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The Mystery Conman


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Anybody watch Deutsche Welle TV on cable?

Just saw a documentary exploring the world of art fraud on ancient bronze heads supposedly from antiquity.

Fascinating in that is comes up against similar issues we seem to discuss here with regard to identification.

 

The use of the term "stylistic analysis" was one that struck me examining a specimen from years of familiarity with genuine works and details of their construction. "Forensics" - another term explained as "hands on analysis" by experts with years of experience.

 

The documentary suggests the art world (or the more rarefied field of ancient sculpture) is littered with forgeries - maybe 50% of works exhibited in museums (did I hear that correctly?)- exploited by people tempted by the lucrative rewards of auctions. 

 

The example of 'provenance' is highlighted. If someone wishes to import a sausage from the Ukraine to Europe it is subject to all sorts of tests and analysis with regard to origin ingredients etc, but with art work appearing at auction there is little such scrutiny.

 

If you have the time is is an interesting study.

(Maybe this should be on the auction scroll...)

 

http://www.dw.com/en/the-mystery-conman/av-19031664

 

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Thanks for posting the interesting video.  People need to know just how rife the problem is, and that it spills over into antiques (including violins).  The "Spanish Master" has many less famous colleagues, all seemingly busy.  :rolleyes:

 

One notes that the page that the written commentary was on, featured links to pages with stories on upper-end art dealers being prosecuted for knowingly selling fakes.  :huh:

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In the UK we had the Greenhalgh family who did some amazing forgeries. One of the clever things they did was to research 'lost' works, so that they could "find" them supported by a great provenance. I have in my drawers in the office, a pretty complete set of papers for a Stradivari that was bought in London in the 1790s and sold at Puttick and Simpson in 1871 including some stunning photos of the violin taken in the mid 1860s when it was still in a London classical setup with it's original neck. If these were married to a Strad, it would have probably the best papered provenance of all of them, but to the best of our knowledge this particular Strad has gone missing... I suppose I could marry them to a good enough forgery if I had the mind to... although, obviously, the cat is out of the bag, so I shan't have the chance! :) 

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In Utah, there was a rare documents dealer who found many interesting and rare Mormon documents. It turned out that he had been donating items to the church archives for years and those documents were some used to authenticate other newly discovered items that the church would purchase.

 

Guess what was discovered?

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In the UK we had the Greenhalgh family who did some amazing forgeries. One of the clever things they did was to research 'lost' works, so that they could "find" them supported by a great provenance. I have in my drawers in the office, a pretty complete set of papers for a Stradivari that was bought in London in the 1790s and sold at Puttick and Simpson in 1871 including some stunning photos of the violin taken in the mid 1860s when it was still in a London classical setup with it's original neck. If these were married to a Strad, it would have probably the best papered provenance of all of them, but to the best of our knowledge this particular Strad has gone missing... I suppose I could marry them to a good enough forgery if I had the mind to... although, obviously, the cat is out of the bag, so I shan't have the chance! :)

I think the bolded phrase is the part that is 'the hook' for the credulous.  A missing Strad, 'found' and hooked up to its provenance.  The perfect bait for something that, no matter how cynical or wary we may be, we want to believe.  Same as it ever was, I guess.

 

Neil

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In Utah, there was a rare documents dealer who found many interesting and rare Mormon documents. It turned out that he had been donating items to the church archives for years and those documents were some used to authenticate other newly discovered items that the church would purchase.

Guess what was discovered?

The golden tablets!!!!!????

(Oh boy. Now I'm going to get in a lot of trouble.)

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The golden tablets!!!!!????

(Oh boy. Now I'm going to get in a lot of trouble.)

No silly, those are real!

 

He was forging the documents. Old paper, making ink from old recipes and burning age-appropriate papers into the ink so that if would carbon date to the appropriate time! The museum was using his forged documents-in what one might term "stylistic analysis"(from above)-to authenticate newly found documents, discovered by the forger.

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Creating forgeries of sculpture in particular is a very old and venerated practice! The 15th century Italian lords coveted fine Roman antiquities and if quality pieces could not be found the were made. Michelangelo made works in Roman sold them as styles, and they were gotten into the hands of a dealer who aged them and sold them. Well at least according to Mr. Stone, who is reputed to be an authority. 

