'A Walk Through... Salisbury Meadow'?
May 22 2013
Picture: National Gallery
I hear an announcement will be made tomorrow. And at a time when we need some good news here in the UK.
Can you guess where it's going?
Update: most of you got it from the headline above, which was meant to lead you to Tate's new 'Walk through British Art' - yes, it's Tate Britain! More here at BBC News. The published price tag was £23.1m, though I assume with tax liabilities that the picture was valued for much more.
A reader writes:
I guess from your heading that the Constable is destined for Tate Britain??!
I won’t be happy if that is correct! At the National Gallery “Salisbury Cathedral from the Water Meadows” was always on display as part of a logical exhibition of British painting. It will be a great pity if it is now to be subject to the Tate’s odd display policies.
Leave it where it was on display for years I say!
One reader made the link to Tate because, when he was there yesterday, the Constable room was closed.
Anyway, well done to Tate Britain for pulling this one off. What a coup, not least in wresting the picture away from the National Gallery. The picture is an illustration in how, when Tate was founded, the split between the National Gallery's British collection was never satisfactorily resolved.
Great thanks are also due to the Heritage Lottery Fund, who came up with £15m. What a relief it is to know that the icons of our artistic heritage are more likely to remain in the UK, now that the HLF is at last pulling its weight on acquisitions.
Finally, a small plug that at every stage in the story, AHN had the news first!
Update II - a reader writes:
Wow! Well done them. Bet half of them are thinking they could have got a Basquiat for that kind of money...
Update III - a reader adds:
It seems the Manton Foundation chipped in with a whopping $10M donation.
Bravo them. The Manton Foundation was formed by the late Edwin Manton, a longstanding Tate benefactor.
Update IV - another reader writes:
So the news is out and it is Tate Britain as owner plus four other galleries across the width and breadth of the ( still, just ) United Kingdom. It looks like a dog’s dinner of an arrangement and one where you will need to have access to a fortune teller to find out where this pushed, pulled and shoved masterpiece will be on display. Of course, great for PC Access but not for actually getting to see the painting…
For better or worse, these group purchases are a thing of the future. I think I can see it working out, though it'll largely come down to how long a painting stays at each location - too long, and people will wonder where it's disappeared to, too short, and it'll turn into a gimmick.
Another reader isn't bothered about the shared purchase, and points out that it was probably a good way to secure the HLF's £15m:
As well as being a long time Tate supporter Sir Edwin Manton was a great collector / enthusiast for Constable, hence the big donation from the Manton foundation.
It should also be noted that the work is in fact to be shared (at least in terms of display) by several other galleries (National Museum of Wales, Scottish National galleries, Colchester, and Salisbury). The idea is, as far as I understand things, that the work will be more or less permanently on display at one of these galleries on a rotating basis. I don't yet know the exact details of this arrangement but it is likely to mean that the painting will be absent from London for extended periods.
Obviously when this happens it will be missed, but given the very large number of Constable's that can always be seen in London it is arguably no bad thing. A work of this quality will give a huge boost to small gallereis like Colchester and Salisbury and there are very few Constables on public display in either Wales or Scotland.
I suspect that the sharing of the work around the UK was key to securing such a large contribution from the HLF. Great that funding ccan still be found (sometimes) to keep expensive masterpieces in the UK. I gather that the work had a market value of about £40 million.
The same reader kindly sends us details of where the picture's going:
The work is to be on display at TB until the end of this year, then it goes off on a five year tour of the partner venues;
- Cardiff 2014
- Ipswich 2015
- Salisbury 2016
- NGS 2017
- Back on display at TB 2018
After this initial 5 year period the parnter galleries will continue to have "special access" to the work for their future displays and exhibitions and the work will also be made available for loan to other galleries in the UK and abroad.
I guess what this means in practice is that most of the time it will be on display at TB from 2018, except when it is on loan to either the partner institutions for a specific exhibion, or to other gallery, perhaps as part of a touring exhibition.
