BBC Fake or Fortune accused of devaluing Ben Nicholson painting

The auctioneers said that Nicholson (1894-1982) stayed at the Surrey home of Fred and Madge Staite Murray in 1947 while he was staging an exhibition in London.

They owned 10 of the St Ives artist’s paintings and he had asked if he could borrow five of them for the display, which they agreed to.

They believe he probably created the mural to say thank you, which the Staite Murrays later preserved behind a Perspex screen at Red Stream Cottage in Bramley.

Art luminaries visited to catch a glimpse of the work, which features his trademark lettering, scattered dots and geometric shapes.

After Mr and Mrs Murray died in 1972 and 1991 respectively, their neighbours acted as unofficial custodians for the mural.

Ms Connell-Lay said: “Madge died in 1991. Her close neighbours of over 25 years, the Metcalfs, remembered her fondly.

“Over time, they heard her many stories about famous artists and were shown the Nicholson mural.

“After Madge’s death, they acted as custodians, ensuring new owners of Red Stream Cottage [Ian and Julie Herrington] were informed of the remarkable legacy within their walls.”

Nicholson painting was probably a ‘gift’

She added: “In 2022 the work was featured on the BBC’s Fake or Fortune programme.

“Although some of the Nicholson specialists consulted for the programme felt that the work was a collaboration between Nicholson and Fred, the programme’s researchers made an emphatic case for the mural being by the single hand of Nicholson, a gift for his good friends the Staite Murrays…

“He was not an artist who was known for collaborating with others and despite being married to one of our finest sculptors, Barbara Hepworth, he did not make collaborative artwork with her.

“It seems implausible that he would have collaborated with Fred on this mural, and much more plausible that he did it as a gift and sign of appreciation to the Staite Murrays after borrowing so many paintings and leaving their walls bare.

“The current owners [the Herringtons] have had the mural expertly removed and preserved. It is a remarkable work from one of the most distinguished pioneers of abstract art.

“Looking at recent auction records, a work of this size and date (attributed to Nicholson) could easily sell for anything between £100,000-200,000 or more.”

‘Experts form independent view’

The BBC said that the experts on Fake or Fortune “form their own independent view” on the potential value of artworks featured on the show.

A BBC spokesman said: “The BBC does not get involved in any commercial sales activity around the artworks that feature in the series.

“The valuation given in the episode was an estimate of the potential price the artwork might achieve based on the information available at the time to the experts examining the piece.

“The experts in each programme always form their own independent view, drawing on their knowledge and expertise.”

The sale takes place on April 11.

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