Times caption: A BBC show with Fiona Bruce found that the painting was by Thomas Lawrence (TODD-WHITE ART PHOTOGRAPHY/BEN FITZPATRICK/BBC STUDIOS)
I confess to being an admirer of Fiona Bruce, even if the silly woman continues to insist she’s a feminist. I feel the same way about Lucy Worsley, the historian. I’d happily watch either of them on a TV show, doing their gardening or shopping, chattering away as they did so. I digress.
Two evenings ago there was an episode of one of my favourite BBC shows – a very short list, these days – Fake or Fortune?, a programme during which the toothsome Ms Bruce keeps coming up with lines like, “So our work has established that…” when almost all of the work had been done by others, mainly men. Still, that’s feminists for you, eh? Women are happy to share credit, rarely blame. I digress again. This particular episode centred on whether a picture had been painted by Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830), an artist in the top division, or by Maria Cosway, (1760-1838), a painter in a somewhat lower division. The aristocratic family which has owned it for generations was convinced it had been painted by Cosway, the reason for mis-attribution being explained at the end of the programme (spoiler alert, a short-sighted old woman was responsible).
Throughout the programme the point was made (mainly by male art experts, including Philip Mould, excellent here as always) that Thomas Lawrence was a sublime painter, and of course they couldn’t admit what was obvious to viewers with an eye for fine art, that Maria Cosway wasn’t in his league. I’m amazed the programme was both commissioned and broadcast, this being the BBC. The feminist thought police at the corporation must have had a blue fit after viewing the final programme.
For people with a BBC licence, the episode is available on iPlayer here (59 minutes, available for one year).
A piece by Kaya Burgess in yesterday’s Times:
A painting valued at £8,000 and attributed to a little-known artist has been identified as a lost work by Thomas Lawrence worth £500,000.
Lawrence was noted for chronicling the glamour of the Regency period before going on to become president of the Royal Academy in 1820.
Last night on BBC One Fake or Fortune? examined a painting of Peniston Lamb that had been passed down through generations of the Cecil family.
Lamb was part of the Melbourne family and his younger brother William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, served two terms as prime minister, in 1834 and from 1835 to 1841.
The painting was attributed to Maria Cosway, an English-Italian artist whose work was shown at the Royal Academy and who commissioned the first portrait of Napoleon to be seen in England. [J4MB emphasis. A rather desperate attempt by the journalist to win some feminist Brownie points.]
Philip Mould, the art dealer who presents Fake or Fortune? with Fiona Bruce, said that he believed the painting to be the work of Lawrence as soon as he visited the home of Hugh Cecil, a distant descendant of Lamb.
Mould said: “It had all the signs of a painting by the great Thomas Lawrence but clinching evidence came later. Using science to look beneath his wig at Lawrence’s frenetic brushstroke was a revelation.
“It really is such a thrilling find by the team, and our most glamorous discovery in over thirty episodes of Fake or Fortune?”.
The work’s provenance would raise its value more than sixtyfold, Mould said. He described it as a “dazzling piece of art history”.
Experts on Lawrence’s work, including the art historian Brian Allen and Peter Funnell, a former curator at the National Portrait Gallery, were consulted. Dr Funnell declared the portrait “a very fine example of Lawrence’s early works”.
Professor Allen said that he thought the picture dated from 1790.
Mirabel Cecil, Mr Cecil’s wife, told the BBC that they would move the painting from a corner and “give it pride of place”. She said that she hoped it would stay in the family.
Lamb served as MP for Newport and then Hertfordshire at the turn of the 19th century. He died in 1805.
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