Ashmolean acquires Millais' portrait of Ruskin
May 20 2013
Picture: BBC News/Ashmolean
Congratulations to the Ashmolean museum, who have secured through the Acceptance-in-lieu scheme John Everett Millais' portrait of John Ruskin. From the Ashmolean website:
The picture, which was recently exhibited in Tate’s major exhibition, Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde, has been on loan to the Ashmolean since January 2012. It has been allocated to the Ashmolean by the Arts Council England under the Acceptance in Lieu of Inheritance (AIL) scheme. The portrait was started in the summer of 1853 while the artist, sitter, and Ruskin’s wife were staying in Glen Finglas, a remote area of the Trossachs north of Glasgow. It was during this holiday that Millais fell in love with Effie Ruskin, setting in motion the events which would break the Ruskins’ marriage, Millais’s friendship with Ruskin, and the artist’s engagement with the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Finishing the picture was to become, for Millais, “the most hateful task I have ever had to perform.”
Church of England to sell important Benjamin West?
May 16 2013
Picture: British Museum
Here's a story you're likely to hear more of in the coming weeks... A well-informed reader writes:
The Church of St Stephen, Walbrook, in the City of London owns an impressive 5.6m x 3.2m Benjamin West altarpiece depicting "Devout men removing the body of St Stephen" [shown above in print form]. Commissioned for the church by a rector committed to promoting English art through church patronage, and unusual both for its scale and choice of subject, the painting is of international significance.
The painting was illegally removed by St Stephens in the 1980s when the building was (controversially) reordered [a new altar was installed], it has been in storage ever since. The PCC [Parochial Church Council] are now in consistory court hoping to obtain permission to sell the painting abroad for a seven figure sum. The case in favour of removing the picture is that it apparently doesn't suit the building, and that the massive price tag will pay for necessary repairs. The sale has been opposed by the London Diocesan Advisory Committee for the Care of Churches, and by the CofE's Church Buildings Council. The outcome of the hearing is not yet certain.
The attempted disposal of this picture seems to be wrong on a number of levels, but then readers who remember the Bishop Auckland/Zurburan debacle will know that the Church of England is skilled at handling such cases ineptly. The potential buyer is one of America's leading institutions. I'm not aware of any attempt by the Church of England to find an English home for the painting. I'm told that the consistory court has recently finished its hearings, and the decision will be announced soon. If a sale is agreed, then the picture will, of course, have to go through the usual export procedures.
Update - a reader writes:
I don't have anything in particular to add to this story but I am glad that you are covering it. I remember the painting hanging on the north wall as a child in 1970s. At the time of the restoration I was hopeful that it would return to it's former position over the altar. After it disappeared I periodically visited the church and asked about it, to the obvious irritation of the former rector, Chad Varah (who apparently hated the painting) and gave me various evasive answers: 'It's being restored', 'The church is selling it'.. I was reassured that this could not happen without permission by the Friends of the City Churches. I have never understood why the church has not used it as a way of attracting visitors, particularly Americans, who might sponsor its restoration; the City of London is in any case awash with money. It should remain in the church but it also occurs to me that there could be an arrangement with the Guildhall Art Gallery nearby, which owns Copley's vast painting of the Siege of Gibraltar, with regard to the American connection.
Constable's 'Salisbury Cathedral' still for sale?
May 16 2013
Picture: National Gallery
As I exclusively revealed here in February, a consortium of UK galleries had got together to buy Constable's Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows, currently in a private collection and on loan to the National Gallery. Two readers have now alerted me to the fact that the picture is now no longer on display. Is a deal imminent?
Rich 'put money on their walls' (ctd.)
May 9 2013
Christie's New York Impressionist and Modern sale made $158m last night, a lacklustre figure compared with Sotheby's $230m the previous day. The $158m total was reported as 'surpassing' the lower estimate of $131m, but of course the final figure includes buyer's premium, while the pre-sale estimates do not. The top lot was Chaim Soutine's Le Petit Patissier, which made a record $18m. More here at Bloomberg.
