'Fake or Fortune?' does Delaroche

July 22 2016

Image of 'Fake or Fortune?' does Delaroche

Picture: BBC

Paul Delaroche is the artist under investigation this Sunday (BBC1, 8pm). More here

Update - 4.54m viewers for this episode. Thanks for watching!

Update II - this was one of those films where sadly there was a lot of information we couldn't find time to include.

A number of viewers in particular have wondered why we didn't focus on the provenance very much. We were able to establish that the picture was sold twice in London in the 1980s, but each time no provenance was listed, and the artist was certainly not given as Delaroche. In 1980 on January 18th at Christie's in London it was sold as a work by the French artist Fleury Francois Richard, and described as 'A Queen and her Retinue at Worship' (with matching dimensions, lot 110). In 1989, again at Christie's (December 14th, lot 59) it was called simply 'German School 19th Century', 'The Offering at the Shrine' (again with matching dimensions).

In other words, the picture had comprehensively lost both its attribution and subject identity at some point between 1866, when it is last recorded in Marie Amelie's estate) and the 20th Century - and this can make it all but impossible to look for a painting in the sale records. Furthermore, client confidentiality meant we weren't able to establish who consigned the picture in 1980, though my hunch is it was someone in the trade.

Establishing the Christie's provenance was straightforward in one case, as we had the remains of a Christie's stencil on the back (though interestingly someone had tried to remove it). But for the other there was no stencil, which is unusual for Christie's, and we had only a chalk lot number to go on.

The other clue from the back of the picture which ended up on the cutting room floor was a carved inventory number in the frame. This we established led to John Davies framing in Mayfair, who had a record of making that very frame in the 1980s. But alas, there was no further ownership details to follow up.

We spent a great deal of time looking through all the relevant sales of Queen Marie Amelie's descendants - but alas could not find the painting anywhere! My best guess (or rather, hope) is that it was sold in a sale in 1950 of one of the French royal family's chateaus, Tourrande outside Geneva, in which not all the lots were specifically listed; there was a section in the catalogue marked 'Plusiers Tableaux'.  

Finally, the evidence for not linking the painting to the untraced copy recorded as being made by a pupil of Delaroche, Jean-Leon Gerome, was dealt with very briefly in the film. But I do think we can be confident that Gerome's copy was, like the other copies, on a larger scale than Delaroche's original. In the letter of 1846 in which Gerome discusses the commission to make the copy (for the Queen) he mentions another copy being made for the Royal Family at the same time, of a portrait of Henry II based on a small portrait by Clouet. It was designed to go on display in the Louvre (and still is). It is a large, full-length portrait. Furthermore, Gerome was given a studio in the Louvre to make these copies. So it seems prety certain that he was making large replicas for public display in French palaces - and this, tied in with all the other evidence in favour of Becky's painting (not least its overall quality) means we can be entirely confident that it was indeed Delaroche's lost original.

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