Previous Posts: September 2012

PCF on track to complete by December

September 21 2012

Andy Ellis, Chief Executive of the Public Catalogue Foundation, tells me they will have uploaded all 212,000 publicly owned oil paintings to Your Paintings by the end of this year. This is a phenomenal achievement, especially when you think that the PCF is entirely charitably funded. (To read why you should help them out with a £25 donation - or, better yet, more - click here). A new development on the site is the addition of OUP artist biographies. 

Watch! 'Fake or Fortune?' this Sunday, 7pm

September 21 2012

Image of Watch! 'Fake or Fortune?' this Sunday, 7pm

Picture: BG

Episode 2 of 'Fake or Fortune?' is on BBC1 at 7pm this Sunday (5pm if you're in Scotland). It's a really excellent programme, all about Turner. Here's the blurb from the BBC on what's coming up:

In the early years of the 20th century, spinster sisters Gwendoline and Margaret Davies spent much of their vast fortune buying the cream of European art as a gift to the people of Wales. When Gwendoline died in 1951, all the paintings in her collection were bequeathed to the National Museum of Wales. Amongst the works most proudly displayed were many by JMW Turner, perhaps the nation's best loved artist. These paintings were the pinnacle of the sisters' collection, carefully selected and greatly valued.

Yet within months of this extraordinary act of generosity, the authenticity of the paintings was thrown into doubt by art world experts who branded them fakes. These prized exhibits were deemed 'unfit to hang on the gallery's walls'. For more than half a century a cloud has hung over three of the landscapes, said by experts to be a hand other than Turner's. But Philip believes this may be a miscarriage of justice. As Philip and Fiona investigate, they enter a murky world as they discover the paintings are connected to Turner's secret lover. In the end it will be down to the latest forensic testing in order to prove if the paintings were by Joseph Mallord William Turner. But will the process restore the Davies sisters' reputations as art connoisseurs and allow the pictures to see the light of day once again?

For this programme I was allowed out of the gallery, for a bit of exploration in Kent. I took the above photo on a beach where Turner used to stay. Turner once said that 'the skies over Thanet are the loveliest in all Europe', and I think I have to agree with him. The sea felt as inviting as it looks here, but I had no trunks. I would have jumped in manfully, but there was a film crew about.

Why connoisseurship matters, ctd.

September 21 2012

I can't name names (this blog isn't registered in Ecuador), but there's a growing problem with fakes in regional English auction houses. They are spreading like an infection. So if you're tempted by a seemingly bargain late 19th Century or early & mid-20th Century picture, for goodness sake be careful... 

Newly discovered Turners everywhere?

September 21 2012

Image of Newly discovered Turners everywhere?

Picture: Guardian

Hot on the heels of last week's '£20 million Turner discovery', here's another '£20 million Turner discovery'. From The Guardian:

Experts will present evidence next week claiming to have uncovered a long-lost painting by JMW Turner, bought for £3,700 but now valued by one insurance firm at £20m.

Jonathan Weal, 54, who works for an art investment fund, spotted the seascape eight years ago in an auction at a Kent golf club.

After years of research, his belief in the work – entitled Fishing Boats in a Stiff Breeze – has apparently been backed by art experts and by scientific tests that investigated everything from pigments to the signature. He said Hiscox, the specialist art insurers, had valued the work at £20m.

Dr Selby Whittingham, a Turner scholar and a former curator at Manchester City Art Gallery, has described it as an exciting discovery. He will be among specialists attending a conference on the painting at the Dulwich Picture Gallery on Wednesday.

Tests to be presented include a report by Art Access & Research, a specialist in the scientific analysis of paintings. Its investigations focus on pigments and techniques whose introduction or disuse can be dated.

Its report concludes: "Work thus far has not revealed any features wholly inconsistent with the hypothesis that the painting was executed by Turner in 1805."

This all sounds most exciting. But I've checked with other more prominent Turner scholars, and they haven't been shown this picture yet. So while there's every chance it could indeed be an important discovery, it is open to the charge of being yet another case of premature attribution.

