Secret clues show Cezanne 'genuine'
March 23, 2005 By Roberta Mancuso
SECRET clues hidden in a so-called $50 million Cezanne masterpiece at the centre of "Australia's biggest art heist" prove the painting is authentic, an international art expert says.
Svend-Erik Hendriksen, the director of Greenland Art Research (GLAR), said today he was "100 per cent" certain about the authenticity of the painting, supposedly worth $50 million and allegedly stolen from a northern NSW home.
He based his assessment on the unsigned work, purported to have been painted by Paul Cezanne, being riddled with secret "signatures" left behind by the renowned French impressionist.
The piece, Son in a High Chair, was among notable works said to have been taken from the home of eccentric NSW art restorer John Opit in February last year.
The theft at the time was described as Australia's biggest art heist, with the painting claimed by Mr Opit to be worth $50 million.
However, police last week said the painting was a fake, citing the findings of Brisbane art dealer Michael Sourgnes, who dismissed the entire collection as barely worthy of a junk shop.
But Mr Hendriksen, noted on the Art Experts Inc website as a veteran expert in Italian Renaissance paintings, told AAP by telephone from Greenland: "There is no doubt in my mind about that painting – it's a Paul Cezanne."
Mr Hendriksen said GLAR is one of the world's leading "miniature" experts and had found several by simply looking at a low resolution digital photo of the painting.
Mr Hendriksen said "miniatures" were small, detailed objects hidden into paintings which artists such as Cezanne used to prevent copying.
In Son in a High Chair, they included a bluebird, a figure of Cezanne himself peering through the window and a pair of eyes, he said.
"Very few people are able to see that kind of thing because they don't know much about miniatures, he said.
Mr Hendriksen also questioned a pigment analysis carried out by the University of Melbourne which found an "anomaly" – an oxide of chromium green which it said was not available commercially until the 1920s.
The Cezanne was painted in the 1870s.
Mr Hendriksen said it was "well known" the chromium green was commercially available from 1812.
Mr Opit said he had been contacted by several European authenticators who had made claims similar to Mr Hendriksen.
He said with their help, he had found at least eight miniatures in Son in a High Chair, which included a tiny man in a tuxedo painting, a rabbit and a bulldog.
"No so-called expert in this country ... has been able to locate these," Mr Opit said.