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F O R G E R I E S  A N D  B O G U S  A T T R I B U T I O N S

Walter Osborne Forgeries

'THE GARDEN'

Adam's Auction Rooms, Dublin; lot 31, June 1st, 2011
 
 Photograph of a fake Walter Frederick Osborne painting.
 
Sotheby’s, London, The Irish Sale, 9th May 2007, Lot 41 as Walter Frederick Osborne RHA 1859-1903, ‘The Garden’,
€228,000, sale contract not enforceable;
Adam's Auction Rooms, Dublin, 1st June 2011, sold for €67,000 plus premium (80,000 app.)

NOTE: A number in chalk on the back of this panel indicates that it might have appeared at auction before the 2007 sale, perhaps in an un-catalogued provincial saleroom. Please check your records for Lot number 391 and contact us if you have any information on this.


Background
The events leading up to the sale in 2011 at Adam's Auction Rooms, Dublin, of the forgery described above are extraordinary. It had previously been offered for sale by Sotheby’s, London, at their Irish Art auction in May, 2007. A client of Milmo-Penny Fine Art bid on the painting in the belief that it was a genuine Walter Osborne painting. Following the sale, we informed our client that the painting was generally regarded as a forgery and were engaged to deal with Sotheby’s regarding the matter. Nicholas Eastaugh, Art Access & Research Ltd, was engaged by Sotheby’s, but his attempts to disprove forgery were unsuccessful. Our case against Sotheby’s was that the original signature of an unidentified artist had been obliterated and that the Walter Osborne 'signature' was forged on top of the repainted bottom right corner of the painting. Our correspondence with Sotheby's lasted for a number of months. Sotheby's eventually accepted our evidence and reimbursed all expenditure. Following this, it appears that Nicholas Eastaugh was engaged by other parties in an attempt to reverse the position.

Although our involvement in this case goes back to 2007, the current chapter began in November 2010 when the Managing Director of James Adam's & Sons Ltd. consulted us regarding the history of the forgery. However, it was not disclosed at that time that Adam's had already commissioned other parties to compile reports on the painting nor was it disclosed that Adam's intended to re-offer the painting for sale. In fact, we were led to believe that the purpose of their investigation was to provide a reason to the vendor for rejecting the forgery.

€228,992 Rejection Letter
During our investigations in 2007, we sought permission to send the painting to an independent laboratory for formal analysis and undertook to pay over to Sotheby’s a sum of €228,992 if the laboratory analysis proved that the painting was genuine. Sotheby’s response to this offer was contained in a letter from their legal department, dated 3rd July 2007, which stated that: “Sotheby’s vendor does not want the picture to be tampered with in any way”. This rejection raised an all to obvious and very telling question; if the painting was genuine, why not allow an independent party establish this?

Hidden Date
When the painting reappeared at Adam's in 2011, reference was made in the catalogue regarding the discovery of a date for the painting. The impression was given that the date was established through the normal course of art historical research. In fact, the discovery was made in 2007 by our experts during an examination of the forgery under infra-red light. The catalogue notes were published by Adam's Auction Rooms in the full knowledge that it was our discovery of this hidden date, which led to the acceptance by Sotheby's that the painting was a forgery. The date is actually invisible to the naked eye and is concealed below the forged Walter Osborne 'signature'. The photograph below shows clearly that the date uncovered by our experts is 1885. We shall see below how Adam's have tried to read this date as 1888 in an effort to match our discovery to their flawed arguments.


Photograph of part of a forged Walter Osborne 'signature'.

Infra red photograph of part of the forged signature. The date of (18)85 is actually covered by recent paint added by the forger and is invisible in normal light. The awkward clumsiness of the signature is another important telltale and is typical of the poor attempts made by forgers when copying signatures. In contrast to this, Osborne's lettering was sharp, precise and perfectly aligned.

Note: In normal light, the eye sees only the surface colours of a painting. Light in the visible band of the spectrum is reflected from underlying layers and is fragmented and intensified in the upper pigment layer. Infra red radiation, in contrast to this, is considerably more penetrating and can reveal underlying features in a painting up to four times greater than that visible to the naked eye.

Eastaugh Reports 
Evidence of the fresh paint and added 'signature' is immediately obvious to the naked eye. This is demonstrated clearly in Photo RMSS 9 below and is confirmed by Nicholas Eastaugh in his 2011 report, which states that the 'signature' sits on top of paint, which is not original. However, having arrived at these vital conclusions, Eastaugh attempts to disprove forgery relying on naive conclusions and a flawed analysis process. However, many of his findings go a long way in establishing the case for forgery. He describes the painting as inscribed rather than signed. This is a highly important distinction, which Adam's Auction Rooms disregarded in their catalogue description.
 
The Art Access and Research Report is essentially an amalgamation of an unpublished document by Nicholas Eastaugh of 2008; an analysis of two paint samples taken in 2011; and Adam's Auction catalogue notes,
which include unreliable references to Walter Osborne's s sketchbooks in the National Gallery of Ireland. [See Link below: Rebuttal of Adam's Auction Catalogue Notes]. The catalogue notes were written for Adam's Auction Rooms by Julian Campbell and it is highly significant that he refused to catalogue the painting for Sotheby’s in 2007. He believed then that the painting was not by Walter Osborne and sought our advice at that time as to what action he should take. We have written to Julian Campbell on a number of occasions over the last few years and expressed concerns about his subsequent cataloguing of this painting and other 'Osborne' paintings. However, he has not addressed any of the issues raised and has asked us not to write to him again.

According to Nicholas Eastaugh, the 2008 report was undertaken "in order to establish the likely date of the painting". This is difficult to understand as the question mark over the painting related to the signature, not the date. In the report, he states that he took paint samples from the top layer of the painting only and it is important to note that these 2008 samples were not subjected to formal Pigment Analysis. His examination at that time was confined to less rigorous tests and visual examination for the purposes of drawing up a list of pigments used in the painting.

Eastaugh's 2011 report is based on the analysis of two paint samples taken from the area of the forged signature. We will show below and in our Rebuttal document that this analysis is flawed. Standard procedure in Pigment Analysis is to take intact samples from all quarters of the painting and it is imperative that these samples include all strata, from the uppermost layers to the ground layers. It is also essential that a sufficient number of pigments are analysed. It is not possible to fully resolve issues as complex as those discussed here on the basis of just two samples, no matter how many cross sections are examined. This was all the more critical with this particular painting as it had already been well established as a forgery and accepted as such by leading specialists, academics and professionals in the Irish art market before it was consigned to Sotheby's in 2007. 

