Art society caught up in authenticity scrap

Works on display at Otago Art Society purportedly by Frances Hodgkins have prompted heated debate...
Works on display at Otago Art Society purportedly by Frances Hodgkins have prompted heated debate after experts called into question their authenticity. Photo: Gregor Richardson.
The Otago Art Society has found itself in the middle of a scrap over the authenticity of works by one of Dunedin’s most celebrated artists.

A collection of 13 newly discovered  works purportedly by Frances Hodgkins are on display at the society’s gallery until tomorrow, but controversy has followed the works down from Auckland where they were put on show last November.

Waiheke Island art collector Andy Boston, the owner of the works which were discovered in a mouldy cardboard folder during a clearance of a house in Weymouth, Dorset, says they are the real deal and he has the evidence to prove it.

He believed he was being unfairly targeted by the art establishment, led by Auckland Art Gallery senior curator Mary Kisler, which had lashed out at him because he was questioning their authority.

But a group of foremost experts on Hodgkins are certain they are not authentic, and Ms Kisler says some look like something painted by a high school art student and not one of Dunedin and New Zealand’s most celebrated artists.

Meanwhile, Otago Art Society has been caught in the middle of the debate and has been asked to put up a warning next to the works saying their authenticity is disputed.

Society president Nic Dempster emphasised that Mr Boston rented a space in its gallery at the Dunedin Railway Station and the society did not have a view either way on whether the works were authentic.

"We don’t have a dog in this fight," Mr Dempster said.

The emails the society had received from Hodgkins experts had been "heated and slightly intimidating" and he disputed any suggestion the society was  tarnishing its reputation by allowing the exhibition on its premises.

"This exhibition has attracted many new visitors to the society and created a space for discussions on the various methods of proving provenance and the inherent issues associated with it.

"Whether these works can be definitively proven to be genuine or not is not our immediate concern."

The society was not going to put a warning up next to the exhibition, but he was open to one of the sceptics writing a column in its next newsletter.

Ms Kisler, who is putting together a catalogue raisonne detailing as many of Hodgkins’ works as possible, said she knew what works by Hodgkins looked like and it was clear Mr Barton’s collection was not genuine.

It was possible the work was by one of Hodgkins’ students, but it was also possible they were fake.

She said Mr Boston did not know how to read what was by Hodgkins and what was not.

She was worried someone would be "hoodwinked" and pay a large amount of money for one of the works thinking it was the real deal.

People had "genuinely tried to point out to" Mr Boston the works were not by Hodgkins and had not treated him unfairly.

"I feel sorry for him on one level, but at the same time I think it’s disrespectful to a major artist."

She sympathised with the Otago Art Society, but felt it should have put up a warning.

Fellow Hodgkins experts Linda Gill and Elizabeth Eastmond also said the works were not genuine, with Ms Eastmond saying it was of "great importance"  the legacy of Hodgkins was not tarnished.

Mr Boston said he remained "absolutely adamant" the works were real and felt he had been unfairly treated by a group of experts who felt threatened because their authority had been questioned.

He had done a lot of work over the last two years to prove their authenticity, including getting a signature expert to confirm that the six works that were signed were indeed signed by her.

Some experts had said some of the works were "very much like" Hodgkins’ work, but he accepted none had vouched for the authenticity of all of them. The fact they were all found together and the subjects of the work, which included her best friends and family, all suggested they were real.

vaughan.elder@odt.co.nz

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