Michelangelo and other talented falsifiers who managed to fool the world of art
Art has long turned into a profitable business, which brings millions of especially experienced people. After all, real masterpieces cost huge sums. The dealer receives his share, the auction house receives commissions, and the buyer receives the desired picture. And in this chain, it is not beneficial for anyone to find out that in fact the picture is a fake. Therefore, such incidents are usually silent.
Experts believe that on the international art market, about half of the paintings can be fakes, and in large museum collections of fakes about 20%. So, in April 2018, one museum in France discovered that 82 of Etienne Terrus’s 140 paintings stored in his collection were false. Fakes were discovered only when the keen visitor noticed that some of the buildings depicted in the paintings were built after the death of the artist.
1. Khan Van Megeren
In 1932, the Dutch artist Khan van Megeren, wounded by criticism that his work was “unoriginal,” decided that he would create a “new and original work” by copying a picture of the great master Johann Vermeer. According to his idea, Khan wanted to admit deception as soon as the leading scientists evaluate the picture. As a result, the artist created his own painting, entitled “Dinner at Emmaus,” using genuine 17th-century canvas and pigments that were available at that time. He added bakelite to the paints, which made them dry, giving the impression of antiquity.
The painting was declared a masterpiece and acquired by the Dutch gallery, becoming the central canvas of her exhibition. Van Meegeren, instead of announcing his fake, decided to write another copy. And then another, etc. In 1945, Van Meegeren made a mistake by selling one of his Vermeers to Nazi leader German Goering. When the war ended, he was accused of high treason for selling a work of national significance to a member of the Nazi party. The artist was forced to admit in his defense that the work was a fake. He quickly became famous not only as the best art critic in the world, but also as “the man who deceived Goering.” Without this recognition, Van Meegeren might have continued to deceive the world of art until the end of his days.
Michelangelo began his career with the falsification of art. He created several statues, including one called “Sleeping Cupid” (or simply “Cupid”) when he worked for Lorenzo di Pierfranchesko de Medici. Di Pierrefranchesko asked Michelangelo “to make the sculpture look like it had been lying in the ground for a long time”, intending to sell it as an ancient work (naturally, he did not even suspect that the original works of Michelangelo would one day cost much more).
This statue was sold to Cardinal Raffael Riario, who, discovering that his purchase was artificially aged, demanded a refund from di Pierrefranchesko. However, the cardinal was so impressed with Michelangelo’s skill that he did not charge him with fraud, allowed Michelangelo to leave his fee and invited him to come to Rome to get a job in the Vatican. The “Sleeping Cupid” by Michelangelo was later bought by the English king Charles I, and, as is commonly believed, was destroyed during a fire in the palace in 1698.
3. Reinhold Wasters
Reinhold Wasters was an experienced German jeweler, as well as a talented falsifier. Many of his works ended up in private collections and museums, and Wasters won a number of prizes for his work, including at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851. He specialized in the creation of religious works of gold and silver. It is believed that the German began to create fakes to support his children after the death of his wife. Especially he was “successful” in the Renaissance jewelry, and several copies appeared even in the Rothschilds collection.
In 1984, the Metropolitan Museum discovered 45 fakes by Wasters in their own collection, including the Rospiliosi Cup, which had previously belonged to Benvenuto Cellini. And the Metropolitan Museum was not alone in its disappointment. The Walters Museum acquired a vessel in the shape of a sea monster, which experts believed was carved by Alessandro Miseroni and framed in gold by Hans Vermeyen at the beginning of the 17th century. But this turned out to be another work by Wasters. Fakes were discovered only 60 years after the death of the jeweler, so today it is no longer possible to determine how many he created them, which clearly tickles the nerves of collectors.
4. Elmir de Hori
Elmir de Hori is an artist of Hungarian origin, who became famous for numerous falsifications.