Art series with Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould. The team investigate whether three small pictures are really the work of one of Britain's best-loved modern artists, LS Lowry.
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The art world, where paintings change hands for fortunes.
Selling at 95 million...
But for every known masterpiece,
there may be another still waiting to be discovered.
-Well, that's it.
-Well, that's it, isn't it?
That is it, that is our painting.
International art dealer Philip Mould and I
have teamed up to hunt for lost works by great artists.
We use old-fashioned detective work and state-of-the-art science
to get to the truth.
Science can enable us to see beyond the human eye.
-Isn't that incredible?
The problem is not every painting is quite what it seems.
I paid about £100,000 for it.
That is a lot if it's a fake.
It's a journey that can end in joy...
-Aw, isn't that great?
..or bitter disappointment.
They are declaring that your painting be seized
and then destroyed.
In our first new investigation,
we take on one of the biggest names in 20th-century art -
Laurence Stephen Lowry.
We're on the trail of three small oil paintings
by Britain's best loved modern artist,
bought by a self-made man with a passion for art.
They should be worth a small fortune,
but uncertainty about their origin
means they could be worth nothing at all.
Yeah, they are worthless.
The trouble is LS Lowry is one of the most frequently faked artists,
his simple style making him a soft target for notorious forgers.
You've just got to kind of get this on as fast as you can,
especially if you want to do a fake.
Can we prove that these three paintings are genuine works?
Look, there they are!
Look, that's it. That's them.
Or could there be a more sinister explanation?
So we're dealing with a rogue pigment.
Possibly a rogue painting.
We're heading to the north-west of England
to follow up a lead on a small collection of artworks
thought to be by LS Lowry, the region's most celebrated artist,
best known for his smoky industrial scenes of Northern life.
We've come to see a man who has just inherited three works
that he believes are by LS Lowry.
The problem is he can't quite prove that they are.
And the other problem is that Lowry, as you know,
is one of the most faked artists around, so it could be complicated.
We've arranged to meet property developer Stephen Ames
in Neston near Cheshire.
-Hi, Philip. How are you?
-Very well, very nice to meet you.
He's brought us to the home of his late father, Gerald,
who died last year, aged 87, leaving behind several artworks -
including a trio of possible Lowrys.
Well, this is a lovely collection, isn't it? These look great.
I think this is probably my favourite,
this lady here with the two dogs.
It is a wonderful, quirky image,
done in a slightly abstract form against that white background -
typical, in a sense, of Lowry.
The one above, I'm so pleased we've got a crowd scene by him
cos he is so famous for that.
All these little figures are all slightly separate
-one from the other.
-Yeah, rather lonely, slightly dislocated.
What about this rather marvellous pair here?
Yeah, he loved quirky subjects.
He had this perpetual eye open for the opportunity.
One feels that this is based on something, if it is by Lowry,
that the man encountered.
Born in Lancashire in 1887,
Lowry became fascinated by the factories and everyday life
of Manchester and Salford, where he lived and worked as a rent collector.
Often sneered at by the art establishment,
he painted for decades in obscurity before finding fame in old age.
By the 1960s and '70s, he was wildly popular - a genuine people's artist.
And, after he died, even the subject of a chart-topping song.
# And he painted matchstalk men and matchstalk cats and dogs... #
Many of Lowry's admirers were new to art buying
and keen to stay in touch with their northern roots -
just like Stephen's father, Gerald.
And this is your dad here, is it? Let's have a look at these pictures.
-He looks quite a character.
-He was, he was quite...
-That's your mum, is it? With the beehive?
-It is, yes.
And your dad looks like something out of Mission: Impossible!
-Well, that's right, that's him.
-It's a 1970s period piece really.
-It really is.
The son of a nurse and merchant seamen,
Gerald Ames was a self-made man who became a successful company director,
able to afford the finer things in life.
Have you got another picture there? What's that one underneath?
I think this is slightly earlier.
He bought this plane, I'm sure, in 1969 or 1970,
so it's all the same period.
What a dude your dad was! Great childhood you must have had,
growing up with all these boys' toys.
We did, we did have a fantastic childhood.
-He was a bit of a connoisseur himself, was he?
-He was, yes.
He was a connoisseur himself.
He was, he was quite a keen amateur painter himself
and he was a great fan of Lowry and other northern artists.
He brought them really all within a year, these three certainly,
I should think 18 months anyway.
Do you know where your father bought these pictures? Were they from auction?
No, they weren't from auction and that I do know.
I remember him going down with my mother and going through them,
and looking at them in a gallery. I do remember that.
He wouldn't have bought them at auction, he wasn't that...
-So he bought them from a dealer?
-Sounds like a man of taste.
The problem for Steve is there are no records to show where and when
his father bought the Lowry paintings,
so there's no real evidence to show that they are authentic Lowrys.
So, what has happened now?
You've tried to prove these pictures are by Lowry?
We had everything valued and because I couldn't find anything...
You couldn't find any documentation?
No. I could for everything else but not on these three.
You've given us a horrific challenge
because without the paperwork, without the receipts,
without the proof that your dad actually bought these things...
Yes, I know. Look, Philip, I promise you,
I've been through thousands of pieces of paper
and my brother has, if anything, more than I have,
and my wife - who's a lawyer -
and they're good at going through pieces of paper!
We can't find anything.
God, so here we have a man who knew a bit about art,
bought three paintings in Lowry's lifetime
and now you're stuck with them.
I mean, they are worthless without authentication.
At the moment, Steve. Come on.
