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Monday, March 21, 2011

Fakes, Forgeries And Who Cares?

These two paintings, Vase with Zinnia and Geraniums (top right) and Still life with Carnations, (bottom right) interested me the most at the Detroit Institute's exhibit Fake, Forgeries & Mysteries. The question posed was which one was the Van Gogh, which was the fake? Standing there for little more than a minute, I guessed off the top of my head that the Van Gogh was on the left. Not that it mattered. the painting wasn't mine so who care? Museums do.

I based my guess on the brush strokes and the colors plus the pure liveliness of the painting. The carnation painting was dull and lifeless--not Van Gogh's robust personality. In addition, the transcript said the carnation painting was painted early in the painter's career in Paris where he was experimenting with color. Well now. "He was experimenting with color" gave it away. The the colors in carnation didn't sing, didn't look like anybody was experimenting with any color wholeheartedly. As I said, the colors were dull and the brush strokes timid, not not Van Gogh to my mind.

I think the museum made an error. The real Van Gogh was the painting on top from the collection of the National Gallery of Canada. They win.

Yet, the DIA accepted Carnations as a Van Gogh into it collection in 1990. The tests were favorable--same pigments Van Gogh used plus the ground had a layer of chalk and on top of that a layer containing lead white paint, two foundations layers that were consistent with other Van Gogh canvases. Okay, if the experts say so, but this casual observer there really is something not right about the brush strokes--too flat. Colors too muddy. But let the conservation scientists and curators fight it out. the fact remained in my head that the DIA got the inferior painting--whose ever it was.

All of this thinking about fakes and forgeries and the Van Goghs got me wondering about my Dali. When I got home I looked at it closely. Looked like an authentic etching to my uneducated eye. My MIL purchased it from a reputable dealer. It was a small limited edition,(20), signed in pencil in the lower margin on the right, yet the etched signature isn't completely there? Hummm?

If authenticity is questionable in the fine art market, authenticity in the print market is very questionable. Unlimited editions are contracted when a limited edition sells well. Do they use the original plates? Or have those been destroyed as should be? Or is the plate reproduced after repair? Nothing but questions here. But one thing's for certain. This house catches fire, that Dali etching and our Sawyer oil will be under our arms as we flee--or maybe not. The insurance may be a better deal than going through all the rigamarole to prove authenticity?

Laughs aside, it's not a bad idea to photograph your fine artworks in case you can't get to them in the event of fire and have them authenticated by the museum curators and scientists. Keep the authenticity papers with the photographs and the photographs by your side. It seems I do care as much about my fine art investments as the museums do.

Meanwhile the exhibit at the DIA runs till April 9th. I think I might want to see it again.

Another interesting fact, of an historic nature, I picked up at the exhibit to ponder:
[During] the European Renaissance, beginning around 1400,artists were among those who started a shift in the Western world from a God-centered culture to a human-centered one. Because of an increased emphasis on human agency, individual artists began to be recognize as exceptional virtuosos rather than only vehicles through which God's will manifested itself. The huge impact this had on the art market was that individual artist names became important.
This was written by Graham Beal, the Director of the DIA in the tutorial transcript for the exhibit.

I find that paragraph fascinating. Artists as instruments of God. Wow. In the caves, we were considered shaman. Then in workshops, we were considered instruments of God. Then in our own studios, business men. I don't know. Seems to me like we might have fallen from grace over the centuries. Some of those forgeries and fakes were damn good. Some, better than the masters.


  1. U know the one I have been emailing u about? I noticed under the numbered edition there is a copyright symbol and the name sidney...(can't make out the last) anyhow, that's a first. what does that mean?

  2. Hi Linda--Very cool discussion. I'm with you. Just between us instruments of God, who cares? Is it a beautiful relic or not? Curators. But then, I've devolved to mere illustrator in a forest of relics.

    Did you see the 7 part Youtube set of the BBC piece on Dali? Watched it the other day. Tremendous. Andy Warhol once presented a Marilyn to Dali. Dali threw it on the floor and peed on it right in the crowded bar. Warhole just laughed. Perfect response. Relics. \\///\

  3. Who know Chrissy, You'd have to ask Sidney. You love it or you don't. The art game is too high stakes for most everyone on the planet. I'm just going to continue to enjoy my Dali and polish my painting skills till I can paint Rembrandt's Son Titus and sell the forgery for a few mil.

  4. hmm maybe sidney was the one who stole it?lol.. naw, gonna let sleeping dogs lie... its way to long ago...not worth it...

  5. Oh I don't know Bill, I might have liked people thinking from my brush to God's ear. Here in our human-centered culture, all I can do is beg God my paintings come out.
    I must admit that I was disappointed at the museum when I didn't see any Roths around. The collection fell a little short if you ask me. I'd better bequeath a couple.