Dec 13, 2007

Forgery Revealed in Chicago


Apologies for the light posting this last week. I've been away in Dubai with the wife. I'll talk about why, and talk a bit about my impressions tomorrow. For now I want to talk about the big story which was revealed while I was away: the forgery by Shaun Greenhalgh, whom I talked about earlier here.

Tyler Cowen first revealed the Paul Gauguin sculpture was a fake after Jim Cuno told the staff of the Art Institute of Chicago was a fake. Donn Zaretsky helpfully collects links to the prominent coverage.

The Art Newspaper has perhaps the best coverage, as it seems it tracked the sculpture to Chicago. Last month the three members of the Greenhalgh family were sentenced over the Amarna Princess. They discovered a Gauguin sculpture had been created by Greenhalgh after talking with Scotland Yard. They then tracked the work to Chicago.

The forged work was consigned to Sotheby's by "Mrs. Roscoe", the maiden name of Olive Greenhalgh. It was sold for
£20,700. The London dealers Howie and Pillar purchased it, and it was later sold to the Art Institute for $125,000. The purchase was hailed as a success. Martin Bailey asks why nobody questioned the authenticity? The real sculpture has been missing, the forgery was based on a faun sketch dating to 1887. It seems Sotheby's is expected to reimburse the Art Institute of Chicago. I think this reveals at least two troubling matters.

First, how many more forgeries are out there? How easy is it to trick authenticators? The best in the world looked at this sculpture and were duped. Perhaps they wanted to believe a little too much. Also, when visitors (and even experts) looked at the sculpture did it convey emotion? How much did that have to do with the beauty of the object itself; and how much was related to the idea that this small work was created by a "great" artist, Paul Gauguin?

Second, I think it reveals the continuing need for more provenance information in art and antiquities sales. The answer may be for an international registry which tracks buyers and sellers when objects are bought and sold. Until such a system emerges, the market continues to leave itself open to this kind of embarrassment.
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