Hidden Painting
One issue, which is not addressed at all in the Eastaugh Report, is the presence of an earlier painting beneath the current one. This hidden painting must have been apparent to Nicholas Eastaugh when he took his samples in 2008. We became aware of the existence of the hidden painting in 2007 and confirmed how obvious its presence was when we examined the painting with a simple 7x eyeglass the day before Adam's 2011 auction. Whatever the status of this hidden painting might be, its investigation was imperative and its exclusion from Eastaugh's 2011 Report renders the document invalid. [See also PDF Link; MPFA Rebuttal; Photo RMSS 4, page 24].

Photograph of a hidden painting below a Walter Osborne forgery.

Green paint from the hidden landscape painting is exposed by a loss to the left of the girl's head in the 'Garden' painting. The edges of the hidden painting have not been completely obscured by the superimposed painting. We can tell from the green paint exposed her; the blue edge at the top of the panel and the earth colours at the bottom that the hidden painting is almost certainly a landscape with trees.

The obvious cause for this particular loss to the superimposed painting is that it was subjected to a heat source to harden the paint. This is discussed in more detail below and in our Rebuttal document. Evidence of baking is in the form of small blisters, which are most noticeable across the top section of the painting. The blister photographed above is larger than the rest. By their nature, blisters of this type are extremely fragile and the slightest knock or abrasion shatters the fragile shell, which then disintegrates and exposes whatever might lie below. The omission of this factor alone renders the Eastaugh Report invalid.

Pigment Analysis
Pigment Analysis has essentially one goal, which is the establishment of Pigment Anachronisms. The renowned pioneer, Dr. Stuart J. Fleming, in his book 'Authenticity in Art - The Scientific Detection of Forgery' describes the process: "How do we use these methods of pigment analysis to decide if a painting is genuine? We look for anachronisms; pigments which were not available at the time when the picture was supposed to have been produced." Eastaugh's report fails on this front. Not one single pigment is identified as anachronistic. In fact, the report establishes the complete opposite. It provides a list of all the pigments used to create the painting establishes that all of these are compatible with a date of 1888, including the paint added by the forger. However, as a conclusion, this is entirely misleading as the report omits the vital fact that all of these pigments have remained in widespread use to this day and that all of these pigments were available to the forger in 2006 or whatever the year might have been.

Cross Sections
We show in our Rebuttal document that the analysis of the cross sections of the two paint samples is flawed. Even to the untrained eye, careful scrutiny of the photographs of the magnified pigment particles reveals distinct differences between the lower layers of the 1885 painting and the modern paint of the upper layers added by the forger. This is evident in the photographs below. Additional anomalies are discussed in
our Rebuttal document on pages 15 to 22. [See PDF Link]



AA&R Plate 16a. Sample 11, normal light.
This photograph shows the stark differences in the granular structure of the pigment particles between the original lower paint layer and the upper layers added by the forger.

Compare for example the large particles of black at A to the miniscule particles in the upper layer added by the forger; the significantly larger and stronger viridian particles, indicated at B in the lower layer; the bright red of the upper layer at C, absent in the lower layer and the larger and stronger red earth in the lower layer.

It is highly significant that the particles in the lower layer are substantially larger than those in the upper layer. This suggests two different manufacturing processes and a significantly earlier date for the lower layer due to the larger size of the particles.

The tone of the medium is a dull grey in the upper layer and a bright grey in the lower layer. This difference has absolutely nothing to do with a “higher concentration” of medium used, as is suggested in the AA&R Report. The different colours of the medium suggest a different paint formula, not a different concentration, which becomes more obvious under ultra violet light.


Photograph of pigment particles from a Walter Osborne forgery.

AA&R Plate 16b. Sample 11, Ultra Violet light.

This is the same sample as 16a above but taken under ultra violet light. The extreme differences between the upper paint layers added by the forger and the lower layers of the original painting are much more obvious here. The two layers are as different as chalk and cheese. Incredibly, it is suggested in the AA&R Report that there is no substantial difference between these two layers and that they were applied by the same painter at the same time and from the same tubes of paint.

Another anomaly, which becomes apparent in these photographs of the adulterated section of the painting, is the absence of the third layer. We will show below that the panel supports a hidden landscape, which we can describe as ‘Layer 1’ for the sake of argument. The 'Garden' painting can be described as ‘Layer 2’ and the added paint and signature as ‘Layer 3’. The only explanation for this can be that the lower layer, which sits on the white ground layer in the photographs, is the original landscape. This adds further credibility to our argument that the ‘Garden’ painting was the subject of an earlier forgery with a spurious name and date of 1885 attached. This name was scraped away when the Osborne ‘signature’ was added.

Photograph of pigment particles from a Walter Osborne forgery.

AA&R Plate 18b. Sample 13, Ultra Violet light.

This cross section shows clearly at A how the paint added by the forger has run down and fills a crevice in the original lower paint layer. A paint run of this type is one of the most common factors we have found in our investigations of forgeries. 


In his section on visual examination of the Cross Sections, Eastaugh naively argues that Walter Osborne himself added the alien paint and ‘signature’ and bases this conclusion on a lack of dirt and varnish between the original lower paint layers and the added paint layers on top. However, there is a far more obvious explanation for this. Any dirt or varnish layers, which might have been present, would have been removed when the original signature was scraped away by the forger. He then suggests that the lower layers seem to have been slightly solubilised and states that: "This could not have happened unless the lower layer was still quite fresh". It does not appear to have occurred to Dr. Eastaugh that a far more likely explanation is that the forger used a solvent to solubilise the original signature before he scraped it away.

Missing Paint Layers
The photographs of the cross section expose another anomaly. According to Nicholas Eastaugh’s Report and the testimony of the vendor’s agent, Philip Davies, there should be seven paint layers in all, yet only three are evident in the photographs of the cross sections. Working from the panel upwards, the layers that should be present are as follows:

1. The ground layer;
2. The hidden landscape [see photo RMSS 4];
3. The Garden painting;
4. The added paint layer [see Eastaugh Report, page 8];
5. The signature [see Eastaugh Report page, 8];
6. A varnish layer [testimony of Philip Davies];
7. Surface dirt layer [testimony of Philip Davies].

Philip Davies is an art restorer and dealer with over thirty years experience in the business. His testimony is as follows. He states that the painting came out of an attic of the vendor’s family and that the painting was brought directly to him by the vendor. He states emphatically that he did not touch the surface of the painting and that he did not clean it or interfere with it in any way. If the painting is supposed to be 128 years old, it is reasonable to expect that an untouched painting of this age would have a varnish layer and a layer of surface dirt on top of the varnish. Nicholas Eastaugh himself makes this very point on pages 3 and 4 of his Report. He also states that it was Osborne who added the alien paint to the original painting; and that he re-signed the painting on top of the alien paint. However, the likelihood that four out of seven layers are missing casts grave doubt over Nicholas Eastaugh’s Report and his conclusion that the painting is free of anomalies.

