Imitation is the Highest Form of Flattery | Forged Art

To even the most trained eye, it is not a simple task to identify authentic art from its counterfeit counterparts.  Since before the Classical period, Copy art is world-wide a multi-million dollar industry, and as such has grown in demand and concern tremendously.

The “art of forgery”, so to speak, dates back farther than two thousand years when Roman sculptors began recreating Greek sculptures with the transparent understanding that they were imitations.  Nonetheless, buyers were pleased with the forged art, placing value in its aesthetic beauty or historical significance, rather than in its genuineness.  In fact, few buyers actually cared about the identity of the artist at all!

During the Renaissance, it was common for professional painters to take on apprentices who would practice techniques by copying the style and works of the master.  If they were passable, the master would sell the works as payment to the student for a job well done.  Imitation is after all, the highest form of flattery.  Some of these apprentice works would be erroneously credited to the master.

Succeeding the Renaissance period, there was a large growth in desire for art in the home of the middle-class citizen.  As the 14th century neared its end, Roman statues were displaced in Italy as art slowly became a commercial commodity.  As this upsurge of the value of art grew and changed, the public became more interested in placing value on it by identifying the artisan.  To help identify their works, artists began marking them.  Thus, in a place where the demand for certain popular or limited works began to exceed the attainable supply, forged art was born.

Unknown Italian forger 1920's wormholes created with drill & Virgin's robe was painted using Prussian Blue, a pigment not invented until the 18th century.

Unknown Italian forger 1920’s wormholes created with drill & Virgin’s robe was painted using Prussian Blue, a pigment not invented until the 18th century.

While at the time of the 16th century, imitating the talents of other artists was looked down upon, the monetary rewards often outweighed the stigma of the fraudulent artist.  In 1496, Michelangelo created a sleeping Cupid figure, treating it so that it appeared to be much more antiquated – essentially, forging art.  It was sold to dealer, Baldassare del Milanese, who then sold it to Cardinal Riario, who then, upon finding it was a fraud, demanded his money back!  It was supposedly destroyed in the great fire in the Palace of Whitehall, London.

A lot has changed since then, as in modern society, forged art is causing a large upheaval in the artistic community while fostering distrust among buyers.  As the populous’ perception of art changes, so does the attributed value.  Today artists like Picasso, Salvador Dali and Matisse are favored targets of forgery.  Like Michelangelo’s Cupid, forged art is usually sold to a dealer or art gallery, who then distributes the art to unsuspecting consumers.  For Art and antique collectors, the risk of attaining forged art is about as high as the price-tag.  In fact, German propaganda during the occupation led to the selling of the highest price Cezanne at the Paris auction house Drouot, which turned out to be a fake!

Ellingten church used by 1945 US forces storing Nazi-looted art. BBC

Ellingten church used by 1945 US forces storing Nazi-looted art.

Though some buyers still attain knowingly forged art for its aesthetics and affordability, the practice of forgery is widely disdained by collectors today.  Though the industry is ever-changing, experts worry that forged art is destroying a sense of trustworthiness and confidence in the evolving art world, which could have detrimental impacts on the way we view and value art.  Huge retailers such as New York’s oldest gallery, Knoedler & Company have been dismantled due to competitors offering forged art at half the price.  With so many hustlers in on this profitable scheme, from artists to greedy sellers and scholars paid to keep their mouths shut, who can be trusted?

When purchasing authentic art, it is important to go through acclaimed dealers and local art stores who practice ethical business.  When shopping online, especially when going through Ebay, there are some things to be wary of.  Determining whether a work of art is authentic or counterfeit is not easy.  While some websites offer a warranty or seller guarantee, Ebay lacks a certain amount of quality control and takes no accountability in regards to authenticity, accuracy or condition.  Because of Ebay’s protection policies, it is a breeding ground for deceptive sellers who make a living off of counterfeit art.  So if you get stuck with a fake, it’s a long and difficult process to return it.

If a deal is too good to be true, it might be!

How Do Halftones Work?

If you look closely at old advertisements from vintage magazines, you will notice something interesting: the image is comprised of tiny dots of different colors. The tiny dots trick the eye into seeing varying tones of colors when really there are only limited colors of dots. For instance, cyan dots on top of yellow dots create the illusion of the color green.

This is not pointillism we’re talking about. The dots are much too fine for that. But before widespread use of computers, the artist involved could not possibly have sat down and dotted each and every dot to make the image; that’s simply impossible. So how, exactly, were halftones created?

