A LONG HISTORY
By Adrian Darmon
Fakes are an incurable plague for the art market and though counter-measure techniques have been increasingly modernised since the second half of the 20th Century forgers have probably some more good years ahead of them.
Historically, forgers did not wait long to make use of their talents especially as the art trade started as early as the 4th century BC. During these times, Egypt and Greece were already exporting art objects and statues throughout the Mediterranean area. When Rome began to build up an empire most temples were already adorned with Greek statues and rich people then soon wished to also acquire some wonderful sculptures produced in Greece by the most skilled artists.
Greek statues were more and more in demand during the first Century BC and Roman merchants often experienced difficulties in supplying their customers. However, some of them found it more convenient to set up workshops in the city of Rome where they produced copies with the help of talented local artists. Such initiative enabled them to reduce import costs greatly and to avoid the risk of losing some of their treasured cargoes in sea accidents. Moreover, they contributed to promote a local industry which eventually freed itself from Greek influence.
There is however no need to say that many of these copies were eventually sold as genuine Greek works by some unscrupulous merchants who took advantage of the growing demand which lasted until at least 300 AD. Undoubtedly, many of these replicas were not meant to be sold as mere copies as long as the emergence of a specific Roman form of art was not in full gear.
Trade went on booming until it suffered a severe blow with the fall of the Roman Empire. Europe then faced a long period of insecurity in the midst of waves of Barbarian tribes continuously sweeping the continent during at least five long centuries.
THE RULE OF CHRISTIANITY
It was during these times that most countries gradually came under the influence of the Catholic religion which rejected pagan rites and images and imposed its art standards instead. Everything was thus turned towards Christian symbols though some artists came to take some daring liberties during the construction of churches. Today, people visiting certain cathedrals are baffled when they come across some incredible statues and reliefs that have more to do with lust than religion. Nevertheless, Christianity became the main driving force regarding the works of artists of the Middle Ages. In addition, many among them were monks as the Church was the only art creating centre and these artists were above all dedicated to working in churches carving statues or producing wall paintings and prayer books miniatures.
Being monopolised by the Church, the art trade thus suffered a 1000-year freeze until the end of the 14th Century when well-off families started to decorate their houses with statues and paintings. These however kept a strong religious meaning but many artists had started to develop their own personalities especially in Italy.
Already , during the 13th Century, some of them had come to leave their names to posterity but as far as the art trade was concerned things only evolved 200 years later.
A major factor in the development of art was the unearthing in Italy of Roman statues at the end of the 14th Century. Many artists were then subdued by these spectacular works of art which bore evidence of the existence of a previous highly-developed civilisation and they naturally came on to adapt their styles accordingly. This new awareness played a great part in the Renaissance movement process and drove many artists to some sort of general self-consciousness about their real abilities and talents. Consequently, they managed to free themselves further from the heavy tutelage of the Church put on them so far.
Monks found that their long-kept secrets in the field of art had become practically obsolete especially as the statues unearthed in several archaeological sites were there not only to confirm the existence but also the high degree of the sophisticated form of Roman culture. Such finds almost coincided with several changes in architecture and in painting which were to set new patterns.
Romanesque and gothic stylistic forms and letters soon became out of fashion while scores of artists went on to reach fame as from during the second half of the 15th Century. They not only worked for the Church but also for many European royal and princely courts as well as some rich merchants and bankers, firstly in Italy then in France, England, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands and Flanders.
And the art trade came back to life as soon as artists like Mantegna, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael,
Michelangelo or Albrecht Dürer became famous throughout Europe. And naturally, forgeries appeared on the market.
One of the most famous forgers was Michelangelo himself who as a young student found amusing to make a copy of a Roman statuette showing Cupid asleep. He eventually sold it to a cardinal as a genuine antique piece but could not prevent himself from boasting about his trick. As a result on learning that he had been fooled the cardinal got infuriated and destroyed the statuette. One can easily imagine that such fake, as any Renaissance copy of a Roman or Greek work of art and albeit the fact that it was made by such a great artist, would today be worth a little fortune on the market.
