News / Vancouver

Alleged Group of Seven painting not an authentic Lawren Harris, says Vancouver Art Gallery curator

Despite its owner’s claims, a painting that underwent laser testing in Vancouver this week was not painted by famed Group of Seven artist Lawren Harris, says a senior curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

“I do not believe that the painting … is in fact a Lawren Harris,” Ian Thom, senior curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery, told Metro. “It’s that simple.”

Thom’s comments come the day after chemists put the painting in question, dubbed Autumn Harbour, through testing by a Raman spectroscopy machine at the Canadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition taking place this week in Vancouver. The chemists had planned on testing Autumn Harbour against a Harris original titled Hurdy Gurdy to help determine its authenticity.

The test, which uses a laser to determine the chemical composition of the paint, provides data that can be compared against that of another painting.

Chemist Kelly Akers, who helped carry out the testing Tuesday, said the data wouldn’t be able to reveal if the painting is a Harris original, but could determine if both pieces used the same paint and were created during the same time period.

That could have provided at least another piece of the puzzle, she said.

“Sometimes it’s easier to disprove something than it is to prove,” she said.

Autumn Harbour’s owner, David Robertson of Delta, B.C., has wanted to test the painting’s authenticity since he bought the piece 14 years ago in an antique shop in Bala, Ont., an area Harris was known to visit.

But his plans were thwarted when he said Hurdy Gurdy's owner pulled out of the testing.

Robertson said the painting’s owner, local Vancouver businessman Tony Ma, had promised to bring the Harris original to the chemistry conference but pulled out after art curator Thom told him not to participate.

While Thom acknowledged that Ma did ask for his advice, he said he didn’t tell him to pull out of the conference.

“It was more along the lines of, ‘If I were you, I wouldn’t do it, because I don’t think it’s going to accomplish anything,’” said Thom, adding that the final decision is up to Ma.

A request for comment from Ma was not returned Wednesday.

Thom, who already examined Robertson’s painting a year ago, said he has no doubt Harris did not paint it.

“The subject matter is wrong, the handling of the paint is wrong, and the type of canvas is wrong,” he said, adding that many other art experts agree with him.

The chemists continued to test Autumn Harbour on Tuesday to at least provide data to Robertson in case he is able to compare it to another Harris painting in the future.

Still, Robertson, who has carried out his own research on the painting, said he is convinced the piece is an authentic Harris. If it were, he said it would be worth at least $3 million.

“You don’t have to have a signature on the canvas to recognize brushstroke style,” he said.