October 31, 2016


When a Masterpiece Is Not (THE EDITORIAL BOARD, OCT. 31, 2016, NY Times)

When a previously unknown painting by a 17th-century Dutch master is authenticated by some of the finest curators and experts, sold for $10 million and then abruptly discovered to be a fake, questions arise. Many of them.

The work is a portrait of an unsmiling man with long hair dressed in black, which first came to attention in Paris in 2008 when a collector, who thought it "might be" linked to the school of Frans Hals, showed it to experts. Although there was no record of Hals having made the work, the experts' consensus was that "Portrait of a Man" was that wondrous find: a previously unknown Old Master. In 2011, Sotheby's sold it to another collector.

But then some other paintings by Old Masters -- most notably one by Lucas Cranach the Elder, all apparently sold by the same man, Giuliano Ruffini -- came under suspicion. Sotheby's sent "Portrait of a Man" for technical analysis, which found traces of contemporary materials. The auction said it was "undoubtedly" a fake and reimbursed the buyer.

The first question concerns expertise. In this case, it took science, not the expertise of students of art, to spot the fake. The suspicion now is that the same painter may be behind those other suspect paintings. And if the forger is so skilled that he or she can create works in the style of diverse artists, all good enough to fool top experts, how many more fakes are out there?

Isn't the question why their artistic value depends on who painted them?

Posted by at October 31, 2016 6:31 PM