Murillo expert expert opinion National Gallery London
copies Ludmila Kagané Angulo Mayer Sullivan Gaya Nuño
JMW Turner: the
Whether brushed aside as a mere copy of the original or condemned as a forgery, the result is the same; the general public accepts the verdict of institutional authority without question. Sixty years ago when the experts accepted the Vermeer forgeries by Han van Meegren as genuine, everyone immediately accepted their validity. “The inability of the public and, indeed of trained experts to tell the genuine product from the fake showed to the satisfaction of certain scientists and thinkers that a person’s values are not derived from true insight, but simply from prestige imposed by influential authority. Tell the average person that he is confronted with the work or utterance of an esteemed author or artist and he will accord it reverence.”[i] Art World’s Dirty Little Secret
"This brings back into focus the shift that has taken place within the last century as the authentication process has more and more been taken out of the hands of those naturally destined to make such decisions—the artist-collector-connoisseur. Why has there become a need beyond the artist’s eye for the appraisal of that which is artistic? Undoubtedly the task has fallen largely to managers. Why has so often a curatorial-expert who is allied with a bureaucracy, estate, or business been given the prime authority to judge authenticity of artwork? Surely, many of these people are qualified, but again, there is no guarantee as to how well qualified. It is true that art has become integrated with mass culture, and thus, for sake of shear volume and control over what has in many cases become little more than merchandize, such administrative-managers have become prevalent. There are two elements that these managers hold dear: one is the fragile nature of the art market based on consumer confidence, and secondly; the management of art resources in allocating benefits. On both levels—the artistic, and the commercial levels—political biases and commercial interests affect day-to-day decision making, including; decisions over whether or not to support the authenticity of a work of art.
The resulting van Meegren courtroom exposé had a most detrimental impact
on the confidence of the art-world, and the well-publicized confrontation of
art experts by the legal system might be one reason for the present-day
caution by curators in giving authentications. Before he was exposed, it
would have been interesting to see the look on van Meegren's face when
seeing the detail-embellished spread for his Christ and the Disciples of
Emmaus in ‘The Illustrated London News. It had the rhapsodic 'support of
the Rembrandt Society of Holland, of that Nestor of Dutch art historians,
Dr. A. Bredius, and over a hundred generous donors.'"[ii]
Mistakes are made; the fallibility of expertise is a recurring theme in the art-world. But what options are available to help with making these oft-times onerous decisions more reliable. Science? Kirsh and Levenson in their revealing book, Seeing Through Paintings, help to prop support for a more pragmatic approach to art study, but ultimately they too, uphold the status quo, “interpretation of the [scientific] studies must always be grounded in historical research.”[iii] According to precedence scientists invariably give way to the preeminence of the art historian. Is this merely established custom, or done for more worrisome reasons—political reasons, ones that are related to the powerfully influential art establishment’s fight for self-preservation? One seldom hears that historical research must always be grounded in scientific analysis, although scientists, themselves, often times subject their analyses and conclusions to a higher standard of care.
The Guernsey Murillo, fits so comfortably within the confines of the artist’s oeuvre that there was a need to discover why it was not considered genuine. Research drew a comparison between the ‘Peasant Boy’ at the National Gallery with that of the Girl Raising the Veil (below). As late as 1980 the relationship of the two paintings is described by Frank Herrmann as such, “A Young Girl Lifting Her Veil by Murillo [is considered] a companion piece to the same artist’s much loved A Peasant Boy Leaning on a Sill in the London National Gallery.”[iv] There appeared to be a problem when the girl was placed next to the ‘institutionalized’ boy. The two styles were disparate and the psychological connection between the two youngsters was not successful. The boy had an air of mischief and his expression was not imbued with innocent sincerity like that of the girl. Did the antisocial smirk on the boy’s face come from too long an incarceration at the National Gallery, or was he an illegitimate mate from the very beginning.