New Walpole Society volume
May 8 2013
The latest edition of the Walpole Society has landed on my desk, and is devoted to the account books, diary and patronage of James Ward RA (1769-1859), who was primarily an animal painter. Congratulations to Edward Nygren for the publication.
One that got away?
April 25 2013
Picture: Art Institute of Chicago
A reader alerts me to the Art Institute of Chicago's acquisition of Ludwig Richter's 1832 The Fountain at Grottaferrata, and notes that the National Gallery tried to buy it in 1989. It was eventually sold at Christie's in 2010 for £181,250 with premium, placing it affordably (for the National) at the lower end of the estimate of £150,000-250,000. It's an interesting case of how an institution's taste can evolve over time.
A Real Van Gogh?
April 18 2013
Picture: Nevada Museum of Art
No, but that still hasn't stopped the Nevada Museum of Art putting on an exhibition to investigate the 'Goetz' Van Gogh, which has been comprehensively rejected by the Van Gogh Museum. Here's the background:
In 1948, William Goetz, the famed Hollywood producer, head of Universal Pictures, and legendary art collector, purchased a painting attributed to Vincent Van Gogh for $50,000. Although it was acquired from a reputable art dealer and deemed genuine by a prominent Van Gogh expert at the time, debate about the painting’s authenticity ignited an art world controversy that impacted U.S. foreign affairs.
For decades, only a handful of people knew the whereabouts of the painting, known as Study by Candlelight. Today, the Goetz family heirs hope to learn more about the provenance of the painting by drawing upon recent scientific developments in the study of artist materials and working methods.
In presenting this exhibition, the Nevada Museum of Art makes no attempt to determine the authenticity of the legendary painting. Rather, the exhibition re-visits its extraordinary story through archival documents, correspondence, photographs, and press materials that have never before been brought together in one place. The exhibition will look closely at the Goetz family’s Hollywood lifestyle and legendary art collection, assess what is known about the provenance of Study by Candlelight, consider the painting within the stylistic and historical context of Van Gogh’s body of work, and report on the art world controversies and international politics that have surrounded the painting.
Pre-Raphaelites in the US
April 2 2013
Picture: New York Times
The Pre-Raphaelite exhibition at Washington's National Gallery (formerly at Tate Britain) has gone down like a cup of cold sick with Roberta Smith of the New York Times:
If you are genuinely interested in art and emerge from this show thinking that you have seen scores of outstanding paintings, you should spend more time studying other examples. For comparison the galleries adjacent to this exhibition contain two outstanding works by the Pre-Raphaelites’ French contemporaries, Eduard Manet’s “Dead Toreador” (probably 1864) and Paul Cézanne’s portrait of his father reading a newspaper (1866). Consider the simplicity, directness and mysteries of these paintings against the moralizing and endless intricacies of the Pre-Raphaelites. It is a contrast between the complex and the merely complicated.
Pre-Raphaelite art is a volatile, highly complicated mixture of questionable intentions, literary erudition, ironclad nostalgia, meticulous realism, lavish costumes and a prescient technicolor palette. The brotherhood was formed in 1848 by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, three disgruntled students at the Royal Academy of Art. Barely 20, they were repelled by the decadence of art and society, much of which they ascribed to the Industrial Revolution.
March 26 2013
Picture: New York Times
John Anderson in The New York Times has an interesting piece on how artist Guy Ribes faked a bathc of Renoirs for a forthcoming film on the French master:
To call Mr. Ribes a colorful character is putting it mildly. Born in a brothel to a prostitute mother and a gangster father, he’s a former member of the French Foreign Legion and a lifelong devotee of the great painters. Although he created and sold his own work early on, he also provided paintings “inspired” by the masters to a criminal art ring that sold the paintings as genuine.
