• gerard van weyenbergh

History of art forgery

Mis à jour : 10 déc. 2020

1/7 The art of forgery dates back to the most ancient times when art, essentially religious, took a primordial place in men's lives from the moment they began to celebrate rites and honor gods who, d 'regions had different names but generally had the same powers.

It began with the borrowing of manufacturing methods and then of styles until the demand for statues or objects became strong. From there, artists and artisans began to make copies for export. It did not prevent the Egyptians from being copied by neighboring peoples and then by the Greeks when they established themselves in Alexandria. We should not forget that the Mesopotamians had previously exercised their artistic influences on many territories such as present-day Afghanistan and even China, who copied their objects in their way.

Before discussing Greece's artistic development, whose creations dazzled and inspired the Romans, it should be noted that men very early on poured into imposture, an innate attitude used by an individual seeking to pass for an other to try to value themselves in the eyes of their fellows.

History is made up of extraordinary impostures born from the desire of certain human beings sometimes to transform themselves into demiurges or simply leave a lasting mark on their passage on earth. It is already enough to dive into mythology or the Bible to see that some men tried to sublimate themselves to assert themselves in the eyes of others, and this, using various alibis adequate to achieve their ambitions.

To enter the legend, they had to accomplish unimaginable feats, and in doing so, they had to make a damn impression by upsetting the established order and trampling on acquired principles. Take the example of Abraham, convinced of the existence of a single god, who destroyed the idols which he believed represented false gods and who went so far as to want to sacrifice his son to prove to himself that he was right. Some of his contemporaries probably treated him as a fool or a storyteller, while others, far fewer, saw him as a prophet. Ditto for Moses, apparently an Egyptian priest who became defrocked in his own way, who began to profess the existence of

Alexander the Great himself, obliged to surpass his father to the point of killing the image of him to realize his dreams, led his troops from conquest to conquest until the moment when his faith began to doubt his stature as a conqueror. As for Jesus, he was first considered as an illuminated man and as a false messiah before his sacrifice on the cross made him the son of God. He was venerated by apostles who then went to preach the good word to the Mediterranean basin's four corners. From there, Christendom's birth, accepting the heritage of the Old Testament but disseminating to impose the false claim that the Jews were deicides, which led them to be persecuted for a long time before being victims of centuries later to mass extermination. The truth was elsewhere, but whatever,

Most beliefs have been based on misleading impressions or purported miracles or exploits glorified in texts that have become sacred. The false is thus quickly insinuated perniciously in the life of the men, even if it means to obscure the truth or to replace it. The emergence of Muhammad six centuries after Jesus' death finally proved that it was possible to rewrite the truth and impose another view of God, even though millions of people would be convinced of his uniqueness. For Muhammad, what the other initiators of the Jewish and Christian religions had decreed before him was true but not completely correct or not sufficiently consistent with reality and what concerned God's relationship. Who was right, who was wrong? Today's world is confronted more than ever with this nagging question and with the intolerance born of the blind faith of millions of individuals, which prevents them from any discernment. Religion is the opium of the people said, Karl Marx.

Obviously, the radical observance of a dogma, therefore arbitrary, is likely to distort any notion of balanced judgment in a faithful guided but also blinded by his faith. It is true that any totalitarianism has come to replace religion has in turn engendered dangerous drifts and that no absolute belief escapes arbitrariness. What is good for some is not necessarily good for others.

It is already not easy to discern between the true and the false so much it is obvious that the false is the illusion of the true. Some think to have the truth, but others may feel that it is the result of false judgment. As soon as an idea or a criterion is imposed on a majority, it therefore leads by ricochet to a form of dispute among other individuals because nothing is definitively immutable in this lower world.

At the artistic level, certain masterpieces of Greek art later became essential beauty criteria for the Romans. They were therefore looted and then copied, but the rich patricians who set their sights on these wonders wanted at all costs that they be authentic. So, unscrupulous dealers ended up finding a way to get rich quickly by selling copies to easily fooled customers by passing them off as original works.

To help them in their enterprise, there were artists, some with no other ulterior motive than to be moved by the pleasure of doing as well as the geniuses of Greek art by faithfully copying them and others, aware that plagiarism could give them the means to live comfortably instead of struggling to make their own nest.

The counterfeit industry during Antiquity, however, came to a sudden halt with the invasions of the Barbarians, who persisted in destroying temples, monuments and artistic achievements throughout the late Roman Empire, and with the emergence of the Muslim religion which also completed this operation of large-scale destruction because according to the Koran any human representation in matters of art, religious or not, was considered impious.

