Friday, July 07, 2006

Did the Met spend $50 million on a fake? (UPDATED)

Columbia University art history professor James Beck says they did. Beck says the painting, "hailed as a 14th-century masterpiece when it was bought last year," is a "19th-century fake." The full story is here. (Here is the image, and a page from the Met's website about it.) My guess is that, as a practical matter, it's extremely unlikely that the Met would bring a lawsuit, but, at least in theory, Professor Beck is treading in dangerous water. The most famous "unsolicited public comment" case is Hahn v. Duveen from 1929, in which Duveen looked at a photograph of a supposed Leonardo da Vinci painting owned by Hahn and told a newspaper reporter that it was a mere copy. Hahn sued, claiming that the painting was in fact authentic and that, as a result of Duveen's comment, she could no longer sell the work for its actual value. The case settled with Duveen paying $60,000 ($650,000 in today's dollars!). Jackson Pollock scholar E.V. Thaw wrote in The New Republic last year that the case "poisoned the air for the freedom of experts to give opinions on works of art without fear of legal liability. It has not been invoked often, but I have myself been twice its victim for refusing to include a false painting in a catalogue raisonné that I was co-editing."

UPDATE: Robin Pogebrin had more on this in Saturday's New York Times.