Many copies of antique marble statues were made as early as 1500 as proved in a letter sent by the banker Jakob Fugger to his agent in Italy asking him to be cautious when buying sculptures for his Antiquarium in Munich. Albrecht Dürer was much copied during his lifetime and it is known that he often used to complain about those forgers who were going as far as to use his initials on bad copies. In one of his engravings relating to the life of the Virgin, the German master added the following inscription :
"Be cursed , plunderers and imitators of the work and talent of others". In fact, the reputation of some Italian, Flemish, German and Dutch masters had reached such level throughout Europe that many artists simply came under their influence. Some 500 years later it is difficult to say whether some of the lesser-known painters had either adopted their styles or tried to make copies to earn a living. It is even sometimes impossible to determine whether a painting or a sculpture was really produced by such or such master or by a pupil who became as much, if not more, notorious in the history of painting. Scores of masters were copied throughout the 16th Century mostly by their pupils who needed stylistic references as part of their training. Michelangelo himself often produced replicas of the drawings of Ghirlandajo who on seeing them thought they were from his own hand. Hendrik Goltzius, another great master, produced copies of the works of other legendary artists just to prove his talent.
As a matter of fact, forgeries were already
under way as the main patrons of these masters were rich ruling dynasties, princes,
dukes and other noble families as well as merchants and bankers who would pay
huge sums of money to acquire their best works and some unscrupulous dealers
took advantage of a growing demand from these customers to provide them with
forgeries, notably drawings.
Some of these masters and certain collectors even wanted to keep some of the pieces they most treasured and instead of turning down certain requests made by their customers they did not hesitate to trick them in supplying copies. This happened with the Count of Cantecroix, the ambassador of Emperor Rudolph II who cheated the latter who wanted to acquire a painting by Dürer from him. The Count offered him a copy instead but the Emperor discovered the trick and put an abrupt end to his mission. A few years later, the Emperor managed to buy the original.
Sometimes artists had to please rival customers regarding one precise masterpiece and in order to avoid trouble they preferred to sell the original to one and its replica to the other. All the more, some princes ordered copies to ornate their different palaces. Most masters had pupils working in their studios and for a start they produced copies before reaching the status of assistant. In addition, during the 17th Century, certain great painters such as Rubens, Van Dyck or Teniers went on to copy Renaissance masters just for sheer pleasure while several kings and nobles were content to obtain replicas of original works they did not manage to acquire from them. In addition, painting was often a family business which lasted over several generations between the 16th and 18th Centuries. Naturally such business generated copies within these families.
The Brueghel family, spearheaded by Pieter the Elder during the 16th Century, was pobably the most famous and is surely the best example to set forth regarding copies. Brueghel's son, also named Pieter, went on to produce scores of replicas of his works while his other sons and next of kin made their names through genre or still-life paintings which often looked alike over more than 75 years.
There were thus countless tribes of artists
(Pourbus, Francken, Heemskeerk, Teniers and so on) that flourished sometime
during more than a hundred years as from 1560 especially in the Netherlands and
Meanwhile, collecting became increasingly popular during the 17th Century as kings like Philip II of Spain, Charles I of England and Louis XIV of France amassed hoards of works of art in their palaces. Otherwise, there were however not many dealers among whom some of them carried out other activities which had little to do with the art trade.
Art galleries were scarce until 1720 and it was from England that the trade reached a more interesting level during the 18th Century when young lords took a habit of embarking on a grand tour of Italy and Greece during which they were visiting archaeological sites and bringing souvenirs back home.
It was during the second half of that century that James Christie inaugurated in London the first true auction house since Roman times soon to be followed by Sotheby's.
England then became the main art trading centre especially during the course of the French Revolution for the simple reason that revolutionary leaders did not care much about art since the country faced the danger of a Prussian or Austrian invasion. Therefore, their priority was to find money to supply their armies with guns, rifles, uniforms, horses and food. Thus, they deprived most nobles of their possessions and emptied all royal palaces of their contents which were sold in auction sales attended mostly by British buyers or their agents. For example, the contents of the Versailles palace were dispersed over a three-month period of almost uninterrupted sales.
Many French treasure pieces found their way to England over more than 10 years before Napoleon stopped the haemorrhage and greatly compensated for it by sending his armies to plunder Italy of many of its main works of art in order to fill the newly-created Louvre Museum.
