• gerard van weyenbergh

Forgery history, part 7/7

Apart from Fautrier, Klein, and a few others, most modern and contemporary painters have unconsciously plagiarized masters, starting with Picasso, who drew inspiration from several artists to develop his work. Thus, we can say that he was the greatest adapter in the history of painting without having invented anything, not even Cubism, whose authorship fell largely to Braque while Cézanne was at the origin of its foundations. However, this did not take anything away from Picasso's genius, considered by far the greatest artist of the 20th century.

Several painters who have become famous have "copied" other artists, both in terms of style and of ideas, with the merit of attracting major collectors to them. Praised in 1959, Manessier did not have the glory of Poliakoff or De Staël simply because these two artists had more support from the media.

We know Bernard Buffet's success, but we do not know that several painters produced works similar to his in the mid-1940s. Today, these have been forgotten.

At the end of the 1950s, many gallery owners made fun of Fautrier or Klein, who later took huge revenge on the painters they represented and whom Fautrier ironically treated as "post-cubists" when he wanted to be the representative of an authentic painting.

That said, borrowing from a painting is not copying or plagiarism, but just the often unconscious manifestation of influence. Faced with an artist's painting, we are often surprised to notice similarities with the style of another. All you have to do is visit a museum, stand ten meters from a painting and try to guess who the author is. At this distance, we can confuse Bourdon and Poussin, Watteau and Lancret,Jongkind and Boudin, Gauguin and Sérusier, Cross and Signac, and so on. Watteau borrowed a lot from Gilot before inspiring Lancret or Pater, Claude Gelée certainly gave ideas to Constable, who was probably to seduce Corot, who caught the eye of Boudin, who in turn impressed Monet.

Art only progresses through borrowings, which thus figure among the essential milestones of its development. In times of disruption, artists turn a little more into plagiarists, the best known then benefiting from dealers' support with a great sense of marketing. Therefore, we can suspect them of being somehow impostors (such was Fautrier's opinion on the subject of abstract expressionists) except that success served as a screen. Thus, the market pays tribute to its favorites without its participants worrying about the factors that allowed them to come to the front ground. It may sound unfair, but luck and opportunism play a huge role in an artist's success.

To treat Serge Poliakoff of plagiarist seems to say the least rude, but the fact remains that this one, like other so famous painters, let his subconscious browse other influences.

Can we speak of plagiarism when painters adhere to a trend, as was the case with Fauvism, heir to Divisionism initiated by Seurat which, following Derain and Vlaminck, attracted artists such as Braque, Matisse, Manguin, Friesz, Van Dongen, Jean Puy, and others? A similar observation can be made about Cubism, brought up to date by Braque and Picasso and to which several artists such as Juan Gris, Hayden, or Marcoussis adhered, or even the abstraction which derived from it.

The principles decreed by the leaders of numerous movements (Cubism, Suprematism, Constructivism, Futurism, Surrealism, Abstraction or Musicalism) imposed rules that themselves generated loans and inevitably plagiarism involuntary but necessary to respect them. Here again, we remain well away from intentional plagiarism and still far from the creation of fakes, but the fact remains that the limits of deception have often been crossed when painters have used similar styles and formulas. As for the counterfeiters, they had no difficulty in pouring crudely and directly into the falsification by trying to reproduce with variants what the masters had produced. These are nothing less than art terrorists, was it because they are experts nightmares.

© Adrian Darmon