Rather than copy known work Mr. Ribes would create work that simulated style, paintings that might have been done by Picasso or Chagall or Renoir and, say, languished in a private collection before being made available to gullible buyers. For this Mr. Ribes, at the age of 61, was sentenced to three years in prison, getting out in December 2010.
“I was in a rather precarious situation when this project was proposed to me,” Mr. Ribes said by phone from Paris, referring to his post-prison finances. Mr. Bourdos hired him in May 2011 and put him in a studio next to his office, and Mr. Ribes worked for six months on the paintings that appear in the film — not just re-creations of existing Renoirs but also paintings he might have done.
Watts archive to go online
March 12 2013
The National Portrait Gallery is to catalogue and put online the archive of George Frederic Watts. From the NPG's website:
The Watts Collection, held in the Gallery’s Heinz Archive and Library, contains approximately 3,000 letters written to, or received by, the artist. This series was compiled by his second wife Mary Seton Watts (1849-1938) following her husband’s death, in preparation for her biography of him, published in 1912. In July 1905 Mary Watts advertised for the loan of Watts’s letters, intending to make copies for biographical research. The correspondence, both original and copied, was arranged and pasted into 15 albums, of which the National Portrait Gallery acquired 14, plus many loose letters.
The letters represent a broad cross-section of the artistic and social circles in which Watts moved. Many important Victorian figures are represented, including Matthew Arnold, Robert Browning, Julia Margaret Cameron, Thomas Carlyle, William Ewart Gladstone, Sir John Everett Millais, Cecil Rhodes, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The shortest letters record appointments for sittings and social engagements. More detailed exchanges relate to the organisation of exhibitions of Watts’s work and his art practice.
The NPG is currently looking for an archivist to catalogue the papers. More details here.
RA Winter exhibition catalogues online
February 18 2013
The Royal Academy has published online its Winter Exhibition catalogues from 1870-1939. Well done them. More details here.
Exclusive - UK museums bid for Constable's 'Salisbury Cathedral'
February 11 2013
Picture: National Gallery
Newly released minutes of the National Gallery of Scotland's trustee meeting reveal that the NGS is combining with four other organisations to acquire John Constable's epic 'Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows'. The picture is being made available via the government's Acceptance in Lieu scheme. The NGS minutes state:
Possible AIL Acquisition: Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows by John Constable
Mr Clarke [NGS Director] reported that NGS was applying for the above Constable painting through the AIL scheme in conjunction with four other organisations (including Tate Britain). If successful, NGS would get one fifth share of the painting.
The picture is currently on loan at the National Gallery, London, from a private collection. The picture has been in the same ownership since 1857. No values have been stated yet. More details as I get them.
Update - a reader who spotted the news writes:
I was really surprised for a number of reasons. Firstly, this is surely the wonderful late Constable which has been on loan to the National Gallery, London , from the Ashton of Hyde family, since at least the early 1980s?
Then, from the NGS Minutes it seems to being bid for by five ( yes five) galleries including the Tate . The NGS of Scotland seemed to think it would get a fifth share. Does that mean that this splendid painting will be trundled up and down the land for ever more? It is worrying enough that the two great Titians will be shuttled between London and Edinburgh twice every 10 years.
Then, while writing this with a Scottish mother and English father, I wonder why the National Gallery of Scotland thinks it is entitled to a share of a painting by a very English artist which has only ever been in English collections and for over 30 years has been shown at the National Gallery? Are works of art from Scottish collections, accepted by AIL, allocated south of the border? Probably yes, as I can think of the Raeburn “The Archers” double portrait which came to the National Gallery in 2001, but I wonder what the ratio is.
And, yes, I believe that national painting collections should not be restricted to the art just of that country but, at the same time I would prefer that this decision on allocation was made after the Scottish independence vote in 2014!
And another writes:
5 galleries sharing such a work would be unusual - the need for so many to be involved suggests that a substantial sum of money is also going to be involved to make this deal work.
