From John Day, Wickham Market, Suffolk.
The BBC’s Fake or Fortune? returned to TV screens last month with a Thomas Gainsborough mystery. I watched with great interest, and a degree of trepidation.
I run the East Anglian Traditional Art Centre and we were consulted during the filming of the programme regarding a picture previously owned by my father, Harold Day. My father’s Gainsborough was a variation of the version featured in the programme, our painting having being authenticated as the original some 20 years ago. It had been bought in the 1960’s by my father in Suffolk, and was retained by the family until I took it to dealer Philip Mould for cleaning and subsequent authentication, leading to the sale of the painting at Sotheby’s in 2001.
When the Fake or Fortune? team visited me I saw a photograph of the painting that was to be featured on the show and considered the overall quality and a certain weakness in the distance and sky areas made it likely it was a later copy. So, when pressed during filming with Fiona Bruce, I boldly stood by the work previously owned by my family as being the authentic
version, and their picture probably a copy. However, I was later concerned I should have been more cautious and considered the possibility that the newly discovered version could have been an original Gainsborough which had later been extensively overpainted.
The programme detailed a number of twists and turns following the story of their picture, and kept viewers guessing right until the end. But thankfully it was eventually revealed that subsequent tests, scans and opinions confirmed the new work was indeed a later copy. Luckily my instinct was right; but it transpired it was in fact a copy painted over another picture, a much earlier portrait!
John Day is the founder of the East Anglian Traditional Art Centre, specialising in research into artists associated with the area.