More than a dozen works in the Carnegie Museum of Art’s collection are the subject of new attributions or major new discoveries following a marathon research initiative. Three years ago, the 120-year-old Pittsburgh museum decided to hunt through its vaults to re-examine works from the Enlightenment era that had rarely been shown.
The results are, well, enlightening. A number of objects have been re-attributed, including one painting now confirmed to be by the celebrated English portrait painter George Romney. That work, along with dozens of others, will be shown for the first time in decades in the exhibition “Visions of Order and Chaos: The Enlightened Eye,” which opens at the Carnegie on March 3.
“We’ve got all these interesting paintings that have not been properly appreciated,” Louise “Lulu” Lippincott, the Carnegie’s curator of fine arts, tells artnet News. She explains that the institution’s earliest holdings are heavy on British portraiture because Gilded Age collectors in Pittsburgh took cues from the wealthy Mellon and Frick families, who were also buying them.
But “as the works went out of fashion, they went off view,” Lippincott says. “A great many things just sort of disappeared into storage.”
The prolonged research effort involved investigations into “condition, provenance, conservation, and interpretation of the meanings of some works,” she says. Some of the new discoveries were exciting, while others—like the downgrading of a work originally believed to be by British artist John Hoppner—were deflating.
“The good thing is that because we’re a museum, the impact on value is not a primary consideration,” Lippincott says. “We are mostly interested in getting it right, even if it means that the name of the artist is not as prestigious or valuable as before.”
Below, Lippincott walks us through some of the Carnegie’s most consequential new discoveries.
A Romney Work Hiding in Plain Sight
Carnegie experts long believed that this painting (above), one of many in storage, was by the British portraitist Francis Cotes. So when the author of the catalogue raisonné for the far more renowned British painter George Romney asked the curators for a rundown of their Romney holdings, they didn’t even consider sharing this one. Later, when the Romney catalogue raisonné was published, they spotted a familiar image: their very own “Francis Cotes” painting. While the catalogue had marked the location of the work “unknown,” the Carnegie knew just where it was—sitting in its own storage unit.
Further research allowed the museum to “very securely” confirm it was an early work of George Romney, Lippincott says. Furthermore, researchers were able to re-identify the sitter as a relative of the person it was originally thought to depict.
Dashed Hopes for Hoppner
John Hoppner, Miss Home with Kitten (circa 1795). Carnegie Museum of Art, J. Willis Dalzell Memorial Collection, gift of Mrs. J. Willis Dalzell
Not every new attribution has been an upgrade, however. Museum officials originally believed that this 18th-century portrait of the adorable Miss Home and her furry feline was the work of celebrated English portrait painter John Hoppner. While conducting research on the work ahead of the show, an expert uncovered handwritten notes from esteemed art historian Sir Ellis Waterhouse, who had long ago cast serious doubt on that attribution. Now, the Hoppner name is officially followed by a question mark. However, there is no doubt that the portrait of Master Order (below) is the real deal.
John Hoppner’s Master Order (1806). Courtesy of the Carnegie Museum of Art.
A Potentially Famous Original Owner of This Ghostly Tracing
Achille Devéria, Soldat Souliote (Souliote soldier) (1827). Graphite on translucent paper Carnegie Museum of Art, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Daniel Fishkoff
French artist Achille Devéria’s tracing of his original drawing of a Greek freedom fighter (circa 1826–7) has long been part of the Carnegie’s collection. (The Louvre owns the original.) The Carnegie’s version on translucent paper bears an inscription on the lower left that reads: “A mon ami Washington… [to my friend Washington…].” Now, experts have set out to confirm the identity of the mysterious “Washington.”
They suspect it could be the American writer Washington Irving, who was in Paris serving as a diplomat at the time. He was also known to be a major supporter of Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire, which would make a drawing of a freedom fighter a fitting gift. But while Lippincott says “it’s possible” the Washington referred to in the note is Irving, only further art historical sleuthing will prove it for sure.
French artist Achille Devéria’s drawing and detail of signature, right. Courtesy of the Carnegie Museum.
A Serious Upgrade for Goya’s ‘Los Caprichos’
Francisco de Goya Los Caprichos (The Caprices) (1796–1799) Carnegie Museum of Art, Gift of Charles J. Rosenbloom
The Carnegie has always treasured its set of Goya’s satirical 80-print series “Los Caprichos.” But it wasn’t until very recently that curators learned, with the help of Old Master expert Armin Kunz at C.G. Boerner in New York, that its version is actually a first edition in its original binding. It also includes a number of proofs for Goya’s most famous image, TheSleep of Reason Produces Monsters (El sueño de la razon produce monstruos).
“We knew it was Goya. We knew it was ‘Los Caprichos.’ But we did not understand the importance of that first edition or the presence of so many proofs,” Lippincott says. “This is a case where we had to add two zeroes to the value.”
