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240 × 160 × 29 mm
384 pages
55 illustrations
01 Oct 2011

Art Forgery The History of a Modern Obsession Thierry Lenain

The art world has become increasingly obsessed with verifying and ensuring artistic authenticity especially with the recent advent of technologies that make detecting art forgeries a more certain science. In Art Forgery: The History of a Modern Obsession, rather than suggesting new methods of detection, it is the genealogy of faking as well as the anxious, sometimes neurotic, reactions triggered in the modern world of art by these clever frauds that are examined.

Art Forgery delves back into history by exploring the prevalence of forgery in the Middle Ages, when the issue of false relics and miracles often arose. During this time, if a relic gave rise to a cult, it would often be considered as genuine even if it obviously had been forged. Thierry Lenain’s account charts the changing status of art forgery from the time of its appearance in the Renaissance, when it was initially hailed as a true artistic feat, to its condemnation as the art crime par excellence. Even Michelangelo, the most revered artist of this period, copied drawings by other masters lent to him by unsuspecting collectors. Michelangelo would even keep the original for himself and return the copy in its place. Art Forgery also examines the work and attitude of modern master forgers including Eric Hebborn, Thomas Keating and Han van Meegeren, whose productions baffled the art world during their time.

Ultimately, Art Forgery proposes that the science of accurately deciphering an individual artist’s unique characteristics has reached a level of forensic sophistication matched only by the forger’s skill and the art world’s paranoia.

‘a notably learned and wide-ranging text’ — New York Review of Books

‘since authorship is a major financial issue you need specialist advice. Enter the first character of Art Forgery: the art connoisseur. His claim is that it is impossible to forge a work of art no forger, however skilled, can reproduce perfectly the Unique. The forgers aim is to prove him wrong. The epic struggle between the two constitutes the subject of Thierry Lenains remarkable book, whose dazzling erudition and lucid logic make it a pleasure to read.’ — Donald Sassoon, History Today

‘Thierry Lenain’s fascinating work . . . is an attempt to understand what people have thought about fakes and how and why their attitudes towards them have changed through time . . . thought provoking’ — The Art Newspaper

‘This book delves into the history of art forgery, beginning with its prevalence in the middle ages, through the Renaissance to the present day. This genealogy of faking also examines the output and skill of some of the master forgers alongside the art worlds thorny relationship with counterfeit work and the ever-more sophisticated technology for detecting fakes.’ — Apollo

‘Lenain’s text presents in fascinating detail, not only historical accounts of forgery and its cousins from ancient Rome up to the dubiously celebrated twentieth-century forgers but also the history of religious relic veneration, which he argues forms the historical basis to today’s obsession over art authenticity.’ — British Journal of Aesthetics

‘Lenain’s study is neither a guide to the detection of forgeries nor a connoisseurs handbook on how to spot them. Instead, it is a complex narrative about the genealogy of fakes, substitutes, and related notions of authenticity delivered through both the work of art itself and ancillary textual sources that support claims about objects and their histories. Recommended’ — Choice

‘Lenain’s fascinating book charts our changing attitudes to forgery, from the unbridled admiration of the skill of the well-rewarded copyist during the Renaissance to the hysterical over-reaction and condemnation of today’s demonised so-called master forgers . . . full of historical detail and philosophical explication on the nature of truth and reality applied to the art world.’ — ARLIS News

‘the overall strength of the volume Lenain has written is impressive: it is an important addition to our literature on the subject and, the test of a good book in this heavily contested arena, one which this reviewer will read more than once.’ — Journal of Art Crime

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Thierry Lenain is Professor of Art Theory at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium. He is also the author of Monkey Painting (Reaktion, 1997) and Art Forgery (Reaktion, 2011).


Chapter One: The Symptoms of an Obsession
Chapter Two: Before the Age of Art Forgery
Chapter Three: Before the Age of Obsession with Art Forgery
Chapter Four: Art Forgery as the Connoisseur’s Nightmare
Conclusion: Fakes and the End of the World

Photo Acknowledgments