Month: February 2014

Saatchi’s ex personal assistant Francesca Grillo opens art business

While browsing through the Evening Standard  and munching on a turkey leg at dinner this evening, I was amused to find this article announcing Charles Saatchi’s ex-personal assistant, Francesca Grillo (who he accused of raking up £685,000 on his and Nigella’s credit cards last year), has started her own art business with his former financial assistant, Sharrine Scholtz.

It’s called Laizzez Faire Art. There’s not much on the website yet (did they have an opening already?)  just a list of artists I guess they’re representing (Wayne Chisnall, Tessa Farmer, Natasha Bailey, Pierluigi Catilli and Adele Morse) and a statement of purpose on the home page. The ES quotes it as saying, “Quite simply put, let’s enjoy art and be decadent about it!” although now it just says, “Quite simply put, let’s enjoy art!” So soon without the decadence?

Online gallery, events business, gallery space? I’m not sure what it’s all about as yet but will check out their artists tomorrow.

Art Detective Charley Hill interviewed on BBC World Service TV about recovering ‘The Scream’


Today is the anniversary of the theft of Edvard Munch’s famous painting The Scream (1893). It was stolen on 12th February 1994, the same day as the start of the Winter Olympics taking place in Lillehammer. It took the thieves 50 seconds to climb a ladder, smash a window, grab the painting and get away. They also had time to leave a note which said, “Thanks for the poor security” – well at least they had a sense of humour.

Several months later Charley et al., recovered The Scream. He talks about it in an interview on the BBC World Service TV which you can watch here.

Andy Warhol Does Edvard Munch’s Muse at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction

There’s lots of Warhol works in the contemporary art sales happening this week in London. Here’s a few that interested me:

Warhol does Munch’s Muse


The lithograph above is called The Brooch by Edvard Munch. It’s of Eva Mudocci a young gifted British violinist who Munch met in Paris in 1903 and who he became very close to, initially in an erotic way and then as a dear friend. Her real name was Evangeline Hope Muddock  but she changed it to the more Italian sounding Eva Mudocci when she started touring Europe, giving concerts with her friend the pianist  Bella Edwards. Today, the lithograph can be found in the National Museum, Oslo.


This photo however, shows a work entitled Eva Mudocci (After Munch) by le Warhol. It’s for sale at Sotheby’s  Contemporary Art Evening Auction this coming Wednesday. It’s acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas, measures 127.3 by 96.6cm, with an estimate: £1,000,000 – £1,500,000, (sold for £2,322,500 including buyers premium). You can see where he got his inspiration from.

Two of the Same Again

2014-02-09 15.52.49DSC04884

While Diamond Dust Shoes (above) is for sale at Sothebys evening sale, Shoes (below) is up for grabs at Phillips Contemporary Art day sale tomorrow. The first is a huge 228 x 178 cm acrylic, silkscreen ink and diamond dust on canvas with an estimate of  £750, 000 – £950,000. (Sold for £1,184,500 incl. buyer’s premium) The second is a screenprint with diamond dust on paper number 13 of an edition of 60 (13/60) and measures 102.5 x 151.4 cm and has an estimate of £35,000 – £45,000. (Sold for £56,250).

Shoes – eh I have enough, but I do like Gondola with Two Figures

I was rather touched by this little drawing entitled Gondola with Two Figures coming up at Phillips tomorrow. I think it’s one of the only works by Warhol – that I’ve seen anyway – that hasn’t been reproduced. It’s 57 x 36.4 cm and comes in with an estimate of £15,000 – £20,000. (Sold for £23,750).


Of course being a staple in the auction circuit, there were lots more Warhols for sale in Christies, Sothebys and Phillips but if you’re a fan I can imagine you’ve already checked them all out.


Lunch with the Art Detective and Munch’s The Scream

The Scream by Edvard Munch

The Scream by Edvard Munch

There he was deep in thought, scribbling notes at a booth table when I arrived at the Viennese Cafe at the National Gallery. ‘Doge!’ I shouted as I walked towards the table. (“Doge” after the Doge of Venice, is one of my nicknames for him).

‘Nathanielle, how wonderful to see you.’
 (Nathanielle being one of his nicknames for me – a twist on the angel Nathaniel). We hugged. ‘How are you Doge?’

‘Well, besides having my withers wrung by BS, I’m great.’

