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Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Elmyr de Hory
 In twentieth century art, three names stand out as being the best at what they did. Each, in his own way, contributed to the art world being what it is today. If you ever see the names Elmyr de Hory, David Stein, or Van Meegeren, stop, take a moment to read about them, to look at their work, and marvel at their audacity. All three were fakers. That's right, all three made names for themselves by fooling a lot of people who thought they knew a lot about art. All three eventually ended up in jails, and in the end, became celebrities to some degree for their efforts. Of the three, de Hory was far and away the best. He got his start in the 1950s faking Picasso drawings--not too smart in that Picasso was still alive at the time. When Henri Matisse died, he switched a safer line, and then eventually began doing Modiglianis, from all indications, better than Modigliani, in fact. His fakes were in such prestigious venues as the Fogg Museum in Boston, and the Meadows collection in Texas. Alger Meadows was so impressed he ended up with 44 de Hory fakes, all adequately authenticated and certificated (also faked). When de Hory was finally caught, only one dealer would testify against him. The rest refused to admit publicly they'd been duped, for fear of deprecating their reputations as art experts.

David Stein was a lesser evil. He was the best painter of Marc Chagall's since Marc Chagall. Even during the artists lifetime, Stein skillfully and daringly reaped the benefits of his talent. To be successful in faking the work of living or dead artists, the faker had to be as good at forging art as forging the almighty paperwork that gives that art its monetary value. Stein was undone by the fact that he offered his work at prices that were too low. Bargain Chagall's have never existed outside the realm of forgeries. Alarms went off in the heads of dealers offered his works. At first, they were often thought to have been stolen. When the police came to question Stein, he literally escaped out the back window of his New York apartment, down the fire escape, and hopped a plane to Paris where he finally ended up spending a few years in jail for his efforts.

Van Meergeren demonstrating the
forgery of Jesus Among the Doctors, 1947,
aledgedly by Jan Vermeer

Just as the Second World War was dawning in Europe, a previously unknown religious painting by Vermeer was offered for sale. The problem was, Vermeer had never painted religious subjects. Still, the painting looked like a Vermeer, and if it was authentic, it would be extremely valuable because it was a previously unknown subject matter relevant to Vermeer. Suggestions were floated that it had been lost for centuries or even hidden away by the artist himself. As the German's occupied Holland, several more previously unknown Vermeers emerged. A Dutch man by the name of Van Meegeren was arrested for selling national treasures to Nazis such as Hermann Goering and others. In a strangely ironic twist, Van Meegeren contended in his own defense that he was not guilty because the paintings were his own work, and that he'd merely signed the name "Vermeer. " The jury didn't buy it and he went to jail. He apparently was too good for his own good. It was only when, from his jail cell, he demonstrated his skill at faking Vermeers (complete with artificially aged canvas and deliberately induced paint cracks) that he was released. Today, his works are collectors' items because they are such good fakes.

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