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Criminal business and forgery in art
Criminal business and forgery in art

The criminal business associated with fake paintings is more profitable than the drug trade. Everyone fell for the bait of crooks: from Roman patricians to Russian oligarchs.

Forging works of art began already in Antiquity. As soon as the demand for statues by Greek masters arose in Ancient Rome, an antique market immediately emerged, into which, in addition to originals, fakes also poured. The poet Phaedrus in his poems scoffed at the arrogant patricians who cannot distinguish a real ancient bust from a crude fake.

In the Middle Ages, counterfeit works of art, however, like originals, were not in demand. There were relatively few connoisseurs of beauty in those harsh years. If antiquities were forged, it was rather for ideological reasons. For example, the famous statue of the Capitoline she-wolf, which symbolized the continuity of power in Rome from emperors to popes, as it turned out at the end of the 20th century, was not cast in ancient times, but in the Middle Ages.

At the very beginning of the Renaissance, the counterfeiting of works of art, especially antique ones, was put on a grand scale. Craftsmen, whose names everyone knows, took part in their production.

Young Michelangelo, Cesare Dzocchi

Young Michelangelo Buonarotti studied the profession of a sculptor, copying antique statues. The young man did this so well that he pushed his patron Lorenzo Medici to a bad deed. He ordered to bury one of the works of the young artist in the earth with high acidity for several months, and then sold the artificially aged statue "Sleeping Cupid" to an antiquities dealer.

He resold the "ancient Roman" sculpture to Cardinal Raphael Riario for 200 gold ducats, and Michelangelo received only 30 coins from them. Something aroused suspicion in the cardinal, and he began an investigation. When the sculptor found out that he was deceived in the calculations, he told the whole truth. The antiques dealer had to return the money to the holy father, but Michelangelo remained with his thirty. True, the antiquary did not remain in the loser - a couple of decades later he sold "Sleeping Cupid" for a lot of money as a work of the already famous Buonarotti.

The masters of forgeries were sensitive to trends in the art market. In the 16th century, prices for the works of Hieronymus Bosch soared. In Antwerp, engravings immediately appeared, “handwritten” by the artist. In fact, these were copies of the work of the then little-known Pieter Bruegel Sr. "Big fish eat small ones." A few years later, Bruegel himself became a famous artist, and his painting began to be appreciated more than Bosch's paintings. The counterfeiters immediately reacted, and engravings from Bosch's paintings with a fake Bruegel signature began to be sold.

<img alt = "" Big fish eat small ones ", engraving from a painting by Bruegel."src =" style = "height: 432px; width: 600px" title = "" Big fish eat small ones ", engraving from a painting by Bruegel" />

The works of Albrecht Dürer were highly regarded by both art lovers and fake makers. After the death of Emperor Charles V, who passionately collected paintings by the German artist, thirteen fakes were found in his collection. Once, under the guise of Dürer's work, a painting by the 17th century Italian artist Luca Giordano was sold to someone.

The scam was revealed, and Giordano was brought to trial. At the trial, he showed his inconspicuous autograph next to a large fake German signature, and was acquitted: the court ruled that the artist should not be punished just for the fact that he draws no worse than Dürer.

In the 19th century, a lot of fake paintings by the popular French artist Camille Corot appeared. In part, the painter himself was to blame.He loved grand gestures and often signed the paintings of poor artists with his own hand so that they could sell them at a higher price under the guise of paintings by Corot. In addition, Camille was very creative with his signature, changing its style many times. Because of this, it is now extremely difficult to confirm the authenticity of Corot's paintings. It is believed that dozens of times more of his works are circulating on the art market than he actually wrote.

The paintings were forged even during the lifetime of famous artists, and the authors themselves could not help the experts to distinguish the fake from the original. This is especially true of the masters, whose creative heritage is extremely extensive. Pablo Picasso has created over five thousand paintings, drawings and figurines. It is not surprising that he several times admitted that his works were deliberate fakes. Salvador Dali did not bother with such trifles as authentication.

He worked on an industrial scale, and in order to make his production work without interruptions, he signed thousands of blank sheets for engravings. What exactly will be depicted on these pieces of paper, the master was not particularly interested. In any case, he received a substantial sum for his autograph. After Dali's death, it is almost impossible to distinguish between what he painted himself from fakes.

Hermann Goering, fooled by a 17th century Dutchman

At the beginning of the 20th century, the number of those who counterfeited works of art increased markedly. First, the fake works of Vincent Van Gogh, who died in 1890, flourished in full bloom. During his lifetime, his canvases were not in demand, and the artist died in poverty, ten years after his death, a furious fashion arose on Van Gogh's paintings. Dozens of variants of landscapes and still lifes of Vincent appeared immediately, especially his famous "Sunflowers".

It is suspected that the friend of the late painter, the artist Emil Schuffenecker, who preserved a significant part of Van Gogh's archive, dabbled in the forgery and sale of his works. Prices for Van Gogh's paintings rose so quickly that in the 1920s, entire workshops for their forgery arose in Germany. These offices were called galleries, held exhibitions and even published catalogs.

The curators of the expositions were recognized experts on the work of Van Gogh, who only made a helpless gesture after the police covered a whole conveyor for making fakes. Before that happened, hundreds of pseudo-Van Gogh's watercolors, drawings and paintings had spread all over the world. They are identified and removed from quite authoritative exhibitions even in the 21st century.