It all comes down to a photography technique. The invention of photography led to many different printing techniques, but it took artists a while to figure out the most efficient techniques. At first, artists tried copying photos in pen and ink or through woodcutting, but as you can guess, this was a time-heavy project.


Soon, photographers and artists discovered better methods. In the 1830’s, William Fox Talbot thought up a technique using gauze; he suggested projecting the photo through a screen. Doing so created a pattern of dots that could be photoengraved onto a printing plate. Perfecting the process took trial and error and the breaking of some expensive glass screens, but it was worth it to reach the half toning effect.

Of course, once digital methods took over, the traditional method of half toning was no longer needed. Digital imaging made image processing much, much easier.

Next time you see genuine vintage advertisements, take a closer look at their colors. If they were made with half toning, you will see small dots – sometimes perfectly round, sometimes not – that create the bigger picture through small details.



Graphic Design


The Fable Behind Willow Pattern Pottery

In simpler times, a romantic tale emerged. The story was set in China, but actually came from an English designer named Thomas Minton. The English often romanticized far-off, exotic places in the 18th and 19th century, so it only made sense that the tale would come around at that time.

Minton designed the now-iconic blue and white porcelain in 1790 and it has stayed in vogue ever since. The traditional willow pattern always features a willow tree and a bridge. The popular story behind willow pattern pieces was based on the design itself, rather than basing the design on an already existing story.


A traditional willow pattern plate. Photograph CC 3.0


The story goes like this (via Wikipedia):

“Once there was a wealthy Mandarin, who had a beautiful daughter (Koong-se). She had fallen in love with her father’s humble accounting assistant (Chang), angering her father. (It was inappropriate for them to marry due to their difference in social class.) He dismissed the young man and built a high fence around his house to keep the lovers apart. The Mandarin was planning for his daughter to marry a powerful Duke. The Duke arrived by boat to claim his bride, bearing a box of jewels as a gift. The wedding was to take place on the day the blossom fell from the willow tree.
On the eve of the daughter’s wedding to the Duke, the young accountant, disguised as a servant, slipped into the palace unnoticed. As the lovers escaped with the jewels, the alarm was raised. They ran over a bridge, chased by the Mandarin, whip in hand. They eventually escaped on the Duke’s ship to the safety of a secluded island, where they lived happily for years. But one day, the Duke learned of their refuge. Hungry for revenge, he sent soldiers, who captured the lovers and put them to death. The gods, moved by their plight, transformed the lovers into a pair of doves (possibly a later addition to the tale, since the birds do not appear on the earliest willow pattern plates).”

The style is so iconic that willow pattern pieces are often used in TV and film to imitate a classic 19th century setting. It’s truly a beautiful, traditional design that will doubtless stick around for a long, long time.

The Artist John Haymson

The artist John Haymson’s fascinating life fed into his amazing art.

Haymson was born in Vienna, Austra in 1902. It didn’t take him long to discover his love of art when at age five he drew a portrait of his tutor. He studied at the famous Vienna Academy of Fine Art and is best known for his watercolor pieces that show vibrant daily life. Some of his subjects include Venice, Italy, New Orleans, and Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.

Haymson also studied stage and costume design and had the privilege of working as a writer for Warner Brothers. Soon after that, he started a studio in Manhattan and his popularity as an artist skyrocketed.

Haymson has lectured on art at many colleges, and he has also led many college tours to Mexico and Europe.

$_57 (2)

We’re lucky enough to have a John Haymson piece in our possession. This signed piece is called “The Stock Exchange”, showing the Stock Exchange building in New York City. It’s the largest stock exchange in the world.

The building has also been the site of many notable economic events in history like the Wall Street crash of 1929 or the 1987 Black Tuesday.

This painting by Haymson shows his mastery of watercolor and showing how colorful and lively scenes of daily life can be.

If you’re interested in the painting, you can find it here!

Traveling with Art: Mount Fuji, Japan

What mountain could be better-known than Mount Fuji?


These hand-painted postcards featuring Mount Fuji have been created with care in an example of fine handiwork as testament to this famous icon of Japan.



Handpainted postcard showing the view from near Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan and is an active stratovolcano. It sits on Honshu Island, the most populated island of the country.


The first to climb Mount Fuji was a monk in 663, and the first foreigner, named Sir Rutherford Alcock, reached the summit in eight hours in 1868.


