Some in the art world may not know that the 500-year old masterpiece painting Salvator Mundi (“Savior of the World”) by Leonardo da Vinci that recently sold for nearly half a billion dollars is imperfect.  The work with a shady history was damaged and heavily repainted and then restored.  At least one well regarded Leonardo da Vinci expert went on record stating that he doesn’t believe the acclaimed artist was the primary artist behind the work.  The painting was owned by King Charles I in the 17th century, disappeared from records from 1763 to 1900, resurfaced again in 1958, and sold for under $10,000 in 2005.  Less than 10 years later, Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev brought the work to the market after purchasing it for $127.5 million in 2013.

Before the recent November 15, 2017 sale of the painting at Christie’s in New York, it was reported that Nica Rieppi, Principal Investigator at Art Analysis & Research, and her scientific team spent four years using the latest technology and a number of art books in authenticating the da Vinci work.  The painting was meticulously analyzed down to a microscopic level in which the team took miniscule samples to determine the pigments, materials and techniques used in creating it.  Technical imaging with x-rays, infrared and ultraviolet technology was also used by the team to assess how the painting developed with each stroke.

According to Rieppi, science is becoming more important than ever in the growing “high-stakes world of multimillion-dollar fine art sales” and the purpose is to “get inside the head of the artist.”

The masterpiece painting is a depiction of Christ draped in a blue robe holding one hand in prayer and a crystal sphere in the other and is said to be one of less than 20 paintings known to be created by the Italian master.

A significant clue in establishing the authenticity of the work derived from the composition of the paint.  The scientific team, through microscopic sampling, detected the use of lapis lazuli, a very rare pigment considered more expensive than gold in Italy at the time, in “extraordinarily high quality” throughout the blue in Christ’s robe in the painting.  The pigment was imported from the Middle East and the material was “so expensive and only available to someone of a master and stature as Leonardo,” explained Rieppi.

A further clue as to the authenticity of the work was the use of complex and sophisticated layering by the artist.  Through the use of a powerful microscope, the scientific team discovered monochromatic layers that were applied to the canvas before the addition of the pigment.  This included the use of a warm brown color on Christ’s robe along with transparent washes throughout the painting.  Such details are said to be consistent with da Vinci’s technique in the unfinished work The Adoration of Magi.  Rieppi believes there is no doubt that anyone other than da Vinci could have created the work due to the uniqueness of the painting at a microscopic level.

The complex history of the painting left many in the art world perplexed as to its provenance with some outright doubtful.  In particular, Jacques Frank, an art historian and da Vinci specialist who had examined the work, said to the media that “[t]he composition doesn’t come from Leonardo. He preferred twisted movement. It’s a good studio work with a little Leonardo at best, and it’s very damaged.”

At the outset of authenticating the work, Rieppi and her scientific team approached the project with “doubt and skepticism” in view of the questionable history of the painting.  However, the materials lined up and the techniques aligned to a point in which it became clear to Rieppi and her team about the origin and identity of the da Vinci masterpiece.

As for where Rieppi sees things heading in the art market, the authenticator believes that “[s]cience is allowing us to move toward evidence-based connoisseurship.”

 

 

 

 

An intriguing story recently ran in the Los Angeles Times regarding an 18th century masterpiece painting that has gone missing for more than a century.  The mysterious painting seems to have been hiding in plain sight in a Los Angeles home since the mid-1950s, but the exact location of the work is unknown.  The painting is known as “Española” (Spanish Girl) after the primped and powdered child that is the focus of the work.  The lost work is from a treasured set of 16 paintings by the artist Miguel Cabrera (circa 1715-1768), who is considered the “greatest painter of his age” in Mexico.  It is believed that the paintings left the country shortly before the artist’s death, but the whereabouts of Española have long remained unknown.

Curator of Latin American art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Ilona Katzew, has been perplexed over the lost painting since 2015 after receiving an eccentric letter written in the first person voice of Española and then signed as if by the young child.  Española wrote in late summer 2015:  “You should know that I am well and living less than two (2) miles from LACMA,” adding “I have been in the same family for I believe 60 years, although I do not know how I was acquired.”

Cabrera’s Española painting is part of a treasured set of casta, or caste, paintings.  More than 120 casta sets, which typically include 16 numbered paintings, are known.  The casta sets were painted in different formats by talented artists of varying skill.  Most of these sets have been divided up and individual paintings widely circulated.  Cabrera had painted just one set, which is considered the genre’s finest.

