Category Archive 'Art'
21 Apr 2018

The Female Nude: Problematic in the Age of #MeToo

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Eric Fischl, Bad Boy, 1981 and spectator.

The Cut reports that “Paintings of naked women, usually by clothed men, are suddenly sitting very uncomfortably on gallery walls.”

Male artists wonder whether they can work with the female form, while the world questions what their intentions were in the first place. …

The western art canon is in no small part a parade of famous female nudes, from Praxiteles’s Aphrodite of Knidos from the fourth century B.C. to Manet’s 19th-century prostitutes (notably the recumbent, unamused Olympia) to John Currin’s Playboy-meets-Fragonard women — and almost all of them have been made by white male artists. …

The question of the moment has become: Is it still an artistically justifiable pursuit for a man to paint a naked woman?

To answer this question, I reached out to a number of prominent male artists known for doing just that (as well as for painting nude men). But most of them — including Currin, Carroll Dunham, Jeff Koons, and the young Mexican-American painter Alex Becerra (some of whose nudes are drawn from escort ads) — declined to talk about their work’s relationship to the current social climate. Presumably, they worried about unintentionally saying the wrong thing that would then echo endlessly across social media, damaging their reputations. For emerging artists, there is the fear of a possibly career-derailing gestalt fail. “I’ve been in conversations with other [male artists], and they were just like, ‘I quit working with the figure. I’m only doing abstract work, because I don’t want to touch it,’ ” says Marty Schnapf while walking me through his recent solo show “Fissures in the Fold” at Wilding Cran Gallery in Los Angeles. He thinks we could be living through “a new Victorian age” — or at least that’s his explanation for the mixed responses he’s received for his gender-confusing neo-Cubist nudes, which play out sexualized fantasies in hotel rooms and surrealist swimming-pool dreamscapes, and evoke Joan Semmel’s erotic works from the 1970s. …

In New York, there was the viral petition asking that the Metropolitan Museum remove or contextualize the Balthus painting Thérèse Dreaming, depicting an adolescent girl leg up, her eyes closed: “The Met is, perhaps unintentionally, supporting voyeurism and the objectification of children.” While the museum didn’t acquiesce, Balthus’s reputation was already on the decline. Industry experts reminded me that, whereas in the boundary-pushing ’70s, a Balthus was considered to add a sophisticatedly perverse note to one’s collection, in recent years, he’s regarded as a little skeevy.

RTWT

And we used to think the Victorians were annoyingly moralistic!

18 Feb 2018

Obamas’ Choices

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Tim Mostert puts the Obama presidential portraits in the right perspective.

The recently unveiled Obama portraits are of a type that I have seen many times in my career as an artist and art historian. The poses are wooden, the compositions hackneyed, and both subjects have obviously been copied from photographs. To make up for the technical weakness of the painting’s execution, the artist relies on gimmicks to drag their image over the finish line, hoping that that will mask his limited technical abilities, or at least divert attention from them.

The official portrait is part of an old tradition perfected by Renaissance painters more than 500 years ago. The artists were generally painting powerful old men, who tended to be a bit ugly. To make up for what lacked in the sitter’s physical beauty, the artist would emphasize the internal. A great painting of a king or pope tells you something about the subject’s inner thoughts, his psyche. The image is more about what’s going on inside his head rather than the outer trappings of his position or status. Great paintings by Titian and Velázquez show us the most powerful men in their world, but we feel we know them intimately. This is what a great artist can do with simple paint and canvas – no copying photographs, no assembly line of assistants doing most of the work, and no gimmicks to hide their lack of ability.

The Obama portraits are kind of shocking – not only because the paintings are so clichéd and amateurish, but because Barack and Michelle would choose artists primarily by virtue of their skin color and radical views instead of whether they could actually pull off an official portrait. With no budget limitations, you choose these two? These substandard paintings will hang in the National Gallery for all time. I assume that the Obamas wanted to prove a point. With the Obamas, everything comes down to race and retribution, and here was one last chance to rub someone’s nose in something.

The Obama portraits are a sad reflection on how bad a choice someone can make when given the opportunity to do something great.