Christendom, for its part, imposed essentially religious artistic canons and the only fakes which appeared in Europe from the 6th to the 14th century concerned relics of saints or for example the Shroud of Turin which passed for a long time, and even in the eyes of many believers today. 'hui, like the authentic shroud which enveloped the body of Christ. A scientific analysis of this fabric has proved beyond doubt that it was made by an ingenious artist around the 13th century. In any case, this marvelous plagiarism has been for centuries an incredible source of devotion for the faithful convinced of having before them the negative image of Jesus himself.

Forger rhymes with fake just as the English word fake rhymes with flake (away) but before discussing the art of plagiarism, it is necessary to distinguish between fake and copying, which does not t is not easy to do since the copy is not necessarily plagiarism.

Before reaching the peak of their art, all artists had to work to copy their predecessors to perfect their technique. Copying the masters has always been a necessary step for the latter. Over the years, the copies made with mastery by certain great masters ended up being considered by amateurs and dealers as authentic works of those they had copied.

When making copies, most of these artists did not necessarily have the idea of ​​creating fakes except when some of them had the annoyance of being told that they did not have the size masters they copied. This was the case with Michelangelo, who notably deceived a cardinal by making him acquire a statuette he had just created and which had been sold to him as being from the Roman period. On learning of the deception, the prelate destroyed it in a fit of rage. It was also the case of several painters of the XVIIe century who to obtain monarchs' support made them present copies of works of painters whom they admired. Artists like Vélasquez or Le Brun did not hesitate to make copies in the beginning of their careers.

Copyists out of necessity to better master their art, some artists amused themselves by painting forgeries to impress the gallery, such as Raphael who committed some false Perugin, like Delacroix who made paintings in the manner, very misleading, moreover, of Greuze, Watteau, Velasquez or Rubens or like Van Dyck who took pleasure in painting fake Rubens.


2/7 As long as the Church ensured its control over art, there were, therefore, few fakes in circulation, but when kings and princes began to collect and become patrons of artists, orders no longer emanated then exclusively religious circles.

Therefore, the artists gradually freed themselves from the hold of the Church on art by taking advantage of a commercial circuit newly created in parallel at the beginning of the 16th century. Simultaneously, the vogue for copying spread to the domain of sculpture with the discovery from the end of the 13th century of many remains of ancient Rome. There was a clear propensity to draw inspiration from ancient sculptures among Italian artists to create works representing heroes of mythology, nudes, or satyrs.

Inspiration and not plagiarism for sculptors like Donatello, Verrocchio, Pollaiuolo, Moderno, Riccio, Sansovino, Michelangelo, Jean de Bologne, Maderno and Tacca to name a few.

The emancipation of artists when they began to paint in profusion of mythological subjects but the plagiarism industry did not really take off until the beginning of the 19th century with the advent of the bourgeoisie and industrial society, both generators of new wealth.

Previously, the eighteenth century had seen the emergence of imitators of Flemish painters of the previous century, artists rather lacking in imagination whose works were however sometimes sold later as being by the hand of such or such master whose they were inspired by. However, it was not until the 1760s that fakes appeared before proliferating a century later when wealthy amateurs set their sights on sought-after old painters. Many 18th century painters such as Watteau, Fragonard, Boucher, Reynolds or Gainsborough were copied or imitated by second-rate artists whose pastiches later passed as authentic.

The fashion of the Grand Tour instituted by the English nobles at the beginning of the 18th century also gave ideas to Italian merchants delighted to be able to sell copies to naive tourists easily, but such a practice remained anecdotal until the mid-19th century.

The boom in tourism in Italy during the second half of the 19th century led to the emergence of a number of counterfeiters specializing in the manufacture of plagiarism of primitive paintings that sold like hot cakes when new techniques had been developed like the mechanical reduction, which allowed the industrial production of bronze sculptures produced by contemporary artists. In France, the Middle Ages became fashionable again under the leadership of Viollet-Leduc, and copyists were active in faithfully producing Limousin enamels created between the 12th and 16th centuries. Nevertheless, the counterfeiters were still working on a small scale, and the only case that hit the headlines at the end of the 19th century was the purchase by the Louvre Museum of

Announced as a discovery in the south of Russia, this famous tiara bearing the inscription "dedicated to Saitapharnes by the people of Olbia" was sold for a million francs at the Louvre by the Hochman brothers, two Romanian crooks, and then exhibited to the public on April 1, 1897, the very day of April fools. Still, very quickly specialists began to doubt its authenticity because this crown's reliefs looked oddly intact after 23 centuries. The Munich museum curator decreed that the tiara was a montage made up of ancient elements borrowed from all over Europe. The investigation that followed led to the discovery of a counterfeit workshop in Otchakoff (ex-Olbia) belonging to the Hochman brothers before a jeweler denounced Rouchomovsky. Still, the investigators found it difficult to believe that they were holding on to it. Vexed, the latter landed in Paris and in front of the astonished Louvre specialists, he recreated parts of the contested tiara.

