'New Dali discovered'
May 23 2014
Picture: AFP via Telegraph
Here's a story which at first sight sounds convincing, but then is in danger of soon falling apart. Maybe it's just the way the story is written. The Telegraph reports:
An oil painting bought for a mere €150 (£120) from a dusty antiques shop in northeastern Spain 26 years ago has been discovered to be the earliest surrealist work by Salvador Dali, art experts confirmed on Thursday.
[Art historian] Tomeu L'Amo suspected it may have been an early work by Catalan artist Salvador Dali but the shopkeeper insisted that was impossible as it bore an inscription with the date 1896, eight years before Dali was born.
Nevertheless, Mr L'Amo purchased the artwork for 25,000 pesetas - around £120 in today's money - and spent the next quarter of a century trying to confirm his hunch. [...]
A team of experts used a series of technological methods to help determine the painting's authenticity. Infrared photography of the canvas revealed lines made by the artist that were consistent with a style he used in later works.
Analysis of the paint used on the canvas proved it could not have been created before 1909 and comparison of the lettering of the inscription with hundreds of other known Dali works by a well-respected handwriting expert showed it was consistent with Dali's own hand.
José Pedro Venzal, the handwriting expert who regularly carries out analysis for Interpol, revealed that the inscription contained a corrected spelling mistake, one that Dali oft repeated in later life.
The ten word dedication in the lower righthand corner of the painting written in Catalan translates as "To My Dear Teacher on the day of his birth", with the date 27-IX-96.
Mr L'Amo believes Dali, who had a reputation for making outrageous claims and carrying out media stunts, used a numerology code to come up with date.
"Dali must be laughing in his grave at the thought that he managed to fool everyone for so many years," he said.
So the evidence at first seems to be pretty thin - and it might even be case of over-enthusiastic scientific interpretation. We have a few 'lines' in infra-red, and some handwriting analysis. On the former, it always strikes me as odd that we're still reluctant to trust old-fashioned connoisseurship, but if it's a question of analysing indeterminate brush strokes beneath the paint layers, via infra- red or x-ray, then it's alright. Especially if the verdict comes from someone wearing a white coat.
The "forensic" analysis of the handwriting reminds me of the similar story with the 'Rice' portrait of Jane Austen. There, another police-endorsed 'expert' was convinced they could see 'Jane Austen' written in the paint, when it was just an optimistic interpretation of craquelure. Such cases make me feel anxious about the level of forensic expertise submitted in our courts...
The Telegraph story ends thus:
The Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation, which runs a museum in the artist's birthplace of Figueres, has yet to recognise the work as a Dali original.
Update - a reader writes:
Nicholas Descharnes is standing next to the painting in the photograph - Robert & Nicholas are two of the most respected Dali experts, so as crazy as it might seem, it would suggest it has strong connoisseurial backing.
Update II - another reader writes:
You are dead right to be wary of so-called forensic experts. Some years ago when I was a trainee solicitor in England I was in court when a defendant pleaded guilty to charges of fraud involving forgery of cheques. However this was only after another completely innocent person some months before had been convicted of these offences based on finger print and handwriting evidence which in the event was wrong. The judge's passing remark in the later case "It makes you think, doesn't it" was to me the understatement of the century.
The label 'expert' is too easily acquired these days.