Artwatch UK

Connoisseurship in Action and in Peril

“WHEN THE FIRST catalogue of the Ashmolean Museum’s Sculpture collection (in three volumes) was undertaken more than twenty-five years ago, the present author decided to exclude works made before 1540…”

“…The decision was partly determined by the quantity of the material but also in recognition of the special attention that the finest of the small bronzes given and bequeathed by Charles Drury Fortnum deserved. It is indeed because of these that the Ashmolean’s sculpture collection is the most important in the United Kingdom after that of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London…”

Above and below: The ‘Fortnum Venus’, attributed to Francesco Francia or his circle. c. 1500-05. Bronze, 26.1 cm. high. (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford).

Above, detail of St Jerome, by Cosimo Tura. c.1470. Panel, 101 by 57.2 cm. (National Gallery, London).

“The first of Jeremy Warren’s three volumes under review here includes these very figures. One of them is the
exquisite Venus associated with the Bolognese painter and goldsmith Francesco Francia (cat. No.20). It is one of the earliest responses in the Renaissance to the antique female nude, and perhaps belonged to a narrative group for, as her drapery falls, her hand is cupped as if to receive the apple from Paris…”

“…In conclusion it should be noted that the cataloguing of the permanent collection is not now often considered an essential part of the curator’s job. Any museum director who is chiefly an impresario is inevitably attentive to fashionable ideas and taste, whereas the cataloguer of a permanent collection is bound to give his or her attention to neglected artists, and to works by artists in which they are not initially interested, but which beg the question as to why the appealed to their predecessors – collectors, scholars and curators long deceased. This provides an antidote not only to the narrow outlook of the popular exhibition machine, but to that of academic institutions where scholars, having achieved promotion by imitating their seniors, are obliged to compete in appealing to the young consumers upon
whose favour the prosperity of the institution depends.”

~ NICHOLAS PENNY: “Sculpture in the Ashmolean”, Burlington Magazine, January 2016. A review of Catalogue: Medieval and Renaissance Sculpture. A Catalogue of the Collection in the Ashmolean Museum, by JEREMY WARREN, 3 vols., continuously paginated, 1188 pp. incl. numerous col. + b. & w. ills. (Ashmolean Publications, Oxford, 2014, £395.)

“FIVE NEW YEAR BLOCKBUSTERS

“It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day… what new art exhibitions will make you feel good? Read our list of the top five shows opening this season to get inspired.

“Discover the enduring impact of Botticelli and Delacroix on the art world and prepare to be star struck at exhibitions celebrating 100 years of British Vogue and the incredible beauty of our Solar System.

“Need a second opinion? Watch art historian Jacky Klein’s guide to the season’s unmissable art exhibitions.”

~ THE ART FUND, a mailing, 8 December 2016.

PERMANENT EVOLUTION – A JOB FOR LIFE

“Museums have become places where we take part in social as well as learning activity. It is easy to be cynical about
the impact of the café, restaurant or shop spaces on the culture and character of museums, but such facilities have made museums less daunting, more welcoming and more open to general visitors. However, such [democratization] needs to go deeper than the provision of opportunities to purchase or to consume.”

NICHOLAS SEROTA, the director (- since 1988) of the Tate, at the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art in Seoul.

HOW ART HISTORIANS CAN BE FOOLED BY CONDITION

“One of the most influential books in the twentieth-century art history was Erwin Panofsky’s Studies in Iconology. In this seminal work, the very latest German approaches and method were presented to an Anglo-Saxon audience for the first time. One of the dazzlingly learned chapters was devoted to the figure of Cupid wearing a blindfold, and Panofsky showed how this theme could be traced back to the writings of the medieval moralists. For thinkers of this Christian stamp, lovers were metaphorically blind, since they were ‘without judgement or discrimination and guided by mere passion’. But later, in the Renaissance, ‘moralists and and humanists with Platonizing leanings’ contrasted the figure of the blindfold Cupid with another kind of…”

~ PAUL TAYLOR. Introduction, CONDITION The Ageing of Art, Paul Holberton Publishing, 2016. ISBN 978 1 907372 79 7

Illustration: Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, The Composer Luigi Cherubini with the Muse of Lyric Poetry, 1842, detail.