In 1873, the Penelli brothers had made an Etruscan sarcophagus, which they had buried and then "discovered". It was so convincing that it was bought as authentic by the British Museum where it appeared for decades as a major piece of Etruscan art before one of the brothers, seized with remorse, confessed the forgery.

An artist like Corot quickly became excessively copied, but this fact hardly formalized the latter by welcoming his imitators into his studio, delighted to obtain his advice and judgment. Corot even went so far as to correct their copies by having the knack of adding his own signature. Overwhelmed with orders and taken by time, the latter probably saw this as a means of satisfying clients eager for his works but lacking the innate sense that connoisseurs have in sniffing out plagiarism. There was also painter Monticelli with the particular technique made of heavy impasto, which was copied extensively during his lifetime.

At the end of the 1870s, the Impressionists began to emerge thanks to the support of modern-oriented or business-savvy dealers such as Durand-Ruel, Wildenstein, Seligmann, Rouart, and others, as well as collectors with large financial resources like the Rothschilds, Pierpont Morgan, and some Russian or rich Americans who were among the first to take an interest in artists like Monet, Manet, Pissarro or Renoir. However, it was not until the end of the First World War, during which forgery workshops in Brussels sold thousands of fake Corots (at least 10,000) to officers of the occupying German army, to see the market the first plagiarism of the impressionist masters, Cézanne or Van Gogh. At its beginnings,

Finally famous fifteen years after his death, Van Gogh quickly interested forgers from the moment when his price knew a spectacular rise and when the catalog raisonné of his work was in progress. As the clientele of art lovers quickly grew during the 1920s, the temptation was also great for certain merchants and not least, such as Lord Duveen, to cheat with reality by selling paintings advantageously retyped to rich gogos.

The golden age of forgery really began in the 1925s and this, in many areas such as 18th-century furniture with the production of copies of created by André Mailfert's workshop in Orleans which were then often sold as genuine. Mailfert did not participate directly in the sale of his wonderfully made creations but, rather delighted to see the excellence of his art as a copyist; he never denounced the smart guys who poured into this fraudulent enterprise.

In the early 1930s, Hans Henricus Van Meegeren, a Dutch artist disappointed to see his talent ignored by critics, began to study very closely famous painter Jan van der Vermeer (1632-1675). From there emerged from the mind of this ignored painter the idea of ​​bringing back lost paintings by Vermeer of Delft, essentially religious canvases skillfully created with techniques peculiar to the Dutch master of the 17th century.

Failed painter, Van Meegeren, therefore, took revenge on those who had ignored him. Restorer of paintings and professor of painting in Delft, he had already acquired a large knowledge about Vermeer's art before studying the works of this master as an entomologist. He then understood what advantage he could draw by plagiarizing this artist who had not really been rediscovered until the middle of the 19th century and whose first retrospective was only organized by the Rotterdam Museum in 1935. In 1932, he stayed in Provence and patiently began to dissect Vermeer's technique and determine precisely the pigments that this artist had used. Two years later, he used a 17th century canvas which he erased to paint a version of the "Pilgrims of Emmaus" which he then presented to the expert Abraham Bredius, who fell in love with this new masterpiece.

This fake was bought for more than 500,000 guilders in 1937 by the Royal Gallery of Rotterdam and Van Meegeren, excited by his daring move, launched until 1939 the production of other Vermeer, in particular a canvas titled "Jacob blessing Isaac" and others such as "The Last Supper" , "Christ and the Adulteress" or "Christ in Outrage" . During the German occupation appeared "La Lavandière" and then in 1943 "Le Lavement des pieds" , a painting which was sold for 1.25 million guilders at auction.

The troubled period of the war favored the juicy enterprise of Van Meegeren although specialists did not fail to question the miraculous reappearance of forgotten Vermeer paintings and their provenance, but it was not until the German defeat that the country's authorities take into account the works looted by the Nazis. It was thus that they learned that

"Christ and the Adulterous Woman" and at least four other paintings believed to have been painted by de Vermeer had been sold to Marshal Goering and Nazi dignitaries.

Arrested on the charge of having collaborated with the enemy by ceding national treasures to him, Van Meegeren swore to his great gods that he had only sold to the Nazis fakes made by himself and that he had made to the occasion act of patriotism by fooling them.


3/7 He then explained to the investigators that he had used real canvases from the 17th century that he had methodically stripped to make his fakes. He was using the same pigments as Vermeer and drying them with a mixture of resins, and put them in an oven to give them a touch of age.

Dutch justice refused to believe it. To prove his point, he suggested painting another Vermeer in the court in front of two experts.

His request was accepted.

He complied by painting a canvas entitled "Jesus teaching in the temple", a pastiche which today seems very badly made but which strangely appeared conclusive.

An investigation of his workshop in Nice also led to the discovery of pigments comparable to those used by Vermeer as well as an unfinished canvas representing a woman reading a letter.