If they are by Lowry, Philip, what would they be worth?
Steve, this is just going to really frustrate you
because if we were to start with the old couple,
I can see that making 40, 50,000.
I can see the quirky lady in black with the dogs making 60,000,
possibly even a little bit more, it's so beguiling.
As for the crowd scene, well,
that could even touch 100,000.
You're looking at over £200,000 worth of pictures here if,
and you haven't got it, if you can get the paperwork.
We're not the first to search for proof that the three paintings are genuine,
with several auction houses drawing a blank after months of enquiries.
The fact that they weren't authenticated
or they wouldn't be authenticated sort of,
it upset me a bit because it's about his memory really
and he wasn't the type of person who would be duped, in my view,
particularly in this period of his life.
It's a point of family pride for Steve
to prove that the three pictures are genuine.
His father was passionate about the art of the north-west of England,
buying works by Alan Lowndes and Pat Cooke, a protege of Lowry,
from reputable galleries.
A profitable spell in the early '70s
allowed him to splash out on quality works
and this is when Steve thinks his father must have bought the Lowrys.
But in the absence of a paper trail,
the only real evidence that these pictures might be genuine
lies in how they look.
To find out how far they resemble authentic works by LS Lowry,
Fiona and I have come to Salford Quays,
home of the Lowry Centre, where over 400 of his works are held.
This is arguably his most famous picture -
1930, Coming From The Mill.
Lowry said that he would start a painting
by blocking in the buildings
and then the people afterwards.
Looking at these buildings,
you get the sense that that's what he's done there, don't you?
Yeah, very much so. I see with Lowry that the architecture,
which is incredibly important, acts a bit like the stage props
and the characters, the actors who impart the emotion
are the figures at the bottom.
By setting these figures against a light background,
he's conveying a sense of emotion, a sense of thought.
Let's face it, he's probably the most distinctive artist at work in Britain
in the 20th century.
Above all, Lowry's work is deceptively simple -
A classically trained painter who resented being billed an amateur,
Lowry's work broke with convention. He called them dreamscapes
and in the post-war years, often filled them with quirky,
even grotesque, characters.
It's these works which have the closest resemblance
to Steve's paintings.
The old woman in The Funeral Party, painted by Lowry in 1957,
is uncannily close to the woman in Steve's picture.
This painting, Figures In A Street,
is strongly reminiscent in the skyline and the composition
of Steve's crowd scene
and Lowry's trademark black dogs are everywhere,
sometimes looking almost catlike,
just as they do in Steve's picture, Lady With Dogs.
Encouraged by the similarities
between Steve's pictures and Lowry's genuine work,
we're meeting up with Dr Bendor Grosvenor,
Fake Or Fortune's specialist art researcher.
He's been hunting for information about the history of the paintings.
Well, can I start with the picture I think is the most promising
of our three? I think it's Lady With Dogs.
I think, as we always like to do, I'd like to start on the back
because we have what looks like a rather promising stock number.
I'm hoping that that's going to tie in
with this label from the Lefevre gallery down here.
Now, Lefevre is a very interesting name
because Lefevre and Lowry had a long and close connection.
Lefevre was the first gallery to mount a solo exhibition
of Lowry's work in 1939.
In fact, I'm told none of the paintings sold
and Lefevre bought some of them themselves
so as not to disappoint Lowry too much. But then,
by the time it came to the 1960s, it was an event for the glitterati.
Lowry's exhibitions would sell out on the first day.
Importantly, the Lefevre gallery is still around today.
We need to know if they've got any archives
-and, if so, we need to get access to them.
One slight problem perhaps with Lady With Dogs is the signature,
which is written on in Biro.
Did Lowry do his signatures in Biro?
Actually, you're not the first to point that out
and be worried about it.
The auction house who first checked out these pictures said,
"Why shouldn't it be painted or scratched in as he often did?"
That was a question mark also.
'When it comes to our other two pictures, though,
'there's precious little to go on.'
We've got an old couple, dated 1957 and then an undated crowd scene.
Looking at the back of these, it's potentially a bit less promising.
Those two white stickers that leap out at us
are from this auction house, which checked out the paintings, nothing more.
But if you look at the old couple on the left,
the inscription says Darby and Jones.
I think I think that's probably meant to read Darby and Joan.
-So, the old married couple.
Quite a common subject for artists at that point.
Not fantastically rich pickings, is it?
We have got something else to go on
because Steve mentioned a name to me, Andras Kalman,
who you will know was a well-known London art dealer
who dealt in Lowry, amongst others. That's a possible connection.
Yes, well, in fact, his gallery, Crane Kalman, still exists.
I'll go along and see what they have in their archives.
Yeah, we really need to crack the provenance on this
but also the science.
No-one has really got to grips with what Lowry looks like as an artist up close.
It's about time we put him under the microscope.
I'm on my way to meet one of Fake Or Fortune's experts
in the scientific analysis of paintings, Libby Sheldon.
She's been studying Lowry's artistic techniques
and is keen to examine Steve's paintings up close
to see if they bear any hallmarks of the master
or any ominous signs that they were created more recently.
First, she needs to free them from their overpowering 1970s frames.
I mean, this was a common way of putting pictures in their frames.
-We don't do it so much now.
-That's a good thing, isn't it?
-It shows it's got some age anyway.
Actually, it looks a lot fresher than it did, doesn't it?
Probably because the glass was slightly discoloured.
This is very interesting to see it without the glass
because it looks to me as if there isn't a varnish on this
and never has been.