Two paintings from Cabrera’s set of 16 had gone missing long ago, but one of them, No. 6, was found hidden in a Northern California home.  The painting’s owner researched the work’s history and her surprising discovery landed on the cover page of the Los Angeles Times in April 2015.  Soon thereafter, LACMA acquired the painting.  And Española’s owner went to see it.  Española in her letter from late summer 2015 further wrote:  “My owner enjoyed seeing #6 and I am pleased that we are all now accounted for despite the diaspora.”

Several photographs showing details of the missing Española painting were enclosed in the envelope.  Although there are no known pre-modern images or written descriptions of Cabrera’s set, Katzew has little doubt of the authenticity of the painting.

Española’s letter revealed another astonishing detail.

If you ever gather a reunion of all my siblings, I would welcome the opportunity to be on display for a limited period of time.  I am not lost, I just do not wish to be found.”

A near complete reunion occurred several years earlier when 14 of the 16 paintings from Cabrera’s set were brought together from museums in Madrid and Monterrey, Mexico as well as a Los Angeles foundation, for a major exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art entitled “Tesoros/Treasures/Tesouros:  The Art in Latin America, 1492-1820” in 2006.  The paintings from Cabrera’s set had not been displayed together in at least a century.

Española’s letter was signed by her and neatly typed in the format of formal business correspondence, however, she did not include a return mailing address, telephone number, e-mail address, or any other way to get in contact with the owner.  The stamps on the envelope were not even canceled at the post office.

During this time, Katzew was well into her research for her upcoming exhibition entitled “Painted in Mexico, 1700-1790:  Pinxit Mexici,” which is said to be the most comprehensive museum survey ever devoted to the period and is set to open at LACMA later this month on November 19, 2017.

Katzew is hopeful that Española’s owner will stop in to see the exhibition and perhaps get in contact again.  She has even made space for Española on the wall next to the painting’s “rediscovered sibling,” No. 6:

‘[No.] 3.  From Spaniard and Castiza, Spanish Girl,’ its full title, is an especially important picture in the set because of its uniquely sumptuous details.  The Spanish father, dressed in a dove-gray frock coat and tri-corner hat, is an aristocrat.  The castiza mother, offspring of a Spaniard and a mestiza (half Spanish, half Indian), is dressed in regal splendor—embroidered silks, delicate lace, pearls on her wrist and an extravagant coral necklace.”

For further information on this fascinating story, see “A masterpiece of Baroque painting, missing for more than a century, is hiding somewhere in L.A.,” published online by the Los Angeles Times on October 22, 2017.

In recent art world news, British artist Paul Stephenson has recreated some of Andy Warhol’s most celebrated works using the exact same materials and methods as the late artist.  This has sparked a lively debate as to what can be done after an artist’s death.

Warhol’s legendary New York City studio, The Factory, was fittingly named as it functioned as an assembly line of assistants who worked on his iconic screen print paintings of famous folks.  Occasionally, Warhol’s assistant and his mother would sign the paintings on his behalf.

Back in the early 1960s, Warhol had famously told an interviewer “I think somebody should be able to do all my paintings for me.”  “I think it would be so great if more people took up silk screens so that no one would know whether my picture was mine or somebody else’s.”  Nearly 55 years later, Stephenson has created new versions of Warhol’s works by “posthumously tracking down the pop artist’s original acetates, paints and printer, and recreating the entire process as precisely as possible.”

Stephenson started his project with the purchase of ten original Warhol acetates, which are the enlarged photographic negatives of the icons used by Warhol to create his screen prints.  Although Warhol’s assistants did much of the physical work, Warhol was the sole individual who worked directly with the acetates by touching up portions of the portraits in preparation for printing.

The British artist used one of Warhol’s original screen printers in New York, Alexander Heinrici, who offered to help use the original Warhol acetates to make the new paintings.

Of his recreated Warhol works, Stephenson said “I’m not saying they’re Warhols.”  “It’s a forced collaboration because the original author doesn’t know anything about it.”

While the artist himself does not claim that the recreated paintings should be considered posthumous Warhol works, one of the leading Warhol authorities and the earliest to catalogue the late artist’s work, Rainer Crone, said before his passing in 2016 that they could be.  After seeing Stephenson’s recreated Warhol works, Crone sent the British artist an e-mail that said “paintings made with these film positives under described circumstances and executed posthumously by professionals (scholars as well as printers) are authentic Andy Warhol paintings.”

