Fakes, fakes everywhere (ctd.)

October 17 2016

Image of Fakes, fakes everywhere (ctd.)

Picture: L'Express

In response to the latest developments in the fake scandal, the director of the Liechtenstein collection has decided to double down on the Cranach Venus (above) suspected of being a forgery. They issued this statement last week:

Taking into account all the evidence, and all examinations to date, the Princely Collections have no reason to doubt the authenticity of the painting, its authorship to Lucas Cranach the Elder, and the origin of the panel to the 16th Century. 

These examinations include, but are not limited to:

- The expert reports available at the time of the acquisition, given by the Cranach experts Dieter Koepplin and Werner Schade.

- Two restoration reports commissioned before the acquisition by the Princely Collections in 2013, as well as several other subsequent restoration reports. 

- The dendrochronological analysis executed by Peter Klein at the Zentrum Holzwirtschaft of the University of Hamburg, which was commissioned by the Princely Collections after the acquisition of the painting.

- The expert report received from Claus Grimm after the seizure of the painting earlier this year.

Any divergent opinions resulting from recent analysis instructed by the French authorities can and will be refuted, point by point, as part of an ongoing investigation. 

We would like to express our frustration that results of this ongoing investigation have been repeatedly passed on to members of the public, and before information has even been made available to us. We will not make any other public comment while the investigation in ongoing. 

Dr. Johann Kraeftner 


LIECHTENSTEIN, The Princely Collections

The phrase, 'when in a hole, stop digging' springs to mind. I can't see how, given the damning revelations that have emerged so far about the painting, and other paintings associated with it, the Liechtenstein collection can be quite so robust in its insistence that it is still a Cranach. The Cranach scholar Dieter Koepplin, whom Kraeftner cites in the painting's defence above, has now changed his mind, and says he thinks the picture is now not only not by Cranach, but a fake. It makes little sense for Kraeftner not to acknowledge Koepplin's new view, and suggest that he was right before, but not any more. There is also nothing in Kraeftern's statement about the fact that the provenance provided with the painting at the time of the sale has turned out to be false.

Surely, given that the Liechtenstein collection has a €7m investment on the line, the sensible and cautious approach would be to say: we're going to make further investigations ourselves; we will await the results of the wider investigations into those who sold this painting; and will then make a judgement on the authenticity of the painting in due course.

By insisting still that the picture is genuine, doesn't the Liechtenstein collection reduce its chances of getting a refund should the picture be established as a fake in due course (as I have little doubt it will be)? This is not to say that anyone involved in the sale at the time had reason to suspect the painting was a fake.

Nevertheless, from recent conversations with multiple trusted sources, I regret to report that we have only seen the tip of the iceberg in all this. It's going to get a lot worse.

Update - that thing you see going up in smoke? My chances of ever selling anything to the Liechtenstein Collection. 

Update II - a reader writes:

If no modern, synthesised pigments or other materials are found in the Cranach and it is, according to all available expertise, utterly indistinguishable from a genuine Cranach, then surely the only remaining barrier to the enjoyment of the painting as a genuine masterpiece of European art by a genuine European master artist, is the shadow cast by entirely fallible ... doubt?

I do agree that whoever made these pictures is indisputably a great painter. I'm full of admiration for their artistic ability. The question is, who are they? (Feel free to get in touch...)


October 17 2016

Image of Apologies...

Picture: BG

Sorry for the lack of blogging last week. We went to Paris, where our weakening pounds bought considerably less than they used to. As part of the Deputy Editor's connoisseurial training we went to the Louvre. Something in the Gericault room, above, seemed to catch her eye.

Sleeper alert?!

October 13 2016

Image of Sleeper alert?!

Picture: Christie's

Well, nearly. The above picture has been withdrawn. But zoom in on the picture here, and to the right of the ruff you can just make out a signature. It begins with 'R...'

Too early to say much from the photos. But possibly quite exciting.

A-Level art history axed

October 13 2016

Image of A-Level art history axed

Picture: Guardian

From The Guardian alarming and scarcely believable news: art history will no longer be an A-Level or AS-level subject from 2018. This means, effectively, the end of art history in UK schools. It was already a subject on the wane in state schools, being offered in only a few. It is more popular in private schools. But the move to scrap the A-level means that the latest efforts to get more state school kids to study art history will be rendered redundant. 