A NEW BREED OF COLLECTORS
Museums were set up in several European countries throughout the last quarter of the 18th and the first quarter of the 19th Centuries and did much to promote the understanding of art. Kings, princes and nobles were no longer the main collectors and were progressively replaced by those who had benefited from the ongoing industrial revolution. Industrialists, merchants and bankers were also prone to buy fine art pieces. The press also had a certain impact on collectors especially as Salons came under the close scrutiny of art critics in the early years of the 19th Century. Such attention did much for the reputation of many painters, notably Constable, Turner, Gericault, Delacroix or Ingres who were to have a deep influence over the new schools of painting which emerged after 1870.
So far, collectors had not been too much troubled by the problem of fakes as the market was still small in comparison with that of today. However, it must be remembered that as soon as 1760 hundreds of copies made by the numerous followers of several 17th Century masters had been circulating throughout Europe as a result of a growing demand among upper and even middle class people. Such habit of copying was perpetuated almost throughout the 19th Century and it happened quite often that some superb copies were mistakenly classified as genuine. A painting like "The Studio" by Vermeer, who was unknown during the first part of the 19th Century, bore
for a long time the forged signature of Pieter de Hooch who was much sought by collectors around 1850. Meanwhile, dozens of faked Frans Hals and Greco paintings had appeared on the market as early as the 18th Century.
With the rediscovery of Medieval art and architecture, many artists and craftsmen went on to produce Gothic styled furniture, tapestries and objects between 1820 and 1860. Some of them tried to bring a touch as much realistic as possible to their creations sometimes to such a point that specialists happened to be fooled.
The new breed of art specialists whom we know now as experts started to be truly operational only after 1850. They were above all historians or museum curators who wrote books and studies about painting and other art forms. Most of them strove to do their best in their respective fields but communication was poor between them and they often made mistakes because they had not the technological means that the experts of today are supposed to use.
As a result, these specialists were not fully prepared to carry out the huge tasks confronting them. There were already books and catalogues before 1900 but these were not so well-documented while much pioneer work was being done in the field of art.
At the same time, tourism in Italy became much popular and certain dealers there realised that they could make some easy money by selling fakes to many rich visitors who could not tell the difference between a true 16th Century painting and a copy.
Art dealers became more active after 1870
and they too were considered as experts though those selling Impressionist
paintings were not yet troubled with fakes since only a few discerning people
had banked on works by Manet, Monet, Sisley, Renoir, Pissarro or Degas. Other
schools however were the target of forgers. Already in 1875, there were
thousands of copies of Corot's paintings on the market not to mention that
Corot himself had put his signature on many of those works that were submitted
to him apparently because he felt honoured to be copied. One of Corot's
imitators was Paul Désiré Trouillebert who was himself a good Barbizon
With the triumph of the industrial revolution in Europe copies mushroomed everywhere and in all fields. There were pieces of furniture, Greek and Roman artefacts, medieval miniatures, glass, armours and bronze sculptures so well reproduced that many experts were at a loss when asked to give an opinion about these.
By the year 1875, there were thus numerous forgers throughout Europe but many among them played more or less a game to baffle specialists rather than seeking to make a lucrative business just like Michelangelo did in fooling this stupid cardinal. Some of these forgers were certainly more than thrilled to mislead some well-known collectors or museum officials, the most incredible story in the last part of the 19th Century being the purchase by the Louvre Museum of a Scythian gold tiara of circa 500 BC which had fact had just been made by a goldsmith full of genius named Rouchomovsky who lived in Odessa. When they were first told that they had been cheated the Louvre officials found the story most amusing and when Rouchomovsky came to Paris to prove his claim, they first laughed at him. Some months later they were in complete disarray in the face of indisputable evidence while the press went on to gloat much about the scandal.
Nevertheless, the market remained small until the First World War and copies were not yet considered as a major issue. One quite intricate problem already concerned bronze sculptures and notably recasts. Today, one needs an eagle's eye to tell the difference between an animalier bronze sculpture made by Barye himself during the 1840's and a replica made 50 years later which would be worth twice as less.