Lowry was very adamant that his paintings shouldn't be vanished.
Now on to Darby And Joan, our old couple.
Unlike the other two pictures, this one is painted on a wood panel,
but does this make it more or less likely to be a genuine Lowry?
To me, the wood is a great thing because Lowry loved wood.
It's a slightly more difficult thing to get a piece of wood
that is in good condition in order to create a fake.
-That's interesting. So wood gives you a little bit more comfort?
God, isn't that interesting?
-You can now see the texture in a way that you couldn't before.
I mean, it's applied really thickly, isn't it?
Yes, and also, it tumbles over the edges. Look.
I mean, if this is by a faker,
it's by someone who knows their way around a pot of paint.
Very competent, yes.
Libby is taking tiny samples from the surface of Steve's paintings
to find out precisely what pigments are present.
Lowry claimed that he only ever used five particular pigments.
"I am a simple man
"and I use simple materials," he said.
"My colours are and always have been
"Flake White," also known as lead white,
"Ivory Black, Scarlet Vermilion
"Prussian Blue and Yellow Ochre," -
just five colours and always from the Windsor & Newton company.
These should be the only ones Libby's tests reveal in Steve's paintings.
Anything out of the ordinary could spell trouble.
While we wait for the results of Libby's scientific analysis,
I'm doing some research into the market for Lowry's works.
You just have to have a quick look on the internet to see quite
how many Lowrys there are for sale here. I mean, it's just amazing.
There are some going for £3.65 -
mind you, that's had four bids. There's one here for £340.
"Wonderful northern art, original oil painting, LS Lowry."
Now, it says original painting and then it says LS Lowry.
It doesn't say original painting by LS Lowry,
but that's what you'd think and it's signed by LS Lowry.
"No provenance for this one, I'm afraid," no surprise there.
"Gorgeous colours, lots of figures to be seen in this painting."
Oh, listen to this -
"I'm selling this beautiful painting from my LS Lowry collection,"
It's very interesting. It's staying on the right side of the law,
but only just. This is...
You know, this is an industry you're seeing here.
The art market might be awash with modern Lowry copies,
but I've found troubling evidence that his work was being forged
as early as the 1970s -
precisely when Steve's dad
is thought to have bought his paintings.
I have managed to find somebody who was faking Lowry as early as 1969.
Now, he was a man called John Green
and he lived, appropriately enough, on the Costa Del Sol.
He would say, "Lowrys are a piece of cake to copy."
To begin with, he would sell them for a few hundred quid,
a few thousand pounds. After Lowry died, suddenly,
John Green realised he could make even more money from Lowrys
and he would start to charge £40,000 a time for his paintings.
This was serious money.
Who knows how many fake Lowrys by John Green are in the market?
It's impossible to say.
I'm worried about how tainted the market for Lowry's works might be,
so I've arranged to meet James Rowland,
former head of modern art at Sotheby's,
to find out why Lowry became such a soft target for forgers.
James, how often would Lowrys be bought to you
and has a fake ever come across your desk and you thought it was genuine?
There are pictures that come up that take a lot of thinking about.
Is that a yes?
-Well, it just shows how difficult it is, doesn't it?
-It is very tricky.
Even you have been taken in?
It's very tricky to be able to pin something down categorically.
What should we be looking out for?
You've lots of Lowry fakes in your time.
What sets alarm bells ringing for you?
To fake a Lowry successfully,
you need to be able to replicate the technique, replicate the palate...
Which, of course, was limited cos he only used five colours, by and large.
But that in itself means you need to replicate
the spirit of the pictures.
Presumably with Lowry,
a fake is going to go after the more popular Lowry subjects -
the mills, the crowd scenes, that kind of thing.
Yeah, that's very much the path that you are going to see
most people following if they are going to fake a Lowry
because that's what he's known for.
It's the street scenes, the chimneys, figures with dogs,
that sort of thing and, of course, towards the end of his life,
those smaller panels with the one or two figure groups.
I suppose probably because they are perceived to be a simpler kind of picture.
The apparent simplicity of Lowry's work
has been exploited by forgers to such an extent
that there is currently no official body prepared to authenticate
newly discovered works.
It occurs to me, having talked to James,
that we are probably going to have to work even harder with Lowry
than we have with any other artist we've dealt with in the past
because he is so widely faked.
We're going to have to put together an absolutely watertight argument
for these Lowrys. When it comes to the panel of people
who ultimately will verify it,
even if they think it probably is a Lowry,
unless they are 100% sure,
they're going to err on the side of caution and say no.
If we're going to convince a specially assembled panel of experts
to accept Steve's pictures as genuine, we need provenance -
hard evidence that shows a chain of ownership
beginning with Lowry himself
and ending with Steve's dad, Gerald Ames.
We think he bought Lady With Dogs, the most promising picture,
from the Lefevre gallery
and our research into the label on the back of the picture
has suddenly borne fruit.
I've just had a fascinating e-mail from my gallery staff.
They've come across a picture in Cheshire,
same county where Steve lives,
a painting by Lowry, fully authenticated
and the fascinating thing is on the back of it is a number beginning with X,
very similar to the style of number we have on the lady with the two dogs!
I've come to Wright Marshall auctioneers in Knutsford.
7,300 now, at 7,300 seated...
At 7,300, all yours...
With the sale already in progress,
I've persuaded them to let me have a sneak preview of the genuine Lowry
and there's something remarkable about it.
This is the most extraordinary coincidence.
This picture, a fully authenticated Lowry, it's got all the paperwork,
is about to be sold downstairs in about an hour's time.
