Venus, a painting attributed to Lucas Cranach the Elder
‘Venus’, a painting attributed to Lucas Cranach the Elder which is part of the Prince of Liechtenstein’s collection. French authorities seized the work earlier this year in connection with an investigation which brought into question the authenticity of the picture. Image © Liechtenstein. The Princely Collections, Vaduz–Vienna

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The painting was seized by French authorities back in March when it was on view at the Caumont Centre d'Art in Aix-en-Provence.

The director of the collection, Dr. Johann Kräftner, said they remain “fully convinced” of the authenticity of the work they bought for €7m from dealers Bernheimer/Colnaghi in 2013. Following discussions with technical experts who were commissioned by a French judge overseeing an investigation into the oil on panel, they have now released details “lending weight to their view”.

With the argument over the attribution looking set to intensify, Kräftner said they are releasing further details “in order to counteract any biased pre-publication of research findings”.

The document released by the Liechtenstein collection, which is available online, refers to aspects of the picture which the investigating team have apparently questioned. These relate to:

  • Pigment analysis
  • Colour components
  • Date of the oak panel
  • Variations in craquelure in different sections of the painting
  • Signature
  • Provenance

At a meeting in Paris just over a fortnight ago, Kräftner and Robert Wald, director and head of conservation at the Liechtenstein Collections, were presented with a new report by Dieter Koepplin, one of the art historians who approved the Cranach attribution at the time of the acquisition in 2013. They were also presented with a statement by Gunnar Heydenreich made to French police in September.

Both the report and statement by the two Cranach scholars declared the work to be a counterfeit.

The statement released by the Princely Collections mentions that while “the research by the French scientists is profound and creditable in its basic approach”, they have divergent views in terms of their “interpretation of the results”. It also points to an additional report by German art historian Claus Grimm who had inspected the painting prior to the purchase of the work as further evidence of authenticity.

The examining magistrate in Paris (Juge d'instruction) is Mme Aude Buresi but it remains unclear when any details about the investigation will be made public. ATG made enquiries to France’s cultural property body ‘l’Office central de lutte contre le trafic des biens culturels’ (OCBC) but has yet to receive any comment.

The painting is being kept in the Louvre Museum and will remain there while the investigation continues.