Barye himself was a founder beside being a sculptor but he went bankrupt and his works were cast in another foundry before the Barbedienne firm acquired the artist's copyrights just after his death. Similar problems regarding scores of other sculptors arose before 1914 while some liberties were taken with several artists , notably Daumier and Degas, who had limited themselves to making plaster or wax pieces. It seems important to stress that Daumier's and Degas' bronzes only appeared on the market during the 1920's while most founders did not bother to put a date on their casts. As a result, it is often difficult to determine whether a Barbedienne, a Siot, a Susse or any other founder's cast of a bronze sculpture by Barye, Fremiet, Mène or else was made in 1875 or 1920.
Worse, when copyrights for these artist were no longer protected several French founders did not hesitate to make replicas during the early 1980's to the effect that prices for bronzes fell down. In Italy a few foundries in Florence have made a speciality of producing fine antique copies sold as such but some people have been suspected of having gone further in the process of transforming certain copies so as to sell them as genuine.
Modern bronzes have been cast in such quantities that it is hard to verify their exact production . Even some numbered series have been duplicated well above their serial limitation , notably casts by Dali which were produced after his death. In addition, certain moulds regarding other artists were not destroyed as provided by the legislation notably in France when a number of foundries, especially Valsuani, went bankrupt. These moulds were ideally instrumental in the production of new casts and the fraud was not easy to detect. This happened with bronze tables and fittings by Diego Giacometti which flowed onto the market at the end of the 1980's before the owner of the foundry responsible for the forgeries was arrested.
According to French laws, a bronze cast during the lifetime of an artist is considered as an original work of art though it comes itself from a mould deriving from a plaster model. However, copyrights last 70 years after the death of an artist and his heirs have the right to produce new bronzes. One must not forget that founders like Susse, Barbedienne, Siot and others continued for years to reproduce the works of artists who were no longer under the protection of copyrights. Strangely enough, an official institution like the Rodin Museum has been issuing casts made less than a decade ago whereas the artist disappeared in 1917. One should note that there is an enormous difference between a Rodin bronze made before his death and a ten or twenty-year old cast bearing the Museum's label . The problem is that there are not many collectors who know that a Rodin cast by Rudier or Barbedienne 100 years ago is worth the money paid for it while a Museum cast should be considered as a mere copy. Still, such practice has not been vigorously condemned yet.
Ironically, the Rodin Museum has been named as plaintiff in a court case regarding the biggest fraud of the century.
On January 17th 1997, Guy Hain, a well-known bronze dealer appeared before a court in Lure, central France, under the accusation of having produced thousands of faked sculptures eventually sold as originals by Rodin, Renoir, Maillol, Camille Claudel, Carpeaux, Barye, Fremiet, Mène and other sculptors.
Guy Hain, who used to run a shop in the plush Louvre des Antiquaires centre in Paris, found the making of forgeries probably more lucrative than his business when the art market became one of the main targets for speculators between 1987 and 1991.
His main idea was to approach the Rudier foundry which had been in charge of producing Rodin's bronze at the turn of the century and convince Georges Rudier and eventually his son Bernard, the grand-nephew of Eugène Rudier , the exclusive founder of Rodin and lately of the Rodin Museum who had succeeded his father Alexis , to use original moulds to make recasts so well achieved that most experts would have been fooled.
Banking on the name and reputation of Rudier, Hain went on to trick auctioneers, dealers and experts throughout the world by going as far as replacing Georges' signature by that, more prestigious, of Alexis. Consequently, thousands of fakes appeared on the market and certain pieces were sold at record prices.
Hain sold forgeries for an estimated total of 25 million dollars before a police inspector from Dijon, Burgundy, who had just dismantled the trafficking of fake Giacometti bronzes, put a stop to his illegal business in January 1992.
At least 20,000 kilos of bronze sculptures were seized in various foundries in Burgundy and outside Paris while two auctioneers in the town of Rambouillet were charged with complicity for having sold hundreds of forged pieces in several auctions.
Most forgeries were produced with the help of original moulds from the Rudier foundry as well as from plaster copies made as duplicates for the production of bronze casts some 75 or 90 years ago. With such methods, it was hard, and sometimes impossible, to detect these forgeries.
The Georges Rudier stamp usually found on old casts was often erased and replaced with the Alexis Rudier signature while copies of different sizes were made regarding the "Eternal Spring", "Balzac naked ", "The Kiss" , "The Bronze Age", "The Thinking Man " and "Ratapoil" by Rodin as well as a maternity by Renoir, the "Causeuses" by Claudel and several other sculptures by Barye or Mène.