Who ever said art history doesn’t pay?
Francisco de Goya, El sueño de la razon produce monstruos. (The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters.). Courtesy Carnegie Museum of Art, Gift of Charles J. Rosenbloom
In a lot of ways, this was the Year of the Conspiracy Theory. Fabulations and connect-the-dots conjectures of all sorts found their way from the margins to the center. The phenomenon very much affects art—which makes some sense, in that art is designed as fodder for fantasizing.
Most of the time, such speculation is as consequential as the latest theory about Game of Thrones, playing the same function of agitating the imaginations of superfans. Thus, a great deal of the hype around Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi earlier this year was driven by amateur speculation about its symbolism.
Either way, it’s worth at least keeping these things in the corner of one’s eye. Here are five of the wilder art theories that floated to our attention this year.
Mona Lisa and the Secret Number Two
Pavel Floresco demonstrates the significance of the number 2 in Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
You could write an entire book just about conspiracy theories relating to Leonardo da Vinci and his most famous painting, the Mona Lisa. A new one to come across our radar this year came courtesy one Pavel Floresco. Disputing that the painting is a simple portrait of Lisa del Giocondo, Floresco declares that “[e]verything comes to confirm Sigmund Freud’s conclusion: this masterpiece represents the mother of the artist, Caterina, seen as an ideal of the maternity or femininity.”
How to prove this theory? It’s a bit complicated, so let’s take it step by step. First, Floresco creates an alpha-numeric correspondence between various numbers and the letters of the Italian alphabet, like so:
A = 1 B = 2 C=3 D = 4 E = 5 F = 6 G = 7 H = 8 I = 9 L = 10 M = 11 N = 12 O = 13 P = 14 Q = 15 R = 16 S = 17 T = 18 U = 19 V = 20 Z = 21
He then reduces the names “Mona Lisa” and “Catarina” into numbers, and adds them up. For “Mona Lisa,” the operation looks like this:
Of course, the name “Mona Lisa” is a nickname derived from Vasari; the painting’s first owner seems to have referred to it as La Gioconda. But Floresco offers more: To illustrate the significance of the number 2 in the canvas, Floresco breaks down the symbolism of the painting: 2 columns in the background; a road in the landscape in the shape of the number 2; a hand flipping the number 2… (She even has 2 eyes and 2 nostrils!)
But there’s more proof still. Floresco also shows that the 2010 discovery(heretofore considered dubious) that the Mona Lisa’s eyes concealed the hidden letters “LV” and “CE” can be explained: Those initials, too, yield up the all-important 2.
LVCE = 10 + 20 + 3 + 5 = 38 3 + 8 = 11 1 + 1 = 2
How deep does this thing go? If you find out, it might be wise 2 keep it 2 yourself…
Was Dürer a Secret Jewish Art Terrorist?
Albrecht Dürer, The Four Apostles (1526). Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Anyone who has had to search the Internet for information about Albrecht Dürer, pillar of the German Renaissance, will have come across the Albrecht Dürer Blog. The result of the labors of amateur art historian Elizabeth Garner, a collector of Dürer prints, the site posits a cryptic series of coded messages hidden throughout the master’s work that reveal him to have been, secretly, a Jewish rebel bent on annihilating his Christian patrons.
In a 2011 interview with the Connecticut Jewish Ledger, Garner explained the genesis of her theories. It all began when she discovered a secret message in the Dürer print The Promenade (ca. 1498). This led her down the rabbit hole, discovering allusions to Judaism everywhere in the oeuvre of the putatively Christian artist, with world-historical significance: “I am now of the belief that the Holocaust couldn’t have happened as it did,” she said, “were it not for the truth of the whole Dürer story.”
Dürer’s hometown of Nuremberg officially issued its order to expel its Jewish population in 1499. As Garner explains:
The Dürer family knew they couldn’t stop the expulsion of the Jews, and they even knew that their true history was going to be erased. How to survive? Encode the story in the art, for that was their only weapon, and their only chance to get the truth to survive. Except you had to be very careful, and they were. “The Dürer Cipher” breaks down into a Memorbuch [memory book] and revenge upon the villains. The Durers, Jews, won, because Dürer’s art has baffled all—until now.
Garner has continued to develop these theories, including a very lengthy disquisition on penises (“Let’s get real and talk about Dürer’s penis for it is a very important penis indeed”).
Most spectacularly, she now asserts that Dürer’s revenge went beyond encoding secret Jewish references in his painting. While remaining undercover, he actually deployed poisonous pigments in his works, both as a way to punish anyone who tried to tamper with his secret messages, and more generally just to slowly destroy his Christian patrons.
