Eyes Wide Shut

Oct 25, 2020 | Auctions, Authentications & attributions, Highlights

The longstanding question regarding the authentication of artworks, both old master and modern ones, is always relevant. Even today, no shared scientific protocols have been established, so to start a correct discussion on this topic. Not later than last week, this problem became clear again at auction.

Two paintings declared “FOLLOWER OF SIR PETER PAUL RUBENS, about 1700”, had already been sold six months ago by the same gallery but with a different attribution: “CICLE OF SIR PETER PAUL RUBENS” were auctioned.
What has happened in the last six months that got the paintings from being a “workshop” to being a “copy” of the following century? Moreover, the same two artworks eleven years ago were offered by another large auction house for a double estimate. How can this happen? What information was added between one auction and another?

The Condition Reports  which are generally published –same here- report only the conservation conditions, observed rather superficially.
The provenance only rarely adds decisive information on the autograph. As indeed this is the case this time as well. We wonder why it is not explicitly stated in the catalogue if any type of analysis has been performed that has implied consequences for the attribution. One could think of analyses performed showing an anachronism in the materials used, or a C14 on the wooden support.
A Condition Report enriched with Radiography, Reflectography and colour analysis would have clarified many doubts.

Especially at a time like this, where auction houses only offer online sales, it would be appropriate to offer works with more detailed curricula, also enriched with elements that the human eye cannot perceive. This could offer complete transparency, a de-risking for the investment and therefore an incentive to buy. Who would buy with closed eyes?