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News from the world of art and antiques
Detroit Institute of Arts has acquired a coveted Whistler painting
From the Detroit News article by Michael H. Hodges  Published: December 2, 2006

In a coup bound to be envied by museums around the country, the Detroit Institute of Arts has acquired a long-lost seascape by the American painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler from a tiny, upstate New York auction house.

The purchase price was $1 million.

The oil painting in question -- rendered on a wooden panel, not canvas -- is called "Violet and Blue: Among the Rollers," and was apparently painted in September 1893, from inside a pitching boat off the French coast.

The purchase took place in July at Cottone's Auctions in Rochester, N.Y.

If the cost of "Violet and Blue" is large, the painting is not -- it measures 7 by 10 inches. The painting will not go on display until the museum completes it renovation and expansion next year.

"Something like this," says Susan Hobbs, the consulting curator in American painting at the Freer Collection in Washington, D.C., "only comes up maybe every 50 years. While $1 million may seem high, the painting is priceless and extremely rare. The museum is very fortunate to get it."

The opportunity to snag "Violet and Blue" first came to the attention of DIA curator of American art, Ken Myers, while he was leafing through the offerings in a small auction-house newsletter he'd picked up at a local shop.

At first, Myers -- who came to Detroit in 2005 from the Freer Collection -- thought the painting might date from mid-1890s or after, when Whistler's work is thought to have declined after his wife's death.

But a clipping from an 1894 London newspaper pasted to the back of the frame -- an enormous leg-up for curator-detective Myers -- verified that the likely creation date was 1893, toward the end of the painter's last great period.

Judging by the painter's correspondence, Myers says, Whistler ranked this little seascape among his best works. Additionally, the painting was included in the first American retrospective of the artist's works, held at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts in 1904, one year after his death.

Ordinarily, Myers notes, dealers acquire works sold at minor auction houses and then resell them at the large arts auctions held annually in Manhattan.

"What was unusual in this case," Myers says by phone from New York, "was that a museum found the painting and was able to get its act together to buy it at the source."

Had the painting landed at Sotheby's or Christie's, the great New York art houses, he estimates, "it would have gone high enough that we probably wouldn't have been able to buy it."

The DIA also owns two other Whistlers -- "Nocturne" and a self-portrait, both created in the 1870s. The artist is most famous, of course, for "Arrangement in Grey and Black" -- better known as "Whistler's Mother."

Understandably, the curator is a bit giddy about his new purchase.

"It's a gorgeous little thing," Myers says. "It feels like it was painted at sea -- it just feels like it."

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Found in a spare room, Fra Angelico works worth £1m  

By Arifa Akbar Published: 14 November 2006

When Jean Preston came across two small panels depicting medieval saints in a box of unwanted items up for a quick sale, she knew they held a special, enigmatic quality.

Miss Preston, from Oxfordshire, was working as a manuscript curator in California, and her art collector father bought them for a couple of hundred pounds in the Sixties to indulge her interest in curious works.

For decades they hung, partly obscured, behind the door of her spare room. It was only after Miss Preston's death, at the age of 77 in July this year, that the panels were found to be key works - worth over £1m - by the Renaissance master painter, Fra Angelico, solving the 200-year mystery of their disappearance.

The two pieces, painted in the 1430s, were part of a magnificent altarpiece in Florence that were believed to have been lost, presumably destroyed, during the Napoleonic wars, nearly 400 years after they were created.

Over the years, six of the eight central works of the altarpiece were found, but the whereabouts of the last two remained a mystery. Art experts at Duke's auction house, in Dorset, have estimated the cost of the two 15-inch panels at over £1m, describing them as one of the "most exciting finds for a generation".

The paintings, which depict two unknown Dominican saints, are to be sold at auction in March next year for a "conservative" estimate of more than £1m.

Fra Angelico was originally commissioned by Cosimo De Medici, one of the greatest art patrons of the Italian Renaissance, to create an altarpiece for the high altar at the church and convent of San Marco in Florence, where he lived.

The pieces were found earlier in the year, when Miss Preston was still alive, but the confirmation that they are genuine will cause a stir among the world's collectors of rare Renaissance art. Michael Liversidge, a former dean of the arts faculty at Bristol University, and a friend of Miss Preston, was stunned when he saw the paintings. After careful research, he confirmed they were the missing panels from the altarpiece.

"She knew they were good paintings but had no idea what they were. When I told her the news, she was pleased that her "eye" had been correct," he said.

