Art Forgeries



The student often begins where the teacher left off. In the world of art, students, as well as forgers, study techniques, color, brushstrokes, and compositions of acclaimed artists. Eventually some are capable of duplicating and even surpassing the old masterís abilities. I became a friend of an artist whose forgeries have been authenicated and are displayed in museums and private collections. I learned from him, and at times I helped him in his endeavors.

At the beginning of World War II, the American Military Engineers and the Civil Defense assigned me to study emergency evacuation procedures for Long Island residents.. Chaos would result if bridges or tunnels were incapacitated. I surveyed the possible confiscation of private boats, to evacuate people from Long Islandís north shore, across Long Island Sound to Connecticut. Residents of south shore communities would be taken by boat to New Jersey. I contacted marinas, yacht clubs and yachtsmen to develop an inventory of local boats, and their passenger carrying capabilities. I was informed that I could obtain information from Vic, a prominent Kings Point yachtsman.

Initially, I met Vic because of his involvement with the yachting clubs, including his fame as the president of the International Multihulled Boat Racing Association. He gave painting lessons on Tuesday evenings to a select group of north shore residents. His class consisted of eight to ten well-to-do men and women They all knew and respected him, and they each paid him twenty-five dollars per session. One Saturday morning when I visited him, I saw expensive cars, some chauffeured, bringing children to his home. Saturday mornings, from nine to eleven, he gave art lessons for twelve to fifteen children. Vic received ten dollars for each student when they were picked up after class. This was during an era when a worker earned and supported a family on less than one hundred dollars a week. Vic sold rare paintings and works of art that he had discovered. He was often commissioned to find valuable art for wealthy clients. He was successful in discovering lost art masterpieces. He found unknown paintings of great masters that were authenticated by experts, and sold to museums and private art collectors.

Vic was a White Russian who had studied naval architecture as well as art and flew as a pilot for the Imperial Russian Airforce during the early part of World War I. When the Czar was eliminated, and the Communists gained control, Vic fled to France. He mingled with artists, including Picasso and Dali, and the Bohemian intelligentsia, before coming to the United States. While he lived in France, he became acquainted with art dealers, museums, and art experts.

During my first visit, I admired some paintings in his home. He said that he did some painting, and some of them were his. I mentioned that I also painted in various media. That was the beginning of a friendship and unusual educational experience. Through Vic I met many unusual individuals: Sikorsky, the helicopter inventor, Kardvelli, Vice President of Republic Aviation and airplane designer, and Salvatore Dali. Vic asked me to show him some of my art. I proudly brought my best oils and water colors, including one that won a blue ribbon.. He looked at them and said, "Some are OK. But your drawing of water stinks." He shook his head saying, "You have some ability but no real technique." His eyes studied me as he asked, "Do you want to learn to paint like an artist? I can teach you." Despite my deflated ego and initial surge of anger at his blunt opinion, I nodded acceptance to his offer. That was the beginning of developing one facet of my life with its varied careers and avocations.

The art education I received could not be found in any college or art school. Decades later, I obtained an auxiliary license to teach art. I taught art in the evenings for a few years in schools and colleges. I occasionally worked on commission on Saturdays at Yves Chavence Galleries on Madison Avenue. I learned it was easy to concoct fictitious and desirable qualities for a poor painting. Despite a paintings non-existent merits, patrons listened to me, and purchased art that I had recommended.

For many years, when I had a free Tuesday evening, I attended Vicís art classes. He refused to take any money from me. In time I found ways to help him with his work Sometimes I watched him make art forgeries. Vic had mastered the styles of many great artists. He taught me painting techniques with oils, water color, pastels and with other media. I had the advantage of private tutoring, which I repaid by assisting him. As he taught me art I also learned how forgeries were successfully made and sold as authentic works of old masters.

