Forgery history, part 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.
© Adrian Darmon, Artcult.com