England then becamethe main art trading centre especially during the course of the FrenchRevolution for the simple reason that revolutionary leaders did not caremuch about art since the country faced the danger of a Prussian or Austrianinvasion. Therefore, their priority was to find money to supply their armieswith guns, rifles, uniforms, horses and food. Thus, they deprived mostnobles of their possessions and emptied all royal palaces of their contentswhich were sold in auction sales attended mostly by British buyers or theiragents. For example, the contents of the Versailles palace were dispersedover a three-month period of almost uninterrupted sales.
Many French treasurepieces found their way to England over more than 10 years before Napoleonstopped the haemorrhage and greatly compensated for it by sending his armiesto plunder Italy of many of its main works of art in order to fill thenewly-created Louvre Museum.
A NEW BREEDOF COLLECTORS
Museums were setup in several European countries throughout the last quarter of the 18thand the first quarter of the 19th Centuries and did much topromote the understanding of art. Kings, princes and nobles were no longerthe main collectors and were progressively replaced by those who had benefitedfrom the ongoing industrial revolution. Industrialists, merchants and bankerswere also prone to buy fine art pieces. The press also had a certain impacton collectors especially as Salons came under the close scrutiny of artcritics in the early years of the 19th Century. Such attentiondid much for the reputation of many painters, notably Constable, Turner,Gericault, Delacroix or Ingres who were to have a deep influence over thenew schools of painting which emerged after 1870.
So far, collectorshad not been too much troubled by the problem of fakes as the market wasstill small in comparison with that of today. However, it must be rememberedthat as soon as 1760 hundreds of copies made by the numerous followersof several 17th Century masters had been circulating throughoutEurope as a result of a growing demand among upper and even middle classpeople. Such habit of copying was perpetuated almost throughout the 19thCentury and it happened quite often that some superb copies were mistakenlyclassified as genuine. A painting like "The Studio" by Vermeer,who was unknown during the first part of the 19th Century, bore
for a long time theforged signature of Pieter de Hooch who was much sought by collectors around1850. Meanwhile, dozens of faked Frans Hals and Greco paintings had appearedon the market as early as the 18th Century.
With the rediscoveryof Medieval art and architecture, many artists and craftsmen went on toproduce Gothic styled furniture, tapestries and objects between 1820 and1860. Some of them tried to bring a touch as much realistic as possibleto their creations sometimes to such a point that specialists happenedto be fooled.
The new breed ofart specialists whom we know now as experts started to be truly operationalonly after 1850. They were above all historians or museum curators whowrote books and studies about painting and other art forms. Most of themstrove to do their best in their respective fields but communication waspoor between them and they often made mistakes because they had not thetechnological means that the experts of today are supposed to use.
As a result, thesespecialists were not fully prepared to carry out the huge tasks confrontingthem. There were already books and catalogues before 1900 but these werenot so well-documented while much pioneer work was being done in the fieldof art.
At the same time,tourism in Italy became much popular and certain dealers there realisedthat they could make some easy money by selling fakes to many rich visitorswho could not tell the difference between a true 16th Centurypainting and a copy.
Art dealers becamemore active after 1870 and they too were considered as experts though thoseselling Impressionist paintings were not yet troubled with fakes sinceonly a few discerning people had banked on works by Manet, Monet, Sisley,Renoir, Pissarro or Degas. Other schools however were the target of forgers.Already in 1875, there were thousands of copies of Corot's paintings onthe market not to mention that Corot himself had put his signature on manyof those works that were submitted to him apparently because he felt honouredto be copied. One of Corot's imitators was Paul Désiré Trouillebertwho was himself a good Barbizon painter.
With the triumphof the industrial revolution in Europe copies mushroomed everywhere andin all fields. There were pieces of furniture, Greek and Roman artefacts,medieval miniatures, glass, armours and bronze sculptures so well reproducedthat many experts were at a loss when asked to give an opinion about these.
By the year 1875,there were thus numerous forgers throughout Europe but many among themplayed more or less a game to baffle specialists rather than seeking tomake a lucrative business just like Michelangelo did in fooling this stupidcardinal. Some of these forgers were certainly more than thrilled to misleadsome well-known collectors or museum officials, the most incredible storyin the last part of the 19th Century being the purchase by theLouvre Museum of a Scythian gold tiara of circa 500 BC which had fact hadjust been made by a goldsmith full of genius named Rouchomovsky who livedin Odessa. When they were first told that they had been cheated the Louvreofficials found the story most amusing and when Rouchomovsky came to Paristo prove his claim, they first laughed at him. Some months later they werein complete disarray in the face of indisputable evidence while the presswent on to gloat much about the scandal.
Nevertheless, themarket remained small until the First World War and copies were not yetconsidered as a major issue. One quite intricate problem already concernedbronze sculptures and notably recasts. Today, one needs an eagle's eyeto tell the difference between an animalier bronze sculpture made by Baryehimself during the 1840's and a replica made 50 years later which wouldbe worth twice as less.