“…Although Bode was extremely learned in many branches of art history and had his information always ready – he had little need of written notes and photographs – he was no scholar in the true sense. He was more fond of action than reflection, and was far from having a just and objective mind. Moreover, the distracting practice of uninterrupted daily work hindered a comprehensive synthesis of realization. The deepest motive of the scholar, namely, disinterested love of truth, could not function productively in a nature always resolutely aiming for effectiveness and visible results. Bode was utterly unphilosophical, he considered no affair from more than one side. He saw black or white, good or bad, advantageous or inimical; he knew no intermediary steps. To forsee obstacles, to fear, to guard against them was not his way. Consequently he became angry as soon as he encountered opposition. He made more mistakes by acting than by failing to act. He was a hunter, not an angler.”

~ Max J. FriedländerReminiscences and Reflections, Edited from the literary remains and with a foreword by
Rudolf M. Heilbrunn, 1969, New York.

“…Anyway, getting back to the book that was sent to me, its title was rather grand and pompous: La bella Principessa – the beautiful princess. Or, as I knew her, ‘Bossy Sally from the Co-op’. I’m a bit unsure of how to talk of this because the book was written by an eminent Oxford professor and must have been quite an effort. I don’t want to ruffle any feathers or cause problems but I nearly swallowed my tongue on reading its supposed value – £150 million! It would be crazy for a public body to pay such a sum. So I feel the need to say something about it.

“The drawing is thought by some to be a work by Leonardo da Vinci, but it does divide opinion and it wasn’t included in the National Gallery’s Leonardo show of 2011, a show which I thought was really well done except for it being staged ‘underground’ in the Sainsbury Wing basement…

“I drew this picture in 1978…It was done on vellum, quite a large piece to find unfolded and without crease lines. I did it on vellum because at that time I couldn’t make old paper yet…The first thing I had to do was sand off the writing with 600-grit wet and dry paper. That done, it looked too new for anything old to look right on it, so I turned it over and did the drawing on the other side. That is why the drawing is done on the hair side of the vellum instead of the much-preferred ‘flesh side’. The texture of the sanding should still seen on its reverse.

“As I said, the face is of 1970s vintage, and I think that shows in the drawing…The drawings of Leonardo and Holbein especially have always impressed me with their fineness of line and detail, and in my view they must have been done under some magnification…The vellum is mounted on an oak board…before drawing on it, the vellum was stuck to the backboard with cabinet maker’s pearl glue, so it needed to be under a weighted press for a while to allow the glue to go off without ‘cockling’ the vellum. ‘Cockling’ is the effect you see on paper when you try to paint a watercolour without soaking and stretching the paper first. On vellum the dampness looks like blisters or a cockle bed on the shore. It’s caused by the water content of the glue, so the thing needs to be under a heavy press to dry it flat.

“After a bit of experimentation, and just to prove a point to myself, I lightly traced the drawing I’d invented onto the vellum (I’m sure the graphite can still be detected) and started to draw the image in hard black chalk – carbon black in gum arabic – using a pair of jeweller’s magnifying glasses. It took some time to get used to working like that, and I had to go to back to practising on papper for a while so as not to bugger things up…

“It was done in just three colours – black white and red – all earth pigments based in gum arabic, with the carbon black mostly gone over with oak gall ink. To be a bit Leonardo-like or even Holbein-like – they were both left-handers – I put in a left-hander’s slant to it…The Leonardo book [“La Bella Principessa ~ The Story of the New Masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci”, By Martin Kemp and Pascal Cotte, with contributions by Claudio Strinati, Nicholas Turner and Peter Paul Biro] seems to put great store by the apparent leftyness of the drawing, but it can be shown up very easily. With the face on the vellum facing left, just turn the drawing clockwise to face her skyward, and hatch strokes from profile outwards in the normal manner…Incidentally, the book points out a palm print on the neck area, just the spot a right-hander doing an impersonation of a left-hander might rest their hand whilst doing the background hatching.