Think of the position of absolute privilege you would be in, if you could choose any artist in the world to paint your portrait. No ceiling on the budget. You can choose any artist, and he will immortalize, knowing he will be paid handsomely, and his work will be prominently displayed in the prestigious National Portrait Gallery. Bizarrely, you base your choice on political affiliation and race rather than artistic ability. If we chose pilots and surgeons in the same way, most of us would be dead.

RTWT

01 Feb 2018

Famous Waterhouse Painting Removed in Manchester

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John William Waterhouse, Hylas and the Nymphs, 1896, Manchester City Art Gallery.

The Guardian reports that the Manchester City Art Gallery has removed a Pre-Raphaelite painting not as censorship, you understand, but rather “to prompt conversations.”

It is a painting that shows pubescent, naked nymphs tempting a handsome young man to his doom, but is it an erotic Victorian fantasy too far, and one which, in the current climate, is unsuitable and offensive to modern audiences?

Manchester Art Gallery has asked the question after removing John William Waterhouse’s Hylas and the Nymphs, one of the most recognisable of the pre-Raphaelite paintings, from its walls. Postcards of the painting will be removed from sale in the shop.

The painting was taken down on Friday and replaced with a notice explaining that a temporary space had been left “to prompt conversations about how we display and interpret artworks in Manchester’s public collection”. Members of the public have stuck Post-it notes around the notice giving their reaction.

Clare Gannaway, the gallery’s curator of contemporary art, said the aim of the removal was to provoke debate, not to censor. “It wasn’t about denying the existence of particular artworks.”

The work usually hangs in a room titled In Pursuit of Beauty, which contains late 19th century paintings showing lots of female flesh.

Gannaway said the title was a bad one, as it was male artists pursuing women’s bodies, and paintings that presented the female body as a passive decorative art form or a femme fatale.

“For me personally, there is a sense of embarrassment that we haven’t dealt with it sooner. Our attention has been elsewhere … we’ve collectively forgotten to look at this space and think about it properly. We want to do something about it now because we have forgotten about it for so long.”

Gannaway said the debates around Time’s Up and #MeToo had fed into the decision.

The removal itself is an artistic act and will feature in a solo show by the artist Sonia Boyce which opens in March. People can tweet their opinion using #MAGSoniaBoyce. …

Gannaway said the removal was not about censorship.

“We think it probably will return, yes, but hopefully contextualised quite differently. It is not just about that one painting, it is the whole context of the gallery.”

RTWT

Look at you, oogling those nymphs! Aren’t you ashamed of yourself, you nasty cis-gendered masculine perpetuator of the patriarchy?

26 Jan 2018

To The Guggenheim Museum: Who Actually Bought a Gold-Plated Toilet? You Did, Not Trump

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We live in an appalling age. When the White House requested a (conventionally granted) loan of a painting by Van Gogh from New York’s Guggenheim Museum, the kind of request that constitutes an honor and an opportunity for institutional service to the nation, the museum’s chief curator proved incapable of rising above the most vicious kind of political partisanship and responded with a crude gesture of vulgarity designed to express the highest degree of contempt while supposedly flourishing that establishmentarian curator’s skill at drawing upon the canon of the Arts.

The Washington Post gloatingly reported:

The emailed response from the Guggenheim’s chief curator to the White House was polite but firm: The museum could not accommodate a request to borrow a painting by Vincent van Gogh for President and Melania Trump’s private living quarters.

Instead, wrote the curator, Nancy Spector, another piece was available, one that was nothing like “Landscape With Snow,” the 1888 van Gogh rendering of a man in a black hat walking along a path in Arles, France, with his dog.

The curator’s alternative: an 18-karat, fully functioning, solid gold toilet — an interactive work titled “America” that critics have described as pointed satire aimed at the excess of wealth in this country.

For a year, the Guggenheim had exhibited “America” — the creation of contemporary artist Maurizio Cattelan — in a public restroom on the museum’s fifth floor for visitors to use.

But the exhibit was over and the toilet was available “should the President and First Lady have any interest in installing it in the White House,” Spector wrote in an email obtained by The Washington Post.

