£165,000 Nicholson painting rendered worthless

Art experts were bamboozled by a £165,000 painting by British artist, Sir William Nicholson, which was rejected by a leading connoisseur. According to Philip Mould, an international dealer, it is now worth “only a few hundred pounds” without the attribution.

BBC Fake or Fortune? presenters, Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould, were astonished to discover the still life of a glass jug and pears had failed to convince the expert that it was authentic. All the signs had pointed to a genuine Nicholson:

  • Scientific analysis undertaken as part of the Fake or Fortune? technical investigations uncovered a link between the painting and Nicholson’s paint box;
  • Researchers matched pigments used in the still life to those in a similar work by Nicholson in Canada; and
  • A handwriting expert claimed to be “100% convinced” that Nicholson himself was responsible for the writing on the back of the painting.

In spite of this evidence, leading expert Patricia Reed concluded that the work could not be attributed to Nicholson. According to Reed, there is no direct evidence which proves that Nicholson was the painter. The expert did not include the work in a catalogue of Nicholson’s oeuvre, which she published in 2011 and suggested instead it may have been painted by one of Nicholson’s students who would reuse some of the artist’s painting boards.

The painting’s owner, Lyn, bought the work for £165,000 from Mayfair gallery, Browse and Darby, in 2006, without any doubt as to its authenticity. She first became suspicious when she consulted Reed’s catalogue and found the still life curiously absent. “Hurt” by what she considered to be a “miscarriage of justice”, she sought the expertise of the Fake or Fortune? team.

The results of the team’s investigations floored its presenters. “I’m genuinely shocked by that verdict”, Bruce stated, “I didn’t expect it. I thought the case was so strong“.

Nicholson was born in Newark-on-Trent in 1872. The son of a Conservative MP, he also worked as a theatre-designer and children’s author. His art students are known as the ‘Sunday Painters’ of which the most famous is perhaps Winston Churchill.

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