Michelangelo and other talented forgers who managed to fool the art world
Art has long been turned into a profitable business that brings millions to especially experienced people. After all, these masterpieces are worth huge sums. The dealer receives his share, the auction house receives commissions, and the buyer receives the desired picture. And in this chain it is not beneficial for anyone to let someone know that the picture is actually a fake. Therefore, such incidents are usually silent.
Experts believe that about half of the paintings on the international art market can be fakes, and about 20% in large museum collections of fakes. Thus, in April 2018, a museum in France found that 82 of 140 paintings by Etienne Terrus, which are in his collection, are fake. Counterfeits were discovered only when a keen visitor noticed that some of the buildings depicted in the paintings were built after the artist’s death.
1. Han van Megeren
In 1932, the Dutch artist Han van Megheren, wounded by the criticism that his works were “non-original”, decided that he would create a “new and original work” by copying a picture of the great master Johann Vermeer. According to his idea, Khan wanted to admit to deception, as soon as the leading scientists estimate the picture. As a result, the artist created his own painting entitled “Dinner at Emmaus”, using authentic 17th century canvas and pigments that were available at the time. He added bakelite to paints, which made them dry, giving the impression of antiquity.
The painting was declared a masterpiece and acquired by the Dutch gallery, becoming the central canvas of its exhibition. Van Meegeren, instead of declaring his fake, decided to write another copy. And then another one, and so on. In 1945, Van Meegeren made a mistake by selling one of his “Vermeer” to the Nazi leader Hermann Göring. When the war ended, he was accused of treason for selling a work of national importance to a member of the Nazi party. The artist was forced to admit in his defense that the work was a fake. He quickly became famous not only as the best art critic in the world, but also as “the man who deceived Goring.” Without this recognition, Van Meegeren might have continued to deceive the art world until the end of his days.
Michelangelo began his career with the falsification of objects of art. He created several statues, including one called “Sleeping Cupid” (or simply “Cupid”), when he worked for Lorenzo di Pierrefranche de Medici. Di Pierfrancesco asked Michelangelo “to make the sculpture look as if it had lain in the ground for a long time”, intending to sell it as an ancient work (of course, he did not even suspect that the original works of Michelangelo would one day be much more expensive).
This statue was sold to Cardinal Raffaela Riario, who, having discovered that his purchase was artificially aged, demanded the return of money from di Pierfrancesco. However, the cardinal was so impressed with the skill of Michelangelo that he did not charge him with fraud, allowed Michelangelo to leave his fee and invited him to come to Rome to get a job at the Vatican. The “Sleeping Cupid” by Michelangelo was later bought by the English King Charles I, and, as is commonly believed, was destroyed during a fire in the palace in 1698.
3. Reinhold Vasters
Reinhold Vasters was an experienced German jeweler, as well as a talented forger. Many of his works were in private collections and museums, and Vasters won a number of prizes for his work, including the Great Exhibition in London in 1851. He specialized in creating religious works of gold and silver. It is believed that the German began to create fakes to support their children after the death of his wife. Especially he “succeeded” Renaissance jewelry, and several copies appeared even in the collection of the Rothschilds.
In 1984, the Metropolitan Museum found 45 fakes by Vasters in his own collection, including the Rospiliosi Cup, which previously belonged to Benvenuto Cellini. And the Metropolitan Museum was not alone in its disappointment. The Walters Museum acquired a vessel in the form of a sea monster, which, as experts believed, was cut out by Alessandro Miseroni and framed with gold by Hans Vermeien in the early 17th century. But this turned out to be another product of Vasters. Counterfeits were discovered only 60 years after the jeweler’s death, so today it is no longer possible to determine how much he created them, which obviously tickles the nerves of collectors.