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July 19, 2014

In the Red Corner: “Connoisseurship and Art History”, and the Blue Corner: “Scientific Testing and Analysis” – Who’s right in determining Authenticity?

Toby Bull in Amelia (Photo by Paula Carretero)
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Toby Bull, Senior Inspector of Police, in Hong Kong returned to Amelia  in June to present "In the Red Corner: “Connoisseurship and Art History”, and the Blue Corner: “Scientific Testing and Analysis” – Who’s right in determining Authenticity?" at the Sixth Annual Interdisciplinary Art Crime Conference.

“I was present at a public talk about  month ago in Hong Kong by one of the chairman from one of the big three auction houses and he actually used the ‘f- word’ in public,” Inspector Bull said. “And the ‘f-word’ in this case stands for fakes which shows that this hitherto unspoken word is now at least getting some recognition from the art trade in Hong Kong.”

Toby Bull discussed how modern scientific authentication methods have gradually helping shift the onus of detecting fakes pieces from the art historian and connoisseur to the laboratory scientist. Bull looked at the authorship of art – encompassing the thorny issue of attribution and authenticity, looking at the range of processes and methodologies needed to authenticate art in paintings, ceramics and metals. Bull differentiated scientific examination (where it can deliver information that cannot be determined otherwise, revealing many unexpected cases of forgery) from connoisseurship (the ability to make reasoned assessments about artistic authorship, distinguishing between originals and copies and thus identifying forgeries). "Whilst appearing to be at the far and opposing ends of the authentication spectrum, the subjective connoisseurship research methods of the art historian and the forensic testing procedures of the scientist are not only complimentary but also very vital facets for the art authenticator to have in his arsenal in the war against fakes and forgeries," Bull said.

Toby J.A. Bull was born in England and educated at the famous Rugby School. He holds three academic degrees, including a BA (Hons) in ‘Fine Arts Valuation’ and a MSc in ‘Risk, Crisis & Disaster Management’. He continued his studies in the arts by becoming a qualified art authenticator, studying at the Centre for Cultural Material Conservation and graduating from the University of Melbourne, Australia. His thesis was on the levels of fakes and forgeries of Chinese ceramics in Hong Kong and the problems of smuggled illicit antiquities emanating out of China and has subsequently had his work on this subject published. Since 1993, he has worked for the Hong Kong Police Force. He has lectured extensively on topics surrounding ‘Art Crime’ to the likes of Sotheby’s Institute of Art and The World Congress of Forensics, as well as to ARCA’s ‘Art Crime Conference’ in Amelia, 2013. Seeing the disparity between public and private involvement in the field of art crime and its associated spin-offs, Toby founded TrackArt in 2011– Hong Kong’s first Art Risk Consultancy.