Previous Posts: February 2014

Authenticating Modigliani

February 4 2014

Image of Authenticating Modigliani

Picture: NYT

If you thought authenticating Chagalls was frought with difficulty, spare a thought for Modigliani - as Patricia Cohen in the New York Times reports, the artist's ouevre is now beset by fakes and controversy:

Three daunting facts confront anyone interested in buying one of Amedeo Modigliani’s distinctive elongated portraits. They tend to have multimillion price tags; they are a favorite of forgers; and despite an abundance of experts, no inventory of his works is considered both trustworthy and complete.

Christian Parisot, for instance, the author of one catalog and the president of the Modigliani Institute in Rome, is due in court this week in Rome on charges that he knowingly authenticated fake works.

Marc Restellini, a French scholar compiling another survey of Modigliani’s work, jettisoned part of his project years ago after receiving death threats.

And even those who swear by a listing of 337 works created by the appraiser and critic Ambrogio Ceroni acknowledge it has significant gaps. The effort to establish an authoritative record of Modigliani’s work “resembles nothing so much as a soap opera,” Peter Kraus, an antiquarian book dealer, wrote in an essay published a decade ago.

Mon Dieu - le feu! (ctd.)

February 4 2014

Image of Mon Dieu - le feu! (ctd.)

Picture: BG

Martin Lang, the owner of the Chagall fake we featured on 'Fake or Fortune?' last week, has served an injunction on the Chagall Committee, to try and stop them burning his picture. So far, the Committee has remained silent...

In the Telegraph, attention has turned to the crazy French system of authenticating pictures:

As in the latest case, the decision often rests with an artist’s descendants, who are indefinitely allowed to exercise the “moral rights” of their forebears under French law. Similar committees decide whether works apparently by Edgar Degas, Pablo Picasso and Man Ray are genuine. Yet, as Valentin puts it, “The children, grand-children or great-grandchildren of an artist are not necessarily the best experts.”

Mould argues that the system ought to be reformed. “The son of a brain surgeon is not someone you would trust to work on your brain,” he says. “After all, they hold a very powerful right: they can turn something bought for £5 in a flea market to £1 million. Conversely, as in Martin’s case, they can turn £100,000 to nothing.”

Update - it hasn't been burnt yet. Hope builds...

'Fake or Fortune?' makes into 'Thought for the Day'

February 4 2014

Audio: BBC

'Thought for the Day' is the holy slot on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, and is heard every day (save Sundays) at 7.50am. If I hear it, it normally means I've woken up too early. This morning, however, I was startled to hear the Bishop of Norwich discussing the fake Chagall we had on 'Fake of Fortune?' last week, and somehow linking it to Jesus. Still, top marks for watching the programme Bish!

Another sleuthing vicar

February 4 2014

Image of Another sleuthing vicar

Picture: TAN

Hot on the heels of the English vicar who found a Van Dyck recently, Father Joaquin Caler in Spain believes he has found a Murillo (above). However, there's disagreement amongst Murillo scholars. More in The Art Newspaper here.

Another chance to buy Coello's portrait of Don Diego

February 4 2014

Image of Another chance to buy Coello's portrait of Don Diego

Picture: DCMS

A portrait by Coello of Philip II's son, Don Diego, has been temporarily barred from export from the UK. The matching price to raise, should a UK buyer be interested, is £4.25m. The picture belongs to the Prince of Liechtenstein, and the last time he tried to export it there was a tremendous hoo ha, leading in part to the cancellation of a Liechtenstein collection show at the Royal Academy. It is thought that the National Gallery may be interested in the picture. More here

Update - A reader writes:

Why do the committee not let this one go? I cannot think of it's relevance to British history or find it to be an exciting example of portraiture to make it's mark in a UK national collection. The public lost out by by the cancellation of the Lichtenstein show.

West altarpiece barred from export

February 4 2014

Image of West altarpiece barred from export

Picture: DCMS

A large and lovely altarpiece by Benjamin West being scandalously sold by the Church of England to a US museum has been temporarily barred from export. The picture, Devout Men Taking the Body of St Stephen, used to hang in St Stephen's Walbrook in London, as shown below. But after a frankly bizarre judgement in the CofE's Consistory Court last year the picture was sold to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, for £1.75m. A UK institution, if any is interested (which I doubt) will have to raise that sum to keep the painting in Britain. More details on the export bar here.

Mon Dieu - le feu!

February 3 2014

Image of Mon Dieu - le feu!