<img alt = "" Sunflowers ", Vincent Van Gogh, 1888."src =" style = "height: 757px; width: 600px" title = "Sunflowers, Vincent Van Gogh, 1888" />

From the technological point of view, it was quite simple to forge the paintings of a recently deceased artist: there was no need to artificially age the canvases, to select paints made using centuries-old technologies. But gradually the fake pictures mastered these subtleties. A tragicomic scandal erupted in Holland in the 1940s. The work of the 17th century artist Jan Vermeer is considered a national treasure in this country.

The master left behind a few canvases, and a real sensation was the discovery in the late 1930s of several previously unknown works by Vermeer. The honor of the find belonged to the little-known artist Han van Megeren. According to him, in 1937 he discovered Vermeer's painting "Christ at Emmaus" in someone's private collection. Art experts have confirmed the authenticity of the 17th century painting and ranked it among the best works of Vermeer. Van Megeren sold the painting to a wealthy collector for a lot of money.

In fact, he wrote the canvas himself. He loved the work of the old masters, and he wrote in their style, not recognizing innovations in painting. No one took his own paintings seriously, then van Megeren decided to forge Vermeer to prove his skill. He wanted to arrange a session of self-exposure, thereby shaming the experts, but the amount offered for his forgery forced the artist to abandon this idea.

Van Megeren began to forge Vermeer and several other old Dutchmen. He bought old cheap paintings at flea markets, with the help of pumice he cleaned off the paint layer, leaving the soil, made up paints according to old recipes and painted them on the motives traditional for the old Dutch. He dried and aged fresh canvases with an iron and a hair dryer, and to form small cracks on the paint layer of craquelures, he wrapped the canvases around the bar.

In 1943, when Holland was under German occupation, one of the paintings was bought by Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering. After his release, van Megeren was prosecuted for collaboration - he sold the national treasure to a Nazi bonze.

The artist had to admit that he lent a fake to Goering, and he wrote all the rest of these Vermeers himself. As evidence, right in the prison cell, he made a painting "Jesus among the scribes", which experts, who did not know about the recognition of the manufacturer of the forgeries, also recognized as genuine. It's funny, but as soon as these specialists were informed that the painting was painted a couple of weeks ago, they immediately found inconsistencies in the painting styles of van Megeren and the real Vermeer.

Van Megeren paints a picture in prison

Van Megeren immediately turned from a national traitor into a national hero who cheated the Nazis. From prison he was released under house arrest, and the court gave him only a year in prison for falsifying paintings. A month later, the artist died in prison from a heart attack - his health was undermined by alcohol and drugs, to which he had become addicted over the years of wealth that fell on him.

During his short career, van Megeren sold fake paintings worth $ 30 million in modern terms. His fakes were found in prestigious museums even in the 1970s.

Another unsuccessful artist, the Englishman Tom Keating, also realized himself with the help of fakes. He did not specialize in any one style or era, but produced paintings by more than a hundred great masters of the past - from Rembrandt to Degas. At the same time, Keating mocked the experts, specially placing on his paintings interior details or objects that could not exist in the era of the artists whose signatures were on the canvases.

The experts did not notice this point-blank and recognized the authenticity of the "masterpieces". Before being exposed, Keating had created over two thousand forgeries. He was not sent to prison due to poor health, which, however, was enough to participate in a documentary television series about great artists. On the air, Keating painted canvases in the style of the old masters.

In the 1990s, a brigade of fake pictures from the Federal Republic of Germany developed a vigorous activity, supplying to the market the works of German artists of the early 20th century. The scammers claimed that the paintings come from the collection of the grandfather of the wife of one of them. Proof of this was a photograph in which this wife, dressed in antique clothes, posed against the background of fake paintings, depicting her own grandmother.

This turned out to be enough for auctioneers and gallery owners, who began to resell fakes to wealthy collectors. For example, the famous Hollywood comedian Steve Martin bought one of the paintings for 700 thousand euros. Only four scammers earned more than twenty million euros, and burned out on sheer nonsense - it turned out that the stretchers of paintings, allegedly painted in different places and in different decades, were made from the trunk of the same tree. The criminals were arrested in 2010 and sentenced to prison terms ranging from 4 to 6 years. During the forced downtime, they began writing memoirs, quickly bought by publishers.

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The most expensive sculptures on the market belong, oddly enough, not Phidias or Michelangelo, but the Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti "/>

In 2004, there was a scandal at Sotheby's.Half an hour before the auction, Shishkin's painting "Landscape with a Stream" was removed from the auction, the initial price of which was 700 thousand pounds.

It turned out that the lot did not belong to Shishkin's brush, but to the Dutch artist Marinus Kukkuk Sr., and was bought a year ago in Sweden for $ 9,000. The examination established that the author's signature was removed from the canvas, a fake autograph of Shishkin was added, and a lamb and a shepherd boy in Russian clothes were added to the landscape. At the same time, the forgery was accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from the Tretyakov Gallery. Later, experts from the Tretyakov Gallery assured that they had been deceived.

Similar scandals happened later. Surely they will continue in the future. Art counterfeiting and trafficking crimes are, along with drug and arms trafficking, the most lucrative criminal business.

At the same time, no one except buyers is interested in establishing authenticity - famous auction houses and galleries receive huge commissions from the sale of dubious masterpieces, so their experts are often inclined to authenticate them. By some estimates, between one third and half of the paintings, sculptures and arts and crafts that circulate in the art market are fakes.

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