- The art of the Con
Eric Hebborn - Faking it
Eric Hebborn was able to top that one by a significant
margin when he published the “Fakerâ€™s Handbook” (which gave intimate instructions to would be forgers in how to use that profession
for fun and profit. He gave these future criminals, chapter and verse on how
to use art for the purposes of separating rich people from their money. Eric
was born to a poverty-stricken Cockney family in the early 1930s. He was raised
by a sadistic mother who beat him into submission regularly and for no particular
reason. He often told others in later life that he got beaten for merely arising
in the morning. Not totally realizing what was going on, Eric attempted to get
back at society for the severe pounding he had been taken from his mother and
did the obvious; early on he set fire to his public school in order to make
a statement. This did not sit well with the authorities.
The school board was not pleased at all with that action and
hustled him into a reform school where he continued to be beaten on a regular
basis, but this time by the other students who just plain didnâ€™t like him. However,
he must have taken learning a little more seriously there and along with the
fact that his mother was no longer able to influence, him he started to paint.
It turned out that he was an excellent painter with substantial potential and
soon Hebborn started winning serious awards for his handiwork. Eventually he
was admitted to the Royal academy, was awarded second place in that institution
for one of his works and received a free ride to Rome to continue his studies.
Eric found work with a picture restorer, George
Aezel during that period and soon learned how to manipulate the canvas, the
paints the colors and the work itself. He was soon providing a value added to
the restoration shopâ€™s clientele by adding pizzazz to otherwise dull work through
the simplest techniques. Moreover, he found that be changing the name of the
artist that had created the work to one more famous, he had indeed added substantial
inherent value to the work as well. Soon Aezel discovered that Eric's reworked
paintings were eventually being sold or auctioned off at much higher prices
than originally anticipated they started to create a plan. It was obvious to
the two conspirators, that in spite of the substantial increase in value that
the paintings were bringing, the restoration shop was not participating fully
in the increased evaluation.
Hebborn and Aezel formed a partnership in which Hebborn would
paint originals that would actually be copies of the style of old masters, while
Aezel who up to this point had a fine reputation and was well known in the industry,
would move the product out the door. Soon there were Hebborn originals carrying
the names of the most famous painters such as Poussin, Ghisi, Tiepolo, Van Dyck,
Rubens and many more, proudly hanging in such places of Pierpont Morgan Library,
the National Gallery in Washington and the British Museum.
Moreover, almost every one of them had been authenticated by
highly regarded critics and evaluators of fine art such as Sir Anthony Blunt
and Sir John Pope Hennessy, who were at that time considered by the art word
as the best appraisers in art world. Naturally, the auction galleries were making
money on head over heels on these paintings that Aezel seemed to be plucking
from the sky, but nevertheless, they couldnâ€™t wait to get their hands on Aezelâ€™s
next consignment and Christieâ€™s, Sothebyâ€™s and London dealer Colnaghi all stood
in line for more of these fabricated works.
Eventually something this good had to end and when Colnaghiâ€™s
finally realized that they had bought some fakes from Aezel in 1978 they started
to gently pull the plug. Not only was Hebborn disgraced but the market for old
masters collapsed when the realization hit that he was one of the most prodigious
artists in history and that every one was a fraud. The entire London art world
started looking over its shoulders and business in paintings and sculpture as
well, came to screeching halt while the galleries and private holders inventoried
their paintings to see how bad they had been taken.
During the period that followed, Hebborn not only
produced more paintings than ever but also wrote a book entitled the book “Drawn
to Trouble”, which was also published under the title, “Master Faker”. In order
to make his destruction process totally complete and to bring chaos to an already
broken industry, he fueled the fire by saying that numerous paintings that hung
the better museums are around town were forgeries that he had created. This
did not earn him a boy scout merit badge for truthfulness. However, that was
never his forte anyway. Perhaps it was his early upbringing by his sadistic
mother that made him want to get even with society and their overbearing pomposity.
He never missed an opportunity to tell social gatherings how he fooled this
one or bamboozled that one. Somehow, he felt much better after making some of
his contemporaries look like utter fools. However, with a mother from hell
itself you can certain understand a little of what made the man tick.
Moreover, Hebborn was a great artist who probably knew what
materials to use in creating frauds far better than most any of his predecessors.
In addition, before copying an old masterâ€™s work, he would study him assiduously
and literally try to crawl into his brain so that he could imagine that he were
him when he was at work painting. The combination of the being a well-informed
person regarding the critical ingredients that were required for a picture of
a certain period, the fact that he was a natural talent and the fact that he
could literally become the artist himself while he was at work turned out to
be a particularly deadly and profitable combination.
Hebborn died on January 11 of this year in Rome
when he had his skull broken by a heavy instrument, probably by one of his disgruntled
clients or lovers, he had produced by his own admission over a thousand forgeries.
However, Eric had made some serious money during this period and never being
much of a ladies man, had turned to the other sex for satisfaction. He had hopped
from one bed to another always looking for the right man with whom to settle
down. However, in spite of being smitten with any number of them, it seemed
to be a case of unrequited love. At the time of his life, he was still trying
to fool the world with his art and doing a credible job of it. It is estimated
that there are over 500 of his phony paintings still hanging on walls of famous
museums, in the collections of art patrons and sitting in galleries waiting
to be sold to this day. Hebborn had indeed left quite a mark on his chosen profession.
His sadistic mother would probably be quite proud of her sonâ€™s work in that
regard. He got even with everyone who crossed his path and then some.