Van Meegeren was only sentenced to one year in prison but exhausted by the ordeal he had just undergone, he died of a heart attack on October 31, 1947, two weeks after his imprisonment.

Nonetheless, his posthumous victory was striking because he had managed to abuse the critics and make them recognize his talent. At the same time, the scandal he had sparked was on the one hand the cause of a huge publicity stunt for Vermeer whose price literally exploded, and on the other caused enormous panic among museum curators who doubted the authenticity of some of the works they owned. Result: paintings previously attributed with certainty to the master of Delft, such as "The Young Girl Seated in Front of a Virginal," were downgraded. In 1993, it was presented for expertise at Sotheby's, but it took ten years to thoroughly analyze it and compare other works to determine its authenticity and sell it after restoration for more than 24 million euros in 2003.

It is probable that if he had been confronted with a very oiled art market as well as with much more elaborate analytical methods than during the 1930s, Van Meegeren would have had little chance today of fooling the specialists.

Nevertheless, current forgers have found other loopholes to deceive experts and amateurs. John Cockett alias John Drewe, an Englishman who in 1985 used the talents of John Myatt, a failed painter, to produce false paintings signed in particular by Ben Nicholson which were subsequently considered to be authentic. This one had the genius to encourage friends well-established in the art market to sign papers to certify that these works belonged to them without forgetting to produce false letters from plagiarized artists. Cockett also obtained permission to consult the archives of various museums such as the Tate Gallery or the Institute of Contemporary Art in London in which the lists of listed works appeared and found a way to add to it, by a skillful writing game, those which Myatt had plagiarized. Arrested by Scotland Yard in early 1999, Cockett was sentenced to six years' imprisonment and was released after two years.

At the end of the 1960s, another talented forger of Hungarian origin, Elmyr de Hory, hit the headlines by selling multiple plagiarisms in the United States through Fernand Legros, a former ballet dancer who had no equal to fool rich gogos.

Born in Hungary in 1905 and living on the island of Ibiza since 1961, Elmyr de Hory, who to cover his tracks had fabricated various identities such as those of Elmyr von Houry, Baron Elmyr Hoffman, Joseph Dory or Joseph Dory-Boutin immediately behaved like an enigmatic character, posing as a rich nobleman in exile.

Installed in a magnificent residence where he organized very popular social evenings on the island, de Hory let believe that his fortune consisted of works of art and that he had Salvador Dali and other famous people for friends. His sweet existence under the Ibiza sun passed without a hitch until he was overtaken by the scandal of the trial of Fernand Legros and his boyfriend Réal Lessard, accused in the United States of having cheated Texan oil tycoon Algur Hurtle Meadows who bought them dozens of fake modern paintings.

Very early attracted by art, Elmyr had a golden youth in Budapest until the divorce of his parents. At the age of 18, he had decided to study art, first in Munich, then in Paris in the studio of Fernand Léger between 1926 and 1932, but he had not managed to stand out as an artist.

Finding himself ruined at the end of World War II when his family was robbed of his property by the communist authorities in Hungary, this notorious gay man then had to find a way to ensure his subsistence in a city whose inhabitants wanted to forget the horrors of occupation and where work was not lacking, but the idea of ​​finding himself in the shoes of a pathetic employee strongly repelled him.


4/7 Penniless, he began to make pastiches imitating famous artists such as Picasso, Matisse, or Modigliani that he managed to sell to naive people. He managed to survive in post-war Paris and offered himself stays abroad. He flouted other amateurs and galleries until a day in 1952 when he experienced his first fright when the Los Angeles gallery owner unmasked him and threatened to report him to the police.

Destabilized and panicked at the idea of ​​being arrested and imprisoned, de Hory put the brakes on his activity and later attempted to commit suicide. Still, in 1958 he unknowingly allied with the devil by accepting help from Fernand Legros, a so-called art dealer aged 27, attracted by young ephebes who frequented the jet-set of the time.

Some believe that Otto Wacker inspired Legros. Olindo Lovaël, who like him a dancer before becoming an art dealer during the years 1925 in Berlin. He exhibits 30 Van Gogh that expert Bertrand de la Faille considered first as genuine before recognizing that he had been fooled. During the Wacker trial in 1932, however, the expert admitted that 5 of the works that the accused held were authentic.

Elmyr de Hory initially felt uncomfortable in front of this eccentric character with false airs of a cowboy, wrapped in jewels, decked out in dark glasses, a hippie beard, a fur coat, and boots, like a crocodile who had suddenly decided to rule his life.

However, Legros had a great deal of ease and gossip to spare and knew better than anyone how to give de Hory a taste for life. Touching his sensitive chord while flattering his talent as an artist, he thus succeeded in convincing him to come to the United States where he met and then seduced the young Lessard, then aged 19, who later joined his service by producing plagiarism.

