In search of art's secrets

Rosemary Sorensen | Bendigo Weekly | 22-Sep-2011 5.15pm

SUPPORT: Twin Norm now believes his brother's theories.

Call it a magnificent obsession.

For 35 years, Graeme Cameron has been slowly compiling evidence he hopes will prove, once and for all, the identity of the most famous portrait ever painted.

It is now his belief that Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa was not, as long surmised, the young Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo, or, as also claimed, a self-portrait of the artist himself. Mona Lisa is Leonardo’s mother.

By using scans to show the various layers of underpainting, Graeme has taken the painting back to an earlier version which, he says, shows it as a portrait of an elderly woman with features that resemble Leonardo’s. 

Using the same scanning technique, he has also uncovered what he calls “Leonardo phenomena”, hidden marks that reveal grotesque heads, or metal implements, sometimes signatures. 

The hidden world of Renaissance painting has never been available before, he says.

Mr Cameron and his twin brother Norm were born in Melbourne. Graeme still lives there, following long stints overseas studying art.

Norm now lives in Bendigo, retired from his position as city planner. 

He admits that for a long time, he was not convinced by the theories his brother was putting forward, but is now a staunch supporter, assisting him with the publication of the first in a planned series of books.

A glossy, full-colour book called The Secrets of Leonardo da Vinci tells the story of Graeme’s long and often frustrating journey.

Graeme says it has often put him in the firing line to be called a crank, particularly his belief in what he calls “connoisseurship”, which is “that rare faculty of enhanced visual perceptual evaluation”.

Fossicking about in art auction houses as a young man, Graeme found his “naive eye” was picking up clues that artworks being passed over as of little interest were in fact unacknowledged works by masters.

He found he could “instantaneously” recognise the stylistic mannerisms and brushwork of master artists. 

“How such a rare gift evolved is still a mystery”, he says. 

“However I felt humbly privileged to possess such a unique perceptual faculty, and equally obligated to develop and refine its potential, as it became increasingly more effective in assisting the restitution of lost and misattributed artwork, for the benefit of the artists and posterity.”

The trouble was, even his brother thought he had lost the plot.

While Graeme spent years in the UK in the 1970s, beavering away at his theories, his brother was becoming concerned.

“He logically thought that this situation could not be possible, reasonably assuming as most do that the cataloguing was unquestioned,” Graeme says.

“He later admitted he feared I must have been having a nervous breakdown or hallucinating, or perhaps even both.”

For some years now, the Camerons have been trying to get experts to understand how the process they call Vegascan (similar to the x-ray process used to find out what is beneath old paintings) can be made to reveal previously unknown information.

In the new book, Graeme finds little drawings in the background of Leonardo paintings, and tiny portraits in Holbein paintings. 

He collects any snippet of support he can get from experts and scholars, and details how paintings misattributed to minor artists have been revealed, through research, to be the work of major artists.

He says many works maunder unrecognised in public collections, waiting for research work such as his to reveal their true value.

“It is planned to apply these unique research and connoisseurship faculties for altruistic purposes.”

The Secrets of Leonardo da Vinci by Graeme Cameron is published by Vegascan, and available from Dymocks Bendigo, $34.90.


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