The artist “would like to offer it to the White House for a long-term loan,” wrote Spector, who has been critical of Trump. “It is, of course, extremely valuable and somewhat fragile, but we would provide all the instructions for its installation and care.”

RTWT


Vincent van Gogh, Landscape with Snow, 1888, Guggenheim Museum.

Proving that the big brains at the Guggenheim, who so look down on Trump, are actually the kind of idiots willing to accept a gold-plated toilet, created as a slur on the same free enterprise system that funded the Guggenheim’s creation, as “art” worthy of presentation by a major museum. I’ve seen Donald Trump’s interior design choices, and I could picture Donald Trump having gold-plated thunderboxes in his penthouse, but he’d be sensible enough to use them practically. Trump wouldn’t take a gold-plated crapper as some kind of artistic statement unlike the dodos sitting atop our arts establishment.

Can anyone picture the head of a prominent museum, just a few decades ago, indulging in such a spiteful, vulgar, and scatological expression of partisanship? People simply did not behave like that. They had enough good sense to recognize that no political party possessed a monopoly of good intentions or virtue and that one’s preferred side inevitably sometimes lost. If someone in a responsible position did not happen to like the current occupant of the White House, he simply did his job and kept his feelings and political opinions to himself. Today’s establishment is made up of self-righteous simpletons, eaten up with self-entitlement, lacking common sense, decency, and good manners.

17 Nov 2017

Questionable Leonardo With Serious Condition Issues Sold for $450.3 Million at Christie’s

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New York Times:

After 19 minutes of dueling, with four bidders on the telephone and one in the room, Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” sold on Wednesday night for $450.3 million with fees, shattering the high for any work of art sold at auction. It far surpassed Picasso’s “Women of Algiers,” which fetched $179.4 million at Christie’s in May 2015. The buyer was not immediately disclosed.

There were gasps throughout the sale, as the bids climbed by tens of millions up to $225 million, by fives up to $260 million, and then by twos. As the bidding slowed, and a buyer pondered the next multi-million-dollar increment, Jussi Pylkkanen, the auctioneer, said, “It’s an historic moment; we’ll wait.”

Toward the end, Alex Rotter, Christie’s co-chairman of postwar and contemporary art, who represented a buyer on the phone, made two big jumps to shake off one last rival bid from Francis de Poortere, Christie’s head of old master paintings.

The price is all the more remarkable at a time when the old masters market is contracting, because of limited supply and collectors’ penchant for contemporary art.

And to critics, the astronomical sale attests to something else — the degree to which salesmanship has come to drive and dominate the conversation about art and its value. Some art experts pointed to the painting’s damaged condition and its questionable authenticity.

“This was a thumping epic triumph of branding and desire over connoisseurship and reality,” said Todd Levin, a New York art adviser.

Christie’s marketing campaign was perhaps unprecedented in the art world; it was the first time the auction house went so far as to enlist an outside agency to advertise the work. Christie’s also released a video that included top executives pitching the painting to Hong Kong clients as “the holy grail of our business” and likening it to “the discovery of a new planet.” Christie’s called the work “the Last da Vinci,” the only known painting by the Renaissance master still in a private collection (some 15 others are in museums).

“It’s been a brilliant marketing campaign,” said Alan Hobart, director of the Pyms Gallery in London, who has acquired museum-quality artworks across a range of historical periods for the British businessman and collector Graham Kirkham. “This is going to be the future.”

RTWT

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Times Critic Jason Farago (speaking on behalf of the Establishment) does not like the painting or its buyer.

You can’t put a price on beauty; you can put a price on a name. When the National Gallery in London exhibited a painting of Christ in 2011 as a heretofore lost work by Leonardo da Vinci, the surprise in art historical circles was exceeded only by the salivating of dealers and auctioneers.

The painting, “Salvator Mundi,” is the only Leonardo in private hands, and was brought to market by the family trust of Dmitry E. Rybolovlev, the Russian billionaire entangled in an epic multinational lawsuit with his former dealer, Yves Bouvier. On Wednesday night, at Christie’s postwar and contemporary sale (in which it was incongruously included to reach bidders beyond Renaissance connoisseurs), the Leonardo sold for a shocking $450.3 million, the highest price ever paid for a work of art at auction. Worth it? Well, what are you buying: the painting or the brand?

