Yeah, I got took…

There is some odd synchronicity in the works lately. While I forgot to
post it in the recently rented thread, a few weeks ago I watched an
interesting little flick called Incognito about a professional art forger. It was surprisingly well done despite the half-baked chase sequence thrown in the middle.

Then in the New Yorker, an extensive, ten-page article on fake Jeffersonian wine.
Fascinating read. I’m not even close to the world of where I am
concerned about acquiring a fake Sassicaia or any other high-end wine.

But
I’ve been on an art-buying kick lately and I will admit it — I got
took — and what a ride it has been. Most of what I have been buying is
relatively new; produced within the past 50 years from still-living
artists. But I have been itching to get my hands on a Flemish still
life for ages. It is that "one thing" I have coveted for years and
years. The following was the object of my desire:1294655773_82b28ea8c2_2

   I
liked it because the fish was cut open and visceral. I liked the
carelessness of the scallion. It was presented as being produced by
Charles Ludwig Bokelmann, circa 1880. It was relatively affordable. I
took possession of the painting and "got a feeling something wasn’t
right." There was a preponderance of chemical smells which raised
suspicions. I took it to an art appraiser and had my eyes opened and
then some!

This guy was frigg’n brilliant! For starters, he literally wrote the book The Art of Buying Art.
He spent hours pouring over the piece; dis-assembling it from its
frame, shining it with black-light, scraping corners of the stretchers
for chemical tests, peering at through high-powered magnifying glasses.
Excepting that I paid what I did, he seriously thought of buying the
piece from me to use in classes he teaches to demonstrate how really
good the forgers are getting! His assessment came written as follows:

1.
A cursory inspection of the front of the painting reveals small cracks
in the paint, and an overall appearance consistent with that of an
antique painting, however chemical smells emanating from the painting
and its component parts seem indicative of varnish, wood stain, or
similar chemical ingredients, the intensity of the odor being more
consistent with recent application.

2. The screws which hold the
painting to the frame are rusted. Upon removal of various screws from
the frame and painting, the rust appears to be uniform. Screws
generally rust progressively, the tip of the screw typically exhibiting
less rust than the head of the screw. All screws that were removed and
examined appear to have this identical uniform rust pattern.
Additionally, with so much rust on the metal screws and brackets used
to secure and hang the painting, one would expect to see additional
indications of dampness, wetness, or other water-related contact
somewhere on the painting that would be consistent with the amount of
rust on the metal parts.

3. The back of the canvas, the back of
the frame, and the back of the stretcher bars appear very similar in
color. This is atypical in that with antique paintings, the color of
the back of the frame, the color of the back of the canvas, and the
color of the back of the stretcher bars tend to be different, as they
are typically made of different materials and age in different ways.

4.
The surface color of the back of the frame and of the stretcher bars is
a dark shade of brown, however the wood itself is very light. The dark
brown color would be more typical of a dark wood such as Walnut than it
is of a soft light wood such as pine. A close inspection of the dark
brown color under a 30X pocket microscope would appear to indicate that
a dark brown color may have been applied by brush or by rubbing to the
light wood on the back of the frame and the back of the stretcher bars,
and possibly was applied to other components of the painting as well,
such as the wedges used to adjust the tension of the canvas over the
stretcher bars.

5.  There is no evidence of dust, dirt, or similar signs of aging on the painting, particularly on the back. 

6.
An artist database search on the name Bokelmann yields an artist by the
name of Christian Ludwig Bokelmann who lived from 1844-1894. This does
not exactly match the name on the back stretcher bar of the painting,
but the name on the back of the painting would appear to be scripted in
a style consistent with nineteenth century handwriting, so it is
unclear what the exact nature of the name on the back of the painting
is. It would appear from an inspection of the component parts of the
painting that they are more recent than Christian Ludwig Bokelmann’s
death date of 1894.

The
painting and Bamberger’s assessment has been given back to the seller and I was ultimately offered a complete refund (shocking, but true!). Yes, I
bought it on eBay, but I thought I
would share this little journey of mine. I’ll admit to being far too
anxious in wanting a painting of that era and genre. I now have
references to reputable dealers and wont’ be buying anything until I
have finished reading Alan’s book AND have done considerable more
research.

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