Anne Hailes: Art Society experts can keep you right so you don't get caught out

Detail of a frieze of the Elgin Marbles or Parthenon Sculptures, the subject of an Art Society of Northern Ireland lecture

THERE seems to be a great resurgence in interest when it comes to Old Masters, even young masters, With programmes like the long-running Antiques Roadshow and Fake Or Fortune?, where Fiona Bruce and art expert Philip Mould travel to major cities to uncover the provenance of an item – the history of ownership of a valued object, work of art or literature, something a viewer often thinks is a rare masterpiece but more often isn’t.

Undoubtedly this has brought the fascination of art to public knowledge and given many an interest for the first time. But then there are many others who know their stuff and can appreciate the skills and care taken by an artist when creating something beautiful. There is also a thirst for knowledge and The Art Society of Northern Ireland is one organisation where such knowledge reigns supreme. The chairman gave me some background.

“We were formerly known as the National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies,” Rupert MacHenry told me. “But that was a bit of a mouthful so the name was simplified.

"We encourage and welcome people to our meetings where they can listen to leading experts share their expertise and illustrate their particular subject – this is our unique selling point. The UK base is in London but there are societies around the world with somewhere in the region of 90,000 members.

"Here in Northern Ireland we have 120 members at the moment but interest is growing. This coming year we’ve seven lectures scheduled. Our first will be held next week on Wednesday October 17, appropriately called ‘Fakes and Forgeries’, given by Malcolm Kenwood who is a retired specialist police and private detective investigating art and antique crime.

"Malcolm was formerly the recoveries director of the Art Loss Register who now lectures to specialist law enforcement officers including the FBI and Interpol.”

Others subjects include Parthenon Sculptures Or How Lord Elgin Lost His Marbles, Winston Churchill The Artist and Rene Lalique: Master of Art Nouveau Jewellery and Art Deco Glass. A varied and interesting series running until April.

I had the good fortune of being able to stroll through the picture gallery in Buckingham Palace a couple of years ago: millions of pounds worth of history and beauty. How the effect of delicate lace on a ladies' gown was achieved is hard to comprehend. Of course I would have been beheaded had I followed my instinct to gently touch it just to prove it was paint on canvas.

The art market is huge

And it’s full of pitfalls so to be well versed in the intricacies is important even if you just visit a local auction from time to time browse – anyone can be caught out.

Four Louis XVI gilt-walnut armchairs were sold to the chateau at Versailles for £1.3 million in 2016 but the high-end antique market in Paris went into a spin when it was alleged that two were fake; several people are awaiting trial on charges of fraud.

Expert forgers have easy access to old wood and are even known to sprinkle dust from churches dating back to the right period to cover their tracks but the problem is, what else on the market is suspect?

The stories are legion. For instance, the antique dealer who had a knack of finding valuable furniture: no-one in the trade knew his source but recognised he had a nose for something unique. For years all was well until he reneged on a payment to his cabinet maker who got very shirty about it and blew the art world apart by declaring he made all these valuable pieces from seasoned wood so even the experts couldn’t detect they were modern and not ancient.

Such are the inside stories revealed in the Art Society lecturers, proving it can be a cut-throat business.

But it’s not only art appreciation and the enjoyment of chatting to these experts, members are also involved in recording items in churches, just now working in St George’s in High Street meticulously noting every item in the building from stained-glass windows to kneeling hassocks and all between.

When they took an inventory in a church in Newtownbreda they discovered one of the earliest pieces of Irish silver on record so there is always that chance of finding carvings and textiles going back to the 17th century or even earlier.

Even though it takes months, sometimes years to catalogue an entire church's art and artefacts, these records will prove invaluable in years to come, an easy reference for future generations.

Membership is £30 per year, £5 fee for lectures for members and £10 for visitors and that includes tea and coffee. Meetings are held in Malone Presbyterian Church Hall, 452 Lisburn Road, close to the M1 and with a huge car park.

More details at

All Our Yesterdays

TOMORROW evening at 8 o’clock and next Tuesday at the same time, UTV present two programmes looking back at the early days of the television station which opened it’s doors this month 59 years ago.

A lot of water under the bridge since that Halloween afternoon when bouquets of flowers were arriving by the barrow load, photographers snapping anyone who moved and the locals crowded round the front door in excitement.

Life was high and that lasted until and including this day when UTV are now making their home in a hi-tech glass cube overlooking the Lagan. The views are spectacular and the technology mind blowing: this is the 21st century.

The two hour-long programmes will show a different era, when Coronation Street fitted in between local programmes and one tiny studio and then a second larger one was working all day every day.

The famous came and went and local presenters were gods. Eamonn Holmes narrates the first programme and Gerry Kelly the second and Gloria Hunniford talks of the big names who came to Havelock House to appear on her programmes. Appropriately the programmes are called Unlocking Havelock.

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