A Secret Uncovered
She clasped her hands to her mouth. The painting she knew or thought she knew so well looked entirely different. What she had been told had been a lie. Now, the genie was out of the bottle. And she knew life would never be the same again. Sang Khuan didn’t know how to express her shock. She stood like a statue with her mouth wide open. A man’s life was about to change following Shan Khuan’s discovery
Shan Kuang was living her dream. She was smart. Cambridge and Yale are brilliant. She graduated 15th out of a call of 200. One doesn’t become a student at two of the most prestigious colleges and come out at the top of the class in the world unless they have brains, and Shan had that in abundance. Restorer for the Kress Foundation, her hard work is paying dividends. Life was good until a specific painting arrived.
Allentown Art Museum is an art museum that was founded in 1934 by a wealthy Asian philanthropist who had a keen interest in art painting and artifacts collection. With the government’s help and his enormous wealth, he had gathered some of the rarest paintings and artifacts and made his museum one of the most valued museums in the country then. Humble and catering to the local community, it survived hard times, making it through the Great Depression when many other museums were forced to close.
Life was made a lot easier for Allentown when philanthropist Samuel H. Kress gifted 53 Renaissance and Baroque paintings in 1959. These paintings were valuable and reputable. But one made more headlines than all the others combined. They had been bought in auctions for millions and several thousands till it ended in the hands of Philanthropist who decided to gift the million dollars worth to the museum. But what happened upon the arrival of this painting?
One Of The Masters
Few painters are as revered as Rembrandt. The Dutch genius has been hailed as one of the masters of the art world. Although famed during his lifetime, Rembrandt’s reputation had only gotten better and better since his death in 1669. In the current age, owning a Rembrandt painting is a big deal. Most of his works consist of biblical and, to a much lesser extent, historical, mythological, and allegorical “history pieces,” all of which he painted, etched, or sketched in pen and ink or chalk.
They are rare and highly valued. Allentown wanted to know if Kress donated one to them. Looking through the collection, Allentown found what they were looking for: A Rembrandt. A Dutch master’s painting was all theirs.’Portrait of a Young Lady’ was a typical Rembrandt work. It had all the hallmarks of his back catalog. Or so it seemed. They got a surprising response when they sent it off to Holland for an examination.
It was time for an internal audit assessment of the originality of the artifacts and paintings in the museum at the time. It was done at least once every decade. By the time the museum had the Rembrandt, it was qualified for the authenticity test. The management had gathered the team of experts specialized in screening Rembrandt works and were ready to conduct the test. What they did not expect was the outcome of the assessment of the Rembrandt
The assessment from Rembrandt experts in Holland found that it wasn’t a Rembrandt at all. Allentown had been duped. This wasn’t an original painting by the Dutch master. But who was it? And why would they lie about it? These were threads that begged to be pulled. Allentown needed an assessor with all the skills to figure this mystery out. That was when they called Shan.
50 Years Of Mystery
Decades had passed since Allentown received the gutting news that their Rembrandt painting was illegitimate. It was a beautiful painting and was the closest thing to an accurate picture, no matter whose hands it was created. It hung in the museum but didn’t hang proudly. Instead, it haunted the gallery. Would they ever know who made this painting? All they had were theories. The Rembrandt Research Project believed they knew.
All efforts to find where this bogus painting came from had proven futile. It was even considered maybe the donor did not have the original image as well. Were they robbed? Perhaps a heist was conducted within the museum and had the picture stolen away. The management had many unanswered questions but could not make their discovery public. It would be a stain on the museum’s reputation if the public found out they had hung a fake painting for nearly a decade.
The Assistant Theory
It was not uncommon for masters of the great Dutch art era to take on protégés. Many of the best depended on mentors to take them under their wings and show them the ropes, teach, train, and nurture them to become great artists like them; that way, their names would live on forever. This method also includes opening up the secrets to their great paintings to their proteges who would go on and paint precisely like them
Rembrandt wanted to pass on his knowledge and thus took on assistants. The Rembrandt Research Project, after a series of advanced assessments, acknowledged that Portrait of a Young Lady was a great painting. They saw why it was confused with a Rembrandt. Yet, the techniques they detected were inconsistent with the artist’s work. Therefore, they said, it was an assistant. The painting may have been produced by one of Rembrandt’s proteges.
Many tears were shed when the verdict came back from Holland. Elaine Mehalakes could tell stories about the sadness caused by that painting. Allentown’s vice president of curatorial affairs, there was something fishy about the whole thing. She just didn’t know what.Then a thought came to her: What if they were being lied to because the actual painter did something awful? Another theory also emerged. The were at crossroads and did not know what to believe.
Michelangelo Caravaggio was one of the great Italian painters of the Baroque movement. But he wasn’t just that. He was also a killer.Famous for his temper, Caravaggio had to flee Rome in 1606 after stabbing a man to death after a tennis match. Naturally, this has complicated his legacy. Could galleries proudly display the work of a murderer? Elaine was conflicted. That was when she got a call from Shan.
Removing The Varnish
Shan had been employed by the company to uncover the mystery behind the painting. If there was a story behind how the original painting of Rembrandt suddenly transformed into inauthentic, Shan had the key to figure it out. Her reputation preceded her and had assured the management of the museum she would make a break through discovery. Shan didn’t disappoint.
What did she find out?
Shan had spent what felt like an eternity on the restoration. She removed layers of varnish and with each layer removed the painting seemed to reveal its true identity. By the end, all she could do was gasp, she paused in disbelief. The painting looked so different compared to when it first arrived. She had tears in her eyes. Picking up her phone, she called Elaine. When she picked up, Shan said: ‘You’re not going to believe this.’
The True Artist
When Shan was removing the varnish, she deduced that previous restorers had poured it on to create a ‘mirrored surface’. This was fashionable in the 1920s. Not seeing texture was viewed as a good thing. However, it obscured the original brushwork and colour of this artwork.After undoing that damage, Shan concluded that the last 50 years had been a lie. The true artist was Rembrandt. Now she had to prove it.
At the time that they appraised Portrait of a Young Lady, the Rembrandt Research Project was the authority on Rembrandt paintings.Their scholars got the final word on whether a Rembrandt painting was genuine. Back in 1970, they told Allentown that they didn’t have an authentic piece of art. Did they take the varnish into account? Maybe not. A lack of funding for the project was one of the reasons the research couldn’t continue. Yet the media were still around to ask important questions.
Shan Shoots To Fame
When the media were notified about this story there was only one person they wanted to speak to and that was Shan.
It was her keen eye and her years of education at the highest level that allowed Shan to spot the mistakes her predecessors made. Interviewers kept coming back to the same question over and over again. How did 50 years pass before somebody corrected this error?
It’s hard to know why it took so long for Allentown to get a reappraisal that told them the truth. Given the reputation of the Rembrandt Research Project, they probably took their word as law. If anybody would know, they would.There’s a lesson here: Always get a second opinion. Yet even the most reputable of evaluators make mistakes. One such mistake ended up costing a woman over 160,000 pounds of her own money. How did this happen?