Curators at an art museum in Elne, France are at wit's end explaining how the majority of the art on its walls have turned out to be fake. Adding to the distress is that more than US$190,000 in public money was used to purchase the forgeries originally presumed to be the works of artist Etienne Terrus, who died in 1922.
Experts have determined that of 140 works in the Terrus gallery, 82 are not real. In fact, one specialist discovered that a painting included buildings that were constructed after Terrus died.
Besides using taxpayers dollars, the watercolors, oils and drawings on display were donated by a private collector as well as two groups of visual art aficionados who raised funds to ensure some works made it to the gallery, which had invested nearly US$ 360,000 to renovate the facility, which was opened in 1994. However, the gallery does not have on staff a trained curator to check on the authenticity of what was in the Terrus collection.
Terrus, born in 1857, is arguably one of the most famous creative minds to have lived in Elne. During his time, his work in the impressionist style that was common in the 19th century, and featured bright tones that added an extra luster to his landscape works, some of which were worth up to $18,000 at art auctions. He was also friends with such groundbreaking French visual artists as Henri Matisse and André Derain.
Elne Mayor Yves Barniol has deemed the discovery a catastrophe and is pressing authorities to find the perpetrators. Local police are now in possession of the forgeries being used as part of its investigation.
Visual art experts claim that these situations are unique, often pointing out roughly 20 percent of works in museums and galleries worldwide may not be genuine. One of the biggest instances of forgery can be attributed to Dutch painter Han van Meegeren, who for several decades pocketed up to $60 million for creating and selling fake works by Johannes Vermeer. In 2010, a Los Angeles art dealer was sued after selling a Picasso forgery to a customer for $2 million. And eBay has unwittingly been responsible for connecting buyers of up to $5 million worth of fake art.