Detecting forgeries: Artists turn to vellum

03rd October 2017

In order to protect precious works of art from being forged, a number of contemporary artists are turning to vellum - a fine parchment that is made originally from the skin of a calf.

This comes following many years and much money being spent on the cause of detecting copies passed off as originals, including chemical paint analysis, x-rays, infra-red examination and putting canvas work under the microscope. 

But now, one of the oldest materials is helping with the DNA analysis of paintings and other masterpieces. This is because, as an animal product, each piece of vellum used to paint on, carries its own bespoke DNA fingerprint, reports the Telegraph. 

This can then be paired to a small segment of the vellum from the painting that the artist has kept, if the authenticity of the painting is ever doubted. 

In the past, vellum has been used as parchment on which Britain’s Acts of Parliament have been printed. 

Paul Wright, of William Cowley parchment makers in Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire, commented: “To authenticate art people have tried all sorts of methods, such as water stamps and other man-made techniques.

“But whatever is man-made can be replicated by man to fool someone. Vellum is foolproof because each piece has its own unique DNA ‘fingerprint’ which can be used to establish its authenticity when compared with a piece of the original retained by the artist.”

Although this technique is simple, it is also extremely effective in establishing whether or not a painting has been forged. Mr Wright is currently selling vellum to leading contemporary artists from across the world. 

While it helps protect masterpieces from forgery, artists are also enjoying working on vellum as a canvas as it helps the result look “almost three-dimensional” said Mr Wright.

“There’s also something uplifting about using vellum. You’re creating something of permanent beauty from a creature who might have been killed to make burgers for our short-term gratification.”

Artists that are currently using vellum to work on is the acclaimed botanical artist Brigid Edwards, whose works of art are popular for their attention to detail and life-like appearance. 

Originally, the method of using vellum was founded in 1850, and since then, very little has changed in terms of washing, scraping and drying the material for use. During that time, vellum was more popularly used by monks for their illuminated paintings, claims the Telegraph. 

Mr Wright believes that fraudsters who know a painting has been created on vellum won’t even both trying to copy it as replicating the DNA of the material on which it is painted is impossible. 

 

 

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