Having the art and the way of convincing Hory to work tirelessly, the former dancer took it into his head to find clients and make them spit out their money. He even had the knack of cheating the American customs who asked him what he was carrying in his suitcases and were told that they contained copies of masters. The customs officers had the paintings examined by experts who decreed that they were authentic works, which earned Legros a heavy fine but also miraculously in return a customs certificate worth his weight in gold in the United States since the fakes he lugged around were now considered authentic.

Tired of Legros' excesses, whom he found terribly unfriendly and perhaps sensing that their outfit was going to end badly, de Hory only stayed a year in the United States and preferred to return to Ibiza, leaving the rogue broker to fend for himself, which then led him to use Lessard as well as Alin Marthouret, another plagiarist, to make them produce other fakes to sell.

De Hory then contented himself with painting other canvases and sending them discreetly to Legros for sale. It was then that the latter found in Algur Hurtle Meadows the perfect victim to whom he sent more than forty fakes bearing the signatures of Modigliani, Derain, Picasso, or Dufy.

Moreover, Legros had succeeded in circumventing French experts and rights holders who provided him with numerous certificates of authenticity without asking too many questions about the works they had to examine.

Eventually learning that he had been cheated, Meadows complained against Legros who was finally arrested following a very long investigation that delighted the press. With him, Lessard and de Hory fell into the cracks of justice as art market circles panicked when they learned that hundreds, if not thousands, of fakes, were circulating in the United States, a country full of ignorant amateurs. Still, few deceived buyers did not come forward for fear of losing face.

Perpetually anguished and tired by an existence placed under the sign of imposture, Elmyr de Hory ended up committing suicide for good in 1976 after having written his memoirs and was the subject of a film directed by François Reichenbach. In 1979, Legros was sentenced to two years in prison, a sentence covered by detentions already undergone in France and abroad. But this die-hard cigar smoker did not enjoy his freedom for long, suffering from throat cancer, he died in April 1983.

For his part, Réal Lessart wrote a rather anecdotal book and went to live in Morocco while Marthouret, who remained discreet for years, did not publish his until 2003 to reveal that he had also been given Legros a falsehood.

David Stein, was another brilliant forger who deceived many enthusiasts, especially in the United States, but he was arrested after Marc Chagall discovered a fake exhibited in a gallery. Abruptly released from anonymity, Stein made the headlines in the press and found a way to profit from his detention by painting pastiches sought after by many amateurs.

Creating a fake is an extremely difficult game to decipher because counterfeiters' motivations can be multiple, especially since we are dealing with individuals whose personalities are never the same. It is complex to understand what goes on in the mind of a plagiarist since various impulses can move it. He may decide to create a fake just to have the pleasure of playing an expert or fooling a merchant for easy gain or for fun.

Having fun was the case at the start of a copyist nicknamed “Facsimile” , a brilliant imitator of 17th century still life painters whose pastiches ended up in the 1980s, however, passing for authentic in the eyes of certain Parisian experts.

Having worked for a long time as a restorer for the National Monuments Department, “Facsimile” ended up acquiring a perfect knowledge of the pigments used by painters of the 17th century. In addition, his work had led him to examine very closely works kept in museums.

To make pastiches, all he had to do was find an adequate medium, a canvas or a vintage copper plate and the trick was played. He began to sell copies to amateurs until the day when dealers really found it hard to believe that they were not authentic. Gradually, some of his copies were authenticated as true and he found himself bombarded with phone calls by merchants to order works attributable to the great French, Dutch or Flemish masters of still life. Almost 40 of his plagiarisms found themselves provided with certificates of authenticity and "Facsimile", feeling caught in a dangerous spiral, felt that the time had come to take some distance with his sponsors and to leave Paris to breathe healthier air.


5/7 The art of plagiarism experienced spectacular development from the moment the art market took off at the end of the 1970s. Until then, it had been somewhat limited while Paris occupied the first place in the auction houses. Things gradually changed when Anglo-Saxon auction houses adopted modern methods of marketing to attract new customers. The economic expansion of the United States did the rest and allowed the emergence of new wealthy buyers eager to build collections.

The United States became the ideal ground for forgers when the odds for impressionist and modern painters began to climb briskly. Galleries started to flourish in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, or San Francisco to satisfy many amateurs. The trouble was that the experts of the painters sought were not Americans but, for the most part, French. Amateurs, who initially did not care to check the certificates that accompanied the works offered to them, did not often bother to surround themselves with the most basic precautions to ensure their validity. Others had purchased works certified by experts who had no authority over the artists who were supposed to have produced them.

Many small gallery owners did not hesitate to sell questionable works by issuing certificates of no value. In this context, Legros quickly understood the advantage he could take from selling hundreds of fakes in the United States.

