Letter: Testing for inauthenticity

Sir: Bryan Appleyard, by referring to recent criticism about misattributions in various museums ("Beware of mad art disease", 20 June) adopts a nonchalant, laid-back attitude towards what he dismissively calls the "rash of stories of new art errors".

However, by not taking seriously into account attempts at establishing the truth about a painting like Rubens' Samson and Delilah and by rubbishing as mad cow hysteria requests to apply a dendrochronology test, he forgets: a) that Rubens' Samson and Delilah has cost the taxpayer a colossal amount of money (pounds 2.5m in 1980); b) that even a cursory look at the relevant literature (references to which were provided by the sellers) raises serious doubts about its authenticity; c) that given the cost and the doubts, it is utterly incomprehensible that the National Gallery bought the painting without, as a matter of course, applying all scientific tests available - including dendrochronology.

As Mr Appleyard surely knows, although the dendrochronology test cannot with absolute certainty establish a painting's authenticity, it can certainly confirm its inauthenticity.


The London School of Economics

and Political Science

London, WC2