"FAKE or Fortune?" is the title of a television series produced by the British Broadcasting System (BBC), still the standard in the broadcasting world. The series is quite riveting, tracing the provenance of works of art, some long lost and recently found, some just maybe suddenly "found." Some that have been with owners for some time, but rejected as authentic. Some literally from nowhere and suddenly around.
In this our 21st century, art handlers now have a ton of tools at their disposal with which to determine if a painting is authentic or fake. And since veritable fortunes are spent on art by those who can afford to, the study of authenticity had become a matter of science, too, when it used to be largely based on what the art experts would say.
In "Fake or Fortune?" art dealer Philip Mould, OBE and journalist Fiona Bruce go on the trail of one art challenge per episode. It is their procedure to subject each piece involved in art forensics and painstaking research into the provenance of a piece. These to determine if a piece can then pass the exacting standards of designated experts in the field wherein the piece is located. I.e., there is one Rembrandt man, one Gauguin expert, one most esteemed Lowry scholar, and so on.
One episode I recently watched had Mould, Bruce and their resident researcher Brendor Grosvenor tackle a Renoir that has long hung on the walls of Pickton Castle, the ancestral home of British artist Nicola Phillips, herself a painter of no mean note. Her works include portraits of Queen Elizabeth II and her grandsons, Princes William and Harry.
The Renoir is titled La Seine an Argenteuil (The Seine at Argenteuil) and is a sketch of boats on the Seine at Argenteuil, said sketch theorized to be the "twin" of a Monet sketch highly similar to Renoir's. It is long established that Monet and Renoir often painted the same scene together and then swapped them. So it would not be strange to find Renoirs with Monet and Monets with Renoir. They were not just painting buddies, but good friends, too.
So Episode Two of Season Four of "Fake or Fortune?" clearly establishes the forensics of La Seine as an authentic Renoir, and likewise its unbroken and unquestionable provenance trail from artist to the current owner. The Renoir experts are then tapped to weigh in during a suspenseful moment of the show. They adjudge the sketch an authentic Renoir, long found in the catalog of The Bernheim-Jeune Gallery, a venerable art institution, like a Renoir.
However, it is another house that must also be convinced, the Wildenstein Art Institute. Just like the Bernheim-Jeune, the Wildenstein is a very French, venerable institution. So the evidence is submitted to them, who have already previously rejected the painting as a Renoir. After deliberations, the house gives their verdict, and it is that La Seine will not be included in their forthcoming catalog of Renoir, also adjudging La Seine as a fake. Despite the science, despite the stellar documentation, despite the experts' opinions.
When the experts are questioned as to what possible reason/s the Wildenstein could have for rejecting La Seine as a Renoir, the speculation was that it could be, simply: the rivalry between that house and the Bernheim-Jeune. So much for science and academic documentation.
I like best that Nicola Phillips parted with that her painting shall continue to hang on the walls of her ancestral home as a Renoir, that she doesn't really care what the Wildenstein says. We say that as anywhere when you have the real deal, it really doesn't matter what the fakes say.