Between 1987 and 1991, the Rambouillet auctioneers sold forgeries for almost three million dollars notably sculptures bearing the signatures of Barye, Mène, Fratin and Rodin. An imposing bronze of "The Kiss" by the latter was notably sold for 4,2 million francs (US $ 800,000 ) in Rambouillet while a big size of the "Bronze Age" fetched 3,5 million francs (US $ 700,000) in Paris in 1989.
Many other auctioneers, including Christie's and Sotheby's have sold such fakes on the market and though they cannot be suspected of having lent a hand to the fraud the competencies of their experts might at least be seriously challenged.
The scandal is so huge that it has dealt a severe blow to the bronze market and many collectors have given up their passion as a result of their disgust. This happened with Alain Delon , the famous French actor, who got rid of his collection of Rembrandt Bugatti bronzes after suspecting that many of his treasured pieces were forgeries.
Now the market is even more destabilised since hundreds of copies, notably French animalier bronzes and also works after the American artist Frederick Remington have been made at low scosts and introduced on to the market from Taiwan or south-east Asia since the early 90's.
Regarding marble sculptures, many fakes were detected during the middle of the 19th Century, notably Renaissance statues which in fact had been made by Giovanni Bastianini (1830-1868) who created some superb pieces which were eventually bought as genuine by the Louvre and the Victoria and Albert museums. Specialists never suspected the trick which was in fact revealed by a jealous dealer.
LOADS OF FORGED PAINTINGS
Back to paintings, the market underwent after World War One a complete facelift as soon as Impressionist works became popular. Moreover modern art, through Cubism, made its revolution and new customers appeared on the scene.
Several artists such as Van Gogh, Gauguin, Manet, Sisley, Cézanne and Renoir reached fame after their deaths and were therefore much copied.
However, it was in the wrath of World War Two that forgers became extensively busy. As soon as the Germans invaded a large part of Europe, Nazi leaders enacted a plan to plunder several collections belonging to their political opponents and Jewish families. All the more , they claimed all works of art which were allegedly part of the German patrimony. One of the main Nazi leaders involved in the plunders was Marshall Goering who formed collection of old masters' paintings.
Goering was interested in masterpieces and was told one day that he could have some remarkable paintings by Vermeer in Holland. The Nazi leader went on to buy one of them, Mary-Magdalene washing the feet of Christ, from a certain Hans Van Meegeren. In the 1930's, several experts, including Bredius, the best specialist for Vermeer's works, had said they had no doubts about the authenticity of this work and others including the "Pilgrims" which was to be bought by the Boymans museum of Rotterdam.
At the end of the war, Van Meegeren was arrested on charges of having been involved in collaborationist activities with the Germans. While in prison, Van Meegeren baffled all specialists on confessing that he had in fact forged pictures certified as by Vermeer sold to Goering and the Boymans museum as well as to other collectors.
Suffering from being considered as an obscure artist, the forger told investigators that fooling experts had been for him some kind of sweet revenge. He added that it had been quite exciting to ridicule art critics who had scorned his own works.
Strangely enough the war did not affect the art market much especially in occupied Paris where trade blossomed despite economic restrictions. With the return of peace, the French capital became the main art trade centre while the United States was just seeing the emergence of its modern school of painters.
Picasso, Braque, Matisse, Miro, Dali were at their heights and scores of books and catalogues were being published as part of a recognition of their works. From then on, the market was in constant development. In the late sixties forgers became busier than ever, notably David Stein and Real Lessart. The former being specialised in fake Chagall, Picasso, Dufy and post - impressionist paintings, the latter working for an agent called Fernand Legros who was selling his production with forged certificates. A former ballet dancer, Legros fooled a few rich American magnates, including Arthur Meadows, the owner of the General American Oil Co. in Texas.
Legros once used a subtle stratagem on entering American territory. When asked by U.S customs what was in his luggage, Legros used to explain that the paintings he was bringing were merely copies. Eager to verify, U.S customs officials would call upon art experts to determine whether Legros was not trying to cheat them and driven by such suspicion , these specialists concluded that these paintings were in fact genuine. Unmoved by the fine mposed on him Legros would then further impress his customers by showing them the U.S customs documents proving the authenticity of the works he was selling .
