Thu. Jul 18th, 2024


The Vancouver Art Gallery has determined 10 paintings in its collection are, in fact, fakes – and is showcasing the years-long investigative process that led to that conclusion in a new exhibit.


The 10 oil sketches, which were previously believed to be from famed Group of Seven painter J.E.H. MacDonald, were gifted to the art gallery in 2015.


Shortly after the artworks were displayed, questions about their authenticity were raised by Globe and Mail journalist Marsha Lederman, who reported that the paintings had been unearthed from an Ontario backyard.


The gallery said an investigation was launched shortly after “local art experts” began voicing concerns about the pieces.


“It’s not like the Antiques Roadshow where someone comes in and an expert looks at it and tells you everything about it,” said Richard Hill, the gallery’s Smith Jarislowsky senior curator of Canadian art. “I think it’s actually quite rare that something like this happens.”


The oil sketches were extensively examined by handwriting experts, art historians and others from the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI).


“We started out just by doing a visual examination,” said Kate Helwig, the senior conservation scientist at the CCI. “This was an unusual size for the period and the paper board was quite a lot thicker than what (MacDonald) typically used.”


Her team also performed infrared photography and X-rays to learn more about each piece, even looking at the specific colours.


“The green is a pigment called phthalocyanine green that wasn’t discovered until 1935, and wasn’t commercially available until 1936 – and MacDonald died in 1932,” she said.


She’s examined more than 100 artworks of MacDonald’s and said there are a plethora of replicated artwork across the country.


Once determining the pieces were fakes, the art gallery decided to create a unique exhibit showcasing the process of the investigation.


“It’s a unique opportunity for us to open the doors and reveal how institutions work,” said Anthony Kiendl, the CEO and executive director of the Vancouver Art Gallery.


When asked by reporters if the findings were an embarrassment to the gallery, Kiendl said no, instead sharing he was proud to be transparent and to move forward authentically.


“We’re run by human beings, and it’s the human aspect that makes this so interesting, and such a passionate project.”


The exhibit, J.E.H. MacDonald? A Tangled Garden, will be on display until May 12.


It displays pieces of both real and fake artwork, allowing viewers to navigate the process of determining the authenticity. 

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