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28 April 2020Can We Trust Art Experts? Conservation, Forgery and Authentication

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Can We Trust Art Experts? Conservation, Forgery and Authentication David Phillips Tuesday 28 April 2020

Cost to include Refreshments and Lunch £30

Can We Trust Art Experts?  Conservation, Forgery and Authentication

 Museums are supposed to be where we can confidently expect to see the real thing:  objects whose authenticity is assured by scholarly expertise.   It turns out not to be so simple.  The object may be rightly identified, but transformed by time or transfer from its original context.  Nor have museums always successfully avoided falling for fakes.  And the business of identification is no more immune from the politics and personalities of the business than any other sphere of human activity.  By the end of the day we may not be art experts, but we will be more expert about expertise.


The Secret Surface:  how time and conservation transform the appearance of paintings.


Art conservation has been dogged by controversy, most recently about the cleaning of Leonardo’s Madonna and Child with Saint Anne in the Louvre.  To understand the issues better, we first explore how paintings change for the worse with age, and then thanks to past conservation treatments.  The changes are often laid bare by new conservation, and different conservators and museums have very different ideas about how to manage them.  But museums are wary of opening up the issues with the public, because of damaging disputes in the past.


Fine Art Forgery:  craftsmanship or conjuring trick?


In 2016 a distinguished art historian published an unknown Van Gogh sketchbook, only to have it roundly condemned by the wider Van Gogh community.  How can forgers fool even experts?  We discover that forgeries can be laughably bad, and that they often work so well thanks to old-fashioned conmanship.  We meet a cast of colourful characters, including the celebrity fakers, Han van Meegeren, “Professor” Drewe and his collaborator John Myatt, plus the Greenhalgh family of Bolton, who found themselves in court in 2008.  But a few forgeries are masterful, and when they are, is the forger then as good as the artist he or she is imitating?


Who Says?  Can we trust the experts on good and bad in art? 

Traditional art historical expertise has not always emerged with much credit when questions of authenticity have ended up in court.  Nor have the art history authorities always emerged with credit from the investigations of the excellent Fake or Fortune series.   To be fair, the art historians cannot usually afford the depth of research the TV programme can bring to bear, but even so, art expertise is in a bit of a mess.  And that’s when everyone is acting in good faith, which is by no means always the case.  To better understand what’s involved, we look at the different varieties of judgment that experts have to make, in evaluating art of different kinds.  On the way we review some notorious cases featured in the media.