Ultra Violet Light
The Eastaugh report fails to establish any concrete evidence linking the painting to Walter Osborne. However, it does establish beyond doubt that the forged Walter Osborne ‘signature’ sits on top of paint added to the main body of the painting. However, in his ‘Conclusion’, Nicholas Eastaugh disregards his own findings on the condition of the bottom right corner of the painting. He naively proposes that the reason for the added paint was to obliterate the date and that this was done by Osborne himself because the artist considered it “unseemly” for part of
the date to be covered by the frame. This argument has no merit at all as it is the signature of the unidentified original artist that was removed, not the date, which remains intact below the paint added by the forger. The date is clearly legible under infra-red light but the original signature has disappeared. It was on these grounds that Sotheby's were unable to enforce their contract for sale in 2007.

Eastaugh ignores the fact that the artist died over one-hundred-and-ten years ago. He gives no explanation as to why the paint of the added 'signature' remains soft while the rest of the painting is as hard as glass. He gives no credible explanation for the variation in fluorescence under Ultra Violet light. If the added paint had been applied by Walter Osborne over one hundred years ago, it would fluoresce in a manner identical to the remainder of the painting. Nor does he give any reason for the softness of the added paint on which the signature sits, which he must have noticed when the samples for analysis were taken. He ignores the fact that Osborne's habit was to sign his paintings on the left and, on the rare occasions when he signed on the right, he did so well away from the edge of the canvas so that dates and signatures would not be hidden by the frame. Not one Osborne painting is known where the signature extends to the edge of the support, which is the case in the current painting.

Naive Conclusions
In his conclusions, Nicholas Eastaugh makes a very telling statement. He refers to “the present condition of the painting”, which indicates an acceptance of the fact that the condition of the painting is not normal. He also states that it is “impossible to reconstruct the exact sequence of events”, which led to this state. We don’t agree; simple logic defines the sequence. He states that the materials are consistent with a date of 1888 but again omits the vital fact that they are also consistent with a date of 2006. He repeats his flawed assessment of the signature and makes a false statement about the overpainting of the date. However, he then concedes that the added paint is “of a slightly different tone”. This is followed by the extremely naive argument that the reason for the condition of the painting is that Osborne would have thought it “unseemly” if the edge of a numeral was hidden by the frame. Finally, he concludes that no reasonable doubt can be raised about the painting and the signature “which were executed as a piece”, despite all of the anomalies and inconsistencies. On these pages, and in our Rebuttal document, we have given only a flavour of the flaws we have found in the Eastaugh Report and one can only conclude that there is every reason to doubt the inscription and the painting on which it lies.

Added Paint Layer and Signature
One of the most glaring flaws in the Eastaugh report relates to the bottom right corner of the painting, which is shown in the photograph below. The stark differences between the added paint and the remainder of the painting could not be more obvious. Dr. Eastaugh euphemistically refers to this section as “the present condition of the painting”. Our description is more direct; we simply refer to this as forgery and are reminded of Thomas Hoving’s advice in 1968: "Don't hesitate to use derogatory adjectives in describing forgeries.” [Metropolitan Museum of Art; Bulletin 26- 241, NY]. Dr. Eastaugh describes the added paint as being "of a slightly different tone” but goes on to say that all of this was “executed as a piece”. It is clear from this statement that Dr. Eastaugh is not very well informed of Walter Osborne's working methods. In the 1880s, Osborne put craft above all other considerations. In her National Gallery of Ireland catalogue in 1985, Jeanne Sheehy refers to this aspect of Osborne’s work as follows: “Bodkin has suggested that Osborne was interested in anecdotal paintings, but what actually emerges from a study of the catalogues is that his main interest was in the craft of painting”. If this paint had been added by Osborne, its incorporation into the main body of the work would have been seamless and entirely unnoticeable.



RMSS 9: The added lighter green paint is immediately obvious to the naked eye. The small triangular section of the extreme bottom right shows where the paint layers were scraped away in an earlier forgery investigation.

To conclude in a scientific document that the stark differences in these two triangles is due only to a slight difference in tone is very misleading. The substantial issue has very little to do with tone; the differences are explained by the fact that two different paints were used to paint each section. These two operations took place at least a century apart and the texture; luminosity and reflective qualities of the paint surface also adds significantly to the disparities. The forged signature sits on top of this new paint, which remains soft in comparison to the main body of the work. The small rectangle at the bottom of the photograph shows exposed ground layers where paint samples have been removed. This points to a very strong indication that this panel has been the subject of a previous forgery investigation. [See Link to MPFA Rebuttal; Section C].

The pages above primarily deal with a summary of our Rebuttal document [See PDF Link], which also covers other aspects of the Art Access & Research Report [See AA&R Report PDF Link]. The pages below primarily deal with Adam's Auction catalogue notes. The Rebuttal and the AA&R Report are large pdf files, which might take a few seconds to download.


ADAM'S AUCTION CATALOGUE
We believe that Julian Campbell's notes are unreliable. He refused to catalogue the painting in 2007 because he believed then that the painting was a forgery and based his re-attribution on a thumbnail drawing in Walter Osborne’s record book in the National Gallery of Ireland (Book 6; NGI 19,201). However, he does not appear to have taken into consideration the fact that the same drawing has been available to the public for the last twenty-seven years and that whoever created this forgery had access to the drawing over this period. The same argument applies to A Cottage Garden, an oil painting by Osborne, which Campbell also attempts to link to the painting. When all of the other inconsistencies, anomalies and unanswered questions are combined with this, one can only conclude that the re-attribution is unsafe.

No Provenance
No provenance of any sort is provided in the Adam's Auction catalogue. As one of Ireland's most important painters, a genuine Walter Osborne without a provenance is practically unheard of today. We have been given three entirely different versions of how this painting came into the possession of the vendor. One version was given to Sotheby's by the vendor and two different versions have been given by the dealer she used to consign the painting to Sotheby's. Under these circumstances, one can only conclude that the anecdotal provenance is spurious. In fact, the only documented provenance attaching to this painting is that it was unsold at Sotheby’s in 2007, but this vital information is omitted from Adam's Auction catalogue. An RHA exhibition record of 1891 is given for the painting. However, this actually refers to a genuine Walter Osborne painting and not the current work. Similarly, the literature references given in the catalogue are for the National Gallery of Ireland drawing and Osborne's genuine RHA painting of 1891 rather than the current painting.


A Common Error in Forgery
In his section on 'Errors in Forgery' Fleming makes the following observation. "The absence of [punch] imperfections that 'fingerprint' the original workshop product could be interpreted as evidence of fraudulent intent." In most of the Osborne forgeries we have examined over the decades, it has been possible to identify which painting the forger used to copy the signature. In this case, the signature appears to have been copied from Potato Gathering, a work which passed through our hands some years ago. At first glance, many of Osborne's signatures appear to be identical. However, close examination invariably reveals considerable differences from one genuine signature to the next. This is a common trait found in the study of signatures in general and the reproduction of an identical signature is usually a reliable indicator of forgery.

