|The following reprinted from Uncle John's Giant 10th Anniversary Bathroom Reader.
It's interesting to study the paintings of
the great masters ... but sometimes it's even more fun to study the work
of the great fakers. Like these folks:
Han van Meegeren
Han van Meegeren painting his last forgery Jesus among the Doctors
Background: At the end of World War II, Dutch authorities
began investigating the sale of Dutch national treasures to Nazi officials.
They learned that Han van Meegeren, a struggling Dutch artist, had sold
a priceless 17th-century Vermeer called Christ and the Adulteress
to Nazi leader Hermann Goering for $256,000. Once the painting was repossessed
and authenticated as a work painted during Vermeer's "middle period,"
Van Meegeren was arrested and charged with collaborated with the Nazis
- a crime punishable by death.
The Truth: Van Meegeren defended himself by saying that
there was no Vermeer "middle period," and that he had faked
all six of the paintings attributed to those years of the artist's life.
Van Meegeren also claimed to have painted two works by Pieter de Hooch,
and one by ter Borch.
The judge didn't believe him. But to be sure, he sent the artist back
to the studio (under guard) and told him to "paint another Vermeer."
Van Meegeren quickly created something called Jesus Among the Doctors.
It was, by all appearances, painted in the style of Vermeer.
What Happened: The judge dropped the treason charges.
But as each of the paintings Van Meegeren took credit for were tested
and proved to be fakes, he was arrested again - this time for forgery
and fraud. He was convicted and sentenced to a year in prison; he died
from a heart attack one month after the trial.
In the mid-60s, a 30-year-old art collector named David Stein walked into
the shop of one of New York's top art dealers with three watercolor paintings
by Russian painter Marc Chagall. The dealer bought all three for $10,000.
The Truth: Stein had painted all three "Chagalls"
that morning before lunch. He made the new canvases look old by soaking
them in Lipton's tea, and forged letters of authentication at the frame
shop while waiting for the paintings to be framed.
What Happened: As Stein put it, "I should have
stuck to dead men." By pure coincidence, Marc Chagall happened to
be in New York that very same day ... and the art dealer who bought the
paintings had an appointment to meet with him. The dealer brought the
paintings to the meeting, and Chagall immediately denounced them as fakes.
Stein was arrested and spent nearly four years in American and French
prisons. But the bust was such a boost to his reputation that when he
got out of prison, he was able to make a living from his own original
art forgers and fakers in the world - lots more info about art forgery
Exaltation by Pavel Jerdanowitch
Background: In the spring of 1925, the Russian-born
Jerdanowitch submitted a painting called Exaltation to a New
York art exhibit. The red and green colors were unusual for the period,
and the face of the woman in the painting was distorted, but art critics
admired the work, and Jerdanowitch was invited to exhibit at a New York
show in 1926. He did - this time displaying a painting called Aspiration
and explaining that he was the founder of the "Disumbrationist"
school of painting. The following year, he showed two more paintings,
Adoration and Illumination. Jerdanowitch's groundbreaking
work caused a storm, and he was hailed as a visionary.
Truth: "Pavel Jerdanowitch" was actually Paul Jordan-Smith,
a Latin scholar who hated abstract and modernist trend in art. When an
art critic criticized his wife's realistic painting as "definitely
of the old school" in 1925, he set out to prove that critics would
praise any painting they couldn't understand. "I asked my wife for
paint and canvas," he recounted after admitting the hoax. "I'd
never tried to paint anything in my life." The Disumbrationist School
What Happened: Smith admitted the ruse to the Los
Angeles Times in 1927, but the confession only fueled interest in
his work. A Chicago gallery owner displayed the paintings in 1928, and
later called the show "the most widely noticed exhibition I have
ever heard of."
More on Pavel Jerdanowitch at the Museum
D. S. Windle
Background: In 1936 Windle entered a painting called
Abstract Painting of Woman in the International Surrealist Exhibition
taking place in London. The work was one of the most talked-about and
admired paintings of the show.
The Truth: D. S. Windle ("De Swindle") was
actually B. Howitt-Lodge, a portrait painter who hated surrealist art.
He created his painting out of "a phantasmagoria of paint blobs,
variegated beads, a cigarette stub, Christmas tinsel, pieces of hair,
and a sponge." Howitt-Lodge chose the materials, he later admitted,
because he wanted to create "the worst possible mess" and enter
it in "one of the most warped and disgusting shows I've ever seen."
What Happened: Modernists were unmoved by his confession
- they accepted Howitt-Lodge's work as a genuine surrealist art, even
if he didn't. "He may think it's a hoax," one fan told
reporters, "but he's an artist and unconsciously he may be a surrealist.
Aren't we all?"
In 1922 the Boston Museum of Fine Arts paid $100,000 for the marble tomb
of a wealthy Italian woman named Maria Caterina Savelli, who died in 1430.
The tomb was supposedly carved by a famous Florentine sculptor named Mino
de Fia-Savelli, and was so impressive that the museum set the exhibit
up right at the building's entrance.
The Truth: As Kathryn Lindskoog writes in Fakes,
Frauds & Other Malarkey,
"No one seemed to notice that the Mino Tomb was dated one year after
its sculptor was born, and that the brief Latin inscription on the tomb,
which was naively copied from a book about the Savelli family, said, "At
last the above-mentioned Maria Caterina Savelli died."
What Happened: No one realized it was a fake until 1928,
when an obscure Italian sculptor named Alceo Dossena sued art dealer Alfredo
Fasoli for $66,000, claiming that without his knowledge, Fasoli had been
selling copies of his Renaissance art as the genuine article.
The Boston Museum of Fine Arts refused to accept that the Mino Tomb was
a fake ... until Dossena produced photographs of the work in progress,
as well as a toe that had broken off a figure carved in the tomb.
Museums all over the world scoured their collections looking for Dossena's
fakes - hundreds were found. The Cleveland Museum of Art was particularly
hard hit - after finding modern nails deep inside a "13th-century"
Madonna and child, it replaced the piece with a marble statue of Athena
that cost $120,000. That statue also turned out to be a Dossena fake.
For what it's worth, not everyone suffered from the scandal: Alceo Dossena
flourished. People became so interested in his work that he was able to
launch a career as a legitimate artist.
History of Art Forgery)
In 1976 thirteen paintings by Samuel Palmer, a famous English
artist, inexplicably came on the market at the same time.
The Truth: When the London Times challenged
their authenticity, an English painter named Tom Keating wrote in to confess
that he had forged the paintings - as well as 2,500 other paintings during
his illicit 20-year career, including works attributed to Rembrandt, Degas,
Goya, Toulouse-Lautrec, Monet, Van Gogh, and others. Keating claimed he
left a clue in every painting that proved it wasn't authentic - sometimes
he used modern materials; other times he painted "this is a fake"
on the canvas using lead-based paint, which would show up on X-rays. But
he was never caught.
What Happened: Keating was in such poor health when
he confessed that he was never put on trial. He became a cult hero in
England for fooling art experts for so long, and his own paintings soared
in value. One which he called Monet and his Family in their Houseboat,
sold at an auction for $32,000. By the time of his death in 1983, his
work was so popular that other forgers were cashing in by copying his
(Photo: Rod Ebdon via Fine
Art of the Fake Makers)