For how long in the art world will be real masterpieces also will be artists, sometimes really good artists, who will forge them. This happened from the antiquity to present, the Romans copied the Greek artworks, the Renaissance masters took from both, Greek and Roman art, and after that was a black market for forgeries. Only today it is harder to do a fake painting because, with the development of technology, they can tell with precision if is a fake piece of art or the real thing.
Michelangelo Sleeping Eros
In 1496, 21 years old Michelangelo created a sculpture of a Sleeping Eros, who he was buried on the ground for a while to look “aged”. “The actual ancient Roman statue pictured here is in the same “Hellenistic tradition” as Michelangelo’s fake, created by deliberately ageing one of his brand-spanking-new marble statues with “acidic earth“, and the artwork has been sold to “Cardinal Raffaele Riario, grandnephew of Pope Sixtus IV”, by an art dealer. But the buyer realized that it is not as antique as the vendor said, and he requested a refund, only he let Michelangelo keep his share, because he loved his sculpture, and he became Michelangelo‘s first patron in Rome. At that time, Michelangelo was well respected in Rome for his sculpture Pieta. Michelangelo also used to borrow other artists’ drawings, give them back copies, and he kept the originals.
Michelangelo, Sleeping Eros ( 1496) Photo: stephan_sandoval/via Wikimedia
Wolfgang Beltracchi: La Forêt
One of the most prolific forgers and “most financially successful, Wolfgang Beltracchi, was discovered in 2010 after 40 years of forging paintings by Max Ernst, Heinrich Campendonk, Max Pechstein and Fernand Leger“. Fooling the artistic world for such a long time, his fakes were sold at Christie’s and even appeared on the front cover of their catalogues. Beltracchi was sentenced to 6 years in prison, but he was released after a little over 3 years in 2015. He started to do his own paintings inspired by masters and made a seven figures income. “In my thoughts, I created an original work, an unpainted painting by the artists of the past”, how he tried to explain why he did forgeries in the past.
Max Ernst, La Forêt, Photo: Wolfgang Beltracchi/Grey Not Grey, Wolfgang Beltracchi, La Forêt
Han van Meegeren: Jesus Among the Doctors
Han van Meegeren, “a popular painter in the Netherlands” was on trial in 1945, for selling to the Nazis Netherlands’ cultural property, and the punishment was death. Jesus Among the Doctors “previously-unknown “Vermeer painting” was sold to Nazi mastermind Hermann Göring for the equivalent of $7 million”. In court, in front of “witnesses and reporters”, he painted again this masterpiece to demonstrate that he was a forger. “He was fake-painting for his life, basically”. In 1947, instead of capital punishment, he was sentenced to one year in prison for falsification and fraud, but he died before his incarceration.
Han van Meegeren, Jesus Among the Doctors, 1945
But the best forged art piece by Han van Meegeren was Vermeer’s Supper at Emmaus (1937).
To improve his technique to make a painting look aged, Van Meegeren spent four years to be able to get “oil paint to harden thoroughly” which naturally would happen in 50 years. But he managed to do that by “mixing his pigments with a synthetic resin, Bakelite, instead of oil, and subsequently baking the canvas”.
Han van Meegeren, Supper at Emmaus (1937)
“IN PRISON, THEY CALLED ME PICASSO.”
In 1986, a forged painting done in the style of Albert Gleizes by John Myatt was evaluated by Christie’s at 25K pounds. Myatt did about 200 fake painting which was “the biggest art fraud of the 20th century.”, according to Scotland Yard. John Drewe was his dealer and friend who helped him sell the forged artworks of Marc Chagall, Le Corbusier, Jean Dubuffet, Alberto Giacometti, Picasso and Matisse. He “falsely aged works with vacuum dust, varnish, and rusted picture frames, and provided “fake provenance information”, changing records into archives and donating to museums and placing into galleries forged paintings. They got caught when Drewe’s “ex-girlfriend, Bat-Sheva Goudsmid, went to the police and Tate Museum and told them about her ex-boyfriend illegal activity. Myatt was lucky by getting a shorter sentence than Drewe and after his release, he started to paint again making thousands of pounds for his real paintings and copies of the big masters.
Albert Gleizes, 1911, Portrait de Jacques Nayral, forged by Myatt photo: en.wikipedia.org
Author Rozalia Mos