The painting, when purchased at an estate sale in 2005 for less than $10,000, was initially considered a copy of a lost Leonardo, completed around 1500 and once in the collection of Charles I of England. Over time, its wood surface became cracked and chafed, and it had been crudely overpainted, as an image in the sale catalog shows. Cleaned by the conservator Dianne Dwyer Modestini, the painting now appears in some limbo state between its original form and an exacting, though partially imagined, rehabilitation.

Authentication is a serious but subjective business. I’m not the man to affirm or reject its attribution; it is accepted as a Leonardo by many serious scholars, though not all. I can say, however, what I felt I was looking at when I took my place among the crowds who’d queued an hour or more to behold and endlessly photograph “Salvator Mundi”: a proficient but not especially distinguished religious picture from turn-of-the-16th-century Lombardy, put through a wringer of restorations.

RTWT

24 Oct 2017

Spectators Matching Artworks

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Bored Panda:

France-based photographer Stefan Draschan always keeps himself entertained at art galleries by creating his own art projects.

One of those projects is “People matching artworks”. Although at first Draschan’s images seem perfectly staged, the secret behind them is actually patience. The photographer enjoys visiting different museums mostly in Paris, Vienna and Berlin where he waits for visitors to suddenly match with a piece of art in a funny way. The result is these humorous and unique pictures of unexpected harmony between people and the artworks they’re facing. It’s usually the outfits that match the art, but there are also people who match with the paintings because of their hair styles and colors, or even beards.

04 Sep 2017

The Poor Poet

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Car Spitzweg, Der Arme Poet (The Poor Poet), 1839, Neue Pinakothek, Munich.

29 Jul 2017

Michelangelo’s Grocery List

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Open Culture:

Living in the 15th and 16th centuries, the Italian High Renaissance sculptor, painter, architect, poet, and engineer Michelangelo… had only to send assistants off to market to bring back what he needed. Though vanishingly few of this prolific creator’s papers survive today, we do happen to have a few of the grocery lists he sent with them, like that which you see above.

John Updike once wrote that “excellence in the great things is built upon excellence in the small,” and the observation holds up ideally when we think about Michelangelo’s numerous great achievements — Pietà, David, The Last Judgment, St. Peter’s Basilica — in comparison to this humble yet striking rundown of ingredients for a meal, of the same basic kind each of us scrawl out regularly. But when Michelangelo scrawled, he scrawled with both a craftsman’s practical precision and an artist’s evocative flair. “Because the servant he was sending to market was illiterate,” writes the Oregonian‘s Steve Duin in a review of a Seattle Art Museum show, “Michelangelo illustrated the shopping lists — a herring, tortelli, two fennel soups, four anchovies and ‘a small quarter of a rough wine’ — with rushed (and all the more exquisite for it) caricatures in pen and ink.” As we can see, the true Renaissance Man didn’t just pursue a variety of interests, but applied his mastery equally to tasks exceptional and mundane. Which, of course, renders the mundane exceptional.

04 Jul 2017

Lion Bowl

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Lion Bowl
Northern Syria, 9th-8th century B.C.
Steatite, carved
Length: 7 1/4 in. (18.4 cm); Diameter: 3 7/8 in. (9.8 cm)
The Nasli M. Heeramaneck Collection of Ancient Near Eastern and Central Asian Art, gift of The Ahmanson Foundation (M.76.97.910)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

23 Jun 2017

Interactive Tour of Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights

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24 Apr 2017

The Bibliophiles

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Luis Jiménez y Aranda, Los bibliófilos, 1880

04 Apr 2017

St. Julian

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Spinello Aretino, Saint Julian Murdering his Parents,Nationalmuseum, Stockholm.

St. Julian — Feastday: February 12

Patron of Boatmen, carnival workers, childless people, circus workers, clowns, ferrymen, fiddlers, fiddle players, hospitallers, hotel-keepers, hunters, innkeepers, jugglers, knights, murderers, pilgrims, shepherds, to obtain lodging while traveling, travelers, wandering musicians, St. Julian’s; Macerata; Ghent.

