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Journalist Fiona Bruce teams up with art expert Philip Mould to investigate mysteries behind paintings.

Genres: Arts & Crafts
Station: BBC One (UK)
Rating: 9/10 from 1 users
Status: Running
Start: 2011-06-19

Fake or Fortune? Air Dates

S10E01 - Ben Nicholson Air Date: 23 August 2022 19:00 -

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When Ian and Julie moved into their Surrey cottage nearly 20 years ago, they discovered a curious wall painting in one of the bedrooms. They had no idea who put it there. Julie wanted to get rid of it as it didn't match her decor plans, while their four-year-old wanted to colour it in with her crayons.

Ian was about to paint over it when an elderly neighbour popped round and introduced himself. He'd heard from one of the previous owners of the cottage that the work was by famous abstract artist Ben Nicholson.

Ben Nicholson was one of the greatest British artists of the 20th century. Born in 1894, he became a key figure in the European avant-garde. He was a pioneer of modernism who rejected conventional ways of painting and experimented with bold new means of expression. In a career spanning more than six decades, his abstract works were among the most influential in British art.

Over the years, Ian and Julie have shown the work to experts from the art world, but they have doubts. Is this work by the master of British modernism, or is it an artful copy by a follower?

Getting to the bottom of the mystery has recently become a matter of urgency. Ian is a builder, and he's midway through constructing an extension to the cottage. He's concerned the building work might put this potential masterpiece at risk of damage and destruction. If the team can prove the painting is genuine, it could be worth £200,000. But this poses a dilemma for the owners - if it is by Ben Nicholson, then a sizable chunk of their bedroom wall might have to be removed in order to preserve the painting.

How could a work by Ben Nicholson have ended up on Ian and Julie's bedroom wall? To find out, Fiona and Philip need to look into the previous owners of the cottage. Did they have any connections to Nicholson, and if so, can it be proved that Nicholson visited the cottage? Fiona heads to the Tate to delve into a vast collection of Ben Nicholson's letters. Meanwhile, Philip enlists the help of the Courtauld Institute to try to find out how the wall painting was constructed and what it's made of.

This thrilling investigation takes us to across the country on the trail of a master of British modernism. Is the wall painting in Ian and Julie's house a genuine work by Ben Nicholson, and if so, can it be safely removed from the cottage?

S10E02 - Modigliani Air Date: 30 August 2022 19:00 -

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Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould investigate a delicate sketch depicting a mother and child, purported to be by one of the modern art world's most famous names, Amedeo Modigliani. Its owner, Henrietta Sitwell, inherited the work and always believed it to be genuine. However, a leading auction house recently cast doubt on its authenticity. If the work is genuine, it could be worth up to £100,000. If not, just a few hundred.

Henrietta inherited the sketch from her father, who had inherited it from his father, the writer and art collector Sacheverell Sitwell. Sacheverell was, along with his two siblings Osbert and Edith, a central member of the Bright Young Things of the 1920s and a key figure in the world of British art. A direct connection to such an established and respected name might normally be enough to guarantee the authenticity of a work but, with an artist as regularly forged as Modigliani, it's not so simple.

Fiona begins our investigation by getting to grips with the world of Modigliani scholarship. Not only are there multiple, contradictory catalogues of the artist's work, the author of one catalogue has been convicted of forging works by Modigliani. Also, recent high-profile exhibitions have been shut down, with all the paintings seized and destroyed as fakes. In a world with so many pitfalls, can we prove that this is the rare example of an uncatalogued genuine work?

Philip takes the sketch to be examined forensically, chemically testing the age of the paper to see whether it dates from before Modigliani's death in 1920, at the age of just 35. Armed with further material evidence, he brings the sketch to the Pompidou Centre in Paris to compare it with a known Modigliani sketchbook. Also, we meet with handwriting expert Adam Brand to see whether the dedication and signature match with any of the hundreds of confirmed Modigliani signatures.

Fiona delves deep into the extensive Sitwell family archives to find any hard evidence for the picture's provenance. The family story is that Sacheverell bought this work sometime after the First World War. Can we find any written proof of this? The picture is dedicated to 'Zborowski' - the name of Modigliani's friend and art dealer Leopold Zborowski. Why would Sacheverell have owned a picture dedicated to someone else? Travelling to the Montmartre streets where Modigliani lived and worked, Fiona outlines the connections between the artist, his dealer and Henrietta's grandfather.

Back in London, we recreate the 1919 exhibition Sacheverell, his brother and Leopold Zborowski held of modern French artists at Heal's, the famous department store - an exhibition where dozens of Modigliani sketches were on sale for a few pennies each. Could this have been the moment when a Modigliani sketch, dedicated to his art dealer, found its way into the hands of the Sitwell family?

S10E03 - Sisley Air Date: 06 September 2022 19:00 -

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Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould investigate a charming little landscape of a French village with a river running through it, purported to be by one of the founding members of the 19th century Impressionist movement, the British artist Alfred Sisley.

Its owners, Americans Kim and Chuck Van Fossan bought the work at auction near Chicago and believe it to be genuine. However, the painting was turned down nearly ten years ago by the authentication committee, so the team will have to find new evidence to help persuade them to change their mind. A lot is at stake: if the work is genuine, it could be worth over £250,000.

S10E04 - Flemish Old Master Air Date: 13 September 2022 19:00 -

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Fiona and Philip visit a church in Port Glasgow to investigate whether a mysterious work depicting Christ after the crucifixion could be a lost masterpiece by one of the great painters of Northern Renaissance art.

Art historian Ian Macdonald thought there was something special about the painting, but he died in 2021. Now his widow Marjorie is taking up the case with the aid of the Fake or Fortune? team. Can they find the answers Ian was looking for?

Armed with a file of research and a list of seven suspects, they follow this ecclesiastical whodunnit from Scotland to Belgium, into the beguiling world of Flemish art that was once the most accomplished, and prolific, in Europe. In one of their toughest investigations yet, the team discover why it's so difficult to identify the artists behind Flemish masterpieces, and they use dendrochronology - the science of dating wood - to try to find out when the picture was painted.

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