Richard Kay, Director of Paintings at Lawrences Auctioneers gave U3A members tips on how to spot a forgery at their October meeting in the George Reynolds Centre. Richard said: “Forgers make money from ignorance but even serious knowledgeable collectors can be caught out.” Examples of works that were believed to be original but turned out to be fakes, were a Botticelli painting at the National Gallery when during restoration work, the blue pigment used was discovered to be of a much later period and false wormholes had been drilled into the back, to make it look authentic.
Another forger who was right handed had attempted to reproduce a Leonardo Da Vinci drawing by creating cross-hatching with his left hand to imitate the master’s technique. Richard said: “There is nothing that they won’t do to try and make a fake look genuine.” Richard Kay is well known for his appearances on BBC’s Bargain Hunt. He also has experiences of false provenances and told members the story of a man who brought him a painting by L S Lowry to be valued. Richard was told the painting had been passed down through the family via the artists housekeeper who had given it to her sister. Richard had to kindly point out to the current owner of the painting that Lowry “never had a housekeeper.”
To demonstrate how easy it is to fake provenance, Richard brought three artifacts along with him to the meeting, a pair of wire spectacles, once belonging to Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island, which had come from the Stevensons literary executor, a fountain pen that belonged to the playwright George Bernard Shaw and a small figure of an Egyptian deity, gifted by Howard Carter who discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun, to his porter. The provenance of all three artifacts appeared to be impeccable and in the normal course of events would have carried a hefty reserve price at auction, but as Richard revealed in a surprise twist at the end of his talk – all three were fakes. He had made up a convincing but phony history for each of them.
When asked by a U3A member if it mattered if the picture hanging on someones wall was a fake or not? Richard replied: “If you like it then that is all that matters. We can’t all afford Old Masters.” Some 50,000 lots come up for auction every year at Lawrences with 80 different types of auctions. Chair of Crewkerne & District U3A Sheila Seymour said: “It was a brilliant talk and I was delighted the hall was full for the first meeting at our new venue, with around 100 members attending. All the feedback I’ve had has been positive about the move.”