I suspect that the case might one where the value of the painting exceeds the value of the tax to be waived. The combined effort may mean that a substantial fundraising effort is required. The record for a Constable work is the £22.4m for The Lock sold last year, and Salisbury Cathedral is twice the painting. Regular readers will know, however, that the £22.4m figure is one to be taken with a pinch of salt.
Update II - a reader wonders if the NGS were meant to spill the beans this early on in the acquisition process:
When the National Gallery in London publishes its Minutes to trustee board meetings, discussion on acquisitions always note “Information has been excluded under s 43 Freedom of Information Act 2000”
Update III - a reader agrees with the above, but then makes a heretical suggestion:
I agree with the two updates - my thoughts too. A little while ago I noticed it missing from the NG and asked a guard about it. He pointed to its usual place and said it was there ... then realised that it was gone! It was just at an exhibition, but he hadn't noticed its absence. Much as I love seeing it in London, I'd frankly prefer it to go elsewhere rather than be shuffled between five galleries. Not the Louvre - they'd only send it to Lens. But what about the Musee D'Orsay? It would fit the collection well, and it seems appropriate for Paris to have a great Constable given how they appreciated him in the nineteenth century. Or the Neue Pinakothek in Munich - a great collection that would be able to show it in a different context. I know they won't have the funds for a purchase on this scale, but I'd make a donation.
Another reader agrees about the secrecy angle:
Your Update 2 contributor is right; now the National Gallery, London Trustee Meeting Minutes exclude all references to Potential Acquisitions. It was not always such because as recently as 2006, there were references to discussions about potential acquisitions, accepted and rejected, and even prices paid. Then, all that stopped and the “Excluded under the Freedom of Information Act etc” was all you got. So I wrote to the NG about the sudden change in the quality of information given in the Trustees’ Minutes and received a “snotty” reply saying that they were entitled to exclude material etc…..So much for transparency, although, of course, sensitive information about current negotiations should be excluded, even though Minutes are always four months in arrears.
Tate Trustee Minutes are even worse, threaded with “Excluded….” tags like confetti through the text!
Update IV - the NGS minutes have now been removed. Oops.
Courbet discovery - is it all a load of 'foutaise'?
February 10 2013
Picture: Paris Match
Le Figaro has interviewed art dealer Hubert Duchemin on the apparent discovery of the head of Courbet's 'L'Origine du Monde', first published in Paris Match. He says it's all a load of 'foutaise' - or as we say in English, 'bullsh*t'. In addition, the Musee d'Orsay has issued a statement saying the discovery is, to use the technical term, a load of old phooey.
Didier Rykner at Tribune de L'Art has published Paris Match's recreation of how the sketch and body are supposed to match up [above]. Didier is deeply sceptical of the whole thing. Meanwhile, Jean-Jacques Fernier, the compiler of the Courbet catalogue raisonne who has accepted the work, is taking a dim view of the critics:
I don’t give a damn what they think. I am the official Courbet specialist and I have said it is by him. These Civil servants haven’t even seen the work.”
The phrase 'official specialist' should be enough to chill the heart of any art historian. What a weird concept. But they seem to like doing things this way in France.
Readers will notice that I've censored the above image, out of deference to Buckinghamshire County Council, who blocked AHN after I first reported the story.
Courbet's infamous model?
February 7 2013
Picture: Paris Match
Will try and get more photos (of the head).
Update - more images here, including a pencil drawing of what the whole picture looked like before it was cut down.
Update II - Art History News is officially porn. A reader writes:
You will be delighted to hear that the Bucks County Council schools server has just blocked all access to your website on all school computers (administrative as well as teachers and students) as it contains ‘Profanity’ and ‘Sexual content’ - must be the Paris Match cover of the ‘L’Origine du Monde’ painting – without the strategically placed spot that was printed in today’s Times!
I did think about somehow censoring the image, in deference to AHN's younger readers, but then thought I owed a greater responsibility to Courbet. And in any case, the headline in the Paris Match article just about covers enough for it not to be shocking. But apologies for any embarrassment caused to readers.
