- The art of the Con
Highly talented artists have been copying and/or forging the
great masters for hundreds of years and we are only now finding out that paintings
that have been authenticated as being the real Mc Coy are now being decertified.
Even one of the greatest artists that ever lived, Michelangelo forged an antique
cupid in marble for one great industrialists of his day, Lorenzo de Medici who
paid him handsomely for the stature.
Possibly the most sophisticated art museum in the world, The
Louvre Museum in Paris was suckered into purchasing the gold “Tiara of Saitaphernes”
a work that was supposedly created in 300 BC. They paid the enormous sum of
200,000 gold francs and put the work on display with enormous fanfare. Living
in Paris at that time was Israel Ruchomovsky, a Russian who had wended his way
west and who became employed by certain Paris art dealers that dealt in forgeries.
When they discovered how good Ruchomovsky was a creating astounding looking
art objects, they had him create the “Tiara” and then convince the Louvre that
it was the really thing. It took the Louvre several decades before they recovered
from this embarrassment.
However, not to long after the Ruchomovsky affair, the Louvre
along with the Victoria and Albert Museum in London were once again taken for
a ride by a phony artwork. It seems that Giovanni Bastianini who practiced his
sculpturing trade in Italy had built up an amazing reputation for being able
to copy the styles of Verrochio and Donatello with amazing accuracy. Bastianini
was somewhat of a dupe in that he would make copies of the works of these and
other Italian legends to order. He made no pretense that they were not copies.
However, a group of clever underworld characters that knew something about art
started commissioning him to create works for them in the style of the masters.
They then took the works and sold them on the Continent as the real thing. Bastianini
who was supposedly unaware of what had occurred was never the same again.
Many of the great art museums of the world have been in existence
for a long period of time. Usually they are helped in their acquisition of art
by serious donations from extremely wealthy folks who like the publicity and
the donations. Often individuals that have assembled substantial art collections
during their lifetimes bequeath great works to their favorite art museums upon
their death. Probably the largest single donation to art world in terms of real
dollars was the creation of the J. P. Getty Museum in Malibu, California. While
alive, Getty had been a penny pincher, rumored to have had a pay phone installed
in his London mansion so that guests would not think of his house as a place
to either loiter or do business. However, by being careful with your money while
alive, you are also able to benefit charitable causes more greatly upon your
Getty was somewhat of a loner and a megalomaniac
who would certainly have been happy owning everything in the world. He also
wanted posterity to remember exactly who he was and thus, the J.P. Getty Museum.
The funds that the museum had to work with at inception were astronomical by
any yardstick that had previously existed. Moreover, a very knowledgeable art
director was brought in to the art museum to start spending it. He was out to
make a mark for the Getty as quickly as possible and bought a statue known as
“Kouros” as the centerpiece of its collection. This work was said to be of
the Archaic period in Greece and in spite of latter questions, is still a most
amazing work. However, critics started the chant that the museum had been taken
and that the work is a modern forgery. With their reputation at stake, the Getty
held fast and even created panels to resolve the question. However, as yet,
in spite of the colloquium that was held, nothing definitive has yet been determined.
The work remains questionable and probably is just a wonderful forgery. The
reputation of the Getty has been scarred but the jury is still out. Whether
a forgery or not, the statue today would probably not bring a fraction of what
it was purchased for other than as an interesting case study.
Before we are too quick to criticize the Getty letâ€™s
take a look at the statement made by Thomas Hoving, the previous director of
New Yorkâ€™s immense Metropolitan Museum of Art who stated: “today itâ€™s almost
impossible to tell whatâ€™s genuinely ancient Greek and whatâ€™s Roman fakery” While people were copying coinage 600-years earlier, the Romans
had a love affair with Greek artwork and wealthy citizens attempted to accumulate
literally their own private museums containing as much of the stuff as they
could lay their hands on.
“Greek statues were more and more in demand during
the first Century BC and Roman merchants often experienced difficulties in supplying
their customers. However, some of them found it more convenient to set up workshops
in the city of Rom where they produced copies with the help of talented local
artists. Such imitative enabled them to reduce import costs greatly and to avoid
the risk of losing some of their treasured cargoes in sea accidents. Moreover,
they contributed to promote a local industry, which eventually freed itself
from Greek influence. There is however, no need to say that many of these copies
were eventually sold as genuine Greek works by some unscrupulous merchants who
took advantage of the growing demand, which lasted until 300 AD. Undoubtedly many of these replicas
were not meant to be sold as mere copies as long as the emergence of a specific
Roman form of art was not in full gear.”
How embarrassing it must be when a painting that Christieâ€™s
or Sothebyâ€™s has sold at auction, with their good housekeeping certificate clearly
affixed on it suddenly turns out to be a fake and some poor soul has spent millions
believing the auction folks. Now, they find that some guy that probably was
a better artist than the Old Master himself was making a living in the 18th
century copying the stuff to perfection. Moreover, the ticking bomb is the fact
that even though many great artists put their own names on paintings that were
actually done be their students were donâ€™t know which or how many. All of these
guys had students that worked for free including the total donation of their
efforts by these youngsters. That bomb is still ticking.