X-rays prove Van Gogh forgeries that shock the art world, a Matisse nude causes a row, Spike Milligan intervenes over free television licenses for OAPs and a stolen ‘James Bond’ Goya, and a National Gallery cleaning scandal leads to an offer of resignation.


This is a complicated post, so pay attention please.

Manuel de la conservation et de la restauration des peintures. Office International des musées. Publications de l’institute International de Cooperation Intellectuelle
2, Rue de Montpensier, Paris. 1939. 310pp, b/w illustrations.

London, April 1939.
To Philip Hendy from his ever grateful Helmut R.

In April 1939 the German restorer of paintings Helmut Ruhemann (1891-1973) dedicated a copy of a book that he’d been involved with, a manual on the restoration of paintings, to Philip Hendy, then Director of Leeds City Art Gallery. This copy of the manual is being offered here, together with a set of carbon typescripts relating to a forgery case, and a set of printed sheets which include reports of a famous art theft, marked up for editing into a continuous narrative about the theft. Together, these three items comprise an interesting record of major events in the professional life of Sir Philip Hendy, Director of the National Gallery, London, 1946-1967.

Hendy, Philip [Anstiss], Sir (1900-1980)
Hendy attended Christ Church, Oxford, graduating in 1923 in modern history. That year, with no training in art, he was appointed assistant to the keeper (curator) of the Wallace Collection, assigned to research objects for the catalogue. His work there and articles in the Burlington Magazine so impressed officers of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston that Hendy was contracted to live in Italy for three years, to research the Gardner catalogue. In 1930 he was appointed curator of paintings for the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. [adapted from http://www.dictionaryofarthistorians.org/hendyp.htm].

At this time, the notorious Wacker forgeries case was coming to a head.
Otto Wacker (1898–1970) was a German art dealer who became infamous for commissioning and selling forgeries of paintings by Vincent van Gogh; probably the work of his brother, the painter and restorer Leonhard Wacker. Otto Wacker managed to convince prominent Van Gogh experts that the paintings he was selling were genuine. The experts accepted his tall tale that a Russian had bought the paintings, and transferred them to Switzerland illegally. Experts understood the need for this Russian to remain anonymous in order to protect relatives who still lived in the Soviet Union. Wacker’s paintings were to be exhibited in January 1928 in Berlin, in an exhibition organized to coincide with the publication of de la Faille’s standard catalogue of Van Gogh’s work. When Wacker delivered the last four paintings, the managers of the exhibition recognized them as fakes. Further investigation revealed 33 suspect paintings, all of them supplied by Wacker. Galleries that had sold his paintings asked their customers to return them. During the trial in 1932, experts did not come to full agreement on which paintings were authentic (and the argument was to continue in some circles for years afterwards). However, it was found that pigments used in the paintings were different from those Van Gogh had used. Art restorer Kurt Wehlte showed with X-rays that the painting techniques were different (although he used a painting that would be declared a forgery in the 1970s). Later it was found that the paintings were not on French canvases. Wacker was charged with fraud, and after an appeal, sentenced to 19 months in prison and a heavy fine. [adapted from Wikipedia]

Perhaps Hendy’s interest was first whetted by a review of the Van Gogh Catalogue Raisonne, published in the June 1928 issue of The Burlington Magazine (Number 303 – Volume 52), in which the young curator had an article on another subject. The typescript carbon that’s being offered here is Hendy’s later account of the affair, Technical Testing Methods and Van Gogh Falsifications. Retrospections on the Wacker case, detailing his own observations as the result of extensive examinations of many Van Gogh paintings that were universally accepted as genuine, and the Wacker canvases. The date of the typescript is not known. To continue with our Hendy chronology:

At Boston, all was not well. Hendy’s purchase of Matisse’s nude Carmelina (1903) in 1933 – which at the time must have been a rather challenging painting for many – brought about a major dispute with the conservative Trustees and Hendy resigned. He returned to Britain and in 1934 accepted the director position at the Leeds City Art Gallery, supervising the evacuation of the collection to Temple Newsam House during World War II. In 1946, Sir Kenneth Clark resigned as director of the National Gallery and Hendy succeeded him. When the Gallery’s paintings were returned from their safe-storage after the War, he ordered many cleaned – much of it done by Helmut Ruhemann, (1891-1973). It was Ruhemann who, in 1939, had presented Hendy with a copy of the French manual on painting restoration, (now part of this lot). Trouble was brewing again. Accusations of over-cleaning a number of paintings were made by the artist Sir Gerald Kelly in The Times, and the Trustees set up the Weaver Committee to investigate. Hendy was cleared of wrong-doing. But the spotlight would fall on him once again, a dozen years later. [informed by material on Wikipedia]

