An international award scheme set up two years ago has honoured Cranfield University's programme of research into art market fakes and forgeries. Shortlisted with three other nominees for the 2012 Annette Giacometti Prize, the Bonhams-sponsored project, led by Professor Andrew Shortland, has developed an increasingly sophisticated trace element analysis to identify small differences in very rare elements within an object. From this, the university can build up a database of objects allowing it to use comparisons to identify fakes, most notably in the world of European and British ceramics and Chinese art.
Launched in 2011, the Annette Giacometti Prize is designed to recognise initiatives helping to raise awareness about the counterfeiting of artworks. At the awards ceremony at the Paris UNESCO headquarters on April 26, the judges awarded the project a grant of €10,000 to fund conferences on counterfeit art.
Sebastian Kuhn initiated the relationship with Cranfield in 2009, when he asked Professor Shortland to research a piece of European porcelain and test it for authenticity. Within a year Cranfield were able to expand their research into European porcelain by creating a PhD post for Kelly Domoney and Bonhams looked to widen the project's remit to cover Asian art with the support of deputy chairman Colin Sheaf and a three-year funding deal.
Since then the university and auction house have worked together to produce research papers and a lecture programme in partnership with Harvard, Winterthur and the Chicago Institute of Art. In 2011 it meant that Bonhams were able to publish Kelly Domoney's research on the subject in a Bonhams catalogue for the first time, announcing the testing of the whole Helmut Joseph collection, and announcing for the first time a clear division between the 18th and 19th century Meissen snuffboxes. Bonhams are now testing as a matter of course any high-value object of porcelain that comes through their rooms.
The team at Cranfield University have had a very exciting 2013 so far. In April, Cranfield launched the opening of their new state-of-the-art forensic laboratory 'Laboratory for Archaeomaterials Research and Analysis', which is dedicated to the non-destructive analysis of historic objects and archaeologicalmaterials. Staff in the laboratory work very closely with collectors, auction house specialists, museums and universities in helping to date objects and inform questions of technology and manufacture.
In June, Cranfield launched the first in a series of public seminar events that aim to disseminate the use and advantages of scientific testing in dating historic objects and materials to those engaged in the art world. The seminar, 'Art Meets Science: The Detection of Fakes and Forgeries', was held on 26th June 2013 at The Wallace Collection, London, WC1, and was well attended by over 90 guests including collectors, dealers, auction house specialists, museum curators, conservators and students in conservation, materials science and art history. The seminar, sponsored by the Giacometti Foundation, Paris, featured cases studies on the scientific examination of a range of objects and periods, including European and Chinese porcelain, Roman ceramics, stone objects, arms and armour and 20th-century Giacometti bronzes.
Also in June, Cranfield's Dr Kelly Domoney presented the results of her PhD research on the scientific dating of Vincennes-Sèvres at the French Porcelain Society Study Day held at the International Antiques Fair in Kensington Gardens, London. The results this research is scheduled for publication in early 2014.
Several other research projects are currently underway by Cranfield's staff and PhD students. These include: chemical analysis of the pigments and glazes on excavated 16th-century majolica from Urbino, Siena and Faenza; analysis of Count Bruhl's Meissen table fountain in the V&A that aims to identify later additions and restoration; characterising Worcester green grounds and imitation grounds in the Ashmolean Museum; characterising chemical composition of porcelain decoration by the James Giles workshop; analysis of documented pieces of Meissen porcelain in the Schneider Collection at the Lustheim Palace, Munich; and development the database on Chinese porcelain pigments and glazes.
More information on Cranfield's staff, PhD projects, research and testing services can be found on their website: www.cranfield.ac.uk/LARA
Or by contacting the Ceramics and Chinese art departments at Bonhams directly. A list of fees is available. Testing can be conducted on location, and is not limited to institutions.