Monkey restorer asks for royalties

September 20 2012

Image of Monkey restorer asks for royalties

Picture: Borjanos Studies Centre

From The Telegraph:

An internet petition to keep the repair job garnered widespread support and seizing an opportunity to swell its coffers, the church began levying a 4 euro (£3) entrance fee on visitors, earning 2,000 euros in the first four days.

Lawyers acting for Mrs Gimenez now insist she should be entitled to a cut of the profits, which she wants to go towards a charity of her choice.

"She just wants the church to conform to the law," lawyer Enrique Trebolle said. "If this means economic compensation she wants it to be for charitable purposes".

Her lawyer added that she would want any money made from the painting to go towards Muscular atrophy charities, because her son suffers from the condition.

Test your connoisseurship

September 19 2012

Image of Test your connoisseurship

Picture: National Museum of Wales/PCF

Is this by Turner? Or merely painted in 'the style of Turner', as catalogued on the Your Paintings website? Find out the answer on Sunday night, BBC1, 7pm in the next episode of 'Fake or Fortune?'. If you feel brave enough to commit now, email me your attribution.

Update - a reader writes:

...we reckon it's right - every part of it 'makes sense', there's a proper sense of depth throughout and the splodges in the foreground - people? - give a proper repoussoir. [...] 

Shrewd souls also say it wouldn't be on telly if it wasn't right.

It's one of three pictures we're examining this Sunday. So don't assume it's right just because it's going to be on the telly!

Another reader writes:

I dont like the Turner. I think the composition is off and I dont find the colours very turner like either.

I am excited to see what you find out.

And another:

In my opinion, the almost Degas-like (or Japanese print-like) composition of the painting makes it impossible to be e real Turner. As far as I know, Turner remained heavily indebted to the way his own master, Claude Lorrain, divided the picture into separete depth planes (leading the eye from the shadowy foreground to the sunny background).

Most people are against - here's another reader:

I am going to say that no, it's not a Turner. I think it lacks a dynamic element, and the figures, the pier and boats seem a bit weak. From the photo it doesn't have the bright or bold colours of later works, nor detailed figures that feature in other Margate or harbour scenes. It seems a little constrained by the portrait composition. There's a lot of land featured in this painting- but not much going on there.

More colours nailed to the mast here:

I don't think tonight's Turner is a Turner!   It isn't bouncing out of my laptop into my kitchen, as other Turner's do when I google them.    Something about the light not being right, nor the colours.    Just doesn't feel good, as if awaiting more on study, but nothing appearing.  Mind you the light may have been looking unusually flat off Margate on the day 'Turner' painted the picture, and so you have an exceptional Turner to study!   I am used to the light off the Cornish coast - very different to Thanet, nowadays, anyway, so I wouldn't put money on my instinct in this case, but we await 7pm with baited breath ...

Things that make curators laugh

September 19 2012

Image of Things that make curators laugh

Pictures: St Andrews University Museum & Science Museum

AHA Chief Executive Pontus Rosén alerts me to this Pinterest page, of objects that make curators laugh. My favourites are the headless man, above, from St Andrews University Museum (the work of a drunk student, or an example of conservation from days gone by?), and the sign below from the Science Museum, evidence of a pre-'Health & Safety' age.

Henry IX restored

September 19 2012

Image of Henry IX restored

Picture: National Portrait Gallery

I'm delighted to report that the National Portrait Gallery has finally agreed to re-identify its portrait of Prince Henry Benedict Stuart, Cardinal York (or Henry IX as he is known to Jacobites). As I mentioned recently, the portrait had long been called a portrait of Prince Henry, but was then debunked some years ago. This means that, following my 2008 article in the British Art Journal, I've been able to re-identify portraits of Henry in both the London NPG and the Scottish NPG. The latter portrait, a fine pastel by La Tour, was being displayed as Henry's brother, Charles, and had appeared on countless posters, tea towels and book covers. (Sorry for the boast, but I'm rather proud the research). Now I just need to persuade the NPG that their portrait is actually by Mengs, not just 'circle of Mengs'. But this may take another five years...

'It's like stealing history'

September 19 2012

Image of 'It's like stealing history'

Picture: FBI

Did you know that the FBI has its very own Art Theft division? I didn't, and it has an impressive website too, regularly updated with news stories and a 'top ten art crimes' list. They say, rightly, that stealing art is 'like stealing history':

Art and cultural property crime—which includes theft, fraud, looting, and trafficking across state and international lines—is a looming criminal enterprise with estimated losses running as high as $6 billion annually.

