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Art World Long Rocked by Fakes

Friday, 30 January 2015 02:06 PM Current | Bio | Archive

The brushwork of infamous forgers is so close to the real thing, few suspect it is from an imposter’s hand. Elmyr deHory faked most convincingly Picassso, Dufy, Modigliani, Vlaminck, Derain and Renoir.

His biographer Clifford Irving believes 90 percent of deHory’s forgeries hang disregarded in prominent museums and art galleries.

William Blundell (American, born in 1947) allegedly copied works by Picasso, Pollock, Monet and other masters. The too-talented Eric Hebborn (English, 1834-1996) painted to perfection phony works attributed to van Dyck, Piranesi, Tiepolo, Rubens and almost every other notable Renaissance artist.

Hebborn’s creations have deluded some of the finest art minds. Called “the great Old Master forger,” the flippant Hebborn printed in 1997 a do-it-yourself forgery manual giving tips to fakers. Hebborn’s life, attitudes, and business deals expose a portion of the art world’s slimy underbelly.

Other forgers include Tom Keating (English, 1917-1984) who admitted he created over 2,000 Degas, Sisley, Modigliani, Goya, Rembrandt, Degas, Renoir and Gainsborough fakes. Paul Desire Troullebert (French, 1828-1900) is known to have painted numerous Corot imposters. Otto Wacker of Germany (dates unknown) created and sold Gauguin and van Gogh fakes, and Han van Meegeren (Dutch, 1889-1947) painted and sold authentic-looking Vermeer oils as originals.

Why paint a forgery? Artists often learn how to paint by copying the work of masters. On any given day, they can be seen standing at easels painting copies of renown artists’ work that hang in museums worldwide. From the Renaissance through the 1940s, few “school of” paintings were signed, and students rarely wrote Copied by on the front or verso of their studies.

The most talented forgers often are wannabe artist-celebrities or embittered painters. They might start out as impoverished creative beings, whose capabilities are ridiculed or rejected as insignificant by peers, galleries or art critics.

Some become conservationists who eventually fake masters because they aggressively strive to get even with the art world for not accepting their artwork as distinguished.

A forger’s dealer (a middleman) often delights in hoodwinking snobby scholars and pompous curators whose arrogance nauseates them to such an extent that they want to destroy their reputations publicly. If they delude revered museum experts and braggart scholars, they can shake down almost anyone. It gives them a psychological thrill whenever the elite accepts as real their imitations.

Eric Hebborn confessed in the autobiography "Drawn to Trouble: Confessions of a Master Forger" he “restored” paintings that “never existed,” faked Leonardo and gloated that he swindled some of the finest art minds in London.

The New York Times reported on Jan. 4, 1995, that the dealers who purchased Hebborn’s forgeries never came forward to press charges because they did not want to injure collectors' confidence in the art market. The truth is, they did not want to buy back expensive misrepresented art, admit publicly they were duped into buying and selling fakes, or have their reputations shattered!

Eric Hebborn’s "Il Manuale del Falsario" ("The Faker’s Handbook," 1995) gives complete instructions on how to forge and sell fakes. He admits his in-paint tricks the black light and that he became proficient at extending cracking into newly painted surfaces (to indicate age) and augmented subjects to “improve” their desirability.

“A cat added to the foreground guaranteed the sale of the dullest landscape,” Hebborn confesses. “Popular signatures came and unpopular signatures went.” Hebborn became rich selling “foolproof” forgeries which now are in the many museum collections. He claimed his fakes were sold as authentic masterworks at Christie’s and Sotheby’s and that he was best at forging Boldini, Tiepolo, Piranesi, Breughel, Rubens, Corot, Castiglione, Mantegna, van Dyck, Boucher, Poussin, Ghisi and Hockney. Is it surprising Hebborn was murdered on a street in Rome on Jan. 11, 1996?

The extensive list of infamous forgers is problematic, especially when it is believed some of the most revered art minds worldwide have knowingly bought their counterfeits. When the powerful choose financial gain over high ethical standards, it can destroy financial empires, collections, careers, and lives.

One of the most troubling forgery scandals happened in London, after it was discovered instigators auspiciously added titles and provenance data to exhibition records in the archival department of the distinguished Tate Gallery (London). To pull off the elaborate scheme, it is suspected inside collaborators meticulously planned how to dupe the Tate Gallery.

It is believed that after forgeries were created, the conspirators stole authentic data from the Tate’s archival files and replaced it with falsified documentation that best described the forged works of art. The schemers then sold the forgeries and guaranteed their provenances, stating that their histories could be verified in the Tate Gallery’s archives (see: New York Times, June 19, 1996).

No one is privy to how many counterfeit documents were added to the Tate’s archives or how many forgeries the conspirators sold. The scandal resulted in sending two men to jail and the publicity tarnished the Tate’s credibility and scholarship.

The Tate scandal shows that the deceit of creative fakers knows few boundaries. The more foolproof the science of detection, the better forgers elude it.

Patricia Jobe Pierce is a freelance writer, art historian, art dealer-consultant, certified AAA appraiser, public speaker, photographer and American art authenticator for museums, auction houses and collectors. She graduated from Boston University with a BFA in 1965, is owner and director of Pierce Galleries, Inc. in Nantucket and Hingham, Mass., and is author of many works, including, "Art Collecting & Investing: The Inner Workings and the Underbelly of the Art World." For more of her submissions, Click Here Now.

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Artists often learn how to paint by copying the work of masters. The most talented forgers often are wannabe artist-celebrities or embittered painters.
gauguin, gogh, art, galleries
Friday, 30 January 2015 02:06 PM
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