September 24 2012

Image of Touché

Picture: ZCZ Films

Curious about Waldemar Januszczak's seemingly incredibly ability to tell whether a work of art is fake or genuine purely from a clip on the telly, I did a little research. I thought readers might be interested to see the above moment from Waldemar's film on Gauguin, when, halfway through, he waxes lyrical about the 'first ceramic that Gauguin ever made'. It's a Faun which is signed with the monogram 'PGo'. Waldemar tells us that this monogram is, 'the first time he uses the monogram 'PGo' which he [Gauguin] later uses in a lot of his paintings...' Apparently it was a way of, 'very deliberately harking back to his own sexual problems...'

All very interesting, but here's the thing; the sculpture is a fake. It was made in the 1990s by Shaun Greenhalgh, in his garden shed.

Now regular readers will know that I am full of admiration for Waldemar's films and writings - even when he was busy criticising the first series of 'Fake or Fortune?' I described him as the best communicator on the arts of his generation. (And anyone who makes a film about William Dobson must be a Good Thing.) But when it comes to connoisseurship, I think his record suggests that he may want to exercise a little caution before criticising the conclusions, and programmes, of others. 

Apart from the minor fake faux pas, the Gauguin film is excellent. You can buy a copy here.

Update - a reader slaps me on the wrist:

By the way, on Waldemar etc, haven't we all made howlers at some point or other? For my part I bought a 'Downman' in a regional auction on the strength of the website image, only to get it home and discover that it was an old illustration, with a few washes of colour. Pretty embarrassing.

You invite people to test their connoisseurship on the strength of your website images, yet when someone like Waldemar makes a judgement from a picture on the TV, he is to be derided? You praise Philip Mould for his instinct, writing "almost the minute he saw the pictures that they were by Turner." But what if he'd been wrong? Would his rush to judgement have been praiseworthy, or rash?

But anyway, I think you should take a slightly different tack: why not come clean and have a story or two - encouraging others to confess - about your own connoisseurial mistakes? Otherwise it all sounds a little bit holier than thou.

There have of course been many times when my own initial judgment has been wrong. Just recently, I said that I didn't initially believe in the Degas in programme 1 of 'Fake or Fortune?'. My point about Waldemar is not to say that one should or shouldn't make judgements on the basis of illustrations - we all do that, often out of necessity - but that if you are a leading arts presenter, and want to invoke the weight of your reputation by repeatedly criticising your fellow arts presenters (and disregard all their research), then you should at least aim before firing.

If any readers want to fess up over howlers, please send them in! I'll try and wheel some out from my annals of shame. I often find that I'm caught out by scale. It's quite easy to assume that a painting is a certain size, when looking at a picture online, especially as British portraits are often standard sizes (like 30 x 25 inches). But then something tiny turns up at the gallery, and you realise it's a reduced copy. So these days (top tip) I always make sure to measure a painting out. 

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