Saturday, August 30, 2008

Debate Rages Over Possible Leonardo

More details are beginning to emerge in the controversy over what is now suspected to be a newly discovered work by Leonardo da Vinci. Initially, the name of the Manhattan art dealer who first sold the work was kept out of the news, but she has now come forward, and remains completely unconvinced that Leonardo had anything to do with the painting.

Kate Ganz purchased the painting at auction at Christie's for $21,850 and sold it to Downey Holdings--a company with an address somewhere in the British Isle of Jersey-- in January 2007 for the same price, less a dealer's discount. Peter Silverman, a Canadian art collector who advises Downey Holdings, told them the work was reminiscent of a Leonardo. Silverman never mentioned Ganz' name in his account, which he said was a measure to protect her anonymity (since it could be kind of embarrassing as an art dealer to make such a big mistake).

Ganz has now come forward as the original purchaser of the painting. She has also confessed to the New York Times that she remains unconvinced about the painting's authorship: “At the end of the day, when you talk about connoisseurship, it comes down to whether something is beautiful enough to be a Leonardo, whether it resonates with all of the qualities that define his handwriting — sublime modeling, exquisite delicacy, an unparalleled understanding of anatomy — and to me this drawing has none of those things.” Said Ganz. She went on to say that “Even though I honestly do not know what this drawing is, I still believe that it is not a Leonardo.”

The evidence in favour of the painting being by Leonardo still seems rather flimsy, which is why it's important that art critics agree on the authenticity of the painting. Thanks to carbon-14 dating, we now know that the painting was done sometime between 1450 and 1650. There is also substantial evidence that the artist was left-handed. The strongest evidence so far remains Lumiere Technologies digitization of the painting, which is supposed to reveal a number of similarities between Leonardo's style and this work.

Situations like this always make me wonder: 1. How often authentic works are passed over, and 2. How often fakes are agreed on by art critics to be the real thing. I'm sure both situations occur fairly often. After all, critics are embarrassed that they didn't recognize the age of the painting, so many seem eager now to conclude that it's the real deal. I'm really curious to see what the final verdict will be.

I still think that if I were the Swiss Collector, I'd insure my painting for an obscene amount of money, and then have it disappear mysteriously, a la "How to Steal a Million!"


willow said...

Intriguing about evidence the artist was left handed. I wonder how they can tell?

Hmmm...wonder how many other Leonardos are lying around. We must keep our eyes peeled!

Yes, the insurance and mysterious disappearance is a winner!!

Margaret said...

I know, I was wondering about that too! Especially since I'm left handed, and I've never noticed anything that different about the way I write or draw.

Anyway, the article made it sound like they can tell because of the way that the shading is done. Left-handers apparently have a distinctive way of applying pressure to the canvas.

A World Away said...

Hi Margaret,
The debate continues and probably will for some time.
I recently purchased an 'original' Arthur Rackham off of Ebay. I collect Rackham illustrated books and this caught my attention.
I took a chance as my initial gut reaction on seeing the watercolour / pen & ink is that it was an original. Then my practical side said it can't be, not on Ebay. It had all the hallmark qualities of a Rackham and was painted on a watercolour board of thast period. Now I have received it I am sure it is an original but I am getting it evaluated by the 'experts'.
What I am saying is if someone has studied an artist thoroughly they get a good sense of their work and can tell if something is by that artist or not.Thats not say that one can't be fooled.
Perhaps the art dealer intuitively knows this is not his work.

Margaret said...

Congrats on your purchase! How exciting! I am inclined to agree with you--I definitely think it has a great deal to do with how familiar you are with an artist. In the end, you probably can't be 100% sure, but life is short, and in the end, who's to say what matters more: your satisfaction with an item, or the fact that it's an "original" original. The Leonardo is still a difficult one, because you have specialists arguing both sides (Lumiere technologies has worked with a number of Leonardo's works and they are very convinced it's an original--who knows?). In the end, I think it's a lovely painting, no matter who did it. And if someone is willing to pay 50 million for it, well, that's their money!

acornmoon said...

I am very intrigued by this story, I think the"Leonardo" work rather lovely but there is something about the features around the nose and eyes which looks somehow modern, but the carbon dating would place it 1450-1650? Which part do they test, could it be a newer work on an old base? The plot thickens!

lotusgreen said...

this is so interesting. where did the first suggestion that it was a leonardo come from?

i can totally believe that handedness is probable, but i'd also think it'd be very difficult to fake. pressures would be completely different.

and i would also believe a digital analyser, probably before i'd believe a person; the machine has no emotional stake. i wonder how many factors are measured.

and yet i'm skeptical, probably just for the sake of being skeptical. no reason. the last thing i'd trust is my own eyes. that's why i ask where the idea came from.

and yeah!it reminded me of stealing a million before you even said it!

you write well!

skatej said...

Your last comment inspired this imagery: (Kate shifts her glance rapidly from side to side and then flips back her long black cape, adjusts her monacle and top hat, and twiddles her mustache, and rubs her hands together greedily) "Yesss, it's a brilliant plan, simply BRILLIANT! And with all that money, there's no way anyone could STOP ME!" (Kate bursts into maniacle laughter, causing significant alarm to passers by, who, of course, missed her monologue but paid special attention to her insane gigglings.)
You might want to keep in mind that I am extremely tired, and I guess this is what I do when my internet inhibitions are lowered by drowsiness.

skatej said...

Oh and I'm guessing you can tell an artist is left handed by the brush strokes, the direction in which they point, and in what position the stroke started and ended. There's almost always a little bit more paint where a stroke stopped, and right and left handed artists automatically pull towards different directions: towards the palm of their hands. I could be incredibly wrong though.

Ann said...

Interesting. Too many arts aficionados studied Leonardo's works that we think by now most of them knew what an authentic and fake artwork is from the Master, but I guess we're wrong. Nobody can still definitely know for sure.

Margaret said...

Haha, your comment made me laugh, Kate!

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Kate Ganz, it doesn't have the look or feel of a Da Vinci painting. As much as I'd love to see more of his work discovered, this just isn't one.

And i copied one of my paintings with my left hand, looks the same, so I could see students not just copying the images but Leonardos left handed technique as well.