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Cleveland’s Copper Coup

There is something about enamel on copper that has always appealed to me. The clarity and the intensity of the color stand out. So I was thrilled just now to catch up on my museum reading and learn that the Cleveland Museum of Art has a acquired a copy of a Titian on enamel.

BoneCopperYou heard that right; it’s a copy, and at first I thought, what? Why would Cleveland, home to a collection of gems — limited but all high quality — want a copy? Then I saw it — even a picture of it is outstanding (at right). Imagine what it looks like in person.

Christie’s London offered the work, a 16-by-18 inch painting made in 1811 by Henry Bone of England, who copied Titian’s 16th-century masterpiece Bacchus and Ariadne on copper, in its Fourth of July Exceptional sale. Cleveland curator Jon Seydl bid for it by phone from a London hotel. Calling is a highlight of the sale, here’s what Christie’s said in its post-sale release:

An enamel plaque by Henry Bone, R.A. (1755 – 1834) depicting Bacchus and Ariadne, the artist’s largest and greatest work, realised £313,875/$478,346/€367,548 (estimate: £80,000 – 120,000) setting a world auction record price for a work by the artist at auction. Henry Bone’s success as an enamellist was cemented when he was officially appointed Enamel Painter to the Prince of Wales, later Prince Regent, and to George III. Bacchus and Ariadne was purchased by George Bowles, an enthusiastic collector of Bone’s work, from the artist for 2,200 guineas in 1811.

Unfortunately, I cannot convert 1811 guineas to dollars today…but clearly Seydl wasn’t the only person with an eye for Bone.

BoneCopper-framedThe Cleveland Plain Dealer caught up with the news yesterday, writing:

“I was so excited!” Seydl said today in Cleveland. “This is so unique. Thousands of people went to see this work in his [Bone’s] studio. It was a huge sensation in his day.” …

…The dimensions of the enamel don’t include the work’s elaborate gilt-wood and gesso frame, which features neoclassical motifs including palmettes, oak-leaf clusters, leopard heads and acanthus leaves. [at left]

“It has a lot of presence as a thing,” Seydl said. “It’s perfect. It’s as showy and grand as the enamel itself.” …

…“It’s not just a copy, but an enormous technical achievement on its own,” Seydl said of the Bone. “You want works by this incredible enamellist, who is literally doing something that had not been done before.”

Enamels are produced by fusing glass to metal under high heat. For each color in Bone’s version of the Titian, the artist had to reheat the copper plate numerous times, a process that risked destroying previous applications of enamel if the plate were overheated.

“To do something this complicated and to keep it from cracking, splitting or breaking is in itself an accomplishment,” Seydl said.

The work and the frame are both fragile, and there’s one more hurdle: the museum has to procure an export license from British authorities. Let’s hope that, unlike a few recent examples, this one is allowed quickly and easily.

BTW, the Cleveland Museum announced other recent acquisitions several weeks ago, including a Max Beckmann.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Plain Dealer

 

Comments

  1. Sorry, Judith, but this is a piece that makes far more sense staying in the United Kingdom than moving to Cleveland. I am sure you are aware, although you don’t see fit to mention, that the Titian that Bone copied is one of the treasures of the National Gallery in London. It has been on free, public display there for nearly 190 years.

    As a testimony to the burgeoning cultural life of Regency Britain, and the technical advances of the industrial revolution, the copy and its frame are an important part of British heritage. The Bone version of the Titian was, furthermore, a key document when National Gallery staff restored the Titian in the 1970s.

    The copy would, as you say, adorn any gallery; but it would inform best in a British museum display.

    • I am aware — but is there any evidence that the National Gallery is interested? Would it display this piece near the Titian? Any even discussion of it?

      • Josh Reynolds says:

        Why would the National Gallery hang a copy by who? next to the original by Titian? Anyone who follows European auctions knows that these copper copies are a regular presence on the auction block. Bone was a technician. Period. It’s large size? So what. I think the museum should have their curatorial hands slapped for buying this. And I’m genuinely puzzled as to why your blog even gave it type-space. I’d doubt the Louvre would hang a copper enamel copy of the Mona Lisa next to the original. Or any other museum would do what Cleveland did. What was the Director thinking when he gave the green light on this?

      • I wasn’t suggesting the National Gallery should hang it next to the Titian. The British Museum doesn’t stick its Wedgewood replicas of the PortIand Vase next to the original in its Roman gallery, after all.

        I wasn’t even suggesting that the NG should necessarily buy the Bone copy: it is something that would belong far better in the VIctoria and Albert Museum. I don’t know if the V&A is interested. Perhaps you could investigate, Judith?

  2. Josh Reynolds says:

    While this piece may be a technical Regency marvel, perhaps it would be better placed in an English technical museum. This is a strange step for Cleveland to take. Another mistake on the Lake?

  3. Kenneth Benson says:

    Lucky Cleveland. A splendid acquisition.

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