Peasant Boy, the
This frightful engraving by J. Rodgers, titled Spanish Peasant Boy is done after the painting donated to the National Gallery by Michael Zachary in 1929(?) (above). Firstly, the freakish nature of the print captures in its worst aspect, the wry spirit of the National Gallery Boy. In addition one can see the way in which the engraver has repeated the mistake made by the copyist who painted the National Gallery picture. The boy’s left arm is far too narrow for the boy’s body, and is misplaced, giving him an appearance of having a hunched back and pigeon chest. The illuminated shadow on the front of the arm caused by reflected light off the boy’s chest (as seen in the Guernsey Murillo) has been copied, but has been misinterpreted as part of the boy’s chest in the National Gallery picture. In turn the engraver has reproduced this unintended deformity, and in doing so has made the mistake even more apparent than in the National Gallery picture.
The following e-mail is to the person from whom the print was purchased:
I am very pleased with the Murillo print that I recently received from you. Do you have any reference to indicate its age? I assumed that because the painting was etched after it was reportedly donated to the National Gallery by Zachary in 1929 that the print would have been done after that date. The print indicates that the painting was already in the national collection before it was made. You had written that the print was from the 1830’s, and certainly, the print looks much older than 1929. Was there any indication from the book or portfolio that it originated from to determine the exact age?
Reply: “This print was extracted from an old book called “The National Gallery of Pictures by the Great Masters, Volume I and II” it was published in London by Jones and Co circa 1840. I hope this helps.
This did not make sense. The following is the provenance of the painting as given in the 1983 catalogue Murillo: his Life and Work, published by the Royal Academy of Arts, and; while the National Gallery owned it:
1737 Paris, Comtesse de Verrue (as companion piece to A Laughing Boy
Crowned with Ivy);1777 Randon de Boisset sale; 1806 Marquis of Lansdowne
sale, London; 1921 M. Zachary; 1929 donated to the National Gallery.
In addition to the strange Zachary date of 1929; in the catalogue, the boy was given a spurious title—Laughing Boy. Michael Zachary was an active collector 100 years earlier than the date given here.
Anyone trying to nose through the available information about the National Gallery Peasant Boy would likely smell an aging fish. The confusion over titles, provenances, and pendant pairing is bewildering.
Another rendition of the misshapen provenance has ‘the boy’ passing from Lansdowne to Zachary and being donated a century earlier: “che nel 1826 ne fece dono al museo Iondinese.”[vi] This would make more sense.
What about the Girl’s provenance? According to Frank Herrmann in 1956, “The Murillo [girl] was bought by John Carras, a Greek ship owner, for £25,000. Goldschmidt had paid £6,300, and it had fetched 5,600 guineas (£5,880) at the Holford sale in 1928.”[vii]
Might the legends surrounding the prodigious copying of his work have discouraged many connoisseurs from trying to untangle the master’s work from the copies of them? And could this have been part of the reason why Murillo was forgotten for nearly a century? According to Stothert, “Frequent robberies in foreign galleries are often mentioned in histories of Art. Copyists have been known to leave their copies in the gallery, and carry away the originals. Only a few months ago a valuable St. Anthony, by Murillo, was abstracted from Seville Cathedral , and carried to New York.” In this case, fortunately, the painting was recovered by Spanish authorities, and on its return to Seville was met with great “rejoicings”.[x]
The accepted lineage holds that both the girl and the boy were in the collection of Countess de Verru (1737), sold to Paillet, and then they “later appeared at the auction of the collection of Radon de Boisset in Paris in 1777 (Curtis 1883). The paintings were identified as A Peasant Boy Leaning on a Sill (National Gallery, London) and Girl Raising the Veil (Carras collection, London). However, Angulo (1981, 2, p. 298) voiced doubts that these works had been in the Verru collection and that they had been produced as a pair.”[xi] The discordant personas of the National Gallery’s boy, and the Carras’ girl would have been reason enough for Angulo’s incredulity.
During its early years in France the painting was probably copied as a matter of course. The demand for Spanish paintings was great and the size of the boy was perfect for the cabinet-room. If this is true, there is probably another girl floating around in the world of Murillo copies without her suitor also; in fact, that suitor might be the one in the National Gallery of London.