Says the Guardian:

The last exam board in England offering art history A-level will drop the subject from 2018, marking the latest in a cull of perceived “soft” subjects following the curriculum changes begun by the former education secretary Michael Gove.

The exam board, AQA, which had described history of art as a subject leading students to “an appreciation of some significant themes, from classical Greece to the end of the 20th century” confirmed that students taking AS exams in the subject next year and A-levels in 2018 will be the last of their kind.

The Association of Art Historians called the decision a significant loss of access to a range of cultures, artefacts and ideas for young people.

It added: “Being able to signpost educational opportunities such as an A-level in art history to students who may never have considered this an opportunity, forms a significant part of our campaign work with partners across west Yorkshire, Bristol, Brighton and Sussex. The loss of that A-level means that for many prospective students of the subject that door will close and future opportunities [will be] lost.”

Clearly we need to persuade the government to look again at this. I'm a little tied up today, but will revisit the issue later this week. Over on Twitter the likes of Simon Schama, Janina Ramirez and Waldemar Januszczak are all stirring into action. AHNers - to arms!

Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

October 11 2016

Image of Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

Picture: Sotheby's

The news that Sotheby's had declared the above portrait by Frans Hals, which they'd sold privately in 2011 for a reported $10m, to be a 'modern forgery' has predictably caused quite a stir. It was interesting to see how, in one week, the news of a possible Raphael being found in Scotland was in the end heavily outweighed by the news that a Hals was not a Hals. 

I wrote a piece in the Financial Times on the background to the Hals case, and also covered some other paintings that have been sold by M. Ruffini. I came out - perhaps unwisely, you never know - and said that I believed the picture of David with the Head of Goliath that was until recently on display at the National Gallery in London was also fake. Actually, I had intended to say 'almost certainly a fake', but 'it's a fake' got printed. No matter, there's not much of a difference. I  may well be wrong - I'm no Gentileschi expert by any stretch of the imagination. But having been to Berlin to look at Gentileschi's undoubted original, small-scale version of the picture, there's little doubt in my mind that the picture recently shown at the National Gallery, which is painted on a most unusual surface (lapis) and which has never been known before, is not what it seems.

I should of course make it clear here, as I did in the FT, that there is no evidence that anyone who has handled, bought, exhibited or sold the Gentileschi suspected it might be a fake. I have no doubts that everyone acted in the most appropriate manner. The same of course goes for the Hals and all the other pictures in this case. The original source of both pictures, and also the Cranach that has been seized by a French court to investigate whether that too is a fake (having been bought by the Liechtenstein collection for a reported €7m), is a French collector called Giulano Ruffini. He is of course adamant that he did not believe any of these pictures to be fake, and we must believe him. He is also clear that he never thought any of them were certainly genuine either - he says he left that up to the experts.

And here is where Ruffini is right and has done us all a favour in a way. The real story is not just that there might be a fantastically gifted faker out there, able to morph from impersonating Hals to Gentileschi to Cranach, but that the system upon which the art market relies for determining authenticity is not working. The Hals was declared a 'national treasure' by the French government, the Louvre tried to buy it, the Hals scholars said it was wonderful, the Burlington Magazine carried an article giving it the best possible endorsement. In other words, something went very wrong here. I touch upon it briefly in the FT piece. But the issue is that we tend too much to outsource the determination of attribution to people who may have written books, but who may not have any skill at actually making attributions (ie, connoisseurship). 

This is absolutely not to say that all or even most scholars and experts do not have a good eye. In my experience most do. But there are some artists for whom scholarship is in a truly woeful state. The experts who preside over giving pictures the thumbs up or down may well be widely derided within the museum world and the trade for having 'no eye'. But they are still deferred to. And until they die or become irretrievably ancient they will go on being deferred to, wreaking havoc on their chosen artist's oeuvre. Many people reading this will be able to immediately think of 'experts' who fit this bill. It has since emerged that the National Gallery did not conduct any technical analysis of the picture before they put it on display, even though they have the facilities to do so.

You may say it was ever thus. Perhaps that's right. In most cases most of the time the Old Master world gets it right. (And by the way, who is to say that this master forger has not tried their hand at, say, Impressionists?) But we must strive to do better. If the art world is to learn anything from this scandal it is that we must be more open and honest of our attributional failings, and work hard to come up with a better system of who painted what, and when. It's not good enough for the Louvre to pull down the shutters on this case and pretend it never happened, as they seem to have done. More must be done to be transparent about sharing scientific data. And we must also be more transparent about provenance - the shadiness of which is too tolerated across the art trade.

