Already mired in a conflict-of-interest scandal, the National Gallery of Victoria is today fending
off claims that a $25 million Vincent Van Gogh painting it has lent to an
exhibition in Scotland is not the real thing. Purchased by the NGV in 1940, the painting, Head of a Man, is currently on
loan to the Dean Gallery in Edinburgh. On the weekend, The Sunday Times
quoted various art experts casting doubt on the portrait’s
authenticity. NGV director Gerard Vaughan told the ABC this morning:
“Every great Van Gogh scholar of the 20th century has accepted the
authenticity of the picture and has published it as an authentic Van
Gogh. However, at the same time, we are very, very open to debate and
dialogue and it is not unusual in the world of art to question an
accepted attribution and we will be very, very happy to have that
debate.”

NGV’s Gerard Vaughan has had enough on his plate of late, having to oversee
the investigation into the extra-curricular activities of senior gallery curator
Geoffrey Smith. The Age’s arts editor, Ray Gill, described the
conflict-of-interest scandal as possibly “the greatest cause celebre to hit (the
NGV) since (past director) Patrick McCaughey recovered Picasso’s Weeping
Woman from a Spencer Street Station locker”. Comparing the Smith saga to the
theft 20 years ago of the Picasso portrait is a big call, particularly when
The Age has been conspicuously reluctant to get its teeth into this
story. Gill’s piece on the weekend was the third mention his paper has made
of the story since it broke early last month.

The Age is, however, showing keen interest in an eighteen-year-old
scandal
involving the Art Gallery of NSW. Ray Gill confirmed today that he made
inquiries last week about a 1988 case in which a New-York-based Australian art
dealer forged the signature of an AGNSW senior curator in order to secure a loan
from the Commonwealth Bank. Gill said he wanted to see how other institutions
dealt with conflict-of-interest cases.

The controversy gripping the Melbourne art world seems to be having
repercussions beyond the NGV. According to Larry Schwartz in The Age this morning the Ian Potter Museum at Melbourne University has ditched plans
to develop a website to promote the Vizard Foundation art collection.
The Potter is the current custodian of the collection of works that
were collected on behalf of Steve Vizard’s foundation before the
businessman got into trouble over insider trading. Schwartz wrote in The Age: “Dr Chris McAuliffe, director of the Ian Potter Museum of Arts, said the
museum had discussed development of a website and related educational materials
with the Vizard Foundation. But he said plans to improve the 1990s art collection on loan from the
philanthropic trust Vizard founded ‘has had to be put on the backburner, I
think, because of the general media brouhaha’ over matters including the
Melbourne millionaire’s illicit share trading.” McAuliffe’s reference to “the general media brouhaha” suggests he’s
blaming more than just the controversy around Vizard for the decision to shelve
the website. Dr McAuliffe recently (July 20) had a shot at Crikey for a reference we
made to the Vizard collection. But he is yet to respond to our questions about
the Potter’s loan agreement with the Vizard Foundation. We have asked when the
agreement is due to expire and how long McAuliffe expects the Vizard collection
to remain in the Potter’s possession.

Peter Fray

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