However, it would be unfair to throw stones exclusively at the Americans because decades earlier, the famous Parisian collector Duret was the prey of many crooks at the end of his life. When he died, his heirs noted with amazement that his fine collection of impressionist and other paintings included many forgeries.

Having reached its full maturity, the art market faced two inevitable plagues, thefts and fakes that multiplied across the Western world. It didn't take long for smart kids based in Communist bloc countries to realize the value of fabricating fakes relating to sought-after artists in Europe and the United States. They set to work in the 1970s to produce early works of painters who had emigrated to the West, such as Chagall and Lissitzky, or supremacist or constructivist paintings by many famous Russian artists. Even before the Berlin Wall fall, there was lucrative traffic in fake Malevich, Gontcharova, Soutine, or Popova.

The marked increase in listed painters has led to a proliferation of fakes, as has the success of major clothing and fragrance brands which has resulted in a veritable counterfeit industry across the globe. Botero's success in Colombia generates a myriad of plagiarisms concerning his paintings and his sculptures. Other artists have been victims of plagiarism, which has flooded the American market. There is an incredible quantity of fake sculptures by Erté, Henry Moore, Rodin, Archipenko, or Matisse sold at unbeatable prices. The phenomenon has grown with the emergence of the Internet and sellers' success who are not lacking in ingenuity. Especially drawings or paintings by Picasso, Matisse, Popova, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Botero, Dali, Renoir, Pissarro, Modigliani, Moore, Rodin, Gontcharova, Laurens, Childe Hassam, Corot, Monet, Franz Marc, August Macke, Tamara de Lempicka, and others. A real epidemic for the market already under severe strain by the global economic crisis.

Any request that has become based on a painter leads to the appearance of plagiarism. It was the case for Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Watteau and later Vlaminck, Derain, de Chirico, Foujita, Warhol, Basquiat, Pollock and now Combas and other contemporary artists. It is the price of success that also provokes the proliferation of simple copies. But from copying to forgery, there is only one step, and it can be easy to take when some individuals realize that it is legally less risky to sell plagiarism than counterfeit banknotes.

There is no typical forger profile, which is just as true for naive people because amateurs described as informed.

Copies made in the context of education or artistic training or works partially created by masters in their workshops and completed by their students cannot be considered fakes. Thus, many great painters had recourse to assistants to respond to an overflow of orders, which was the case in particular with Rubens and to a lesser extent with Rembrandt. And then, although this can lead to an expert error, any copy is in essence only a faithful reproduction of the work of a master. In contrast, a forgery requires creating a composition that is not the duplicate of another, intending to deceive an amateur or a specialist.

Out of there, we can decree that a forger is the one who creates a work by passing it off as that of the artist he has plagiarized and by reselling it at a substantial price but to make a forgery and earn money. But to do this, it is above all necessary to have talent, to know well the ancient techniques, the chemical components of the pigments used by the masters of yesterday and also to be able to create a composition faithful to the spirit exhaled by them and then to build a credible story about a painting suddenly "rediscovered".

To make a fake, it is necessary to have the talent to paint while knowing how to identify the artist's life and work who will be plagiarized to thwart the questions of an expert, which is not given to everybody.

However, unless they are formidable in business, counterfeiters do not always have all the assets in hand to carry out their dishonest business. Once they have executed a fake, they have to go in search of naive people to sell it but having for the most part an artist's soul, they find it difficult to put themselves in the shoes of a Legros.

To sell a fake, it is necessary to have a strong character to deceive amateurs. Most of the time, counterfeiters find themselves in an impasse and often get rid of their plagiarism at a low price in favor of the first client.

Some great people in this world did not hesitate to indulge in misconduct, such as Pope Clement VII who allowed himself to have a copy of the portrait of Leo X made by Raphael by offering it to Frederick II Gonzague all by making him believe that it was the original work. It should be remembered that the counterfeit traffic would not be what it is without the intervention of characters with a twisted mind who have the gift of scheming and who take advantage of people's naivete. It is was notably the case with PR, a very likable-looking character who gradually ended up leaving the path of honesty to devote himself to the art of swindling.

Presenting well and playing the role of an executive residing in a beautiful villa located in a rich suburb, married in addition to an attractive young woman very attentive with her children, this formidable character had devised a well-oiled ploy to attract the naive people.

Passing advertisements in newspapers and art magazines, he made his victims believe that he needed to sell part of his impressive collection to build a swimming pool or finance urgent work. To give them confidence, he sold them an authentic work at an attractive price while not failing to entice them in passing by showing them other canvases or quality works of art that he would perhaps sell when needed. To furnish his splendid home, he also did not hesitate to call on merchants from the capital to be entrusted with works that they had difficulty in selling in shops but by making believe that they belonged to him and that they had never appeared on the market,

PR did not fail to frequent merchants at the Hotel Drouot, where he did not hesitate to raise his finger from time to time to bid to the point of arousing the interest of auctioneers with which he had taken the habit to discuss before or after a sale while posing as an important person.