“Notice that these paintings are almost all lead white, vermilions, green, orpiment, and black,” Garner and co-author Joe Kiernan note of the German artist’s Four Apostles, which he gave to the city fathers of Nuremberg. “Albrecht really wanted to take revenge on the whole government, the CITY COUNCIL, where every day they would be inhaling the noxious fumes. He even donated them! and got paid for his work!”
Walter Sickert Was Jack the Ripper
George Charles Beresford, portrait of Walter Sickert (1911). Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
What Dan Brown is to Leonardo conspiracy theories, American crime novelist Patricia Cornwall is to the theory that Victorian serial killer Jack the Ripper was actually British painter Walter Sickert (1860–1942) who was, as his Tate biography put it, “universally acknowledged throughout his life as a colourful, charming and fascinating character, a catalyst for progress and modernity.”
Cornwall claims to have spent well over $6 million of her own money attempting to confirm the theory, and has written two books on the subject. Earlier this year, she told the Telegraph:
Over the past five years I’ve spent thousands of hours as well as another small fortune investing in Sickert’s art, memorabilia and more importantly, other original documents, evidence and technologies.
I’ve continued working with top scientists and art experts, sifting through piles of archival materials, utilising non-destructive forensic paper analysis and special light sources. The upshot is I’ve never been surer of Sickert’s guilt. I believe he was responsible for the Jack the Ripper crimes and other debaucheries as well that include dismemberment, cannibalism, and the murder and mutilation of children.
In 2013, she even purchased, and then destroyed, a Sickert painting looking for clues.
Cornwall’s speculations have been greeted with a collective facepalm by art historians. “[I]n her desire to find answers, she simply hasn’t followed very sound principles of investigation,” Matthew Sturgis, author of a 2011 Sickert biography, told the Independent. “It is a nonsensical misreading of the facts.”
Duchamp Was Playing 3-Dimensional Chess With His Art
Serkan Özkaya’s We Will Wait (detail) (2017). Photo illustration by Brett Beyer and Lal Bahcecioglu. 2017.
Marcel Duchamp loved games and secrets. He famously said he quit art to play chess, concealing from the world that he was working in secret. You never know where you stand with the guy.
This willfully inscrutable character has, in turn, made his work fertile ground for speculation of all kinds. Indeed, this year a particularly awesome example surfaced when Turkish artist Serkan Özkaya unveiled a full-scale recreation of Duchamp’s final work, the diorama known as the Étant donnés. Özkaya hypothesizes that the peephole that allows you to look in through a door on the famous tableau was actually meant to function as kind of projector, throwing the image of a Duchamp self-portrait onto the wall. (Critics are mixed on whether they actually see it, but you have to admit, it’s a cool theory.)
“I find it almost insulting to Duchamp to think he never looked at it this way,” the artist told my colleague Brian Boucher. “There’s no way a master of shadows, and optics, and stereography, and projection didn’t look at it this way.”
It’s not the most out-there Duchamp theory, though. In the ‘90s, freelance scholar Rhonda Roland Shearer irritated the art history community—which has sanctified Duchamp’s idea of making art from “readymade” objects as the basis of Conceptualism—with another hypothesis: What if, she asked, the French artist actually sculpted all of his famous found-object sculptures by hand?
“It is not just one case,” Shearer told the Times in 1999. “It’s one thing after another. You start feeling like a fool for taking him at his word. Does this make him more interesting? Absolutely. He has been dead since 1968, but it’s as if he’s alive now, because we have a whole new set of objects.”
Duchamp’s snow shovel (Prelude to a Broken Arm, 1915), for instance, would never function as an actual snow shovel because its handle was square, she says, while the artist’s famed urinal (Fountain, 1917) is “too curvaceous” to have come from the Mott Iron Works, where he said he purchased it.
(Another Duchamp theory, incidentally, holds that the French expat did not actually dream up his most famous readymade, Fountain, and that it is instead actually the work of one Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven.)
Do scholars buy the “hand-made readymade” theory? Not in general. Would it matter? “[I]f she’s right,” the late philosopher and art historian Arthur Danto once told the Times, “I have no interest in Duchamp.”
Anthony Quinn Predicted September 11
Lithograph of Anthony Quinn’s Facets of Liberty.
Conspiracy theorists have found premonitions of 9/11 everywhere from the writings of Nostradamus to Back to the Future II. This year, add another source to the list: the paintings of the late, beloved Zorba the Greek actor and artist, Anthony Quinn (1915–2001).
“It was quite a surprise to me, and I kept looking at it and looking at it and seeing more of the images of that day, which included the firemen, the smoke in the sky, the planes crashing into the tower and things like that,” Harte told the Hollywood Reporter. In The Prophetic Imagery of Anthony Quinn, he claims that the painting conceals allusions to both the flaming Twin Towers and a bearded hijacker.
