F is for fake – and fortune

| March 26, 2021

Painters of pictures throughout the ages have generally had hard lives. Often, it is only after they have died that their works had found recognition and fame. Paintings have been sold for millions of dollars, stolen and sold to rich for their own ‘enjoyment’. One is forced to wonder what that enjoyment entails.

If the painting is placed in a secure environment like a bank vault where no-one can view it without difficulty, or in a cellar where the owner can see it without having to share it with his friends because of its lack of provenance (i.e. stolen) then where is the satisfaction?

Historically, paintings have been forged and sold for high prices. When caught, the forgers have been jailed.

Surely, if a painting is so attractive that people place a high price on it, then it is worth that price. In that case, if a forger produces a copy which fools the experts, then it, too is worth the same amount. If not, then this means that the price is associated with the kudos of ownership associated with a famous artist and not with the intrinsic value of the painting itself.

I would suggest that private owners of paintings of great value appreciate their ownership more on its ability to indicate wealth that on their appreciation of great art.

If we agree that forgers of paintings should be treated in the same way as forgers of data or objects designed to swindle people, then surely we are missing the point. A good forger, while possibly not having the same expertise as the original artist, is an artist in his own right.

If a picture by van Gogh gives enjoyment to a lot of people, why can’t a good copy do the same? I agree that a copy can never be as attractive as an original, but would prefer copies in my home simply because I do not wish to attract thieves.

This is not to suggest that forgers should not be punished, only that the punishment should be for misleading a buyer, not for the act of copying. It is the concept of ownership and all that that entails which entices forgers to claim originality, not the forgery itself.