To recover these precious pieces—and to bring these criminals to justice—the FBI has a dedicated Art Crime Team of 14 special agents, supported by three special trial attorneys for prosecutions. And it runs the National Stolen Art File, a computerized index of reported stolen art and cultural properties for the use of law enforcement agencies across the world.

Here in the UK, the Met has its own art theft site, with a good database of stolen and recently returned items.

Spot the difference - new Vernet discovered

September 19 2012

Image of Spot the difference - new Vernet discovered

Picture: Telegraph

In The Telegraph, Colin Gleadell has news of an impressive new discovery by my fellow London dealer Theo Johns:

Spotted high up on a wall at Sotheby’s last year, the painting of a shipwreck and its survivors was attributed to “the Studio of Claude-Joseph Vernet”, a French artist who catered for the 18th-century romantic taste for the “terrible” and the picturesque. Although signed, it was thought not to be by Vernet, but by one of his studio assistants. Consequently, it was knocked down to London dealer Theo Johns, for just £25,000.

Since then, Johns has had the painting cleaned to reveal one of Vernet’s trademark lighthouses perched on a cliff (pictured above), which, for some unknown reason, had been painted over in the 20th century. Johns then tracked the painting’s exhibition history and found it had been included in the 1926 catalogue raisonne of the artist’s work. It is now on offer for £400,000, which is par for the course for a large, early shipwreck scene by Vernet, an artist who is represented in museums the world over.

More details and better photos here.

Sewell on 'Pre-Raphaelites'

September 18 2012

Image of Sewell on 'Pre-Raphaelites'

Picture: Walker Art Gallery

The Great Man is not so keen (on the new show at Tate Britain):

This is not my hoped-for exhibition of pre-Pre-Raphaelites and the boys’ responses to them, nor of their early work  before the idea of Pre-Raphaelitism seized them, nor of the changes wrought by whatever was in their unwritten manifesto; of the 175 exhibits listed in the catalogue only 20 represent the five years of the Brotherhood’s existence. Had these been hung together, combining in their impact to engender acute insights in terms of realism, emotion, colour, light and technique, we might have identified the probable declarations of the absent   manifesto; but they are instead scattered to illustrate such imposed themes as Salvation, Beauty and Paradise, all chronology discarded.

Even with so few there are significant absentees from the precocious Millais’s tally — The Proscribed Royalist, several portraits and landscapes, and above all, The Bridesmaid (with which he set a pattern for the half-length sensual women of his peers); and had his boyhood masterpiece of 1846, Pizarro Seizing the Inca of Peru, been included to demonstrate how great was the leap to his Isabella and the Pot of Basil of 1848-49, it would have been worth a thousand words of exegesis. This last, dubbed by Hunt “the most wonderful picture that any youth of 20 years of age ever painted”, perfectly demonstrates the Brotherhood’s infatuation with Italian art and literature before the High Renaissance, the subject Boccaccio’s tale of love and murder, the costumes pseudo-Quattrocento, the realism and the differentiated profiles wholly of Millais’ 19th-century day. We can almost hear the scrotum crunch of the walnut in the cracker, and we fear for the sleeping dog under the murderer’s tilted chair. Always illustrated in seemingly misleading brilliant colour, it is so tonal as to suggest a substantial layer of grime — an impression heightened by the curators’ comparison with the scrubbed Lorenzo Monaco borrowed from the National Gallery.

In terms of tone and colour, Millais proves to be surprisingly inconsistent, Hunt far less so — indeed Hunt in this exhibition emerges as a pure Pre-Raphaelite for far longer than Millais  and never as drab (except in The Awakening Conscience); visitors may be surprised too by the drabness of Rossetti’s watercolours. Poor visitors — the Tate last offered them a comprehensive review of the Pre-Raphaelites in 1984, yet after a lapse of 28 years, all will leave this exhibition in confusion as absolute as mine in the year of their centenary, indeed worse, for they will have no idea of what is meant by the subtitle, Victorian Avant-Garde. Comparing Holman Hunt’s Hireling Shepherd, the bright peasantry blatantly lustful in the meadows between Kingston and Ewell, with the mysterious dooms and glooms, romantic, symbolic and Wagnerian, of The Perseus Cycle by Burne-Jones, 35 years later, they will discover no connection, for by then the essential fire of the Brotherhood had long since fizzled out.

