Real or fake? Museum Ludwig probes Russian works of art
An exhibition at the museum in Cologne demonstrates how the authenticity of artworks is determined, with fakes from its own collection also on display.
An interesting orange seller
In the exhibition "Russian Avant-garde in the Museum Ludwig - Original and Fake. Questions, Investigations, Explanations," the museum is taking a deep look at its collection, specifically its Russian avant-garde works. The museum has 600 pieces from this interesting period in art history, spanning 1905 to 1930, including Natalia Gontscharova's "Orange Seller" from 1916.
"Rayonism Red and Blue (Beach)"
Works from the successful Russian avant-garde movement were often falsified and some sold to museums under false pretenses. The Museum Ludwig also fell prey to the scheme and has discovered some inauthentic works in its collection. Now, it has made its investigations public. One of the pieces under scrutiny is Mikhail Larionov's "Rayonism Red and Blue (Beach)."
Digging into details
Experts determine a work's authenticity by analyzing painting techniques of the epoch. Scientific analysis can determine whether synthetic brush hairs can be found in a painting at a time when such brushes did not yet exist. The artist's signatures on each work are examined under a microscope, including Mikhail Larionov's signature on "Rayonism Red and Blue (Beach)" from 1913.
Using X-rays to investigate
To determine if a work is a phony or the real deal, researchers also use infrared images and do analyses of the materials used. In this work by Mikhail Larionov, researchers used an X-ray to help them in their investigation of authenticity. The results of the examinations need not be final — new findings or methods can lead to new conclusions.
"Suprematismus Nr. 38"
Museum Ludwig has so far examined 49 of the 100 paintings in its collection and discovered that 22 works are fakes. Only 27 of them could be verified as originals. One of them was Kasimir Malevich's oil painting "Suprematism No. 38," painted in 1916.
There was unrest in the run-up to the exhibition; the Gmurzynska Gallery in Zurich, which specializes in Russian art, demanded to receive the results of the museum's research in advance. Art patron Peter Ludwig had purchased around 400 of the 600 avant-garde works there. A court rejected the claim. Works in question include Lyubov Popova's "Portrait of a Woman."
An investigation on view
Nadezhda Udaltsova's oil painting "Female Nude," painted 1912/13, is another work currently under investigation. In the exhibition, which runs from September 26 to January 3, 2021, visitors to Cologne's Ludwig Museum can view 27 of the questionable paintings. (Adapted by Sarah Hucal.)