Goya blunder paints Prado in poor light

The Prado Museum in Madrid launches a huge two-month Goya exhibition tomorrow, part of an ambitious "Goya year" to mark the 250th anniversary of the Spanish master's birth. However, the fanfare has not drowned out discord created on the eve of the celebrations by the museum's over-enthusiastic discovery of a Goya that wasn't.

A religious painting, which was uncovered during the restoration of the late dictator Franco's former torture chambers in Madrid, earlier this month, was hailed within hours of its discovery as a Goya by the director of the Prado, Jose Maria Luzon. Mr Luzon, an archaeologist by training with no specialist knowledge of Goya, presides over the largest collection of Goyas in the world.

"It is a cracker of a Goya," he said, before returning with a heavy cold to his sick bed whence he had been summoned to announce the find to the world. Except that it was not. The painting, showing angels pleading for souls in purgatory, although signed by Goya, was actually painted by a lesser-known contemporary, Mariano Salvador Maella, in 1781.

The former Prado director, Alfonso Perez Sanchez, spotted the painting as a Maella the moment he saw it on television, and made his doubts known immediately. A quick check was sufficient to reveal, after the damage had been done, that the work was registered in the archives of Madrid's local government as a Maella and that a preliminary sketch was even registered in the Prado's own records.

The blunder was an unfortunate case of taking desires for reality, as remarks by the head of Madrid's regional government, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon, suggested. "It is a particularly significant find and could not have come at a better moment on the eve of Goya's 250th anniversary celebrations," he said, after being assured there was no doubt of the its authenticity.

The Prado's curators were scandalised their director had been so imprudent, especially as experts believe uncertainty surrounds dozens of paintings attributed to Goya.

"Inexplicable" and "inexcusable" were expressions bursting from the museum's press office concerning Mr Luzon's hasty endorsement. "Any responsible museum would have taken time to check. That's the right way to go about things," a spokeswoman said, adding that Mr Luzon had offered his resignation, which was not accepted.

"How many Goyas are painted by him and how many are only attributed to him?" asked one journalist yesterday of the Prado's leading authorities.

Mr Luzon shifted in his seat. "Studies on Goya are always ongoing," he mumbled. "And if that leads to reflections, that's magnificent."

Juan Luna, the exhibition's principal organiser, was more direct. "I don't know," he said yesterday. "An immense number are certain and many are doubtful. I can't give a number."

Some experts reckon that up to 150 Goyas "need to be investigated". Doubt even hovers over a masterpiece imported for the exhibition, a dazzling portrayal of two young women at a balcony. Two versions exist, one in a private Swiss collection, the other in the Metropolitan Museum of New York, which many attribute to a pupil of Goya. The one on view in the Prado's exhibition - "the original", according to Mr Luna - is from the Swiss collection.

It is not the first time that a Prado director has found egg on his face. Mr Luzon's predecessor, Felipe Garin, had to resign after it was discovered that raindrops were leaking into the room housing master works by Velasquez.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links