Stephenson succinctly framed the issue as “[i]f the world-leading Warhol scholar say it’s a Warhol, and you do everything in the mechanical process that the original artist did, and the original artist said ‘I want other people to make my paintings’, which he did – what is it?”  Stephenson said that he does not know the answer.

Other examples of works being made in an artist’s name after their death include the estates of Degas and Rodin, which both made bronze sculptures using the artists’ original designs.  The sculptures are sold as posthumous works with lower prices.

Stephenson’s recreated Warhols are modestly priced at £4,000 ($5,260) and £10,000 ($13,150), which seem to suggest that he is not expecting prospective buyers to believe such works are authentic Warhols.

Warhol expert Richard Polsky, who provides an authentication service for Warhol works and other artists’ works and has previously written for the Art Law blog, believes that the recreated Warhols should not be regarded as posthumous Warhols.  Polsky says “[i]t sounds like he’s trying to extend Warhol’s career, so to speak, even though he’s dead.”

Jessica Beck, curator of the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, believes that it is “problematic” taking Warhol’s screens and recreating new Warhols without being in dialogue with the late artist.  Beck explains that Warhol was “always involved in [the] final product in some way” as he oversaw everything at his studio and became involved in other ways after inception.

All this said, the recreated Warhol works will likely be attractive to those who want to appear to have an original Warhol displayed on their wall without having to spend a hefty eight to nine figures to get one.

Stephenson’s recreated paintings will be on display at the Buy Art Fair in Manchester, England later this month.

Norman Rockwell is as famous as apple pie for his iconic depictions of American life.  Once shunned by the art world as an ordinary illustrator, Rockwell’s saccharine vignettes are now prized paintings.

The recent auction sale of a painting of three umpires for $1.6M USD at auction reveals that even mere studies by the artist are valuable. Research of his works prior to the auction at Heritage Auctions (an internet based auction gallery that is headquartered in Dallas, Texas with showrooms all over the country), revealed that Rockwell, best known as The Saturday Evening Post cover artist, created the painting of three umpires in the rain as a study (16 in. x 15 in. oil on paper) for his iconic 1949 magazine cover entitled Tough Call. The original painting also known as Game Called Because of Rain, Bottom of the Sixth, or The Three Umpires is in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Although thought to be a print, luckily, additional analysis of the work was conducted and its status as an original work by Rockwell was established. The painting, which had been given by the artist himself to John “Beans” Reardon, one of the umpires depicted in the painting, remained in Reardon’s family until the auction gallery was contacted regarding the potential sale of sports memorabilia.

Iconic film directors and friends, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, have been enthusiastic collectors of Rockwell for decades. Notably, in 2016, Lucas donated $1.5M USD to the Norman Rockwell Museum, which facilitated a traveling art exhibition of the museum’s work. The highest grossing Rockwell painting at auction, Saying Grace (1951), was sold in 2013 for over $46 M USD (over twice the high estimate).

It was reported that Lucas was the purchaser of the $46M Rockwell, which was to be showcased in his forthcoming Lucas Museum for Narrative Art.  However, Saying Grace is not represented on the Lucas museum’s website.  Earlier this year, Lucas received unanimous approval for his $1B museum to be built in Exposition Park in Los Angeles, California. The museum will open in 2021. Lucas intends for his museum to “be a barrier free museum where artificial divisions between “high” art and “popular” art are absent, allowing you to explore a wide array of compelling visual storytelling.”

I wonder if Albert C. Barnes were alive today whether he would support Lucas’ vision.

 

In recent news, an original Willem de Kooning known as “Woman-Ochre” was found at an estate sale by owners of Manzanita Ridge Furniture & Antiques, a New Mexico furniture and antiques shop (the owners include Buck Burns, Rick Johnson and David Van Auker).

Unaware that the work was an original de Kooning that had been stolen thirty years before, the antique dealers brought the work to their shop and marketed it as a decorative piece.  However, after the painting received significant interest, the dealers researched the provenance and determined that the work was the stolen art.  As a result of their efforts, the painting has been returned to its original owner, the University of Arizona Museum of Art.  Reunited with the Museum, the work (which had been cut from its frame during the heist thirty years ago) “fits like a glove” in its original frame.

