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March 23, 2013 7:03 am  #1

The van Buren Supernova (and the painting)

I have so many questions here regarding this!

1.  How did the forger/painter paint a near-exact copy of the lost painting? 

Hasn't the painting been lost for centuries?  There would be no postcards or other duplicates off of which he could have been painting his version.

2. Why paint the van Buren supernova at all? 

Unless Moriarty intentionally instructed the painter to paint it in -- just to give it a fool-proof signature of its inauthenticity -- then it's a totally random decision, a rather esoteric one at that.  Or, I guess the painter could've just been painting off of the night sky, but that would've required the absolutely coincidental and perfect timing of the forging artist's painting and the original artist's painting, since star positions constantly change throughout the year. 

3.  How does Sherlock know the name of the supernova? 

We never hear the words, "van Buren supernova" at the planetarium (during which Dr. Caanes/Kanz was being choked by Golem).  Are we supposed to believe that Sherlock searched for ALL supernovae that were only visible in the 1800s but not in the 1600s, and luckily and correctly deduce it all the way down to THE one supernova.... all in the matter of literally less than 2 seconds on his phone? 

We already know that Sherlock has virtually no working knowledge of OUR solar system -- but we are to assume that he knows the solar explosions occurring in solar systems literally light years away? 

4.  How did the painting pass all the rigorous authenticity tests? 

I would assume that all sorts of forensic testing would have revealed that the painting was not only not painted 400-500 years ago, but it was painted a few months ago.  Even if they couldn't prove the exact timing of the painting, SURELY they could've found out that it's not 500 years old. 

These "testers" need a new job if they can't tell the difference between a painting painted in the 1600's and one painted in 2012 (especially one painted in South America, where it has such a drastically different climate than the UK -- i.e., the humidity likely would've made it an obvious fake).

I don't care how perfect your brush strokes are.  You cannot paint something so well that it fools scientific testing that approximates the age of the painting.


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March 23, 2013 9:12 pm  #2

Re: The van Buren Supernova (and the painting)

I think we have to look at it as Sherlock does.

A security guard with a healthy interest in astronomy is killed; why?

As was already established; Sherlock has little, to no, knowledge of the universe's physical principles and so he would be looking into this particular visage at that time with a means of understanding why Alex Woodbridge was murdered, it's understandable as to why he knew the name of the supernova.

As for passing 'authentic' testing; living in Argentina myself I can tell you that it isn't impossible to 'bribe' someone into passing it for you and I suppose 'salting' it with oils from a lesser painting from that era would allow for the carbon dating to be falsified.

Finally; as to why Moriarty wanted it painted in the first place, well primarily, as you've stipulated, there is no 'original' with which to compare it with and secondly Moriarty knew Sherlock could crack it if given the proper motivation.

I hope this covers all your points Blink.


And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.

March 25, 2013 2:32 am  #3

Re: The van Buren Supernova (and the painting)

I thought the gallery curator found the guy who painted it and Moriarty just helped to sell it (pass it off as real). I'd say the guy that painted it would have just painted what she saw in the night sky. It was probably an accident that the Van Buren Supernova was painted, he wouldn't have done it on purpose. But of course if you have a large knowledge of the night sky, like the security guard, you would notice it.

There was probably a description of the original going around. Even if there wasn't it wouldn't be too hard for someone with talent to copy someones painting style.

It seemed to me he looked it up in those few seconds. Very fast. I guess he has an amazing download rate!


March 25, 2013 2:48 pm  #4

Re: The van Buren Supernova (and the painting)

I don't know much about supernovas but I think that Sherlock just looked for a supernova which was visible when the painter was painting that painting. Supernovas don't stay visible in the sky for a very long time (just few weeks or months).



March 25, 2013 3:10 pm  #5

Re: The van Buren Supernova (and the painting)

For those interested to learn more about supernovae in general:

The "van Buren supernova" didn't exist, by the way. It was made up for the episode. A nice article on it can be found here:


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March 30, 2013 8:42 am  #6

Re: The van Buren Supernova (and the painting)

The above post made me smile but probably not in the way in which it was intended! It is a bit unusual...

Don't make people into heroes John. Heroes don't exist and if they did I wouldn't be one of them.

June 17, 2013 12:48 am  #7

Re: The van Buren Supernova (and the painting)

I always wondered why Sherlock would assume the stars were supposed to be an accurate rendition of the night sky.  They looked fairly random to me.  The "Van Buren Supernova" couldn't be deduced by the painting of a random night sky with stars.


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June 17, 2013 1:14 am  #8

Re: The van Buren Supernova (and the painting)

BlinkULDHC wrote:

I have so many questions here regarding this!

1.  How did the forger/painter paint a near-exact copy of the lost painting? 

A. If no pictures exist of the painting, then there's no way that anyone would know what it looked like before- unless they had a description.  And even then, it wouldn't give the full picture.  If the painter can emulate the painter's technique, it can be quite convincing to someone other than an expert.

2. Why paint the van Buren supernova at all? 

A. The painter probably doesn't know much about stars, and probably only copied a picture (I doubt it's what he saw if he live in Argentina- they would have different stars than the Northern Skies).

3.  How does Sherlock know the name of the supernova? 

A. He knew that the dead man was an amateur astronomer, knew that the dead woman was a professor in astronomy, and he hears (as we do) this at the planetarium: "Many are actually long dead, exploded into supernovas.  Discovered by Urbain Le Verrier in 1846..." Look up the name, and you find the name of the star (doesn't actually exist, but it's a great fiction).

4.  How did the painting pass all the rigorous authenticity tests? 

A. Moriarty was pulling the strings.  There's no way that he would let £30M go by just because he couldn't buy off/threaten the evaluators.  Of course, when he wanted to get Sherlock's attention, it didn't matter.

Last edited by sj4iy (June 17, 2013 1:18 am)

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