Picture: BG*

I'm a little busy today, so not much posting till later on I'm afraid. We're mounting a last ditch attempt to stop the short-sighted** Chagall Committee in Paris from burning the picture we featured on yesterday's 'Fake or Fortune?'. 

* Marvel at my Photoshopping skills.

** That's the kindest way I can think of describing them at the moment.

Update - here's Philip in The Telegraph on why you should never burn even a fake:

Fakes are nasty things but they do have educational benefits. As murky artefacts they testify to society’s heroes and its villains. But we are hardly going to destroy all those fake medieval splinters of the True Cross, or bin all those phony metatarsals of St Barnabas because they confuse our understanding of Christianity.

It is also important to know thine enemy. Identifying fakers requires knowing their traits and identifying a corpus of works of reference, like the fascinating oeuvre of Van Meegeren the Vermeer faker in wartime Amsterdam – another artist we outed in a former programme - whom we can now with retrospect see added a touch of early Hollywood to his 17th century religious personages.

And what will this do to those who may well have works by Chagall which, for whatever reason, have failed to make the art history books to date? If I owned a would-be Chagall I would now not think twice, but three times or more before sending it to Paris. Ugly acts like the one proposed by the Committee can have the effect of damaging the progress of art history.

Update II - thanks for your kind emails on the programme. A reader writes: 

It might be said that the right of an artist's descendants to destroy a work that they consider to be a fake is closely related to their right to enjoy an income from the sale of genuine works for 70 years after their ancestor's death - the so-called Droit de Suite, which the EU has now forced the United Kingdom to adopt as Artist's Resale Right.  Do you see where this is leading....? 

Another reader adds:

Presumably only the signature makes the painting a fake.  Maybe that could be taken off?

Indeed. Another reader says similarly:

I totally agree with your discussion on destruction of fakes. In order to avoid further circulation of the work would not be sufficient for the committee to publish online a catalogue of ascertained “fake” pictures, and maybe put a big “fake” rubber stamp on the back of the work?

One reader recalls a very similar tale:

Circa 1989 a friend/acquaintance was working in a London gallery and someone walked in and offered her a Chagall picture. She bought it for about £1000 and discovered that the only way to verify it was to send a photo to an expert in Paris, France. The expert contacted her and requested that she should bring it to him for further verification etc. In due course she and her husband went to Paris, whereupon the Gendarmerie appeared and explained that the artwork was fake and that it would be destroyed. 

It would be interesting to know just how many works the Chagall Committee has torched over the years.

A reader adds that some fakes can even become valuable:

Indeed, when is a painting a fake and when is it in the style of an artist or a copy.  Our museums are replete with paintings described as "school of" or "after".  Should all student and studio copies be burned as well.  A fake Vermeer could be an original Van Meegeren, who was an accomplished artist whose Vermeer style paintings enjoy a good market now.

One reader did a little research into the picture themselves:

I watched last night’s program with interest. I have a book on Chagall and out of interest I turned to the index to see if the dancer’s name Kawarska appeared. It was not there but I immediately saw the name Karsavina, Tamara. I turned to the page and was surprised to see that indeed she was a ballet dancer (in fact I have since learnt that she was extremely famous, the original firebird). Now I also saw that Chagall was in St Petersburg studying under Leon Bakst in 1908-1909 or thereabouts and that therefore it is very likely that Chagall had contact with Karsavina. So could it be that the name Kawarska is just a garbled version of Karsavina?

Another point is to do with the phthalocyanine question. It was brought into commercial use in the 1930’s but again I was interested to learn from the internet that it was discovered in 1907. It would be worth researching into whether it could have been available to Chagall as early as 1909-1910.

Sadly, the picture really is a fake. But the point remains, particularly on the science front, that our knowledge of pigments is continually evolving. A yellow pigment (I forget which) which paint analysis used to say definitively could not have been used before such and such a date, has recently been found to be in use in artist's palettes for much longer than previously thought. So some pictures which were once rejected as later fakes or copies have had to be reassessed. The point is, the scientific analysis of paintings is still in its infancy, even though art historians are tempted to accept anything a 'scientist' says about a painting as the gospel truth.

Finally, one reader knew it was a wrong 'un very early on in the programme:

You and the team were great as always , though I think once you saw their stair carpet and realised someone had designed that interior , the game was up !

but £100,000..amazing !  I know zero, but the eyes the wrong..

Update III - an MEP, Edward McMillan Scott, has raised the issue of the painting's imminent destruction with the European Commission.

Update IV - the MEP has even started a petition to save the painting, which hardly anybody has signed. 53 at the last look! Mind you, these online petitions are usually pretty silly, and invariably reward you with a whole heap of spam.

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