“Although I am no Oxford professor, I could list umpteen reasons for not thinking this drawing to be by leonardo…
The book mentions several holes on one margin as evidence that it has been bound into a volume, and also mentions some later ‘restoration’. I did not do these things, and don’t know who did, or where it went on its later travels. Looking closely at the picture in the book, it looks to have had the left margin peeled back an inch or so and has been restuck, not very well, especially at the bottom left. Could this be from when the left margin was pierced and roughly re-cut by someone else?

“I sold it for less than the effort that went into it to a dealer in Harrogate in late 1978 – not as a fake, or by ever claiming it was something it wasn’t. I can’t really say any more on it. At least it may now be known for what it is.”

~ SHAUN GREENHALGH – A Forger’s Tale, Published by ZCZ Editions in 2015

In the past it was customary for scholars to advance claims of attribution for particular works of art in scholarly journals and then wait to see how peers and colleagues responded to their evidence and arguments. Increasingly, we are seeing co-ordinated promotional campaigns of advocacy by players and owners who eschew venues of debate and sometimes denigrate sceptics and opponents. We invited two of the leading advocates of “La Bella Principessa’s” Leonardo’s authorship – Martin Kemp and Nicholas Turner – to speak at our recent conference on connoisseurship. Both declined. Neither our post of January 2014 (“Art’s Toxic Assets and a Crisis of Connoisseurship ~ Part II: Paper – sometimes photographic – Fakes and the Demise of the Educated Eye”) nor our colleague Kasia Pisarek’s article “La Bella Principessa: Arguments against the attribution to Leonardo” that was published in the June 2015 issue of the scholarly journal artibus et historiae have been challenged in print.
(For a pdf copy of Kasia Pisarek’s article, please write to: news.artwatchuk@gmail.com. For our conference, see Art, Law and Crises of Connoisseurship and Recap of Art, Law and Crisis of Connoisseurship Conference.)

The da Vinci Detective: Art Historian Martin Kemp on Rediscovering Leonardo’s Tragic Portrait of a Renaissance Princess – an ARTINFO Interview by Andrew M. Goldstein, 17 October 2011. Extracts:

…[Andrew Goldstein] “They weren’t the only ones to differ on the attribution of the painting, and when you first announced that you believed it to be a Leonardo, a lot of people disagreed. One museum director even told the Telegraph’s Richard Dorment, anonymously, that it was a “screaming 20th century fake, and not even close to Leonardo himself.” Has there been any reversal since then?

[Martin Kemp] “I don’t know who this anonymous person was, but we carbon-dated the parchment and that eliminates it from being a screaming modern forgery. If it were a forgery, it used things that we’ve only recently discovered about Leonardo’s technique in the last 20, 30 years. The fact that it was owned by Giannino Marchig takes it outside the period when it could be a forgery, knowing what we know now, so that’s not an option. The ultra-violet turns up retouching, and it’s very clear it has been heavily restored, but most objects 500 years old, including the “Salvator Mundi”, which is the new picture being shown in the National Gallery.

[…] “One thing that critics of your ‘Principessa’ attribution tend to bring up is the involvement in your research of Peter Paul Biro, a fingerprint expert whose credibility was questioned. What is your opinion of him?

“Well, Biro I knew of as someone who’d specialized in fingerprints and paintings, so we asked him to look at the fingerprint that is in the upper left side of the ‘Bella Principessa.’ I had data on finger prints and finger marks in other Leonardo paintings, and he said one of these matched – not astoundingly, because it’s just the tip of a finger, and one doesn’t rely on fingerprints on vellum. It wouldn’t convict anybody in a court of law. You need more than that. So he did a limited job here, and we didn’t depend too much on that evidence. The press liked it, of course because it was cops and robbers stuff.

“I would not now probably say much about it at all, because on reflection I don’t think we have an adequate reference bank of Leonardo fingerprints. I’ve talked to fingerprint specialists, and they typically require a full set of reference prints. We don’t have that for Leonardo. My sense is – and this is Pascal’s sense, too – that it’s probably premature, given what we know about Leonardo’s fingerprints, to come up with matches at all. But the job Biro did was perfectly straightforward. There were no grounds for dishonesty. Peter Paul Biro is suing the New Yorker*, but I can’t comment at all upon the court case because that’s about things that I know nothing about, so it’d be totally improper. But he did work for us, which I now, let’s say, place less reliance on, simply because, on reflection, I think the fingerprint evidence is rather slippery.

