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Berkshire Museum sale, a terrible idea

One of my favorite small museums up here has decided to eviscerate itself in order to fund itself, the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield. On their website they say they are taking a “new direction”, what this really is a money grab, as the board and director cannot figure out how to raise funds to keep the place open. The plan is to sell 40 of their most important paintings and works of art, to raise money to fund their endowment and become more of an educational institution. I think this is a terrible idea. I love small regional museums, and the Berkshire Museum is a fine example. Housed in a handsome compact Beaux art brick building, it has a fine small collection of paintings including pieces by such luminaries such as Frederich Church, Norman Rockwell, an Alexander Calder, and many others.   Frederic Church’s, Valley of the Santa Ysabel, 1875 I was just in Pittsfield this past April and took the photo above, as it is a particularly beautiful Frederic Church painting. Unfortunately it is […]

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Colonel Bogdanos on antiquties market

Col. Bogdanos speaking in 2003 at the Pentagon  One of the most quotable and influential public personalities to have emerged from the chaos and destruction following the invasion of Iraq by the US in 2003 has been Colonel Matthew Bogdanos.  He wrote a book following the invasion and looting of the Iraqi National Museum and his efforts to retrieve its treasures, Thieves of Baghdad published in 2005, which I am reading now. He is often featured in documentaries and television interviews. CBS featured him in their report on conflict antiquities, which we were shown as part of the symposium held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York last Tuesday September 29th.  CBS report on Conflict Antiquities   http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/antiquities-expert-on-black-market-for-historical-treasures

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Palmyra in the news again

Earlier this December, various media outlets reported that ISIS had retaken Palmyra. Other than a general expression of concern, no details were reported.  Clearly this is a terrible thing for those who care about art, and our common cultural history.  Here is a link to the article from the 12th of December: The Art Newspaper December 12, 2016 The New York Times reported this as well, and a few days later, a strange small piece relating how the US destroyed 14 tanks left behind by the Syrian army when the ISIS retook Palmyra: NY Times, US destroys tanks near Palmyra So the brief hope kindled when Palmyra was liberated from ISIS, has been crushed.  Not only did the Syrian army lose Palmyra in the first place, they couldn’t hold it, and their weapons were taken.  The incompetence and impotence of the Syrian army has been proven once again.  The U.S. bombed the tanks to keep them from being used against our allies in the area.  Why does this matter, and why am I writing about […]

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Asia Week 2016

I wish I could do one of my posts on highlights seen during Asia Week, but this year the event has been destroyed by the actions of the US government misguided war on culture. I came to go to Asia Week to see the different exhibitions on Wednesday, and one of my first stops was to Gallery Vallois at 67th and Madison, where Dalton Somare was exhibiting.  He is a dealer I featured last year because of the extraordinary pieces he showed. This year, I found the doors shut and locked and we were not allowed in, the owner answered the door to say they were rearranging and to come back another day. I at first thought it a thin pretext to keep people away while he had an important client in and I thought it was rude and strange behavior for a public event such as Asia Week. Only at the end of the day did I learn that instead, the gallery had been raided by US marshals who confiscated a major sculpture they […]

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Conflict Antiquities Symposium at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Palmyran funerary relief in the Smithsonian Museum, Washington D.C.  Last Tuesday night, September 29th, I went to a seminar held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art titled: “Conflict Antiquities, forging a public/private response to save the endangered patrimony of Iraq and Syria”.  The title and program warned me that this was likely to be an exercise in blaming the antiquities market for the cultural destruction in the Levant, and it was. It was co-sponsored by the US Department of State, here is a link to the press release on it. Thrust of the speakers, who ranged from assistant secretaries of State, representatives from Homeland Security, agents of the Justice Department and high end attorneys for major museums and auction houses, was that the market for looted antiquities was the GREATEST threat to Syria and Iraqi’s cultural patrimony.  They went over the extensive looting taking place with aerial photographs of sites pillaged since the unrest in Syria and Iraq, and the rise of ISIS. However, their case is unconvincing to those involved in the antiquities business […]

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Civilization Under Attack, what can we do?

Still from ISIS video of the destruction of Nimrud in April 2015 There is a new force arising in the East, and it is undeniably evil, ISIS, also called Daesh, ISIL, and I am sure other names. By any name, the rise of ISIS is one of the most disturbing things to happen in my lifetime. And the world does nothing, or at least nothing effective to counter them and stop the killing of innocents, and now the destruction of our common human heritage. The provocation has been deliberate and intense, videos of the beheading, first of Western hostages one at a time, then mass decapitations of groups of men, one of the last available to be seen was the group beheading of a dozen Egyptian Coptic Christians a few months ago.  It is very hard to find these videos now online, as evidently the powers that be are suppressing their dissemination in the idea that these videos  are recruiting tools for ISIS. However I think everyone should see them, their barbarity is shocking and […]

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The power of negativity!

