A Zurich Museum Found Out It May Have Acquired a Fake Titian. So Why Did It Buy Another Painting That Looks Just Like It?


Five years ago, the Kunsthaus Zurich in Switzerland made a splashy acquisition: the Italian Renaissance master Titian’s Evening Landscape With Couple (c. 1518–1520). But experts have aired doubts about the legitimacy of the artwork. 

In an effort to find clarity around the possible Titian, the institution recently decided to acquire another painting at a small Dutch auction house that looks exactly like the one it already owns. That work, titled Lovers with a lute in a romantic landscape, is attributed to either the French Baroque artist Nicolas Poussin “or his circle,” but it bears more than a passing resemblance to the Kunsthaus’s would-be Titian, according to the Swiss paper Neue Zürcher Zeitung.

Now, the museum may have two Titians on its hands—or it may have none.  

Both artworks depict a pair of picnickers alone on a hill, with a Gothic church tower and a green-blue sea in the background. Evening Landscape, which was donated to the Kunsthaus in 2019 (the museum declined to report how much was paid for the artwork), is painted in oil on paper, while Lovers with a lute was created in oil on canvas.

The size of the paintings is roughly the same, and the subjects and settings they depict are almost identical. Only a careful examination reveals minute compositional differences between the two, such as the positioning of various trees on the scene’s outer edges.

At auction, Lovers with a lute carried a pre-sale estimate of just €2,400 ($2,600). A bidding war pushed the price up, though, and the Kunsthaus Zurich ultimately paid €58,000 ($63,000) from private funds to take the painting home.

Such a figure would represent an outrageously low price for a genuine Titian or Poussin—and indeed, that fact alone may tell us just how likely it is that the artwork was created by either artist. But even if Lovers with a lute isn’t real, maybe it can be used to authenticate another artwork that is.

That’s the Kunsthaus Zurich’s plan, anyway. As part of a multi-year research initiative, the museum intends to analyze both paintings through a variety of scientific techniques. The aim of the project, according to the institution, is to “examine the two versions of the composition from an art-
scientific and art-technological point of view.”

“This surprising and interesting find could at best necessitate a reassessment of the work attributed to Titian in the Kunsthaus collection,” said Philippe Büttner, a curator at the museum, in a statement.

By 2024, when the Kunsthaus’s own authentication project is expected to finish, we just may have an answer as to which aged artwork—if either—is legitimate. Or maybe you can come to your own conclusion before then: The two paintings are currently hanging side-by-side at the museum.

“I do not think that it is by Titian,” said British art historian Charles Hope—a globally recognized scholar on Renaissance-era Italian art—in response to a question from Artnet New about Evening Landscape. “The same goes for the so-called Poussin,” he added. 

Hope noted that he has not been formally asked to weigh in on the authenticity of either artwork and has only seen reproductions of both.

Last year, a Swiss company called Art Recognition used A.I. to examine Evening Landscape. It determined that there’s an 80 percent chance the work has been incorrectly attributed.


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