July 22, 2010

They're All Frauds

I took a student to see the Close Examinations: Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries exhibit at the National Gallery today.

It confirmed a long-held theory of mine.

Over the years, I've visited a number of museums in a number of cities on a number of continents (and in the UK as well; we really can't count knifecrime island as a continent, can we?). In several of these institutions, I've seen paintings where I say to myself, "Self, that looks really familiar. Haven't I seen that somewhere before?"

After spending a couple hours looking at forgeries and reproductions and attribution errors, it's clear to me that, as I have long suspected, 9 out of 10 paintings in museums are copies of each other and we poor unsuspecting patrons who know very little (if the curators can't figure out the fakes, how are the punters supposed to?) just smile and say, "Oh, yes, that's beautiful, isn't it?"

Overheard, between two old dowagers, fresh from the wig dressers, with clipped accents straight out of Brief Encounter:

"If they do find out it's a forgery, won't it reduce the value?"

"Oh yes. Indubitably ."

"What a shame."

"Still, it's a lovely piece."

"I doubt the curator thinks so."

I do hope they had a flask of gin in their handbag.