We looked for old paintings by unimportant or little known artists. The date that the painting was made was important. Galleries and private collections were scanned to purchase paintings made by unknown or little known artists of certain periods. It was important to have old canvas and frames, with their original nails or fastenings to establish authenticity. Paintings of different periods were labeled and stored awaiting their rebirth as a forgery. Many old paintings had coats of varnish over the oil paints. This was carefully removed, layer by layer, until the original oil paints were exposed. I helped scrape and separate various colors of paints from the paintings. The separated colors were ground by hand in a mortar and pestle. Ocher, sienna, and earth pigments were purchased from areas where the masters had obtained their pigments. Paints with modern thinners, namely petroleum and synthetic solvents, or colors, like titanium white, which were unknown in the old days, was not used in the forgeries. They were too easily detected. There were numerous other procedures to mix pigments of different particle size. Modern oils and paints have uniform particle size. The old masterís pigments for colors were usually hand ground, and the particle size in the colors varied. Lead white, zinc white, and bone white were typical white oil paints used in the old days. Tung, linseed, and other oils or solvents available for use in a specific era were used in forgeries.

The artists fingerprints are often found on the paintings. Some left their prints while they were handling their wet, or partially dried, oil paintings Some artists used their fingers to spread or texture the paintings, thereby leaving prints. Many of these prints had been lifted off the oil paintings of masters. To make a three dimensional fingerprint stamp, a wad of clay or similar impressionable substances is pressed against the fingerprints on the oil paintings. The impressionable material for the fingerprint stamp is hardened and transferred by pressing against the wet oil paint of a forgery.

Book stores and libraries were searched for old books of particular publication years. The books contents were of no importance. Of importance were the fly-leaf pages in the front and back of the book. They supplied the paper for water color or pastel forgeries. Water colors made during that time span are still found on the shelves or in the stock rooms of artist supply stores. Distilled water was primarily used with water color forgeries. Chlorinated or fluoride treated water was unknown in the nineteenth century and earlier. Many artist were prolific with water colors. Many were drawn as experiments or used as random studies. . For example, Winslow Homer had periods where he lived, as in Maine, Cape Cod, or the Caribbean, where he painted local subjects. It was easier to sell and authenticate a forgery, if the subject matter or scene, and the paper and colors were typical of the famous water color artist. Pen and ink forgeries were easy to forge but were not as profitable as oil or water color forgeries.

I was privileged to be included in some of Vicís parties and meetings with Salvador Dali, and other luminaries of the art world. At times they spoke about and joked about some of the good, as well as the inept artists that found fame and fortune in the opinionated art world. Picasso, often referred to as Pissass, was admired for the way he had manipulated art communities and experts with his self imposed grandeur, and they spread his fame throughout the world. They had contempt for Jackson Pollack, the Drunken Dribbler,. his shocking gimmicky art, but they admired his ability to become rich and famous by convincing his followers of his genius. They ridiculed the publicís gullibility in accepting Campbell Soup Painter, Andy Warhol as a great artist. They had opinions and discussions about painting as a career, as well as the prostitution and misdirection of art by critics and experts.

I was impressed with the genius and personality of Dali. Privately, Vic said that Dali was the finest art technician, past or present. I recall Daliís description of the years he struggled unrecognized. He realized that that the public was influenced by parasitic critics and experts, frustrated individuals that did not possess personal artistic abilities. They made their careers and living by criticizing or acclaiming artists. Their vociferous opinions often became the criteria of acceptable great art, which the masses of asses accepted as truth.

Dali was a struggling artist until he realized that the new surreal art movement paid excellent financial returns to many incompetent artists who concocted, often grotesque, works of art. He made and entered a surrealistic drawing for an exhibit. Subject matter was often a conjecture or concocted opinion of judges whose decisions influenced the art world and art buyers. Daliís suburb brushwork and technique was outstanding in the field of mostly groping individuals who thought that they were artists. He was proclaimed a great surrealist by the judges and critics. After that exhibit, he was on the road to fame and fortune. He was a master who learned to manipulate the critics and the public. He was his own best salesman. He brandished his long curved mustache and mysterious airs made him rich and famous.

The production and sale of water color forgeries to the gullible public is written in the vignette, Artbait by Nitram.