Is the CIA art collection more secret than Area 51?


The BBC have recently carried out an investigation on just how much is spent on art by universities, the figure they conclude through a series of Freedom of Information requests comes to a staggering £20million on furnishing their buildings and museums over the past five years.

Cambridge University
Cambridge University


The union “Unison” has criticised the spend, saying that universities were choosing “style over substance” and also criticised universities for allowing the lowest paid staff on campus unable to have a decent standard of living”. But is this right? The answer is probably a little more complex.

The BBC found that the most expensive artwork was purchased by the University of Oxford, and was the Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus by the French impressionist Edouard Manet. Edouard Manet (23 January 1832 – 30 April 1883) was a French painter. He was one of the first 19th-century artists to paint modern life, and a pivotal figure in the transition from Realism to Impressionism.

The painting was purchased for the sum of £7.9m, although £5.9m came from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and a further contribution of £850,000 came from the Art Fund.

The piece was purchased for inclusion in the university’s Ashmolean Museum, which is open to the public and entry is free of charge. That is where things start to become more complex, had the university not have made the purchase, the artwork could have ended up in a private collection. There were also contributions from other sources.

Museums need to acquire art and objects of historical importance, generally they rely on having important pieces bequeathed, gifted, or they need to purchase the artwork. Art of historical importance is not cheap, and I think most people would agree that to be a top museum, they need to compete.

Of course the other benefit of a university acquiring important artworks is that the artwork can also be studied. Ensuring that a new generation of art lovers and artists can be educated. Honestly, you cannot use an IKEA print to teach the finer intricacies of an artist at a particular place or time, although you can probably use an IKEA print for comparison against the original. In fact when I studied art I was shown a print of a Warhol next to an original. Now I can tell the difference!

The University of Cambridge is home to a total of eight museums that contain more than five million objects, artefacts, and works of art. In the five years between 2010, and 2015, the university spent £3.9m on Extreme Unction by the 17th Century artist and Frenchman, Nicolas Poussin.

Again, contributions from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and from the Art Fund, and its members made up a proportion of the total purchase price, along with contributions from the public and other organisations. That is why this is all complicated. There is no denying that the university paid £3.9m, but the actual position is that this did not all come from university funds. Extreme Unction also went on a UK tour, allowing Cambridge to share the painting.


Police are hunting a couple who are alleged to be facing allegations of dishonestly selling loaned artwork without the owner’s permission, failing to pay for pieces, and not supplying artworks to customers. Reports suggest that the couple who owned a gallery in the Cotswolds, a scenic part of England, sold the gallery and are also alleged to have fled to France with their child, after purchasing a French property complete with 47-acres.

Just weeks after the couple left the UK in April, police seized more than half a million pounds worth of art from an extension of their gallery. The find included works from Hirst, Warhol, Banksy, Marc Quinn, and Peter Blake. Gloucestershire police are now appealing for owners of the work to come forward, and there are around 600-pieces that were found.

One of those people being hunted is said to have been involved with spectacular art failures previously, with an art gallery the person was involved with apparently entering into bankruptcy and owing more than £20m.

Police are continuing with their investigations, and are hoping that in due course they are able to reunite owners with their works. On a lighter note, if they cannot find a home for a Banksy, I have some space on my office wall now I have sold off two pieces from my collection.




Talking about collections, the CIA are remaining tight lipped about the art that they have in their secret art collection. Portland artist Johanna Barron filed several Freedom of Information requests to attain information regarding the artwork, but the CIA remained tight lipped. There are 29 paintings hanging in the halls of Langley, the CIA’s headquarters.

Barron has a new exhibition in San Francisco where the artist is attempting to recreate the mysterious paintings from tiny snippets of information which she has pieced together from research and all of the denied Freedom of Information requests.

The artworks at Langley were originally loaned to the CIA in the 1980’s by art collector Vincent Melzac. The paintings are reported to be abstract works belonging to the Washington Color School movement and are characterised by large solid areas of colour.

There is a possibility that the works include pieces from Paul Reed, Gene Davis, and Kenneth Noland among others.

