Monday, 2 May 2016


“Imitation, if it is not forgery, is a fine thing. It stems from a generous impulse, and a realistic sense of what can and cannot be done.” - James Fenton

Combining Art Sunday and Movie Monday this week as I have been extremely busy with work and family! The bane of the art lover is forgery. For a serious collector to be able to obtain an original art work from a favourite famous artist is the holy grail of his existence. Enter the forger, ready to make a dream come true by providing the desired art work… Often of course the forgery is masterful in its own way and the forger can be an accomplished artist with much talent (if not genius). The niggling concept of “originality” is raised along the way, but one has to consider how often great artists plagiarised others and even their own works. In any case the subject is fraught with difficulty and always along the way the matters of “money”, “investment” and “financial gain” rear their ugly heads. These of course have nothing to with love of art and some of the great collectors of art have been pure and simple investors with no genuine love of art per se.

For Movie Monday, an interesting 2014 film by Philip Martin, “The Forger”, starring John Travolta, Christopher Plummer and Tye Sheridan. The plot centres on the world’s best art forger (Travolta) who makes a deal with a crime syndicate to get an early release from prison, but in return he must pull off an impossible heist - he must forge a painting by Claude Monet, steal the original from a museum, and replace it with a replica so perfect that no one will notice. He takes on the task but has to ask the help of his father (Plummer) and son (Sheridan). The three generations of the family plan together the forgery and heist, but on the way their relationships are examined and each has to deal with some issues that have been causing some consternation for some time.

The film is not a typical action/thriller but has elements from these genres. However if one goes in to see it and expects high adrenaline action scenes will be disappointed. It is more of comedy/drama piece of relationships between male members of a family and the way they deal with their feelings and lack of communication along their way. The forgery and heist have a part to play in the story, but they also act as a catalyst for the very real issues faced by each of the main characters.

The acting is very good, with veteran Christopher Plummer adding class to extremely good line delivery. Travolta does a great job and seems to cope well with the different demands of a portmanteau role and Tye Sheridan delivers a brilliant performance as the troubled son. Cinematography, music and direction are excellent and the plot (apart from a couple of small holes) is engaging and balances well the two strands of the narrative action vs human interest. Some critics have said of the movie that it is a little slow-paced, but when we watched it we found that its 92 minutes runtime was just right for what it was trying to say.

Now in terms of what I would like hanging on my wall, a forgery or an original… Of course an original is better if for nothing else, sentimental reasons: Knowing that the creative hands of the artist had touched the canvas and applied the paint on it gives a frisson of pleasure and makes of the painting a little of a precious artifact. However, if I had in my possession a good forgery I would enjoy it almost as much and revel in the knowledge that another artist (albeit a forger) had devoted so much time to learn about the artist he was copying, study the way he prepared the canvas, sketched out the design, applied colour, wove the brushstrokes and swirled the palette knife so that even the experts were fooled. We live in an age of duplication (i.e. “art prints”, cheap factory made “originals” and dubious “modern art” that is produced to a formula), so a forged canvas of a great artist of the past seems to me to be a good way to enjoy truly great art. Which raises another thorny topic, what makes art “great”?

How do you feel about forgeries? I guess the main objection to a forgery is that is made in order to profit from it by defrauding the person who buys it in the belief that it is genuine. Financial considerations aside, is a good forgery an imitation? If a copy were made for the love of art and an artist, and not for ill-gotten profit, is it still art?

1 comment:

  1. Jonathon Keats wrote about famous art forgeries in "Forged: Why Fakes are the Great Art of Our Age" (Oxford UP 2013). He noted that the Fauvism of Derain and Matisse, which portrayed the world in feverishly unrealistic colours, captured the disquieting intensity of everyday experience. Questioning, provoking, agitating, modern! Ditto feverish German Expressionist art.

    Art forgery provokes further anxiety! When the important galleries’ systems of authentication fail, the process calls into question the integrity of traditional lines of authority. Who can we trust?

    So even if good art forgeries provoke us to ask agitating questions about us and our world, we are on the losing side. The forgeries cannot be trusted of course, but now we doubt everything, even things that we used to have faith in.

    Thanks for the link
    Have a look at "German Expressionist art - fakes!"