The question can also be asked, ‘Could the boy and girl have been copied in Murillo’s studio by himself as a replica, or by one of his students?’ It is recorded that Murillo and many other masters of the era made replicas of there own work. The question of copies and how they relate to the original is complicated. It has been discussed at least as early as the 17th century. Giulio Mancini was the first to discuss the problem of literal copies as it concerns painting. In his Considerazioni (c1620) Mancini cautioned prospective buyers that it is most important to determine whether a painting is an original or a copy. Like Vico, Mancini directed the search for authenticity to the examination of characteristic details. A collector first had to ask whether a picture was executed at the level of perfection customary to the master under whose name the picture was being sold. He could decide this best by looking for the “boldness” (franchezza) of the master’s touch:
“Especially in those parts that demand resolution and cannot be well executed in the process of imitation, as is true in particular for hair, beards, and eyes. Ringlets of the hair, if imitated, will betray the laborious effect of the copy and if the copyist does not want to imitate them, then they will in that case lack the perfection of the master. These elements of painting are like the strokes and groups of letters in handwriting, which require a master’s boldness and resolution. The same can be observed in those spirited passages and scattered highlights that a master renders with one stroke and with a touch of the brush that is inimitably resolute; as in the folds and highlights of drapery, which depend more on the fantasy and resolution of the master than on the verisimilitude of the thing being represented.”[xii]
To accomplish special tasks, the master might cut brushes in a certain way. The quick impression that he makes with his custom-tailored brush may take a copyist many careful strokes to imitate, thus eliminating the freshness and virtuoso detailing of the original. The boldness of the master’s touch and resolution, is perfectly apparent in the Guernsey Murillo; there is nothing labourious whatsoever in the brushwork. The brushwork in the National Gallery boy is relatively loose also, and accounting for the slight liberty of style, if it were a copy by Murillo himself, the period within the artist’s opus would be at polar extremes—an early work versus a late work. On this basis it would be fair to cautiously say that the one in the National Gallery might be an honest yet summary copy of the Guernsey Murillo. It would be stretching it to consider either of the works to be an outright forgery meant to deceive regardless of authorship. Another fair description of the difficulties involved with the copying process was given by Rudolf Arnheim:
“The good copy, the copy that moves us, is always the work of one who is possessed by a mysterious emotion. Good copies are never attempts at exact imitation; on examination we find always enormous differences between them and their originals: they are the work of men or women who do not copy but can translate the art of others into their own language. The power of creating significant form depends, not on hawk like vision, but on some curious mental and emotional power.”[xiv]
If one agrees with Charles A. Swinburne, which seems reasonable, “Murillo was one of the last seriously religious painters, and his pictures, serious or otherwise, are all stamped with the painter’s individuality. There is no mistaking them for those of anyone else—an infallible test of excellence in a painter."
In keeping with these concepts, might even the National Gallery’s Peasant Boy be an interpretation by another artist? It does feel somewhat later in style than that of the Baroque era.
The confident gaze of the young suitor is met by the equally open affection of the young Girl Raising the Veil. It can be assumed that at some point throughout their history that the moral values of the day would have disapproved of this overt show of affection. For moral reasons might the two have been banished to separate walls. To take this one step further: could the two have been part of the same picture in the beginning? It is easy to be spellbound by this fable when the Guernsey Murillo image is seen next to one of the girl in the Carras collection.
It is important to note that typical of Murillo’s famous paintings in the Prado, and much like the sensitive paintings by Raphael, to whom Murillo was supposedly homogeneous, the supple full cheeks of his youthful figures force an angular crease at the corners of the mouth. This is almost universal among Murillo’s children, but is absent on the possible poser in the National Gallery. Add to this, the confident and spontaneous brushwork of the Guernsey Murillo; the ‘illuminated shadows’ another hallmark of the artist’s genius; the eyes; the lips, and most importantly the communion of spirits so undeniably real when it is paired with Girl Raising the Veil—how can one argue against their union.
An obvious mistake made on the picture at the National Gallery and one that Murillo was unlikely to make himself is the ineffectual placement of reflected light upon the sill. In the Guernsey Murillo the reflected light from the hand matches that on the sill precisely, whereas in the National Gallery picture this natural effect is replaced with illumination from an unknown source. The Print takes this error in an even more gruesome direction.
