February 19, 2016


De-Bosched! Who cares if a painting isn't by a famous artist after all? (Jonathan Jones, 19 February 2016, The Guardian)

The Prado has a problem. The Bosch Research and Conservation Project, whose findings underpin the great exhibition of this Netherlandish visionary now at the Noordbrabants Museum in Den Bosch, has declared two of the paintings in the Spanish museum's unrivalled collection of Hieronymus Boschnot his pure handiwork after all. The Cure of Folly is now merely "Workshop or follower of Hieronymus Bosch (c1510-20)", say researchers, while The Temptation of Saint Anthony has been relegated to "Follower of Hieronymus Bosch (c1530-40 and after 1574)". This is how they are labelled in the exhibition catalogue.

Madrid is none too pleased. The Prado has reneged on its offer to lend these works for the show because, it says, the Dutch museum's plan to display them as "not by Bosch" breaks an agreement and "also suggests the Museo del Prado accepts and authorises the proposed attributions". In other words, it does not accept the de-Bosching. [...]

I don't want to pick on the Prado, which is surprisingly ready to unmask its own works. The most shocking relegation of recent years came when the Prado decided one of its Goya masterpieces was not by him at all. The Colossus, a nightmarish vision of war, is really by one of Goya's assistants, the museum announced in 2009. So, it's not that museums won't accept unpleasant facts about their collections. It's just that they don't like being told what to think by outsiders.

Museums such as the Prado and London's National Gallery have their own laboratories and do their own research. As a National Gallery insider once told me: "We know the fakes in our collection." Which all goes to show those labels on the wall are not monoliths of unquestioned fact. They conceal scholarly rivalries and institutional self-promotion. Perhaps it was better, after all, in more romantic times, when paintings were just shown in golden frames with "Leonardo" or "Giorgone" emblazoned below. The truth was anybody's guess. Perhaps it still is.

Beauty makes something Art, not authorship.

Posted by at February 19, 2016 9:25 AM