March 18, 2020

The Palette from Namta is a bi-weekly enewsletter with web articles about Art, Artists, and the Art Industry.

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

In this issue:

Old Master scandal: Italy rejects European arrest warrant for painter connected to forgery case
Largest ever number of Raphaels gathered for ‘mega-exhibition’ in Rome
Historic Prints Made by Japanese Fishermen Help Track Endangered Species
Google unlocks prehistoric art of France’s Chauvet cave
Titian’s poesie reunited at London's National Gallery—but is it with the right Danaë?
Some of the Art World’s Largest Donors Have Paid Millions to Squelch a Wealth Tax
Three Paintings, Including a Major Van Dyck, Stolen from Oxford University Gallery





Old Master scandal: Italy rejects European arrest warrant for painter connected to forgery case
Lino Frongia was arrested in September as part of a major investigation involving works purportedly by Lucas Cranach, Frans Hals, Parmigianino, Gentileschi and Bronzino

The court of appeal in Bologna has rejected a European arrest warrant issued for Lino Frongia, a local painter, in connection with a series of alleged Old Master forgeries that has rocked the US and European art markets, The Art Newspaper France reports.

This is a major setback for the Parisian judge Aude Burési who has led the criminal investigation in to the scandal over the past five years.

In the coming days, the court of appeal in Milan is expected to hear the cases of another person under investigation, Giuliano Ruffini. They are both also fighting European arrest warrants. Their Parisian lawyer, Philippe Scarzella, says he feels “quite optimistic” after the decision in Bologna.

The case involves paintings purported to be works by Lucas Cranach, Frans Hals, Parmigianino, Gentileschi and Bronzino, which have sold for millions of pounds. Over the past three decades, these works, along with many others, were sold by Giuliano Ruffini, usually through intermediaries, via major international galleries and auction houses.

Some of the pictures were exhibited by the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the National Gallery in London and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. The Louvre almost acquired the alleged Frans Hals, which is now the subject of a civil lawsuit in London.

Frongia's lawyer, Tatiana Minchiarelli, argued in court that the evidence in the warrant did not sufficiently justify her client's transfer to Paris. She pointed out that Frongia was only connected to one of the paintings in the investigation: a work deemed as an El Greco by several experts and leading figures including former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s under-secretary for culture Vittorio Sgarbi.

The criminal investigation has been severely hampered by tensions between France and Italy, which started in May 2016 when a French court opposed the judgment of a local court in Treviso ordering the restitution of an alleged Goya to Frongia.

Frongia and the Ruffini's arrest warrants were issued in May 2018 after they declined to be interviewed in Paris by French investigators. Frongia was arrested in northern Italy in September and was released after a day.

A rejection by the Milan court of the other warrant issued for Ruffini would be a further blow to the French investigators.

Both men maintain their innocence. The Art Newspaper


Largest ever number of Raphaels gathered for ‘mega-exhibition’ in Rome
Survey at the Scuderie del Quirinale is jointly organised by the Uffizi in Florence and will focus on the Renaissance master's crucial Roman period

The “mega-exhibition” at Rome’s Scuderie del Quirinale—promising a display of 200 masterpieces, including more than 100 paintings and drawings by Raphael—claims to be the high point of international celebrations marking the 500th anniversary of the death of the great Renaissance master (1483-1520). The National Gallery, London, however, is also promising to hold “one of the greatest ever” Raphael exhibitions in October. The Roman show is jointly organised by the Scuderie del Quirinale and the Gallerie degli Uffizi in Florence, in what the Uffizi director Eike Schmidt describes as “an unprecedented collaboration”. The Uffizi alone has loaned 40 works by the artist to help assemble the largest number of Raphaels ever to be seen under one roof.