David Stein, who had managed one day to have a forged Picasso authenticated by the master himself, was arrested after Marc Chagall fell upon a forged painting exhibited in a New York Gallery. He later started a career as a painter after serving a prison term.
Legros, who had Real Lessart and an Hungarian named Elmyr de Hory working for him, was arraigned a few years later and jailed for a while. He who lived like a prince ended his life in misery and died from a throat cancer.
Elmyr de Hory, who lived on the island of Ibiza, made hundreds of forgeries including works signed Van Dongen. The Dutch artist , apparently in need of money at the end of his lif, endorsed more than once the paternity of such fakes which were sold by Legros.
In the 1960's certain artists repudiated
some of their own works probably because they felt some dissatisfaction about
their quality or about the low prices at which these were sold. This was
notably the case with the Italian master Giorgio de Chirico who was charged in
1969 for having seized some of his sculptures as forgeries whereas he had
signed a legal contract for their production. Another master, Maurice de
Vlaminck refused to authenticate some of his own works simply because he did
not like them anymore. He also was charged and received a fine for having
rejected a painting which was in fact genuine.
In England, many experts were destabilised by the Keating scandal in the 1970's. Tom Keating had made a speciality of producing forged water-colours by Samuel Palmer or oil paintings by Flemish, Dutch , English and French old masters.
Keating , who came from a poor family,
failed to reach fame and therefore wanted to avenge himself by producing
forgeries of all sorts, oil paintings and drawings which were to be certified
as genuine works by Gainsborough, Degas, Boucher, Fragonard, Renoir, Modigliani
and Van Dongen notably.
The poet Jean Cocteau, who was the friend of many famous artists, produced hundreds of drawings during his lifetime. These drawings being so easy to copy, there have been more forgeries than originals on the market during the past ten years.
Other forgeries have been produced regarding
Van Gogh, Boudin, Stanislas Lépine, Vuillard, Matisse, Fernand Léger, Georges
Braque, Maurice Utrillo, Georges Rouault, Jean-Michel Atlan, Michel Basquiat,
Franz Kline, Marie Laurencin, André Lhote, Serge Poliakoff, de Staël, Karel
Appel, Giorgio Morandi, Chaïm Soutine, Modigliani, Pignon, Signac,
Bernard Buffet, Malevich, Tatlin and scores of well-known artists in France, Italy, Britain, the U.S or Russia notably.
As a result, it has been estimated that over 15% of paintings sold throughout the world were fakes.
Forgeries have been detected in numbers in the field of engravings, notably modern lithographs, the biggest scandal concerning works by Dali printed in record quantities. It has been estimated that some 100,000 lithographs bearing the signature of the Spanish Surrealist artist have been sold throughout the world during the past 15 years.
The scandal did not cease after Dali's death and despite the seizure of some 10,000 illicit prints in Hawaii, a Court there took an incredible decision in February 1996 declaring that these could be sold to the public as copies - presumably to cover some of the judicial costs- instead of ordering their destruction.
On a smaller scale, the prints of several other well-known artists were forged or a least multiplied beyond the authorised quantities. Hundreds of prints by Miro - who was not really an engraver himself- were sold as genuine in Scandinavia and other parts of Europe. This proved quite a lucrative business since some originals were sold at least at US $ 40,000 a piece by Maeght, the art publisher which was producing Miro's prints. In fact, the firm itself took a rather exaggerated attitude in selling those prints at huge prices whereas these were basically only photo-lithographs heightened with colours.
Forgeries were less frequent regarding old masters except for some artists like Dürer who were much copied during their lifetime. The only problem is to determine whether a printed sheet is an original or a reprint.
Another big problem has arisen with photography a domain which has been freshly booming especially regarding modern photographers. It has been quite difficult for experts to sift through originals and reprints. Knowing the value of a photo by Man Ray or Ansell Adams it is rather nerve racking to buy safely.
Regarding ceramics and porcelains, there were problems with Chinese pieces which used to be produced over several decades with old markings which could baffle experts when they had to determine the period of their fabrication. With European pieces, there have been more difficulties especially with 19th Century copies of French, Italian and German porcelains and ceramics.