Photographic comparison of forged Osborned signature.

Top: The current signature, which appears to have been copied from Osborne's Potato Gathering signature of 1888, shown below.

Osborne first used this style of lettering in 1882 and continued to use it until 1892. In typographer's language, the style is referred to as 'Caps and Small Caps'. In the early examples, Osborne's caps were precisely twice the height of his small caps. See for example, Apple Gathering, Quimperlé, 1883; A Tale of the Sea, 1884; Feeding Chickens, 1884-1885; and The Poachers 1884-1885. However, in his signatures between 1887 and 1888, there was a significant reduction in the height of the caps. See for example, Down an Old Court, Newbury, 1887; A Cottage Garden, 1888; and the Potato Gathering signature above. Adam's case is that this is a painting from 1888 but we have shown in our the photo above that the hidden signature we discovered is 1885 and not 1888. The differences between Osborne's signatures in 1885 and 1888 are very distinctive. All of this indicates that, in this case, the forger has chosen the wrong signature to copy. The signature is discussed in more detail in our Rebuttal file [PDF Link page 11].


National Gallery Sketchbooks
In the Adam's Auction catalogue, great reliance is placed on the National Gallery of Ireland drawing mentioned above. This is a very small drawing measuring approximately 3 x 2½ inches. It is informal and devoid of precise detail. It is included with seven others on a single page in a small book, which Osborne used primarily to record details of some of his paintings. We conducted a study of this book in 1986 and compiled an analysis of its content. Our study reveals that Osborne used this book for sketching purposes for a brief period before he converted it to a record book and he continued to use it occasionally for sketches after its conversion. Our study shows that some of his notations were added to the book sporadically and that some of these later notations are not accurate. We can demonstrate an extreme randomness to the manner in which the records were compiled and the page on which the 'Garden' drawing appears is a good example of this. This page can be broken into three categories. The first of these contains three fairly precise drawings: Lost Sheep, RHA 1889; Potato Gathering, Dublin Art Club 1889; and Loiterers, Dublin Art Club 1889. The second category contains four drawings, which show only scant detail: Scarecrows, Dublin Art Club 1889; Rainey Weather, Dublin Art Club 1889; Her Garden, RHA 1891 and Following the Plough, Dublin Art Club, 1889. The third is an enlarged detail of the shepherd boy in Loiterers, squeezed into the left margin. Osborne gives the exhibition venues for five of these works; the size of all seven and the exhibition dates for just two of them. Crucially, the size he gives for Her Garden is different to Adam's painting.
This page is fairly consistent with the remainder of the pages, which he devoted to his records, but there are many other pages which display far wider disparities. Consequently, it is very misleading to refer to any drawing from this book without a detailed explanation of these complexities and a precise description of which category the drawing relates to.

Six Year Gap
Neither the exhibition venue nor the date is given in the book for the 'Garden' drawing so one can only speculate on its precise connection to Osborne's genuine RHA painting of 1891. If the drawing was included by Osborne as a record of his 1891 painting, why did he not indicate this as he did for all of the other drawings on the page?
Furthermore, the date of the current painting is six years removed from Osborne's 1891 RHA exhibit, which undermines Adam's argument entirely. All of the exhibited works in the record book, which are cross-referenced in the Sheehy catalogue, were exhibited within one year of when they were painted. It is highly unlikely that the one exception to this pattern should be Adam's painting, especially when we consider all of the other anomalies and inconsistencies; and the state of the current painting. Moreover, Osborne was not short of paintings in 1891. He exhibited over forty new paintings in that year and, in any event, he would never have sent such an inferior painting to the RHA, which he reserved for his best work. He was at the height of his powers in 1885 and producing masterpieces such as An October Morning and Feeding Chickens. It is inconceivable that this garish work could be by the hand of such an accomplished master, even on a bad day.

Osborne's Untraced Painting
Adam's Auction catalogue refers to “slight differences” between the drawing and the painting. This statement is misleading as close examination reveals far more differences than similarities; at least twenty in all. The most significant of these are: the scale of the buildings in the background and how they relate to the figure of the girl in the foreground; in the thumbnail, the buildings are set much further back, which is most apparent in the relationship between the girl’s head and the doorway; the gable of the annex to the left is missing in the thumbnail; the chimney stack to the left of the annex; the chimney stack to the right; the tiled porch roof over the doorway; the abutment to the right of the porch and the down pipe are also missing; there are also significant differences in the roof; the sky line; the washing hung out to dry; the tall tree to the right; the girl’s apron; the detail of the top window; the position of the fence; the angle of the girl’s arms; her hat; and the neckline of her dress.



Viewing the two items side by side emphasises the extent of the differences.

These extensive disparities do not fit with Osborne’s reputation as an extremely sharp observer of detail. Compare for example two of the other drawings on the same page, Potato Gathering and Loiterers. In both of these, the detail relates precisely to the finished paintings with hardly one single discrepancy. Considering all of this, it is most likely that Osborne's untraced painting of 1891 was quite different to the Adam's forgery.

Wrong Size
The style of this drawing conforms to that which Osborne used for very rapid sketches. Examples of these are illustrated in Sheehy's National Gallery of Ireland catalogue,1985, pp.162 -176. When we combine this observation with various other pointers in our 1986 analysis, we can arrive at certain conclusions regarding this particular drawing. It is fairly obvious that the drawing was not made at the same time as Lost Sheep and the two other drawings described above. It is also clear that the drawing was not done as a preparatory sketch. However, it is safe to conclude that it relates to Osborne's RHA painting of 1891 and that the drawing was added to the record book after 1891. We can not be sure how precise the drawing is as Osborne's RHA painting of 1891 has not been traced.

Osborne's 1891 painting measured 10x13 inches. These are the measurements recorded by Osborne himself in his record book. The problem with Adam's forgery is that it is painted on a factory made panel measuring 10x14 inches. We can tell this by the machined bevel applied to all four sides of the back of the panel. This is an 'off the shelf' stock panel sold by artist’s suppliers. These observations are highly significant as we can show that it is extremely unlikely that Osborne was mistaken in his notes regarding the size. Between the years 1884 and 1891, Osborne used a 13 inch support on at least eleven occasions. These measured 13x10; 13x16 and 13x19 inches and were probably cut from mahogany door panels, bevelled on two sides only. This observation alone completely undermines Adam's argument, which relies entirely on the National Gallery drawing. Julian Campbell rejected the painting in 2007 and has based his reattribution on the NGI drawing and nothing else. However, he now refuses to stand over his reattribution.


