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Provenance in Paintings - John Constable?

Recently a small painting by John Constable was given a major feature on BBC’s morning news programme. The vendor’s father had bought the painting as part of a job lot from a Canterbury auction house for £30. We have been offered at least three ‘Constables’, a ‘Mondrian’ and a ‘Rembrandt’ in the short time we have been in operation. Fakes abound where artists make good money, which is understandable, but rather sad. The three ‘Constables’ offered to me were patently fakes, but how does one tell whether it is a fake or not. If you know an artist’s work well, the brushwork and composition of the painting will be the biggest clue. When the TV cameras showed a close up of the Constable, it was relatively easy to tell the painting might well be by Constable, the subject, brushwork and composition all suggested it could be genuine.


Unfortunately that is not good enough for a painting at this level, research has to be carried out to trace the history of the painting; this is usually far from easy and takes a great deal of time. Of course scientific breakdown of the paint has to be done to check its age and pigments that Constable used. Ultimately the painting has to be vetted by the ‘painter’s’ expert(s). Sadly that is also not always enough, experts are in fashion as much as art and some are regrettably prone to accepting financial inducements to verify authenticity. Some years ago I went to an exhibition of famous fakers, who had fooled experts and museums alike. I was astonished how anyone could have been deceived by many of the paintings, they were obvious fakes. So where did it all go wrong?

That is for others to decide, but the original owner of the Constable might well be jolly cross it was sold in a job lot for £30, at least some simple checks could have been carried out.

If you have any paintings that you would like to have properly valued then please contact Jonathan Riley, paintings specialist at Grand Auctions, Folkestone, Kent.