We've managed to sneak it up here to have a look but just look at it -
it's exactly the same frame as that around Steve's.
Carved, gilded, with a canvas slip,
but the best bit comes when you turn it over
because not only have you got a label - a Lefevre label,
exactly the same as the one on Steve's, looks like the same typewriter -
move your eye up, and this is the knockout blow.
You've got the number X9102, another X number
but just look at the number, 9102.
Compare it to Steve's, 9101!
So we are left with the extraordinary conclusion
that these two pictures must have hung together in the same exhibition,
probably at Lefevre. They belong together.
Now, surely the most sophisticated faker couldn't think of that one?
The rather special LS Lowry oil painting, People In A Street.
Signed, completely authenticated, full bill of sale and provenance
all the way back to its original purchase from the Lefevre gallery,
'72. We've got that all-important little X number on the back as well.
I'll start you straight off, in at £50,000...
At 50,000, I bid, who's in next?
51, 52, 53...
At 54, 55...
Not surprisingly, bidding is brisk.
60,000, at £60,000 now...
Any further bids? Going once, twice...
Three times at £60,000, all done now...
Yours, sir, thank you, at £60,000.
So, with auction tax and commission, that painting made £75,000
but make no mistake,
it wasn't just the picture that made that sum of money -
it was the all-important bill of sale,
that piece of paper that Steve doesn't have for his little picture.
Philip's discovery in Cheshire should help our quest
to prove that Lady With Dogs is authentic,
but there's precious little information about the provenance
of Steve's other two pictures, Crowd Scene and Darby And Joan.
The only lead we have is that Steve's father, Gerald Ames,
knew the founder of the Crane Kalman Gallery,
who specialised in the sale of Lowry's art in the '70s.
Bendor is keen to find out whether they might have sold him the pictures.
-Splendid, more things.
-The box of goodies.
LS Lowry's old stock...
Today, the gallery is headed by Robin Light,
a leading expert on Lowry.
He's offered to show Bendor what a genuine work
sold through Crane Kalman should look like.
As a rule, of course, it doesn't happen with everything
cos labels fall off or they get changed by frame makers,
but we tend to always look for this, it's very simple,
Crane Kalman label - title, artist, date, buyer.
Here, we have, "Lowry, Two People, sold in December 1973."
If we reference the ledger, we go to '73 and here we have it,
"13th of December 1973, Two People sold for £2,500."
-So, that's the system working perfectly...
-..and we're a bit stuck here.
With no labels on two of our paintings,
is there any evidence of a sale to Gerald Ames
in the gallery's ledgers?
I've checked out the pages from 1969 through to '75
and cannot find any reference at all for a G Ames.
Robin, if I fail completely in my mission
to find any provenance for these two paintings at all,
would you ever feel confident enough about just making attribution
on the basis of what you see there in the image itself?
I think we would be very dismissive of selling something
without a track record, especially with Lowry.
It was known in the '70s, I think
pictures were coming from Spain and all sorts of other places.
I think I'd say, hand on heart, we wouldn't straightaway say,
"Yes, we'll buy these,"
I would have to say, "Yes, we'll buy these
-"if we can corroborate the provenance."
-OK, all right.
With so little information about the origins of Crowd Scene and Darby And Joan,
how can we be sure they're not clever forgeries?
My research into Lowry fakes
has turned up a disturbing case from 2007.
For years, George and Olive Greenhalgh and their son Shaun
have cheated galleries and art dealers by passing off forgeries
as treasured artefacts.
Shaun Greenhalgh was sentenced to four years in prison
for faking everything from antiquities to modern art,
including the work of LS Lowry.
Today, he's a reformed character
and he's agreed to help our investigation.
He's offered to show us how he went about creating a fake Lowry
and any warning signs we should look out for in our pictures.
Shaun, you successfully faked Lowrys
even while you were at school, didn't you?
Yes, 15, I think was my first successful Lowry I managed to do.
When you say successful, you managed to sell it you mean?
Yeah, through a dealer who used to deal in Lowry's work
when he was alive, yeah.
Shaun's meticulous approach to painting a fake Lowry
showed just how difficult it can be to tell the difference
between a forgery and the genuine article.
You've just got to kind of get this on as fast as you can,
just slosh it on initially, get the texture into it.
He used quite a lot of paint, Windsor & Newton...
-Yeah, Windsor & Newton paints.
-He was a good customer.
-Of course, these five colours.
-Yes, just the five
and especially if you want to do a fake,
you'd stick to the actual colours,
so you didn't have any kind of controversy. That would be important.
When you saw art experts and eminent figures in the art world
authenticate your paintings,
what did that make you think about their level of connoisseurship?
In a lot of cases, I think it's found wanting.
Provenance is, as we all know in the art world,
more important really than the actual work of art.
-Well, to many people it is.
-Cos of people like you, Shaun.
If it wasn't for you churning out your Lowrys,
people wouldn't be placing the emphasis on provenance that they are.
Absolutely, that's a point, yeah. A lot, there are a lot...
-So you are responsible for that.
You have, you do have a point.
It's painstaking work,
trying to precisely replicate a very spontaneous artist.
What I always found I had to do
is to tick the right boxes in the expert's minds
when they come to look at the painting
or any other work of art, for that matter.
What are they actually looking for that says it's genuine or it isn't?
I think if you find out what those triggers are and tick those boxes,
they go further than most people might imagine -
even if they're relatively poor works.
There's one question I've been dreading to ask.
