Can You Love
a Fake Piece of Art?
A court battle is fought over
whether a painting is fake, a drawing said to be
Warhol is disputed, but is there ever a case for cherishing the fake and the
forged? Wrong signature. Dubious
provenance. Fake. These are words an auction house dreads to hear. A
work by Van Gogh or Munch can fetch tens of millions. Cast a shadow of doubt
over its provenance and that value rapidly declines. But if it has a level of
draughtsmanship, colour and imagination that is nearly enough to fool an
auction house expert, isn't that worth something?
Han van Meegeren
is a candidate for the greatest forger ever. The Dutchman came closest to being
acclaimed as an artist in his own right after gaining notoriety forging 17th
Century Dutch masters that would fool art-loving Nazis. While his own paintings
were of little interest to critics, his forgeries earned millions and conned,
among others, Hitler's deputy Hermann Goering.
was arrested in 1945 and charged with treason for selling a Vermeer -
classified as a Dutch national treasure - to the Nazis. Facing a possible death
penalty, he confessed all - that he was a forger. The Dutch authorities didn't
believe him. To prove he was no traitor, he was asked to paint a copy. "A
copy," Van Meegeren is reported to have
exclaimed, "I'll do better than that. Give me the materials and I will
paint another Vermeer before witnesses."
Before the war, frustrated that his
style of painting did not suit the world's new-found interest in modern art,
Van Meegeren had forged a Vermeer in his own style
that was "unlike any previous Vermeer", says Frank Wynne, who wrote a
biography of the forger. "What infuriated him was a skill that would have
made him famous in an earlier age was of no interest to anyone at a time when
the world was interested in post-impressionism." His experiment worked.
His painting, The Supper at Emmaus, was hailed as a previously unknown
masterpiece by Vermeer and was one of the most visited paintings in the
work has since come to be appreciated in its own right. He has even inspired
other forgers to fake his work, an example of which was recently presented to
the BBC's Antiques Roadshow, and valued at only £200
Convicted forger John Myatt has had
a little of the same recognition. He was arrested in 1995 for fraudulently
selling around 200 paintings in the style of modern masters. He claimed he
didn't initially set out to dupe art collectors, but after a fake sold at
auction for £25,000, his collaborator John Drew offered him half the cash in a
brown envelope. A partnership of crime had begun.
Myatt painted fresh works in the
style of famous modern artists while Drew created false paper trails, showing
previous supposed sales. It was - according to Scotland Yard - the start of
"the biggest art fraud of the 20th Century". Myatt was convicted for
conspiracy to defraud, and spent four months in Brixton prison. He now
legitimately sells his paintings in the style of famous artists, with
"genuine fakes" written on the back. But he believes 120 of his
illegal forgeries are still in circulation.
Like Van Meegeren,
Myatt does not simply copy famous works. His paintings are entirely new, but in
the style of a master. He says he "climbs into their minds and lives"
and searches for the inspiration behind their work. Later
this year he has an exhibition in his own name and says people seem to be "fascinated
by fake paintings". "There can be quite a lot of demand from
people who can't afford a Van Gogh but are looking for the same aesthetic
experience for a fraction of the price."
Pretentious critics and the
"disgusting amounts" of money changing hands can leave people feeling
alienated by the art world, he adds. "People also like the idea that
experts are fallible and make mistakes."
3 June 2012 Last updated at 23:24 GMT
By Melissa Hogenboom BBC News