Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries

Everyone loves a good crime story—and stories about art fraud, theft or a master forger always make compelling reading.

A couple of years ago the National Gallery in London mounted a big exhibition on the topic. Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries wasn’t the first exhibition of its kind, but the National Gallery has maintained a great on-line exhibition with case studies of some of the best discoveries.

This one is our favourite—it’s a Renaissance portrait showing an adult and two children gazing at the Tuscan Hills. When ‘discovered’ in the 1920s it was heralded as a 15th century masterpiece. Little did they know it was actually hot off the easel after being carefully and skillfully aged with shellac and varnish.

But we’re also rather fond of the Blonde’s Dark Secret, because we have a deep-seated suspicion of all blond bombshells, and this one certainly had a secret!

Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries is now an online exhibition, hosted by the National Gallery in London—click through to read the explanations of the ‘forensic’ processes used to capture the ‘fugitive’. Perfect for the novice or for anyone with a passion for mystery, crime and things that aren’t what they seem.

In the discoveries section of the exhibition, there’s the painting The Man with Dead Birds, which reveals a very different composition below the painting. This painting reminded us of a very similar story, much closer to home…

During recent conservation works the Art Gallery of NSW discovered a dog jumping from the top corner in Frans Snyders’ The Boar Hunt, one of their Dutch Masters’ paintings from circa 1650s. A tree had been added during a later restoration to obliterate the ferocious hound to alter the composition to the tastes of the audience. Check out the before and after images in our slideshow.

So next time you’re in the gallery, just think what might be lurking behind the layers of paint in some of your favourite works!


A previous version of this article stated that The Boar Hunt was available to view in the Art Gallery of NSW’s European galleries. The painting is not currently on view to the public but is still a part of the collection. M&G NSW apologies for any inconvenience.

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