Did Jackson Pollock truly paint “Red, Black & Silver” just before his death in 1956, as Ruth Kligman, his mistress, claimed?
The plot thickened on Friday, November 8, at a scholarly event at Stony Brook Manhattan, where an art fraud expert presented forensic evidence—polar bear and wool rug fibers, hair, grass seed and sand found in the painting—that matched samples from Pollock’s former home in Springs. They’d been collected at the scene earlier this year by former New York Police Department detective and crime-lab specialist, Nicholas Petraco, at what is now the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center.
The latest twist in what she called a “20-year authentication journey,” the presentation was made by Colette Loll-Marvin, an art fraud investigator, at “Art From the Ground Up,” a symposium organized by Helen Harrison, director of the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center. “She was just giving a presentation about following the trail, how you research these [problems],” Ms. Harrison explained during a telephone interview this week.
Ms. Loll-Martin said the evidence she discussed included samples collected in Springs by Mr. Petraco, as well the results of as a lie detector test taken by Ms. Kligman and research by James Martin, a conservation scientist, among other documents.
“My contention was the totality of the evidence … was that it was created by Pollock,” she said during a follow-up telephone interview this week.
Ms. Kligman, who died in 2010, maintained that Pollock painted “Red, Black & Silver” outside his house in Springs for her. She said it was the last work he painted before he and Edith Metzger were killed in a Hamptons car crash that Ms. Kligman survived.
The painting appears on the cover of a 1999 paperback version of her book, “Love Affair: A Memoir of Jackson Pollock,” although it, as well as her recollection of Pollock painting it on her behalf, was not included in the original 1974 hardcover version of the book.
Previously, “Red, Black & Silver” had not been authenticated, and it was turned down for an expanded catalogue raisonné of Pollock’s works after his wife and fellow artist, Lee Krasner, died in 1984. According to Ms. Harrison, the authentication board refused it when it was submitted by a third party, as “they just didn’t think it was a Pollock,” but later agreed to accept it “as a problem for study” when Ms. Kligman put it forward in her own name.
Ms. Kligman turned that offer down.
“A stupid mistake,” Ms. Harrison said.
This year, Mr. Petraco, who was hired by the Kligman estate, visited the Pollock-Krasner House on two occasions. Wearing a sterilized gown, mask and gloves, he took samples of such things as fur from a polar bear rug and fibers from a wool rug, grains of sand and seeds of grass, even soil from outside the house and studio. During a second visit, this past summer, he came back to search for more clues, according to Ms. Harrison.
“He analyzed some of the material in the painting and he found things that he hadn’t collected on his first visit—the polar bear and some fibers,” she reported, adding, “He’s a hair and fiber guy [and] a consummate professional.”
“He treated it as he would treat a crime scene investigation,” she said. “Everything was in evidence bags.”
Much of what Mr. Petraco was after was in storage, and some items—such as the polar bear rug—were of uncertain origin, as there were no old photos definitively tracing it back to Pollock’s lifetime.
“Unfortunately, we don’t know when it arrived,” Ms. Harrison said of the rug, adding that a wool rug was indeed documented in one photo. In the painting, Mr. Petraco had found grass seeds “that correspond to the grasses that we have around here,” Ms. Harrison said, as well as “sand from this area.”
“It certainly was persuasive that it was painted here in this area; all of the things matched up,” she said.
But, she added that it still doesn’t prove that it was Pollock himself who painted the canvas.
“We don’t know for sure,” Ms. Harrison said, adding that the Pollock Krasner Foundation has no interest in the painting. “Our job is to help people do what they do and to do research. We have no skin in the game, either, all we want to do is help,”