“From the beginning, the main idea that inspired us was to construct a worthy tribute … a tribute capable of at least approximating the quality, variety, grace and unrivalled beauty of Raphael’s creative thinking”, say the curators Marzia Faietti and Matteo Lafranconi. Showstoppers from the Uffizi include one of Raphael’s best-loved Madonnas, dating from his Florentine period—the sweetly melancholic Madonna del Granduca (around 1505-06)—and the idealised beauty, La Donna Velata (around 1512-15). Other highlights, include the St Cecilia in Ecstasy (1518) from the Pinacoteca in Bologna, with its extraordinary foreground still-life of musical instruments; the superbly harmonious Alba Madonna (1510) from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC; the late Madonna of the Rose (around 1518-20) from the Museo del Prado in Madrid, which was probably completed with the help of an assistant; and Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione (around 1514-15), together with the late Self Portrait with Friend (around 1518-20), both from the Louvre.

While the exhibition will naturally focus on Raphael’s crucial Roman period—where he produced the famous frescoed suite of rooms in the Vatican, as well as being a chief architect on St Peter’s, to name just a couple of his many Roman achievements that must be experience in situ—the exhibition will also look at the whole sweep of his short but astonishingly fertile and influential career. “Vasari in his Life of Raphael described him as a painter and architect, but he was so much more.

He was a collector, an antiquarian, the [superintendent of Rome’s antiquities], and he undertook the graphic reconstruction of ancient Rome,” say the curators. “The exhibition aims to restore the depth of this complex figure as an experimental and multifaceted artist.”

Yet, without the Roman experience, Raphael “would not have become the revered figure who came to dominate centuries of Western art”, say the curators. It is for this reason that the curators have chosen to reverse the chronology of the show, starting in Rome, where he died at the age of 37, and then tracing his story back to Florence and Umbria. The exhibition, in fact, will open with a life-size facsimile of Raphael’s tomb “built with cutting-edge technologies and destined to find a home, after the exhibition, in his hometown of Urbino”. And for each day of the Raphael year, a fresh red rose will be laid on his actual tomb in the Pantheon, which bears the inscription: “Here lies Raphael, by whom nature herself feared to be outdone while he lived, and when he died, feared that she herself would die.” The Art Newspaper


Historic Prints Made by Japanese Fishermen Help Track Endangered Species
Gyotaku prints, made by pressing a fish covered in ink on paper, have been a credible research tool to examine marine biodiversity.

For centuries, fishermen in Japan have been creating ink prints of fish and sea species in a practice known as Gyotaku (魚拓) or “fish rubbing” in English. Originally used to record catches or brag about them in front of others, Gyotaku later became a recognized art form. Now, a new study led by two Japanese biologists has found a new use for the fish prints as a research tool for examining marine biodiversity and tracking extinct species.

Yusuke Miyazaki and Atsunobu Murase from the University of Miyazaki in southern Japan studied 261 samples of gyotaku collected from bait-and-tackle shops in local areas with threatened fish species.

“Methods for obtaining historical biodiversity information are mostly limited to examining museum specimens or surveying past literature,” the researchers write in their study. “The present study demonstrates the validity of examining ‘gyotaku’ for historical biodiversity information.”

According to the study, the oldest gyotaku prints date back to 1839, towards the end of Japan’s Edo Period. A collection of these prints is currently held at the Tsuruoka City Library. Others made in the 1850s–60s are kept at the Chido Museum in Tsuruoka and the Homma Museum of Art Sakata, Yamagata Prefecture.

Gyotaku is traditionally created by pressing a sheet of thin Japanese Washi paper onto a fish coated in black Sumi ink. The print usually includes additional stamps indicating the date of the catch, the location, the fisher’s name, a witness’s name, the fish species, and the type of fishing tackle used. While traditional gyotaku was printed by using black writing ink, modern color versions are used today for artistic and educational purposes.

According to the researchers, the “distributional information” provided in Gyotaku prints proved to be a credible data source for identifying dwindling fish populations included in the country’s Red List of endangered species. For instance, out of the tens of prints they collected, the biologists found only one depicting the fish species Sillago parvisquamis around Tokyo Bay, where it’s in danger of extinction. Seven prints of Hucho perryi were found in Hokkaido, while just three prints of Latesjaponicus (or Japanese Lates) were recorded in Miyazaki Prefecture.

