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N.S. government got duped buying 3 Maud Lewis paintings. Here’s how they learned the truth

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Months before the Nova Scotia government received confirmation that three Maud Lewis paintings it owned were fakes and admitted it publicly, the province had good reason to believe they were not painted by the famous Nova Scotia folk artist.

“These do look like fakes,” an official with the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia wrote in an email to an official with Arts Nova Scotia, the organization that oversees the Nova Scotia Art Bank.

That program has purchased 2,400 works by Nova Scotia artists since its inception in the mid-1970s, including what it believed to be three Lewis paintings.

These paintings were purchased from the Herring Gull Gallery in Chester, N.S., in 1982, for $300 each, which was below the market rate of $500.

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The province became aware the paintings might be fake last September because of CBC News.

A colourful Maud Lewis painting of a truck on a road is shown.
This Lewis painting sold for $350,000 at an auction in 2022. High prices for her work has renewed interest in forging her work. (Submitted by Miller & Miller Auctions Ltd. )

The broadcaster had learned of the potential forgeries while doing research for a Lewis story. The potential fakes included two hanging in the premier’s office.

CBC requested to view the paintings in the company of an art expert, but the province declined. That expert, Alan Deacon, would later be part of the process that determined three paintings the province owns were “not by the hand of Maud Lewis,” whose works sell for as much as $350,000 today.

While the province received official word in January 2023 the three paintings were fake, an Art Gallery of Nova Scotia official wrote in September 2022 that she thought they were forgeries.

“I speculate that they’re possibly done by [name redacted] they’re not bad and in person it would be easier to tell based on the paint and brushstrokes, as they are clearly derived from specific Maud paintings,” Shannon Parker, the Laufer Curator of Collections with the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, wrote in a Sept. 12, 2022, email to an official from the Nova Scotia Art Bank.

In a separate email from the same day, Parker saw the paintings as a teaching tool.

“If nothing else, they’re still quite charming and if they’re fakes, they’re a great educational tool,” Shannon Parker wrote in another email to Lauren Williams.

A painting of a red sled being pulled by a horse, in a winter scene.
Sled is one of three Maud Lewis paintings purchased through the Nova Scotia Art Bank that turned out to be fake. (Submitted by Arts Nova Scotia)
A painting of white boats and seagulls in a harbour.
Boat is another one of the fakes the province bought under the Nova Scotia Art Bank program. (Submitted by Arts Nova Scotia)

CBC News obtained the emails through an access-to-information request to find out more about what the province knew about the potential fakes.

While the authenticity evaluation hadn’t taken place, Williams seemed resigned to the fact they were fake.

“It’s going to be so expensive to replace these with real ones!” she wrote in an email to Briony Carros and Christopher Shore, who both worked for Arts Nova Scotia, the organization that oversees the art bank program.

Paintings were taken for authentication in December

A Dec. 14, 2022, email from Williams to Parker with the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, said the paintings were dropped off to Zwicker’s Gallery earlier in the week for authentication.

The Halifax gallery charged $175 per painting for the authentication. With taxes, the total came to $603.75 — roughly two-thirds the amount the province originally paid for the fakes.

A man sits at a table looking at a book of paintings.
Alan Deacon is an expert in the art of Maud Lewis. He was consulted as part of the process to determine the authenticity of three paintings owned under the Nova Scotia Art Bank program. (Mary-Catherine McIntosh/CBC)

One day before the province received official confirmation on Jan. 6, 2023, of the forgeries, CBC News learned the results of the examination and contacted the province for comment.

Officials weren’t impressed.

“It’s so unprofessional for Alan Deacon to reach out to the reporter. We haven’t even received report back from Ian Muncaster at Zwickers, but I assume he reached out to Alan for an opinion,” said an email from Carros to Shore.

When the province received the findings on Jan. 6, 2023, the owner of Zwicker’s Gallery, Muncaster, noted Deacon was consulted as part of the authentication process.

New fakes may be coming from Hungary

“While they are plausible images, they do not bear the features that one looks for in authentic paintings by Maud Lewis,” Muncaster wrote.