When Edo (which is now Tokyo) became the capital of Japan, people began noticing the mountain from the local Tokaido-road. But even before then, people had admired the beautiful mountain.



The Great Wave Off Kanagawa

The mountain has inspired artists, writers and poets for centuries. Perhaps the most famous art is Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji by Katsushika Hokusai. This set contains views of the mountain from different seasons and viewpoints, perhaps the most famous of which is The Great Wave off Kanagawa which was published between 1830 and 1833.


From as early as the 7th century, the mountain has been considered sacred. Today, shrines still sit at the base and on the ascent for practitioners of Shinto.



Art from the Brooklyn Museum, featuring Mount Fuji

Some scientists say that Fuji is due for another eruption soon, though the evidence for such a claim is shaky. The last eruption took place in 1707.


Today, Mount Fuji makes for a beautiful tourist destination, whether you’re climbing to the top or admiring from afar. And it’s a majestic view for all of the locals of Tokyo.


Have you seen Mount Fuji in person? Let us know in the comments!

The Face of Childhood: Age of Innocence by Sir Joshua Reynolds

It’s not the popular novel by Edith Wharton – in fact, the painting came first.

Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) painted many influential paintings in his time. His favoritism for the “Grand Style” of painting popularized a noble, metaphorical painting style that incorporated Renaissance and Baroque methods into portraiture. Reynolds trained under Thomas Hudson in London and, according to rumor, became the better artist, causing Hudson to become jealous and let him go from his study.

In this particular painting titled Age of Innocence, Reynolds used this Grand Style for character study of the little girl. He originally titled the painting a little girl, but an engraving of the same artwork in 1794 was named Age of Innocence. This was not Reynolds’ name – someone else chose the moniker, and it stuck. The public received the painting with high praise.

A reproduction of Age of Innocence, available for purchase here. You can see the difference in coloring in the hands and the face, perhaps as a nod to the Strawberry Girl painting underneath the original.

A reproduction of Age of Innocence by J. Barba, available for purchase here. You can see the difference in coloring in the hands and the face, perhaps as a nod to the Strawberry Girl painting underneath the original.

Many years later, experts discovered that the original painting had been painted over Reynolds’ earlier A Strawberry Girl; the hands in Innocence even keep the original hands, unpainted over. This may have been because of issues with paint loss in Strawberry Girl; thankfully there are other versions of the painting by Reynolds, so it has not been completely lost underneath.

The Strawberry Girl by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

The Strawberry Girl by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

No one knows for sure who the model was for Innocence. A descendant of Reynolds named Sir Robert Edgcumbe declared her the great-niece of Reynolds named Theophila Gwatkin, who would have been three years old when the painting was finished. Others say that the model was Lady Anne Spencer, the daughter of the fourth Duke of Marlborough.

No one knows for sure who the model is, but what is certain is the popularity of the painting. One man claimed it “the commercial face of childhood”. The painting was reproduced in prints and other products, including many painted replicas by both students and professionals.

Many believe that Edith Wharton purposely named her popular 1920 book after the painting.

The original painting now hangs at the Tate in London.

Traveling with Art: Pyramid Peak, Colorado


It’s no secret: Colorado has some of the most beautiful natural scenery in the United States. So it’s no mystery that artists love it.


The artist Lanny Grant painted this piece, titled “Above Maroon Lake”. It shows the snow capped mountain called Pyramid Peak behind golden-yellow autumn trees. This was painted in 1985.


(If you’re interested in the painting, you can purchase it here.)


Grant specializes in landscapes, especially from remote locations that hardly anyone goes to. He’s always had a fascination with the landscapes in Colorado, and paints the vibrant colors of every season in his work.


In this stunning oil painting, Grant shows the view just opposite of Maroon Peak, above Maroon Lake. The lake was carved by Ice Age glaciers and dammed by landslide debris above the valley.



Maroon Lake, Colorado

Pyramid Peak is the 47th highest mountain peak in Colorado, located within the Elk Mountains mountain range in the Rocky Mountains. It’s quite a steep mountain, and mountain climbers finding themselves on its trails are in for a difficult challenge. Loose rock is just one of the roadblocks in climbing this majestic mountain.


But clearly, even admiring from afar yields positive results. Grant uses controlled brush strokes and colors of blue, gold and brown in an almost photographic replication of the mountain in autumn in this painting.


These mountains are undoubtedly even more stunning in person!


Have you been to Colorado? What’s your favorite mountain or hike there?