Personally, I would like to see more emphasis placed on the views of people with 'good eyes', if I can glibly use that term. After all, it was primarily because a number of people (mainly within the art trade) who really know how to assess a picture, began to look at this group of pictures and think; 'there's something not right here'. It may have taken them, collectively, a long time to eventually bring the matter, through wider discussion, suggestions, and for want of a better term, eyebrow raising, to bring the matter to a head. But they got there in the end. I might even say we got there in the end.

Of course, I can't finish without discussing science. Regular readers will know that I've long been something of a Doubting Thomas about the ability of science to tell us who painted what. I remain so, even after the Hals was revealed by technical analysis to be a fake. Here, we shouldn't forget that the Louvre, before they attempted to buy the picture, did their own scientific tests, and declared the picture to be perfectly period. Therefore, as in connoisseurship, scientific analysis is not infallible. It's based on many subjective deductions, and is rarely as binary as we like to hope it is. And just as there are good and bad connoisseurs out there, so we must also reluctantly conclude that there are good and bad scientific analysers. In this case the gold medal goes to Jamie Martin at Orion Analytical in the USA, who was commissioned by Sotheby's to look into the Hals. He also, you may remember, was one of the people who helped unmask the Knoedler fake scandal. Of course, it is has long been the practice of forgers to be aware of the latest scientific data on an artist or period, and to work around it. In that sense, each new scientific investigation into a genuine painting can become a faker's charter.

Finally, a recap on the most recent developments. Here is the latest from Vincent Noce, the French journalist who has been pursuing this story from the start. It's looking bad for the Cranach, with some of the Cranach scholars who originally supported the attribution now saying they think it's a fake. But there's no certain proof of forgery yet.

Vincent also mentions this St Jerome by Parmigianino, which was apparently another painting that passed through Ruffini's hands, and which was sold by Sotheby's in New York as 'Circle of Parmigianino'. This was later put on display, from a private lender, at the Metropolitan Museum as 'attributed to Parmigianino'. It has since been taken off display. If that's fake, then it's yet more confirmation of what a gifted artist we're dealing with here. You may well look at it, and say 'that can't possibly be fake'. And I can't entirely believe it myseld. But that's what a lot of people said about the Hals too. And now that picture has been unmasked, the more one looks at it, the more obvious it seems. 

In the Antiques Trade Gazette, Ruffini's lawyer, Philippe Scarzella, says that his client should be described as a 'collector' and not a dealer. In my FT piece I described Ruffini as a dealer, given the number of pictures he has placed into the market over a period of time. The Hals was, Ruffini says, bought by him in 2000. He then began the process of selling by at least 2005, when it was brought, by Christie's in Paris, to the Louvre's attention. I think under British interpretations (for example, how one is taxed whether selling as a collector or a dealer) such a turnaround within five years would make you a dealer. But I am happy to take Ruffini's assertion on face value. Scarzella also reminds us that the chain of events behind the Cranach ending up in the hands of Colnaghi, the London art dealers, is far from straightforward. Ruffini says he consigned the picture to a middle man, and that this person or people then sold it to Colnaghi (with it seems some invented provenance too). He did not sell it directly to Colnaghi. That being so, then I should have thought that the Liechtenstein collection, if it wishes to get out of the picture and seek a refund, has a fairly easy case to make - since title was allegedly an issue.

For more background on all the above, put 'Ruffini' and 'Cranach' etc into the search box top right.

'Britain's Lost Masterpieces' (ctd.)

October 11 2016

Video: BBC

This week on 'Britain's Lost Masterpieces' we're looking at two pictures that belong to the National Museum of Northern Ireland, in Belfast. They're thought to be copies of works by Peter Breughel the Younger. In the clip above, restorer Simon Gillespie and I get a nasty shock when we examine the back of one of the paintings.

Wednesday, BBC4, 9pm.

'Queen's House' re-opens

October 11 2016

Video: Evening Standard

The Queen's House in Greenwich has re-opened to the public after a refurbishment, and very handsome it looks too. Well done to all involved. A star exhibit is the newly acquired 'Armada Portrait' of Elizabeth I. 

Inevitably, there creeps into the video above the phrase 'an installation by the Turner-prize winning artist...'. No museum or gallery is safe without one these days, it seems. In this case it involves some gold squiggles on the wall. But it doesn't look too distracting from the main event, and even, dare I say it, might compliment it.