Osborne's Style and Working Methods
The Adam's Auction catalogue notes refer to the painting as a companion picture to A Cottage Garden (National Gallery of Ireland), which is misleading. The paintings are not companion pieces at all. In fact, the only real similarity between the two works is that they both illustrate a cottage garden. The paintings differ substantially in size; perspective; angle of view; interpretation of subject matter; and architectural detail, especially the high wall that divides the cottage door from the garden in the NGI painting. However, the most crucial differences are found in technique and style. Having re-examined Adam’s forgery in 2011, an immediate comparison was made to A Cottage Garden at the National Gallery. The differences in colour, surface texture and style were immediately apparent. One of the most striking features of the National Gallery painting is the vividness of the colouring and the way in which the paint is fluidly applied in a loose, Post-Impressionist manner. All of this is in total contrast to the dull and laboured handling of Adam's forgery, which is devoid of any merit whatsoever. Another important observation is the complete absence of any hint of the square brush technique in A Cottage Garden. Adam's Auction Rooms also suggest in their catalogue that the child has been skilfully integrated into the painting. She is, in fact, dull, awkward and badly painted in every single aspect. The brushwork is laboured and the colouring confused and garish, all of which is entirely remote from Osborne’s highly accomplished style of 1885.

We have examined a great many autograph Walter Osborne paintings over the last thirty-five years. His oils from the 1880s display a texture which is highly distinctive, even though it might vary from painting to painting. Part of this texture derives from the craquelure, a pattern of cracks which develop in the paint as the solvents dry out. Osborne’s craquelure varies from painting to painting, depending on size, support, date and other variables but they are sufficiently distinctive to enable categorising into particular types. This leads to another serious flaw in the arguments being put forward for this painting. There is no pattern of craquelure visible to the naked eye, which might relate to Osborne’s work of the period.

Adam's inability to accurately survey this painting is repeated throughout their catalogue notes, the unreliability of which are graphically demonstrated in the following contradiction: “several distinctive characteristics of Osborne’s plein-air paintings of this period . . . employing a ‘square-brush’ style . . . ”. This description is contradicted just two paragraphs later, where the painting is described as one aligned to Sargent’s Impressionist style, a manner of painting far removed from that of the square brush method. On top of this, Osborne was not a disciple of the square brush. According to Jeanne Sheehy (Osborne Exhibition Catalogue, NGI, 1983), he employed the technique only occasionally as he was “too much of a draughtsman to allow the paint to take over”.

The Spence Label
The practise of linking paintings to obscure drawings and fake provenances is well known and the adulteration of labels is also a common practise in forgery. In Adam's reference to this label in their catalogue, one might get the impression that Walter Osborne was their sole customer. In fact, almost every artist working in Dublin in the 1880s, amateurs included, bought their materials there at one time or another. Nicholas Eastaugh refers to this label and to the panel in his report but he says no particular study of it was undertaken. This is unfortunate as it is the back of a painting, which usually presents the most relevant information on the history of a painting. Even so, Eastaugh can hardly have missed the lot number and that distressed condition of the writing on the label. it appears that an attempt have been made to obliterate this writing, perhaps with the aid of sandpaper.

Photograph of a label on a Walter Osborne forgery.

Framers label of J.D. Spence, Dublin. The label has been tampered with and the lot number 391 is clearly visible.

It might seem strange that we have chosen to illustrate the label on its side. However, this is actually how it appears on the back of the panel. The only logical explanation for this is that the label relates to another painting hidden below the current one. We show further details of this in our Rebuttal document [Photo RMSS 4, p.24]. The edges of the hidden painting have not been completely obscured and we can tell from these that the hidden painting is a landscape, which explains the orientation of the label.

A Previous History: Lot 391
Our investigations in 2007 discovered that blisters on the paint surface indicate that this panel has been subjected to a heat source, presumably to artificially harden the paint. We have also established that this took place before the Osborne signature had been added. The baking of paintings to harden them is a common procedure in forgery and when this is combined with the edge scrapings shown in Photo RMSS 9, one can only conclude that this panel has a previous history as a forgery. It is not possible to tell at the moment if the painting was passed off then as an Osborne or as the work of another artist. However,  judging from the degree of oxidisation and other telltales, the painting was probably sold at a local Irish or UK auction some twenty to thirty years ago and we would like to hear from anyone who has any information on this. The description might have read: 'Lot 391; Girl in a Cottage Garden; oil on panel, 14 x 10 inches; signed bottom right and dated 1885'.

NOTE: Most of the paintings referred to above are illustrated in Jeanne Sheehy's 1983 National Gallery of Ireland catalogue.


KERULEC FARMYARD

Photograph of a painting by Nathaniel Hill.

Oil on canvas, 25 x 18 inches
Adam’s/Bonhams, Dublin, 8th Dec 2009, Lot 59;
Phillips, London, 21st Nov. 2000, Lot 22;
Phillip’s, London, 22nd July 1980, Lot 57

A painting with another gouged signature, this is one of a number of Nathaniel Hill paintings, which masquerade as the work of Walter Osborne. However, in this case, great emphasis is laid on the provenance of the painting and a bold statement is made at the top of the catalogue page describing a previous owner as the brother of Walter Osborne. However, careful reading of the catalogue notes reveals that this is nothing more than a probability, if even that. The notes are again supplied by Julian Campbell, who states that: "It appears to have belonged to his brother Charles." There is no documentation, no signature, no exhibition record, no entry in Sheehy's catalogue, and no mention of the fact that the painting was unsold at auction in London in 2000.

The correspondence copied below describes the background detail. On the 12th December 2009, we wrote to Adam’s and to Bonhams, London, as follows:

“Regarding lot 59 in your sale on the 8th Dec., I have no doubt that this painting is by Nathaniel Hill and that it is one of a group of paintings which had their identities changed to that of Osborne in the early 1900s. I examined the painting with an eyeglass and discovered what appears to be part of an NH monogram partially obscured by over-paint in the bottom left corner. The part of the lettering which can be seen is consistent with that of Hill. It also occurs to me that if the painting was by Osborne, he would have signed it. Apart from this, the style and manner of the entire composition is comparable with other Hills which I have examined and alien to Osborne’s work. The suggested provenance carries no weight as it is quite likely that Osborne had paintings by Hill in his collection and that the Rev. Charles Osborne would also have collected his work. Hill and Osborne were lifelong friends. I have no doubt that if the painting was sent to me, I could establish it as an autograph work by Nathaniel Hill, which would allow the painting to be sold for much the same price as was suggested in your catalogue.”

On the 19th April 2010, we wrote to Julian Campbell as follows:

“Controversy has arisen again over the attribution of certain Osborne paintings and I now find myself yet again in correspondence with Adam's, Stephen’s Green . . . . The two paintings illustrated below (Farmyard, Kerulec and a detail of Farmyard, Keramperchec) are unmistakeably by the same hand. Please state unequivocally whether you agree with this statement or not.”