How Eadweard Muybridge Changed the Art World

Here’s a curious fact: if a painting shows horses galloping, you can date the painting based on how its horses are depicted to be running.

Before the 19th century, artists were unsure of how horses actually trotted or galloped. Artists would often show horses moving with all four hooves extended off the ground, as if they were flying through the air.

This painting by Théodore Géricault gives a good example. Galloping horses never have all four legs extended as shown.


But then someone came around who would show once and for all how horses ran.

A man named Eadweard Muybridge got a photographic assignment in 1872 to study the way horses move.

Much debate circulated at the time about how horses moved, which was difficult to discern with the naked eye. Horses simply galloped too fast to know for sure.

So Muybridge, a professional photographer, accepted a job from a race horse owner and set up a system to record a trotting horse. He started by presenting a single picture of a horse trotting. Later, he used a faster shutter speed to capture more images in a row that more accurately represented the horse’s gait.

These images were made into lantern slides to animate the action.


Muybridge also set up a system to capture a horse at a gallop. He put large glass-plate cameras along a track,with each attached to a thread that triggered the cameras as the horse rode by.

Muybridge named the study Sallie Gardner at a Gallop or The Horse in Motion. The images proved that horses do not in fact run with all legs extended, but instead that horses have their legs collected beneath their body in the air.

From then on, artists and scientists had no reason to be confused by horses’ movement. The images were there for everyone to see.

Muybridge did later motion studies, including animations involving phenakistoscopes.

Many people were inspired and influenced by Muybridge’s work in motion, including Marcel Duchamp, the artist who created the controversial and influential piece Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2. 

Traveling with Art: Bangor, Maine


Bangor is one of the largest cities in Maine, with an impressive history and beautiful views.


The artist Randall Davey, who is best known for his New Mexico watercolor art, painted this scene of Bangor in 1931. The dreary colors perhaps reflect Davey’s recent divorce from his former wife. The painting is available for sale here.


Settlers came to Bangor in the 16th century, and the town’s first lawsuit arrived in 1790 when Jacob Buswell sued David Wall for calling him an “old damned grey-headed bugar of Hell” and Reverend Seth Noble a “damned rascall.”


The city was off to an interesting start.


The Revolutionary War gave Bangor a bit of a spotlight when the rebel Penebscot Expedition fled up the Penebscot River; their ships were overtaken by the British fleet at Bangor. Paul Revere himself escaped into the woods.


Ever since its start, Bangor has been a central city for imports and the lumber manufacturing industry.



Great Fire of 1911 Aftermath, seen on vintage postcard

One of Bangor’s most dramatic events was the Great Fire of 1911. The fire started in a shed downtown and, aided by the day’s high winds, spread quickly throughout the downtown area, destroying hundreds of buildings. The flames reached such a height that people could see them from a town over. Amazingly, only two people died from the incident.


Bangor, Maine has appeared in plenty of popular culture, including books by Stephen King and Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck, among other works including songs and film.


Today, the city is certainly worth a visit. You can see pieces of its history in its architecture, monuments, and parks. It boasts a thriving art scene, an art festival, and the nearby Acadia National Park and Baxter State Park.

Traveling with Art: Mount Shuksan, Washington State


On the west side of Washington State, Mount Shuksan has become a beloved mountain of the Pacific Northwest. It’s one of the most visited and photographed in the world; the artist Banksy even used it in a piece in Palestine.


This particular piece that you see above is by the artist Laurie Wells, titled “Autumn at Mt. Shuksan.” Its name “Shuksan” comes from a Lummi word meaning “high peak”. It’s a non-volcanic peak and makes for a stunning, almost intimidating view. The huge mountain has made many best-of lists, including “Washington’s Highest Peaks” and “Great Peaks of North America”.



A view of the mountain from Baker Lake. By Lhb1239 on Wikimedia, CC 3.0

“Mt. Shuksan epitomizes the jagged alpine peak like no other massif in the North Cascades…Shuksan is one of the finest mountaineering objectives in the North Cascades and its reputation is certainly deserved” – Fred Becky, Cascade Alpine Guide : Rainy Pass to Fraser River


It’s common to see photographs with the mountain’s reflection in Highwood Lake near the Mount Baker Ski Area.


The mountain also has its own waterfalls: Sulphide Creek Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in North America, along with four other tall waterfalls.


It’s a paradise for hikers, to be sure — not to mention clearly popular among the artistic crowd! This Pacific Northwest monument is sure to impress.


Have you ever visited Mt. Shuksan? What did you think?