Looking at the Guernsey Murillo in purely physical terms one is drawn to contemplate the state of preservation. At the extreme edge of the canvas, on three sides, it is evident that the picture has been reduced in size. To what degree will probably never be known, but if this were done in the process of separating a larger work into smaller more saleable parts, it might have been done for financial gain. When a larger picture is separated into several parts, which are then sold off individually, the aggregate value is usually enhanced. Could such an unconscionable act be the cause of the separation of these two portraits—severed for the sake of greed? In 1948 Otto Kurz wrote:
“A few words should be said regarding a particularly revolting type of vandalism which is at present assuming large proportions, namely the carving up of pictures in order to create ‘interesting’ and easily saleable fragments. Outsiders hardly realize how many masterpieces of old painting are thus being sacrificed and sold piecemeal every year. The reasons for this barbarism are obvious. It is almost impossible to find buyers for the mythological canvases of the late Renaissance and the Baroque, which are too large for the average modern room. But such a canvas may contain figures of elegant Venetian ladies which, when cut out, fit into the modern rooms and satisfy the taste of the modern collector. Single portraits find a readier market than large portrait groups, which however, lend themselves easily for cutting up… Usually single heads or figures are cut out and the rest of the picture, having become unusable, is then destroyed.” [xvi]
There is serious reason to ponder the hypothesis that there was at one time a surgical separation of the two Murillos. Although the Guernsey Murillo is effectively the same size as the one in the National Gallery, the Guernsey Murillo has been cut down on three sides! When looking at this painting compositionally, the boy seems somewhat cramped within the picture space, as is the girl. Could the sinews of his canvas, at one time been connected with those of the young maiden, in turn, providing them both more room to breath? What if the damage during separation had been done for no other reason than to accommodate a new décor?
Apparently, in England in years gone by, and even in the Royal collection, there was very little concern over re-sizing a canvas merely to fit a new location. “Harsh treatment was meted out to the pictures when, during King Charles II’s rebuilding of the State Apartments at Windsor, many of them were cut down or enlarged so they could be set over doors or fireplaces in the new schemes of decoration. The cutting down and enlarging of pictures has persisted throughout the history of the collection. Even in modern times a superintendent did not scruple to slice a large piece off the top of a group by Zoffany or to reduce a large pair of Winterhalters so that they would fit better into a room at Balmoral. These are among unhappy sequels to the occasion when the Superintendent at Windsor, early in Queen Victoria’s reign, cut down Gainsborough’s lovely full length group of the three eldest princesses.”[xvii]
And as for the age of the replacement strainer supporting the Guernsey boy's canvas, it indicates that if there were a separation of the two pictures, it would have taken place possibly two centuries ago. The patination of an illegible inventory label on the strainer exhibits honest atmospheric degradation of great age.
Now, what if both paintings were painted by the same artist - one being the replica of the other? Several years ago, Professor Guin Moriz had corresponded with the Prado over the relationship of the two pictures and the term replica was used. Replica, “in the fine arts [means], an exact copy or duplicate of a work, done in the same size and in the same medium, and done by the artist who created the original (or, sometimes, done under the artist’s direct supervision). A replica and other replicas of the same work, in all important respects are considered to be the equal of the original.”[xviii]
This fair description falls flat when measured against modern museum policy and the present-day exclusionary cataloguing syndrome that stifles the art-world. A replica today is deemed relatively worthless. We should ask, as a challenge to this arbitrary edict: if a work leaves an artist’s studio with the master’s approval, might it not fairly be considered more an autograph work than a dud? This must be true; otherwise, the art-world is destructively faced with the faulty concept that: a work of art has virtually no value unless it is the archetype. Execrably, in economic terms this could mean the difference of 10,000 versus 10,000,000 dollars with a commiserate amount of admiration given to each artwork.
