"Fake or Fortune" Turners go back on display at National Museum Wales

By Richard Moss | 25 September 2012
a painting of a seascape with sailing boat in the distance
J M W Turner, Off Margate© Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum of Wales
It may have taken Fiona Bruce and co-host Philip Mould a full hour of peering into canvasses, striding purposefully across art galleries and speaking to experts to reveal the true story of National Museum Wales’ collection of Turners, but as the BBC’s new Sunday night Antiques Roadshow spin-off also revealed, it’s been a long wait for the people of Wales.

Last night's episode of Fake or Fortune focussed on a series of seven late Turner seascapes originally bequeathed to the museum in 1951 and 1963 as genuine works by Turner by sisters Gwendoline and Margaret Davies. However before they had barely made it onto the gallery walls, all but two of them were condemned by Turner experts at the Tate as fakes.  

Only Morning after the Wreck and Morning after the Storm were considered genuine. All the others were rejected as either fakes, reworked paintings or paintings by other hands and were promptly taken off display.

Times and techniques have changed since the men from the Turner Bequest revealed their devastating opinions, and over the years a couple more of the series were confirmed as being by the hand of Turner.

Now new research - including forensic examination - has concluded that another three are indeed authentic Turner oil paintings.

Curator of Prints and Drawings Beth McIntyre and Chief Conservator Adam Webster looked back at the provenance and history and decided to go back to today’s Tate experts, Senior Curator Ian Warrell and Senior Conservation Scientist, Dr Joyce Townsend. The results were very different.

“It was felt that Off Margate and The Beacon Light are probably unfinished works,” says McIntyre, "Margate Jetty is a fragment from a much larger canvas and Sailing Boat off Deal is from a group of small oils on board.”

In short the modern view is that all the works are by Turner’s hand and, contrary to the views of their forebears, there was no evidence of substantial over-painting.

“The Davies sisters collection utterly transformed the character, quality and range of Wales’ national art collection,” adds McIntyre. “Thanks to them we have a truly magnificent art collection here and I’m delighted that the mystery of the last three Turner paintings has finally been solved and they are seeing the light of day again.”

For the first time, the public can see the paintings together in National Museum Wales' new Turner exhibition. Let's hope it's been worth the wait.
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