News of Sotheby’s decision to indemnify the buyer of a Frans Hals that has been proven to Sotheby’s satisfaction as a forgery, crept out slowly over the past two weeks. Sotheby’s decision confirmed suspicions first revealed by the seizure of work bought as a Cranach the Elder painting of Venus that was reported in the press in March.
As the news broke, it was worth waiting for the comments of Bendor Grosvenor who has made a career as a dealer and now as a television presenter on the ability to discover lost works by Old Masters. Grosvenor published his impressions of the forgeries in the Financial Times this weekend. He revealed just how many experts had been convinced by the fake:
Until recently, the picture enjoyed the cleanest possible bill of health. Before the Louvre’s campaign it was subjected to a full scientific analysis by France’s Centre for Research and Restoration. It passed with flying colours. Numerous Hals scholars also supported the attribution. And in the esteemed Burlington Magazine it was described as “a very important addition to Hals’ oeuvre”.
The revelations are a very important issue. Cranach and Hals are very different artists. The forgeries are connected to still other artists, including Orazio Gentileschi, whose work is also very different. It raises the possibility of a super forger whose talent at faking paintings might go well beyond these works.
But how to protect the integrity of the Old Masters market? If the Hals passed one scientific analysis but failed another, was judged authentic by a large group of scholars and dealers, can we rely on any tools?
[I]f any of the paintings are indeed fakes, whoever has been making them is an artist of extraordinary skill. I must confess that I saw a good high-resolution photo of the Hals long before any question of forgery had been raised, and never doubted that it was genuine. The Gentileschi is the only Ruffini painting I have seen in the flesh, and for what it’s worth, I believe it is a forgery. But it took me a long time, and a flight to Berlin to see an undisputed original Gentileschi for comparison, to figure it out.
An eye for the real thing (Financial Times)