I fear we must get used to this 'thematic' grouping of everything at Tate Britain. It's the new buzzword there. Chronology is so last century. 

A new Titian discovery at the Prado

September 18 2012

Image of A new Titian discovery at the Prado

Pictures: Prado/El Pais

Update - a few translation issues mean that I got some details in my first post wrong. Including, er, the wrong image, as the new discovery was not in fact illustrated in the El Pais story. So, sorry about that. The above photo is the correct image (I hope!), and is the best we can get for now. The only colour image I have at the moment (below) is from a screen grab from this Prado video, when the picture is seen briefly in the background of the conservation studio.

A reader in Spain kindly alerts me to an intriguing Titian discovery at the Prado, which has not made it into the wider press. In the Prado's conservation studio at the moment is a previously lost St John the Baptist by Titian (above). It was thought, mainly due to condition issues, to be a copy of a missing original. But an x-ray (below) of another version (bottom, at the Escorial, near Madrid) has revealed two whopping pentimenti - St John's right arm was originally at his chest, and also extended down to the left - which match up with the newly discovered version. The conserved picture will apparently be presented to the public this autumn, when conservation has finished. It was recently lent to the Prado by a chuch in Cantoria, in southern Spain. More details here (in Spanish).

How much do you love JSTOR?

September 18 2012

Image of How much do you love JSTOR?

Picture: Jstor

Enough to buy their new range of accessories? If so, click here to order caps, mugs, backpacks and even kids T-shirts (with 'Future Scholar' on them) all emblazoned with the JSTOR logo. Show the world you know!

Lely conference*

September 18 2012

Image of Lely conference*

Picture: Courtauld Gallery

This is worth going to, a series of lectures to accompany the new Peter Lely exhibition at the Courtauld, 'A Lyrical Vision' (opens 11th October). The show focuses on Lely's earliest works, which regular readers will know I think are among his best. The strong list of speakers includes Caroline Campbell, Karen Hearn, David Taylor and Jeremy Wood. The conference is on 19th October.

* Actually it's called a 'workshop' but I can't stand that term.

The artless art history book

September 18 2012

Image of The artless art history book

Picture: Brent Ashley

This is great - art historian Hope Walker alerts me to a story in Canada about an art history book with no pictures. And it costs CAN$180.

Art history teachers at OCAD University decided that students on their Global Visual and Material Culture course needed a bespoke copy of a book called 'Art History' by Stokstad and Cothren, a book which is in its 4th edition, and easily available on Amazon with illustrations for $150. But the University could only afford a version of the book with no images, as seen above. So students had to buy the book for $180, then refer to other sources to see the illustrations. Genius! More here and here.

Update - the Association of Art Historians tells me:

The online version of our journal occasionally has to run articles with no pics as (c) owners won't license for online use!

AHN says - boo to the copyright dictators.

Auction horror of the week

September 18 2012

Image of Auction horror of the week

Picture: Mullocks Auctioneers

Ghastly, ghastly. But which is worse - the fact that there is a demand for this sort of thing (the estimate is £2,000-£3,000), or that auctioneers are prepared to cash in on it?

Update - isn't it a fake?

Update II - a reader writes:

I have been watching Alistair Sooke's Roman art series (Treasures of Rome) and found it both stimulating, educational and visually stunning, opening an area of art history I know little of - and in it have seen sculpted images of characters besides whom Himmler is an amateur in the cruelty stakes apparently. Which auction house would not handle an ancient bust of Caligula? And would you condemn them for doing so?

Nope. But then Caligula's victims, their children and grandchildren, aren't still alive. 

The Sooke series is really excellent - catch it on iPlayer if you haven't seen it.

Update III - a reader writes:

Caligula may be a slightly ropey counter-offensive, but what about Maoist/Stalinist items?

Degas programme - whither connoisseurship?

