Arts and Entertainment

Mais non! A forgery? Impossible! Check out the forgery show at the Freeland Library in February

”Red House,” by Freeland artist Rebecca Collins is a copy of a painting by Lawren Harris.  - Photo courtesy of Rebecca Collins
”Red House,” by Freeland artist Rebecca Collins is a copy of a painting by Lawren Harris.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Rebecca Collins

He learned how to shoot enemy aircraft out of the sky while earning his ace wings in World War I. He figured out how to schoomze with Adolph Hilter to become the number-two man in the Nazi regime.

And yet, he couldn’t spot a fake painting.

In one of the world’s most famous forgery incidents, Hermann Göring was conned by Dutch painter Han van Meegeren after World War II. Considered one of the most brilliant forgers of all time, van Meegeren sold a copy of a masterpiece by the famous Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer to Göring as a “Dutch national treasure” for a small fortune.

Art forgery is the act of creating, and in some cases selling, works of art that are falsely attributed to someone else, usually a famous artist. The crime persists today, and is tempting mainly because it so lucrative. In 2010, panic spread through the art world following the discovery of forgeries among major 20th-century paintings sold in recent years by leading auctioneers and dealers worldwide, including Christie’s of London.

What makes forgery in art so interesting is the fact that the skill required to dupe experts is impressive, and anyone who can do it inserts a heady dose of intrigue into the international art world.

Such intrigue captured the attention of Ralph Hastings. The founder of the Froggwell Cultural Institute in Freeland was visiting Amsterdam in 2000 when he purchased a painting that was reported to be a forgery of a prominent Dutch artist of the 1860s.

“It was thought to have been painted to sell to the occupying Germans during the war in the 1930s,” Hastings said. “This sparked my fascination with forgeries.”

In 2009, Hastings organized a show of forgeries. He invited 25 local artists to make copies of paintings they admired and to offer these for sale at a weekend show held at his home. The only requirement was that the original artist must be dead.

Now Hastings presents regular Froggwell forgery shows. The next show opens at the Freeland Library on Tuesday, Feb. 1 and runs through the month. The show will include about 15 “forgeries” by local artists Freeland artist Rebecca Collins has been a contributor to the forgery shows from the start, and will take part in the library exhibit.

“I try to pick paintings to forge that are already in a style I like,” Collins said.

Indeed, past forgeries by Collins have included the paintings of Lawren Harris, such as “Red House” and “January Thaw,” that resemble the bold colors and broad, bold character of Collins’ own work.

Collins said Harris was an early influence.

“I was introduced to the Canadian Group of Seven, of which Harris is one, when I lived in Toronto, Canada. They have a similar popular status as the French Impressionists do for Americans,” Collins said.

For the current show, Collins challenged herself to copy some of those French Impressionists, including Edgar Degas’ “After the Bath,” and Pierre Auguste Renoir’s “Algerian Girl.” With these paintings, she said, the challenge is in the colors.

“Sometimes I run into colors that I would not have chosen, like in Degas’ bather that I’m working on now,” Collins said. “Degas used a lot of orange in this painting, and orange is my least favorite color.”

The challenges of being a forger extend beyond using colors not normally on one’s palette. There are many things to consider when reproducing the work of a master.

Anne Belov, local artist and contributing forger, will present “What Makes Great Art Great?” at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 20 at the Freeland Library.

At the presentation, which is sponsored by the Friends of the Freeland Library, Belov will discuss some notable past and present forgers and how copying master works can teach both experienced and beginning artists the painting techniques that are the building blocks of art. She will use the paintings on exhibit to illustrate the elements to look for in interpreting how a painting is constructed, including color, edges, composition and value. For non-painters, Belov hopes to increase their appreciation of art.

The Froggwell Forgery Show will be available for viewing during regular library hours. Visit the library’s website with a click here or call 331-7323 for more info.

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