A respected Montreal gallerist with expertise in the works of J.E.H. MacDonald has revealed he was asked to appraise 10 sketches by the Group of Seven co-founder that were recently donated to the Vancouver Art Gallery – and refused.
The Globe and Mail reported last week that several experts have raised doubts about the authenticity of the paintings.
"I was not 100 per cent convinced," Alan Klinkhoff told The Globe and Mail on Friday.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Klinkhoff, president of Galerie Alan Klinkhoff, posted to his blog details of his visit to the Arctic Experience Gallery in Hamilton to view the MacDonald paintings, and his decision not to provide the appraisal.
"I preferred caution and refused to conduct the requested appraisal," he wrote. "Furthermore, had I been given the opportunity to purchase for resale any one of them, I would have elected not to do so."
Mr. Klinkhoff is among the people who spoke to The Globe and Mail for a story last week that quoted several Canadian art experts who have questions about the paintings.
The sketches, according to the Vancouver Art Gallery, were buried in the painter's Thornhill, Ont., yard for more than 40 years, unearthed by his son in the early 1970s and sold to collector Max Merkur.
Mr. Merkur's sons Ephry and Mel inherited the paintings. They donated them to the VAG after they were authenticated by the gallery's senior curator-historical, Ian Thom, a highly respected Group of Seven expert. Mr. Thom also called in Dennis Reid, formerly of the Art Gallery of Ontario and a leading expert in the area – who agreed with Mr. Thom's assessment.
But since the donation was announced in January, it has been the subject of some debate in the Canadian art world.
Mr. Klinkhoff initially spoke to The Globe off the record. He now has a proposal he hopes may resolve the issue.
"This has to be dealt with for the benefit of all the stakeholders, including the donor," he said.
Last summer, Mr. Klinkhoff was asked by an appraiser he knows to assist in the appraisal required on the newly discovered paintings for income tax and other purposes.
He said he travelled to the Arctic Experience McNaught Gallery on July 14 and was taken to a room with several art works on the wall.
"With only momentary delay while looking about the room, without exaggeration I can only say that shivers went up my spine," he wrote in his post.
He told The Globe and Mail that he said to the Hamilton gallerists, who were handling the art from the Merkur estate, that he was "uncomfortable." A discussion ensued, and he said he left after no more than an hour and a half.
"I didn't want my business name associated with that file based on the evidence that I had in front of me, which was a group of paintings that made me extremely uncomfortable, and I was not 100 per cent convinced of their authorship," he told The Globe.
About four days later, he said he received a call from Mr. Thom.
As Mr. Klinkhoff recalls, he told Mr. Thom, "I was just not convinced. And I said I'm optimistic that my discomfort is unwarranted, but I prefer not to be involved in the dossier in any way, shape or form."
He said another art appraiser asked him in October for assistance in evaluating the works and he told her he did not wish to be involved.
Mr. Klinkhoff points out that he has the utmost respect for Mr. Thom, and that unlike Mr. Thom, he has not been privy to any of the supporting documentation that helped inform Mr. Thom's decision about the paintings.
Mr. Thom, who could not be reached on Friday afternoon, has said he has no doubt the paintings are by J.E.H. MacDonald.
Mr. Klinkhoff is proposing that one or more of the sketches be installed at the Art Gallery of Ontario with 30 or 40 J.E.H. MacDonald sketches, and that a panel of experts – conservators, veteran Canadian art dealers, curators and perhaps collectors – be invited to assess them and review supporting documents.
"Some people, I fear are coming to conclusions I think too quickly. I don't have a conclusion to what I saw and I think it's important that one finds some resolution," he says. "Maybe at the end of the process we'll be celebrating and dancing in the street, and I would welcome that outcome," he continued later in the interview.
Janet McNaught at the gallery in Hamilton referred The Globe to Darcy Merkur, Ephry's son. In an e-mail, Darcy Merkur wrote: "We know the art to be a hidden treasure." He said his family would have no further comment.
Editor's note: A previous version of this article stated that Mr. Klinkhoff saw the paintings on August 14. This has been corrected.