According to the account that was very popular in the Middle Ages, Julian was of noble birth and while hunting one day, was reproached by a hart for hunting him and told that he would one day kill his mother and father. He was richly rewarded for his services by a king and married a widow. While he was away his mother and father arrived at his castle seeking him; When his wife realized who they were, she put them up for the night in the master’s bed room. When Julian returned unexpectedly later that night and saw a man and a woman in his bed, he suspected the worst and killed them both. When his wife returned from church and he found he had killed his parents, he was overcome with remorse and fled the castle, resolved to do a fitting penance. He was joined by his wife and they built an inn for travelers near a wide river, and a hospital for the poor. He was forgiven for his crime when he gave help to a leper in his own bed; the leper turned out to be a messenger from God who had been sent to test him.

Wikipedia:

The earliest known reference to Julian dates to the late twelfth century.

There are three main theories of his origin:

Born in Le Mans, France, possibly from confusion with Saint Julian of Le Mans
Born in Ath, Belgium, around 7 AD
Born in Naples, Italy

The location of the hospitals built by him is also debated between the banks of the River Gardon in Provence and an island near the River Potenza heading to Macerata.

He was known as the patron of the cities of Ghent and Macerata. The Paternoster (Our Father prayer) of St. Julian can be found as early as 1353 in Boccaccio’s Decameron, and is still passed on by word of mouth throughout some places in Italy. The account is included the 13th-century Leggenda Aurea of Genoan Giacomo da Varazze, a Dominican priest. Beautiful stained glass depicting St. Julian by an unknown artist in the Cathedral of Chartres also dates back to the 13th century. Early fresco paintings of him are found in the Cathedral of Trento (14th century) and the Palazzo Comunale di Assisi.

According to de Varazze, the night Julian was born, his father, a man of noble blood, saw pagan witches secretly jinx his son into killing both his parents. His father wanted to get rid of the child, but his mother did not let him do so. As the boy grew into a handsome young man, his mother would regularly burst into tears because of the sin her son was destined to commit. When he finally found out the reason for her tears, he swore he “would never commit such a sin” and “with great belief in Christ went off full of courage” as far away from his parents as he could. Some versions say that it was his mother who told him at the age of 10, while others say it was a stag he met in the forest while hunting (a situation used in depicting St. Julian in statues and pictures). After fifty days of walking he finally reached Galicia where he married a “good woman”, said to be a wealthy widow.

Twenty years later, his parents decided to go look for their now thirty-year-old son. When they arrived, they visited the altar of St. James, and “as soon as they came out of the church they met a woman sitting on a chair outside, whom the pilgrims greeted and asked, for Jesus’ love, whether she would host them for the night as they were tired”. She let them in and told them that her husband, Julian, was out hunting. (This is why he is also known as the patron of hunters). The mother and father were overjoyed to have found their son, as was Julian’s wife. “She took care of them well and had them rest in her and Julian’s bed”. But the enemy went off seeking Julian and told him: ‘I have sour news for you. While you are here, hunting, your wife is in bed embracing another man. There they are right now, still sleeping.'”

De Verazze continues: “And Julian felt deep sadness and his face drew into a frown. He rode back home, went to his bed and found a man and a woman sleeping in it. He drew his sword and killed them both. He was about to take off and never again set foot in that land, but as he was leaving he saw his wife sitting among the other women. She told him: ‘There are your mother and father resting in your room’. And so Julian knew, and fell into a rage. ‘The shrewd enemy lied to me when he said my wife was betraying me’, and while kissing their wounds he cried ‘Better had I never been born, for I am cursed in soul and body.’ And his good wife comforted him and said ‘Have faith in Christ Almighty, a stream of life and mercy.’ They had no children… Gold and silver they had a lot… And after seeking redemption in Rome, Julian built seven hospitals and twenty-five houses. And the poor started flowing to him, to Jesus’ Almighty’s love.”

