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Ovation’s ‘Raiders of the Lost Art’ Tries to Solve Great Mysteries of the Old Masters
May 11, 2016  | By David Hinckley

Ovation’s Raiders of the Lost Art doesn’t always deliver exactly what it seems to promise.

As an intro course to the history of great artists, it delivers even more.

Season Two of Raiders premieres Wednesday (5/11) at 10 p.m. ET, and it includes 12 half-hour episodes, which will be shown in pairs, back-to-back, for six weeks.

The show nominally explores mysteries of the art world, like the search for lost or stolen paintings.

The art world has a number of those, like the fate of the paintings famously stolen from the Gardner Museum (including Jan Vermeer's The Concert, top). Periodically we also read about how an apparently authentic Old Master was found in someone’s attic after they bought it for 10 bucks at a tag sale.

Raiders delves into some of that in this new season. Edvard Munch’s The Scream has been stolen a number of times, chronicled here. Claude Monet’s seminal Impression, Sunrise, was stolen in 1985 and missing for five years.

But Raiders also stretches the definition of “lost.” A fascinating episode in the second week, for instance, recounts Rembrandt’s habit of painting self-portraits.

He created dozens over his lifetime, and the show follows them through the years as his fortunes rose and then ebbed.

The whole episode is less a mystery than a 22-minute lesson in the life and importance of Rembrandt, and even those who already appreciate his skill will enjoy the concise summation.

Similarly, a Vermeer episode in the season’s final week nominally focuses on the sometimes obscure history of his famous Girl With a Pearl Earring. But it also incorporates his whole story, which in many ways is more shadowy than that of the one famous painting.

Point being that even if you don’t pay much attention to classic art, several of these episodes will explain why artists like da Vinci or Jan van Eyck have endured so strongly in popular as well as highfalutin culture.

Very wisely, the series taps art historians to weave together its stories, and it focuses on works that even non-followers have probably heard referenced.

This season includes Van Gogh’s Sunflowers series and Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele (above, right), which was appropriated by the Nazis during World War II and decades later sparked a landmark court case that finally resulted in its return to the descendants of the original owners.

Not every case ends so happily, but Raiders of the Lost Art focuses on the ones that did. Cezanne’s stolen Boy in the Red Vest, for instance, was recently recovered in Serbia.

Ovation was founded as a channel for arts and culture, an admirable mission that itself has eluded a number of its predecessors. Bravo, for instance, began as an arts channel before ultimately concluding reality shows offered a better ticket to success.

So it’s a good deed to watch cultural programming on Ovation. The real reward, though, is watching an enjoyable show from which one can learn something. Raiders of the Lost Art fits that picture.

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