Sunday 2 September 2018

Fake or Fortune?

Now, one BBC programme I do look forward to is BBC One's Fake or Fortune?.

Tonight's episode set out a mystery: Who painted this splendid painting of Dido Elizabeth Belle and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray?:

The current Lady Mansfield said, "We actually don't have a clue who the artist is", and Fiona and Philip didn't demur from that, with Philip setting out their intention to "put an artist on that label". 

Their "investigation" led them eventually to the name David Martin - a Scottish painter (1737-1797). 

Unfortunately, I checked Twitter before I watched the ptogramme and (accidentally) saw a comment that said: 
Such a shame that Fake or Fortune conned viewers into thinking the artist who painted Dido Belle was uncertain, when researchers proved it was David Martin in 2014.
Now that is quite a claim, suggesting that Fake or Fortune, is itself faking it, so I Googled it and found a blogpost from May 2014 that "wondered" if it was by David Martin and an article from USA Today, also from May 2014, that said "it was probably painted by a Scot named David Martin" and a blogpost from December 2014 that said:
Dido is currently known because of an unsigned painting, originally thought to have been painted in 1779 by the portraitist Johann Zoffany. Later the family concluded that the artist was David Martin, a young Scotsman.
Yet here was Philip on Fake or Fortune saying they were "searching for clues" without mentioning any of this.

Now none of the 2014 links that I've found backs up the tweeter's claim that "researchers proved it was David Martin in 2014", though they suggest it was believed pretty widely suspected.

Still Philip met a researcher, some 24 minutes into the programme, who mentioned the name David Martin for the first time and Philip looked as if it was news to him. He immediately placed him as one of "two prime suspects" - himself and Sir Joshua Reynolds - and set out to "narrow it down" between them.. 


Philip ruled out Sir Sploshua just past the halfway point and then began talking in earnest about David Martin and finding "some promising clues" that it could be by him, and Lady Mansfield was instantly persuaded by his reasoning. And, eventually, via forensic experts an so on, the programme declared it was by David Martin... if it was all the programme's own work, starting from scratch. 

Was this programme fake or not fake then? Well, it certainly told the story as if Fake or Fortune? found it was by David Martin entirely by its own researches, out of nowhere as it were.

It was "our theory", as Philip Gould put it. "We solved it", said Fiona Bruce.

But that doesn't seem to be the whole story, does it?

That said, as far as I can see, the programme did provide final proofs that had been missing and they convinced an expert, so it was more sleight-of-hand on the BBC's part, perhaps, than outright fakery. 

I'm not sure whether I'm entirely reassured by that though.


  1. Another programme I saw out of the corner of my eye...I was seeing it more as yet another programme that has had a "diversity" makeover. Only problem is of course most paintings of this type belong to upper middle class or aristocratic families with a history of slaving that contributed significantly to their wealth (cf Vanity Fair - that starts off with a lot of slavery's never far from the surface, comes up in Austen and Bronte as well). But of course that was all covered up in the programme as was the fact that an act between a master and slave can never be described as consensual in any meaningful sense on behalf of the slave. The slave's continued existence is dependent entirely on the master, so it's rape, however you dress it up...but the programme came over all euphemistic at that point. How very hypocritically BBC.

  2. I was going to leave a comment about this programme last night. The premise of Fake or Fortune is that someone has a painting that they think is by a famous artist. The presenters then try to ascertain whether it is genuine.

    To fit in with the BBC PC rules, the makers turned this premise on its head in an effort by the producers to shoehorn in a programme that wasn’t about white artists with white experts and white presenters. Queue lots of hand wringing about our role in slavery.

    It wasn’t whether the paintings were fake or worth a fortune but just ‘who were the artists who painted black women?’.

    What followed was a history lesson akin to ‘who do you think you are’.

    What a travesty. And now we discover that the whole charade was a fake.

    1. I wasn't aware of this programme series.

      The programme notes for this episode show the familiar BBC obsession with coupling black and slavery:

      "Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould investigate two rare portraits of black British subjects from the 18th and 19th centuries. Painted with extraordinary skill and sophistication, both pictures are highly unusual in their positive depiction of black sitters at a time when Britain was still heavily engaged in slavery. But this is also an intriguing double whodunnit. Who are the artists who broke with the conventions of the time to paint these exceptional works?
      The second painting is even more unusual - two beautifully dressed black girls holding a book in what appears to be a tropical landscape. Early clues suggest this could be a political painting somehow connected to the campaign to abolish slavery in Britain's colonies. Could the sitters themselves be slaves, but if so why are they wearing such fine clothes? ..."

  3. These programmes are mini-dramas written to ratchet up the suspense until the final gesture - is it or isn't it? Fiona and Philip act out the leading parts as they swan around the institutions in London and elsewhere (in Europe in particular) to which we, the licence-paying public, would not as a rule gain entry. It's a rarified atmosphere, so here we need the BBC's best - who can act out the part as para art historian in Fiona's case that is.

    I remember an episode fro a couple of years ago when a Lowry work was painted using a shade of white paint that he didn't ordinarily use. Lo and behold, the pair managed to turn up a photo of Lowry using this elusive white colour straight from the clearly labelled tube an old newspaper.


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