How A Polar Bear Hair Could Solve The Mystery Of Jackson Pollock's Final Painting

Jackson pollockwikimedia commonsJackson Pollock at work

A small silver-washed canvas with a black oval surrounded by red slags of paint does not at all remind the Pollock-Krasner Foundation of the signature style of famed abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock.
The foundation’s now-defunct expert panel decided long ago it was not part of the artist’s oeuvre.

But a single polar bear hair could change all that.

In 1956, Pollock reportedly kept a polar bear rug in his living room. Hair from the rare rug matched a hair recently isolated from the the canvas by former NYPD investigator Nick Petraco, according to The New York Times’ Patricia Cohen.

If the painting, titled “Red, Black and Silver,” is authenticated as a Pollock, it could auction for millions instead of $US50,000, a price it might fetch without an official authentication, according to Cohen. And it would gain even more value as the last thing Pollock painted before he died in a drunken car crash in 1956.

The battle to authenticate the canvas has outlived the two women who started the fight: Pollock’s widow, Lee Krasner, and his lover, Ruth Kligman, for whom he supposedly created the work.

Krasner set up a foundation in 1985 to authenticate all Pollock’s works for a comprehensive catalogue. Kligman submitted “Red, Black and Silver” for authentication, but had long been denied.

The question of authentication also points to a changing trend in the art world. While art connoisseurs have long had the last word on a painting’s authorship, forensic analysis is cropping up as a more reliable tool in hotly contested cases.

“Trace evidence serves as an unbiased, impartial, silent witness to an event,” Petraco said in a statement to Sunshine Sachs, the firm working with Kligman’s trust, which asked several experts including Petraco to analyse the suspected Pollock painting. “It has no human prejudices or agenda,” Petraco said.

Petraco donated his services, analysing soil grass and hair fibres in connection with the painting, to the trust. Art fraud expert Colette Loll also donated her services and determined the evidence did not support fraud.

Still, Francis O’Connor, an art historian who had worked with the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, told in The New York Times that while the evidence may suggest where “Red, Black and Silver” was made, it does not unequivocally prove who made it.

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