The Gentleman's Reticule

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Paul Goes To the National Gallery

I happened to be in London at the same time the National Gallery was running its ‘Close Examinations: Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries’ exhibition.  Thinking this beyond mere coincidence, I made a B-line straight for it. 

As the name suggests, it’s a display of fakes, forgeries and otherwise doctored multichrome-paintillographic images, or ‘paintings’ for short; all very jolly and a wonderful time was had.  I happened to discover a fake pound coin in my pocket (1 in 4 are!) and dropped it in the donation box upon leaving, chuckling to myself and thinking how clever I am at engineering such delicious irony, only to experience a sweating attack of conscience on the Jubilee line home which lead to me returning and writing them a cheque for £47.00 in compensation.

Anyway, here are some of my favourite exhibits.  The text is from the National Gallery website.

Attributed to Umberto Giunti, Madonna of the Veil

When this painting first appeared around 1930, it was praised as a work by Botticelli. Not long afterwards, however, the investigations of art historians and scientists revealed it to be an outright fake, made with the intention to deceive.

Following the Second World War, detailed examination of the painting during conservation treatment exposed elements that cast further doubt on its authenticity. The robe of the Madonna, for example, is painted using Prussian blue, a pigment that only came into use in the early 18th century. Visual examination under a hand-held lens showed the grains of pigment to be very finely ground. This is characteristic of machine-ground commercial pigments; 15th-century pigments were ground by hand and therefore generally have a coarser grain. Also, there is a fire engine in the background.

Imitator of Francesco Guardi, Venice: Entrance to the Cannaregio, probably 20th century

This imagined Venetian view was one of eight paintings selected from nearly 100 pictures offered in a bequest to the National Gallery by John Henderson, a London collector, in 1979.

In a 1994 catalogue of Guardi’s paintings, the art historian George Simonson expressed doubt over the attribution of the work: “the painting of the sky and the tree line in it betray the lesser skill of another hand and there is no trace whatsoever of what a French critic has aptly called Guardi’s ‘griffe endiablée’ [furious touch] in the rendering of the quaintly-costumed figures in the foreground of the picture.” Since then, this painting has been catalogued as by an unknown imitator of Guardi’s work.

German, Edzard the Great, Count of East Friesland, 18th century

Infrared reflectograms of 'Edzard the Great' reveal an underdrawing, executed in a liquid medium applied with a brush.  The head and facial features are simply drawn with no major changes, and have probably been mechanically transferred from a study drawn on paper. 

The most noticeable alteration is the removal of a massive penis probably composed at an early stage by a pupil of the artist.

The exhibition is open until the 12th September 2010.


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