Fakes vs copies

Vienna : Museum of Art Fakes by Preeti Verma Lal

Fakes vs copies

“You should know the difference between a copy and a fake”. I was about to run down the stairs of Vienna’s Fälschermuseum (Museum of Art Fakes) when a lady in black at Museum’s front desk stopped me with an alert.

Legit, I mumbled. In the unusual museum that hangs many a frame of fakes and forgeries, I could not fake knowing fake. I walked down the immaculate staircase, ignored the wooden easel, a fake Picasso drawing and stared at a framed printed note with Basics in bold.

Copy: A copy of an existing work without the reference that it is original. But the original painter must be dead for at least 70 years. A copy is not a forgery!

Fake/forgery: A copy of an existing work with the wrong reference it is original. Or, a work which was painted in the styles of the artist with the wrong reference (for example, false signature) it is an original of the artist.

So, a copy is not a essentially fake. And a fake could be counterfeiting, forgery. Packed with basics, I looked askance at the art nailed in the low-ceilinged former woodwork manufacturing unit. I first noticed Judith I. Originally titled Judith and the Head of Holofernes, the 33x17 inch oil on canvas painted by Gustav Klimt in 1901. I fixed my gaze at Judith. There was something amiss.

A few hours ago, I had seen the original Judith I in Vienna’s Belvedere Palace. That Judith was voluptuous, sensual, her lips parted in seduction and rebellion. But this Judith was languid, the gold not so lustrous and the arm a tad shorter. Truth is I did not notice the arm; Jeannette Koller, the guide, did.

An art lover and textile designer, Koller knows the master forgers. Edgar Mrugalla, Han van Meegeren, Konrad Kujau, Lothar Malskat and the fabled tale of Michaelangelo who, as a student, was given the task of copying a painting. It was so good that he switched them, submitting the original as his copy. This Museum is all about the fakes. It even owes its beginning to a master forger.

A chance encounter with art forger Edgar Mrugalla prompted the curiosity of Diane Grobe and Christian Rastner, Museum’s founders, about the spectacular world of art fraud. Mrugulla was no ordinary forger. He made more than 2,500 fakes and came clean in 1987, providing the German police with a 167-page document detailing how he had used coffee, tea and sun to make the sketches and paintings look far older than they are.

The Museum was opened in November 2005 and now has nearly 80 fakes and master copies. On one wall is an identical forgery of Otto Muller’s (1874-1930) lithograph Self Portrait of Model and Mask (1921/22) by Mrugalla which is currently priced at 14,000 Euros (nearly Rs 11 lakhs). On another wall hangs the identical forgery (colour lithograph) by Tony Treto after Marc Chagall’s (1887-1985) Bouquet Sur La Ville. A couple of Picasso fakes stand near a master copy of  Raffael’s (1483-1520) Madonna of Belvedere, an oil on wood painting and Egon Schiele’s black chalk on paper Maria Steiner (1918) which was master copied by Diana. 

However, nothing beats the audacity of Konrad Kujau (1938-2000), the infamous creator of the fake Hitler Diaries. The manager of a rather unsuccessful cleaning company in Stuttgart who bought and sold Nazi memorabilia, Kujau created a series of  60 volumes of journals purportedly written by Adolf Hitler which he forged between 1981 and 1983.

After ‘writing’ the diary, Kujau sprinkled tea over the pages and bashed the diaries against his desk to give them an aged look. In 1983, West German news magazine Stern purchased the diaries for $3.7 million and announced the acquisition under the headline ‘Scoop of the Century’. Kujau’s forgery was discovered and Hitler Diaries gathered unprecedented infamy. Much later, a woman claiming to be Kujau’s great-niece started selling supposed ‘original fakes’ of Hitler Diaries. For faking a fake, she was hauled and arrested in 2010. The Museum of Art Fakes has a couple of the forged Diaries which is still considered one of the most audacious journalistic hoaxes ever attempted.

In Vienna’s Museum of Art Fakes, my perception of real and fake were getting addled. A few hours ago, inside the ornate Belvedere Palace I had gaped at the original art work by Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn and Edvard Munch Few hours later, I was gawking at the fakes in a former woodwork manufacturing unit. I stood in front of Rembrandt’s Self Portrait with Flat Cap faked by Mrugulla and remembered what the painter had said: “A painting is complete when it has the shadows of a god”. In the Museum of Fakes, there was no shadow of god. Art was not real. It was fake.

(OPTIONAL)Fact file:

Lowengasse 28, Vienna

Timing: Tuesday-Sunday: 10am to 5pm

Ticket: Adults: 5.70 Euros; Children (11-18 years): 3.20 Euros

Website: http://www.faelschermuseum.com

Duping the Nazi bigwig

Master forger Han van Meegeren became notorious for faking Johannes Vermeer’s paintings. Often touted as the boldest modern forger of Old Masters, Meegeren was so brazen that he sold his forged version of Vermeer’s Christ and the Adulteress for an astronomical sum to Hermann Goering, the Nazi bigwig. Story is that, in 1943, Goering swapped 137 paintings from his largely ill-gotten collection for a van Meegeren Vermeer. Later, Meegeren was put on trial as a collaborator for selling Dutch heritage to the enemy, and had to fake another Vermeer under the supervision of a committee of experts to prove that he had duped Goering.




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