Art Authenticity and Attribution

Olivia Drage, April 24, 2018

Art Authenticity and Attribution

The authenticity of any artwork is questionable. Is it an original? Is it a copy? Who can it truly be attributed to? These factors become more questionable the further back in art history we travel. This might be due to loss of documentation, the nature of style within artistic movements or forgery.

A lack of confirmation of such factors can result in the original artwork being overlooked as a genuine piece by a famous artist, limiting its value. It can also lead to the acceptance of a fake as an original, attributing it to a well-known artist and resulting in the artwork gaining large profitable value under false pretences.

From the date of its production, every artwork embarks on a journey. Passing between artists, auction houses and art-collectors, the chronology of the piece is altered. It is because of this that artworks get separated from their origins.  Without specific documentation, authenticity and attribution become very difficult and very speculative.

The following examples are among the most scandalous incidences of artistic confusion. They have had a lasting impact in the art world and are key contenders in artistic debate today...

Lost and Found…

This painting was formerly attributed to Innocenzo Francucci da Imola and dated to the early sixteenth century. In 2016, Bendor Grosvenor visited the house and declared that the painting was undeniably painted by the Renaissance master, Raphael. After conservation and restoration, it was returned to its original state and he discovered it matched a painting bought as a Raphael and exhibited with his other masterpieces. The painting once thought to be worth £20 (£2000 in the current day) is now valued at £20 million!

The concept of paintings losing their way isn’t just a thing of the past. This is clearly demonstrated with the case of the long-lost Jackson Pollock painting found by J. Levine Auction & Appraisal in a garage in Arizona last year.   

The auctioneers went to the home with the intention of valuing a famous poster and left with an impressionist masterpiece. Due to the risk of forgery, Levine ensured that modern chemical analysis was carried out to convince the world bidders of its authenticity.  Although the attribution of this impressionist work to Pollock can never be certain, art experts didn’t hesitate to start its bidding value at $5 million with the intentions of it reaching up to $15 million at auction.

Significance of Style…

Artistic style is often used as an indication of authorship, connecting consistent repetitions within artworks to one creator. It becomes a useful tool in art history when origins are unknown, as with the case of the La Bella Principessa portrait, apparently painted by Leonardo Da Vinci. The piece once thought to be an artistic forgery is now argued to be the original. This is due to the depiction of the female smile, which appears so commonly in his other works. A further indicator that this is the work of Leonardo is due to the fingerprint found on the surface. Martin Kemp, a specialist on Leonardo claims this is common in his painting approach. It is these continuities of style, that become the links which support its authenticity and authorship.

Fakes and Forgery

Fakes and forgeries have always existed. For educational purposes, artists would copy masterpieces to improve their own. However, the ethos of imitation has become less honest. One example of this is the St Jerome painting, which was widely accepted as the work of the 16th century Mannerist artist Parmigianino.

Displayed in the National Gallery in Vienna and auctioned off, it eventually came into the care of Sotheby’s. In 2012, Sotheby’s sold the work for $842,500 but conservation expert James Martin was disbelieving of its authenticity. He took pigment samples from the canvas and confirmed that the materials used were not even created in Parmigianino’s time, therefore the painting was definitely not an original. This artistic scandal was thankfully prevented by Sotheby’s, who refused the sale and announced it as a fake.

There is always a risk when confirming artistic authenticity. However, we are at an advantage now as we have better methods of testing and conservation to recognise the fake and uncover the real. The excitement of finding lost treasures allows us to further piece together the lives of artists and adds to our historical understanding of art. We might wonder, how many more masterpieces are still to be uncovered?

Written by Olivia Drage - Recruitment Resourcer at Alchemy Recruitment Ltd

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