The prospect of paying to see a collection of fakes would be enough to put most art lovers off their Botticelli. However, the National Gallery is preparing just that. In a bold move it is pushing ahead with an exhibition aimed at uncovering the seldom told truths of faux masterpieces within the art world (including cases of mistaken identity), having itself been duped on several occasions.
Forged paintings originally believed to have been created by, among others, Holbein and Dürer will count among the exhibited works. Whether or not this will encourage a spate of similar offerings by other galleries in the pursuit of transparency is another matter. What’s certain is that, as technology improves and our ability to decipher the style of a Michelangelo from a Granacci becomes more refined, more fake works will be uncovered. In 100 years an estimated 20% of all museum works may well be attributed to a different artist.
As well as the financial implications for curators and dealers, will the art lover be more suspicious, faced with the supposed authentic artefact? Perhaps, though, few works of art bear an exact resemblance to their early beginnings. The passage of time inevitably alters the colouring, as does exposure to light. Even painstaking restoration is rarely able to faithfully recapture the nuances of a masterpiece’s early days, particularly for older works where the colours are no longer available. So what’s real?
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010