Pollock's Final Painting — Or Just More Questions?

A detail from "Red, Black & Silver," which was described at a symposium in New York City on Friday as having been painted at Jackson Pollock's former residence. Cooper Square Press

Animal hair, sand, sea grass, and a pair of old shoes have brought new information to bear in an old controversy.

Nicholas Petraco, a forensics investigator, has proven, he says, "beyond reasonable doubt" that a painting Ruth Kligman claimed for years was Jackson Pollock's final work before his fatal car crash in 1956 was painted at his house in Springs. Still, he said he cannot prove that Pollock himself actually painted it, and at least one expert remains unconvinced that the painting is by the artist's hand.

Mr. Petraco is an expert in microscopy and trace evidence. He analyzed materials found on "Red, Black & Silver," a painting Kligman tried over the years, right up until her death in 2010, to authenticate. Kligman, who was Pollock's mistress and was with him in the car when he died, had insisted that he painted the work with her and then gave it to her as a present not long before the accident; others suggested that she herself had forged it.

Mr. Petraco began work last February. His findings, that the painting was created at the site of the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center, were presented Friday at a symposium in Manhattan by Colette Loll Marvin, an art fraud investigator who engaged Mr. Petraco as part of a 20-year inquiry. The symposium was sponsored by the study center and Stony Brook University Manhattan.

Mr. Petraco's evidence, said Ms. Marvin, linked seeds, Pollock's hair, fibers, and even polar bear hair found on the painting to objects on the property or still in the attic of the Pollock-Krasner house. In addition, she said an analysis of the materials used to paint it by another forensics expert support the conclusion that the painting was executed by him in the manner Kligman described.

She added that by examining Kligman's artwork throughout the years, she found no evidence of any attempt by her to paint in the drip technique employed here by Pollock. That Kligman was the sole eyewitness to the painting's creation was problematic, Ms. Marvin acknowledged, but given that all other aspects of her story appear to be backed up by scientific evidence, she is inclined to conclude it is by Pollock. "Based on the evidence, the simple question becomes, is it more reasonable to believe he did the painting or more reasonable that he didn't? Reason supports that it is a work by Jackson Pollock," Ms. Marvin said.

Francis O'Connor, a close friend of Pollock's wife, Lee Krasner, and an original director of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, was also a speaker. A member of the now disbanded authentication board for Pollock's works and a co-author of the Pollock catalogue raisonne, he said Ms. Marvin's presentation was 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 wonderful if we could figure it out, but we only have statements of the owner as proof."

The painting came before the authentication board before it disbanded and the members were not able to reach a conclusion on it. Ms. Marvin told the audience she had 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 the Kligman estate were also on hand Friday, including Davey Frankel, a filmmaker and a friend of Kligman, who said afterward that he was happy to keep going to further the case for the painting, but believed that all of the original Pollock authentication board's questions had now been addressed. "The whole swirling ambiguity around the painting has shrunk to tiny points," he said.

Helen Harrison, the director of the study center and the conference host, said she did not take sides in authentication disputes, but was happy to make the center available for those investigating the veracity of claims surrounding works outside the catalogue raisonne. She allowed hairs from Pollock's loafers to be examined as well as the polar bear rug, both in the attic, as well as another rug whose fibers were found on the painting.

Mr. Petraco, who is on the faculty of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said after the symposium that he has 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 was enough to prove Pollock painted it, said Mr. Petraco, "I'll leave up to the jury or in this case, the public."

Colette Loll Marvin revealing new evidence from her 20 year investigation into the authenticity of "Red, Black & Silver," a painting Ruth Kligman claimed was the last one Jackson Pollock painted in 1956. A photo of Kligman and Pollock together was projected in the background.Jennifer Landes