In 1961 Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington was stolen from the Gallery just weeks after it had been acquired – the thief or thieves entered and left through a window in the Gents – and Hendy again had to justify his administration. Sandy Nairne outlines what happened next. The culprit explained, ‘My sole object in all this was to set up a charity to buy television licenses for old and poor people who seem to be neglected in an affluent society.’ In February 1962 the Sunday Telegraph carried a piece reporting that the theft was to do with controversial restoration policies at the gallery. In December 1963 the New Statesman reported, ‘Spike Milligan would like to meet those who have the missing Goya … He sympathises with them and would like to attempt to meet them with a view to raising money independently … to be donated to a charity of their choosing.’ The perpetrator, disabled pensioner Kempton Bunton who had been fined three times for tv licence evasion, later encouraged National Gallery Chairman, Lord Robbins, to ‘assert thyself and get the damn thing on view again. I am offering three pennyworth of old Spanish firewood, in exchange for £140,000 of human happiness.’ [adapted from: How Goya’s Duke of Wellington was stolen]. The theft entered popular culture, referenced in the 1962 James Bond film Dr. No where it was on display in Dr. Julius No’s lair. The Daily Mirror got involved in attempts to have it returned, but eventually Bunton sent the painting back (via a ‘long-haired teddy-boy lolling in Birmingham Station’) and then, certain that an accomplice was about to turn him in for the reward, gave himself up and got a three-month sentence.

The acquisition, theft, and return of the painting are dealt with in detail in the pages extracted from official published reports of The National Gallery, January 1960-May 1962; and January 1965-December 1966, part of the lot offered here.

Hendy retired from the National Gallery in 1967. His Wikipedia page concludes: ‘Hendy’s generation of museum officials was the last one in Britain where amateurs, well-educated but self-taught in art history could immediately move into museum curation. His natural eye led him to many astute observations and a few prejudices (he disliked the Pre-Raphaelites).’

It seems there’s currently a PhD student working on the subject of Sir Philip.

‘Sir Philip Hendy (1900-1980) director and scholar in Leeds and London 1934-1967: the acquisition and display of art and curatorial practices in ages of austerity.University of Leeds/The National Gallery, London. This AHRC-funded PhD studentship will research the curatorial practices of Sir Philip Hendy (1900-1980), Director of The National Gallery (1946-67) after holding the Directorship of Leeds Museums & Galleries (1934-46). An investigation of Hendy as museum-director is an opportunity for an enhanced understanding of the history of two key institutions and their role in the public display and interpretation of artworks as well as an assessment of the changing relationships between regional and national art museums. The focus on Hendy will provide an important case study for the history of curatorship and its political, social and cultural contexts, further illuminating the significance of the changing methods and practices of museum curatorship in times of economic, political and social crisis.’

The items offered here were auctioned at Batemans in January 2013, where the provenance was given as ‘from the Estate of the late Carlo Curley’ (an internationally renowned organist, who died in 2012).

Lot of three items:

Manuel de la conservation et de la restauration des peintures. Office International des musées. Publications de l’institute International de Cooperation Intellectuelle
2, Rue de Montpensier, Paris. 1939. 310pp, b/w illustrations. Hard covers, half-bound in cloth and paper. Size: 186 x 231mm. Quite scarce. Condition: generally good. Minor paint marks on one page. Some wear and age yellowing to cover and spine, spine covering weak at head and bottom. The free-endpapers are tanned/foxed.


Article, typescript carbon or reprographic copy:
Technical Testing methods and Van Gogh Falsifications. Retrospections on the Wacker case. [n.d.] 16 single-sided pages, thin paper. Size: 206 x 292mm. Condition: some fraying to paper edges, folds, first page of text somewhat faded but easily readable. Some rust marks from paper clips. I can find no record of any article about this subject, written by Philip Hendy, being published. This is perhaps the only copy of an interesting article detailing his observations about the case.

Printed report:
Return of Goya’s Duke of Wellington. 16 leaves, various paginations, comprising printed reports on Theft of Goya’s ‘Duke of Wellington’, and Return of Goya’s ‘Duke of Wellington’, extracted from official published reports of The National Gallery, January 1960-May 1962; and January 1965-December 1966. Size: 190 x 255mm. A label with the address of the author’s agent Joyce Weiner Associates pasted on the lower margin. The pages include material (reports) not related to the Goya painting, and these have been struck through in ink. Clearly, the text that remains was intended as a guide for the Goya story to be reprinted as a complete article. I haven’t been able to trace any publication details for such an article but it’s possible that it was published. Condition: paper is generally good, with blue ink numbering, ink deletions, and other ink markings. Staple now removed.

Even without its fascinating provenance, the Manuel de la conservation would be of interest to anyone involved in museum studies, art restoration and conservation, the history of museum collecting, or the development of x-ray technology. The book illustrates examples of paintings that have been cleaned; the subject that would get Hendy into hot water many years later.  Just at the time Europe’s top specialists were combining their efforts to research and publish material intended to help protect our visual heritage, a War was about to start that would threaten the very existence of the paintings in their care. The other two items make very absorbing reading, illuminating major aspects of international museum and art gallery culture in the 20th century.

Price: SOLD        s-herbert@easynet.co.uk

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