The book gathers proof of Quinn’s psychic powers, including the suggestion that he was visited by the ghost of Paul Gauguin while on the set of the 1956 Van Gogh biopic Lust for Life. In his autobiography, One Man Tango, Quinn claimed that Gauguin’s ghost instructed him on how to hold the paintbrush, resulting in a performance so credible that Quinn won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.
Among those unconvinced by Harte’s theory of “precognitive painting” is the actor’s widow, Katherine Quinn. She does, however, say that her late husband was haunted by a vision of something terrible shortly before his passing in 2001: “He said something awful is going to happen and nobody even understands on what scale it will be.”
Lafayette Anticipations, which opens this week, aims to present something new and different in Paris all of the time. Housed in an industrial building retrofitted by Rem Koolhaas in the historic Marais district, the spaces are hyper flexible and the emphasis is on maximum creativity. Artists, fashion designers, and performers will work under one roof and only new creations will be on show.
Conceived in 2013, and headed by the Galeries Lafayette foundation and the Moulin Family endowment fund, Lafayette Anticipations describes itself as France’s first multidisciplinary center, supporting contemporary creation across disciplines, ranging from art to design to fashion. The new institution is backed by the owners of the high-end French department store, Galeries Lafayette.
The foundation’s managing director, François Quintin, told artnet News that the name, “Lafayette Anticipations,” started as a joke. Launched five years ago, the foundation has been commissioning work without exhibiting it. (The pre-launch program included artist residencies and collaborations with institutions such as the Centre Pompidou, the Kunsthalle Basel, New York’s MoMA PS1, and Performa.) “When we realized that Paris, and everybody else, was talking about the opening of the foundation, we decided to call it ‘Lafayette Anticipation,’ in a play on the departments in Galeries Lafayette, such as Lafayette Gourmet, Lafayette Homme, Lafayette Femme, and so on, the joke being that it’s as though there is an ‘Anticipation’ department in the store.”
The plural, “Anticipations,” is meant to cover the broad scope of expectations in the pipeline—from the anticipation of what new work could be created next, to the foundation’s attempt to anticipate artists’ needs, and even to the larger notion of anticipating the future of the planet.
The foundation’s ambitious program is led by Quintin, who is well qualified for the job. He previously worked as curator of contemporary art at another of Paris’s private foundations, the Fondation Cartier, and for seven years headed a contemporary art center in the French regions, FRAC de Champagne-Ardenne. He also directed the commercial gallery Xippas for three years.
“I don’t see any equivalent of institutions like ours, even though we didn’t invent anything,” Quintin said. “The difference is that we’ve committed ourselves to saying that everything we will be showing here will be new.” It aims to organize around three to four annual exhibitions, with performance and workshop series peppered throughout.
The seven-story building that houses the foundation is located at 9, rue du Plâtre, in Paris’s former plastering quarter, which is now home to a number of galleries. Without disturbing the exterior of the 19th century structure, Rem Koolhaas and his firm OMA converted its central courtyard into a steel and glass exhibition tower, fitted with a bespoke mobile flooring system that offers 875 square meters of flexible exhibition space. The four independently moving platforms can be rearranged in more than forty different configurations depending on the project, and a 350-square-meter production workshop in the basement offers a space for guest artists to conceive and create work.
“The result is the encounter of a 19th-century building and a machine whose location, proportions, and performance are precisely dictated by the building,” Koolhaas said in a statement. Referring to the flexible tower structure at the heart of the historic building, he said: “Seeing before us the physical change in the proportions of the building and thus providing artists with the opportunity to almost daily compose the measures of their space, is very stimulating.”
Every three years, the foundation plans to invite guest curators from abroad. On the Lafayette Anticipations curatorial team is Charles Aubin, a French curator based in New York who is also involved with Performa; Anna Colin, an independent curator based in the UK; and the Dutch-Moroccan curator Hicham Khalidi.
The inaugural exhibition, “The Silence of the Sea,” running through April 30, is a Lutz Bacher takeover, an architectural intervention involving sound, light and transparent films, focused on the surfaces of the building such as window reflections and bare walls. It is the US conceptual artist’s first exhibition in France, and the title references a novel written by a member of the French Resistance during World War II, which was secretly published in German-occupied Paris and is now a major text of French literature.
What makes this newcomer stand apart from Paris’s many other foundations is its commitment to showing new work as well as its interdisciplinary focus. The brainchild of the president of the Galeries Lafayette Group, Guillaume Houzé, he sought to hark back to when the Galeries Lafayette developed 120 years ago, in a time of modernity when all the disciplines including design, arts and crafts, and applied art were seen as more fluid. Accordingly, the foundation presents the opportunity for designers, artists, performers, and fashion creators to mix disciplines and processes, as part of a general inquiry into the practices of creation, which hopes to lead to a better understanding of contemporary times. As Houzé said in a statement, “Only creation can consider the movement of an era in its diversity and thus carry us continually to new horizons.”