Fatefully, there is a great disparity in modern attitudes towards the exact copy, even if the original creator of the image did it. Not considered a work of art, the copy is virtually abandoned. As mentioned before, could the reason for this be political? In a marketplace that must promote and insure exclusivity and rarity in order to drive up prices, equity, might take second billing. Agreed, a later version might not be worth that of the prototype, but should a copy be worth thousands of dollars while the accepted primary version sells for millions?
In the case of Rubens this discrepancy seems particularly unfair considering that his pupils and assistants, such as; Anthony van Dyck, Frans Snyders, Jacob Jordaens, and Jan Brueghel were great artists in their own right. Connoisseurship necessary to differentiate genuine original paintings, from: later versions done completely by the artist’s own hand; paintings that are collaborative efforts between master and pupil; copies done by studio assistants; contemporary followers; late followers; or even forgers - yes - the necessary connoisseurship must come with experience and education. It must also be the product of an artistic eye. The false premise that the prototype is immeasurably more important has of course led to a greater reliance on art expertise. Barring slim hope of resolving this dilemma, art scholarship must necessarily be combined with proper art science, or whatever additional corroborative evidence is available, to ensure that the art collector/consumer is protected from error in judgment or outright dishonesty by both crook and courtier.
In comparing the Guernsey Murillo, there are a number of anomalies that might dissuade one from believing that the picture in the National Gallery is the prime version of the two. The figure in the Guernsey Murillo has a discrete reddish areola, likely caused by the ground pigment, and this is also seen in a number of the better-preserved examples of the artist’s work in Spain.
If the painting in the National Gallery were truly by Murillo, the lack of chiaroscuro and gentle brushwork would make its production at least decades later. Professor Moriz felt that around the head of the Guernsey boy, there is what appears to be pentimento (a change in design during its creation). This would need confirming with appropriate tests, but if this were the case, for obvious reasons, it would imply that it was created before the one in the National Gallery—an idea that would also be reinforced by its reduction from a larger format (the one in the National Gallery would necessarily have been copied from the already reworked and reduced Guernsey Murillo). In addition, the dramatic light that beams in from the left is the same in the two paintings, Girl Raising the Veil, and The Guernsey Murillo. This theatrical effect helps to tie them together as a single work of art or at least as a pendant pair. The lighting of the work in the National Gallery does this less successfully.
If we look closely at the illuminated shadows on the Guernsey boy we are reminded of the artist’s special talent of blending the ethereal world of the sacred with the mundane world of the street urchin. The subtleties of the artist’s working method are never more apparent than when we look at the right shoulder and upper-arm of this painting and the same area on its suspected copy in the National Gallery. It is very evident that the copyist has misinterpreted the subtly of the lighting and has thus created a body that is anatomically incorrect. The illuminated shadow of the Guernsey boy’s upper arm next to his chest becomes just another part of the boy’s chest in the copy. The arm in the National Gallery painting, is thus, diminutive and unnatural.
National Gallery Boy
Within the last couple of decades the accuracy of information published on the girl and the boy has been droll, at best, and might be partly responsible for the doubts about their pendant status. The gaffes must make J. C. Carras in particular breath dust. It is the Girl Raising the Veil which is owned by this London family that has been abused worst of all. In Ludmila Kagane’s 1995 publication the plate appears wrong-way-round, the girl faces away from the boy. And in the 1983 exhibition catalogue associated with the Royal Academy, the title for ‘the boy leaning on a sill’ has been arbitrarily changed to Laughing Boy, apparently because of the grin on their own lads face. And oddly, it is partnered with another boy, A Laughing Boy Crowned with Ivy, rather than the Carras’s beautiful maiden.
