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A Load of Pollock’s? 2007-02-05

Posted by clype in Discovery, Humanities, Science.

The authenticity of three paintings attributed to Jackson Pollock has been called into question by anaylsis of the pigments in the paint.

According to experts from ‘The Harvard University Art Museums’ in Boston, Massachusetts, some pigments in the paint only became available long after the U.S.A. abstract ‘drip’-painting master died in a car crash in 1956.

The three paintings are part of a lot of 32 Pollocks whose authenticity sparked a heated debate among experts in 2006. The three in question were wrapped in brown paper — indicating they produced between 1946 and 1949.
But analysis found that a pigment in the orange paint in one canvas was not available until 1971, while the brown paint in another was only developed in the early 1980s.

‘We’ve found materials in all three that were problematic if the work would be by Pollock,’ said Narayan Khandekar, senior conservation scientist at the museums’ analytical laboratory.

The abstract paintings are small, about 400mm x 200mm, and were only identified by codes. The 32 paintings were discovered in 2002 by Alex Matter, the son of a Pollock friend who had kept them in storage.

Matter, who authorised the paintings’ analysis, rejected the findings. He said some of the works were found in bad shape and had been restored.

‘A number of leading Pollock scholars have examined the paintings discovered by Alex Matter through a range of methods from technical analysis to connoisseurship,’ read a statement from a public relations firm representing Matter.

‘Many attribute them to Jackson Pollock and nothing in the Harvard report effectively challenges that. The authentication of works of art is still more art than science,’ the statement added.

In 2006, a University of Oregon physics professor, Robert Taylor, questioned the authenticity of the 32 paintings by employing fractal analysis — the identification of patterns amid apparent chaos.

Through his analysis, Taylor found that Pollock’s iconic drip paintings contain a unique stylistic fingerprint. But none of the 32 paintings found by Matter obeyed the fractal geometry he had observed in Pollock’s work.

His conclusions were contested by a widely-respected Pollock authority, Ellen Landau, who had found the paintings to be genuine. Landau on Tuesday challenged the Harvard scientists’ findings.

‘If someone other than Pollock did do these paintings, he or she had an amazing knowledge of Pollock’s working methods,’ Landau said in a statement.

Pollock would lay canvases on the floor or up against a wall and pour paint over them, creating abstract, fractal traces overlaying each other. One of his paintings recently sold for a record 140 million USD (71 million GBP) at a private sale in New York.

Landau said the pigments used by Pollock were given to him by his brother-in-law, Robi Rebetez, owner of a furniture store in Basel, Switzerland. She said she would research patent dates for the pigments in Switzerland.

‘Just because a pigment wasn’t patented in the USA doesn’t mean that it was not available in Switzerland or Germany,’ she said.


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