“Because of the work you have done to bring the ‘Principessa’ into the fold of acknowledged Leonardos, some say you have crossed from the realm of scholarship to something more like advocacy. How do you explain your passion for the portrait?

“I would say that one of the differences between being a historian of art and being a scientist, as I was trained, is that you’re dealing with objects that are deliberately communicating with something other than just our intellect. So, for me, it’s not a dry process. You begin with the feeling it’s special, and if it stands up to the research, you end with the feeling that it’s special, and I make no apology for that. I’ve been critized as acting as an advocate for it, but if I’m writing, as I am in ‘Christ to Coke’, about the ‘Mona Lisa’, I’m an advocate for that too, because it’s a miraculous picture. Also, when I’m writing about the Coke bottle, I’m not an advocate for Coke as a drink. I hate it. But it’s one of the all-time great
bits of product design and I’m happy to say that.”

“*THE MARK OF A MASTERPIECE” by David Grann, The New Yorker, 12 July 2010 ~ Extracts:

[1] “But he [Martin Kemp] also relies on a more primal force. ‘The initial thing is just that immediate reaction, as when we’re recognizing the face of a friend in a crowd,’ he explains. ‘You can go on later and say “I recognize her face because the eyebrows are like this, and that is the right colour of her hair,” but, in effect, we don’t do it like that. It’s
the totality of the thing. It feels instantaneous.'”

[2] “Moreover, according to [the curator of Drawings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Carmen] Bambach, there was a more profound problem: after studying an image of the drawing [La Bella Principessa] – the same costume, the same features, the same strokes that Kemp examined – she had her own strong intuition. ‘It does not look like a Leonardo’, she said.”

[3] “When such a schism emerges among the most respected connoisseurs, a painting is often cast into purgatory. But in January, 2009, Kemp turned to a Canadian forensic art expert named Peter Paul Biro who, during the past several years has pioneered a radical new approach to authenticating pictures. He does not merely try to detect the artist’s invisible hand; he scours a painting for the artist’s fingerprints, impressed in the paint on the canvas. Treating each painting as a crime scene, in which an artist has left behind traces of evidence, Biro has tried to render objective what has historically been subjective. In the process he has shaken the priesthood of connoisseurship, raising questions about the nature of art, about the commodification of aesthetic beauty, about the very legitimacy of the art world.Biro’s research seems to confirm what many people have long suspected: that the system of authenticating art works can be arbitrary and, at times, a fraud.”

[4] “Biro asserted that he had uncovered the painting’s ‘forensic provenance,’ telling a reporter, ‘The science of fingerprint identification is a true science. There are no gray areas.’ Having developed what he advertised as a ‘rigorous methodology’ that followed ‘accepted police standards,’ he began to devote part of the family business to authenticating works of art with fingerprints—or, as he liked to say, to ‘placing an artist at the scene of the creation of a work.'”

[5] “But the International Foundation for Art Research, a nonprofit organization that is the primary authenticator of Pollock’s works, balked, saying that Biro’s method was not yet ‘universally’ accepted.

[6] “In 2009, Biro and Nicholas Eastaugh, a scientist known for his expertise on pigments, formed a company, Art Access and Research, which analyzes and authenticates paintings. Biro is its director of forensic studies. Clients include museums, private galleries, corporations, dealers, and major auction houses such as Sotheby’s. Biro was also enlisted by the Pigmentum Project, which is affiliated with Oxford University.”

[7] “Biro told me that the divide between connoisseurs and scientists was finally eroding. The best demonstration of this change, he added, was the fact that he had been commissioned to examine ‘La Bella Principessa’ and, possibly, help make one of the greatest discoveries in the history of art.”