Langley CIA auditorium
The auditorium at Langley


The exhibition called “Acres of Walls” has been recreated from tiny snippets and a photograph of the hallway at the Langley headquarters. The paintings that have been recreated are interspersed with documentation of her interactions with the CIA.

You can visit the exhibition at San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum as part of a wider exhibition that features art installations by a number of artists who confront issues of institutional secrecy and government surveillance. Chasing Justice is on display until February 21st, 2016.


Glacial Warming In the Himalayas


A slow moving river of ice, Khumbu Glacier is the highest glacier in the world, stretching thousands of feet along the western face of Mount Everest. By the end of this century, it could be one of the thousands of glaciers that will have melted away in the Himalayas.

Climate change is most likely playing a part in the thaw, ponds have been forming for a while, and are now starting to merge forming lakes large enough for small boats. Satellite images and a number of field studies have put the glacier as melting at a rate of six feet every year.

That will eventually leave a problem and the rate of thaw will increase. As lakes get larger, the water which is less reflective than ice, traps more heat from the sun, increasing temperatures and rapidly thawing more of the glacial ice. If the lakes continue to grow, there is a risk that communities downstream will be adversely affected.

A recent study indicated that around 5,500 Himalayan glaciers could be at risk, and following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck the region in April 2015, the Tsho Rolpa glacial lake off to the west of Mount Everest was fitted with a new warning system that will alert the nearly 6000 residents if there is a break in the glacier.

Although it could be some considerable time before the glacial lake poses a risk of flooding villages by overwhelming natural dams, at some point thousands of gallons of glacial water could eventually pour in to the villages in the lower valleys.

With so many of the population relying on tourism and climbing expeditions to Everest, this could really present other issues in the affected areas too. Whilst more research is apparently needed to determine the threat, supporting the population through tourism is clearly what will benefit them the most at present.

Everest remains on my bucket list, not the peak, but possibly base camp. The area is an artist’s dream, offering so many beautiful views.


For a while we had a nation of celebrities who were able to stream live video from Facebook, us mere mortals could only hope that one day we would become famous enough to use the service. Now we don’t have to wait too much longer.

The social media giant has begun rolling out the service to a small cohort of non-celebrities, but only in the U.S for the moment, and only if you have an iPhone. In time the service will eventually be available to all users but no timescales for this implementation have been suggested as yet.

The stream will display the number of live viewers, the names of friends watching, and real time comments as they are written. This will eventually provide some very good opportunities for live Q&A’s, but I think we will also start to see some mildly amusing real time cat comedy action. Although as with all of these live streaming services, we will no doubt start to see some real time inappropriate action too. Who remembers Chat Roulette?

Facebook has also updated the way that people can share photo-collages, allowing users to mix both photos and videos.


I think by now, Steve Jobs might be looking down with his head in his hands. The latest release (albeit a very quiet release) from the Cupertino House of Apple is a battery extender case.

Users who have been frustrated that the iPhone 6 and 6+ battery doesn’t extend much beyond the morning commute now have an official Apple option to give the phones a little more oomph. The downside is that there are a couple of aesthetic issues, the first one being your phone will look like it has eaten too many slices of Christmas cake, and secondly it looks like a cheap knock-off from China. However, rest assured it is official and it even has the Apple logo on the back.

Touted as a stocking stuffer, just in time for the holidays, I cannot remember ever needing to spend $99 (£79) as an afterthought for Christmas to pop in a stocking. Considering that Chinese knock-offs can be picked up from eBay for less than half the price, it really does seem the “case” that you are paying for a lovely Apple logo.

Don’t get me wrong, I am an Apple fanboy, only today did I treat myself to a brand new iPad Air 2. I feel the urge every time one of their products is released to go armed with a tent and line up outside one of their stores for three days prior to a release. This release though makes me want to stay in the warmth of my home, with a charger plugged in just in case the battery on my six dies.

Battery life has been the bane of an iPhone user’s life pretty much since the iPhone became really usable at around the iPhone 4 marker. Actually I have a friend who completely signed the wrong contract and is stuck with an iPhone 4 for another three months.

