See Fakes and Forgeries at the Taft Museum of Art

Although forged artwork may seem invaluable, it tells a compelling story as this upcoming Taft exhibit shows.
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Many objects of value in society have their false counterparts. Designer handbags have their replicas and counterfeit bills still make their way into cash registers. So, why wouldn’t priceless pieces of art be any different?

“Fakes, Forgeries and Followers in the Taft Collection,” coming to the Taft Museum of Art Oct. 22 to Feb. 5, dives into the history of phony art and the history of art authentication.

The collection of fake and forged pieces of art at the Taft are normally kept behind closed doors. Soon, they will be pulled out and put on display so viewers can learn how the authentication of art has changed over the years.

Imitator of Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669), Man Leaning on a Windowsill, probably early 1700s, oil on canvas. Taft Museum of Art, Bequest of Louise Taft Semple, 1962.1

There are 14 objects in the show, ranging from paintings to furniture. Charles and Anna Taft purchased most of these works between 1900 and 1920, thinking—or being led to believe—that they were authentic.

It has been decades since an exhibit like this has been on display in the Greater Cincinnati area. Most of these pieces themselves haven’t been seen in over 30 years.

“The works in this exhibition are typically kept in storage because of their status,” says Tamera Muente, Curator at the Taft Museum of Art. “The last time the Taft highlighted these works was in the 1990s. This is a great chance to see them.”

Casket with the Judgment of Paris, about 1880, Germany, gilded copper and silver mounted on wooden casket, the ivory carvings after reliefs by Ignaz Elhafen (Austrian, 1658–1715) and Antonio Leoni (Italian, active 1704–1716). Taft Museum of Art, Bequest of Charles Phelps Taft and Anna Sinton Taft, 1931.329

Photograph courtesy Taft Museum of Art

The scientific methods at our disposal in recent years have improved the ability to determine the authenticity of art. The Taft Museum of Art partners with specialists, scientists and conservators to analyze the works in their collections. Visitors can learn about this scientific process of art authentication and follow along as the artworks were proven to not be what they first seemed.

“Methods like x-ray fluorescence and Raman spectroscopy examine the minerals and elements present in the paint surface,” says Muente. “If there are modern pigments detected, it’s a tip off that work was done to the painting or it’s a work that was made more recently.”

Follower of Francisco de Goya (Spanish, 1746–1828), Joaquin Rodriquez (Costillares), mid-to-late 1800s, oil on canvas. Taft Museum of Art, Bequest of Charles Phelps Taft and Anna Sinton Taft, 1931.393

Some of the highlighted pieces of this exhibit include fakes of portraits thought to be painted by Rembrandt van Rijn. Visitors can also see objects such as the Casket with the Judgement of Paris, with ivory carvings that were initially thought to be done by Ignaz Elhafen but later found to be fake. A set of porcelain vases were thought to be created in China in the 1700s, but were later found to be made in France a century later.

To Muente, discovering the stories behind these works of art and where they came from is just as interesting as the works themselves. She feels that so much can happen during the lifetime of a piece of art, and that’s what makes this exhibit unique.

“While some of the works are probably forgeries, meaning they were intended to deceive, other times there might be a work that the artist had no ill intent,” says Muente. “Then there’s just cases of mistaken identity. Each object has its own history and life, and that’s pretty interesting.”

Fakes, Forgeries and Followers in the Taft Collection will be on display at the Taft Museum of Art October 22 to February 5.

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