‘Well you look great.’

‘And you look greater.’

‘I walked into town, that’s why I’m a bit late and sweaty,’ I said using a paper napkin to wipe my face.

‘Sit down, sit down,’  he said hanging my coat on the coat rack, ‘I want to buy you lunch.’

Edward Dolnick’s book  The Rescue Artist lay on the table. It recounts the theft and recovery of Munch’s The Scream stolen on the 12th February 1994 from the National Gallery in Oslo. Charley was one of the key players in getting it back. At the time he was working with his colleagues Dick Ellis and John Butler at the Arts and Antiquities Squad of Scotland Yard who collaborated with the Norwegian authorities in recovering the painting. Together they came up with a cunning sting operation in which Charley went undercover as a dodgy middleman named Christoper Charles Roberts who told the thieves he was sent by the Getty Museum in LA to negotiate with them. The Getty, he said, would pay their ransom in return for the Norwegian government lending it the painting. A plausible plan as everyone knew (crooks included) that the Getty had so much money in those days it was literally handing it out to all and sundry.

‘Did you enjoy playing the role of Chris Roberts?’ I asked.

‘It brought out the vulgar rogue in me,’ he smiled.

You can hear him speak about the experience on the BBC World Service.

The book, which is an insightful and hilarious read, is in development (admittedly for the last eight years) to be made into a movie. Charley told the Hollywood production company that he wants to play himself. Why not? And of course I shall play his muse.

Something I didn’t know until recently is that there are four versions of The Scream: two paintings and two pastels plus there’s also a limited number of lithographs. The painting completed in 1893 hangs in the National Gallery, Oslo – this is the one Charley et gang recovered on the 7th May 1994.

The second painting completed in 1910 is in the The Munch Museum. It was also stolen, this time in August 2004 along with another painting by Munch called Madonna. The Norwegians recovered both two years later.

As for the pastel versions: the first completed in 1893 is in The Munch Museum. The second (1885) was bought by New York financier and art collector Leon Black at Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art auction on 2 May 2012. Black paid just under $120 million for it. Written on the back of the frame is the following poem by Munch:

I was walking along the road with two friends / the sun was setting / suddenly the sky turned blood red / I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence / there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city / my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety / and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.

Our lunch arrived: two large portions of kedgeree. I was ravenous and tucked in as the AD filled our glasses with house white and continued to enlighten me in on his recent travails regarding the recovery of two Francesco Guardi paintings stolen from Russborough House just outside Dublin in 1986 (a whole other story) and various other projects.

To my simultaneous delight and dismay dessert was on the house; a plate of petit four our lovely waiter was adamant to offer us. Well, I couldn’t say no but what about my up and coming Hollywood career… and Munch thought he had problems.

To mark the anniversary of the 1994 theft of The Scream Charley will be on the BBC again this coming Wednesday – will stick up the link then.

‘How I recovered the Scream’ – Witness – BBC News

Don’t Look Now But He’s Pointing A Gun At You – Wherever You Stand


Last night I moseyed down to the newly located HayHill Gallery on Baker Street for a private view of two German artists: Peter Henryk Blum and Oliver Estavillo. The painting above is by  the latter. It’s entitled ‘Killers’ Tango’. The guy in the sunglasses is pointing his gun right at you wherever you stand. This is because, as my friend artist John Gillan pointed out, the gun is painted without showing any angles, no 3D affect, as in it’s completely flat, so when you move to the left for example he’s still pointing it directly at you:


I can see why Estavillo has been called the “Pop – Brueghel” and “Tarantino of Painting”. He exposes the dark side of life in a very visually appealing way embodying a pulp-fiction sentiment that takes the image one step beyond ‘real life’ although all his characters are drawn from people he knows. I was also taken by his painting ‘Minotaur’s Sauna’ not that I’d hang it on my living room wall or anything but it did catch my attention for rather a long time…

DSC04821As I had to leg it early to get the tube before the strike started, I didn’t have a chance to have a good look at Blum’s work but the exhibitions of both artists run until 1st March 2014.

Degas – Hey that Looks Like My One!


You know the guy who loved to paint ballerinas – Edgar Degas (1834 – 1917) – well one afternoon while I was in Southgate Auction House I chanced upon a Degas drawing of a horse. It was signed in red and stamped with the printer’s stamp. Could it be a sleeper? Nah, it’s just a print I thought to myself (as in a print of the original stamped print) and went for a cuppa in their little café.

