Today, two parallel stories of art authentication/fraud enquiry appeared in the news. “Old Man With Beard”, thought since the 1960’s to be a skilful copy by one of Rembrandt’s students, was examined with the latest x-ray technology, revealing a hidden drawing of a Rembrandt self-portrait beneath the painting, clinching its authenticity as his work.
On the other hand, the New York Times reveals in an explosive story today that millions of dollars of paintings purported to be by Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Richard Diebenkorn may be fakes. They were brokered by Glafira Rosales, who claimed they were from the personal collection of a “close family friend” who insisted on anonymity, and sold by blue-chip galleries and art dealers, including Knoedler & Co., which abruptly closed its doors this week.
The Times article details the FBI investigation, which is fascinating. In addition to a lack of provenance (the documented ownership trail of a work of art), the paintings were not subjected to simple pigment tests, which have now revealed that some of the paints used to create them were not yet available at the time, to the artists who supposedly created them. Curators and dealers with sterling reputations are falling under the juggernaut of this investigation.
It is incredible to me that these fakes, which convinced the experts (who weren’t looking too hard), could have simply been done without anachronistic paints, and might still retain their “value”. The lack of the most basic due-diligence on the part of the “experts” is stunning, and calls to question their complicity in the fraud. How many more are out there?
Beyond all the detective work, I wonder: If a painting looks like a Pollock or a Motherwell, and is loved and respected for its “inspiration”, is it really less of a “masterpiece” than an authentic work? If we really can’t tell without the help of a lab, is it really that special? I like Motherwell, Rothko and Pollock, but $17 million??
I daresay that convincingly faking a Rembrandt would be beyond the technical and artistic abilities of anyone alive. The Rembrandts that have been called into question were produced by his students, under his tutelage, perhaps with help from his own hand. If a painting is so easily copied, what’s all the fuss?
What do you think?