“Given the rarity of these threatened species in some regions, ‘gyotaku’ are probably important vouchers for estimating historical population status, and factors of decline or extinction,” the scientists concluded.

But now, gyotaku itself is in danger of extinction. “Storage of gyotaku in the public areas of shops and stores is usually less than ideal, with exposure to tobacco smoke, sunlight, and moisture,” the study says. “This is the main reason for deteriorating gyotaku. In fact, some shop owners reported disposing of older damaged materials.”

Furthermore, the researchers concede that an equal threat to gyotaku is modern technology, as fishers today inevitably prefer to boast their catches in the new documentation form known as the selfie. Hyperallergic


Google unlocks prehistoric art of France’s Chauvet cave
One of the world's oldest rock art sites is now accessible through virtual reality

The team behind the vast replica of France’s Chauvet cave has partnered with Google Arts & Culture to create a new online exhibition and virtual reality experience illuminating the site’s spectacular yet inaccessible 36,000-year-old cave paintings and drawings.

One of the world’s oldest known rock art sites, the Chauvet cave in the Ardèche region of southeastern France has never been open to the public since its discovery by three speleologists in 1994. (The site takes its name from one of the trio, Jean-Marie Chauvet.) Unesco awarded the cave World Heritage status in 2014, in recognition of the more than 1,000 images of exceptional quality that have been preserved on its limestone walls, dominated by animal motifs such as lions, mammoths, rhinos and horses.

In 2007, the local and regional governments launched a €55m project to build a facsimile cave that would immerse visitors in the Palaeolithic frescoes with no conservation risks. The Caverne du Pont d’Arc opened around two miles away from the Chauvet cave in April 2015, and has been visited by more than 2 million visitors to date.

Now, the public body that developed and manages “Chauvet 2”, the Syndicat Mixte de l'Espace de Restitution de la Grotte Chauvet, has gone one step further, opening up digital access to the cave in collaboration with Google Arts & Culture. The online exhibition for desktop and mobile includes stories exploring why prehistoric humans created the Chauvet paintings and how the discovery of rock art has influenced artists from Pablo Picasso to Pierre Soulages.

Users are invited to zoom into six 3D models of parts of the Chauvet cave, such as the 10m-long horses fresco and the bear skull found at the centre of a chamber of skulls, which scholars have interpreted as a spiritual “altar” arrangement.

Google engineers have also repurposed the Chauvet team’s exhaustive digital records of the cave—collected through a series of laser scanning and photogrammetry campaigns between 2006 and 2011—to design new augmented reality and virtual reality (VR) experiences. The digital data was previously used to inform the construction of the replica cave from 2012 to 2015.

English and French versions of the interactive VR film, The Dawn of Art, are available for free download to HTC Vive and Oculus Rift headsets on the SteamVR platform. The 10-minute experience offers a guided tour through the cave complex, in which virtual visitors can raise a burning torch to the decorated walls and “touch” one of the prehistoric red-pigment hand stencils. Those without a headset can view Google’s 360-degree video on YouTube.

In development since 2018, the VR experience gives people the opportunity to see the “first masterpieces of humanity” up close in a way that would be “impossible in the real cave or in the replica”, according to a Chauvet spokesperson. The Art Newspaper


Titian’s poesie reunited at London's National Gallery—but is it with the right Danaë?
Renaissance specialists are divided as to which painting is the one commissioned by Philip II of Spain: the one at London's Apsley House or the one at the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid

The National Gallery has reassembled Titian’s six great mythological poesie paintings, in an exhibition opening this week that will travel to Edinburgh, Madrid and Boston. This is the first time that the works, commissioned by Philip II of Spain, have been brought together since the late 16th century.

However, a controversy has broken out over which of two versions of the Danaë story is the one commissioned by Philip II. Charles Hope, a Venetian Renaissance specialist, believes the painting of Danaë commissioned by Philip II is not the one from the Wellington Collection at Apsley House, London—which is included in the National Gallery exhibition—but Titian’s Danae and the Shower of Gold, now at the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid. Among other concerns, he cites the fact that the Prado version is of a superior quality and regrets that it will not be featured in the reuniting of the poesie. Another Renaissance expert, David Jaffé, who curated the National Gallery’s Titian exhibition of 2003, agrees that the Prado Danaë is “a better candidate [for the poesie series] than the not very exciting Apsley House painting”.

