Fake or Fortune? comes to Barnsley Museums

Tracey Hebron, Museum Collection’s technical clerk tells us about some very special visitors who have been filming on site at Barnsley Museums

In December 2020 we had a very notable visit from the BBC One programme ‘Fake or Fortune?’ Philip Mould and a television crew came to the Cooper Gallery on Church Street to look at some sketches purchased by Samuel Joshua Cooper. They also visited Barnsley archives in the Town Hall to view Mr Cooper’s notebook, all as part of an investigation into a work which is possibly by the French artist Jean Leon Gerome.

‘Fake or Fortune?’ is now in its ninth series and follows art dealer Philip Mould and presenter, Fiona Bruce as they investigate thrilling cases of art world mystery. It has audiences in the United Kingdom of over 4 million and many more tuning in internationally. Mould and Bruce travel the world tracking down the provenance of works of art with the aim of proving their authenticity. Helped by evidence from family collections, museums and archives, the work is then presented to the relevant authorities for the final verdict.

We have been keeping this investigation and our part on the show a secret for well over a year. The show first contacted us at the beginning of 2020 and we have been working closely with the team virtually during lockdown. Once restrictions were lifted, we were thrilled to welcome the team on site. As we await the outcome of the programme, we thought we would introduce you to the artist and his works that were the reason the show came to Barnsley Museums.

The Artist

Samuel Joshua Cooper and his wife Fanny were a wealthy couple from Barnsley who bought paintings and sculptures on their travels across Europe. Each spring, from 1873 onwards they would travel to Paris for two months. The receipts and notebooks that they kept show that they purchased pictures, sculpture and furniture. The paintings they collected formed the start of the Cooper Gallery collection. The artworks included sketches by French artist, Jean -Leon Gerome.

Gerome was born on 11 May 1824 in Vesoul in the Eastern region of France known as the Franche-Comte. Gerome enjoyed the rural life as a child. At 16 he persuaded his father to let him try his hand at becoming a painter, his father gave him permission to study with Paul Delaroche in Paris on a trial basis, this was the beginning of his lifelong passion for art. In 1843 Gerome moved to Italy. He was interested in the ruins of Pompeii and eventually began to incorporate many design elements of the ancient Roman fresco styles in his paintings. His work received very positive critical attention and he went on to submit work for the Prix de Rome competition. In 1853 Gerome travelled to Istanbul with Edmond Got, in preparation for a large project called The Age of Augustus. There he discovered the world of the Middle East. From that date forward he studied classical themes in art to improve his own style of painting.

The late 1850s was a period when Gerome’s work brought him public success. He was honoured to design interiors for Prince Napoleon Jerome Bonaparte’s Paris home. Then in 1861 he received a commission to paint interiors and paintings for the palace at Versailles. Later he was appointed a professor of painting at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, a position he would hold for thirty-nine years. He continued to create his own work alongside teaching. In the late 1870s he surprised many by moving into sculptural work. He exhibited a large bronze of a gladiator at the 1878 salon. He died on 10 January 1904 in Paris, just short of his 80th birthday.

Jean-Léon Gérôme11 May 1824 – 10 January 1904)

The Artworks

The Cooper Gallery currently cares for four artworks by Jean Leon Gerome and the BBC production team and presenter, Philip Mould viewed all four on the morning of their visit to Barnsley. Access to behind the scenes areas at the Cooper Gallery enabled them to take a closer look at the artwork. These items were:

‘Study of a Kneeling Arab’, pencil on paper.
This simple, yet detailed, sketch shows a man kneeling with his hands raised. He is wearing traditional Arab clothing including a turban. He has a sword through his waistband. He is believed to be participating in tradition Arab prayer. The founder of Islam, Muhammad was born in Mecca and it is towards this religious centre that Muslims turn five times daily in prayer. Gerome often painted men facing east in prayer at different stages in their worship, with some standing, some seated or kneeling.

‘Head of a Lady’, pencil on paper.
This sketch shows the head of a young women with her hair tied in a bun. The simplicity of the sketch creates an elegant beauty. Gerome’s knowledge about Greek and Roman painting styles, gave him a focus on the human body’s proportions and perspectives. This is believed to be one of Gerome’s early works, probably drawn from life.

‘Design for a Fresco, St Vincent de Paul’
This drawing depicts the priest of the Catholic church who was dedicated to serving the poor. He is shown holding a young child and surrounded by four figures. This is a compositional preparatory drawing for a fresco painting now in the Musée Georges-Garret, Vesoul (Gerome’s hometown) which he painted for the sisters of St Paul.

‘Study of an Arab’
This drawing man shows a figure standing in traditional robes. In 1853 Gerome travelled to the Middle East and this began to influence his subject matter. On his travels, Gerome collected artefacts and clothing for staging scenes in his studio.  The figure is viewed from the rear and the focus of the drawing is on the drapery.

Mr Cooper’s Notebook

After a morning filming at the Cooper Gallery Philip Mould and the production team then headed over to Barnsley Archives in the town hall to view a notebook once belonging to Samuel Joshua Cooper. When travelling around Europe with his wife, Fanny, he kept all receipts and records of purchases in this little notebook. It contains Mr Cooper’s personal notes often including where he purchased items from and for how much.

Will this book and the work in our collection lead to more clues about the painting Fake or Fortune? are investigating? You can find out more when the show airs.

For a limited time the Gerome artworks and the note book are on display at the Cooper Gallery. For more information including opening hours visit our website www.cooper-gallery.com

If the show has inspired you to do some research of your own you can find out more about Barnsley Archives here https://www.experience-barnsley.com/our-archives

The History of The Cooper Gallery

To learn more about the history of The Cooper Gallery read our previous blog: https://barnsleymuseums.art.blog/2020/07/06/the-cooper-gallery-a-history/

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