The list of disputed artefacts from The Guardian is different to many others , in that it has widened its remit, to include any artefact that have some dispute relating to them. as a result, while some are well know restitution cases such as the Bust of Nefertiti or the Parthenon Marbles, in other cases the dispute relates to who the work itself actually depicts, or who originally produced the painting. as a result, it ends up a rather confused list, presenting a mixed message, where well grounded restitution cases such as the Parthenon Sculptures are mixed up with discussions over the authenticity of works by Pollock.
That is not to say that the list is without interest however – if anything, it helps to reinforce the importance of provenance in giving the true value to a work of art. Without it, the matter of where it came from & who created it will always be the subject of debate.
The 10 best disputed artworks
Friday 31 October 2014 12.00 GMT
As Greek efforts to reclaim the Parthenon Marbles receive a boost from Amal Clooney, Laura Cumming considers other artworks caught up in legal and artistic wrangling
The Parthenon Marbles
The great frieze of figures removed from the Parthenon by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century remains the most perennially disputed of all artworks, the arguments as divided as the sculptures themselves – the goddess Iris’s head is in Athens, her body in the British Museum; Poseidon’s torso is split between them. Defenders argue that Elgin bankrupted himself to save the marbles from local destruction, with full Greek authority, and London is their legal home. The opposition (which has included Byron, Christopher Hitchens and of course now the Clooneys) argues that the marbles were literally “ripped off” the Parthenon, and ruinously scoured, and must be returned to Greece.
The Household of Philip IV, ‘Las Meninas’, Kingston Lacy, Dorset
In 1814 an Englishman abroad thought he had come upon Velázquez’s first version of Las Meninas (1656) – not that he, or practically anyone else at that time, had seen the original in the Spanish royal palace. William Bankes MP bought the canvas for Kingston Lacy, his Dorset home, calling it “the pride of England”. It shows the celebrated scene on a much smaller scale and with strange anomalies, not least the fact that the famous mirror at the back is empty. Some believe it to be a preliminary oil sketch, most that it is undoubtedly a copy by his son-in-law Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo. The row still rages: the Prado held a conference only this year.
Jackson Pollock: Red, Black & Silver
Painted on Long Island in the summer of 1956, shortly before Pollock’s death in a car crash, this canvas was the subject of a 40-year battle between the artist’s wife, Lee Krasner, and his mistress, Ruth Kligman. Kligman claimed he made the work for her as a love token; Krasner claimed it was a fake. An ex-NYPD detective brought all his forensic skills to bear on the case, discovering traces of thread, dust and hair from Pollock’s home in the surface. But what did that prove? Nothing, according to the editor of Pollock’s catalogue raisonné, for whom it simply did not resemble a Pollock. In this case of science versus scholarship, the jury is still out.
Rembrandt: The Polish Rider, Frick Collection, New York
Of all the disputed Rembrandts in public galleries, this is by far the most controversial, and not just because it belongs to the magnificent Frick Collection in New York. For centuries the picture was not just a Rembrandt, but one of the greatest of all Rembrandts – a rare and magnificent equestrian portrait that had once belonged to Polish princes. But the mighty Rembrandt Research Project questioned it in the 1980s, to worldwide shock, claiming it was by his pupil Willem Drost. The furore continues to this day, raising the perennial question: if the picture is so great, and so beloved, does it really matter who painted it?
Nefertiti, Neues Museum, Berlin
The exquisite painted limestone bust of Nefertiti, Akhenaten’s wife, was discovered in 1912 by the German archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt, who claimed to have done a deal with Egypt to share rights to half his findings; it entered Berlin’s Egyptian Museum in 1923 (it’s now in the Neues Museum). But a recent document suggests Borchardt lied about the sculpture’s composition and true value in order to keep his most treasured discovery. Egypt has requested its return since 1933; Germany insists its ownership is not in doubt. In 2009 two historians claimed – to widespread outrage – that the great beauty queen was a fake.
The Chandos portrait, National Portrait Gallery, London
The never-ending controversy: is this Shakespeare or not? Most people prefer this dark-eyed stranger with the earring to the egghead of the First Folio, but can we really choose which Shakespeare we want? The Chandos portrait, named after a previous owner, was the first portrait acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in 1856. Its fortunes as a true likeness of the Bard have been mixed ever since. The NPG claims it may have been painted from life, but it looks nothing like the First Folio etching or the memorial bust in Stratford. Nobody knows who painted it.
Picasso: Boy Leading a Horse, MoMa, New York
From Picasso’s “rose period”, Boy Leading a Horse belonged to a Jewish collector who may have sold it under duress (his descendants argued) in Nazi Germany in 1935. William S Paley, founder of CBS and chairman of MoMa, later bought it, bequeathing it to the museum in 1964, by which time it was worth $100m. It has been the subject of two test-case disputes: the descendants filed a legal claim on the grounds of Nazi persecution; MoMa countersued, keeping the work but paying damages to the descendants, even though the picture was neither looted nor illegally acquired. The judgment was not made public and the case may be a precedent.
Raphael: The Madonna of the Pinks, National Gallery, London
Attributed to Raphael by Nicholas Penny, director of the National Gallery in London, and purchased from the Duke of Northumberland for the gallery for £22m after a massive public campaign, the little Madonna (not much bigger than an A4 sheet) is nonetheless in dispute. The gallery claims science and art historical investigation back up the picture’s authenticity, but they only prove that it comes from the right place and time: 16th-century Italy. Nearly 50 copies or versions of this composition exist: detractors argue that we ought to trust our eyes, given certain weaknesses in the composition, and assume it is just one of these.
Matisse: Seated Woman
Found in 2012 in the infamous Munich trove of the reclusive Cornelius Gurlitt, son of Hitler’s art dealer, Matisse’s masterpiece is one of 1,200 paintings that have been investigated by German authorities ever since. Yet this is the only painting they have so far agreed to identify as Nazi loot, and the heirs of its rightful owner, the late Jewish dealer Paul Rosenberg, still haven’t received the picture. Gurlitt died in May, leaving his pictures to the Bern Kunsthalle, a toxic bequest since they may all have been stolen. A classic impasse: without documentation, hard if not impossible to find, the pictures remain in legal limbo.
Damien Hirst: Bombay Mix
In 1988 Damien Hirst painted one of his highly successful spot paintings directly on to the wallpaper of a London house as a gift from the occupant’s rich parents. The house was sold, Bombay Mix remained, until some future owners had it removed from the wall and mounted on board with a view to selling it. But Hirst had anticipated this scenario, issuing a certificate of authentication to the original owner, without which the work would be valueless and could not be sold. This dispute is a neat parody of today’s market, in which names, and authenticity, now matter as much as actual art.