Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

August 23 2016

Image of Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

Picture: AHN reader

The French newspaper Le Canard Enchaine is a satirical weekly publication, something akin to the UK's Private Eye. So I report the above article, kindly sent by a reader, with caution. But it alleges that the panel of experts asked by a French judge to look into the authenticity of the painting bought by the Prince of Liechtenstein as a 1531 work by Cranach the Elder for €7m from a London dealer in 2013 has concluded that it is 'un faux'. For more background to the story so far, see here and here.

Quite how 'faux' the painting has been deemed to be is unclear at this stage - the article cites no direct sources. It appears to quote from a report of some description, but whether this is the actual report commissioned by the judge, we are not told. The paper claims that the panel on which the picture was painted has been dated to the 18th Century, that signs of artificial ageing have been detected on the paint surface, and that pigments 'not in accord' with the period of Cranach have been detected.

However, one source of my own tells me that the pigments used in the creation of the panel have not, as the article claims, been proved to be later, but that any traces of later pigments have been put down to restorations. This is entirely possible - Old Master pictures are often re-painted and fixed or improved throughout their lives, and the detection of later pigments is far from proof that the whole picture is 'not right'. Any strong claim that this Cranach is fake will have to assert that the faker was so clever they not only used old pigments to  make it, but deliberately created some damages and then used modern re-touching media for the repair. Possible? Of course. Likely? Not easy to say.

The Canard story also reports that the panel has been determined, by dendrochronology, to be 18th Century. Now, dendrochronology is not, in my experience, the perfect science most people assume it to be. The Canard report states that the Prince of Liechtenstein has been assured by another expert in wooden panels that his panel is indeed consistent with one made in the 16th Century. If the later dendrochronology is deemed correct, then the possibility must remain that the painting is not a modern fake, but a very good old copy (or rather, something created in the 18th Century that was intended to decieve, and has been decieving people for centuries ever since).

Nevertheless, if it is the case that the picture is determined to be a modern fake, then Le Canard Enchaine is right to suggest that this will now create 'une belle panique' in the Old Master market. Everybody will be drawn into the scandal - auction houses, dealers, museums, advisers, curators, and scholars.

And though I hesitate to get off the fence at this stage, I feel I ought to report my own opinions sooner rather than later. I have not seen the Cranach in the flesh, so cannot in truth give an opinion on the picture. From the high-res photos I have wondered about the nature of the craquelure. But I must admit that until the whole possibility of fakery was raised, I did not think look at the picure and immediately think; 'that's a wrong 'un'. The same goes for another picture that has been mentioned in connection with this case. However, for what it is worth, I have seen one of the paintings mentioned in this case in person, and I am pretty convinced it is indeed a fake. I may well be wrong. 

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