July 21, 2009 / 1:21 PM / 10 years ago

Top UK gallery head - "I wish we had more fakes"

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - The head of the National Gallery in London, one of the world’s leading collections of art, said on Tuesday he would welcome more fakes.

A general view shows London's National Portrait Gallery in Trafalgar Square in this file photo from May 5, 2006. REUTERS/Rob Dawson

“I wish we had more fakes,” said Nicholas Penny, who is also a respected art scholar.

“It’s worth having some in a collection,” he told reporters at the gallery’s annual press conference. “Not having them on display for what they pretend to be ... but for what they are — as fakes or imitations.”

Among the shows unveiled for 2010 is “Close Examination: Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries” which explores forgeries, copies and paintings made by students of the great masters.

Penny said that the study of the true origin of a painting, through increasingly advanced scientific methods, was an important part of scholarship that could help people understand the art of painting better.

“All serious coin collections include fakes,” he said, before adding: “We’d certainly only be interested in really interesting forgeries.”

According to Penny, there were likely to be very few fakes in the National Gallery’s huge collection, although “you don’t know for certain.”

He said many paintings considered fakes started off as “perfectly honest imitations,” where the painter had no intention of passing the work off as by the original artist, but dealers or other intermediaries may have done so for profit. “Their falsity has been imposed on them,” he said.

Penny confessed that he admired one known fake highlighted at the briefing, an Italian “Portrait Group” painted in the early 20th century but passed off as a Renaissance work.

“It’s a very ambitious fake. I rather like it.”


The gallery announced five exhibitions for 2010, including “Painting History: Delaroche and Lady Jane Grey” dedicated to one of the National’s most famous images.

The large canvas “The Execution of Lady Jane Grey,” by French 19th century artist Paul Delaroche, depicts Grey, who had been Queen of England for only nine days, shortly before she was beheaded in 1554 aged 16 or 17.

It will include other works by the painter and propose that the model for Grey was a French actress with whom Delaroche was romantically attached.

There will also be shows on Danish artist Christen Kobke and British painter Frederick Cayley Robinson, as well as a major show running from October 2010 to January 2011 about Canaletto and his Venetian view rivals.

Penny, who is wary of so-called “blockbuster” art shows which he suspects aim to draw as many visitors as possible more than further people’s understanding of art, defended the Canaletto show.

General view shows National Portrait Gallery looking north in London from the top of Nelson's Column in this file photo from July 11, 2006. REUTERS/Stephen Hird

“Canaletto is a popular artist, but we do think this is an intelligent way of approaching his work,” he said.

Last year the National Gallery attracted 4.38 million visitors, up from 4.16 million in 2007, partly thanks to the strength of the euro against the pound which has encouraged more European tourists to visit London.

The gallery also announced a venture with Antenna Audio and Apple Inc. through which people will be able to explore hundreds of works in its collection on iPhone devices with commentary also provided.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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