• gerard van weyenbergh

Forgery history, part 4/7

Penniless, he began to make pastiches imitating famous artists such as Picasso, Matisse, or Modigliani that he managed to sell to naive people. He managed to survive in post-war Paris and offered himself stays abroad. He flouted other amateurs and galleries until a day in 1952 when he experienced his first fright when the Los Angeles gallery owner unmasked him and threatened to report him to the police.

Destabilized and panicked at the idea of ​​being arrested and imprisoned, de Hory put the brakes on his activity and later attempted to commit suicide. Still, in 1958 he unknowingly allied with the devil by accepting help from Fernand Legros, a so-called art dealer aged 27, attracted by young ephebes who frequented the jet-set of the time.

Some believe that Otto Wacker inspired Legros. Olindo Lovaël, who like him a dancer before becoming an art dealer during the years 1925 in Berlin. He exhibits 30 Van Gogh that expert Bertrand de la Faille considered first as genuine before recognizing that he had been fooled. During the Wacker trial in 1932, however, the expert admitted that 5 of the works that the accused held were authentic.

Elmyr de Hory initially felt uncomfortable in front of this eccentric character with false airs of a cowboy, wrapped in jewels, decked out in dark glasses, a hippie beard, a fur coat, and boots, like a crocodile who had suddenly decided to rule his life.

However, Legros had a great deal of ease and gossip to spare and knew better than anyone how to give de Hory a taste for life. Touching his sensitive chord while flattering his talent as an artist, he thus succeeded in convincing him to come to the United States where he met and then seduced the young Lessard, then aged 19, who later joined his service by producing plagiarism.

Having the art and the way of convincing Hory to work tirelessly, the former dancer took it into his head to find clients and make them spit out their money. He even had the knack of cheating the American customs who asked him what he was carrying in his suitcases and were told that they contained copies of masters. The customs officers had the paintings examined by experts who decreed that they were authentic works, which earned Legros a heavy fine but also miraculously in return a customs certificate worth his weight in gold in the United States since the fakes he lugged around were now considered authentic.

Tired of Legros' excesses, whom he found terribly unfriendly and perhaps sensing that their outfit was going to end badly, de Hory only stayed a year in the United States and preferred to return to Ibiza, leaving the rogue broker to fend for himself, which then led him to use Lessard as well as Alin Marthouret, another plagiarist, to make them produce other fakes to sell.

De Hory then contented himself with painting other canvases and sending them discreetly to Legros for sale. It was then that the latter found in Algur Hurtle Meadows the perfect victim to whom he sent more than forty fakes bearing the signatures of Modigliani, Derain, Picasso, or Dufy.

Moreover, Legros had succeeded in circumventing French experts and rights holders who provided him with numerous certificates of authenticity without asking too many questions about the works they had to examine.

Eventually learning that he had been cheated, Meadows complained against Legros who was finally arrested following a very long investigation that delighted the press. With him, Lessard and de Hory fell into the cracks of justice as art market circles panicked when they learned that hundreds, if not thousands, of fakes, were circulating in the United States, a country full of ignorant amateurs. Still, few deceived buyers did not come forward for fear of losing face.

Perpetually anguished and tired by an existence placed under the sign of imposture, Elmyr de Hory ended up committing suicide for good in 1976 after having written his memoirs and was the subject of a film directed by François Reichenbach. In 1979, Legros was sentenced to two years in prison, a sentence covered by detentions already undergone in France and abroad. But this die-hard cigar smoker did not enjoy his freedom for long, suffering from throat cancer, he died in April 1983.

For his part, Réal Lessart wrote a rather anecdotal book and went to live in Morocco while Marthouret, who remained discreet for years, did not publish his until 2003 to reveal that he had also been given Legros a falsehood.

David Stein, was another brilliant forger who deceived many enthusiasts, especially in the United States, but he was arrested after Marc Chagall discovered a fake exhibited in a gallery. Abruptly released from anonymity, Stein made the headlines in the press and found a way to profit from his detention by painting pastiches sought after by many amateurs.

Creating a fake is an extremely difficult game to decipher because counterfeiters' motivations can be multiple, especially since we are dealing with individuals whose personalities are never the same. It is complex to understand what goes on in the mind of a plagiarist since various impulses can move it. He may decide to create a fake just to have the pleasure of playing an expert or fooling a merchant for easy gain or for fun.

Having fun was the case at the start of a copyist nicknamed “Facsimile” , a brilliant imitator of 17th century still life painters whose pastiches ended up in the 1980s, however, passing for authentic in the eyes of certain Parisian experts.

Having worked for a long time as a restorer for the National Monuments Department, “Facsimile” ended up acquiring a perfect knowledge of the pigments used by painters of the 17th century. In addition, his work had led him to examine very closely works kept in museums.

To make pastiches, all he had to do was find an adequate medium, a canvas or a vintage copper plate and the trick was played. He began to sell copies to amateurs until the day when dealers really found it hard to believe that they were not authentic. Gradually, some of his copies were authenticated as true and he found himself bombarded with phone calls by merchants to order works attributable to the great French, Dutch or Flemish masters of still life. Almost 40 of his plagiarisms found themselves provided with certificates of authenticity and "Facsimile", feeling caught in a dangerous spiral, felt that the time had come to take some distance with his sponsors and to leave Paris to breathe healthier air.

© Adrian Darmon, artcult.com