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Worries after forger Keating is linked to picture at Horham church

PUBLISHED: 18:07 21 June 2016 | UPDATED: 18:07 21 June 2016

Pip Florance at St Mary's, Horham, sitting beneath the painting restored by the famous forger Tom Keating which has caused controversy over whether it is an original piece or a fake of the 16th century artwork.

Pip Florance at St Mary's, Horham, sitting beneath the painting restored by the famous forger Tom Keating which has caused controversy over whether it is an original piece or a fake of the 16th century artwork.

A painting returned to a village church after an absence of 50 years may be an original 16th century study or the work of master forger Tom Keating.

The painting at St Mary's church in Horham.The painting at St Mary's church in Horham.

Mr Keating was asked to restore the painting in the 1960s but a decade later he was unmasked as a serial faker as bogus works assigned to Samuel Palmer and other great artists.

Now residents at Horham, near Eye, say they cannot be absolutely sure who is the artist who created the painting – now returned to the village after 50 years in St Edmundsbury Cathedral.

The original painting, showing St Veronica wiping the face of Jesus, is thought to have been purchased from an itinerant Italian artist about 1840 when Rev William Bumstead Mack was rector of Horham.

It hung high on the chancel wall but was sent to Mr Keating in the 1960s for cleaning and restoration after art connoisseur Denis Ionides moved to the village.

According to a report sent to Mr Ionides by Mr Keating, the original picture was beneath three over-paintings, carried out around 1650, 1725 and 1800.

Mr Keating said he believed the painting was of Venetian technique but was the work of a Spanish painter, in the style of early El Greco.

The go-ahead for restoration work was given and Mr Keating later reported that he had removed the three layers of over-painting to reveal the original.

The restoration work was financed by the Friends of St Edmundsbury Cathedral and, when completed, it was sent back to the cathedral and hung in the building for many years before being taken down and deposited in a store.

When Horham parishioners discovered the painting was in the store, they campaigned for its return to the village with the help of the rector, Rev David Streeter, and some months after his death it has now been returned and re-hung.

However, residents say they are not sure whether the painting is a 16th century original or a 1960s fake by Mr Keating who died aged 66 in 1984 after claiming he had not been motivated by money but by his distaste of “greedy” global art dealers.

Pip Florance, the late Mr Ionides’ daughter, said: “My dad knew Tom Keating and, while it took nine years to persuade the parochial church council to take the picture down, it was eventually sent to him for restoration.

“People tend to jump to conclusions whenever Tom Keating’s name comes up and, without paying for an expert analysis, we’ll never know for sure whether it is a fake, but I personally believe the picture is an original.”

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