CBC Digital Archives CBC butterfly logo

CBC Archives has a new look: Please go to cbc.ca/archives to access the new site.

The page you are looking at will not be updated.

True Thomson or flat-out fake?

The Story

Buying and selling fine art isn't for the faint of heart. Dealer David Mitchell has paid $80,000 for what he believes is a genuine Tom Thomson sketch. He bought it from two elderly sisters who say their mother purchased it in the 1920s. But another art dealer is skeptical, and his doubt means Mitchell has been unable to sell the painting. The CBC's Nancy Wilson delves into the mystery as Mitchell attempts to authenticate the unsigned work. 

Medium: Television
Program: The Journal
Broadcast Date: Dec. 5, 1989
Guests: Blair Laing, Duncan McLean, Davis Mitchell, Dennis Reid, Barb Scadding, Peg Scadding
Reporter: Nancy Wilson
Duration: 14:48

Did You know?

• This wasn't the first time experts were skeptical about the authenticity of a purported Group of Seven painting. In the 1950s and '60s a number of paintings, supposedly by Thomson and J.E.H. MacDonald, began appearing on the Canadian art market. The ruse was discovered and at least one of the perpetrators was sent to prison.

Experts consider several criteria when determining whether a Group of Seven sketch is authentic.
• What is its provenance? The sketch's history is traced from owner to owner, all the way back to the painter.
• Does it bear the artist's mark? Some paintings are stamped with a watermark, while others bear a distinctive signature or handwritten notes on the back.
• What material is it painted on? Group artists used birch panels, bookbinders' board, or, briefly, plywood.
• Is it consistent with the painter's style?

• In 1979 the Ontario Provincial Police paid tribute to A.J. Casson for his help in detecting fake works of art. A healthy art market had increased the number of forgeries in circulation, and Casson helped to identify hundreds of fakes. Casson said he gladly helped as a way of repaying all the help he had received from the Group of Seven, and noted it would be pretty easy for him to forge a painting by Franklin Carmichael.

• The double-sided panel was eventually authenticated by the Canadian Conservation Institute, an agency of the Department of Canadian Heritage, eight months after this clip was broadcast. The CCI did not definitively say Thomson painted the panel, but that it met the same criteria as authenticated Thomsons in the National Gallery of Canada.
• The painting is now in a private collection in Canada.


The Group of Seven: Painters in the Wilderness more