An insider’s look at the exciting and unpredictable “discovered masterpiece” side of the art world.
If the author’s appearances on Antiques Roadshow have taught aspiring art collectors anything, it’s that discovery is possible. Antique paintings are often unattributed or mislabeled, and that dusty Rembrandt look-alike at the flea market may well be the real thing, with centuries of pollution and poorly applied overpaint disguising it. Mould, a London gallery owner and art sleuth, tells his tale of a rags-to-riches Rembrandt, the restoration of which he calls “the boldest feat of detection and restoration I had ever heard sanctioned by an eminent academic.” An engaging storyteller, the author describes several other adventures, all of which culminate in the affirmation of an authentic work. There was the emergence of an early Thomas Gainsborough, originally mislabeled at auction; the enthralling story of an unknown portrait of Elizabeth I, whose history was almost as intriguing as the painting itself; and a Homer watercolor that washed up in dump in Ireland, sending Mould on a trip through several countries before he was able to connect the dots of its provenance. In the most mysterious tale in the book, the author describes how a fake Norman Rockwell was not only touted as authentic in the Rockwell Museum, but that the painting was part of a plot concocted to hide the original during a nasty divorce. The Rockwell scam involved two generations, a masterful forgery and secret storage panels. Mould points out that art, and its pursuit, “can be extremely eloquent about human behavior,” a theme to which he often returns in examining the “innumerable paths, dramas, challenges and characters” that make up the discovery market. The author also explores the nuances of connoisseurship, the delicate risks and startling rewards of restoration and the science of correctly identifying an unknown painting by an established master.
Informative and fun.