Professor David A. Scott reviews Theirry Lenain’s Art Forgery: the History of a Modern Obsession:
Thierry Lenain writes that if Otto Kurtz (who wrote a much admired volume on art forgery several decades ago) should rise from the dead, that he would be disappointed with the present volume. Here Thierry Lenain underestimates the significance of his recent work. Art Forgery: the History of a Modern Obsession, which presents much interesting new material in a crowded field of competing volumes, also called “Art Forgery,” of which there are scores of identically-titled works, almost an allegory for the subject itself, as much of the content of these volumes is repetitive. Lenain’s works stands out as a significant research endeavour, not just another run-of-the-mill rehash of the lives of famous forgers, of which there are a continual stream. Incidentally, in common English use, we sometimes make a distinction between a fake and a forgery. A fake is a copied work of art, such as a series of Monet’s hung as a backdrop in a play: these are fake Monet’s, but they are not forgeries. If the same pictures of Monet’s are copied, signed and then sold as an original Monet, then we refer to that as a forgery, but these distinctions may not apply in other languages, so we do not necessarily see authors whose first language is not English following this precept. Forgery implies criminal deceit which a fake does not: at least that is the way in which several European writers use the two words, which makes an often useful distinction between the two actions or motives involved.
David A. Scott is a Professor in the Department of Art History at UCLA, and the Founding Director (2003-2011) of the UCLA/Getty Program in Archaeological and Ethnographic Conservation, UCLA.
Thierry Lenain is a professor of art theory at Université Libre de Bruxelles.