An artistic love child of Jackson Pollock and his mistress Ruth Kligman has garnered new legitimacy through the kind of police crime-lab science popularized in “CSI”-type television shows.
Kligman was living with the artist in 1956 at his house in Springs while his wife, Lee Krasner, was in Europe, a separation prompted by the affair. It would be Pollock’s last summer, his life taken that August in a fatal car accident not far from the house. Kligman, who was in the car, survived, and lived on until 2010.
According to Kligman, Pollock painted what would be his last artwork at her prodding that summer and gave it her. She named it “Red, Black & Silver,” and spent much of the rest of her life trying to have it authenticated. The trustees of her estate, along with Colette Loll Marvin, an art fraud investigator, have continued the effort.
On Friday, at a conference in Manhattan, Ms. Marvin revealed new evidence that proved the painting was executed at Pollock’s house, now the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center. Through the analysis of materials found on the painting, Nicholas Petraco, a forensics expert, was able to tie the work’s creation to the site, and, in fact, to materials that exist there to this day.
According to Mr. Petraco, the evidence proves “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the painting was made at the house. However, he said he cannot prove that Pollock himself painted it, and at least one expert remains unconvinced that it is by the artist’s hand.
The forensic study included analysis of fibers, seeds, sand, human hair, and animal hair, all of which link the painting to the site. The fibers matched a rug in the attic. The sand was consistent with the sand that fronts Accabonac Harbor. The seeds matched the sea grass that grows there. Most compelling were the hairs on the painting, which matched hair found in a pair of Pollock’s loafers.
The only mysterious piece was the animal hair, which turned out to be from a polar bear. “It left us all scratching our heads,” Ms. Marvin said. Yet, Mr. Petraco said a quick Google search turned up a photo of the polar bear rug in the Pollock-Krasner house around 1960. He learned from Helen Harrison, the director of the study center, which sponsored the conference along with Stony Brook University Manhattan, that the rug was still in the attic. The hairs matched.
According to Ms. Marvin, another expert is using statistics to create a model from the evidence gathered so far with qualitative material, such as expert opinion and “information everyone has agreed upon,” to determine the probability that Pollock painted the work. The model addresses the question “Is it more reasonable to believe Jackson Pollock painted this work is or it more reasonable to believe that he didn’t?” She said the statistical information used supports the conclusion that he did.
Another investigation is comparing Pollock’s poured painting skeins in the disputed painting with works in the catalogue raisonné, much in the way others have used fractal analysis to find consistency among his works.
This extensive search for answers was inspired, Ms. Marvin said, by the questions raised by the authentication board, as well as the trustees of the Kligman estate’s pursuit of the truth. “Through new advances in scientific technology, questions have been answered that leave little doubt that ‘Red, Black & Silver’ is a work by Jackson Pollock, his last,” she said.
Ms. Marvin connected the new evidence to other forensic analysis that had been done on the paint used in the work as further proof that Pollock likely did make the painting. She also relied heavily on Kligman’s own account in a sworn affidavit, in which Kligman recalled that on an afternoon in July 1956, “I asked him to show me how you painted, to engage him in a playful and carefree activity. . . . I retrieved one of my canvas boards onto which I had begun painting; strokes that I had started are visible underneath Jackson’s painting . . . I stood near him and watched him paint. I saw him pour the silver aluminum and drop the black on the board and quickly gesture with the red enamel. It was an expression from Jackson to me born on the emotions of the moment, done with joy, effortlessly. When he was done, he gave the painting to me.”
Ms. Marvin added that in examining 700 artworks created by Kligman through the years, she found no example of a poured painting or any attempt by her to paint in the drip technique employed here by Pollock. Kligman, she noted, was a 23-year-old art student at the time the painting was made; she presented two figurative paintings that Kligman painted at the time to demonstrate that her style was not imitative of Pollock’s.
Others were less enthusiastic about the new findings and Ms. Marvin’s conclusions. Another speaker, Francis V. O’Connor — a close friend of Krasner, an original director of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, a member of the now disbanded authentication board for Pollock’s works, and a co-author of the Pollock catalogue raisonné — said he found her presentation inconclusive. “I don’t think there’s a Pollock expert in world that would look at that painting and agree it was a Pollock,” he said, calling the science ambiguous and the rest of the rationale based “simply on the statements of the owner and her estate. It would be marvelous if we could figure it out, but we only have statements of the owner as proof.”
Although Kligman avoided having the painting authenticated while Krasner was alive, she did bring it to the authentication board before it disbanded, but the members were not able to reach a conclusion. Ms. Marvin said in her talk that she based her investigation on the questions the board raised in its analysis of “Red, Black & Silver” and attempted to address them. Mr. O’Connor declined to elaborate further on his remarks after the symposium concluded.
Trustees of Kligman’s estate were also on hand Friday, including Davey Frankel, a filmmaker and friend of Kligman’s, who said afterward that while he was happy to keep trying to make the case for the painting, he believed all the original Pollock authentication board’s questions have now been addressed.
“The whole swirling ambiguity around the painting has shrunk to tiny points,” he said, adding that the only thing standing in the way of its acceptance was the personalities involved in the authentication process and their loyalty to Krasner. The estate put the painting up for auction in 2012 with an undisclosed estimate but withdrew the work prior to the sale in order to conduct more research. Mr. Frankel said there were no immediate plans to sell it.
Ms. Harrison, the conference host, said at its end that she did not take sides in authentication disputes — Ms. Marvin’s presentation was “provocative,” she said diplomatically — but was happy to make the center available for investigations into the veracity of claims surrounding works outside the catalogue raisonné. She allowed the hairs from Pollock’s loafers to be examined as well as the polar bear rug, both the one in the attic and another rug that contributed fibers to the painting.
Mr. Petraco, who is on the faculty of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said after the symposium that he had investigated “lots of paintings in my life,” but this situation was unique in that he was allowed to remove samples from the painting, and the place in which it was thought to have been made was so well preserved to the time of its making. “I would have no problem going to court to testify that the painting had been made there,” he said. Whether that is enough to prove Pollock painted it, “I’ll leave up to the jury or in this case, the public.”\