Fake or Fortune is now in its fourth series and I find it compelling viewing. I do not often like televised arts programmes for much the same reason I do not care for Tudor histories, namely the presenter is less than an interface and more the subject. Fake or Fortune could not be guilty of this as the programme’s mission is to evaluate whether a work of art is genuine or not and has two presenters – Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould – who consult art historian Bendor Grosvenor.
The presenters have recourse to a variety of scientific tools like spectroscopy to identify pigmentation and the views of experts to reach a final verdict. They also follow up any clues in the documentation, a reference in a will, the invoice, and interview anyone who might shed light on the provenance. In yesterday’s programme they had to establish whether an Edgar Degas Ballet Dancer could satisfy the cataloguers who give the final verdict of whether the work is genuine and can therefore be included in the definitive catalogue. The work had been initially rejected. After interviews with the surviving members of the family who had once owned it, much forensic examination, and the view of a leading impression validator, it passed the test.
Forgery is a big issue in the art world. My friend Ken Howard had his works copied with their characteristic contre-jour quality by a person signing himself KH. The presenters interviewed a German police officer who tracked down a forger who stained labels in coffee to age them and photoed his partner dressed in period dress alongside the forgery to baffle the expert. That is why, when business people start off building their collection and come to me, I suggest they go to a highly reputable gallery like Richard Green. One such businessman was at first troubled by the commission element of their price but I assured him you are paying for reliable provenance, picture quality, service and an eye that has spotted fine art for nearly 60 years. Beside, auction houses now charge 25% premium.
Fiona Bruce is a exceptional presenter. She has presented the Antique Roadshow, not dissimilar in character , Crimewatch and she asks the questions the intelligent but not necessarily art-educated viewer would pose. Philip Mould is a gallery owner who knows his stuff whilst Bendor Grosvenor is an acknowledged art historian and expert in establishing provenance. If Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould work in some juicy travel trips well who cares and some of the conversations are a bit contrived. It shows that a well made art programme at peak viewing time of 8pm on a Sunday can hold its own with the big budget crime and period dramas.