The first gold coins were minted in Lydia, Ancient Greece, in the 6th century BC
One collection on show at London Art Week that caused a good deal of excitement came as part of the Kallos Gallery’s exhibition, Horses, Rulers and Victory in the Art of Ancient Greek Coinage. One of the many coins on display, this Gold Stater is over 2,500 years old and features the lion and bull emblem of King Kroisos of Lydia (561-546 BC), famed for his learned court and stupendous wealth. Although coins had been in use in Lydia prior to 600 BC, they were made of electrum, a naturally occurring alloy of silver and gold – by the mid-6th century BC, however, improved technology meant it was possible to produce coins of pure gold. This tiny coin, which measures just 16 millimetres in diameter, is one the earliest pure gold coins ever minted. The master craftsmen who produced Ancient Greek coins were regarded as artists, held in equal esteem with sculptors and vase-painters.
Drawing only really became an art in the 19th century
For the past two years, dealer Stephen Ongpin and art adviser Sophie Camu have been preparing for an exhibition on the art of the sketch, on show at the gallery, Stephen Ongpin Fine Art. The exhibition focuses on the development of the sketch from academic drawing into a medium for artistic expression, which generally occurred throughout the 19th century. French Romantic artist Eugène Delacroix was a key figure in this transition, beginning to utilise sketching to draw from life and not just to study the work of other artists, a method still practised today by the diligent art students that can be encountered on any and every museum visit.
Whilst sketches were, of course, used by artists prior to the 19th century (Italian artists in the 1500s used preparatory oil sketches known as esquisses, with preparatory drawing becoming a critical part of an artist’s training across Europe more broadly just a century later), they were typically hastily drawn ideas which were to form the basis of later work and not an artistic exercise in their own right. The expressive potential of drawing was developed further throughout the 19th century, in particular by the Realists and Impressionists, with traits associated with drawing – such as a sense of freehand and visible brushstrokes – beginning to leave a mark in finished paintings. The exhibition examines the sketchbooks of artists such as Picasso, Klimt, Cézanne and Auerbach.
The Ancient Egyptians made amazing spoons
On display in an exhibition by London and New York art dealers Forge and Lynch is this gorgeous Egyptian spoon, which dates back over 3,000 years. Known as cosmetic spoons, the female figures in such artefacts normally held a bowl in their arms for scooping; they were typically made of wood and were decorated with intricate, carved hieroglyphics. Historically, spoons were not used purely for eating but often had a ceremonial purpose, and it is theorised that the Egyptian’s cosmetic spoons may have been used to offer water to their dead, in accordance with the scripture in the Book of the Dead. The nude girl in this example represents the sky goddess, Nut, her hairstyle and almond-shaped eyes suggesting her to date to the reign of Amenhotep II, who ruled Egypt around 1400 BC.
Charles I’s official picture painter was forgotten by history
Last year, the National Portrait Gallery held the first ever British exhibition dedicated to Cornelius Johnson, an artist barely known by name, but whose work anybody who has ever visited a National Trust house has probably seen. Born in London in 1593 to Dutch parents, the English Baroque painter probably trained in the Netherlands, before returning to London to start a career in portraiture around 1618. In 1632, despite having only received a few royal commissions, he was appointed by Charles I as ‘his Majesty’s servant in the quality of Picture drawer’. Unfortunately, the already supremely successful painter Anthony van Dyck arrived in England that same year and would soon secure his place as England’s leading court painter. Van Dyck’s death a decade later offered a window of opportunity, which was again closed by the advancement of the English Civil War, which cost van Dyck his career and Charles I his head.
London Art Week is a not-for-profit event sponsored by The Crown Estate
The Queen, of course, doesn’t just own all the swans in the UK. The Crown Estate – the portfolio of lands and properties, worth around £12 billion, belonging to the British monarch but managed on their behalf by a semi-independent public body – also owns around half of the district of St James’s in which London Art Week is held. Since the 17th century, the St James’s area has been the prime residential district of the British aristocracy and is home to a hugely concentrated collection of galleries and museums, hence the ability of London Art Week to coordinate a series of exhibitions within walking distance of one another. The Crown Estate is currently implementing a £500 million investment programme to enhance and refine the area. The estate is aiming to help ‘promote the extraordinary range of knowledge, expertise and heritage on offer in the art market’s historic home’.