Still, I couldn’t help wondering (even though NOBOBY else was paying any attention to it) what if it is an original signed print? Maybe it’s a sleeper after all and I’m the only one in the room who sees it. But honestly, I know nothing really about Degas. Did he even draw horses? I checked on my phone. Yes, he did!

The auction was well underway when I returned to the salesroom, in fact the Degas print was about to come up and acting impulsively (always a mistake) I bid on it and bought it for something silly like a £5er plus commission.

At home I carefully undid the back of the frame and had a proper look at it. It was a print of a print – bugger n arse – well what did I expect?


This afternoon as I wandered – as opposed to rummaged – around Sotheby’s upcoming Impressionist and Modern Art day sale, I saw this lovely drawing of a horse by Degas – lot number 489. It hit a familiar chord and I really enjoyed looking at it up close and even asked to see the back of the frame. (I love frames; I think they tell a lot about a painting). As it’s a drawing, it’s going to be a lot more expensive than a print or lithograph. This one’s estimated to sell between £10,000 – £15,000, a tad above my budget but at least now I know what the real thing looks like.

Above, the picture on the left shows the Sotheby’s drawing, the one on the right is from my own private collection! Will report back on the final sale price of the real thing.

Why I call the Art Detective ‘Doge’

The AD calls me many names but the one I usually use for him is ‘Doge’. It’s an Italian word that comes from the Latin ‘dux’ meaning leader, particularly in a military context. One of the most famous Doges was Leonardo Loredan. He ruled the Republic of Venice from 1501 to 1521.


His portrait, by Giovanni Bellini, hangs in the National Gallery of London. We stood in front of it one morning as I listened to the A.D. tell me all about him:

“Loredan was Doge for 20 years. At one point in his war with the League of Cambrai the Scots were persuaded to invade England in 1513 and suffered their worst defeat ever at Flodden Field in Northumberland that all but wiped out the Scottish nobility and Church hierarchy who, like Pope Julius II at the time, were encouraged to charge into battle. Henry VIII backed the smart money and allied himself with the Doge rather than the Pope, and we all know what happened twenty years later in the 1530s – he split from the Church entirely.”

I had no idea what he was going on about, except for the last bit about Henry VIII, but I gazed at Doge Leonardo. Did he look like that in real life? What was his Achilles’ tendon? What did he eat for breakfast? Good lover? Obviously the A.D. saw him as a leader, a man ready to take action, never colluding with the humdrum-blah of life and determined beyond doubt to get what he wanted. Some people are like that, they literally sculpt out your own reality rather than being a cog in someone else’s. The A.D.’s like that which is why I find him so inspiring and why I call him ‘Doge’.

On the other hand, he is a bit mad. Well when I say mad I mean his reality is sometimes so foreign to mine it just seems MAD. Take for example an email I received, having just met him one week earlier in which talks about, “recovering the Isabella Gardner Museum paintings without getting anyone killed.” Is this guy completely barkers? I asked myself before asking him, “Do you really think there’s a possibility of someone being killed?”

“We should be OK if we play our cards right,” he answered seemingly oblivious to the potential DRAMA of it all.

“Are you sure?”

“Well you can never be 100% sure, but almost.” This was almost reassuring but not 100%. Still, I was already hooked on the adventure and secretly awed by his fearless demeanor.

By the same token he thinks I’m as mad as a March hare and told me so only last week. “I knew you were mad when we first met because you told me all your problems,” he reminded me grinning amusedly.

I doubt that’s true because once the AD starts talking no one else can get a word in so I may have started to tell him about myself (all my problems!) but I don’t think I could have told him everything. In fact all I remember is hearing about stolen Caravaggios, Vermeers, Titians and Da Vinci paintings and all sorts of people who shall remain nameless.

These days, thank God, I’m much more used to the way he speaks which is extremely eruditely on the subjects of art and literature, at least the art and literature that inspire him. Everything else i.e. everything that hasn’t been created by a genius working through divine intervention, is consigned to the dust heap of ‘bollox’ or if there’s someone he really doesn’t like he’ll contentedly call them ‘an artless arsehole’.

I think Doge Leonardo Loredan would have appreciated the term ‘artless arsehole’ – I must find out how you’d say it in Italian or better still Venetian Italian.