brush to turn Surfside’s pain into hope

Roberto Marquez flew from Dallas to Miami nearly two weeks ago, hoping to add his hands to those digging through the rubble of a fallen South Florida condo building. But once there, the muralist was disappointed to hear that his help was appreciated but not needed.

An epic search for victims was already underway by an army of first responders, initially for survivors and now for bodies. As of Friday, at least 79 people had been confirmed dead and dozens remained missing.

Still, the 59-year-old artist felt compelled to contribute to the cause, something that might uplift the Surfside community amid so much anguish. That’s when he decided he would use his art to help translate pain into hope and resilience.

“What happened is a tragedy,” Marquez said Friday, as he brushed gray paint onto a canvass. “There is no way to get around this tragedy ... but one thing we can grab on, I say, is hope.”

His hands, one gripping a paintbrush, swept across a pair of giant canvasses he hung on a fence near the collapsed building that has become an impromptu memorial.

Photos of those who have perished and those who remain missing hang from the fence among wilting bouquets and above a growing collection of items — candles, stuffed animals, a football and even shoes — that people have left to honor and remember the victims.

In that memorial, Marquez sees a community in pain. Now and then, people come by to walk along the collection of memories. He sometimes sees people crying.

He hopes his huge work of art — each of the two panels measures 8 feet (2.4 meters) high and nearly 12 feet (3.6 meters) wide — will evoke other sentiments and serve as a tribute to the victims and for the grieving community.

Marquez said the painting was inspired by master cubists like Pablo Picasso and his masterpiece “Guernica,” which depicted a town in rubble after it was bombed during the Spanish Civil War.

On one side of Marquez’s cubist painting, a first responder reaches upward for a victim. A fireman’s ladder symbolizes the crews risking their lives in their attempt to save others. There’s a woman being pulled out of the rubble. (She did not survive, Marquez explains.) A priest has his arms stretched out into the heavens, one hand clutching a cross.

And then there are the clocks, one fixed to 1:30 a.m., the moment when Champlain Towers South collapsed into rubble and dust on June 24.

Marquez at first thought about removing a dove — a symbol he used to depict the survivors waiting to be found — when officials announced earlier in the week that there was no hope anyone would be found alive. But upon reflection, he still thought it belonged.

“The story is here, and I’m trying to bring it out,” he said. His painting uses broad brushstrokes, figuratively, and he wants to leave it to the viewer to interpret the work — and paint in their own details as they view the massive artwork.

“Everyone is going to have their own different feelings,” Marquez said.

When the painting is done, perhaps over the weekend, he plans to auction it off and donate the proceeds to a fund for victims.

His painting is a gift to the city, he said.

“It doesn’t belong to me,” he said. “I’m making it, but it’s for the victims and for the town.” Orlando Sentinel

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