Guy Schwinge, from Duke's auction house, said that the importance of the discovery could not be over-estimated. He added: "They were intended for his [Fra Angelico's] own church and commissioned by one of the greatest art patrons in history. It simply does not get much better than this. "They are small, but beautifully done and there was some disbelief when we began to tell people what we had come across," he said.

A family member recounted his astonishment when he was told. "My hands shook as I held them, once I realised what they were. To think I was holding the same wood that Fra Angelico picked and painted on some 600 years ago was incredible. Jean bought the paintings because she thought they were rather nice. Someone came in with a box of things they wanted to get rid of. None wanted them but she was a medievalist and actually thought that they were quite nice," he said.

He added that in spite of owning a number of works of art, including original Pre-Raphaelite works by Rossetti and Watts, which she inherited from her father, Miss Preston lived modestly.

She had been a curator at a museum in California and at Princeton University before retiring in Oxford in 1996. She had bought her clothes from a catalogue, ate frozen meals and travelling by foot or by bus.

The small works are painted in tempera paint on poplar wood with a gold leaf background.

Fra Angelico, which translates from the Italian as the "Angelic One", entered the Dominican order at the age 20 and was described in 1550 by his biographer, Georgio Vasari, as being a "rare and perfect talent". In 1982, he was beatified by Pope John Paul II.

As well as decorating his own monastery, he worked on various other projects, including some at the Vatican in Rome.


The Care and Feeding of Antiques
Marble Tops
Marble furniture tops are easily scratched or scuffed, and will absorb stains almost as fast as unfinished wood. All stones, due to their granular construction, are porous to a greater or lesser extent. The quicker a spill or glass ring is wiped, the less it will stain.

Here are some general "rules" for their care: 

1. Regular Cleaning: Once or twice a year, depending on soil, wash with a mild detergent solution (hand dish-washing detergent and warm water), rinse and wipe dry. Use no abrasives! Wiping the surface with a damp chamois will not leave streaks.

2. Remember: acid, even lemon juice or vinegar will etch the gloss or "finish" on the surface.

3. Stain Removal: Make a poultice from white absorbent material such as a napkin, paper towel or facial tissue, dampened with the chemical recommended below to dissolve the stain. The poultice should be left on the stain from 1 hour up to 48 hours, depending on the age and depth of the stain. Plastic wrap, held in place by masking tape, can be put over the poultice to keep it damp; otherwise it will have to be re-dampened with the chemical periodically. Mix only enough poultice for immediate use; mix a second batch later if another application is needed.
Organic Stains: Tea, coffee, wine, colors bleached from paper, textiles or soft drinks. Make a poultice soaked with 20 percent peroxide (hair bleaching strength) and a few drops of ammonia. Regular hydrogen peroxide from the drug store might work on light stains. Let it sit several hours. Re-apply as necessary to reach the depth of the stain. 

Oil Stains: Oil stains may include butter, hand cream or lotion. As soon as possible, spread surface with an absorbent fine powder such as cornstarch or whiting. After a short time, brush to remove and reapply more powder. Let stand 24 hours. To remove: Scrub with hot, sudsy (detergent) solution and stiff brush. Or wipe with an ammonia-dampened cloth. In either case, then rinse and wipe dry. If these alkaline solutions don't remove all the oil, you can try a solvent. Make a poultice dampened with acetone or amyl acetate (available at drug stores), or with home dry cleaning fluid. Use good ventilation with windows open to remove fumes, do not use near spark or flame, and do not leave on too long!

Rust Stains: Usually the result of metal items such as a lamp, metal container in which plant is placed etc. Use a commercial rust stain remover. Follow directions exactly and do not leave on surface very long as acid in many rust removers will etch the surface.
Repeated coats of microcrystalline wax will help blend any resulting duller finish. Apply a very thin coat to the spot with the pads of your fingers until you feel the wax dry. Buff with a cotton cloth, repeat as necessary. It may take four or five coats. Anything further requires professional help.

4. Virgin or microcrystalline wax (One brand name is RENAISSANCE) is good for protecting marble. Other waxes can cause white marble to yellow with age. However, if the top is in good (polished and un-stained) condition, it can be cared for with a cream marble polish that cleans as well shines. Use only a cream polish recommended for marble!

Did you know...?
A commode is a Continental chest of drawers or side cabinet.  English versions of these in the French taste were fashionable from the mid 18th century, but they were not made in great quantities due to the expense of producing the elaborate shapes and decoration.  In Victorian times this name was given to any piece of furniture that concealed a chamber pot.


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