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CURRENT COLUMN

The Case of Dubious Due Diligence
The Case of Dubious Due Diligence

The Case of the Olympic Posters
The Case of the Olympic Posters

The Case of the Solitary Surrealist
The Case of the Solitary Surrealist

The Case of the Recalcitrant Rembrandt
The Case of the Recalcitrant Rembrandt

The Case of the Ambiguity of Authenticity
The Case of the Ambiguity of Authenticity

The Case of Margaret Keane’s Big-Eyed Boys
The Case of Margaret Keane’s Big-Eyed Boys

The Case of Clarence’s Château-Gaillard
The Case of Clarence’s Château-Gaillard

The Case of the M.S. Nov 1910
The Case of the M.S. Nov 1910

The Case of Cruise Ship Art: Part 2
The Case of the Archangel Michael Defeating Satan

The Case of Cruise Ship Art: Part 2
The Case of Cruise Ship Art: Part 2

The Case of Mary Most Holy Mother of Light
The Case of Mary Most Holy Mother of Light

The Case of Leni and the Nuba
The Case of Leni and the Nuba

The Case of the Seductive Souvenir
The Case of the Seductive Souvenir

The Case of the Irish Surrealist
The Case of the Irish Surrealist

The Case of the Developing Dalí
The Case of the Developing Dalí

The Case of Nano-D Technology
The Case of Nano-D Technology

The Case of Dabatable Donations
The Case of Debatable Donations

Edgar Heap of Birds
The Case of the Long-tailed Monkey

Edgar Heap of Birds
The Case of Edgar Heap of Birds

Silent Song
The Case of the Silent Song

Aficionado
The Case of Alex and the Art Aficionado

Portrait
The Case of the Privacy of the Publicity Photo

Potter
The Case of the Potter's Portraits

The Case of the Coy Cornelius Krieghoff

The Case of the Political Portraitist

The Case of the Reconsidered Revolution

The Case of the Anabiotic Abbey

The Case of the Phoney Picasso

The Case of Setsuko Piroche

The Case of being on the Forest Edge with Vern Simpson

The Case of Being at the End of the Storm with Loren Adams

The Case of Being: Under the Table with Thomas

The Case of Wyland's Whales on Walls

The Case of A.Y. Jackson's Smart River (Alaska)

The Case of Red Fish with Blue Breasts

The Case of Looe Poole

The Case of Camaldoli

The Case of MS

The Case of the Misattributed Emily Carrs

The Case of the Doubtful Dürer

The Case of the Purloined Picasso

The Case of the Defrocked Duchess of Devonshire

The Case of the First Wife

The Case of the Dodford Priory

The Case of the Unknown Actor

Art Services & Materials


Confessions Back

Practical Art History
(or Confessions of a Fine Art Appraiser)

by Jim Finlay
James Finlay Fine Art Appraisals

Chapter 8. The Case of MS

I was asked to identify the artist involved in painting three oil on canvas paintings, representing locations around Vancouver. The paintings were not signed, however, they did bear a monogram, lower right hand corner, with a date of 1978. The owner had apparently inherited the pieces from his father some years earlier and recalled his father telling him that he had purchased the paintings directly from the artist, possibly on Granville Island. Since the paintings were of local scenes I surmised that the artist probably was local or had spent some time in Vancouver during the mid to late seventies.

The monogram appeared to be the stylized initials MS. Armed with this clue I visited the Vancouver Public Library’s Fine Art Department and examined their artist clipping file. This is a file created and maintained by library staff of articles, photographs and reviews, relating to the activities, exhibitions and other endeavours of local artists.

I determined after a review of the files that the initials MS might refer to a listed local artist named Maurice Spira. A quick search of the artist on the Internet revealed his website and there emblazoned across his home page was the monogram.

In conversation with the artist he mentioned that he began using the monogram rather that signing his name, due to his admiration of the Pre-Raphaelites and their rejection of the conventions established by the Royal Academy. His choice of the stylized MS comes from a graphic design background.

MS, Untitled (no date), oil on canvas

MS, Untitled (no date), oil on canvas

MS, Untitled (no date), oil on canvas

Maurice Spira was born in Kent, England, July 4, 1944 and studied at The Provincial Art School, Kent, from 1960 to 1964. He immigrated to Canada in 1966 and settled in Montreal, where he became involved in radical politics. “That’s where I developed an analysis that saw various forms of authority as being something that we create ourselves”1.

Although the subject matter of the paintings I was asked to identify are innocuous landscapes, Spira is somewhat controversial. When I visited the Surrey Art Gallery to purchase a 1988 exhibition catalogue of his work, the receptionist remembered MS and in particular his grotesque and ghoulish paintings. The curator of the Surrey show did not hang one of his paintings because “there would be a tremendous problem with the painting”2, however an image of the painting did appear in the exhibition catalogue. His work has been described as “grotesque images of society’s dark power mongers”3 and in 1989 he cancelled a show due to what he perceived as censorship of his work, not by the public, but by a Vancouver gallery. In 1996 his painting ‘Yuletide Cheer’ was removed from a Gibsons art gallery when one of the gallery board members remarked “Gee, this is going to cause trouble. I know it is.”4

Although somewhat controversial, Maurice Spira has stood by his Pre-Raphaelite credo and I admire him for doing so.

1 Godley, Elizabeth. Vancouver, Sun, July 23, 1988; 2 Godley, Elizabeth. Vancouver, Sun, Dec 2, 1989; 3 Godley, Elizabeth. Vancouver Sun July 23 1988; 4 Proctor Jason. Vancouver Province Feb 20 1996.

For more information visit the FACTS (Fine Art Care and Treatment Standards) website at www.artfacts.org.

Next: The Case of Camaldoli.

 Wed, Nov 8, 2006