“As you are probably aware, there has been a forger of Maud Lewis’s work who has been working since shortly after her death in the summer of 1970. We estimate that he has produced somewhere in the order of 1,500 forgeries, which have been distributed over the years, mostly through auction houses in many parts of Canada.

Two men look at a number of paintings propped up on a table.
Buyer Chad Brown, left, and Ian Muncaster, owner of Zwicker’s Gallery in Halifax, look at some paintings by Lewis. The province hired Zwicker’s Gallery to authenticate three paintings it owns under the Nova Scotia Art Bank program. (Mary-Catherine McIntosh/CBC)

It is interesting to note that recently several very good forgeries of Maud Lewis paintings have turned up in the United States, that we believe are being produced in Hungary.”

In a Jan. 9, 2023, email to CBC Radio’s Information Morning, the province declined an interview to discuss the fakes. Instead, it sent along a statement, noting the paintings “were deemed likely not to have been painted by Maud Lewis” and have been removed from circulation.

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Revealing show cleverly pairs two female Impressionists – The Globe and Mail

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Mary Cassatt, Breakfast in Bed, 1897.Huntington Art Museum/Huntington Art Museum

In a new Impressionism show at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, there’s a moment parents will recognize. In an 1897 painting, by the American expat artist Mary Cassatt, a mother lies in bed with a baby. Front and centre, the plump toddler sits upright, rosy-cheeked and bright-eyed, while the mother gazes sleepily up from her pillow. There’s a tea cup nearby and the child seems to be holding some bread: The title, Breakfast in Bed, is saccharine enough to suggest a tender maternal scene of the kind prized by Victorian audiences. Look closer at the mother’s expression, however, and you’ll perceive her reality: a 6 a.m. wake-up when she would rather sleep.

This clever exhibition is stuffed with such telling moments, achieved by juxtaposing Cassatt’s work with that of the Canadian Impressionist Helen McNicoll. On the surface, the combo, entitled Cassatt – McNicoll: Impressionists Between Worlds, might seem opportunistic or merely convenient. Cassatt was an American living in France and part of the original circle dubbed Impressionist; McNicoll, 35 years younger, was a Canadian working in England under the general influence of the new styles. Throw together two female artists who belong to different generations and never met, and see if some of Cassatt’s wider fame can rub off on McNicoll’s work, not particularly well known even to Canadians. However, the execution, by AGO curator Caroline Shields, offers so many smart observations drawn from this pairing that the show swiftly banishes these doubts.

Shields argues that Cassatt and McNicoll, who both criss-crossed the Atlantic in the age of the steam liner, were figures who inhabited liminal spaces as they travelled between Europe and North America and negotiated professional restrictions placed on women. They could not venture unaccompanied into the city streets or cabarets so beloved by the French Impressionists, and convention encouraged them to concentrate on domestic subjects, although both were unmarried and childless.

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Helen Galloway McNicoll, The Victorian Dress, 1914.AGO

Shields makes this point with two paintings near the start: Cassatt’s Young Girl at a Window shows a woman looking inwardly rather than out at a Parisian view; McNicoll’s The Open Door shows a country woman in an interior, perhaps seeking light to tie a knot in her sewing, but with her back turned to the great outdoors. So, both women are placed at the threshold of places where they do not venture.

Next, the exhibition matches Cassatt’s Woman Bathing of 1890-91, one of her familiar drypoint prints heavily influenced by Japanese ukiyo-e, with Interior (1910) by McNicoll, a view of an empty bedroom. By placing the familiar image of a woman at her toilette beside Interior, Fields makes the point that McNicoll has deliberately removed a nude from her scene.

The AGO has also provided a brief video in which the painting is animated as though we were watching the room through the day in time-lapse photography, revealing McNicoll’s use of a shaft of light to enliven her composition. Compared to the pointless animation in the so-called immersive shows devoted to such artists as Vincent Van Gogh or Claude Monet, this small educational intervention by AGO interpretive planner Gillian McIntryre is an astute way of asking viewers to stop and look closer.