Barye himself wasa founder beside being a sculptor but he went bankrupt and his works werecast in another foundry before the Barbedienne firm acquired the artist'scopyrights just after his death. Similar problems regarding scores of othersculptors arose before 1914 while some liberties were taken with severalartists , notably Daumier and Degas, who had limited themselves to makingplaster or wax pieces. It seems important to stress that Daumier's andDegas' bronzes only appeared on the market during the 1920's while mostfounders did not bother to put a date on their casts. As a result, it isoften difficult to determine whether a Barbedienne, a Siot, a Susse orany other founder's cast of a bronze sculpture by Barye, Fremiet, Mèneor else was made in 1875 or 1920.
Worse, when copyrightsfor these artist were no longer protected several French founders did nothesitate to make replicas during the early 1980's to the effect that pricesfor bronzes fell down. In Italy a few foundries in Florence have made aspeciality of producing fine antique copies sold as such but some peoplehave been suspected of having gone further in the process of transformingcertain copies so as to sell them as genuine.
Modern bronzes havebeen cast in such quantities that it is hard to verify their exact production. Even some numbered series have been duplicated well above their seriallimitation , notably casts by Dali which were produced after his death.In addition, certain moulds regarding other artists were not destroyedas provided by the legislation notably in France when a number of foundries,especially Valsuani, went bankrupt. These moulds were ideally instrumentalin the production of new casts and the fraud was not easy to detect. Thishappened with bronze tables and fittings by Diego Giacometti which flowedonto the market at the end of the 1980's before the owner of the foundryresponsible for the forgeries was arrested.
According to Frenchlaws, a bronze cast during the lifetime of an artist is considered as anoriginal work of art though it comes itself from a mould deriving froma plaster model. However, copyrights last 70 years after the death of anartist and his heirs have the right to produce new bronzes. One must notforget that founders like Susse, Barbedienne, Siot and others continuedfor years to reproduce the works of artists who were no longer under theprotection of copyrights. Strangely enough, an official institution likethe Rodin Museum has been issuing casts made less than a decade ago whereasthe artist disappeared in 1917. One should note that there is an enormousdifference between a Rodin bronze made before his death and a ten or twenty-yearold cast bearing the Museum's label . The problem is that there are notmany collectors who know that a Rodin cast by Rudier or Barbedienne 100years ago is worth the money paid for it while a Museum cast should beconsidered as a mere copy. Still, such practice has not been vigorouslycondemned yet.
Ironically, the RodinMuseum has been named as plaintiff in a court case regarding the biggestfraud of the century.
On January 17th1997, Guy Hain, a well-known bronze dealer appeared before a court in Lure,central France, under the accusation of having produced thousands of fakedsculptures eventually sold as originals by Rodin, Renoir, Maillol, CamilleClaudel, Carpeaux, Barye, Fremiet, Mène and other sculptors.
Guy Hain, who usedto run a shop in the plush Louvre des Antiquaires centrein Paris, found the making of forgeries probably more lucrative than hisbusiness when the art market became one of the main targets for speculatorsbetween 1987 and 1991.
His main idea wasto approach the Rudier foundry which had been in charge of producing Rodin'sbronze at the turn of the century and convince Georges Rudier and eventuallyhis son Bernard, the grand-nephew of Eugène Rudier , the exclusivefounder of Rodin and lately of the Rodin Museum who had succeeded his fatherAlexis , to use original moulds to make recasts so well achieved that mostexperts would have been fooled.
Banking on the nameand reputation of Rudier, Hain went on to trick auctioneers, dealers andexperts throughout the world by going as far as replacing Georges' signatureby that, more prestigious, of Alexis. Consequently, thousands of fakesappeared on the market and certain pieces were sold at record prices.
Hain sold forgeriesfor an estimated total of 25 million dollars before a police inspectorfrom Dijon, Burgundy, who had just dismantled the trafficking of fake Giacomettibronzes, put a stop to his illegal business in January 1992.
At least 20,000 kilosof bronze sculptures were seized in various foundries in Burgundy and outsideParis while two auctioneers in the town of Rambouillet were charged withcomplicity for having sold hundreds of forged pieces in several auctions.
Most forgeries wereproduced with the help of original moulds from the Rudier foundry as wellas from plaster copies made as duplicates for the production of bronzecasts some 75 or 90 years ago. With such methods, it was hard, and sometimesimpossible, to detect these forgeries.
The Georges Rudierstamp usually found on old casts was often erased and replaced with theAlexis Rudier signature while copies of different sizes were made regardingthe "Eternal Spring", "Balzac naked ", "The Kiss" , "The Bronze Age","The Thinking Man " and "Ratapoil" by Rodin as well as a maternityby Renoir, the "Causeuses" by Claudel and several other sculpturesby Barye or Mène.
Between 1987 and1991, the Rambouillet auctioneers sold forgeries for almost three milliondollars notably sculptures bearing the signatures of Barye, Mène,Fratin and Rodin. An imposing bronze of "The Kiss" by thelatter was notably sold for 4,2 million francs (US $ 800,000 ) in Rambouilletwhile a big size of the "Bronze Age" fetched 3,5 millionfrancs (US $ 700,000) in Paris in 1989.
Many other auctioneers,including Christie's and Sotheby's have sold such fakes on the market andthough they cannot be suspected of having lent a hand to the fraud thecompetencies of their experts might at least be seriously challenged.