Rubens on Trump

October 10 2016

Image of Rubens on Trump

Picture: Metropolitan Museum

Donald Trump makes an unlikely appearance in Rubens' c. 1616 Atalanta and Meleager in the Metropolitan Museum. A sweating, combover-ed, orange 'blowhard', even 400 years ago.

Is this Van Dyck's portrait of Jordaens?

October 10 2016

Image of Is this Van Dyck's portrait of Jordaens?

Picture: Warwick Castle

Here's an interesting blogpost by Adam Busiakiewicz, an art historian who used to work at Warwick Castle. It's about the above portrait by Van Dyck (detail) which hangs at Warwick Castle. The attribution to Van Dyck is not in doubt, but the sitter is 'unknown'. Adam cleverly thought reminded him of Jacob Jordaens, Van Dyck's fellow artist in Antwerp. The likeness is a good one, and the date of the painting would fit with Van Dyck painting Jordaens, whom of course he knew, and whom he portrayed for his famous 'Iconography' series of engravings.

Last year, Adam wrote a well argued piece for the British Art Journal - but unluckily for him he found a crucial piece of evidence after the BAJ article came out. It was a photograph in the Witt Library, which shows a copy of Van Dyck's original. The insription says 'Jacob Jordaens' - which would appear to be evidence that Adam's not the only person to have connected Jordaens to the sitter.

Personally I think Adam is right - it must be Jordaens. All we need to do now is find Van Dyck's missing portrait of Rubens...

Turner's 'ghost ship' sails again

October 10 2016

Image of Turner's 'ghost ship' sails again

Picture: Whitworth Art Gallery/Sunday Times

There's a new exhibition on at the Turner Contemporary Gallery in Margate, called 'Adventures in Colour'. One of the exhibits is a very rarely seen sketch by Turner (above) which has been called 'the phantom ship', on account of the ghostly set of sails in the distance. The picture is actually a view of Margate beach.

Despite being found in the house of Turner's Margate 'companion', Mrs Booth, the status of the picture has been doubted, leading to the picture remaining in storage at Whitworth art gallery, which owns the picture. But the leading Turner expert Ian Warrell is a longstanding champion of the painting, and has included it in the new Turner Contemporary show. Warrell links the pictures to the three Margate scenes we investigated in an early episode of 'Fake or Fortune?' More details here and here

Brexit and the Art Market (ctd.)

October 10 2016

Image of Brexit and the Art Market (ctd.)

Picture: TAN

Gareth Harris has a sanguine and open-eyed piece in The Art Newspaper on the uncertainties in the UK art market caused by Brexit. While many are relaxed about London's short to medium term place as a thriving cultural centre, there's rightly concern about details like import Vat. The London dealer Guy Stair Sainty warns:

“If the government does not abolish import VAT, I would have to reconsider remaining in the UK because 95% of my inventory comes from the EU, which means it would have to be bonded or on temporary import,” he says.

The London-based art lawyer Pierre Valentin says, meanwhile, that moving art from the UK to the EU could trigger import VAT when it enters Europe. “If it did, this would discourage EU citizens from buying art in the UK,” he says. 

The latter point is what Sotheby's and Christie's will be watching like a hawk. 

Clean bill of health for US museum's Murillos

October 10 2016

Image of Clean bill of health for US museum's Murillos

Picture: Meadows Museum

The Meadows museum in Dallas has unravelled a provenance mystery of two paintings by Murillo (including the St. Rufina, above), which have long been dogged by accusations they were Nazi loot. It turns out they were, but the pictures were properly restituted and the sold. More details here on Art Daily

Extension for Gainsborough's House

October 10 2016

Image of Extension for Gainsborough's House

Picture: Museum Association

Gainsborough's House museum in Sudbury in Suffolk (where the artist was born) is one of my favourite museums. I'm glad to report that this morning they have announced the allocation of a grant of £4.73m from the Heritage Lottery Fund towards a £7.5m restoration and extension project. This will involve buying a neighbouring building and uilding a three level exhibition space, which will include:

A Major Gainsborough Display Gallery to show more of the museum’s collection and some of his greatest paintings from museum stores around the UK, not often seen.

An Exhibition Gallery that can deliver large-scale exhibitions and be a major draw for repeat visitors and new visitors from further afield. Exciting partnerships are already being developed with the national and leading regional galleries in the UK and Europe.