Looking closer and thinking again is what this show is all about. Cassatt’s pictures of women and babies are often ambivalent – Maternal Caress and The Child’s Caress seem to show women suffering babies batting at their faces – while McNicoll painted children alone, without mothers supervising them.

One exception is In the Shadow of the Tree from 1910, which shows a young caregiver on a summer day reading a book with a pram beside her, one hand touching it as if to rock the baby. That painting, along with several showing women under parasols or tents at a beach, are testament to McNicoll’s masterful painting of light. Dappled or filtered light on a summer day is perhaps her most magnificent subject.

McNicoll was primarily known for outdoor scenes but around 1913, she began a series of ambitious canvases featuring women in interiors, including two of a figure wearing a massive white crinoline. As the drive to women’s suffrage reached its peak, these confining dresses were now seen as outmoded: McNicoll calls both paintings The Victorian Dress. What would have happened next? McNicoll died of diabetes at age 35 in 1915, so sadly we will never know.

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Helen Galloway McNicoll, Under the Shadow of the Tent, 1913.MMFA

It’s not a contest, but she often comes across as the stronger artist here, her brushwork more impressive in its impressionistic effects; her figures more graceful. In a section about labour, Cassatt is represented by Young Women Picking Fruit, an oddly emphatic painting from 1891 in which a well-dressed receiver looks adoringly up at the picker, as a symbol of women passing knowledge to each other. About 20 years later, McNicoll is painting working class women picking apples or carrying hay in more convincing depictions of empowerment.

This weighting probably has more to do with available loans than the reality of the two careers. The AGO has assembled 27 of McNicoll’s paintings from its own collection (which also includes all her sketchbooks, many on display) and from museums in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick, as well as private collections. Cassatt is represented by only 13 paintings and her best known pieces, works such as The Child’s Bath at the Art Institute of Chicago, are not included. Instead, Chicago has lent the more fussy female figure On a Balcony. The biggest hits are a pair of deliciously sophisticated female portraits, Portrait of Madame J from the Maryland State Archives and The Cup of Tea from New York’s Metropolitan Museum.

There are no Cassatt paintings in Canadian collections, but luckily the National Gallery of Canada does hold an edition of the 10 drypoint prints devoted to women at their toilette, riding a bus or bathing children. It’s impressive to see the full series at the AGO, to recognize Cassatt’s meticulous printmaking and her commitment to making women seen in art rather than merely objectified.

Open this photo in gallery:

Mary Stevenson Cassatt. Young Women Picking Fruit, 1891.Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

More than a century separates us from Cassatt and McNicoll and it’s easy to assume that all is sweetness and light in their paintings of elegant ladies, chubby babies and vigorous farm girls. By pairing the two, Cassatt – McNicoll slyly reveals the many subtleties in the work of two female artists carving out careers in what was, in their day, a man’s profession.

Cassatt/McNicoll continues to Sept. 2023 at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.

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Hannah Gadsby's Picasso exhibit roasted by art critics – The A.V. Club

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Hannah Gadsby's Picasso exhibit gets roasted by art critics
Hannah Gadsby
Photo: Maree Williams (Getty Images)

“It’s Pablo-matic: Picasso According to Hannah Gadsby” has been Pablo-matic from the start. The comedian was criticized for launching an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, where Elizabeth A. Sackler (of Purdue Pharma infamy) apparently sits on the board of trustees. “Doesn’t matter what cultural institution you work with in America, you’re going to be working with billionaires and there’s not a billionaire on this planet that is not fucked up. It is just morally reprehensible,” Gadsby lamented to Variety, nevertheless moving forward with the exhibit.

After having criticized Picasso in their lauded Netflix special Nanette, Gadsby was tapped to co-curate an exhibition to mark the 50th anniversary of the artist’s death. The show examines Picasso’s “complicated legacy through a critical, contemporary, and feminist lens, even as it acknowledges his work’s transformative power and lasting influence.” The exhibit consists of Picasso’s work with the work of female artists, with the addition of Gadsby’s commentary.