Until 2004, the Prado Danaë was accepted as part of the Philip II series. In that year, the specialist Paul Joannides tentatively put forward a theory that the Wellington picture was in fact from the original set. This was supported by the Prado’s curator (and now director) Miguel Falomir. The art historian Peter Humfrey considered and rejected Joannides’s theory in his book on Titian of 2007.

Matthias Wivel, the curator of the National Gallery’s 2020 exhibition, supports Joannides, following substantial new evidence occasioned by the restoration and technical examination of the Wellington picture in 2014 and the two versions being displayed side by side in the Prado. Presenting the body of evidence, he writes in the exhibition catalogue that it “establishes the Wellington painting as Philip’s Danaë and not only reintroduces a hitherto underappreciated picture to the conversation, but also enriches our understanding of Titian’s arrangement with Philip, his workshop practice, and ultimately one of his most radical, erotic and human inventions.”

But in a letter to The Art Newspaper, Charles Hope still questions the Joannides attribution. Hope writes: “[Joannides and Falomir] do not explain why Titian should have sent Philip a work as inferior as the one at Apsley House, but later should have painted the much finer Prado version.”

The Prado’s Danaë will be included when the exhibition travels to Madrid, in what will be a broader presentation, but not as part of the poesie. The Art Newspaper


Some of the Art World’s Largest Donors Have Paid Millions to Squelch a Wealth Tax
A decades-long campaign by the ultra-wealthy, including the Koch, deVos, Mars, Bass, and Walton families, has successfully misinformed United States taxpayers about what the estate tax actually is and who it affects.

The Democratic candidates for the presidency — especially Warren and Sanders — have proposed establishing new “wealth taxes” to address income inequality in the US. This is an important conversation for our country to have, because income inequality is at a five-decade high now in the US, and has insidious effects on the entire population. But these proposals would be difficult to implement, and there’s concern that such taxes might even be subject to a constitutional challenge.

But before we get lost in that debate, I want to reacquaint everyone with the tax we already have on the books that addresses income inequality: the Estate Tax. A decades-long campaign by the ultra-wealthy has successfully confused and misinformed United States taxpayers about what the estate tax actually is and who it affects. Among those families are several of the art world’s biggest patrons, including the Koch, deVos, Mars, Bass, and Walton families.

So what is the estate tax? It is a law, currently in place, that taxes extreme wealth upon the death of the taxpayer. When an ultra-wealthy, single taxpayer dies, her total assets over $11.58 million are taxed at 40%. If a couple are married, that threshold doubles to $23.16 million. (These are the 2020 rates; the tax is indexed to inflation.)

The taxpayer never pays this tax during her lifetime — she is taxed when it doesn’t hurt — after her death. To be clear, not one dollar of her estate below the threshold is touched by this law. So, all Americans, regardless of wealth, can inherit a $23.16 million dollar estate (from a married couple) or a $11.58 million dollar estate (if inheriting from an individual) tax free.

Given that it takes $10.3 million net worth to be in the top 1%, (according to data from the 2016 Federal Reserve survey of consumer finances) the estate tax doesn’t even touch everyone in the 1%. In 2018, only 1,900 estates owed any estate tax. This means 99.9% of the estimated 2,700,000 people who died in 2018 paid no estate tax at all.

The estate tax was established in 1916, as a Progressive-Era remedy for wealth inequality. Theodore Roosevelt pushed for it as a way to ensure equality of opportunity among Americans — and to prevent the concentration of wealth in the hands of a very few wealthy families.

