Art Fake Secrets Revealed

The Guardian reports that The National Gallery is to reveal secrets of its art fakes in a new exhibition and will reveal how the experts detect forgeries – and they're more common than you think. When the National Gallery was bequeathed an exquisite painting of the Virgin and Child with an Angel in 1924 officials must have been delighted: an early 16th-century masterpiece by Francesco Francia, the artist from Bologna, was to grace the museum's collection. Until, that is, an almost exactly similar art work turned up for auction in London in 1954. Problem: which was the original and which a copy? For a time, scholars disagreed over which work had the better claim. In 1998 it looked like the London painting had been accepted as genuine. But recent research has been carried out, and the picture examined using infrared reflectography. That technique revealed what lies beneath the paint: the underdrawing, the first thoughts of the painter as the work was planned. According to Rachel Billinge, a researcher at the gallery: "We could see little dots, indicating that the image had been 'pounced' from a cartoon, which is a perfectly good Renaissance technique. But then I looked at the hair of the angel, and saw what looked like graphite pencil marks." And that was the worst possible news. Graphite was available in only one place in the early 16th century: Cumbria. The lovely pencilled curls could not have been drawn by an Italian in the 16th century and the work could not be an original. The exhibition will focus attention on the role of the art gallery's scientific department, which has pioneered the latest techniques in infrared imaging as well as x-ray techniques, pigment analysis and dendrochronology, a technique whereby wood can be dated by examining its rings. The show will explore how such techniques revealed that one portrait, acquired in 1990, had been tampered with – given a bright-blue background using a pigment not available until the 18th century – to make it resemble a more valuable Holbein, perhaps by a an art dealer on the make. All this leaves Billinge with a healthy respect for the copyist and faker. "Sometimes the faker has gone to such lengths you can respect their techniques – much more so than the originals, churned out in a workshop by some bored apprentice," she said. Close Examination is at the National Gallery, London WC2, from 30 June to 12 September. For full source and full article click the Headline. Irish Art