Update III - this may yet be another dud discovery story. See my separate post above. But I'm still trying to get a decent photo of the head.
An ironic attribution
January 30 2013
Picture: Your Paintings/Maidstone Museum
A reader alerts me to this unfortunate, if ironic attribution on the Your Paintings database. Is there a John Collier expert out there to resolve this ignomy?
Met acquires Gerard portrait of Talleyrand
October 10 2012
Picture: Metropolitan Museum
I've always had a soft spot for Francois Gerard's portraits - one my earliest sleepers was a Gerard. So I'm grateful to the indispensable Tribune de l'Art for alerting us to a fine new acquisition by the Metropolitan Museum in New York of a portrait of Talleyrand by Gerard.
I've always been fascinated by French neo-classical portraitists, and how they managed to survive, or not, the tribulations of the French Revolution, the Empire, and the Restoration. Jacques-Louis David, for example, was a better painter than Gerard, his pupil - but Gerard was undoubtedly the better politician. He ended up as a Baron, and the pre-eminent court painter, while David had to endure years of exile in Belgium. One perhaps can see a partial explanation of Gerard's success in this pleasingly flattering portrait of Talleyrand, himself one of the great survivors of the age.
Talleyrand, incidentally, once owned the Van Dyck Portrait of a Young Girl we discovered in Paris a couple of years ago.
Test your connoisseurship
September 19 2012
Picture: National Museum of Wales/PCF
Is this by Turner? Or merely painted in 'the style of Turner', as catalogued on the Your Paintings website? Find out the answer on Sunday night, BBC1, 7pm in the next episode of 'Fake or Fortune?'. If you feel brave enough to commit now, email me your attribution.
Update - a reader writes:
...we reckon it's right - every part of it 'makes sense', there's a proper sense of depth throughout and the splodges in the foreground - people? - give a proper repoussoir. [...]
Shrewd souls also say it wouldn't be on telly if it wasn't right.
It's one of three pictures we're examining this Sunday. So don't assume it's right just because it's going to be on the telly!
Another reader writes:
I dont like the Turner. I think the composition is off and I dont find the colours very turner like either.
I am excited to see what you find out.
In my opinion, the almost Degas-like (or Japanese print-like) composition of the painting makes it impossible to be e real Turner. As far as I know, Turner remained heavily indebted to the way his own master, Claude Lorrain, divided the picture into separete depth planes (leading the eye from the shadowy foreground to the sunny background).
Most people are against - here's another reader:
I am going to say that no, it's not a Turner. I think it lacks a dynamic element, and the figures, the pier and boats seem a bit weak. From the photo it doesn't have the bright or bold colours of later works, nor detailed figures that feature in other Margate or harbour scenes. It seems a little constrained by the portrait composition. There's a lot of land featured in this painting- but not much going on there.
More colours nailed to the mast here:
I don't think tonight's Turner is a Turner! It isn't bouncing out of my laptop into my kitchen, as other Turner's do when I google them. Something about the light not being right, nor the colours. Just doesn't feel good, as if awaiting more on study, but nothing appearing. Mind you the light may have been looking unusually flat off Margate on the day 'Turner' painted the picture, and so you have an exceptional Turner to study! I am used to the light off the Cornish coast - very different to Thanet, nowadays, anyway, so I wouldn't put money on my instinct in this case, but we await 7pm with baited breath ...
More on the Degas
September 17 2012
We had a 20% audience share last night for the first episode of 'Fake or Fortune?', with 3.8m viewers. The grand fromages at the BBC are pleased with the figures, which are high for an arts programme. We hope to do better next Sunday, when we're back at our usual 7pm slot. If you saw it, thanks for tuning in. Next week's programme should be even better, with not one but three paintings up for inspection.