In November, the Museum will have a special presentation regarding the “Woman-Ochre” entitled Out of the Vault – Art Crime. Museum Curator Olivia Miller and Registrar Kristen Schmidt will present on the theft of the de Kooning and Meredith Savona, a Special Agent with the FBI’s Art Crime Unit, will discuss art theft.

This recent discovery demonstrates the need to conduct proper provenance research.

In the wake of more WWII/Nazi era stolen art legal battles, the International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR) has issued a new Provenance Guide, which highlights the importance of archival research, and states that provenance research is “a must” for all art purchasers.  The Provenance Guide includes links to numerous archival websites and databases (including the Getty Research Institute), which will aid in provenance due diligence.  IFAR states that provenance litigation demonstrate that “all available archival materials must be consulted . . . ” because among other things, “documentary evidence may be open to interpretation.”

 

 

 

 

In March 2016, a US auction gallery sold an Old Master oil painting (a sketch of an old woman) for $27,000. The sale price was nearly double the high auction estimate of 15,000.  However, when the same painting was recently sold by Sotheby’s London in a July 2017 sale as an authentic Peter Paul Rubens, it achieved a hammer of £416,750 (close to $550,000 USD), which is nearly 20 times the original purchase price.

It has been reported that the appraisers at Sotheby’s London relied on certain clues to authenticate painting and attribute to Peter Paul Rubens himself. For example, Rubens had painted this old lady before, and there were examples of Rubens work with the old women at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Lichtenstein museum.  Interestingly, the work was consigned to Sotheby’s after it had been properly cleaned and restored. The restoration work revealed that the sketch had been overpainted, and this overpainting is likely the reason why the work was not properly attributed in the first place.   Importantly, this is not the first time an authentic Rubens was late discovered. In 2015, a portrait deaccessed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art was later determined to be an authentic Rubens and fetched $626,500 at auction (over 20 times its original high estimate of $30,000).

As the Washington Post reports, authentic Rubens are valuable – even if they are mere sketches and not final oil portraits. Rubens value has increased. For example, last year a Rubens painting, Lot and his Daughters, set a new record for an Old Masters sale fetching £44.8 million ($58.1 million USD).

Unfortunately, the value and popularity of Rubens make his Old Master works a prime target for forgery. This heightened concern can move an appraiser to conservatively attribute paintings to “school/student/studio of” an Old Master rather than the Old Master himself.  This recent Rubens auction sale demonstrates that sometimes the caveat emptor/buyer beware mantra can benefit the buyer in more ways than one. In this case, taking the extra step to invest in restoration and cleaning paid off exponentially for the original auction buyer.

Richard Polsky writes:

Catalogue rasionnes, which are compendiums of an artist’s entire body of work, are always insightful. The official Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonne is one of the best; an amalgam of impressive research and good design. And it’s still ongoing, with more volumes to come in future years. But just like every famous artist’s catalogue raisonne, from Picasso to Pollock, it’s not complete. There are always discoveries of long-lost paintings that never made it in, paintings listed as authentic which turned out to be bogus, and re-evaluations of paintings based on fresh information that comes to light.

As art authenticators who specialize in the work of Andy Warhol (along with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring), the majority of paintings that we are asked to examine turn out to be fakes. But every now and then, we come across a picture where all of the stars align; image, materials, and provenance. Or in some cases, paintings where the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board had a different interpretation of the artist’s intent. Regardless, we decided to compile the Warhols that we’ve authenticated in an online catalogue raisonne addendum, which will be ongoing as we come across more genuine paintings, and available for free on our website. The catalog will be known as the RPAA Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonne Addendum.

We want to make it clear to our audience that the Addendum has no connection with the official Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonne. We seek to retain our independence. Our objective is to present the art world with a more complete list of genuine Andy Warhol paintings, which will hopefully lead to a greater understanding of his work. The Addendum should prove beneficial to collectors, dealers, auction houses, and scholars.

Perhaps the most important thing that might come of posting the Addendum is that it will help define — once and for all — what constitutes an authentic Andy Warhol painting. For too long, both the academic world and the art market have debated its definition. Our position is simple; it comes down to the artist’s intent.


Richard Polsky has accumulated 40 years of expertise in the contemporary art world as a gallery owner, author of multiple books on the art market, lecturer, and provider of litigation support. Richard Polsky Art Authentication can be viewed at www.RichardPolskyArt.com.

