Friday, January 23, 2015

Drawn to Trouble: Confessions of a Master Forger

By Eric Hebborn

Whatever a person may say about Eric Hebborn, it must be admitted that the man was talented. In other respects, though, Hebborn was lacking. Lacking in morals, lacking in the ability to admit his wrong-doings and lacking in repentance. Never does he admit in this book that he was wrong to do what he did. He even refuses to admit what he did was criminal, saying in response to that accusation, "Not a bit of it. There is nothing criminal in making a drawing in any style one wishes, nor is there anything criminal about asking an expert what he thinks of it."
Hebborn was born of humble origins and spent much of his youth in foster care. But his basic artist ability gained him access to respected institutes of art. He attended the Royal Academy of Arts in Great Britain and won the Rome Prize, studying for two years in Italy. But he learned his less legitimate skills while working for an art restorer in Britain. Art works that have been damaged can be skillfully restored by an expert to such a degree that the restoration is nearly undetectable. (Take note, you dolts who did such a poor job of reattaching King Tut's beard.) It was while working there that Hebborn was introduced to the idea of, to quote Wikipedia, '"restoring" paintings on entirely blank canvases.'
 While he criticizes his earliest efforts at producing fakes, he is still quite gleeful that his even his early fakes fooled the experts. After he moved permanently to Italy, he continued to produce works of art done solely to fool the experts into labeling these works as genuine old masters. Eventually, though, one expert noticed that two drawings done by two "different" artists were on similar paper and Hebborn was exposed and all the works that had been handled by him and his Italian gallery came to be suspect.
But that didn't stop his production of "old masters." Although he no longer had front door access to art dealers, he had plenty of back door access, as dealers continued to contact him, looking for "old masters" they could pass off as the real deal. And this where Hebborn places the onus, on the dealers who label iffy works as genuine.

You don't have to be an art maven to enjoy this memoir. I know practically nothing about art and yet I found this story to be quite well worth the read. Most of the artists that Hebborn faked I have never heard of, people like Gianbattista Tiepolo, Giandomenico Tiepolo, Palma il Giovane, Guercino, Vanvitelli, and Castiglione. But reading about the hidden world of art forgery, art dealers and art experts was interesting and informative. I guess it really is all a matter of

Hebborn is deceased now. At the end of the book he admits he is in poor health due to over-indulgence. But he didn't die because of his health, he was murdered, bashed in the head in the street in 1996. He was 61 years old. As far as I was able to find out, his murder is unsolved.

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