[8] “After he first revealed his findings, last October, a prominent dealer estimated that the drawing [‘La Bella Principessa’] could be worth a hundred and fifty million dollars. (The unnamed ‘lady’ who had sold it at Christie’s for less than twenty-two thousand dollars came forward and identified herself as Jeanne Marchig, a Swedish animal-rights activist. Citing, among other things, the fingerprint evidence, she sued the auction house for ‘negligence’ and ‘breach of warranty’ for failing to attribute the drawing correctly.)”

[9] “Ellen Landau, the art historian, said that she was ‘absolutely convinced’ that the paintings were by Pollock. Biro was sent a photograph of a fingerprint impressed on the front of one picture. He identified six characteristics that corresponded with the fingerprint on the paint can in Pollock’s studio—strong evidence that the work was by Pollock. But, as more and more connoisseurs weighed in, they noticed patterns that seemed at odds with Pollock’s style. Meanwhile, in sixteen of twenty art works submitted for analysis, forensic scientists discovered pigments that were not patented until after Pollock’s death, in 1956. At a symposium three years ago, Pollock experts all but ruled out the pictures. Ronald D. Spencer, a lawyer who represents the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, told me, ‘Biro can find all the fingerprints he wants. But, in terms of the marketplace, the Matter paintings are done. They are finished.'”

[10] “Reporters work, in many ways, like authenticators. We encounter people, form intuitions about them, and then attempt to verify these impressions. I began to review Biro’s story; I spoke again with people I had already interviewed, and tracked down other associates. A woman who had once known him well told me, ‘Look deeper into his past. Look at his family business.’ As I probed further, I discovered an underpainting that I had never imagined.”

[11] “During the eighties and early nineties, more than a dozen civil lawsuits had been filed against Peter Paul Biro, his brother, his father, or their art businesses. Many of them stemmed from unpaid creditors. An owner of a picture-frame company alleged that the Biros had issued checks that bounced and had operated ‘under the cover’ of defunct companies ‘with the clear aim of confusing their creditors.’ (The matter was settled out of court.) As I sifted through the files, I found other cases that raised fundamental questions about Peter Paul Biro’s work as a restorer and an art dealer.

[12] “Biro refused, multiple times, to divulge where he had obtained either of the paintings. According to the Wises, Biro insisted that the person who sold him the paintings was in Europe, and that it was impossible to contact him.

[13] “Sand sought proof of a financial transaction—a check or a credit-card payment—between Biro and Pap. Biro, however, said that he had obtained them in exchange for two musical instruments: a Steinway piano and a cello.

[14] “Sand was incredulous: ‘Is Mr. Pap a music dealer or is he an art dealer?’ After Biro could not recall where he had originally purchased the cello, Sand suddenly asked him, ‘You ever been convicted of a criminal offense, sir?’

‘No.’

‘You are certain of that?’

‘Yes,’ Biro said.”

[15] “Throughout the trial, the Biros and their attorneys maintained that the two paintings sold to the Wises were authentic, but to make their case they presented an art expert who was not a specialist on Roberts, or even on Canadian art. On September 3, 1986, the court found in favor of the Wises, and ordered Peter Paul and Geza Biro to pay them the seventeen thousand dollars they had spent on the pictures, as well as interest.”

[16] “Lawsuits had piled up against Peter Paul Biro and his family business. In two instances, there were allegations that art works had vanished under mysterious circumstances while in the care of Peter Paul. In one of the cases, Serge Joyal, who is now a senator in Canada, told me that he left a nineteenth-century drawing with the Biros to be restored. Before he could pick it up, Peter Paul notified him that it had been stolen from his car and that there was no insurance. Biro, however, never filed a police report, and Joyal says that Biro pleaded with him to wait before going to the authorities. During their conversations, Joyal says, Peter Paul acted evasive and suspicious, and Joyal became convinced that Biro was lying about the theft. As Joyal put it, ‘There was something fishy.’ Though Peter Paul said that there was nothing ‘suspect’ about his behavior, and that he should not be held liable, the court awarded Joyal seven thousand dollars, plus interest.”