Reviews of the show (which opens on Friday) are, shall we say, not kind. Gadsby’s quips tacked to Picasso’s art “function a bit like bathroom graffiti, or maybe Instagram captions,” writes New York Times reviewer Jason Farago, who dismisses Gadsby’s commentary as “juvenile.” ARTnews’ Alex Greenberger observes that Gadsby’s quotes are “larded with the language of Twitter,” highlighting the label above a minotaur print: “Don’t you hate it when you look like you belong in a Dickens novel but end up in a mosh pit at Burning Man? #MeToo.”

There is no debate about Picasso’s misogyny or any of the more unsavory (and well-documented) aspects of his character. Instead, it’s the apparently facile way Gadsby (with co-curators Catherine Morris and Lisa Small) has chosen to frame the show. The female artists featured do not include female Cubists, women inspired by Picasso, or the female artists Picasso was actually involved with in his life. Instead, their work “[seems] to have been selected more or less at random” writes Farago, while Greenberger notes that many of these pieces from female artists “have almost nothing in common, beside the fact that they are all owned by the Brooklyn Museum.”

The scathing criticism of the exhibit has been met with some schadenfreude online, particularly with the subset of folks for whom Nanette didn’t land. “Still thinking about that perfect @jsf piece on Hannah Gadsby’s Picasso show. Such a sharp evisceration of the corrosive effect a certain strain of meme-y social justice has had on culture and criticism. If people’s receptiveness means we can finally move past that, I’m thrilled,” The New Republic’s Natalie Shure wrote on Twitter. And of course, some people just like a good, well-written take down: “So so so happy that Hannah Gadsby made the Pablo-matic (lmfao) exhibit because the reviews of it have been the best most fun culture writing in a while imo!!!!!,” tweeted writer Sophia Benoit.

Agree or disagree (and perhaps you’ll have to visit the Brooklyn Museum to decide), the criticism of Gadsby’s criticism is lethally sharp. “Not long ago, it would have been embarrassing for adults to admit that they found avant-garde painting too difficult and preferred the comforts of story time. What Gadsby did was give the audience permission—moral permission—to turn their backs on what challenged them, and to ennoble a preference for comfort and kitsch,” Farago writes of Nanette, later adding, “The function of a public museum (or at least it should be) is to present to all of us these women’s full aesthetic achievements; there is also room for story hour, in the children’s wing.” You can read the full piece here.

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Crochet Heart Bomb Project comes together June 3

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Handmade hearts will line the chain link fences between the Autumn Grove Seniors Lodge and the hospital in Innisfail, Alta., on Saturday.

It’s called the Crochet Heart Bomb Project.

Local entrepreneur and artist Karen Scarlett started working on the initiative this past January, in partnership with the Innisfail Welcoming and Inclusive Community Committee as well as the Innisfail Art Club.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if a few people joined in on sharing some love and joy with the seniors at the Autumn Grove Lodge and hospital?” Scarlett said was her line of thinking at the time.

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The community is welcome to swing by and lend a hand. Also, to help care for the hearts after they’re up.

Turns out she wasn’t alone — others thought it would indeed be nice.

“Our free pattern has been downloaded hundreds of times from locations around the globe and now thousands of hearts are arriving in time for our install party,” said Wilma Watson, Innisfail Art Club president.

A release to media explains the hearts “consist of handcrafted crochet, knit, quilted, macramé and all manner of hand-stitched items,” and “will be installed on June 3 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.”

The community is welcome to swing by and lend a hand.

Also, to help care for the hearts after they’re up.

Local entrepreneur and artist Karen Scarlett started working on the initiative this past January.

“I will be leaning on the community to help,” Scarlett said.

“If the community keeps an eye out for damaged hearts and continues to care for the fence and ask for new hearts to be made, we may have a love-filled fence for years — maybe decades — to come.”

She says she’s doing this for Grandma.

Ethel Scarlett was a founding member of the original art club and toward the end of her life, a resident at the original seniors lodge where she was still known for a creative endeavour or two.

“I feel like she would be pretty thrilled with this project,” Karen Scarlett said.

More information is available at innisfailartclub.org/crochet.

A release to media explains the hearts ‘consist of handcrafted crochet, knit, quilted, macramé and all manner of hand-stitched items,’ and ‘will be installed on June 3 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.’

 

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