The scientific and historical analysis of works of art is becoming an increasingly common part of the due diligence process. A leader in the field, Dr Nicholas Eastaugh explains why analysis matters.
Dr Nicholas Eastaugh is probably best known for providing the crucial scientific evidence that led to the prosecution of ‘forger of the century’ Wolfgang Beltracchi. However, the analysis of Beltracchi’s painting was all in a day’s work for Eastaugh, who has worked in the field of art analysis for over two decades.
His company, Art Analysis and Research, is the largest of its kind, not to mention one of the most well-equipped, in a field with no governing body that is peopled by everything from one-man consultants to companies with varying levels of technical equipment.
Originally a one-man-band himself, Eastaugh founded Art Analysis and Research in order to move his work on to the next level.
“This type of business calls for a depth of scientific and analytical knowledge combined with real breadth of the historical research. You need to have the laboratory facilities and the time and the resources to go and search out archives – and I was getting to the point where it was beyond the scope of one individual.
“Setting up a larger company meant that we could have those things to hand but also offer our clients the level of study that the work really demands.”
Part of the company’s work involves chemical analysis of the materials used in a painting in search of anomalies that may indicate it is not genuine.
In the Beltracchi case, the breakthrough was the discovery of Beltracchi’s use of a pigment called titanium white, which would not have been available at the time when the painting was purported to have been made.
By using tools such as ultra-high resolution digital imaging, X-rays and ultraviolet fluorescence, Eastaugh is also able to examine what lies underneath a work of art. In particular, he looks for pentimenti – earlier sketches and drawings that show the artist changed the composition as he or she went along, and therefore are evidence of a true creative process.
Pentimenti can provide a strong argument for a piece being the original piece, rather than a later painting from a series, or a copy.
The core of Eastaugh’s business comes from auction houses, dealers and collectors. His company also does a certain amount of work with museums – for example, the famous Van Dyck self portrait which was recently saved for the nation, was taken to Art Analysis and Research for examination.
“For the old master market we tend to do a lot more imaging, x-ray, infra red, and so on, because those techniques can help answer the kinds of question that come up about those pieces of work. For other areas – for example, the Russian Avant-Garde, where there are a lot of problems with fakes, materials analysis is the key thing that gets done.”
Eastaugh’s job means he often plays a crucial, but largely unsung role in some of the art world’s biggest stories. His company is currently working on a number of major forgery cases, but he is not allowed to discuss them. He is also regularly involved in providing the analysis that helps art collectors make a decision on whether to buy.
“My main piece of advice is to get us in as soon as possible in the process,” he says. “We see things at all stages – resale, post sale – but it gets progressively more difficult for you if you delay getting a piece analysed.
“Involving experts like us is a part of your due diligence process, similar to what you would go through if buying a house. It’s becoming increasingly integral part of the art market to engage experts such as us. A problem is that there are many people offering these services, and the level is incredibly varied. You need to make sure you go to someone who really knows their stuff.”