The Apple Smart Battery case promises to boost the life of the 6, and 6+ talk time to 25-hours, or provide 18-hours browsing over 4G. The problem here is that I would like to see these specifications built in to the device in the first place. Yes, I really do think that the iPhone is a remarkable and beautiful piece of engineering, yes I agree that it is world’s away from my old Motorola brick from the 90’s, but there has to be a point where someone says, enough of being thin, give me functional engineering. At some point things can't get any thinner. They are at the pinnacle of what's possible engineering wise, although Mr. Ive will no doubt prove me wrong.

I love my iPhone 6, but I would love it even it if were a little thicker. It’s personality that counts, and the iPhone oozes with it. But like many others, I feel the need about three minutes after receiving the new phone to bulk it up in a case so that its fragility doesn’t mean I have to replace the screen every time I drop it from a height of three feet.

Apple’s new case is available in charcoal grey or white. It has a protruding battery that makes it look like it is something that has been tucked under a regular silicon case with a lightning connector that the phone plugs in to. There is another but, the case is not the highest capacity of these accessories that are available. Mophie have been making these types of cases for years, so it’s not like it’s a new thing.

The case makes the phone a tad heavier, and on the plus side it has resolved the stick out camera issue that some have complained about. The real question though is if this is an indication that Apple realise that battery capacity is becoming a problem. The answer is probably no, because now they can sell you a £79 add-on. I would still rather have a slightly thicker phone though.

The other question is does this mean that future phones will have battery time fixed? I can’t see that unless Apple move away from shaving anymore away from the phone. What I can see is that we might in the future see a few new names for iPhones, maybe the new 4 inch screen version will become the iPhone Mini, the 6 will become the iPhone Air, and the 6+ will become the iPhone Pro. If that happens they will have a get out option to resize the thickness of the phone.

As I said, me being an Apple fan boy, I will probably go down to the Apple Store this weekend and buy one.


The results are in, so here is the low-down of results from Christie’s auction houses around the world.

The Year of the Ruby at Christie’s Asia. The Crimson Flame ruby sells for HK$ 142 million / US$ 18 million at Christie’s Hong Kong.

World Auction Record per Carat for a Ruby

Christie’s Hong Kong sale of Magnificent Jewels realised HK$747,894,000 / US$96,904,062, selling 80% by lot and 83% by value.

The Crimson Flame, an exceptionally rare Burmese ruby, sold for HK$142 million / US$18 million, setting a world auction record per carat of US$1.2 million.

A flawless gem, the Afghan Emerald fetched HK$17.6 million / US$2.2 million, establishing a world record price for an Afghan emerald at auction. The sale attracted 160 buyers from 16 countries across 3 continents.

Vickie Sek, Deputy Chairman Asia & Director of Christie’s Asia Jewellery department, commented: “It’s the year of the ruby at Christie’s Hong Kong. Following the record breaking sale of a ruby necklace in June, the Crimson Flame has established a world auction record per carat of US$1.2 million. Totalling US$97 million, this sale brings our Hong Kong jewellery auctions total up to US$215 million, the highest annual result ever achieved for the category in Asia.”

Related Sale 3468 Magnificent Jewels, 1 December 2015, Hong Kong

Autumn Chinese Paintings auctions at Christie’s Hong Kong total HK$531 million / US$69 million.

Christie’s Hong Kong auctions of Chinese Contemporary Ink, Fine Chinese Classical Paintings and Calligraphy and Fine Chinese Modern Paintings held on 30 November and 1 December 2015 realised a combined total of HK$531,167,500 / US$68,833,664.


New York - Christie’s is proud to conclude a successful international watch season with two live auctions in New York on December 15th and December 16th, starting with the OMEGA SPEEDMASTER 50: From a Spacewalk to Today. The auction will honour the 50th anniversary of the Gemini IV spacewalk by astronaut Edward White with 50 specially curated lots.