 

Forgery stories are really interesting, sculpture is a very difficult to authenticate medium. About ten years ago I was asked by an art collector to make a special mount for a piece and I can't be specific about any of it because it is a delicate issue. But I was working with art that was supposed to have been 350-75 years old, but the mounting required I examine the piece very carefully, I found modern tool marks from an electric sander in layers of polychrome work. It was not the first time I has seen things like this when making mounts. 

 

I was interviewing at a museum shortly after that to get a position working with the collection. I stupidly let out that I had recently seen such and such type of work and my eagle eyes detected problems. I think that was a factor in not getting the position. No good thing to blurt out in a room full of curators who keep such things secret. Those of us who know tools and the evidence they leave probably see things other experts don't readily see and it is bad form in the museum scene to talk about stuff like that in the open. The things they had in the object storage rooms.........wow, what a mess. 

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Sadly the biggest fake about fake or fortune is the show itself. I try not to watch it, because the simpering passive-aggressiveness of the presenter gets up my nose... but they try to contrive a show around a problem, and of course there's no possibility to account for the immediate recognition that an expert will have. There was one episode that I was forced to watch - I think my friends sat on me and forced my eyes open with toothpicks, and from the first glance of the painting, it was clear that it was going to be some follower of Veronese, blah blah blah... Watching the experts at Hamilton-Carr Institute and other places pussy-foot around the issue, postulating on pigments rather than going straight to the jugular would have been humorous if they'd made a condensed version of the show, but trying to labour that into a whole hour was about as much fun as gargling bleach. 

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Sadly the biggest fake about fake or fortune is the show itself. I try not to watch it, because the simpering passive-aggressiveness of the presenter gets up my nose... but they try to contrive a show around a problem, and of course there's no possibility to account for the immediate recognition that an expert will have. There was one episode that I was forced to watch - I think my friends sat on me and forced my eyes open with toothpicks, and from the first glance of the painting, it was clear that it was going to be some follower of Veronese, blah blah blah... Watching the experts at Hamilton-Carr Institute and other places pussy-foot around the issue, postulating on pigments rather than going straight to the jugular would have been humorous if they'd made a condensed version of the show, but trying to labour that into a whole hour was about as much fun as gargling bleach. 

I would echo Ben's opinion but apply it to supposedly "mystery-solving" pseudodocumentaries in general.  Having 5 minutes of real investigation but stuck with 50 minutes to fill, the producers give you 45 minutes of mostly badly written filler, interrupted, of course, by commercials.  Rather than waste my time with such drivel, if I find the subject at all interesting, I'll research it on the Internet. It's also peculiar how many "mysteries" fall apart when the actual facts are examined.  :lol:

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I liked watching BBC series "Fake or Fortune?" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fake_or_Fortune%3F)

Sometime they seem just like a thriller movie. To bad it isn't also about a violins.  :ph34r:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98Nr49sSymk

 

I was chatting with one of the presenters, Mould, years ago when the show was new and he asked if we had any "good" violin stories. 

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 I have in my drawers in the office, a pretty complete set of papers for a Stradivari that was bought in London in the 1790s and sold at Puttick and Simpson in 1871 including some stunning photos of the violin taken in the mid 1860s when it was still in a London classical setup with it's original neck. If these were married to a Strad, it would have probably the best papered provenance of all of them, but to the best of our knowledge this particular Strad has gone missing...

It hasn't turned up as a 1717 fiddle soon to 'come to the market for its tricentenary'?  :)

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Another scam is to donate a violin that either is a fake or one that is labeled wrong to a museum. The giver receives a big tax deduction and the violin may lay in the archives for years and never be discovered at least in the givers lifetime.

 

Berl, people are cleverer than that, they either paint decorations onto the sides of a revarnished Strad and sell it for a decorated Strad price, or another trick can be to donate underweight Tourte bows for a full retail price. Not, of course that anyone has ever done this or that or the other... In the antiquities world there have been some 'philanthropists' who've made a public sport of buying things on the open market that on the basis that they believe they can donate them for more than four times the sale price against tax. Endless fun. There may be an entire new wing of a very big New York museum stuffed full of antiquities that came through that process. 

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