Published date: 16 Mar 2012
One of the most exciting moments in an auction house is when a painting, hitherto disregarded by its owners, has something about it that demands more research into its history, provenance – and attribution. Bonhams' specialists see thousands of works a year and, during their careers, they have built up a mental image library, which is why, when works come in, they are perfectly placed to evaluate each and every one.
At Bonhams, the process begins with the porters who initially receive the works. When one of the team in the Oxford salerooms alerted the Old Masters Department to a small portrait of an unknown man that had arrived with a collection belonging to a 19th-century painter, Caroline Oliphant, the Head of Pictures, immediately looked at the image. She decided there might well be a more illustrious hand that was responsible for the painting rather than 'studio of'. To find out what happened next, turn to page 32 and read Andrew McKenzie's account of the investigation into this intriguing picture.
It's not the first time that one has wished that a painting could talk. Because objects are often more reliable witnesses to history than people. This season, Bonhams is selling a number of works that tell a story more eloquently about the fate of the owners than the owners themselves. Take the jewelry albums of Grand Duchess Xenia, to be offered in The Russian Sale. Xenia, the sister of the last tsar, Nicholas II, escaped with her life, but little else to remind her of her glittering past – apart from two jewelry albums that detailed her former riches. It is a reminder of the importance – and power – of objects that can bear witness.
Grand Duchess Xenia, one of the last surviving Romanovs, escaped Russia at the last moment. Frances Welch reveals her extraordinary tale
J. M. W. Turner, the 'painter of light', created poetic watercolors of the Yorkshire landscapes. Timothy Wilcox explains what took him there
Robert Mapplethorpe's photographs of flowers are exquisite, says Francis Hodgson, but it's the heady scent of danger that makes them more than studies of nature
It's the once in a lifetime discovery, says Andrew McKenzie. Here, he recounts the exciting tale of the discovery of an unknown painting by none other than Velázquez
Count von Brühl took full advantage of his position as director of the porcelain factory: he ordered it by the crate. What was unrecognized, says Maureen Cassidy-Geiger, was that some of the highlights were made for the king
Frank Auerbach was one of the few people that Lucian Freud didn't fall out with. Martin Gayford, who knew both painters, reveals what they thought about each other
Paddy Bedford, an Aboriginal cattle herder, became one of Australia's most internationally renowned artists. Georges Petitjean explains how
'Blue and white' is the classical color for Chinese porcelain. Colin Sheaf explains why
Vasilii Polenov is considered to be one of the true masters of 19th-century Russian art. Claire Wrathall considers his work
The Chinese famously love Lafite, but they are fast developing a taste for Romanée-Conti. Bruce Palling isn't at all surprised
Kraków, the old Polish capital, is one of the jewels of Europe. Celina Fox chooses her favorite historical sites
Cartoonist Gerald Scarfe finds inspiration in a little-known room at the Musée d'Orsay