It’s when you see them side by side that the magnitude of the problem hits. Here’s a Husain, and there again is the same Husain, and everyone knows he only made one.
You inch closer, in step with the curator of the exhibition, and you still can’t tell which is which.
The art of forgery has progressed step for step with the evolution of art. Some forgers even create fake paper trails. Others are so accurate that even the experts can’t tell them apart, and then science must step in to analyse the paint, canvas or relative age of the work.
At the Piramal Museum of Art in Lower Parel, an exhibition titled Likeness Without Reference – The Cultures of Forgery, is putting the real and the counterfeit side by side to try and show viewers the scale of the problem, and teach them a little bit about how to tell real master art from forgery (signatures and markings play a key role, FYI).
The showcase will also deal with the very notion of original in the realm of prints and sculptures, says Ashvin Rajagopalan, director of the Piramal Art Foundation.
The exhibition is on till March 31. But for now, check out a Hussain, a Raja Ravi Varma and a Jamini Roy below, and see if you can tell which is the real one.
So this one above is the original Husain. The easiest way to tell, in this case, is the Madhuri Dixit signature just below Husain’s.
The forgery is from a set bought by a private collector on the recommendation of an art advisor, who provided provenance documents that traced ownership to a Bengal-based artist.
Art experts later revealed that the work was a ‘fake watercolour’ based on serigraphs that Husain had created for a prominent gallery in Ahmedabad.
This just proves that art is best bought from or through art galleries that are known to represent the artist or deal in his or her works.
Just FYI, here’s a closer look at the fake:
Just so hard to tell, isn’t it?
So here, the forger didn’t just duplicate the work; they also blew it up in size. Yup, the big one’s the fake. Takes a special kind of courage to do that, now, doesn’t it?
Here’s a closer look at Jamini Roy’s original, intricate gem.
Roy’s philosophy that art was for the masses led him to produce large numbers of low-priced paintings similar to his higher-priced ones. This decision poses serious problems for the art market. The uneven nature of works that came out of Roy’s studio, the inability to accurately date the work, the omnipresence of his work on the art market and the absence of a clear provenance in most cases, makes it difficult to authenticate a Jamini Roy.
Often, there is no recourse but to depend on the authenticity of the visual imagery. And that, as you can see in the forgery below, is a problem in itself.
Roy was a master of form and colour, infusing a sense of rhythm in his compositions. Though these elements are hard to replicate in a fake, sadly they are not impossible.
RAJA RAVI VARMA
Raja Ravi Varma has the unfortunate distinction of being the most faked Indian artist — ironic, given that he was a champion of individual creativity.
There are two key reasons: the high value of a Ravi Varma, and his practice of replicating his own paintings, which makes it impossible to know how many there were. The ones above, for instance, are all genuine! Look how similar they are, and think about how easy it would be for an expert to craft a lookalike.
For decades, forgers have been duplicating his work hither and thither, even taking elements from known works to create an entirely new entity. These images are then backed up with provenance documents furnished by unscrupulous dealers.
Authenticating a Ravi Varma requires the skill of an expert who can verify its historicity and visual language.