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Faux “Faun”: Is It Museums’ Grandest Goof Since Van Meegeren?

Martin Gayford‘s comments yesterday in Bloomberg notwithstanding, the Art Institute of Chicago’s acquisition of the faux “Faun”, purported to be by Gauguin, was not the biggest museum acquisition gaffe “since the days of the ingenious Dutchman Han van Meegeren,” who manufactured “Vermeers” in the 1940s.
At least as high-profile and as embarrassing was the Cleveland Museum’s celebrated acquisition of a “Grünewald” depiction of St. Catherine of Alexandria, purchased in 1974 as in important lost work, but three years later revealed to be a 20th-century forgery. The dealer who sold it to Cleveland refunded the price, mostly in cash and partly in art.
Sometimes wanting it to be so makes it so…at least for a while. I like the comment by veteran museum director Samuel Sachs II, who presented a major “Fakes and Forgeries” show many years ago as director of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts:
The best forgeries are those that haven’t been discovered yet.

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