This past week was Asia Week at Sotheby’s New York and Christie’s.  The Sotheby’s sale had some exceptional and very good early Chinese Buddhist sculpture, Christie’s had almost nothing of that type.  The estimates at Sotheby’s were very high, I thought overly ambitious, but I was hopeful. Perhaps Sotheby’s was hoping to recreate the excitement and high prices generated by the Robert Ellsworth auction earlier in March of this year: http://tomswope.com/amazing-results-the-robert-ellsworth-sale-at-christies-march-2015/. The early Chinese Buddhist sculpture in the Ellsworth sale sold exceptionally well, going way over the conservatively low, but realistic estimates.  However, as I would like to see the field progress, I was hoping the high expectations at Sotheby’s would be realized.  I was unable to attend the sale in person, so followed it live online, as now anyone with an internet connection can.  It was a shocking experience, not a single one of the early Chinese Buddhist sculptures sold.  Below are the top three pieces: lot 422, Sotheby’s 16 September 2015 sale  The stela above has a single Buddha standing with a flame […]

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Asia Week, New York, March 2015, over heard trash talk!

I was just in NYC earlier this week, to preview the Ellsworth Collection sale at Christie’s and see Asia Week. On view in different galleries, mostly on the Upper East Side, are a range of dealers, from Europe as well as New York and America, covering the full gamut of Asian art, from ancient to contemporary, and from Japan, Korea to Indian and Southeast Asian, and of course Chinese.  I focus on the few dealers who handle ancient art.  One of them was exhibiting at Friedman Vallois, on East 67th Street and Madison Avenue, from Milan, Dalton Somare. I am not familiar with them, but was very impressed with what they had on view, see below. Gandharan Head of a Buddha   Prominently featured and very well displayed was this immense colossal head of a Buddha, Gandharan, from India, 2nd to 3rd Century A.D.  Carved of grey schist, it is 68 cm tall, about 27 inches.  A fragment from a larger sculpture, possibly a composite sculpture, it is a very imposing head.  And beautiful. side […]

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Amazing results, the Robert Ellsworth sale at Christies March 2015

Robert Ellsworth was a pioneering dealer of Chinese and Asian art in New York from the 1960’s into the 1990’s. I unfortunately never got to know him, I did meet him briefly at an art fair, and was impressed by his emerald green jade set in a high karat gold ring. I was told by a friend who would know, that the jade was of such fine color and quality that it was worth 2 million, and this was in the 1990’s!  I never got to see his apartment, which was legendary, large and on Fifth Avenue, full of fine antique American and Chinese furniture and of course, Asian antiquities.  When he died last year, the extensive obituaries lauded his taste and importance as a dealer in early Asian art, and his social connections. Christie’s got his estate to sell, and did so just this week, in a series of  6 sales over 5 days, the last day being today as I write this.  The sale has been eagerly anticipated by myself and everyone involved […]

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Yet another Poniatowski gem discovered!

I just recently purchased a gem set in a gold frame hung from chains to be used as a pendant, that is one of the Poniatowski Gems.  The dealer knew what it was, but not which one, and I have been able to find it in the Beazley Archives, where it’s current whereabouts are marked as unknown. No longer, it can re-emerge into the view of the wider world.  The gem, which measures 30mm long by 22mm wide, is carnelian agate, and has a scene of a winged man seated in a rocky setting, handing a bag to a cloaked man with a rounded cap. Behind this man is the prow of a ship with its swan head finial.  Below the ground line is a long inscription in Greek letters.  The surface of the gem is slightly worn and the carving is of very high quality, the composition has strong diagonals, and the size of the gem is large as engraved gems go. All these factors mark it as being from the Poniatowski collection, but […]

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Another Poniatowski gem rediscovered

It has been a while since I last posted to my blog.  So here I will catch up with a few new posts, on more Poniatowski gems that I have purchased, starting with this beauty, which was lost, and now is found. Engraved Carnelian in gold swivel setting. Above is the gem, and engraved carnelian agate, here shown with the light going through it, allowing one to see the masterful engraving, an three dimensional image done in reverse, intaglio.  What we see is a young serious woman, hair drawn back into a simple bun, indication of robes at the bottom of her neck, and a large inscription along the left side, reading “POLLA ARGENTARIA”. Here you see the gem in its setting, in reflected light. Above is the gem seen in its setting, with the light reflecting off the surface.  What isn’t evident from this image is that the surface shows some minor wear with some small scratches.  This becomes important in its identification. The research of this gem took several stages.  Its first rate […]

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Another rediscovered Paniatowski Gem

Amethyst Intaglio set in its Original gold and black enamel setting. Dear Reader, it has been awhile but my recent purchase of this magnificent intaglio has inspired me post.  It is a large convex amethyst gem engraved with a scene of of Apollo and a youth, with a dying stag under a tree.  It is an illustration of the Greco-Roman myth best told by Ovid in his wonderful “Metamorphosis”, which I will relate below.  Gem seen with light shining through it. Above in the backlit image, you can see the carving clearly. The gem is from the notorious Poniatowski collection, this is Tyrrell 513, illustrated on the Beazley Archives by the plaster impression Tyrrell had made of it and all the Poniatowski gems he purchased. Here is the link: http://www.beazley.ox.ac.uk/XDB/ASP/recordDetails.asp?id=A8609B33-4BA7-4A5D-B4AC-26118857ACC3 The Poniatowski gems have become of great interest to me; they are beautiful examples of the gem engravers art, their subjects are wonderful, and their history is so fascinating.  It is rare that I get a chance to have objects that one knows for whom […]

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