The world of art is full of stories of forgeries, robberies and controversies. So it comes as no surprise that many masterpieces have had their authenticity disputed. Here are ten pieces of art that have had experts question their authenticity and the mysteries that surround them.
SELF-PORTRAIT BY VINCENT VAN GOGH (1889)
It was only in January 2020 that the authenticity of Van Gogh’s self-portrait had been proven genuine. From the 1970s, experts and art historians had questioned whether or not the self-portrait of the Dutch artist was in fact his creation. The dampened colours and the facial expression was considered unusual in comparison to the work the artist produced during this period.
Joint research by the Nasjonalmuseet in Norway, which acquired the painting in 1910 and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, contends that the painting is, beyond doubt, a genuine Van Gogh.
Experts believed that the self-portrait, often called ‘The Oslo Self-Portrait’, was painted during his recovery from a bout of psychosis and shortly after the artist wrote a letter dated on 22nd August 1889, which indicated that he was still “disturbed” but eager to begin painting again.
The report from the Van Gogh Museum stated that, “The Oslo self-portrait depicts someone who is mentally ill; his timid, sideways glance is easily recognisable and is often found in patients suffering from depression and psychosis”.
THE BUST OF NEFERTITI
Discovered in 1912 by the German Archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt, the vividly painted limestone bust of Nefertiti, the wife of Egypt’s Sun King Akhenaten is thought to be a faux.
According to the Swiss art historian Henri Stierlin and stated in his book, Le Buste de Nefertiti – une Imposture de l’Egyptologie?, the bust is less than 100 years old and was created by an artist commissioned by Borchardt to test ancient pigments from his archaeological archives. Hence the reason why it had been able to pass forensic tests.
However, when the Prussian prince Johann Georg viewed the exquisite bust, he apparently was so enamored by the beauty of the ancient artifact, Borchaedt couldn’t bring himself to admit to the prince that the bust was not in fact a 3,000 year old artifact. Stierlin stated in his book that the archaeologist, “didn’t have the nerve to make his guest look stupid”.
The bust is currently housed in the Neues Museum in Berlin and has continued to be a subject of a repatriation argument between Egypt and Germany since it was first displayed to the public in 1924.
LA BELLA PRINCIPESSA BY LEONARDO DA VINCI (1495-1496)
Sold at auction for just over $22,000 in 1998, and later bought by its current owner Peter Silverman in 2007, the drawing is believed to be a work by the Italian master.
It was originally thought to be a creation from a 19th-century German artist but many casted doubt over the artist, so the owner agreed to have it analyzed by a team of experts headed by Renaissance scholar Martin Kemp. The portrait was subjected to a number of tests with every detail painstakingly analyzed including a detailed test on the direction of the brushstrokes (if there was any indication that there was just one right-handed brushstroke, the painting would be disregarded as a Da Vinci).
After the team had conducted their full analysis, Kemp concluded that it was, in fact, a Da Vinci. However, skeptics still believe that the drawing isn’t his creation because it was rendered on vellum, a material that Da Vinci was not known to use. Moreover, in 2015 convicted art forger Shaun Greenhalgh claimed that he drew the portrait back in 1978 and was a depiction of a supermarket check-out girl who worked in Bolton in the United Kingdom.
In 2010, the drawing was displayed as a Leonardo Da Vinci in an exhibition in Sweden and is estimated to be worth more than $160 million. Where is it now? The Bella Principessa is currently locked in a vault in an unknown Swiss location.
A JACKSON POLLOCK
In the 2006 documentary titled Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?, 73-year-old Californian Teri Horton, shares her story of discovering a Jackson Pollock painting. The former long-haul truck driver was rifling through a thrift shop when she came across a painting she purchased for $5.
The painting was a gift for a friend but it was too large for her trailer. Horton then decided to re-sell it in a yard sale. It was there that a local art teacher spotted it and noticed how remarkably similar it was to a Pollock.
After a forensic analysis, it appeared that the painting bore a fingerprint consistent with others found on Jackson Pollock paintings. A friend of Pollock, Nicolas Carone has also testified to the painting’s authenticity. However, doubt has been cast on the fingerprint analysis and art historians such as Thomas Hoving, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, believe that the painting is not genuine.
Teri Horton was offered $9 million for the painting by a Saudi buyer, but she refused the offer, saying that she won’t accept anything less than $55 million.
Self-Portrait, Wearing a Feathered Bonnet by Rembrandt (1635)
Acquired by the Natural Trust in 2010, the authentication of the self-portrait has long been disputed. Many believe that the painting is the work of Rembrandt’s pupil because experts believe that areas of the painting are not accomplished enough to be the work of Rembrandt.
It was in June 2014 when the experts from the Hamilton Kerr Institute in Cambridgeshire completed an extensive analysis of the painting and concluded that it was a genuine Rembrandt.
The detailed analysis involved using infra-red reflectography, x-rays, raking light photography pigment and medium analysis conservators to examine the brushwork more closely. The experts concluded that the work was much more sophisticated than initially thought. But it was the analysis of the artist’s signature that sealed the deal, which, according to the conservators, left “no reason to doubt” that the portrait is authentic.