Friday, February 27, 2015

Another Fake Rockwell

Almost a decade ago, Rockwell's "Breaking Home Ties" was found in the wall of an old house in Vermont, where it had been hidden for many years.  A copy--a forgery--had been hanging in the Norman Rockwell Museum.

Interesting story.  You can get the details from the New York Times and, more importantly, from John Howard Sanden.  Sanden saw the forgery in the museum for what it was.

Why didn't anyone else?  I mean, until the orginal was discovered?  Maybe nobody was looking all that carefully.

It seems it's happened again.  Twenty years ago, a couple bought a "Norman Rockwell" painting from a gallery in New York.  This was apparently a pretty well researched purchase--in addition to the gallery's own authentication, the couple got a second appraisal, and were told that everything looked good.

But it didn't.  Look good, I mean.  It looked bad:

"New York Fine Art Appraisers examined the painting, and the findings were not good. The appraisal report noted that the painting is not an 'original oil on canvas by Norman Rockwell.' Instead it was determined to be an illustration for a Mobil Oil advertisement by Connecticut and Massachusetts illustrator and commercial artist Harold Anderson (1894-1973), titled Patching Pants. Worse, the report noted that the 'Rockwell signature was painted over the signature of the original artist and that this alteration is (and should have been) open and obvious to any appraiser....'"

An obvious alteration.  Why was this missed the first time around?  Fraud?  Or mere negligence?  The couple has filed suit, although both of the original appraisers are now dead.  I'll keep an eye on the case.

The thing is, even beyond the apparently sloppy forgery of the signature, Harold Anderson's pictures don't look all that much like Rockwell's.  Less caricature, for one thing, but different in color and composition.

Still, in straight up advertising images (which "Patching Pants" apparently is) Rockwell often did tone down the caricature and paint more bland and conventional stuff.  So perhaps the mistake isn't crazy.  And at any rate, a forged "Breaking Home Ties" hung in the very center of Norman Rockwell appreciation for years.  So apparently honest mistakes can be made.

Of course, art forgery has always been big business, and there have been far more surprising cases than these Rockwells.  When you consider the case of "Breaking Home Ties," you have to take into account the fact that the painting's provenance was flawless.  That will trump a lot of doubts about a painting's authenticity.  But Sanden wasn't fooled.  Why not?

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