The natural hetero-pairing of Boy Leaning on a Sill with the Carras’s Girl Raising the Veil is of course historic, and at minimum, dates back to the 18th century Randon de Boisset collection. The Royal Academy’s argument against their own mishappen pairing—a mistake in the first place—was given further strength based on the reduction in dimensions of the Carras girl. The Royal Academy catalogue argues this point as such: “although both works are of similar scale and subject matter, it is possible that the latter picture [the Carras picture] was cut down in the eighteenth century so that the works would form a pair.”[xxii]
This reduction of Girl Raising
the Veil would of course have been expected in order for it to go with
The Guernsey Murillo, which had also been cut down sometime in the
distant past. The fact that the National Gallery boy was purposely
fabricated to be the same size as the Carras girl is understandable. The
painting was produced as a copy to the Guernsey Murillo, and thus, ended up
to be the same size as the girl, merely, as an unintended consequence. The
Girl Raising the Veil has been given to a very improbable suitor for
at least the last century; a match that D. Angulo recognized was not made in
heaven. He has for good reason, instinctively questioned the pairing of the
Girl Raising the Veil with the boy in the National Gallery.
 Some published but apparently unreliable information indicates that the painting was donated to the British National Gallery by M. Zachary in 1929.
 ‘Lost’ is the current status of the painting (grisaille). This original model is still unknown to the art world.
 This is likely a production error made beyond the control of the author, and is not a rare occurrence.
[i] Denis Dutton, The Forger’s Art –Forgery and the Philosophy of Art, essay by Rudolf Arnheim, On Duplication, (University of California Press, 1983), 233-234.
[ii] The Illustrated London News, No. 5159 – Volume 192, March 3 1938, 401.
[iii] Andrea Kirsh and Rustin S. Levenson, Seeing Through Paintings, (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2001), 193.
[iv] Frank Herrmann, Sotheby’s, Portrait of an Auction House, (Chatto and Windus, London, 1980), 367.
[v] Royal Academy Of Arts, Murillo 1617-1682, (Royal Academy of Arts, with gratitude to Her Majesty’s Government, 1983), 193.
[vi] Juan Antonio Gaya Nuňo, L’opera completa di Murillo, (Rizzoli Editore, Milano, 1978), 112.
[vii] Frank Herrmann, Sotheby’s, Portrait of an Auction House, (Chatto and Windus, London, 1980), 368.
[viii] Ludmila Kagané, Batholome Esteban Murillo, The Spanish Master of the 17th Century, (Parkstone / Aurora Publishers, Bournemouth, England, 1995), 23.
[ix] James Stothert, French and Spanish Painters, (Bickers and Son, 1877), 59.
[x] Ibid. 61-62.
[xi]Ludmila Kagané, Batholome Esteban Murillo, The Spanish Master of the 17th Century, (Parkstone / Aurora Publishers, Bournemouth, England, 1995), 70.
[xii] Jeffrey M. Muller, Retaining The Original, Multiple Originals, Copies, and Reproductions, (National Gallery of Art Washington, 1989), 142-143.
[xiii] Denis Dutton, The Forger’s Art – Forgery and the Philosophy of Art, essay by Rudolf Arnheim, On Duplication, (University of California Press, 1983), 236.
[xiv] Clive Bell, Art, (Capricorn Books, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1958) 8 ed., 49.
[xv] James Henry Duveen , Secrets of an Art Dealer, (E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., New York, 1938), 136.
[xvi]Clive Bell, Art, (Capricorn Books, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1958) 8 ed, 43.
[xvii] Sir Oliver Millar, The Queen’s Pictures: Royal Collections Through The Centuries, (National Gallery Publications Limited, 1991), 20.
[xviii] Ralph Mayer, A Dictionary Of Art Terms And Techniques, (Barnes & Noble Books, A Division of Harper & Row, Publishers, 1981), 329-330.
[xix] Jeffrey M. Muller, Retaining The Original, Multiple Originals, Copies, and Reproductions, (National Gallery of Art Washington, 1989), 144-145.
[xx] Denis Dutton, The Forger’s Art – Forgery and the Philosophy of Art, essay by Hope B. Werness, Han van Meegeren fecit, (University of California Press, 1983), 51.
[xxi] Denis Dutton, The Forger’s Art –Forgery and the Philosophy of Art, essay by Hope B. Werness, Han van Meegeren fecit, [Kilbracken, Van Meegeren: Master Forger, p. 127.] (University of California Press, 1983), 51.
[xxii] Royal Academy Of Arts, Murillo 1617-1682, (Royal Academy of Arts, with gratitude to Her Majesty’s Government, 1983), 193.