Once he was hooked up, a client would come back to see him and then acquire allegedly authentic works.

He made dozens of victims for more than ten years, but justice was rather slow to put his hand to the collar. In the meantime, the aigrefin even allowed himself to participate as a dealer in major antique fairs while continuing to receive other gogos in his villa. Generous, he offered champagne while his loving wife, a child in her arms, gently joined the conversation to put the visitor more in confidence. Caught up in justice, this specialist in the sale of fakes found himself in prison for five years in early July 2005 while his wife and accomplice was placed under house arrest.

Other crooked brokers are still in business around the world and can hope to have a bright future as long as there are amateurs excited by the idea of ​​buying important works on the cheap. It suffices to remember that the false stones started to circulate from the moment the diamonds were coveted. The same goes for works of art.


6/7 Like thefts, fakes are the obsession of amateurs. In both cases, they need to protect themselves or from themselves. But while it is possible to secure an apartment or house best to reduce the risk of a burglary, it is more difficult, even for a very discerning hobbyist, to escape the trap of forgery.

There is also a galore per minute across the world, which means that the illegal business of plagiarism is not about to be eradicated, especially as amateurs have the unfortunate tendency to feed on the dream of getting their hands on the rare item by purchasing it at the lowest price. Thus, the desire to make a big win causes to lower their guard when they come across what seems to them to be a treasure, which makes the exciting game of discovery often accompanied by disillusionment.

The discovery is one thing; the authentication of a find is much more complicated, especially since it most often leads to a negative or mixed verdict. A model of a statuette of Jean de Bologne made in Florence around 1600 had recently been auctioned at the incredible price of € 1.2 million in Drouot. An amateur who had found a similar copy 20 years ago contacted the expert in sales with the idea that it too would reach a significant price. Only then, the expert explained to him that his statuette had been produced 50 years later by the Gobelins workshop and that, in his opinion, it would not exceed € 50,000. All this to say, even if it is from the period, a sought-after sculpture is not necessarily worth the same price as another a priori similar, not to mention that the provenance can also play a decisive role in an auction.

The truth does not correspond to an absolute reality and can even turn into a fake, especially when an expert asserts that the piece submitted to him is plagiarism when it is in fact, genuine. The fake itself comes in all the sauces since it can be obvious, deceptive, confusing, undetectable at first glance, and subtle or become authentic by the grace of a certificate granted by a blind specialist or trapped by its perfection.

On the other hand, we know that artists have always copied the masters to train themselves. Still, we too often forget that they unconsciously plagiarized them - which they have always been reluctant to admit - by defining their style.

In the early 1950s, the art critic Clement Greenberg, one of the most influential art theorists of the twentieth century, had elevated several artists, including those of the expressionist-abstract movement or Kenneth Noland to the point that the future of art seemed to depend on his analysis.

He allowed himself to idealize Noland, whose works similar to archery targets imitated that of Robert Delaunay made in 1910. Greenberg also asserted that Barnett Newman owed nothing to Mondrian while the latter, in fact had strongly influenced him.

Greenberg also qualified Fautrier as an abstract painter, although the latter vehemently denied being so. Fautrier also remained for a long time ignored by gallery owners and amateurs. The day after a failed exhibition in 1955, he was led to write to Jean Paulhan: "You have always told me that very great painters never sell anything at the beginning. Well, be satisfied: in this exhibition, nothing was sold! "...

It was thanks to Tarica, a skilled carpet merchant who converted into a gallery owner, that Fautrier finally began to find buyers for his works. One day, the dealer showed him a dozen paintings by Poliakoff of which he was proud and was told by Fautrier that of all the post-Cubists, this one was probably the best, which in fact meant that there was a hell of a difference between "post" and "authentic".

Another day, Tarica accompanied an American client to Fautrier, who asked 1,000 francs for a painting. The American finding it too expensive, Fautrier then took six other identical paintings out of a cupboard and told him: "These are only worth ten francs a piece . "Astonished, the visitor tried to understand and Fautrier replied with a smirk: "Because my cleaning lady made these."

They were in fact the famous "Multiple Originals" but, confused, the American customer left without buying anything.

In New York, the works of Ben Shahn, Tworkov, Guston, Motherwell, Kline, Rothko or Newman that Tarica saw seemed to the latter little appreciable because of the inexistence of plastic break with the paintings which preceded them shortly. "I was amazed at the importance that this belated abstraction had so quickly taken on," he remarked.

So it took a persuasive speech and an appropriate "name" to admit what in his eyes seemed to be only the exuberance of the creations that had nourished the first thirty years of the twentieth century. Obviously, according to him, the abstract-expressionists had worked during a less good period, taking advantage of the influence of Kandinsky, Malevich, and Mondrian. Their over-mediatized art had made him think of the statues of the great Roman Empire, suddenly disdained from the moment where they were compared to those "archaic" of the small Greek kingdom.

