News24

Kebble's Tretchikoff probed

2009-05-15 14:05

Johannesburg - The record sale of Vladimir Tretchikoff's Lost Orchid painting at the Brett Kebble auction last week has been set aside pending an investigation into its authenticity, the auctioneer said on Friday.

"The sale has been set aside temporarily. It is not cancelled," said Graham Britz, who handled the auction of the slain mining magnate's art collection which fetched more than R50m last Thursday.

"I'm not leaving any stone unturned on this... I have to keep my credibility intact."

The biggest auction of South African art to date saw several record sales, including that of Tretchikoff's Lost Orchid, which went for R2.9m - excluding the seller's premium and Value Added Tax.

But a few days later, Beeld newspaper reported there were differences between Kebble's Lost Orchid and a picture of the painting that appeared in a book by Howard Timmins on Tretchikoff's work in 1969.

Forensics

Britz told Sapa on Friday he had commissioned a "very thorough" investigation by academics into the lineage of the painting.

Also, forensic tests would be conducted on the canvass and wood to determine its age.

"I have the best minds intellectually in the art world investigating this... we've also sent the painting for forensic testing," said Britz.

The 56.5cm x 54.8cm painting is regarded as one of the most famous works by the Russian-born artist who died in Cape Town in 2006.

But, the work depicted in Timmins' book differs markedly in places to the work sold at the auction of Kebble's art assets, the report in Beeld said.

The image in Timmins' book has a burnt match on the step, while it is missing in the Kebble work.

A drop on the orchid in the Timmins work lies in the centre of the orchid's petal, whereas in the Kebble work, it hangs off the petal.

On closer inspection, smaller differences in detail become apparent.

Possibly the most fascinating difference is the artist's signature.

Throughout his work, Tretchikoff's signature did not have lines struck through the letters "f" in his surname, but in the Kebble work, it is struck through.

Asked about this, Britz replied: "I don't want to comment on that."

He said he was unaware of the differences in the paintings until he was contacted by Beeld about it.

There could be an innocent explanation for the existence of the two similar paintings.

Britz said Tretchikoff was "a master of reproduction".

Two owners?

"It's called artistic tracing... artists do revisit the same subject and then there will be subtle changes," said Britz, referring to Monet who "did water lilies many times".

He said Tretchikoff's approach to art was focused on market penetration and that he was one of the wealthiest artists in the world.

The Sunday Times reported that businessman Anton Taljaardt bought the Lost Orchid at the Kebble auction.

It was not clear when Kebble bought the painting.

According to Graham's Fine Art's auction catalogue, Lost Orchid previously belonged to American actor Mark Dawson, quoting from Timmins' book on Tretchikoff's work.

The website, www.hunche.com/tretchikoff.htm, also states that Dawson owns the painting.

Beeld said this website was created in 2006, a year after Kebble was killed in what is believed to have been an assisted suicide.

At the time of his death, it is estimated that Kebble, who was shot dead in September 2005, owed gold mining house JCI R100m and the SA Revenue Service R180m. His estate is insolvent.

Britz took pains to assure guests at the start of the auction that Kebble's art was "clean".