Shaun admits he faked his first Lowry in the mid-70s.
Could he be responsible for any of our pictures?
And just checking, you didn't do any of these?
No, I've never done any late stuff.
-Well, that's reassuring, at least.
I'm relieved and as Sean knows Lowry's work intimately,
I'm keen to know whether our pictures look real or fake to his eye.
What do you think?
-Yeah, I'd have no trouble in saying that that's by Lowry.
This is undated Crowd Scene.
I'm a bit concerned with this area here
but like I say, it's hard to tell with not the real thing here.
This looks like it's been painted over with thinners,
which Lowry never used.
It looks very thinly painted.
What about this one? Lady With Dogs.
That looks OK to me, to my eye especially, yeah.
Well, it's not proof but it's very interesting to hear what you think.
Mmm, of course.
Shaun's endorsement of Lady With Dogs is heartening,
so Bendor is chasing down the final piece of evidence we need
for it to be accepted as a genuine work by LS Lowry.
He's come to the Tate Gallery's underground vaults
to examine the sales ledgers of the Lefevre gallery,
whose label appears on the back of Steve's picture.
These photographic ledgers were compiled by the Lefevre Gallery
to record all the Lowrys that they ever sold.
If we're going to back up the claim that one of Stephen's pictures
was sold through the Lefevre Gallery, we need to find it in these ledgers.
The key piece of evidence is that stock number,
boldly written on the back.
What we need to do is match up the stock number on the back
of Stephen's picture, X9101, to one of the numbers in here.
Now, that X is quite an important number because the X numbers
denoted paintings that were bought from Lowry himself.
That is the picture that sold at auction for £60,000, X9102.
Here we are. Recognise that.
Fantastic, here it is, Steve's painting.
We had just better check it is the same painting,
not some dodgy copy, and I think there can be absolutely no doubt
at all that we've got one of Steve's paintings here.
It feels now that we could have done enough to prove
that Lady with Dogs is a genuine work,
so we're all getting together to take stock.
That's so encouraging to find Lady with Dogs in the Lefevre ledger.
In terms of getting the paper trail all the way back
from the painting to Lowry himself, it doesn't get much better than that.
I think it makes the picture almost a dead cert, doesn't it?
You're so buoyant, I hesitate to cast a shadow over proceedings,
but I've just heard from the Lefevre Gallery and they have another ledger
which records what paintings they sold, when, and to whom.
The only problem is, they want to keep client details confidential
and they won't show it to me.
What they have done is given a little bit of information from it
and they're saying Lowry's painting,
Lady with Dogs was sold in July 1972,
which is a really good date for us.
That's pretty much the year that Steve recalls his father buying it.
I know but this is where the problem arises because Lefevre,
they won't tell us who did buy the painting,
but what they will tell us is it was not Gerald Ames.
It wasn't Steve's dad who bought it in 1972.
So could it be that whoever bought it from Lefevre then sold to Gerald?
We've clearly got to work out how Gerald got hold of it
and what Lefevre say is that the person who bought it,
this mystery buyer, was not an art dealer or agent
so wouldn't have sold it on in that way.
Someone connected to the gallery and therefore
if they had decided to sell the painting,
would almost certainly have sold it through Lefevre
so Lefevre would have known about it, but they don't.
They have no record of it
and they won't tell us who the mystery buyer is.
I suppose the other option is that it's stolen.
I have come across a couple of stories in papers
from the 1970s about works by Lowry being stolen,
but then I checked it in something called the Art Loss Register,
which is the first place you would look for a record
of a stolen painting, and Steve's pictures are not on that.
We're obviously going to have to tell Steve about this development.
Yes, and it's very unfortunate because the art world hates a gap
in the provenance for a 20th-century picture like that.
What we have to try and establish
is Steve's father's credibility as a buyer of Lowry.
What we need to do is get closer to the early history of this painting.
Our investigation has taken an unexpected turn.
The provenance chain that we had hoped to establish from Lowry
and Lefevre to Steve's father Gerald Ames has been broken.
It's the kind of anomaly that will make Lowry experts very wary...
..so it's vital we find evidence that Gerald had
the paintings in the early '70s.
We're interrupting Steve's holiday to update him.
Steve, we have spoken to the Lefevre gallery, as you would expect,
to try and find out, to get the paper trail
-of your father buying the painting from Lefevre.
What we've got now is a break
between the painting being at the Lefevre Gallery
-and it ending up with your dad.
What I think we need to prove is that your father held these things,
so it's not just a receipt, and I realise that might be impossible
to get hold of, but just some evidence
that he had them in the '70s.
That would be very helpful because it would allow us
to complete that paper trail.
He definitely had them in the '70s, I know that.
Insurance documents might be the best.
Or friends who remember it being on the wall at the time,
any photographs of it hanging up?
We just need to start looking in different directions now, Steve.
-You'll have to leave it with me.
It's a setback but we've got other avenues to pursue now.
It is funny because that is the one that I thought would be
-the easiest one.
-So did we.
It's vital that Steve turns up some evidence to show
that his father owned Lady with Dogs.
The alarming lack of provenance on Steve's other pictures,
Crowd Scene and Darby and Joan, makes it more important than ever
to prove there's nothing abnormal about the pigments the artist used.
I've returned to see Libby Sheldon, our expert
and scientific analysis of paintings.
Libby, it's great to be back, how have you been getting on?
Well, I've taken some samples, as you know,
and some very interesting information has come up.
Libby has been comparing microscopic fragments of paint
from Steve's pictures with samples of the five Winsor & Newton pigments
Lowry is known to have used -
and Yellow Ochre.