We received no reply from Julian Campbell, no reply from Adam’s and no reply from Bonhams. However, when I pointed out the remnants of the monogram to Adam’s at their salerooms, the response was that they never believed the painting was by Osborne in the first place!


BRETON COURTYARD

Photograph of a Nathaniel Hill painting forged as a Walter Osborne.

Oil on canvas 19 1/2 x 11 1/2 inches
Adam's Auctions, Dublin, 11th Dec. 1991, lot 89

‘A Breton courtyard’ was sold by Adam’s Auctions, Dublin, on the 11th December, 1991, lot 89. Described in the catalogue as a signed and dated painting of 1883, the provenance was given as: M. J. Flynn, Dublin; John Meagher; purchased from the London dealer Henry Vaughan in the late 1920s. However, the provenance is of little value as there is a crucial thirty-five year gap between the date of painting and its arrival with Vaughan. We don’t know where the painting was in the intervening years but it seems very likely that during this interlude the identity of the artist was changed from Nathaniel Hill to that of the more valuable Walter Osborne. Having examined the painting, we formed the view that the signature was a forgery. As we have shown above, Osborne's method of signing his paintings during this period was very precise. The fact that this clumsy signature was so much out of alignment was a immediate giveaway. When we drew this to the attention of the auctioneers, they alerted intending purchasers to the fact that the signature was forged.

The controversy was recorded by Scott Reyburn in the Antiques Trade Gazette on the 15th February, 1992. The article described how the painting compared to one of Nathaniel Hill’s masterpieces, Sunshine, Brittany: a signed and dated work of 1884, exhibited at the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1885 and, to all intents and purposes, a variant of Adam's courtyard scene. Both paintings are oil on canvas and are approximately the same size. A tracing of Hill's Sunshine, Brittany, superimposed over the courtyard painting, revealed a fairly precise coincidence of all the main architectural features indicating that both paintings emanated from the same drawing.

There is a distinct difference between Hill's approach to subject matter and that of Osborne. Hill was preoccupied with architectural detail such as brickwork and pointing whereas Osborne was more concerned with the motif. Buildings were incorporated in his paintings as a backdrop against which he could best display his figures. One of his best known paintings, Feeding Chickens, is a prime example of this approach. Another distinguishing factor between both artists is the manner in which they handled foliage and greenery. Osborne was indifferent to this aspect of his work, which is also demonstrated in Feeding Chickens. Hill, on the other hand, approached this with much care and deliberation. This is demonstrated in the flowering branches, which grow against the wall above the stairway and compare with those in Sunshine, Brittany and other works of the period such as Goose Girl in a Breton Farmyard, for example. However, the main key to separating both of these artists is the manner in which they portrayed staffage. It was very much Hill’s weakness and perhaps Osborne’s forte. In the examples discussed here, Hill's figures are typically stiff and wooden and are incomparable with the naturalism shown by Osborne in paintings such as Feeding Chickens and Apple Gathering, Quimperlé.

Jeanne Sheehy
According to Jeanne Sheehy, she made an attribution to Osborne on stylistic grounds when she saw the courtyard painting in 1970. She noted that the painting was done at a slightly different angle to Sunshine, Brittany and thought that the figure of the girl was characteristic of Osborne. However, she proclaimed that it was “not uncommon for pictures to be attributed to Walter Osborne which are by other Antwerp painters” and that it was easy to confuse the work of Hill and Osborne from the Antwerp and Breton days. As an example, she pointed out that number 32 in her catalogue was in fact by Nathaniel Hill and not by Osborne.

In a report which she wrote on the work in 1991, she said that she had no clear recollection of the ‘breton courtyard’ but that it must have been signed when she saw it twenty two years earlier. She continued: “I had not got the technical expertise to detect a wrong signature, and I would probably not have looked very closely at the signature if the picture itself seemed right. I based my judgements on the pictures, rather than the signatures, since it was not at all uncommon to find signatures on duff pictures.” She suggested that the style of signature was right for the period but went on to say: “I accept your reservations about the signature”.

NGI Drawing
There is a related Osborne drawing in the National Gallery of Ireland, which is worth consideration here. We know that Hill and Osborne painted side by side at the same locations in Brittany and in England. The NGI drawing suggests that Osborne painted another version of the courtyard but the disparities described below indicate that it is not the painting sold by Adam’s in 1991. The most obvious inconsistencies are in the size of the canvas; the title of the painting; and the exhibition venue given by Osborne in the notations attached to his drawing. He described the size of his painting as 18 x 12 inches whereas the Adam’s canvas measures 19 ½ x 11 ½ inches, which is quite a considerable discrepancy. In his sketchbook, Osborne described the title of his drawing not as a Breton courtyard but as Feeding Time with an indication that it was exhibited at the RHA in 1883. However, neither Feeding Time nor A Breton Courtyard appeared at the RHA under his name. However, there is an explanation. 

Central to Adam's painting is a girl feeding poultry in a courtyard, which we have identified as the home and workshop of the sabot maker in the Breton village of Pont-Aven. However, there are substantial differences between the girl in the painting and the girl in Osborne’s sketchbook. In the drawing, the girl is placed to the left of the doorway whereas, in the painting, she is placed to the right of the doorway, just as she is portrayed in Hill’s Sunshine, Brittany. She wears a distinctive Pont-Aven bonnet whereas the girl in the drawing wears a Dutch style bonnet, the importance of which we shall demonstrate below. The girl in the painting is portrayed in a stiff wooden pose, typical of Nathaniel Hill, as she scatters feed for the poultry with her right hand; a basket cradled under her left arm. In Osborne’s drawing, the girl is shown at an entirely different angle. Her right hand is in the basket in much the same way as he portrayed the girl in his famous Evesham painting of 1884, Feeding Chickens. We shall see below the importance of this observation.

Further Discrepancies
The girl in the painting feeds a clutch of four chickens and two ducks scattered in a half circle. In the drawing, the poultry are gathered together and include only three chickens and two ducks shown separately to her left. This is essentially a different composition. Similar disparities are apparent in the detail of the buildings. The most fundamental of these is the opening into the ground floor interior. In the drawing, this opening is framed by a wide stone jamb, which is missing in the painting. In the drawing, ten steps lead to a landing whereas there are only seven steps in the  painting. The infill beneath the stairway is triangular in the painting as it is devoid of the landing shown in the drawing. The various planks, which lie against the building in the painting, are absent in the drawing; the dormer window is missing and the slated canopy over the landing is only half the width. The window to the upper right and the geraniums, which sit on the sill, are also missing. When we make similar comparisons to Nathaniel Hill’s Sunshine, Brittany, we find that all of the architectural features and incidental detail match precisely. When all of this is taken into consideration, one can only conclude that the Breton courtyard sold by Adam’s Auctions in 1991 was painted by Nathaniel Hill.