De Verazze continues: “The enemy conspired again to ruin Julian—disguised as a weak pilgrim, he was let in by Julian with the others. At midnight he woke up and made a mess of the house.” The following morning Julian saw the damage and swore never to let in anyone else in his home. He was so furious he had everyone leave. “And Jesus went to him, again as a pilgrim, seeking rest. He asked humbly, in the name of God, for shelter. But Julian answered with contempt: ‘I shall not let you in. Go away, for the other night I had my home so vandalized that I shall never let you in.’ And Christ told him ‘Hold my walking-stick, please’. Julian, embarrassed, went to take the stick, and it stuck to his hands. And Julian recognized him at once and said ‘He tricked me the enemy who does not want me to be your faithful servant. But I shall embrace you, I do not care about him; and for your love I shall give shelter to whoever needs.’ He knelt and Jesus forgave him, and Julian asked, full of repentance, forgiveness for his wife and parents. Some versions skip the second mistake and tell of an angel visiting Julian and announcing to him that he is forgiven.

17 Feb 2017

Red

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Dyers at work. Bartholomeus Anglicus and Jean Corbechon, Le Livres des Propriétés des Choses, Manuscript, Brussels, 1482.

Arts and Letters Daily excerpts a bit from Michel Pastoureau’s Red: The History of a Color.

The late Middle Ages and the modern period have left us works by great painters that are particularly remarkable for their range of reds. Let us mention Van Eyck, Uccello, Carpaccio, Raphael, and later, Rubens and Georges de La Tour. But all artists seemed to love this color and tried to draw various tonalities from it. Accordingly they chose their pigments, taking into account not only their physicochemical properties, their ability to cover or make opaque, their resistance to light, and how easily they could be worked or combined with other pigments but also their price, availability, and—what is most disconcerting to us—the name they went by. Indeed we can observe in the laboratory that in panel paintings from the late Middle Ages, symbolically “negative” reds—those coloring the fires of hell, the face of the Devil, the coat or feathers of infernal creatures, and all impure blood of one kind or another—were often painted with the same pigment: sandarac, a resin lacquer more commonly called “cinnabar of the Indies” or “dragon’s blood.” Various legends circulated in workshops regarding this pigment, a relatively expensive one because it had to be imported from far away. It was believed to come not from a plant resin but from the blood of a dragon, gored by its mortal enemy, the elephant. According to medieval bestiaries, which followed Pliny and the ancient authors here, the inside of the dragon’s body was filled with blood and fire; after a fierce struggle, when the elephant had punctured the dragon’s belly with its tusks, out flowed a thick, foul, red liquid, from which was made a pigment used to paint all the shades of red considered evil. Legend won out over knowledge in this case, and painters’ choices gave priority to the symbolism of the name over the chemical properties of the pigment.

Unlike the dyers, the painters of the modern period hardly profited at all from the discovery of the New World or the settling of Europeans in the Americas. No truly new colorants resulted from these events. But Mexican cochineal, transformed into lacquer, allowed them to perfect a subtle, delicate pigment in the range of reds, superior to earlier lacquers from brazilwood or kermes for fixing a glaze over vermilion. Beginning in the sixteenth century, vermilion experienced a steady rise in popularity and its production became something of an industry, first in Venice, the European capital of color, and then in the Netherlands and Germany. It was sold in apothecaries, hardware shops, and paint stores, and even though it was more expensive and less stable than minium, it eventually contributed to that pigment’s decline.

05 Feb 2017

Leonardo Drawing Found in French Estate

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Kovels:

A retired doctor from a remote town has discovered his father had a collection worth millions and he could sell it. The doctor went to a Paris auction house and showed them 14 ink drawings. One 7 1/2-inch by 5-inch piece of paper with a sketch on each side was interesting. The auction house’s expert on old master paintings realized the drawing might be from the 16th century. Three months and three art experts later, the sketch has been authenticated as the work of Leonardo da Vinci, drawn about 1482-85. The handwriting, inscription, and the subject are all related to a known drawing of St. Sebastian by da Vinci. The good news for the owner is the sketch is estimated at about $15.8 million. The bad news is that the French government has put an export ban on the art work because it is “a national treasure.” The owner would like to offer it to an international market where it could sell for much more. The French government has 30 months to buy the sketch at market value.

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