[17] “Within Montreal’s small art world, there were whispers about Peter Paul Biro and his father. But the lawsuits appear to have attracted virtually no public attention. In 1993, Peter Paul Biro filed for bankruptcy, and he never paid many of the judgments against him, including what he owed the Wises and Joyal. Lipsz’s lawyer said of Biro, ‘He oiled his way out of that whole thing. . . . He got away scot-free.'”

[18] “Biro was part of an effort to launch a venture named Provenance, which would provide, as he put it, the ‘clever strategy’ necessary to sell ‘orphaned’ paintings for tens of millions of dollars. According to a business prospectus, marked confidential, Provenance would acquire art works that had been forensically validated by Biro and several colleagues, and sell them in a gallery in New York City. The company chose a thumbprint for a logo.”

[19] “Provenance was cleverly tapping into the public’s desire to crack open the art world, offering the tantalizing dream that anyone could find a Pollock or a Leonardo or a Turner languishing in a basement or a thrift shop. The company combined the forensic triumphalism of ‘C.S.I.’ with the lottery ethos of ‘Antiques Roadshow.’ (An associate producer at ‘Roadshow’ had already sent Biro an e-mail about possibly doing a segment on the Parkers’ ‘unbelievable discovery.’)

[20] “Biro previously had been suspected of creating an investment scheme around a seemingly precious object, with the promise that it would eventually reap huge profits. In the late nineteen-nineties, he persuaded a Canadian financial adviser, Richard Lafferty, who is now dead, to invest in a venture to authenticate and sell a work purportedly by Raphael’s disciple Perino del Vaga. Three of Lafferty’s colleagues confirm the story, as do letters, memorandums, and other documents.”

[21] “By the fall of 2005, Ken Parker had begun to look into the people behind Provenance. It turned out that Tod Volpe, in the nineties, had defrauded his art clients, including Jack Nicholson, of nearly two million dollars, and had served two years in prison. Parker discovered that one of Volpe’s principal partners in Provenance was also an ex-con, who had done time for tax evasion and for running a drug-smuggling operation in the United States. (Volpe told me, ‘We all have skeletons in our past.’) Parker confronted Biro, who, in a subsequent e-mail, told Parker that he had ‘severed all communication with Volpe.’”

[22] “And only months after rescinding his request for money he asked the Parkers to fund another new project: a privately endowed department for him and a colleague at Oxford University. ‘Naturally it is 100% tax deductible,’ Biro wrote, in an e-mail. ‘Those who support the foundation of a bold and new department for us at Oxford will have their name on a plaque or have the department named after them such as “The Ken Parker Department for Forensic Art History.” Sounds cool?'”

[23] “When a forgery is exposed, people in the art world generally have the same reaction: how could anyone have ever been fooled by something so obviously phony, so artless? Few connoisseurs still think that Han van Meegeren’s paintings look at all like Vermeers, or even have any artistic value. Forgers usually succeed not because they are so talented but, rather, because they provide, at a moment in time, exactly what others desperately want to see. Conjurers as much as copyists, they fulfill a wish or a fantasy. And so the inconsistencies—crooked signatures, uncharacteristic brushstrokes—are ignored or explained away. “

[24] “In the case of ‘La Bella Principessa,’ Biro did not handle the drawing, and was sent multispectral images from another laboratory, which he then developed and enhanced. Martin Kemp, the Leonardo scholar, told me, ‘In terms of what Biro did for us, I have absolutely no problems with any potential ethical issues.’ He emphasized that his opinion of the drawing did not depend on the fingerprint evidence: ‘I’m entirely confident that it is by Leonardo.'”

[25] “A final verdict on whether ‘La Bella Principessa’ is genuine may not be reached for years, but more and more connoisseurs have voiced doubts. Skeptics express surprise that there is no apparent historical record for the drawing, given that Leonardo was one of Italy’s most famous painters during the Renaissance. They note that vellum lasts for centuries, and that it would be easy for a forger to obtain old sheets. Many of the critics share the view of the Met’s Carmen Bambach: it just doesn’t look like a Leonardo. ARTnews, which has reported on Wertheim’s findings, recently interviewed Klaus Albrecht Schröder, the director of the Albertina Museum, in Vienna. ‘No one is convinced it is a Leonardo,’ he said. David Ekserdjian, an expert on sixteenth-century Italian drawings, wrote in The Burlington Magazine that he ‘strongly suspects’ it is a ‘counterfeit.’ Other art critics have suggested that Kemp has succumbed to a fantasy.

