Thursday, 29 January 2009

Rembrandt or Stradivarius?




The late, great Tommy Cooper, that most English of comedians, told a joke that he had a picture and a violin, one was a Stradivarius and one was a Rembrandt but they were both worthless because Rembrandt made the violin and Stradivarius painted the picture.
I was reminded of this joke today when the Prado has finally come out and said that in all probability "The Colossus" attributed to Goya is in fact the work of his understudy, Asensio Julia.
Does it matter? Visitors to the Prado have marvelled at the gigantic work. Goya (1746 - 1828), who was the court painter to Charles 1v, regularly painted scenes depicting horror and nightmares of war (especially after the invasion by the French). These huge, frightening paintings made a great impression on the nation at the time they were painted. He became such a famous character in his lifetime, even meritting investigation by The Inquisition!
Ben McIntyre, in today's Times, argues that it matters hugely who painted it. He cites as an example the work of Hans van Meegeren, who successfully forged Vermeers by the score, speaking of him as "a crook and a liar, undermining the most sacred pact in art." But I think forgery is a very different thing.
Asensio Julia would have spent the whole of his working life in close association with Goya. He would know all Goya's work intimately and Goya would for years have watched over Julia's every brush stroke. He would have learned what was seen as a craft in those days thoroughly from the master.
I am as guilty as the next of going into a gallery to look at a name rather than a painting. When Raphael's "Madonna of the pinks" came on loan to The Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, near here I went to see it and was absolutely bowled over by its beauty and intricacy. Would I have gone to see it if it had not been by Raphael? I doubt it - the name Raphael just conjures up such magic.
Ben McIntyre tells of Sir Joshue Reynolds owning what he was certain was the original Mona Lisa. Only fairly recently it was established that the wood upon which it was painted was Baltic Oak and was felled at least eighty years after Leonardo's death. I suppose it matters if you are intending to spend a few million on a painting (although I can imagine that Reynold's Mona Lisa will itself be worth a lot of money by its association).
But after giving the whole matter a lot of thought I really can't come up with a good argument as to why it matters all that much. If it is a good painting and was done under Goya's tutelage, is it really to be downgraded? I shall be interested to see what you think
The picture is of a statue of Goya in Zaragoza.

13 comments:

Derrick said...

Hello Weaver,

I wouldn't have any objection to an artwork being done by an apprentice if it was being sold at an appropriate price. But I think it quite wrong if we are led to believe that a work is by the master when it isn't. I do agree, however, that it shouldn't affect our appreciation of the work on its own merit.

The Solitary Walker said...

Many artists used skilled fellow-artists and craftsmen to help them with their work - eg Michelangelo with the Sistine Chapel ceiling. But the vision was all Michelangelo's - just like the vision of a great film director is ultimately the all-encompassing thing - despite the essential contributions of co-workers and bit-players. Elitist? Well, even in "democratic" Mike Leigh films (with all the improvisation from actors he's worked with time and again) - the films are unmistakably stamped with the authorial Mike Leigh trademark.

As you say, forgeries are a different matter - but derivative paintings "in the style of", good as they may be, usually lack that defining, groundbreaking genius.

I really do believe in judging without seeking the name first -yes, of course. (Picasso did some mediocre stuff. Wordsworth wrote a lot of tedious poetry. And, contrariwise, some artists painted masterpieces only recognised when they fitted in with the mores and the culture of a certain, particular time.)

I've meandered around your point, without getting to the point - but, hell, that's blogging for you!

jinksy said...

I think beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and has nothing to do with where the beuty originated - the bark on a tree, or a clump of snowdrops can be just as valid as a 'work of art' in the accepted sense of the words. Intrinsic value wins over monetary value any day, so who cares about the name of an artist if the picture has its own 'cachet', for want of a better word...

Raph G. Neckmann said...

There are so many different kinds of 'value' placed on things/creations etc. Monetary value, investment value, perceived value, aesthetic value, sentimental value and so on ...

I confess to getting my neck in a twist when I think about it all too much!

But the idea of vision - I like thinking about that!

Rachel Fox said...

Now it can be famous as 'the painting that people looked at for years because they thought it was by Goya...but it wasn't' and maybe it will be worth even more! It just needs a good agent...in fact, don't we all?
x

willow said...

Many times I love a piece of art, regardless of the artist. But I think most of us can't help but wonder at the magic, as we imagine that famous figure with brush in hand!

Dominic Rivron said...

A similar case: I've heard it said it would take a music-copyist more than one working life to copy out all of JS Bach's music, which suggests to me either (a) he was superhumany prolific or (b) a few pieces have been wrongly attributed.

Poet in Residence said...

I think many so-called works of art are overvalued because they are by a so-called 'name'.
A joke is only as good as the one who tells it. A painting is only as good as the one who paints it. If you have the talent, the patience and the dedication paint as well as Tinterreto what does it matter if your name is Tommy Cooper?

Heather said...

I think a painting should be judged on it's own merit, regardless of who the artist is. I think it is quite wrong that an artist can die penniless with no-one wanting to buy his work, and a relatively short time after his death, his paintings are sold for millions of pounds. They are still the same paintings thought to be of no value earlier, and now someone who had no part in their creation, is making a great deal of money out of them.

Annie Wicking said...

Very interesting read, Weaver. I just enjoy looking at art whoever has painted it.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks for the comments - they have all given me food for thought. It is good to hear all your views on the subject. That's the best thing about blogging - you are unsure about something, you put it on your blog and immediately you get a discussion going. Lovely!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

A painting, poem, bit of prose, piece of music, sculpture…you name it, ought to stand on its own, anonymous, when it comes to an appreciation value.

Other values may (and usually do) require different standards.

But when it comes to pure appreciation, we should never forget that it's always a two-way street…what the art says to us, and what we bring to help us "listen." Sometimes it takes time to appreciate a work—a certain amount of life lived, perhaps an education or appreciation of the skills brought to bear, or the mastery of the subject. It may also require a particular moment—a book read and dismissed at one period in life can turned out to be one of the most treasured works when reread later on. Appreciation may reflect or remind by conjuring a mood or moment.

We can appreciate art as great only when we can define it—by whatever personal criteria—as making the mark.

The object stands alone; we stand alone…this is where art is created.

Or so it seems to me…

Sepiru Chris said...

Dear Weaver,

This post confirms it, I must widen my e-reading and add another fine blog to the list. But, pray tell, why the Webster and not the OED? At least take both and another good dictionary. Think of the spelling disputes over scrabble, otherwise, across the Anglo-American lexicographical divide...

Tschüss,
Chris