Dr. Victoria S. Reed, Sadler Curator for Provenance at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, has been getting a lot of notice during the COVID-19 lockdown for keeping her institution's collection alive via her social media feeds. She's been featuring fascinating stories behind some of the MFA's works, and the media has taken notice. The Art Newspaper and the Boston Globe have featured her unique perspectives into provenance issues.
Her latest post, about the Portrait of a Woman (above), is particularly interesting to us, as it involves art crime. Dr. Reed writes:
Museums have long made acquisition mistakes, and inadvertently accepted forgeries (works of art that are intended to deceive). In 1940, the MFA bought this painting, believing it to be by the Renaissance master Piero della Francesca, for $60,000. Its previous owner was Beatrice Vigano of Fiesole, who said her family had bought it many years earlier from a noble Italian family in Urbino, and that it had been painted over to represent a saint. This seems unlikely. The Boston Globe excitedly published the painting in 1940, writing: “There is not a false note – nor a careless line – in the whole composition. Only a master could have painted such a picture!” It’s often thought fakes deceive successfully because they are made to look right to the “period eye," in the same way, for example, that historical dramas filmed years ago looked “right” at the time they were made, but not in hindsight. The MFA has kept this, and other works of art that appear to be inauthentic, in the collection for educational purposes.
The MFA's website has more on the forgery here.