Feeding Chickens
We have already established that the title Osborne gave to his drawing, Feeding Time, never appeared at the RHA. However, both the title and the motif are inextricably linked to one of Osborne’s most important works, Feeding Chickens, painted in Evesham in 1884. Far from abandoning his drawing, it appears that Osborne developed it further on his arrival in England and the sketch, which began life as a Dutch girl feeding chickens in Holland, progressed to a Breton girl engaged in the same pastime and finally emerged as his Evesham masterpiece. This might also explain the reason why Nathaniel Hill was inspired to paint what was effectively a second version of Sunshine, Brittany. Working side by side, Hill would have been aware of Osborne’s extensive planning and preparatory work for the Evesham painting and it is unlikely that Hill would have witnessed the process without being influenced by it. In the execution of his second version, Hill appears to have re-deployed his working drawings for Sunshine, Brittany and replaced his original motif with one inspired by Osborne’s masterpiece. Alternatively, Hill might have completed the Breton courtyard Brittany and given Osborne the inspiration for his Evesham painting.

Nathaniel Hill's Drawing
Our research establishes beyond doubt that the courtyard painting and Sunshine, Brittany were worked from the same drawing. However, the real key to separating Osborne and Hill is found is the detail of the paintings. In the paintings discussed here, perhaps the best pointer is the identical handling of the pot of geraniums on the first floor window sill. This particular detail is far too fussy for Osborne. Moreover, any suggestion that Osborne would painstakingly mimic this particular detail of Hill's work is without foundation. In summary, an observation made by Julian Campbell in 1993 is worth repeating here. In comparing Hill's Sunshine, Brittany to Adam's Breton courtyard, his conclusion was that “the closeness in style is astonishing”. The lack of a signature suggests that this painting was never exhibited. It should now be regarded as a rediscovered Nathaniel Hill, which we shall describe provisionally as Feeding Poultry in a Pont-Aven Courtyard.  

Note: Julian Campbell has recently confused these paintings with another Walter Osborne from the same period. Unfortunately, he refuses to clarify the matter.


EILEEN LE POER TRENCH

Another ‘Osborne’ was withdrawn immediately by Whyte’s at their sale in Dublin on the 30th September 2013, as soon as they became aware that the work was a forgery. The painting appeared to have a good provenance. However, it failed the simple tests on provenance set out above. The rules are simple and are worth repeating here. For a provenance to have any real value, it must be fully documented; trace back to the artist with no missing links; and must not rely on hearsay, suppositions or guesswork. We shall see below that this painting did not trace back to the artist; had no documentation; no exhibition record; no link to the artist; and was missing a vital link in its auction history. In fact, the documented history of this painting goes back no further than 1999, although anecdotal evidence places it in the Murnaghan collection by 1960 or so. We have also established that the sitter is Eileen Mary Le Poer Trench, as the portrait can be compared to a photograph of her sister, Emily, taken some years later.

In his catalogue notes, Julian Campbell vaguely suggests that Osborne might have known the sitter as an art student. However, there is no record of any connection between Osborne and Eileen Le Poer Trench. She is not recorded as a friend or acquaintance of Osborne and the suggestions of a link are groundless. Eileen was an amateur artist and, considering her age, it is highly unlikely that he would have known her as a student. Many thousands of Edwardian ladies were taught to paint, just as they were taught needlework, languages and music. He also suggests that the portrait is informal. However, the fine dress and the pose of the sitter suggest otherwise and the size of the canvas was standard for a formal portrait in 1903. Apart from this, Osborne’s late portraits, whether formal or informal, were invariably set in a detailed interior or against an elaborate still life.

The painting was described in the 2013 catalogue as follows:

Walter Frederick Osborne RHA ROI (1859-1903)
Portrait of Eileen M. Le Poer Trench, 1903
Estimate: €20000-30000
Signed and dated upper left; with sitter's name and dated [July] on reverse;
Oil on canvas, 30 by 25inches;
The Collection of James A. & Alice Murnaghan, Fitzwilliam Street, Dublin;
Their Sale, Christie's-Mealy's, Dublin, 14 October 1999, lot 468;
Private collection


The failure to identify this portrait as a forgery in 1999 meant that the painting entered the record books through Christie’s catalogue, which attached an entirely undeserved authenticity to the painting. Christie's details regarding the inscription on the back of the canvas were seriously flawed as the date of the painting, July, 1903,  was omitted. The problem is that Walter Osborne died in April,1903, three months earlier. The issue was fudged again in the 2013 catalogue, as is shown above. On top of this, the 2013 catalogue states that Eileen Le Poer Trench was born circa 1884. However, she was actually born a year earlier, on the 19th July,1883. The date is highly significant as it points to the reason for the portrait; a commission to mark Eileen’s twentieth birthday, which was undoubtedly the reason for the July,1903 inscription.



Photograph of a forged Walter osborne painting.

This is a fine portrait and it is a shame to have to brand it as a forgery. However, there is a simple remedy in this case. Remove the forged signature and identify the actual artist. The manner is close to that of Henry Jones Thaddeus but there were many portrait painters working in England in this style in 1903.

Moreover, the inscription on the back is not in Osborne’s hand, nor is the ‘signature’ and date on the front of the canvas. The lettering style strives to imitate Osborne’s cursive italics but it is a crude and clumsy attempt. We examined the signature under a spotlight and found that not one single letter matched Osborne’s highly distinctive hand of the 1900s. Furthermore, Osborne would not have applied his signature in dark blue on a dark brown background. This renders the ‘signature’ practically invisible in normal light, which is a devious technique often employed by forgers. It appears also that the forger could not resist the temptation to gild the lily. There was no necessity whatsoever to append a date to the signature, as this is clearly indicated on the back on the canvas.

Forged Signature
There is an even more damning aspect to this forgery. It is all too apparent from the front of the painting that it had been re-stretched on a 24x20 inch chassis at some time in the past. The paint losses caused by tacking it to a smaller chassis are evident and the lines of the turning edges remain clearly visible. It is the presence of these lines that lead us to an indication of forgery, as the position of the ‘signature’ corresponds to the 24x20 chassis and not the original 30x25 inch canvas. To put it another way, this painting was signed at the top left edge of the re-stretched canvas, which must have occurred many years after Osborne’s death and before the painting entered the Murnaghan collection. The canvas was later re-stretched to its original size of 30x25 inches.

One of the most sinister aspects of this affair relates to the missing link in the provenance. This portrait was re-sold by Christie’s, London, after their Irish Sale in May, 2007. Details of its inclusion in the auction were omitted from the 2013 catalogue. In the Irish Sale catalogue, the crucial omission of 1999 was corrected and the date of the painting was given as July,1903. Nevertheless, the 2007 sale raises a fundamental question: at the height of the boom in the Irish art market, why was this painting sold for £10,000 when it had cost almost €70,000 in 1999?