The critical feedback so far has been encouraging, with the Telegraph being very kind:
It’s hard to imagine a more artfully crafted – if you’ll pardon the pun – piece of Sunday night factual telly than the return of Fake or Fortune?
Meanwhile, over on Twitter the programme has its very own troll, and a famous one too. The critic and arts presenter Waldemar Januszczak (of whose programmes and writing I'm a great fan) really doesn't like the show. He dismissed the Degas as 'dodgy' and a wrong 'un before he'd even seen the evidence in the programme, on the basis of a short clip on the news. That's an impressive display of connoisseurship, don't you think? One might have thought there'd be a certain solidarity among arts TV makers, especially those that share commissioning editors...
Still, the main thing for me was that we were able to showcase some quite complicated art historical investigations to the broadest possible audience. Normally, terms like 'connoisseurship', 'provenance research' and 'pigment analysis' are banished to BBC2, BBC4 or even the radio. Sadly, there was quite a lot of research we weren't able to squeeze in. Untangling the provenance of the two versions of Blue Dancer was highly complicated, and made our brains hurt. But a saving grace was that the sizes were listed, and of course matched up.
Another unbroadcast but key part of the research we presented to the Degas catalogue compilers focused on our theory that Patrick Rice's picture was a study for the one in Hamburg. The alleged weaknesses in Patrick's picture are all forgiveable if one accepts that it was no more than a preparatory effort for the finished picture in Hamburg. Patrick's picture had to be judged not against the many famous, finished Degas' we are familiar with from books and museums, but against his sketches and studies, which are far less known, and hardly ever reproduced (in some cases only in poor black and white photos in the catalogie raisonne). And the best proof that Patrick's picture was indeed a study came in the discovery of two important pentimenti, or changes, in the painting. The first was that Degas had changed the position of the right hand double bass head - it was originally substantially further to the right. He had also painted the dress of the dancer before he then moved the double bass head over to the left. Such movements rule out any suggestion that Patrick's picture was a straightforward copy of the one in Hamburg.
A few Tweeters, including Waldemar, are still convinced that the picture is a fake. Let us consider, then, the probability that we are dealing with a faker. If so, we have to have a pre-war faker who was able not only to pre-empt pigment analysis techniques not yet invented, but, even more specifically, to find and use the unusual pigments that Degas favoured. How did this faker, before 1945, know how to do this? How did they have access to the Goupil stock books to find the missing provenance of another version of the Hamburg picture, and get the right size? Why did they bother to introduce pentimenti? Not even Han van Meegeren, the famous forger of Vermeer, went to such lengths.
Finally, some readers have suggested, in light of our debates here at AHN on connoisseurship, that the scientific tests and documentary research we carried out on the picture mean that the judgement of connoisseurs, who had previously rejected the picture, are redundant, and thus is connoisseurship itself. I would argue instead that our programme merely highlighted what happens when connoisseurship goes wrong. As I've said before, there are good connoisseurs and bad connoisseurs - but the latter does not mean we should condemn the practice of connoisseurship itself. If a doctor misdiagnoses you, do you question medical science itself, or do you get a second opinion?
And in any case, scientific testing and provenance research must all form part of any connoisseurial analysis these days, if necessary. For what it's worth, I was at first very sceptical of the picture, but then my expertise in Degas is very limited indeed. I run out of steam after about 1830. It was only after looking away from the image I had in my mind of Degas' work - that is, the well-known museum, book, and poster examples - and started to focus on his lesser known (and frankly lesser) works such as studies and sketches, that I began to see comparisons that could be made. The most valuable aspect of the whole exercise, for me, was endless close looking at as many Degas' as I could find. I mean real, get the binoculars out and look like a nutter close looking. For it is the art of close looking, so rarely taught and encouraged among art historians these days, that any aspiring connoisseur needs to learn. If it means getting told off for leaning over ropes in galleries, so be it. But, armchair connoisseurs please note, it's more useful than making judgements from the telly.
Update: an interesting response from a reader, posted above.