Dr Blake Does Art Crime!

One of my interests at the moment is art crime, and there was a lovely example of this in a recent episode of Dr Blake’s Mysteries*. Alongside the now requisite murder was a question of the role women played in the art world in the early part of the 20th century. Blake’s mother, you see, was an artist of some talent as, it would seem, was the murder victim. Yet the doyens of the Ballarat Art Gallery and School of Art viewed their work as “merely decorative” and “wouldn’t amount to much” compared to the fine landscapes of David Davies**…

No, I’ve never heard of him either, but then I can be a bit of a philistine if it dates after Vincent van Gogh.

Anyway, the upshot of this was that Blake’s mother, having been gifted a fine Davies by the artist painted over it – an act of revenge perhaps to highlight the situation of women artists at that time. This was discovered by accident when it was being removed to make way for an exhibition by… yes, you’ve guessed it, Davies himself. What a hoot.

It was interesting to see Blake explore the painting, not only to find out who the model was (it was his neighbour, Agnes, who filled in the history of both paintings) but also to take an x-ray of it to see what lay underneath. This must have been the one of the earliest uses of x-rays in the art world, since the story was set in 1956! A nice touch, nonetheless.

It was fascinating to see the art gallery “in action”, if you like – cataloguing paintings, moving pictures from one room to another, security arrangements for valuable paintings (insisted on by the Melbourne Art Gallery loaning the Davies pictures), and the storage for paintings not currently on show.

There was a further question of who actually owned the painting, because the Davies was sold by Blake’s father, but the painting was “lost” (because it had been worked over). Blake’s father gifted all his wife’s paintings to the Ballarat Art Gallery. So who owns the painting – the gallery or the owner of the painting underneath? I’ve made this the subject of an art crime case study, which I’ll post soon.

The murder aside (the victim was the girl who discovered what lay underneath Agnes’ portrait, and rather than report it, covered it back up – good girl), it was a fascinating foray into the world of art crime, courtesy of Dr Lucien Blake and his extremely talented mother. I think this is probably one of the most interesting Dr Blake Mysteries I’ve seen in ages. When are you going to put it on at a sensible time, BBC?

* Okay, it’s not that recent, it’s from two years ago, but it was a welcome re-run.

** He is a very real artist, a Ballarat native and a member of the Heidelberg school. And I don’t like his paintings at all.

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