Part of the reasoning for this tax is that much of the wealth in the hands of the very wealthiest Americans never gets taxed at all. Why? The majority of assets in large estates consist of “unrealized gains,” meaning, they are the growth in the value of the assets held (ie, an art collection, real estate, stocks and bonds, etc). Under US law, these gains are only taxed upon being “realized” — generally when they are sold or transferred. In 2009, 55% of all estates over $100 million consisted of unrealized gains. And taxes are already more favorable for the wealthy than for the middle class. The highest wealth individuals pay a lower tax rate than Americans who work — because these individuals generally make their money from capital gains, instead of “earned” income like the rest of us. This is what Warren Buffett means when he says he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. Income tax rates are higher than capital gains rates.

To use an art world example: most of the art handlers, curators, and artists involved in any given museum show are paying a higher tax rate than most of the members of that museum’s board of directors. The artists and arts workers are taxed largely at the income tax rate, while the collector class is paying tax at the more favorable capital gains tax rate. The estate tax was established — and kept — as a mild correction for a taxation system that skews in favor of the wealthy. Further, it is meant to slow the concentration of wealth into the hands of a small group of families. Think of it as an anti-oligarchy tax.

For those who believe the government should not play a role in such matters, it’s important to note that the racial wealth gap in our country widened because of government policy: redlining, segregation, access to education, and eviction laws. Just laws are the rightful remedy to counteract the discriminatory laws that set up this problem in the first place.

So if the estate tax is so great, why do Americans feel so negatively about it? It’s not an accident. The wealthiest families in America, many of them mega-collectors and patrons of the arts (and the ones with the most to gain from repeal) have spent decades and millions of dollars lobbying to repeal the estate tax, as well as perpetuating the false notion that the estate tax would hurt farmers and small businesses. These include the Koch (Metropolitan Museum of Art), deVos (ArtPrize, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Bass (Kimball Art Museum), and Walton (Crystal Bridges Museum of Art) families, among others. Their success has been remarkable. When average Americans call it the “death tax,” they are using the terminology of repeal supporters. (This term was first coined in the 1940s by estate tax opponents, and was revived in the 1990s by the Republican Party.) But a more accurate label might be the “silver spoon tax” or even the “Jared and Ivanka tax.” Death happens to us all. Inheriting a $25-million-dollar estate only happens to the children of the top 0.1%.

This successful obfuscation around the estate tax has had a big effect. There was little objection raised when Republicans quietly doubled the estate tax threshold as part of the 2018 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act — from $10.98 million (for married couples) in 2017 to $22.4 million in 2018.

We have a growing problem with wealth inequality in this country. And while I applaud the proposals of the Democratic candidates — and hope we can enact them — I want everyone to know that we have a far easier path. The estate tax was made to address this problem, and we simply need to fall back in love with it, and lower the exemption threshold back to its formerly more effective level. Hyperallergic


Three Paintings, Including a Major Van Dyck, Stolen from Oxford University Gallery

Over the weekend, three paintings, including a significant work by the Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck, were stolen from a gallery at Oxford University’s Christ Church college, in what local police are calling a “high-value burglary.”

Van Dyck’s A Soldier on Horseback (1616), Salvator Rosa’s A Rocky Coast, with Soldiers Studying a Plan (1640s), and Annibale Carracci’s A Boy Drinking (1580) were taken from the Christ Church Picture Gallery late Saturday night. A report by the Times estimated that the works pilfered from the British museum could be worth an estimated £10 million (or about $12.2 million).

Inspector Jon Capps, of the Thames Valley Police, said in a statement, “The artwork has not yet been recovered but a thorough investigation is under way to find it and bring those responsible to justice. There will be an increased police presence in the area while officers and staff carry out enquiries.” Police are currently appealing for any information from the public on the break-in, and officials have not yet provided an explanation for how the thieves entered the museum and how the works were taken.

A Christ Church college spokesperson told the Guardian that the gallery will be closed until further notice.

The paintings by Carracci and Van Dyck were among a bequest of General John Guise in 1765 of more than 200 paintings and nearly 2,000 drawings to Oxford University. Rosa’s A Rocky Coast was bequeathed by Sir Richard Nosworthy in 1966. Van Dyck’s current auction record stands at $13.5 million, for a self-portrait sold at Sotheby’s London auction house in 2009. ARTnews