A museum dedicated to Catalan painter Étienne Terrus in his hometown of Elne in Southern France has discovered that 82 of the paintings in their collection are actually counterfeit reproductions. Sabotage!
NPR reports that the Terrus museum had invited guest curator Eric Forcada help celebrate its grand reopening after a $365,000 renovation. While everyone was hoping that Forcada would bring some extra buzz to the affair, they were not prepared for his observation that a huge portion of the collection was fake:
Forcada, the art historian who first sounded the alarm, noticed buildings that appear in some of the paintings didn’t actually exist in Terrus’ time. One counterfeit painting portrays a building constructed in 1958. Terrus died in 1922.
The town spent an estimated $200,000 over 20 years acquiring the works. In some cases, the museum was easily fooled.
“There are several types of fakes in the collection,” Forcada says in translation. “There are some that were taken and just signed posteriorly with Terrus’ name, and others that were made expressly to look like Terrus’ work.”
The money for the renovation and collection was raised in part by the Friends of the Terrus Museum, whose president, Marthe-Marie Coderc, is embarrassed by the mix-up, stating that the organization was a “little naive” to not have investigated the painting’s origins more deeply. But the Friends of the Terrus Museum shouldn’t beat themselves up too much: It is estimated that 20 percent of paintings held at art institutions are forgeries. (The real versions are in Ansel Elgort’s storage locker.)
Art critics hope that the Terrus case could lead to a big reckoning for forgers. Police have seized the fakes and opened an investigation, suspecting there’s some sort of faux-painting syndicate in southern France. If they’d like any volunteers to go undercover, say, on a yacht in Cannes, I boldly volunteer.