These two paintings have the five pigments in them
and they're very close together in terms of the types of white,
the types of vermillion and so on.
We've got a little bit of Prussian Blue there and with the white,
it's even more exciting because the Winsor & Newton Lead White
has these very bright particles in it.
It's really something quite distinctive amongst lead whites.
Here you see these extraordinary jewel-like fish almost,
fish-shaped, floating around in the lead white.
So it's not conclusive but at least there's no shocking
-revelations at the stage?
-No, and very encouraging, I think.
It's reassuring to know that Libby has only found
evidence of those exclusive five pigments Lowry favoured
in Crowd Scene and Lady with Dogs.
But her tests have revealed something highly unusual
about Darby and Joan, and it could put its authenticity in doubt.
Now this painting, I found disturbingly different.
It's got a white with it that is not lead white.
It is throughout the painting, so it makes the paint seem very different.
So we're dealing with a rogue pigment?
Well, possibly a rogue painting.
With the fate of Darby and Joan hanging in the balance,
we need to find out as much as we can about that unusual white
-pigment that Libby has detected. Hello, Rachel.
We've come to the physics department of Kings College, London
to meet Rachel Grout.
She is going to examine the paint sample
under a scanning electron microscope.
It's up on the screen now. We're about to acquire the spectrum...
to see what the elements are.
Using x-ray analysis, she will be able to identify the individual
chemical elements and thus reveal the type of pigment used.
So the graph beneath will give us an indication of what it is?
Yeah, we're getting some very clear peaks for zinc
coming up on the spectrum.
It looks to be fairly pure.
-So this is zinc white?
-I think so.
Libby, what does that mean?
This is extraordinary, absolutely extraordinary,
to have zinc in the upper layer, you might just get that
but in the lower layer, that is a crazy thing to use.
It dries so slowly, it cracks, it is translucent.
It occurs to me that it could be by a faker.
This could be the end of the road for Darby and Joan,
unless we can find out if Lowry was secretly
trying out unorthodox paints.
Well, there is some suggestion in the research that I've been doing
in that period, exactly in the '50s,
he was experimenting possibly with titanium white.
So if he was using that,
perhaps he might have also tried zinc white at the same time.
Well, there's a thought.
The presence of zinc white paint in Darby and Joan
poses a real conundrum.
Either the painting is a fake or Lowry lied
about the fact that he only ever used five colours.
Could there be more to this simple man than he led us to believe?
What we've come across today is not necessarily unhelpful.
Lowry could be economical with the truth.
He would tell his interviewers sometimes
what he wanted them to hear,
or what they wanted to hear,
and there's also something about the character profile of Lowry
which fits with someone not wishing to fess up to using complex pigments.
Our only hope is that we can prove that Lowry was experimenting with
a range of pigments when he painted Darby and Joan,
which is signed and dated 1957.
Bendor has begun to dig deeper,
but with frustratingly little scientific research
done on Lowry's paintings,
he's having to look for evidence in less conventional places.
He's been trawling through photographs of Lowry at work
and has a lead on an image from 1957...
precisely when we believe he painted Darby and Joan.
We've just received this lovely photograph of Lowry in his studio,
which was taken in 1957.
It's a very rare colour photograph,
and 1957 is obviously the date of Darby and Joan.
And there's lots of paint materials for us to have a look at.
Are those tubes on the table?
They are Windsor & Newton paints.
If we go a little bit closer, we can see...
-It's brilliant! We've outed him.
So we've caught him red-handed or, if you like, white-handed,
telling little porkies about the paint that he was using.
When he says, "I only every use lead white or flake white..."
There's five...four boxes of titanium white in his studio.
-Caught out in his own studio.
And if we have a little look around this studio...
we can zoom in on this box here.
It's a large box, but it's upside down.
There's a paint label there, which tells us what it is.
If I flip it upside down and we can zoom in a bit...
-I don't know if you can...
-That says zinc white, doesn't it?
-It looks like zinc white.
-It's certainly white.
-He was awash with the stuff.
I think we could probably focus on this a little bit more
to be absolutely sure that we're getting this right
because this is quite ground-breaking stuff.
We are outing Lowry and saying that he didn't use the pigments
he only said he used.
Now, I have copies of a Windsor & Newton catalogue from the period,
and if you have a look at the bottom, there,
there's really not many options.
If you look at all the names of the white,
it really has to be zinc white because, for example, lead white,
flake white, is accompanied by a number, number one or number two,
and we see no number on the end of our box.
There's various other whites there with much longer names.
Yes, titanium white, permanent white, cremnitz white,
and they're all too long, aren't they?
It's a little zinc word.
But also, the more I look at it,
I don't think this is just wishful thinking,
-that absolutely looks like a zed.
-Yes, I think it must be.
-So, Lowry was a closet zinc white user.
-He definitely was, yes.
-We've outed him.
-I wonder what he would've made of this conversation.
I don't think he would have been too chuffed, actually.
I think he liked to keep his secrets.
Finding proof that Lowry used the pigment found in Darby and Joan
is a relief, but it will still take
a leap of faith for a Lowry expert to accept it as a genuine work.
We've got one last throw of the dice in our search for evidence
in the painting's favour.
Lowry was at the height of his fame in 1957
and it wasn't just photographers who were being admitted to his studio.
'This is a film about a man who became an artist
'because he missed a train.
'This happened many years ago.
'He left the station in a Manchester suburb
'and started to walk up the Bolton Road, wondering what to do.'
