Samuel Palmer in the Marketplace
A recent series of newspaper articles has gone very far toward documenting the suspicion, first voiced by David Gould in a letter to The Times in 1970, that many of the paintings sold in recent years as Samuel Palmers have been modern fakes. The most recent installments in the story have come from Times salesroom correspondent Geraldine Norman, who traced several of the doubtful paintings to Thomas Keating. In a letter to The Times in August Keating admitted painting many imitations of the works of Palmer as well as of other artists. In a 27 August interview on Nationwide, a BBC television news program, Keating said that he had painted his imitations with the aim of showing the greed of art dealers who make their fortune off of artists whose works are bought for as little as possible and are sold as expensively as possible, a situation in which Keating says he has found himself for a lifetime of painting. Keating also claims that his imitations appear clearly as imitations to anyone who cares enough about Palmer to find out what Palmer’s paintings really look like, and Keating’s point in this case seems to be carried by the numerous doubts expressed by Palmer experts over the past few years about several paintings on the market.
According to stories in The Times, about thirteen paintings attributed to Palmer are being seriously doubted. The first Palmer to be questioned was a drawing of Sepham Barn, acquired along with three other Palmers by Leger Galleries in Old Bond Street in 1970 from Jane Kelly, Keating’s girlfriend. The authenticity of the Sepham Barn drawing was doubted begin page 69 | by Gould in his letter to The Times, but also by Sir Karl Parker, of the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, and by Raymond Lister, of Cambridge. Gould pursued the matter in correspondence with several other experts from 1970 until this summer when Geraldine Norman finally put the story in print.
Keating claims to have imitated many artists in the past several years, including among others Rembrandt, Gainsborough and Reynolds, Constable, Turner, Degas, and Renoir, but he has also confessed to being a bad imitator—and wondered how so many could have been taken in. Keating is now collaborating with Geraldine Norman and her husband on a book about Keating’s years as an imitator, and he has volunteered to assist a committee of inquiry set up by the British Antique Dealers’ Association to look into the matter of the thirteen doubted Palmers. (Readers who want more details of the story should see The Times, which has printed articles on the faked Palmers almost daily since mid-July.)