Monday, 4 July 2011

Fake or Fortune?

Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould
There's an excellent series currently running on BBC called 'Fake or Fortune', in which presenter Fiona Bruce teams up with art dealer and Antiques Roadshow expert Philip Mould to investigate mysteries behind paintings.

Through a combination of sleuthing and scientific testing, the Fake or Fortune team try to prove the authenticity or otherwise of the featured paintings.  One astonishing fact to emerge from the series is that it is estimated that between 20-40% of works of art on the market are faked, so as well as there being a huge amount of money at stake, there is also presumably plenty of material for our sleuths to work with!

Courtauld's '17th century painting', 'The Procuress'
This week's episode featured a painting called 'The Procuress' which hangs in the Courtauld Institute in London.  The painting has divided scholars' opinion for years and Fiona and Philip's mission is to find out whether the Courtauld painting is a genuine 17th century original, possibly painted by Vermeer, or a 1940s forgery from the prolific brush of Dutch superfaker Han Van Meergeren.   Van Meergeren was a man who dared to fake the work of Old Masters and made millions from his deception, until he was caught in 1945 after selling a supposedly Old Master painting to Hermann Goering.

To prove that he had not sold Dutch cultural property to the Nazis, Van Meegeren had to confess to multiple forgeries.  His subsequent trial caused a sensation when it was revealed for years he had duped art collectors and galleries into purchasing apparently Old Master paintings.  As Van Meegeren died before a complete record of his fakes was made, mystery survives to this day as to how many are still out there.  Philip and Fiona get to work on the London picture which, legend has it, hung in Van Meegeren's studio on the day he was arrested. Was it his last work? And by testing it, can it be proved prove how he out-foxed some of the most eminent minds in the art world?

The programme was fascinating and along the way we got to see Scotland Yard's storeroom full of fakes and latter-day forger John Myatt trying to reproduce Van Meergeren's techniques which involved painting a copy of Vermeer's The Girl with the Pearl Earring using a toxic mix of oil paint and corrosive bakelite resin.

Super stuff and I'll be rivetted to the final episode next week :0)

Fake or Fortune echoes a theme in one of my short stories in my latest release Brief EncountersThe Virtuous Courtesan tells the story of a valuable painting which hangs at Rookery End, ancestral seat of the Earls of Allingham.  The current Earl would like to sell the painting to clear debts run up by his father, but the provenance of The Virtuous Courtesan is not as straightforward as it seems....

Brief Encounters is available now as an e-book, and in September as a paperback.

Fake or Fortune is currently showing on BBC1 at 7pm on Sunday evenings :0)


  1. I watched Fake of Fortune? this evening after reading your blog. I hadn't noticed it before. It was a fascinating programme, though so sad with the Nazi looting of so much art.

    I read your story in Brief Encounters last week :) I haven't seen the programme about Van Meegeren yet. It's still on iPlayer, but I'm not sure for how much longer. I'll make a point of watching it soon.

  2. Hi agenoria :0)

    Last night's episode was fascinating, and it's astonishing there could still be up to £20M(?) of art looted by the Nazis unaccounted for. Do watch the Van Meergeren programme if you get chance. I wrote The Virtuous Courtesan way before Fake or Fortune came about, but it's a nice bit of serendipity that the series is airing not long after the publication of the Brief Encounters collection.