Respected by both collectors and admirers, Speedmasters are regarded as the original sports chronograph. The exceptional assortment will range from limited edition watches celebrating space missions, to ones that have been flown and used in space, including a Speedmaster used by astronaut Ron Evans during the Apollo 17 mission of 1972 - the last manned lunar mission. This marks the first themed Christie’s Watch auction in the United States and the first exclusively dedicated to the beloved Speedmaster.

Following OMEGA SPEEDMASTER, Christie’s will present the RARE WATCHES & IMPORTANT DISCOVERIES auction on December 16th. Over 190 impressive timepieces, for both men and women, will appear at auction across various price points. Prominent manufacturers will lead the sale with both modern and vintage offerings, including Patek Philippe, Rolex, Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin, Cartier, Boucheron and many more.

A highlight is the esteemed and fresh to market “Pearl of Bahrain”, a possibly unique Patek Philippe with pearl hour markers that was a gift to an American friend from a late Emir of Bahrain.

Additional highlights are an extremely rare Audemars Piguet chronograph in steel with enamel dial that has never before been offered in public, and an innovative Audemars Piguet reference 5516 perpetual calendar with leap year indication in nearly unworn condition and considered by scholars to be one of the most important wristwatches ever made.

Further standouts include a recently surfaced Rolex reference 6100 with cloisonné enamel dial, a single-button Patek Philippe reference 130 chronograph originally owned by legendary U.S. Army Air Force General Henry Arnold, four different and highly-desirable Rolex "Paul Newman" Daytona chronographs, and four watches at no reserve that were worn on the hit television show Mad Men, with the consignor pledging a portion of the proceeds to Doctors Without Borders.

In tandem with the live auctions, the Christie’s Watch Shop continues to offer a specially curated Holiday Sale of exceptional watches available exclusively online at fixed prices with free shipping through December 17th. Christie’s is the only auction house to offer this unique combination of saleroom and online-only watch sales this season.

Christie’s is proud to lead the watch auction market for the past eight consecutive years, reporting over $800 million in sales with extraordinary sell-through rates of 91%, the highest in the industry. In 2015 alone, Christie’s presented an impressive schedule of live auctions, spanning five locations in Dubai, Shanghai, Geneva, Hong Kong and New York.

All of the pieces from the upcoming New York auctions will be on view to the public from December 11 through December 15, at Christie’s Rockefeller Center galleries.

Related Sale 11884 OMEGA SPEEDMASTER 50 - December 15th - New York, Rockefeller Plaza

Sale 3905 - RARE WATCHES & IMPORTANT DISCOVERIES - December 16th - New York, Rockefeller Plaza

Sale 5000 - CHRISTIE'S WATCH SHOP - Through December 17th


The Facebook group, The Artists Exchange is going strong some two weeks after its creation. Many pieces of art have been shared and everyone seems to be enjoying seeing the works of others freshening up their timelines, away from the usual cat photos, memes, and Donald Trump’s latest escapades.

The group was created for artists to showcase the work of other artists, in return as work is shared by others, each post increases its reach and appears in new regions. We will be having some fun over the holidays with a pop-up art project that will take around 3-minutes of everyone’s time!

Coming up on the Artists Exchange there will be some live Q&A’s with artists, business tips for selling art, and a community art project. This will be the Facebook group to join and especially when Facebook release live streaming to the masses. That will allow master classes on creating art to be streamed in real-time. Head over to and join today. It’s free and a great community.


Also, just one more piece of exciting news. All of my framed art available on Fine Art America or from can now be despatched from a European, US, Canadian, and Australian fulfillment centres. That means that you will no longer need to pay import tax on orders, and the postage is much cheaper. Please bear in mind that this is one of the most busy times of year, so head over to and place your order as soon as possible to avoid any potential delays as we head rapidly towards the holiday season.

That’s all for today, I will be spending some time with the group over the weekend and will hopefully get all of my Christmas shopping done on one day. I know I was going to do it last week but life kind of got in the way, or at least hanging the outside Christmas lights up, got in the way! They are still up despite the high winds and storms we have been having. All I can say is that Gorilla Tape is the ultimate duct tape. How I get them down again after Christmas will be a question for another time. I might just pull away part of the house with any rapid tugs on the tape!



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