Ugly side of the art world

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Life Lifestyle -

vis­age on can­vas that pur­ported to be by Chi­nese painter Yue Min­jun. Its eas­ily repli­ca­ble, chintzy style, com­bined with the scarcity of com­pa­ra­ble works in Bri­tain to judge it by, made it a felling ruse. Not that who the artist might be is ever a le­gal is­sue. For the sweet twist suf­fered by al­most all trap­per buy­ers is the bill of sale, ver­bal or oth­er­wise. Terms such as “French School”, “20th-cen­tury Bri­tish School” or “Man­ner of… [the artist in ques­tion]”pro­lif­er­ate. Un­like a ma­jor fake, no firm at­tri­bu­tion is ever given by a trap­per mer­chant. Thus the seller need not be guilty of what Win­ston Churchill – another highly valu­able artist who I have seen “trap­pered” – neatly termed “ter­mi­no­log­i­cal in­ex­ac­ti­tude”. The buyer’s mis­placed op­ti­mism ef­fec­tively con­sum­mates the deal. The vis­ual heist is not just con­fined to the im­age. Cre­ative en­ergy is ap­plied by trap­per­mak­ers to other com­po­nents of the art work such as the frame, back­ing-board and nails (of­ten ar­ti­fi­cially rusted). A Pi­casso trap­per that came up in a sale in south­ern Eng­land com­pen­sated for its lack of vis­ual plau­si­bil­ity by what lay on the re­verse. Splashes of paint cov­ered an ar­ti­fi­cially teas­t­ained la­bel, upon which was in­scribed, in mis­aligned, Fifties Rem­ing­ton type­writer script: “EX­HI­BI­TION – PARIS”. So why has this form of fak­ery mush­roomed in re­cent years? It is partly, of course, hu­man na­ture – a height­ened dream of dis­cov­ery, fu­elled by a buoy­ant art mar­ket, tele­vi­sion, books and me­dia. Fan­tasy, a mis­placed hunch, and the fact that the fi­nan­cial out­lay may only be in the hun­dreds of pounds ap­pears enough to fuel a thriv­ing home mar­ket. But the de­press­ing as­pect to all of this is that artis­tic tal­ent and en­ergy is fun­nelled into du­plic­ity. A group of com­pe­tent pain­ters is happy to pur­sue a ca­reer in the twi­light zone, fal­si­fy­ing the work of oth­ers rather than the wor­thier, and cre­atively more risky task of be­ing them­selves. If beauty is truth, their art is un­mit­i­gated ug­li­ness. Check the age of the mount and the frame. Works by prom­i­nent 20th-cen­tury or ear­lier artists have nor­mally been framed or mounted for gen­er­a­tions. Trap­per­mak­ers also re­use and adapt nor­mally cheap, in­ap­pro­pri­ate frames. Never base a de­ci­sion on a sig­na­ture. They are not like num­ber plates and the eas­i­est thing to add or fake. Trap­per-mak­ers also some­times add de­lib­er­ately ob­scured sig­na­tures that might in­ti­mate the artist’s name with­out be­ing prop­erly read­able. If a paint­ing is a frac­tion of the cost of what is ob­vi­ously the real thing, it nor­mally isn’t. Ask the seller, if you can, to guar­an­tee in writ­ing that a pic­ture of some ap­par­ent age is not mod­ern. He might run a mile, but that in it­self is in­dica­tive. If the im­age looks fa­mil­iar, google the artist. The like­li­hood is that it will be based, or re­liant upon on a paint­ing that has been re­pro­duced or il­lus­trated some­where find­able. Look for heavy-handed signs of prove­nance-adding on the re­verse such as fa­mous names, col­lec­tions or ex­hi­bi­tions that trap­per­mak­ers have a ten­dency to over­play. If you can, take it on ap­proval, or take a de­cent photo, and show a spe­cial­ist dealer or auc­tion­eer if you need ad­vice. Most will of­fer it on a friendly ba­sis if prop­erly ap­proached and not quoted (un­less will­ing to be so). Se­ries three of ‘Fake or For­tune?’ pre­sented by Philip Mould and Fiona Bruce starts tonight on BBC One, at 6pm

Easy on the eye: a pur­ported sketch by Maude Clay­ton Forbes

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.