Cul­ture vul­tures fail to spot fake in Lon­don gallery art com­pe­ti­tion

The China Post - - ARTS - BY JAMES PHEBY

The re­sults are in of a battle that pit­ted Lon­don’s cul­ture vul­tures against a Chi­nese work­shop churn­ing out repli­cas of the world’s most fa­mous paint­ings, re­veal­ing a clear victory for the cut-price masters.

For nearly three months, vis­i­tors to Lon­don’s Dulwich Pic­ture Gallery have pored over 270 paint­ings in its per­ma­nent col­lec­tion, in­clud­ing works by Rem­brandt, Rubens and Gains­bor­ough, know­ing that there was one US$120 fake in their midst.

Around 3,000 peo­ple voted for their pick of the replica, but only 300 cor­rectly iden­ti­fied it as French artist Jean-Honore Frag­o­nard’s 18th cen­tury por­trait “Young Woman.”

“The white looks too bright and fresh,” said vis­i­tor Emma Hol­lanby, as she looked at the two paint­ings sideby-side, de­pict­ing an un­known woman with rouged cheeks and red lips, peer­ing se­duc­tively at the viewer.

“But it’s easy to say when it’s next to it (the orig­i­nal), and I prob­a­bly wouldn’t have got it,” ad­mit­ted the 26-year-old, who works in a gallery.

The ex­per­i­ment was the brain­child of Amer­i­can artist Doug Fish­bone, who wanted to “throw down the gaunt­let” to mu­seum-go­ers and make them look more closely at the great works.

Chief cu­ra­tor Xavier Bray said he chose the Frag­o­nard paint­ing as “it’s one of our great pic­tures, but tends to be some­thing that doesn’t en­gage.”

The replica was or­dered from Meisheng Oil Paint­ing Man­u­fac­ture Co. Ltd in Xi­a­men, in China’s south­east­ern Fu­jian prov­ince.

The gallery emailed a jpeg of its cho­sen pic­ture, paid US$126 in­clud­ing ship­ping via PayPal, and re­ceived the rolled-up replica within three weeks by courier.

Bray called the re­sponse to the gallery’s spot-the-fake chal­lenge “very grat­i­fy­ing” and said it had boosted vis­i­tor num­bers.

“Peo­ple have been ac­tu­ally look­ing at the pic­tures,” he told AFP. “Rather than look­ing at the la­bel first and then the pic­ture, they did the op­po­site.”

He added that chil­dren had been par­tic­u­larly en­gaged.

“They don’t seem to have that mind­set that makes them think what an Old Mas­ter should look like, they go straight for what looks dif­fer­ent,” he ex­plained.

‘Mag­i­cal qual­ity’

On cue, a group of young school­child­ren gath­ered to play a high­brow game of spot the dif­fer­ence.

“That one’s not the fake one be­cause it’s browner, it looks older,” said one, fol­lowed by a class­mate, who noted that the fake was “all white and brighter.”

As well as ex­am­in­ing the type of can­vas used, how it was pre­pared, the brush­work and what type of pig­ments and var­nish were em­ployed, the ex­perts rely on the artist’s in­nate cre­ativ­ity to iden­tify the fakes.

“The orig­i­nal is al­most what a ma­gi­cian would paint,” said Bray. “You look at this (the fake). It’s industrial and the ex­pres­sion is empty.”

Painter Jane Preece, a regular vis­i­tor, said she would have rec­og­nized the fake be­cause “I’ve al­ways loved that paint­ing.”

“It’s dark but shines through, it has a lu­mi­nous qual­ity about it,” ex­plained the 75-year-old.

“Whereas the fake just looks wrong, it hasn’t got that mag­i­cal qual­ity.”


A woman looks at an orig­i­nal paint­ing by Jean-Honore Frag­o­nard ti­tled “Young Woman,” left, and a replica or­dered from China by the gallery at the Dulwich Pic­ture Gallery in Lon­don on Wed­nes­day, April 28.

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