When fakes are discovered as the real deal

When fakes are discovered as the real deal
TRICKY TREAT: Picasso’s The Blue Room painted in 1901
With all the recent furore created by ‘so-called fakes’ that were part of an art auction, it seems the right time to mention important paintings that were considered to be fakes for many years, till one fine day, they were declared to be genuine to the delight of the owners. Forgery in art has been described in many ways, one lucid description says, “Art forgery is the creating and selling of works of art which are falsely credited to other, usually more famous, artists.”

Among the most famous ‘fakes’ that was recently said to be an original works of art, is a self-portrait by Dutch old master Rembrandt, discovered in UK at the ‘former home of Sir Francis Drake’. The painting, a rather spectacular self portrait by Rembrandt, is said to have ‘arrived at Buckland Abbey in Devon in 2010 and was put in storage as there was no space on the walls’. After innumerable tests, the painting earlier considered by the staff as ‘just another part of the furniture’, has now been declared genuine and worth ¤30 million. Dating back to 1636, in this 31-inch by 28-inch (91 x 72cm) self portrait, Rembrandt is seen ‘wearing a black velvet cap with two ostrich feathers and a short decorated velvet cape’. Buckland Abbey will celebrate the new found value of this masterpiece at Rembrandt Revealed, an exhibition displaying the portrait in its specially created space in the Nave Gallery.

Another interesting discovery, which has nothing to do with fakes, but to the discovery of a portrait of a mysterious man hidden under layers of paint in one of Pablo Picasso’s first masterpieces, The Blue Room, created in 1901. For the past five years, experts have been working on the mystery of finding out what lay under Picasso’s The Blue Room and have now managed to ‘develop a clearer image of the mystery picture under the surface’. The next part is to discover who the man in the portrait was and why Picasso decided to paint over it. Was it just because he needed a canvas and none was available at that moment, or since it had been painted earlier, had the person in the painting ceased to interest him? No doubt we will hear more about this in the coming months.

But on the subject of real fakes, one of the most famous forgers is Wolfgang Beltracchi, who ‘masterminded one of the most audacious and lucrative art frauds in postwar European history’. A self-taught painter, who had once ‘scratched out a living in Amsterdam, Morocco, and other spots along the hippie trail’ had passed off his own paintings as newly discovered masterpieces by Max Ernst, André Derain, Georges Braque, and other Expressionists and Surrealists. Beltracchi (original name Wolfgang Fischer) was born in Germany in 1951 and inherited painting skills from his father, a house painter who also supplemented his income by producing cheap copies of Rembrandts, Picassos and Cézannes. Beltracchi started young and astonished his father by copying Picasso’s “A Mother and Child from the artist’s Blue Period”.

The Beltacchis lived on their ill-gotten riches in grand style. Helene, Beltracchi’s wife, became an expert at selling his paintings for ‘six and seven figures through auction houses in Germany and France, including Sotheby’s and Christie’s’. One of his forgeries of Max Ernst hung for months in a retrospective at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Film actor Steve Martin is known to have purchased a fake Heinrich Campendonk through the Paris gallery Cazeau-Béraudière for $8,60,000 in 2004. When the law finally caught up with them, the Beltracchis were charged for selling 14 fakes for around $22 million. However, the fakes created by this expert forger must have run into thousands and sold for many more millions.

(The writer is an author and a former art gallery owner)

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