Attribution is one of the most interesting subjects in art, if you ask me. A lot of paintings are old and sketchily documented. Their provenance is up for debate. Many great artists didn’t sign their work or have handy magazine profiles written about them. So much has been forgotten and so much that has survived has been restored over time and lost much of its context. So you have a painting with few clues. What do you do?
There’s another muddying factor, of course, and that’s forgery. With the arrival of an art museum in Animal Crossing this week – and a sudden outpouring of lavish canvases with little documentation – I’ve been thinking of one of the strangest stories of art forgery I’ve ever heard. It’s a story about a French painter called Etienne Terrus and a gallery devoted to his work. Or so everyone thought until 2018.
The Etienne Terrus Museum is situated in Elne, a small French community in Southern France. According to a Guardian piece from the 30th April, 2018, an acquisition of new works brought with it an art historian to take a look at the collection, and lead to the discovery that “nearly 60% of the entire collection was fake.”