A Jackson Pollock painting possibly worth over $15 Million was found in a garage in Arizona among other knick-knacks and memorabilia. The painting was located because the homeowner was downsizing and moving to a retirement facility. During the move, a friend spotted a signed L.A. Lakers poster believed to be of value, which prompted review of other items in the garage. The sports poster was determined to be only worth $300 (actually not a bad value for a modern-day poster, which generally does not retain value). In contrast to the poster, the Pollack was taken back to the auction gallery for further examination. After feverishly researching the provenance in an effort to determine how the Pollack could end up in Arizona (where regional southwestern art is king), the appraiser/auctioneer involved, Josh Levin of J. Levine Auction & Appraisal, found a link from the Arizona owner to his half-sister, Jenifer Gordon Cosgriff, who was a New York Socialite.  After tireless research, it has been determined that the painting is a missing Pollack gouache. In regard to authentication, the auction gallery indicates that the forensic report states that “no pigments or binding media introduced in the late 1950s and 1960s have been detected.” Reports indicate that since  the painting was removed from storage it has been restored.  The painting will go to the auction block next week in Scottsdale, AZ with a reported starting bid of $5 Million.

Richard Polsky writes:

As the owner of Richard Polsky Art Authentication, I’ve always believed that authenticity is the bedrock of any art transaction, which seems to have been proven out by the constant stream of related articles in the New York Times. During the last six months alone, we’ve been treated to the spectacle of the Knoedler gallery scandal for selling fake canvases by Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, and others. Then there was the dealer Mary Boone pulling a bait and switch of a Ross Bleckner painting on the actor Alec Baldwin. This was followed by London’s James Mayor Gallery suing the Pace Gallery, over their rejection of 13 Agnes Martin works that they once sold, for inclusion in the catalog raisonne that Pace is in the process of compiling.

Recently, we expanded beyond our core business of exclusively authenticating the work of Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Keith Haring. We now offer a “Preliminary Opinion” service, which will focus on the work of 39 significant Post-War & Contemporary artists — and Georgia O’Keeffe. Rather than an in-depth authentication analysis, our new concept is to offer a client a credible, but affordable opinion, on the probability of a painting being genuine or not.

The logic behind branching out into 40 additional artists is based on the complete abandonment of authentication responsibilities by virtually every major artist’s estate. As followers of the art world know, the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board closed up shop five years ago. Their decision was almost entirely based on incurring millions of dollars in legal fees to defend themselves against lawsuits, brought by disgruntled clients whose works were rejected. Immediately following the Warhol board’s announcement, the authentication committees for Roy Lichtenstein, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and others, all followed suit. Each of them cited the same reason; fear of being sued.

In 2015, when I sent out an announcement that I had formed an art authentication company, I was immediately inundated with inquires, all asking the same thing, “How are you going to protect yourself from being sued?” The simple answer was by being completely transparent (though I still have the client sign a disclaimer). When a collector signed a release with the Warhol estate, he agreed to allow them to stamp the back of his painting with the word “Denied,” if they concluded it was a fake. When the collector wanted to know why it was rejected, he was given the unsatisfying answer, “We can’t tell you because we don’t want to aid counterfeiters.” While most owners simply shrugged, a number of people felt they were treated unfairly, and took action. My guess is that if the Warhol people had just leveled with these painting owners, much of the litigation, which led to their ultimate demise, could have been avoided.

Part of my motivation for starting Richard Polsky Art Authentication was the opportunity to be involved with something that was intellectually satisfying. I enjoy using a body of knowledge that I had acquired from many years of studying art. Additionally, I frequently found myself smiling after informing a client that his Warhol was the real deal; having to tell a client his painting was a fake wasn’t a good feeling. Not surprisingly, those who owned authentic pictures never failed to compliment my skill and acumen; those on the other end of the stick thought I was ignorant. But one of the unforeseen pleasures of the art authentication business was that I was now in a position to give something back to the art world. I decided to offer our services to university art museums on a pro bono basis. Recently, we were asked by Oxford University to examine a small Keith Haring sketch that was given to them — and it happily turned out to be genuine.


Richard Polsky has accumulated forty years of expertise in the contemporary art world as a gallery owner, author of multiple books on the art market, lecturer, and provider of litigation support. Richard Polsky Art Authentication can be viewed at www.RichardPolskyart.com.