Thursday, December 13, 2007

Prelude to the Afternoon of A Forgery

Shaun Greenhalgh • The Faun by Gauguin, 1886 • ca. 1997 • unglazed stoneware with touches of gold gilding • h. 47cm • The Art Institute of Chicago: Estate of Suzette Morton Davidson; Major Acquisitions Centennial Endowment • 1997.88

You have probably heard by now that The Faun, also known as The Satyr, by Paul Gauguin from the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago is a fake. It was a lost work that a family of art forgers recreated based on a small sketch Gauguin made in a sketchbook. The “well researched” piece along with its forged documents fooled Douglas Druick, Searle Curator and Chair, Department of Medieval to Modern European Painting and Sculpture, and Prince Trust Curator and Chair, Department of Prints and Drawings, but not before London art dealers Howie and Pillar, who bought it at auction from Sotheby’s, who were the first fooled. Also taken in was Anne-Birgitte Fonsmark, the leading Gauguin ceramics expert. She has said it is “among Gauguin’s most satirical” pieces, no pun intended, I’m assuming.

It is pretty amazing that a 46 year old man, his mother (82) and father (84) could pull off not only this, but a forgery of an Egyptian statue, an investigation into which uncovered The Faun.

Sotheby’s has promised to reimburse the museum, but it still has a bloody nose. It is interesting to wonder what will become of the piece. For now it is going to Scotland Yard as evidence, although now people are interested more than ever in seeing this mystery object. I by chance saw it being wheeled on a cart into conservation last week. Unknowing of the future controversy, and that possibly I was among the last to see it.

It goes without saying how sad and disappointing this is. I remember being pretty impressed seeing it on view, and thinking about how lucky we are to have a Gauguin ceramic, something I wasn’t aware even existed, on permanent display in Chicago. I guess I was sort of right, it didn’t exist. There is something fascinating about the whole thing though. Stories of art forgery and theft tend to capture the public imagination. The idea of some criminal mastermind fooling all the experts appeals to our sensibilities.

For the most detailed story, from which this post has referred to, see the Art Newspaper.
> Revealed: Art Institute of Chicago Gauguin sculpture is fake
>The Faun on Wikipedia

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