Doubts over the work’s attribution to Lucas Cranach the Elder prompted French authorities to seize it in March this year as part of a judicial investigation into a string of potential fake Old Master paintings. The Paris magistrate overseeing the investigation commissioned French technical experts to undertake a detailed examination and analysis of the contested painting. Now the Princely Collections of Liechtenstein which owns the ‘Venus’ has released a document online offering their own interpretation of the expert findings and dismissing the suggestion that it is a fake.
The document records a meeting which took place on 19 October 2016 at which the director and head of conservation of the Liechtenstein Collections presented their observations on the contested painting to the French expert committee. Their observations address various questions raised by the experts in relation to the work including the pigments used, the date of the oak panel and variation in the craquelé. While recognising the credibility of the scientific team’s research, the Liechtenstein Collections took a divergent view on the interpretation of the results. According to the online statement it ‘arrived at the clear conclusion that the present panel of “Venus” can by no means be considered a recent forgery’.
This latest contribution to the attribution debate contrasts with two recent expert analyses presented to the Liechtenstein Collections just over a fortnight ago. The first is a report by art historian Dieter Koepplin declaring the ‘Venus’ to be a forgery. The second is a statement given to French police in September this year by Cranach scholar Gunnar Heydenreich in which he reaches the same conclusion. Despite these findings, the Liechtenstein Collections are holding fast to their belief that the painting is an authentic Cranach.
Purchased by the Liechtenstein Collections from dealers Bernheimer/Colnaghi for €7 million (£6.24 million) in 2013, the disputed ‘Venus’ is one of several paintings currently under investigation by French authorities. Up to 25 forgeries of Old Master works including a Saint Jerome by Parmigianino and a portrait by Frans Hals may be in circulation.
It remains unclear when details of the French judicial investigation into the suspected forgeries will be revealed to the public. We will update you with any developments.