• gerard van weyenbergh

Counterfeiters: Art or Scam? The Met has 40% fakes? part1

Camille Corot painted 3,000 paintings, 5,000 of which are in the United States. This joke, famous in the art world, reminds us that many fakes are found in museums despite the expertise. How to distinguish an original from a copy when the forger is an accomplished artist?

The Force of Intuition", Malcolm Gladwell's bestseller, opens with a memorable story. "In 1983, Gianfranco Becchina approached the J. Paul Getty Museum in California to offer him a kouros, a Greek marble statue dating from the VI century BC, representing a young man standing. There are around 200 kouros in the world, most of which have been found in very poor condition. However, Becchina's kouros was very well preserved, and the art dealer asked for a little less than 10 million dollars for his extraordinary find. "

Seduced, the Getty decides to act with caution. The sculpture was on loan to conduct an exhaustive investigation into its authenticity. Geologist Stanley Margolis examined it through a high-resolution stereoscopic microscope. He also had a sample of marble to submit it to a series of analyzes. "His observations led him to conclude that it was dolomitic marble, a material found in the ancient quarry of Vathy Bay (Greece). He also noted a thin layer of calcite, the formation of which took hundreds, even thousands of years. In other words, the statue was not a counterfeit; it was indeed antique. "

A visceral reaction

These conclusions do not, however, generate general support. Other experts experience "an intuitive repulsion" when looking at the kouros. They feel deep inside that they are in the presence of a fake but cannot explain why. Art historian Federico Zeri finds himself staring uneasily at the nails of the statue. As for Thomas Hoving, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, "he will never forget the first word inspired by the sight of the kouros," continues Malcolm Gladwell. It was "the fresh" word. A hardly appropriate notion for a statue supposed to be 2000 years old. "

This same Thomas Hoving would later declare that 40% of MET works are fake, before adding that it is a very widespread phenomenon. The Museum of Elne (Pyrénées-Orientales) indeed holds the rope, with 60%. As for the Mimara Museum in Zagreb, almost all of the 3,754 works are allegedly counterfeit.

Kilian Anheuser, scientific director of Geneva Fine Art Analysis, a private laboratory for scientific analyzes of works of art, qualifies these alarming figures. "The percentage of fakes varies between different sectors of the market.

Some periods and current are more affected than others. Russian paintings from the beginning of the XXth century, the Impressionists and works on paper by Salvador Dalí, who signed at the end of his life a large number of blank sheets is likely to make fun of the market for art.

Everyone who has read "The Force of Intuition" - there are several million of them - remembers that this story ends with the triumph of intuition. "At a glance, the experts had understood more about this statue's essence than the Getty team in fourteen months of investigation. "

Eric Piedoie Le Tiec, a repentant forger who has amassed millions of euros by imitating the greatest masters' style, also speaks of this first glance of this decisive intuition. Experts, he says, "don't trust the signature or the quality of the stroke. This is what emerges from the work. Right away, one is marked, or one is not marked. An artwork speaks. Andrea Hoffmann, restorer and art historian in Geneva, confirms. "Traditional experts still have a future: 90% of what we see on the board, we see it with our eyes, and that is experience. "

However, sometimes this experience is severely tested. The best forgers indeed manage to capture the soul of the painter. In other words, they don't just emulate the model. They become the model.

This is what Guy Ribes, a talented and prolific art forger, said about his working method: "I put myself in the artist's shoes. When I painted a Picasso, I was Picasso. When I painted a Chagall, I thought like Chagall. To make the illusion perfect, Guy Ribes never copied anything: he created paintings that did not exist. "Many artists work in series. They produce 20, 30, or 50 almost identical designs. I slipped one in the middle. Obviously, this requires a perfect knowledge of the painter and his technique. I had to determine the year, the month, and even the day of manufacture of the painting I was inventing, locate the place where it was supposed to have been made, know what state of mind the artist was in, what materials, and pigments he was using. The research sometimes took me several months


Article fron Bilan.ch written by Amanda Castillo