National Gallery Probes Suspected Art Forgeries

Art Museum

About a dozen works of art by famous artists are being examined by the National Gallery of Iceland due to suspicion of forgery, RÚV reports. The museum’s director says the case is devastating and plans to put on an exhibition with fake works.

Similarities to the Big Forgery Case

Approximately a dozen artworks, attributed to eminent Icelandic artists like Kjarval and Ásgrímur Jónsson, are currently under scrutiny at the National Gallery of Iceland due to concerns of potential forgery. The issue was recently highlighted on the Þetta helst podcast on Rás 1, Iceland’s National Broadcaster.

Ólafur Ingi Jónsson, the Conservator of the National Gallery, expressed scepticism about the authenticity of these works, citing similarities to forgeries from the notorious Big Forgery Case (Stóra Málverkafölsunarmálið) that gripped the nation’s attention two decades ago.

Ólafur claimed familiarity with the techniques of the individuals responsible for those forgeries, stating he has regularly encountered similar fakes in recent years. Notably, the works in question have never been the subject of police investigation.

Last year, the gallery received a donation from Þorvaldur Guðmundsson’s private collection, which is often linked to his company, Síld og fiskur. The donation is considered a significant cultural asset, comprising 1,400 works by some of Iceland’s most notable artists. Within this collection, about a dozen works specifically attracted the attention of Conservator Ólafur Ingi, some of which were already flagged as forgeries, with others now under suspicion.

Ingibjörg Jóhannsdóttir, Curator of the National Gallery, described the situation as unfortunate and acknowledged possible links to the Big Forgery Case of years past. She suggested the establishment of a special exhibition focusing on forged artworks to educate the public on recognizing different types of art.

Harpa Þórsdóttir Appointed Curator of National Museum Amidst Some Critique

national museum of iceland þjóðminjasafn

In a recent press release from the Ministry of Culture and Trade, Harpa Þórsdóttir was appointed the head curator of Þjóðminjasafn, the National Museum of Iceland.

Harpa will be taking over the position from Margrét Hallgrímsdóttir, who has held the position since 2000.

However, Lilja Dögg Alfreðsdóttir, Minister of Culture and Trade, has come under some criticism for the appointment. As the position was not advertised publicly, some say that the appointment is a return to corruption and nepotism.

In an editorial for Vísir, administrative specialist Haukur Arnþórsson criticized the lack of transparency, and called for public positions to be advertised in such a way that ensure a fair hiring process:

“The main ideas behind the obligation to advertise vacancies are, on the one hand, that public funds are managed well […] and on the other hand, that everyone is equal in relation to the public sector and that their merits are assessed professionally and honestly. These points of view are not met when an employee is recruited by transferring between jobs. It is not clear what criteria are at play, which is, however, the case when a job is advertised – and the minister cannot give the public proper explanations of the hiring criteria in this respect.”

Lilja Dögg Alfreðsdóttir, Minister of Culture and Trade, has pushed back against the criticism, stating that Harpa is both highly qualified, and that legal precedent exists for such hiring practices. Many other ministries, for example, hire through internal selection instead of placing open applications for every vacant position. Regarding the hiring, Lilja stated: “We have a very capable individual coming from one museum and moving on to the next.”

Harpa completed her Maîtrise in Art History at the Sorbonne in 1998, and has had a 20 year long career in museums and museum management. Prior to her appointment to the National Museum, Harpa directed the National Gallery Iceland, another of Iceland’s three major public museum collections.

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir has since stated that she intends to investigate such “manual hiring” practices, and wants to begin an initiative to collect data on such practices.

“I think it is important to compile these numbers over a period of time so that we can assess whether this is a trend, and to make decisions on that basis,” she stated to Vísir.