[26] “Whereas Biro had once spoken of the absolute objectivity and infallibility of fingerprint analysis, he now sounded more like a connoisseur than like a scientist. ‘I’m trying to define, for example, what is the point that something becomes a matter of interpretation,’ he said. ‘In other words, where is that line? O.K., on the one hand, fingerprint practitioners state that fingerprint identification is a science. I’m more toward the other side, where I’m convinced by my own personal experience that it is very much like connoisseurship, because of . . . things I see they don’t.’”

[27] “I asked him whether he might have been wrong in suggesting that Leonardo had ever touched ‘La Bella Principessa.’ He looked up at the sky and said, ‘It’s possible. Yes.’”

In July 2011 ADWEEK reported that Biro had sued The New Yorker and David Grann for $2 million on twenty-four charges of false and malicious defamation – Forensic Art Expert Peter Paul Biro Sues New Yorker for Deformation. The action failed on every count (see “Art Authenticator Loses Defamation Suit Against The New Yorker).

CODA: Faking A Picasso and a Provenance

In June last year, we and Martin Kemp were asked (separately) by the Daily Mail to comment on a claimed Picasso painting that supposedly had been found by an artist among his late mother’s belongings in an old suitcase in the loft – “Is this a long-lost Picasso? Painting that bears a strong resemblance to Cubist’s work is discovered rolled up in a battered suitcase that hasn’t been touched in 50 years” – the Mail reported:

“…Last month, a 1955 Picasso painting – Les Femmes d’Alger – broke auction records when it sold at Christie’s for a staggering £115 million.

“Art expert Michael Daley told MailOnline his first instinct was that the painting was not a Picasso. ‘The colours and all of that are right but I think there is too much incidental detail and not enough decisive interest or exploration. This is
all sharp edges and brown tones and what-have-you, but it doesn’t have the driving sense of Picasso getting at something, getting at a figure trying to see something about it. This is more decorative. It can be no more than an instinctive first impression, but to me it doesn’t look like a Picasso Cubist painting from that period.’

“Martin Kemp, emeritus professor of art history at Oxford University, was also skeptical. Prof Kemp said: ‘It’s pretty close to Picasso’s portrait of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, the dealer whom he painted in 1910 and is in the Art Institute of Chicago. This looks to be a relatively competent but not excellent near copy of it – the signature is very dodgy. Without doing a full art historical analysis – and I’m not a Picasso expert – I would say someone has made a variant of the Picasso portrait. Also the signature with the rounded S’s doesn’t seem to correspond to Picasso’s way of signing and thirdly the canvas doesn’t look quite right for Picasso of that period.
But I hope for the sake of the owner that I’m wrong.'”

On 6 July 2015 The Scotsman disclosed that the discovered ‘Picasso’ was a fake (“Picasso painting in Fife attic ‘a hoax’”). The faker, Dominic Currie, reportedly described his purported-Picasso (which had been about to be inspected by Christie’s) as “a piece of performance art [made] in order to raise awareness of the struggling artists in Scotland.” The fake is now being offered for sale on the website of a picture restoration business.

Michael Daley. 10 December 2016.

12 December 2016. Postscript: “Bode gave an opinion on art works from many fields, on Netherlandish painting of the seventeenth century, on Italian sculpture, Persian rugs, majolica, German wood sculpture, and many other things. His writings were for him always a means to an end, and were frequently controversial and advocatory. Almost always he judged correctly, and at the time he expressed them, his communications were of significance and infinitely enriched knowledge in many fields. But the tragic fate of the ‘connoisseur’ lies in the fact that yesterday’s new, strikingly accurate definitions are today’s common properties and banalities, that only the mistakes linger in the memory under the name of the originator.”

~ Max J. Friedländer on Wilhelm Bode – Reminiscences and Reflections.

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