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Series 11: 2. Joshua Reynolds



Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould head to north London to meet Glyn Hopkin, a car dealer with a soft spot for art. He’s taken a gamble on a painting he hopes is by a towering figure of 18th-century art, Sir Joshua Reynolds. Glyn bought this beguiling picture of a boy on a whim from an online auction in Monaco. Listed as ‘in the style of Sir Joshua Reynolds’, he decided to take a punt, purchasing the work for £2,700. If it turns out to be genuine, it could be worth £100,000.\n\nInitial clues look promising. Reynolds was an artist who used experimental materials, and these have degraded over time. Could signs of similar deterioration in Glyn’s picture be evidence of Reynolds’s distinctive technique?\n\nA plaque on the bottom of the frame reads ‘Puck’ - a character from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Reynolds famously painted Puck, and Glyn’s picture shares some similarities with the genuine work. Could his Puck be another version of this celebrated painting?\n\nDigging into the provenance, Fiona discovers the painting had been owned by a Monaco family since 1950. Before that, it belonged to a Mrs Hudson, who lived at Villa Paloma in Monaco. Inventories take the trail back to 1934, when the painting was owned by Robert William Hudson and was catalogued as ‘Puck by Reynolds’. It’s encouraging that the painting was once thought to be genuine. Fiona takes Glyn to Danesfield House on the banks of the River Thames to find out more about Hudson. He built this imposing mansion in 1900 and filled it with his prized art collection. Can she find out where Hudson acquired his picture of Puck?\n\nCan science link Glyn’s picture to the hand of Reynolds? Philip heads to the Courtauld Institute, where Professor Aviva Burnstock carries out technical analysis of the painting. The coarse canvas on the back looks unusual. Did Reynolds use anything like it? Aviva uses ultraviolet fluorescence to determine whether the painting could have been touched up by another hand. Later paint shows up in dark patches indicating Glyn’s picture has had a lot of restoration. \n\nCould the innovative way in which Reynolds used materials help determine whether he painted Glyn’s picture? Philip heads to The Royal Academy of Art, where Reynolds served as the first president from 1768. It holds a number of fascinating artefacts which help unlock his secret paint recipes. Could a canvas covered in Reynolds’s palette of colours, along with splodges of paint inside his pocketbooks, help link Glyn’s picture to the artist?\n\nThe team arrange for Glyn’s work to be examined by Dr Alexandra Gent, a Reynolds specialist and conservator at the National Portrait Gallery. Aviva has sampled the pigments on Glyn’s picture so that Alexandra can compare them to the materials used in genuine works by Reynolds. Will Glyn’s picture show similarities with authentic paintings? \n\nBuying paintings in Monaco or France is not always straightforward, especially when it comes to potentially undiscovered ‘sleepers’, so Fiona meets art lawyer Pierre Valentin to get some advice on Glyn’s picture. She discovers there’s a twist in the tale. If the painting does turn out to be genuine, the seller may be able to claim it back from Glyn. Under French law, if a picture is sold by mistake, the vendor can, in effect, cancel the sale. Glyn is shocked but determined to continue with the investigation. \n\nGlyn decides to send the painting to restorer Simon Gillespie to see if the layers of overpaint can be removed. Simon makes a dramatic discovery. Beneath the overpaint he uncovers a date – one which is hugely significant to the investigation. Will this date prove the work was painted in Reynolds’s lifetime? Or is there a murkier conclusion?\n\nThe man making a decision on this complex work is the author of the most recent catalogue raisonné of Reynolds’s work, Dr Martin Postle. Will Glyn’s gamble on Puck pay off?

Source: BBC 1

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