September 18 2012

Image of Degas programme - whither connoisseurship?

Picture: Patrick Rice

A reader writes to ask what happened to all the connoisseurship in the Degas programme?

It was all thoroughly engaging, but I was left with just one criticism that left me rather restless/confused afterwards that egged me on to write this.

After closely following your recent impassioned arguments in favour of the importance of connoisseurship, I was really excited and expecting to see the reliable truffle dogs Dr Grosvenor and Mr Mould dramatically searching out comparable sketches/drawings, pointing fingers at several close comparisons in high-res images and taking us on journeys to several museums to set the new picture alongside the most stylistically comparable works to spot convincing similarities. And yet I was dismayed to see practically none of that. To me this was a unique opportunity for you to do so, the item in question being a preparatory drawing this time round: an example of the most intimate psychological evidence that we have of Degas’ mind, not influenced by the intended receiver’s expectations of high technicality, refinement or clarity, and therefore more readily digestible by a connoisseur. These episodes are your opportunity to demonstrate to the entire world how to look as an art historian, and not only like an art historian, and to begin the destruction of obstacles like notions of sorcery and elitism that continue to circle and suffocate this extremely crucial subject.

Like the majority of your audience, I can claim no familiarity with Degas. In fact my steam shamefully runs out even earlier than yours – ca1770! I am thoroughly convinced that your painting’s provenance is what you claim, and yes the physicality of it (i.e., the pigments, support, and so on) certainly seems legit. But can these things, however complete, be independently used to attribute a work? (I already know your answer to that!!) Christie’s and an unnamed respectable expert rejected the picture on the grounds of the dancer’s ‘trivialised’ physiognomy (probably not even realising it’s a sketch) and on the sloshy signature, and some might agree that Connoisseurship failed them there, but then why didn’t you or Dr Cullen et al use your connoisseurship to convince the general public? (perhaps Dr Cullen accompanied by some other respected Degas authorities should have featured in more scenes to present their comparative work and have a court-like debate)…

In short, my personal view is that on this occasion the team seems to have given up on connoisseurship, it being allowed it to perish under the more factual hand of scientific analysis and book-keeping. The vast majority of the 3.8 million people that viewed your show were left with the impression that where connoisseurship cannot ‘seem to work’, science and inventories step in to go the length – to the layman, this will seem to happen for each case, especially with artists like Mondrian. When in fact the only times when Connoisseurship does not ‘seem to work’ is whenever the consulted authority is weakly informed. Works of art that remain on a ‘knife’s edge’, best left ‘attributed’ or worse ‘ascribed’, can only indicate the incompetence of an expert to sufficiently support a connoisseurial hunch, which may be in favour or in opposition of an attribution. Controversial, given the amount of works still left in the balance today by some of the world’s foremost, but definitely true.

Interesting points raised here, and yes, it would have been good to delve more into the connoisseurship side of the argument. As I indicated in my post below, I couldn't help but be a little sceptical of the picture at first, despite all the provenance research, because I couldn't satisfy myself on a connoisseurial basis that it was 'right'. But I soon realised that I was basing my view of Degas' work on the wrong assumptions (and ignorance), and the more I looked at his sketches and lesser known works the more comfortable I became with Patrick's picture. Then all the other arguments fitted neartly into place.

The trouble is, though, how do you explain all this to a BBC1 audience* in such a way as to hold the attention of 3.8m people for an hour? Regular readers will have seen the difficulties I've had on this site trying to explain how connoisseurship works, and why it matters. So imagine how hard it is to actually film the process, and not only do that, but make it look exciting too. Because actually watching connoisseurship in action - someone looking at a painting - can be pretty dull. And in this programme it was felt that the research and technical analysis helped make a good claim for the picture, and that it was worth focusing on those aspects and explaining them in as much depth as we could to the audience in the time available. Of course, I don't favour making attributions based exclusively on one type of evidence over the other. 

Those hungering for a little more connoisseurship will I hope be satisfied with the next two programmes. In focusing on Turner and Van Dyck we discuss connoisseurship more fully. The last programme, on Van Dyck, sees the concept explained in considerable detail.

