Established and run together by Czech art connoisseurs and restorers, Jarmila and David Frank, the Frank studio has for years now been actively focusing on art restorations and providing expertise within its authentication and by extension, evaluation.
When entering the Frank studio, it becomes clear that what you are witnessing is a moment to be documented, and so you grab your phone and, in an instant, are advised to put it down whilst asked not to share any pictures for security reasons. It then strikes you even more that you are surrounded by art pieces of great significance. Of course, whether you are standing next to a skillfully made copy worth a few thousands Czech crowns, or an original worth millions, that is the ultimate question without an apparent answer, and also the major reason why potential art buyers, investors, and art institutions such as auction houses address Franks in the first place.
‘In the public domain, there are still cases of lots of forged artworks, and even a larger number of these is flowing through the market constantly,’ David Frank begins by explaining. ‘Unfortunately as of now, these cases are not being dealt with efficiently, so we can only expect a flood of paintings of dubious provenance. On the other hand, we already have a fairly good idea of these works’ characteristics, and of the way the forgers work. Separating the wheat from the chaff then becomes relatively easy, and when there is uncertainty, brainstorming comes in – my colleagues and I join our efforts and look at more paintings to make an accurate assessment. That is why, together with other experts in the field, we founded the Trinity Art Research Institute which is the first of its kind in the Czech Republic. Bringing together art historians, restorers and laboratories, it deals specifically with the issue of art authenticity and facilitates further research.’
The multi-factor verification figuring in the process of the art evaluation at the Frank studio is, in fact, one of its major assets and should also be the standard for complicated and valuable works. What David emphasises is that to rely merely on the art-historical analysis – the cheapest, hence, predominating one – is often insufficient, notably so when dealing with a case that undergoes scrutiny of Czech courts. This is where expertise based on X-ray and chemical analysis of art pieces come into place, especially when provenance is in question; a scenario not uncommon given the history of the Czech Republic aka the elephant in the room when considering specificities of the local art market and art evaluation.
Art forgeries have been around as long as the art trade itself. Or as old as collecting. There’s nothing we can do about it. But we are expanding the field of possibilities for determining whether it’s an original or a fake. Of course, documentation of works in historical exhibition catalogues or evidence from the collectors’ family is essential. In the Czech Republic, documents and thus the identity of artworks may have been lost during confiscations, whether by the Nazis or the Communist Party. ‘It is certainly a good idea not to throw away old suitcases of correspondence,’ say restorers jokingly. On the other hand, one must be extremely wary of false histories of works, such as those often evidenced by various stamps on the back of paintings. Everything must be verified, for example, checking whether the stamp is also accompanied by the proper records from the exhibition where the painting was supposed to have been exhibited. The story of a painting is different every time and often a rather interesting piece of history is revealed. However, there are also very curious anomalies where the erasure of signatures from paintings has sometimes been carried out by members of the state art institution itself as a precautionary measure to prevent the confiscation of a valuable work of art. Such works, although originals, therefore remain unrecognised to this day, and their rediscovery thus brings double joy.
On this account, David adds: ‘It is always encouraging if we manage to add to our portfolio a nice new art piece by Slavíček, Mánes, Kubišta, that would otherwise remain tucked away. That’s actually what pleases me most, these new encounters.’