AMSTERDAM FORGERY
Another painting withdrawn immediately on notification is the 'Osborne' laundry scene shown below. The painting was catalogued by Gormleys Art Auctions for their November 2013 Dublin sale. The auctioneers now accept that they did not properly inspect some of the consigned items and placed far too much reliance on the provenance of these. A label on the back of the painting suggests that it might have been exhibited at the Institute of Painters in Oils in 1894 under the title ‘On the Canals, Amsterdam’. However, the painting was also exhibited the following year at the RHA under the same title with a price of £10-10-0. This effectively rules the painting out as Osborne would have sought four or five times this amount for a 20x26 inch canvas. Furthermore, Osborne’s four visits to Amsterdam were very brief and might not have been made primarily for the purposes of painting. Only three other Amsterdam works from the period are known and each one appears to have been painted on a separate trip. All of these are small format and consistent with an artist travelling light.

Photograph of a 'Walter Osborne' forgery.

This painting bears a spurious W. Osborne 'signature' bottom left, in imitation of Osborne's signature prior to the caps and small caps of 1892.

Apart from this, the subject matter, style and handling of the current painting are entirely alien to Osborne’s work from any period; the costume suggests the first decade of the 20th century; the scene is set on a tidal river as suggested by the height of the quayside and not on a canal; and the background buildings suggest a rural setting and not Amsterdam.

The label also describes a provenance to the collection of the Earl of Scarborough, Sandbeck Park, Yorkshire and a purchase date of 1974. However, we can see the absolute futility of this as the gap of eighty years or so renders this provenance void. Great reliance might have been placed on such an illustrious provenance but this demonstrates yet again that the collector, dealer or auctioneer of any work has no bearing at all on authenticity, which is established uniquely by the artist.


A VENETIAN PAINTING
Adam's Auction Rooms, Dublin; lot 80, 7th May, 1980

 Photograph of a painting of Venice miscatalogued as being by Osborne.
 
Venice: Artist unknown, oil on canvas 48x72 inches

Our files on bogus cataloguing and forgeries date back to 1980 when Adam's Auction Rooms offered for sale a painting catalogued as a Walter Osborne. The painting was described as 'A View in Venice'; "One of the well known "Venetian Pictures". Others are in the collections of the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin and the Kildare Street and University Club." This description was followed in capital letters by:
 
REFERENCES: JEANNE SHEEHY - "WALTER OSBORNE" (Appendix I).
 
This all sounds very impressive and convincing and must have given great comfort to intending buyers. Taken out of context, the slickness of this bogus catalogue description became apparent only on checking the actual reference. On page 58 of Sheehy's monologue, the true status of the painting is revealed as follows:

"The problem is that Osborne painted from observation, and there is no record of his having been to Venice. There are no pencil or watercolour sketches of the city, as there are for example of Osborne's trip to Spain, and there are no references in contemporary catalogues . . .  It is possible that they were done - possibly as Bodkin suggests [1921] from photographs as a decorative scheme and subsequently split up. There is no documentary evidence to suggest that Osborne carried out such a scheme. Not one of them has a provenance going back as far as Osborne's lifetime. It has been suggested, and this seems to me by far the most likely explanation, that they were done as a decorative scheme for an Irish house, by a painter from outside Ireland."
 
It is patently obvious that Sheehy was of the view that the painting was not by Osborne and to use a carefully selected quotation taken out of context as a reference to encourage buyers was no better than cataloguing a known forgery with a forged signature.

 

SHEEP IN A FIELD
Adam's Auction Rooms, Dublin; lot 28, 14th December, 1994


 Photograph of a painting of sheep miscatalogued as being by Osborne.
 
 Sheep in a field at dusk:
artist unknown, oil on canvas 20x27 inches.
 
Jeanne Sheehy was particularly upset by this type of cataloguing and showed her exasperation when she wrote to Adam's on the 8th December, 1994, in the following manner:
 
    "I am rather worried about the painting unequivocally attributed to Walter Osborne, No.28, on p.13, of the catalogue of your sale, Wednesday 14th December. The catalogue gives the impression that the picture has been authenticated by me - it has not, and I do not recall ever having seen it. Catalogue No. 402, p.137, of my book of 1974 is 'Moonrise', but I do not know of any evidence linking it to your picture - do you? It was listed as having been exhibited at the RHA and the Institute of Painters in Oil-Colours, and reviewed in a newspaper, but, as my entry makes clear, its whereabouts were unknown, and the only evidence for its existence is the printed documents.
    I hope you will make it clear to your prospective purchasers that I have never seen, nor authenticated, 'Sheep in a field at dusk'. On the basis of the photograph I would have strong doubts about an attribution to Walter Osborne - the palette is too limited for a late Osborne, and it is not "of the Impressionist type". I think you should have the signature checked.
    As my reputation is in question, I am circulating this letter to experts and dealers whom I know to be interested in Osborne."
 
The newspaper article referred to above appeared in the Irish Independent on the 12th of March, 1894 and described the genuine Osborne Moon Rise as a: "well treated picture of the Impressionist type". Adam's Auction Rooms 'Sheep in a field at dusk' clearly has no connection to the Osborne work and is more in the style of Joseph Malachy Kavanagh. It had been sold previously by the Adam Auctions in 1973, a fact curiously omitted from 1994 catalogue. 


NOTES:
The sale of forgeries has tarnished the entire trade. This is unfair on the majority of auctioneers and dealers who go to great lengths to authenticate whatever they offer for sale. The effect that this has on the market is far reaching. However, there is a growing  movement intent on exposing these activities and bringing to the attention of the public of the pitfalls involved in buying art and antiques at random. The items we will add to this page over the coming months are utter forgeries, mainly in the form of period paintings with forged signatures and bogus provenances.

Buying any painting that does not have an unbroken provenance tracing directly to the artist is a highly speculative venture. The chances of it being genuine are less than fifty per cent. For a provenance to have any value, it should be fully documented; trace back directly to the artist; have no missing links; and should not rely on hearsay, suppositions, guesswork or declarations from previous owners or relatives of the artist.

Attributions that rely solely on the observations of academics should also be avoided. We have yet to find a historian with a sufficiently trained eye and the skills necessary to analyse a painting layer by layer and pigment by pigment. Far better to find someone with at least twenty years specialist experience in the particular School.

The condition of the painting is also a vital aspect and it is a mistake to attach too much value to a condition report supplied by an auction house, large or small. Some of the larger auction houses offer condition reports supplied in bulk by an associated assessor or Department specialist. We have found reports of this type to be very unreliable, even though they might occasionally point to obvious defects. Seek out an independent conservator with no connection to the auction house or consult a recognised expert.


 See also: O'Meara Forgery  :  Van Gogh Forgery  :  Misattributions


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