Fake or Fortune tonight explores Arshile Gorky painting – is it real?

Fake or Fortune is back with a new episode on BBC One tonight featuring a Sir Joshua Reynolds painting.

In the latest episode of Fake or Fortune, Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould delve into a mysterious canvas that may have the fingerprints of abstract expressionism pioneer Arshile Gorky all over it.

The stakes are high, with potential millions in the balance, as the owner, Liza Dunluce, seeks to uncover the true identity of the obscured artwork.

Hosts Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould pose with Gorky painting
Hosts Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould pose with Gorky painting

The story behind the painting is as intriguing as the art itself. Liza’s late husband, Alexander, received the canvas as a gift in 1965 when he served as the keeper of conservation at the Tate Gallery.

A renowned restorer of paintings, Alexander was entrusted with the task of removing the white paint layer from the artwork, which was believed to be a piece by Gorky.

However, the painting’s restoration couldn’t be completed in time for a major Gorky retrospective, prompting the artist’s widow, Agnes ‘Mougouch’ Magruder, to bestow the work upon him.

Now, nearly sixty years later, the painting remains shrouded in uncertainty, concealed beneath layers of white paint. Frustrated by the lack of progress in identifying the piece, Liza seeks the assistance of the Fake or Fortune team.

The Courtauld Institute’s Professor Aviva Burnstock conducts technical analysis to determine a safe cleaning solution. A cross-section of the canvas reveals that the white top layer consists of a different, cheaper household paint, distinct from the artist’s more refined materials beneath. To tackle the restoration, conservators Katya Belaia-Selzer and Eppie Petrina are commissioned, with hopes of safely dissolving the household paint without harming the original artwork.

Dates on the back of the canvas indicate a creation period between 1928 and 1931, yet the visible remnants of the composition do not align with Gorky’s early geometric and primary colour-driven style. Instead, it bears resemblance to Gorky’s later 1940s work, a period in which he established his distinctive and revered style.

The value of a Gorky painting from the 1940s could reach several millions, provided it receives authentication from the Gorky Foundation. However, a dramatic twist emerges when the Gorky family gets involved. Gorky’s granddaughter, Saskia Spender, reveals that the artist occasionally used white paint as part of his creative process, sometimes partially covering his works.

Saskia cautions that if Liza proceeds with the removal of the white layer, the Gorky Foundation might refuse to authenticate the work, regardless of whether it was created by the artist or not. This dilemma places Liza and the investigative team at an ethical crossroads: should they erase the artist’s applied paint or leave the artwork in a perpetual state of uncertainty?

Fake or Fortune airs on BBC One on Tuesday, 17 October at 8PM.

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