Tom Flynn attended a seminar in Oxford held by the firm Art Access & Research, principals Dr. Jilleen Nadolny and Dr. Nicholas Eastaugh (above) who do “technical art history” which means they combine traditional art historical research with analysis of materials to determine authenticity. Authenticity has become a big theme in the art market recently and is about to get bigger with an upcoming conference in The Hague as well as more and more visible cases involving accusations of fakes and fogeries.
Unfortunately, there are no standards for the authenticators. What methods should be considered determinative, which payment structures, a professional code of ethics and so forth are all missing from the field. Just as the courts struggle with whom to believe on matters of authenticity—the scholars? the foundations? the heirs?—and how to resolve conflicts among them, scientific evidence can come down to an educated guess too:
The 30 delegates at Oxford were drawn from a range of scientific and art historical disciplines, reflecting the extent to which this burgeoning research area requires a blend of analytical and interpretative methodologies embracing art history, pigment and materials studies, connoisseurship, analytical chemistry, database technology, and so on.
It will be interesting to see whether The Hague meeting succeeds in progressing any of the ideas and aspirations discussed at the Oxford seminar, most of which centred around the need for more rigorous professional standards and protocols. With the art market booming again, and fakes proliferating, it now seems clear that charlatanism is not confined to the faking of paintings and the forging of provenance documentation. It also extends to a new breed of self-appointed and ethically compromised ‘forensic scientists’ willing to issue certificates of authenticity for inauthentic works in return for financial kickbacks.
There are essentially two aspects to what is now commonly termed ‘technical art history’ (the fuzzy issue of nomenclature was another underlying theme of the seminar) — academic analysis of works of art and market-commissioned analysis. However, it is not widely known that the leading practitioners of the latter also take a disinterested approach to what they do.
Research and analysis conducted by Eastaugh and Nadolny at Art Access & Research is entirely disconnected from any market outcome and their fees are in no way dependent on the real or notional value of the works they investigate. That approach represents the industry benchmark for best practice. However, there are still too many market participants seeking the services of the art market equivalent of snake oil salesmen to endorse and authenticate questionable pictures. The distinction between academic and commercial motives has become a leitmotif of art forensics.