Tom Thomson? The Art of Authentication explores the myriad questions related to authenticating works of art. During his brief six-year career as a painter, Tom Thomson (1877–1917) produced hundreds of oil sketches and a handful of canvases that responded to the mid-northern Ontario landscape. In the century that followed his death, he was the subject of immediate national myth-making and subsequent critical myth-dismantling. Thomson became one of the most renowned and one of the most faked Canadian artists, as his prices climbed at auction. Tom Thomson: The Art of Authentication is a return to Thomson’s painting—to what makes his work authentically his, and to what in turn is used to authenticate his work.
Without offering a conclusive yes or no, the exhibition is a kind of laboratory in which various avenues of inquiry related to authentication are investigated and presented. Using two possible Tom Thomson panels as the nucleus, the project brings together approximately forty known sketch panels and canvases by Thomson in order to present a visual overview of the artist’s practice. The selection of paintings forms the basis for a series of exploratory themes key to authentication, including signature, provenance, subject matter, materials and stylistic analysis. Envisioned as a highly dynamic experience, the exhibition includes extensive didactic material and scientific findings, as well as a “field guide” catalogue. By foregrounding the fascinating detective work involved in authenticating art, the exhibition makes public the behind-the-scenes work that museums regularly carry out.
Tom Thomson? The Art of Authentication is organized and circulated by the Agnes Etherington Art Centre and the Art Gallery of Hamilton, in partnership with the Canadian Conservation Institute. This exhibition is generously supported by the Museums Assistance Program, Government of Canada, and the Janet Braide Memorial Fund, Queen’s University.
Hero image: Thomas John Thomson, Autumn Woods, 1916, oil on wood panel. Gift of Margaret Botterell in memory of Dr Harry Botterell, 1998