Vancouver Museum Discovers J.E.H. MacDonald Sketches in its Possession are Fake

One of 10 oil sketches, purported to be by J.E.H. MacDonald - Credit: Vancouver Art Gallery

Several years after receiving 10 painted sketches by James Edward Hervey MacDonald as a gift, the Vancouver Art Gallery has realised they are fake.

Ian Thom, the senior curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery who brought the gifts to the museum in 2015 shared that the paintings gave “considerable insight into the transformation of [MacDonald’s] style”  despite concerns raised about the authenticity of the works in the media space, especially by “The Globe and Mail”.

Eight years down the line, however, an exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery, J.E.H. MacDonald? A Tangled Garden” revealed all the processes the Gallery went through to prove the “MacDonald” sketches as fakes and Ian who retired in 2018 had a lot to say.

“When it first started, I thought this is one of the great experiences of my life. And then it just got worse and worse and worse. … It was one of the worst experiences of my life, frankly,” Mr. Ian Thom said.

The inauthenticity of the sketches was proven by scientific analysis conducted by the Canadian Conservation Institute in 2016.

The investigations were kickstarted after Vancouver Art Gallery officials accepted red flags such as the spelling of Thoreau’s name in three different ways and board sizes and types that were inconsistent with MacDonald’s usual materials.

Charles Hill, a prominent member of the Group of Seven was contacted by the Vancouver Art Gallery in the wake of doubts surrounding the sketches to help authenticate them as MacDonald’s works due to his familiarity with the originals of the latter.

But he said “It’s totally erroneous to call them ‘sketches for.’ They’re copies after. …I looked at them and said: ‘It’s not by the same artist” in a video created for the J.E.H. MacDonald? A Tangled Garden” exhibition.

This uncovering has pushed the Vancouver Art Gallery to attribute the 1o sketches to unknown artists.

According to The Globe and Mail the ten “MacDonald” sketches were donated by the children of Max Merkur, a family friend to J.E.H MacDonald and an art collector.

The sketches were wrapped in boxes and buried in the backyard of the MacDonald family home when he travelled to Barbados for health reasons in 1931. They were subsequently dug out in the presence of Max Merkur in 1974.

“We were intrigued by these previously unknown paintings. Our family believed that they may be significant,” Melvin’s son, Mark Merkur, told The Globe in a reaction to the newest findings.

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