Thursday, November 26, 2009

Portrait of the Artist as a Reprobate

Eric Hebborn (1934-1996)
as he portrayed himself in 1952

And here's how he earned his living
(much to the discomfort
of the reputable dealers
and the British Museum who
eventually bought this drawing
as if it were by Van Dyck.)

He was a superior mimic.

Not only could he make a great copy of historical work,
as he did with that "Corot" in my last post
(similar to what Classical musicians do when they perform),

But he could compose very good drawings
in the manner of other artists.

his "discoveries"
were weak, though passable.
(which would describe 90% of the Old Master drawings
that I've ever seen on exhibit)

But, incredibly enough,
sometimes he could really bring it off.

I've seen a lot of Cambiaso drawings in exhibits,
and many of them are not as good as this one.

He was also a pretty good sculptor.

If you're looking for it,
perhaps you can feel
the 20th Century
in his phony drawings.
(especially that "Van Dyck")

There's a kind of hopeless, despairing aggression,
like you might in Francis Bacon,
his contemporary.

But this poor lowlife
could just not imagine himself
as an honest man,
and as his autobiography tells us,
he took great pleasure
in fooling and cheating those
who might claim to be his betters.

Though, it must be noted,
that he never spent a day in jail,
indeed, legal charges were never brought against him,
allowing him, like Richard Nixon, to claim
"I am not a crook"

He even quotes Gombrich's "Art and Illusion":

"Logicians tell us, and they are not people who can be easily gainsaid, that the terms 'true' and 'false' can only be applied to statements, propositions. And whatever may be the usage of critical parlance, a picture is never a statement in that sense of the term. It can no more be true or false than a picture can be blue or green. Much confusion has been caused in aesthetics by ignoring this simple fact."

He spent the last 30 years of his life
living in Rome,
continuing to sell drawings which dealers
could then re-sell as the drawings of various old masters,
even after he had been "unmasked" in 1978.

Where, eventually,
he was found face down in an alley
with his head bashed in.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Which is Fake?

One of these drawings is "The Portrait of Henri Leroy"
by Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot,
in the collection of the
Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University

The other is a copy of same,
done by the notorious forger,
Eric Hebborn,
whose story has been recently told
by philosopher Denis Dutton
in his popular book, "The Art Instinct"

How can one tell the difference?

As Hebborn writes in his own book, "Drawn to Trouble",
"seek the hesitant line of the copyist,
as opposed to the strong, sure line of Corot"

The drawing in the Fogg collection
may be found reproduced in the book,
"Modern Prints and Drawings" by Paul J. Sachs.

Beneath which, Sachs has written:

"I illustrate his genius in black and white not by one of his romantic etched landscapes, but by this serious, moving pencil portrait, a drawing in which there is a complete absence of any calligraphic trick; a drawing which renders a mood miraculously... To appreciate this drawing there is no need to consult x-ray or any other modern scientific aids often used to bolster insensitive vision. However, with ultra-violet light... one can read an inscription on the reverse of the blue mount which enframes the drawing. The sentence not only identifies the little sitter but expresses the wish that the drawing remain in the family, never to be sold"

So, which one is fake?

Hebborn shows them side-by-side
in his book,
and eventually identifies
the top one as the original,
as you notice

"how poor my version is, how faulty the construction, how harsh the modeling, and all sorts of ghastly errors which escaped your notice before"

he also suggests that
you locate a copy of the Sachs book,
just to make sure.

Which I did.
(it's in the River Forest Library)

and lo and behold,
but the second drawing
is the one in the Fogg.

It's the first drawing,
the stronger one,
which is the fake.

that doesn't mean
that the other one is not a fake as well.

I would suspect that the owners of the original
kept their word about never selling it,
and sold a copy of it instead.

And when you look again at the first,
after looking at the rest of Hebborn's work,
you can see
how it expresses his rather vigorous
visual character
just like many of his other drawings.
(which I will show in the next post)

(note: another comparison of Fake/not-Fake
is shown here
regarding a "Piranesi" that has proven quite embarrassing
for a Danish art museum. But here, you may notice
that the Fake feels looser, less angular, and more whimsical than the original)