Faced with these works produced by abstract expressionists, Fautrier himself wondered how an artist could preserve the integrity of his "self" in a period when values ​​were sacrificed to fashion. Apparently, the success of Abstract Expressionism was being built on a sham, especially since Fautrier's works exhibited in New York were ignored and denigrated. It was almost the same in Paris where the Museum of Modern Art refused the donation of a painting by this painter on the pretext that it was not a painting, which led Tarica to think that having too soon reason was pointless.

In 1959, Fautrier was invited to the Venice Biennale at the despair of Gildo Caputo, then president of the French union of art dealers, who wanted to present Manessier but to whom the members of this union preferred Hartung. In the end, Fautrier shared the Grand Prix with him thanks to Tarica. The dealer thwarted a conspiracy of merchants against him by convincing the Polish juror to vote for the artist of German origin that the jury was made up of capitalists united against an artist who did not have a gallery owner to represent him.

Regarding Yves Klein, Tarica one day tried to get him a loan from millionaire Gunter Sachs. The latter accepted but during a lunch, he told him the story of the "Zones of immaterial pictorial sensitivity" relating to the notion of nothing. It was then that Sachs recanted and said, "What, you want to make me buy nothing ... I don't do the loan anymore." Like what, nothing in art is not nothing.


7/7 Apart from Fautrier, Klein, and a few others, most modern and contemporary painters have unconsciously plagiarized masters, starting with Picasso, who drew inspiration from several artists to develop his work. Thus, we can say that he was the greatest adapter in the history of painting without having invented anything, not even Cubism, whose authorship fell largely to Braque while Cézanne was at the origin of its foundations. However, this did not take anything away from Picasso's genius, considered by far the greatest artist of the 20th century.

Several painters who have become famous have "copied" other artists, both in terms of style and of ideas, with the merit of attracting major collectors to them. Praised in 1959, Manessier did not have the glory of Poliakoff or De Staël simply because these two artists had more support from the media.

We know Bernard Buffet's success, but we do not know that several painters produced works similar to his in the mid-1940s. Today, these have been forgotten.

At the end of the 1950s, many gallery owners made fun of Fautrier or Klein, who later took huge revenge on the painters they represented and whom Fautrier ironically treated as "post-cubists" when he wanted to be the representative of an authentic painting.

That said, borrowing from a painting is not copying or plagiarism, but just the often unconscious manifestation of influence. Faced with an artist's painting, we are often surprised to notice similarities with the style of another. All you have to do is visit a museum, stand ten meters from a painting and try to guess who the author is. At this distance, we can confuse Bourdon and Poussin, Watteau and Lancret,Jongkind and Boudin, Gauguin and Sérusier, Cross and Signac, and so on. Watteau borrowed a lot from Gilot before inspiring Lancret or Pater, Claude Gelée certainly gave ideas to Constable, who was probably to seduce Corot, who caught the eye of Boudin, who in turn impressed Monet.

Art only progresses through borrowings, which thus figure among the essential milestones of its development. In times of disruption, artists turn a little more into plagiarists, the best known then benefiting from dealers' support with a great sense of marketing. Therefore, we can suspect them of being somehow impostors (such was Fautrier's opinion on the subject of abstract expressionists) except that success served as a screen. Thus, the market pays tribute to its favorites without its participants worrying about the factors that allowed them to come to the front ground. It may sound unfair, but luck and opportunism play a huge role in an artist's success.

To treat Serge Poliakoff of plagiarist seems to say the least rude, but the fact remains that this one, like other so famous painters, let his subconscious browse other influences.

Can we speak of plagiarism when painters adhere to a trend, as was the case with Fauvism, heir to Divisionism initiated by Seurat which, following Derain and Vlaminck, attracted artists such as Braque, Matisse, Manguin, Friesz, Van Dongen, Jean Puy, and others? A similar observation can be made about Cubism, brought up to date by Braque and Picasso and to which several artists such as Juan Gris, Hayden, or Marcoussis adhered, or even the abstraction which derived from it.

The principles decreed by the leaders of numerous movements (Cubism, Suprematism, Constructivism, Futurism, Surrealism, Abstraction or Musicalism) imposed rules that themselves generated loans and inevitably plagiarism involuntary but necessary to respect them. Here again, we remain well away from intentional plagiarism and still far from the creation of fakes, but the fact remains that the limits of deception have often been crossed when painters have used similar styles and formulas. As for the counterfeiters, they had no difficulty in pouring crudely and directly into the falsification by trying to reproduce with variants what the masters had produced. These are nothing less than art terrorists, was it because they are experts nightmares.

© Adrian Darmon


© Dave Simonds