A Landscape Studio connecting the building with countryside that Gainsborough painted through panoramic viewing points and a camera obscura. Situated on a third level, this multi-functional learning space will give stunning views over the rooftops and allow for an imaginative programme of learning activities.

A Community Gallery to complement the printmaking workshop on site, this is a space where visitors can view and purchase a vibrant, contemporary response to Gainsborough and Suffolk. Gainsborough himself was an innovative printmaker.

As a champion of getting pictures from the store rooms of major museums out to the regions, I am very pleased to see that this is a key platform of Gainsborough House's agenda. You can read more about the plans here

'Beyond Caravaggio' (ctd.)

October 10 2016

Image of 'Beyond Caravaggio' (ctd.)

Picture: National Gallery

Good but perhaps mixed reviews so far for the National Gallery's 'Beyond Caravaggio' show: five stars in The Guardian; four in the Evening Standard; and three each in The Telegraph and Times

Next week on 'Britain's Lost Masterpieces'

October 7 2016

Video: BBC

Spoiler alert! Here's one of the pictures we're investigating in next week's episode.

Swansea museum visitor numbers 'soar'

October 7 2016

Image of Swansea museum visitor numbers 'soar'

Picture: South Wales Evening Post

When we set out to make Britain's Lost Masterpieces, a key aim was to spark new interest in regional museums and their collections. Regular readers will know that Britain's local art galleries are facing unprecedented financial pressure. So we have been very pleased to hear of increased visitor numbers at Swansea Museum, where we featured the work of Jacob Jordaens and Jozef Hermann. And there's also been suggestions that the local council may not now be able to wield their axe quite as much as may had been feared, thanks to the spotlight shone on the museum

Caravaggio's first public commission

October 7 2016

Video: National Gallery

I love this video from the National Gallery, ahead of their new 'Beyond Caravaggio' exhibition (opens 12th October). It begins with the rector of the church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome, Francois Bousquet. I always like it when we hear about religious art from a cleric (is that the right term?), someone for whom the subject is deeply meaningful, and for want of a better term, 'real'. I once had a tutorial about all the great paintings (Titian, Bellini) in the Frari in Venice from the priest there - unforgettable.

Royal Collection 'selfie' discovery

October 7 2016

Image of Royal Collection 'selfie' discovery

Picture: Telegraph/Royal Collection

Here's a great story; a conservator at the Royal Collection has noticed and successfully revealed an obscured self-portrait by Pieter Gerrtisz van Roestraten from one of the artist's still lifes. The self-portrait shows the artist in his studio, reflected in a glass orb (above). The painting, a Vanitas, had been hanging at Highgrove, the country house of the Prince of Wales. It will now be featuring in a new Royal Collection exhibition, 'Portrait of the Artist', which opens in London at the Queen's Gallery on 4th November.

More on the Roestraten story in the Telegraph here. You can zoom in ont he picture here.

Rare Flaxman drawings given to the BM

October 7 2016

Image of Rare Flaxman drawings given to the BM

Picture: ACE

The legendary London art dealer Daniel Katz has donated a folio of 37 pen an ink drawings by John Flaxman to the British Museum. It's the first donation of its kind under the government's new Cultural Gifts Scheme. Danny has also donated a gilt-bronze writing casket to the Ashmolean. Bravo! More details here.

Pound falls (ctd.)

October 7 2016

Video: Via You Tube

The pound continues its precipitous fall on the world markets. It's a sign of how topsy turvy UK politics has become that the most recent drop (to a new low of $1.22) has come as a direct result of speeches by the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer - but few seem to think this a problem. The pound has now devalued more than when, back in the 1970s, Harold Wilson was obliged to go on national television and make his famous 'pound in your pocket speech' (above).

Anyway, this all has an effect on the art market here in the UK. At the moment the low pound looks to be helping sales at the London sale rooms - recent auctions, on varied material, have all been unusually strong. But it's not good for Brits buying, as James Tarmy reports in Bloomberg:

As the pound dropped to levels unseen since the mid-1980s, a line of several hundred people snaked out of London’s Frieze Art Fair minutes before the VIP opening on Wednesday. Overheard were French, German, and American speakers, but British accents were few and far between. “We’ve had interest from quite a few Americans and a few Europeans,” said Angela Westwater, whose gallery, Sperone Westwater, had a booth in the main fair. “No British so far.”

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