As for watches and clocks, forgeries appeared as early as the 18th Century when some great makers from England and France became much copied. Many forged Breguet watches were on the market during Napoleonic times. As for 20th Century watches, Cartier, Rolex and Patek-Philippe pieces have been reproduced in quantities. Some Cartier watches have been sold recently at over US $ 50,000 a piece with an original movement fitted in a forged 1935 case manufactured in Switzerland. All the more, poor copies have been circulating in south-east Asia since the late 1980's. Otherwise, many 16th and 17th Century clocks were modernised between 1720 and 1850 and are worth much less than original pieces on the market.
Some vintage cars have been so much transformed that these are sometimes considered as forgeries. Regarding coins, notably Roman and Greek, as well as medals, forgeries have been increasingly circulating for over 100 years.
Glass forgeries were scarce until the craze for Art Nouveau and Art Deco vases and lamps by Gallé, Daum and other famous manufactures. These pieces were completely neglected in the 1970's but a few years later prices on the market went skyrocketing. Buyers from the U.S and Japan became crazy about Art Nouveau and Art Deco and the demand was such that the rise in prices seemed to be unending. But forgeries found their way on the market. Mostly produced in Romania , these were imported in France and sold as genuine. The Gulf war in 1991 as well as a growing suspicion concerning the authenticity of many pieces had a negative effect on the market.
Japanese buyers no longer played a major part in the field of Art Nouveau and Art Deco and prices went down to pre-1986 levels.
Furniture were much copied during the 18th Century after makers took a habit of putting their marks on their productions. However, furniture pieces were more sought for furnishing purposes and did not attract speculators as during the 20th Century. During the early eighties, dozens of makers' marks were sold at auction in Drouot and some prestigious labels were bought by certain dealers who used them unscrupulously afterwards.
Around 1910, André Mailfert a furniture-maker in Orleans, embarked on the production of hundreds of copies which found their way as genuine pieces on the other side of the Atlantic.
"Everything is nothing but illusion and illusion is a true happiness in life", Mailfert wrote in a book which caused sensation in 1935.
Mailfert started his business with a little workforce and went on to promote an incredible industry of copies with more than 250 people working in his Orleans workshop and scores of cabinets, commodes, chest of drawers, chairs, armchairs and mirrors made with bits and pieces dating back to the 19th Century were eventually sold as genuine.
Mailfert used all sorts of tricks to make his furniture look old with ultra-violet rays to discolour the wood, electric motors with flexible transmissions to drill extraordinary worm holes, powerful compressors to throw fly dejection matters and cold and hot air blowers to provoke well-chosen cracks.
"There are two kinds of people in
society, those who trick others and... others, " he said ironically while confessing that he had
fooled thousands of so-called connoisseurs.
Mailfert 's production has remained unequalled in terms of quantities but some other antique dealers managed to surpass him regarding quality notably in Paris in the 1980's when at least three of them were charged for selling well-made forgeries.
The easiest way to make forgeries was to copy Art Nouveau and Art Deco pieces of furniture as there was little differences between modern techniques and those used by creators at the turn of the Century. Hundreds of well-manufactured lacquered commodes, wardrobes, tables, chairs and armchairs have been mistaken as works by Ruhlmann, Majorelle, Printz, Jansen and other makers.
Now, concerning manuscripts collectors have had to show caution more than once. Some gifted forgers in fact managed to imitate the signature and writing of many celebrities. One of the biggest scandal over 15 years ago was about the Hitler's memoirs which suddenly appeared in Germany. There were several note-books all produced by some genius who cheated top experts and who had the rare pleasure of seeing them published in the respected Der Spiegel magazine.
As a conclusion, the existence of forgeries has proved that most people are likely to be mistaken and that the judging a work of art is after all not an easy task. Forgeries have had therefore a significant impact on the market as they have often alienated the attitudes of most experts whose main anguish has been to avoid misjudgements. As any human being, experts are guilty of lapses especially when it comes to decide of the authenticity of a piece but the pernicious idea of being fooled sometimes leads them to deliverer wrong opinions. As a result, genuine works have been classified as fakes but on the other hand forgeries have also been authenticated as originals...