The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

August 25, 2016

August 25, 2010

"On the morning of August 25, 2010, in the biggest operation that Berlin’s art-fraud division has ever conducted, police teams swept across Germany."

This begins a Vanity Fair article about Wolfgang Beltracchi, and the means by which a notorious art forger was sent to prison. Art forgery demands a set of skills which are themselves rare, and a certain genius. In Beltracchi's case:

In French and German gallery exposition catalogues dating from the 1910s and 1920s, he searched for paintings considered forever lost, ones whose images had never been replicated and reprinted. Since only titles existed, Beltracchi would produce counterfeits according to the title......But he also understood that artworks were judged on their provenance; he needed to ensure that each painting’s backstory and history of ownership checked out.

His solution? Inventing the art collection of the Cologne factory owner Werner Jägers, the grandfather of his wife. He stamped Sammlung Werner Jaeger Koeln (“Collection of Werner Jägers”) on the backs of his paintings. He also affixed forged collection stamps from Galerie Flechtheim, one of the most important Modernist dealers during the Weimar period....

Beltracchi even photographed his wife posing as her grandmother, with period furniture and his forgeries hanging on the wall, since an archival photograph is the Holy Grail of provenance documentation. Increasingly, the Sammlung Werner Jägers Koeln stamp was enough to validate any work on the German art market.

Our forger finally confessed to 14 specific works faked, but he also said he had done a lot more. One canvas he did and sold as the work of Max Pechstein, was "Reclining Nude with Cat".

Beltracchi and his wife wound up in prison, but the setting was such that he was free to leave during the daytime and go to a job. After a few years they were back together, and if I recall, left to live on an island. Books and films have resulted from his story, though the real story seems to be that he is not sorry at all.

In conclusion we have this scary perspective from art experts:

At the center of every major forgery scandal of the last century stands someone... who not only could produce a very convincing fake, but who also understood how to corrupt the very systems of knowledge the art world uses to determine attributions and authenticity.

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