Update - a reader writes:

I think most viewers will understand the Fake or Fortune programme's pitch (from the title alone perhaps?) so I would not worry about demands for greater depth, detailed comparisons etc. That's what your and other 'blogs' can direct us to. The show is entertaining and informative - it adds to our knowledge about the ways of the art business, the difference between value and cost - incidentally, do you ever get to stride along a Parisian boulevard or up one of the grand staircases in some foreign museum? Or do you pop round to the Witt or other library, or is everything just emailed to your desk where you are chained?

Yes, in the next two programmes I'm allowed out of the gallery (even as far as Kent).

* Overseas visitors may not be aware of the different ways the BBC pitches programmes on BBC1, which has a wider audience reach than BBC2, on which you can be more specialised. We originally pitched the series as a BBC2 show, but much to our surprise it was decided that, with some changes, the format could work well on BBC1, and take arts programming to a much wider demographic.

Not art history...

September 18 2012

Video: Mother Jones

...but probably art, and definitely history.

When art history goes wrong, ctd.

September 17 2012

A sad indictment of some modern art history teaching from Lynne Truss.* Writing in The Telegraph of her experience of a graduate art history degree at the Courtauld, she reveals that she gave up:

To be honest, I didn’t even like art history. The course was designed not to teach us about art, but to drill us in the techniques and dogmas of art-history scholarship, most of which I had no patience with. 

I've heard similar tales from many students. They sign up for a course at the Courtauld thinking they're going to look at paintings and learn about art. But alas...

*via The Association of Art Historians and Ayla Lepine.

Update - a reader tweets:

Yes, well I find this to be more evident at the Institute of Fine Arts. It is not about the Art, but the theory applied. 

While another leaps to the Courtauld's defence:

I did my MA at the Courtauld so my experience might differ from the Graduate Diploma course. Having said that, I experienced a similar start of term; the long reading list, searching for books, photocopying reams worth of chapters and articles, carrying heavily laden book bags home, visiting other libraries to try track down books, having to read books in tandem with a course mate at the National Art Library because it was the only copy in London. But I don't see what the big problem is? The MA course is only 9 months so there's a lot to read in a short time; the aim is to be prepared and informed to later discuss themes in class.

My MA course was in the 'History and theory of the art museum', led by Giles Waterfield. Even though we weren't studying pictures per se, rather the history of their display, we had many encounters with paintings. We had sessions in the Courtauld's print room with a curator and in the main gallery spaces with Ernst Vegelin. We had field trips to Petworth House, Berlin and Florence. We visited the conservation department at the National Gallery in London and the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence with Helen Glanville (who also gave us seminars in painting conservation). We absolutely got to look at paintings! [...]

I will admit that not all my friends at the Courtauld enjoyed their course as much as my 'History and theory of the art museum' peers and I did. My own experience at the Courtauld was the complete opposite of what you claim in your post! I found my course to be well structured, comprehensive, challenging, engaging (in debate and face to face with art) and inspiring (my PhD research was developed directly from my MA dissertation). Good or bad experiences at the Courtauld seem to depend very much on the individual course specialisation and the tutor. I did my research and looked very carefully at the course contents and who was teaching it. If only all tutors could by like the wonderful Giles Waterfield!

So there you have it - if you do a course at the Courtauld, a tutor to aim for is Giles Waterfield. And I can speak first hand of his enthusiasm for showing pictures to pupils, as he's been to our gallery with groups before. 

Of course, really the Courtauld is full of excellent tutors, and courses. Please note that at the start of my post I said 'some teaching'...! (Tho' that said I still haven't recovered from the Courtauld's attempt to close the Witt Library...) 

More on the Degas

September 17 2012

Image of More on the Degas

Picture: BBC

We had a 20% audience share last night for the first episode of 'Fake or Fortune?', with 3.8m viewers. The grand fromages at the BBC are pleased with the figures, which are high for an arts programme. We hope to do better next Sunday, when we're back at our usual 7pm slot. If you saw it, thanks for tuning in. Next week's programme should be even better, with not one but three paintings up for inspection.

The critical feedback so far has been encouraging, with the Telegraph being very kind:

It’s hard to imagine a more artfully crafted – if you’ll pardon the pun – piece of Sunday night factual telly than the return of Fake or Fortune?