A BBC TV crew shot a documentary about his life that very year,
and Steve and I have come to a cinema in Manchester to watch it
on the original reels.
'What was there in the sooty streets to make Lowry wish to
'spend his life amongst them,
'painting a world in which other people could see no beauty?'
Could there be anything in this snapshot of Lowry's life
to help Steve's cause?
'Now, Lowry begins and as time goes by, he tells us how he works.
'I start on an empty canvas...
'..and prefer to paint from my mind's eye,
'and suggest something,
'call it a chimney or church,
'or anything else.
'Going along slowly
'and adding things, and in a strange sort of a way,
'it seems to come.'
As we watched Lowry at work, Steve glimpses something extraordinary.
There they are, look! That's it. That's them.
There, in Lowry's studio, sitting on the mantelpiece, Darby and Joan.
That was them.
It certainly looked like them.
-Hold your horses just for a minute.
-It certainly looked like them.
-That was it.
I think it was. There they are again.
That's the painting, without a doubt. That's it.
-That's... There it is.
-Oh, my God.
Weird, seeing it there.
-Has your one got a signature on? The front?
-Yeah, I think so.
And this one hasn't. But of course, he could have done that afterwards.
It's not finished, though, is it?
Wow. Here is...
-If it's not your painting, it's very like your painting.
-In Lowry's studio.
-Amazing that it's on the film.
Absolutely a stroke of luck, really.
Finding Darby and Joan in Lowry's very studio
is an incredible breakthrough,
but I want to be sure there's no doubt that Steve's picture is
one and the same painting.
We need to compare a still frame from the film with Steve's picture.
What we've done is had a high-resolution scan
made of that painting, and we're trying to compare the high-res scan
of this - so, this is from Lowry's studio, and this is Steve's picture.
You can see some similarities.
So look at the bottom of Darby's foot,
that little white patch.
And there it is on Steve's picture.
There's a kind of curl of paint round here,
not that distinct in this scan, much clearer here, in Steve's picture.
Look at that.
One thing that is different -
Steve's picture has a black line here,
coming down from Darby's walking stick here.
That's not in the 1957 studio picture.
But having looked at Steve's picture,
that's just a crack in the panel.
There is nothing surprising about that.
And what we've got to remember here is the technology.
I mean, this is a high-resolution scan,
which is what you need in order to be able to
recreate all the idiosyncrasies of this painting in this one,
and, of course, from 1957 to the 1970s, that didn't exist,
so how could someone have copied it in this level of detail?
-It's just not possible.
-I couldn't agree more.
And also, that's the technical similarities,
but there's also an artistic one, a stylistic one.
Those facial characteristics. I mean, it is almost impossible
for a copyist or for a forger to perfectly replicate features,
and both portraits have the same look of comical blandness.
We feeling increasingly confident that Darby and Joan
and Lady with Dogs are genuine works by LS Lowry,
and there's a real chance that will help prove
that Steve's third picture,
Crowd Scene, is also authentic.
We've had X-rays made of all three paintings
and they reveal remarkable similarities in the brushstrokes.
Now, notice with the Lady and Dogs on the left, those excitable,
vigorous strokes in the background.
They are almost identical in the whole way
they're applied to the Crowd Scene on the right.
But then, when you look more closely,
you can see that there are little black, jagged, cut-out areas,
possibly to mark the edge of a figure,
but they do show the same temperament, the same approach.
Now, given that we think one is by Lowry,
why shouldn't the other be too?
Seems like the first bit of good news we've had on the Crowd Scene.
The x-rays offer a compelling case that Lady with Dogs
and Crowd Scene were indeed painted by LS Lowry,
and Libby Sheldon thinks there may be even more evidence
to support the theory.
So, what I'm looking at here
is the signature on Lady with Dogs, which is in Biro.
Seeing it on the paint here, you can see how smooth it is,
and what a nice line.
But he didn't only use it as signature,
and, very interestingly,
on this painting,
we can see that he's used it in and around the figures.
I'll just bring that into focus...
Biro on the signature, Biro in the figure.
Is there anything you could tell me about the Biro itself?
Well, it has very interesting edges to it,
which I think was early ballpoint pens.
-Lovely. Lovely touch.
So, it would be a very, very clever faker to notice that.
Well, now, that's another link between these two pictures.
One picture, which we think has a very high chance of being Lowry,
and the other now has the same characteristic,
-with the use of Biro. We're getting closer.
With evidence mounting in favour of Steve's pictures,
it's more important than ever
to show that his father actually owned them.
With no receipts to back up any of the sales, is there anything
to prove that Gerald Ames acquired these pictures in the early '70s?
I've been back to Gerald's flat on the hunt for clues and finally
find something reassuring -
an estate agent's brochure from 25 years ago,
with all three paintings clearly on display in Gerald's living room.
Steve's also been busy and he's turned up insurance documents
listing the paintings in the early '80s.
He has even contacted his father's friends
and former colleagues in the search for proof
and he's received a letter from Gerald's former secretary
stating that she clearly remember seeing the pictures
on the wall in his house when she visited in the mid-'70s.
But will everything we've done be enough to convince the art market
to accept Steve's pictures as genuine works by LS Lowry?
We've convened our own unique panel of four of the country's
most prominent Lowry experts to offer the final judgment.
chairman of the Lefevre Gallery in the 1960s and '70s.
James Rawlin, former head of modern art at Sotheby's.
Robin Light, chairman of the Crane Kalman Gallery.
