Winslow Homer was a prolific artist. Records are not
available of the number of finished and unfinished
works of art he created. Homer had distinct periods
in his art, which had been affected by where he lived.
This simplified the search for paper made during his
active years as an artist. Old book stores had many
books printed during his career The bookís contents
were of no value, but the blank front and back
fly-leaves were important. Using paper and paints
dating back to specific dates, forgeries were
The blank fly-leaf paper from the old book was
transformed by Ancel, the forger, into a typical
Winslow Homer water color of his Maine period.
Others, Ancel painted in the style of Homerís Cape
Cod or Caribbean period. Like many artists, Winslow
Homer made numerous sketches before making a desired
painting. He also made many sketches and unfinished
water color paintings. Some of Homerís paintings had
his full signature, some only had a WH marking, and
many unfinished paintings and sketches were unsigned.
Ancel made forgeries to comply with Homerís specific
periods. The water color paintings would become the
bait. The best fishing grounds would be where there
were tourists and art lovers. Sag Harbor, Greenport,
and Mystic, Connecticut were Ancelís prime areas to
sell his forgeries.
At times, during summer vacation, his cruiser, would
be docked in Sag Harbor,. where antique and art shops
were bountiful. Tourists meandered through the streets
and along the waterfront. Ancel took a blank
canvas, oil paints, an easel and an envelope containing
the Ďbaití. Ancelís forgeries had the initials WH.
There were a few unfinished drawings without any
signature. He set up an easel and started painting,
copying from a water color drawing. Strollers would
stop and watch the painter. Some remained for a while
others gave a cursory glance and moved away. A man
exhibiting interest in the small water color painting
Ancel used as a model said, "Is that water color for
"No. I am copying from it," Ancel muttered, as he
continued to paint, he noticed that the man was peering
at the initials in the corner of the water color.
"I like the scene. Can I look at it closely? Where
did you get it?"
Ancel handed him the water color. "At a Cape Cod yard
sale. A man was selling his grandmotherís house and
its contents. Before she died, the old lady had
accumulated a lot of junk over the years. She had
many old paintings, mostly water colors. I bought some
used water color paint sets and some water color
paintings. He threw in some free sketches and
His eyes pleaded as he made an anxious request, "Can I
see them?" From the folder Ancel removed a water color
of a house on a cranberry bog, and two unfinished water
color paintings. After a long pause, the man asked, "Do
you want to sell them?"
Ancel shook a negative as he kept on painting. "Iíll
give you ten dollars for this house scene, including
the unfinished water colors and sketches," was his
daring offer. A few curious onlookers also looked at
the paintings. After a tense silence, with desperate
hope, the potential buyer said, "Twenty five dollars
for all of them."
"Iím not selling any of them. I want to copy from
them. I have some paintings for sale that I made.
Want to see some?" Ancel wore his happy hopeful
"I like the water color you are copying, and this
house painting. I want them for my wife. She loves
water color scenes. Iíll give you fifty dollars for
all of them."
"Iíll sell them when I am finished with them, When
I finish copying from this and the house scene, Iíll
sell them. Not before. Yesterday, I refused to sell
them to a man from Manhattan He offered me much more
than you. I did sell him a small unfinished water
color for twenty dollars. He is coming back here in two
days to make me an offer. Your wife may not like them.
Why not show her my paintings?" Ancel stopped painting
and started to put his equipment on his boat. The
onlookers started to disperse. "Iíll be here for two
more days before I leave to cruise on Long Island Sound."
"Can I borrow the painting to show my wife? Iíll leave
a deposit and bring it back tomorrow," he pleaded,
"How much deposit do you want?"
"Iíll let you take the pencil sketch the artist made
of the scene I am painting. Leave a twenty dollar
deposit. Youíll get it back when you return the sketch."
Ancel took the manís twenty dollars and handed him the
sketch. He knew the buyer would be racing to check
the age of the paper and possible authenticity of
Ancel watched as he ate breakfast from the coffee
shop across the road from the docks. As he expected,
the potential buyer had returned early. After calling
from the dock, he boarded the boat and knocked on the
cabin door. Receiving no answer, he peered in the
cabin window, then he climbed back on the dock and
looked about. Ancel left the coffee shop by a side
door and strolled about Main Street until noon, before
returning to his boat. He knew a determined buyer
would still be there, waiting..
"Did your wife like the sketch?" Ancel asked as he
approached the pacing buyer..
"Yes. She liked the water color youíre copying from..
What do you want for it?"
"She ought to look at my oil paintings, Maybe sheíd
like one of my oil paintings. I sold one of my oil
paintings to a tourist. We bargained, and he agreed
to buy my painting for two hundred dollars, if the
water color I copied from was included. I agreed, but
I wanted cash. Heís coming back in a few hours with
The buyerís eyes expressed his hope, "Did he give you
"No! But I made a deal."
With hope evident in his voice, the Ďbuyerí said,
"Iíll give you two-hundred-fifty in cash. Right now."
"Thanks for the offer, but I canít accept it. He is
coming back with cash, and heíll buy two of my oil
paintings, and heíll make a deal for all the water
color paintings and sketches I bought in Cape Cod."
The buyer became very excited. Ancel knew he was firmly
hooked when he was asked, "Sell me your oil painting
and the water colors. Iíll give you double for it."
Then he quickly added an incentive. "What will you
take in cash, right now, if I buy your two paintings
plus the water colors, and sketches, finished and
He bought all the art work for six-hundred-forty
dollars. That was all the cash he had on him. The
next day in Mystic, Connecticut, Ancel set up his
easel and displayed more bait.
Versatile artists could use many techniques and media
in forging works of art. Ancel found it safer and
easier to specialize with water color drawings and
renderings of a few known masters. It was safer to
let someone else believe that they had found a genuine
art work. Some art critics or experts look forward to
being the one to discover or authenticate a lost or
rediscovered masterpiece. Ancel merely displayed his
wares. The buyer purchased what he saw and believed
that he made a wonderful acquisition.
With a Homer painting in an art catalog as a model,
Ancel would make variations and paint on four to six
sheets of paper that had been the fly-leaf of old books.
Mixing a color and using it on multiple drawings was
a time saver. Homer had sketched and made many varied
drawings of a scene before selecting one as a final
painting. Ancel separated the copies into Homerís
known periods. He did not sell the same scene in the
same area, but sold it in other locations. Ancel
interspersed the sale of homerís Maine, Cape Cod,
and Caribbean periods. Forgeries of Homerís water
colors were very successful. Ancel never claimed that
they were authentic, and he never suggested that the
name, or the initials, were those of Winslow Homer.
Ancel used the water color drawings he had forged as
models for his oil paintings. He said that he had
purchased them at yard sales or in art shops.
Connoisseurs, collectors, and art experts who thought
that they found some Winslow Homer art, would make an
effort to acquire them.
No potential buyer ever told Ancel that the water
color he had might be very valuable, or might have
been painted by Winslow Homer. Those that purchased
the bait, thought they were getting a great deal.
Ancel was surprised, and covertly proud, when years
later he saw two of his forgeries, a Maine scene and
a Cape Cod cranberry bog drawing, displayed as the
work of Winslow Homer in a prestigious museum.
Once at a Park Avenue party, the host, an avid art
collector, showed his guests a number of Winslow Homer
paintings and sketches. The host had not recognized the
formally dressed Ancel among his guests as he smugly
boasted, "I bought them in Mystic, Connecticut from
an artist who was using these Homerís as models to
copy from. I had experts examine them. They are
genuine Winslow Homerís water colors and sketches.
The jerk who sold them did not know how valuable they