Meanwhile, over on Twitter the programme has its very own troll, and a famous one too. The critic and arts presenter Waldemar Januszczak (of whose programmes and writing I'm a great fan) really doesn't like the show. He dismissed the Degas as 'dodgy' and a wrong 'un before he'd even seen the evidence in the programme, on the basis of a short clip on the news. That's an impressive display of connoisseurship, don't you think? One might have thought there'd be a certain solidarity among arts TV makers, especially those that share commissioning editors...

Still, the main thing for me was that we were able to showcase some quite complicated art historical investigations to the broadest possible audience. Normally, terms like 'connoisseurship', 'provenance research' and 'pigment analysis' are banished to BBC2, BBC4 or even the radio. Sadly, there was quite a lot of research we weren't able to squeeze in. Untangling the provenance of the two versions of Blue Dancer was highly complicated, and made our brains hurt. But a saving grace was that the sizes were listed, and of course matched up.

Another unbroadcast but key part of the research we presented to the Degas catalogue compilers focused on our theory that Patrick Rice's picture was a study for the one in Hamburg. The alleged weaknesses in Patrick's picture are all forgiveable if one accepts that it was no more than a preparatory effort for the finished picture in Hamburg. Patrick's picture had to be judged not against the many famous, finished Degas' we are familiar with from books and museums, but against his sketches and studies, which are far less known, and hardly ever reproduced (in some cases only in poor black and white photos in the catalogie raisonne). And the best proof that Patrick's picture was indeed a study came in the discovery of two important pentimenti, or changes, in the painting. The first was that Degas had changed the position of the right hand double bass head - it was originally substantially further to the right. He had also painted the dress of the dancer before he then moved the double bass head over to the left. Such movements rule out any suggestion that Patrick's picture was a straightforward copy of the one in Hamburg.

A few Tweeters, including Waldemar, are still convinced that the picture is a fake. Let us consider, then, the probability that we are dealing with a faker. If so, we have to have a pre-war faker who was able not only to pre-empt pigment analysis techniques not yet invented, but, even more specifically, to find and use the unusual pigments that Degas favoured. How did this faker, before 1945, know how to do this? How did they have access to the Goupil stock books to find the missing provenance of another version of the Hamburg picture, and get the right size? Why did they bother to introduce pentimenti? Not even Han van Meegeren, the famous forger of Vermeer, went to such lengths.

Finally, some readers have suggested, in light of our debates here at AHN on connoisseurship, that the scientific tests and documentary research we carried out on the picture mean that the judgement of connoisseurs, who had previously rejected the picture, are redundant, and thus is connoisseurship itself. I would argue instead that our programme merely highlighted what happens when connoisseurship goes wrong. As I've said before, there are good connoisseurs and bad connoisseurs - but the latter does not mean we should condemn the practice of connoisseurship itself. If a doctor misdiagnoses you, do you question medical science itself, or do you get a second opinion?

And in any case, scientific testing and provenance research must all form part of any connoisseurial analysis these days, if necessary. For what it's worth, I was at first very sceptical of the picture, but then my expertise in Degas is very limited indeed. I run out of steam after about 1830. It was only after looking away from the image I had in my mind of Degas' work - that is, the well-known museum, book, and poster examples - and started to focus on his lesser known (and frankly lesser) works such as studies and sketches, that I began to see comparisons that could be made. The most valuable aspect of the whole exercise, for me, was endless close looking at as many Degas' as I could find. I mean real, get the binoculars out and look like a nutter close looking. For it is the art of close looking, so rarely taught and encouraged among art historians these days, that any aspiring connoisseur needs to learn. If it means getting told off for leaning over ropes in galleries, so be it. But, armchair connoisseurs please note, it's more useful than making judgements from the telly.

Update: an interesting response from a reader, posted above.

Notice to "Internet Explorer" Users

You are seeing this notice because you are using Internet Explorer 6.0 (or older version). IE6 is now a deprecated browser which this website no longer supports. To view the Art History News website, you can easily do so by downloading one of the following, freely available browsers:

Once you have upgraded your browser, you can return to this page using the new application, whereupon this notice will have been replaced by the full website and its content.