And Jonathan Horwich of Bonhams auctioneers,
a world authority on Lowry.
Would he be prepared to offer Steve's pictures for sale at auction
as genuine works?
There is over £200,000 resting on the opinion of these four men.
And they also hold in their hands the reputation of Steve's father,
Will they believe that these are three genuine paintings
bought by a man with a shrewd eye for English art,
or are the pictures instead ingenious fakes
bought by yet another victim of the Lowry forgers?
Personally, for what it's worth, I think these paintings ARE by Lowry.
Stylistically, forensically, we've really got to know the artist,
and you can see in these paintings all the characteristics,
but we don't have an unbroken provenance.
We can't take these pictures
back to the very day that Lowry painted them, if he did,
and these four experts in the room behind me
are going to have to come to a conclusion on the basis
of physical evidence, and the evidence of their eyes.
Now, we don't normally do it like that with Lowry.
It really could go either way for Steve.
When we started looking at these three paintings, I'd hoped,
because Lowry's obviously a much more modern painter
than many we've looked at in the past,
that finding a provenance trail would be a bit more straightforward.
How wrong I was because that has proved infuriatingly difficult.
But the physical evidence we found, I have to say, I think anyway,
is incredibly convincing, particularly with Darby and Joan.
I cannot think of any other way that Steve's painting could be
anything other than genuine. It has to be, when we compare it
to the painting we saw in Lowry's studio.
I just cannot see how that can be fake.
Obviously, I'm not making the decision, you know?
Our committee is. But...
They've got to be right.
I really think they've got to be right.
After several hours of deliberation,
our Lowry experts are ready to deliver their verdict.
So, Jonathan, speaking on behalf of the panel,
-have you reached a verdict?
-Yes, we have.
Starting with the Lady with Dogs, what is your conclusion?
Well, Philip, we discussed this one.
It is the one with the most evidence behind it.
It's perhaps one of our favourites,
but we are all unanimous that we think this is by Lowry.
Great. That's one.
And Darby and Joan? What was your conclusion about this one?
Well, we deliberated. We liked the picture very much.
It's a little unusual, in terms of the format and the support it's on,
but we were all agreed, finally, that this was a work by LS Lowry.
Oh, that's brilliant news.
What did you make of the fact that we found it
in that documentary about Lowry and his studio?
-When we saw that, we couldn't believe it, could we, Steve?
It's what you might call a slam dunk, isn't it?
Really, in terms of seeing it there as he's sitting there
in his own living room painting it. There it is.
It just adds to our belief that it's a perfectly 100% genuine work.
And just to be clear, speaking as a professional auctioneer,
-that is how you would catalogue it?
I have no doubt whatsoever.
Now let's move on to the Crowd Scene.
Well, this is the one that we've deliberated over for longer,
and discussed it perhaps in a more robust way than the other two,
I think, not that it's contentious but there's less to say,
so it's what we think of it in seeing it,
where it has been for the last few years.
It's tested us but, on balance, we feel that,
-again, like other two, it is 100% genuine.
-We have a trio.
-That's just amazing news.
Steve, what do you think?
I'm absolutely... I'm absolutely thrilled and delighted.
And delighted for my father, really. For Dad.
It's a tremendous vindication of Gerald Ames,
a self-made man with a passion for an artist
whose work captured the world he'd grown up in.
How he acquired the pictures still remains a mystery,
but we'd done enough to prove that they are the real thing.
I'm absolutely delighted, is this short and simple answer.
-And your father too?
-Yeah. He would be delighted if he could see.
Can I ask, was your verdict unanimous?
Yes, it was a unanimous verdict. We all agreed.
But just as importantly, our investigation has given us
an unexpected glimpse behind Lowry's carefully cultivated persona
of the simple man
to reveal an altogether more complex and intriguing artist.
Wasn't it good seeing Steve just now so flushed with excitement?
But it's not just Steve that can afford to be excited
because I feel we've made real progress.
I mean, I know so much more about Lowry.
Also, Lowry liked to create myths around himself.
Take the story about the five pigments,
he only uses five pigments,
and that is reproduced in most of the literature about Lowry.
We now know that isn't true. We've outed him.
And we've taken connoisseurship of Lowry
a significant step further, so it's not just a victory,
a significant victory,
for Stephen, but actually it's a victory for Lowry as well.
Perhaps it's time to take a fresh look at LS Lowry,
the artist who captured the drama of a crowded northern street,
the quirky characters of an old couple
and the enigmatic stylishness of a lady out walking her dogs.
If you think you have an undiscovered masterpiece,
we'd love to hear from you at...
Art detectives Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould return for a brand new series, starting with an investigation into three small pictures by one of Britain's best-loved modern artists - LS Lowry.
Stephen Ames, a Cheshire property developer, has a problem - he's inherited three small oil paintings believed to be by Laurence Stephen Lowry, an artist renowned for his scenes of northern life, but he doesn't have any proof. All he knows is that they were bought by his father Gerald, a self-made businessman with a passion for art, in the early 70s.
The trouble for Stephen is that LS Lowry is probably the most faked British artist, his deceptively simple style of painting making him a soft target for forgers. As a result, the art market has become very wary of newly discovered Lowry works. If he can't find evidence in favour of the pictures, they are worthless.
As they hunt for proof with the assistance of specialist art researcher Dr Bendor Grosvenor, the team encounter unexpected obstacles and extraordinary coincidences, culminating in a groundbreaking scientific discovery that challenges everything we thought we knew about Lowry the artist. But is it enough to prove that the pictures are genuine?