Fakes everywhere?

July 8 2012

Image of Fakes everywhere?

Picture: Mail/St Petersburg Times

There were two fake stories over the weekend, one relating to a fake Picasso offered for sale in Spain, the other the memoirs of a claimed 'master forger' in the US called Ken Perenyi. The latter is the most interesting story, and in The Observer today, Dalya Alberge revealed some of Perenyi's techniques:

Perenyi's specialities included British sporting and marine paintings of the 18th and 19th centuries. He concentrated on the work of well-known but second-rank artists, believing that the output of the greatest masters is too fully documented. Dealers were often told he had found a picture in a relative's attic or spotted it in a car boot sale.

Perhaps Perenyi's proudest moment came when a forgery of Ruby Throats with Apple Blossoms, by the American 19th-century artist Martin Johnson Heade, made the front page of a national newspaper and was heralded as a major "discovery". It later fetched nearly $100,000 at auction in New York.

The New York auction house is not mentioned by name, but I think it must have been Christie's. A picture of the same title was sold in New York in March 1993, and was described as a new discovery. The cataloguing ran thus:

This painting is one of a group of paintings of ruby-throated hummingbirds that Heade painted shortly after his trip to Brazil in 1863-64. According to a letter dated January 27, 1993 from Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., it relates most closely to Ruby Throat of North America of 1865 (Stebbins, p. 230, no. 93), and appears to be a variant of the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird in the Gems of Brazil series, now in the Manoogian Collection.

The painting was recently found in Devon, England, suggesting that it may have been painted circa 1865, while Heade was still in London pursuing the Gems of Brazil project. Otherwise, according to Stebbins, it would have been painted in the following year or two after Heade had returned to New York.

This painting will be included in Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr.'s forthcoming revised catalogue raisonne of the artist's work.

Mr Perenyi has a book to sell, so the forgery revelations must come in handy. But it's interesting to note that in an interview in 2004 he claimed to be as clean as a whistle, saying:

Although he makes his living by painting, he says the money isn't what drives him. [...]

Perenyi says that although his paintings are meant to be persuasive copies, he doesn't intend to pass them off as the real thing. "Everything is sold as a modern work of art. That's what it says on my receipt," said Perenyi, who signs his own name to the back of each work.

In 2004, Perenyi claimed to have painted between 2-3,000 pictures. So Presumably there must be quite a few fakes still out there. But I like to think he wouldn't have fooled me with that dodgy Lely, above.

Update - a reader writes:

I was once shown a painting after the Phillips of Wellington. It was under old glass and looked like a so-so copy. The medals were garbled, but the old frame and general attic dirtiness were convincing.

I was asked my opinion about it, and started 'knowledgeably' explaining that the Golden Fleece was misunderstood, but it looked C19th, the labels on the back... before the grinning local hands told me it had come from China last week.

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