Fakes and Forgeries

UPDATE – Although my approach was pretty good, my pick was wrong! It’s Young Woman by Jean-Honoré Fragonard.


When going through work’s general info email, I was often surprised to receive emails from various places offering to replicate any famous painting at a reasonable price. Curious, I’d clicked on the link and their websites (which happen to originate from China) were blatantly screaming “buy a forgery!”

A few weeks ago I went to a lecture about fakes and forgeries at The Wallace Collection.

Fakes and ForgeriesI love that the lecture room was adorned by antique frames

After defining “fake” and “forgery” (which happen to be quite vague in both formal and unofficial terms), the lecturer discussed historic cases such as the Piltdown Man (which I didn’t know about) and Elmyr de Hory who forged famous paintings by Picasso, Modigliani, Renoir, and Matisse. There’s even an Orsen Welles film F for Fake that features de Hory, and after he committed suicide, his works were sought after and even became valuable.

Then the lecturer posed a very good question – if a work is made after the artist dies, is it still a work by him? For example, years after Auguste Rodin‘s death, French law limits the number of times a Rodin sculpture can be made from the original mould casts. I also immediately thought of Sol Lewitt. I went to see an exhibition somewhere in New York a few years ago, and I noticed a work by Lewitt that wasn’t part of the exhibition. The work was painted directly on the wall and next to it were vague instructions by Lewitt on how to paint the work. And if someone to acquire or have the work loaned, the work would simply be painted over, and painted again at the next location with the directions placed next to it. But not just anyone can paint it – it would have to be someone from the Lewitt’s studio. I was absolutely blown away by this concept – it focuses on not only the work itself but the process of the work. And I love that this painting is forever permutable.

I thought the lecture was quite relevant especially since lately there’s been a number of articles on the authenticity of works ranging from misattributing a Caravaggio painting and denying the authentication of a da Vinci work to more intentional forgeries such as a few of Spanish forgery rings busted recently including an Old Masters forgery and others in Zaragoza and Tarragona and Valencia.

Which brings me to an exhibition currently on view at the Dulwich Picture Gallery called Made in China: A Doug Fishbone Project. I ventured into South London and visited the gallery for the first time. A work from their permanent collection was chosen to be duplicated (perhaps they too received the same emails as me?) then it was swapped with the original and is now currently hanging on one of their walls amongst the rest of their works. The visitors’ task – figuring out which work is the fake and making it official by submitting it at one of their iPad stations.

Dulwich Picture Gallery 4Dulwich Picture Gallery 5Dulwich Picture Gallery 2Photo 03-03-2015 13 08 05
I initially came to see the exhibition just as an observer, but the longer I was the there, the more curious I was. I started looking more closely at the works and decided how I’d deduce to the culprit:

1. I assume that the forgery wouldn’t be placed near the top of the ceiling as I didn’t think it would be fair to us viewers not being able to look up close at them.

2. I didn’t think the forgery was one of the large paintings. Why? Costs, I think?

3. But at the same time, I didn’t think the forgery was one the of the small paintings. Why? Simply because a medium size painting seemed juuuuust right.

4. From my limited knowledge of conservation, I know that through time oil paintings develop cracks on the surface. Based on this, I looked at paintings to see if any had rather smooth surfaces with virtually no cracks.

That said, I thought that Tilly Kettle‘s Eliza and Mary Davidson (1784) was the forged painting:

Tilly Kettle Eliza and Mary Davidson 1784

I initially thought that the forgery would be amongst the paintings in one of the three rooms of the main hall but I kept going back to this painting which is located in the corner of one side of the gallery, and in fact next to the entrance of another exhibition, From the Forest to the Sea: Emily Carr in British Columbia. I even made it official by submitting this as my pick. Big deal, I know.

In any case, I’ll find out on 28 April. Fingers crossed!


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