“Buyer Beware” September 30, 2012

Two weeks ago, I was looking at art auction sites and I identified a forgery that was being marketed as the real deal for an auction in North Carolina.  I wondered what to do.  Do I notify someone?  Would I even be believed?

In this case I had irrefutable proof, so I felt confident in my observation.  I had done research on this item– a 1910  stamped bronze statue with a signature of Zorn.  The auction house was describing the item as a Zorn original.  Last winter, I had ran a similar item (even the same one) past the largest auctionhouse in Stockholm, which frequently deal in Zorn works and they suspected it wasn’t really a Zorn and then to be complete, I showed it to the world’s eminent expert on Anders Zorn.  Mr. Cederlund, the President of the Zorn Museum in Mora Sweden was a man who had written two books on the artist’s work and he would have the last word on it.  “That is definitely a forgery.”  He shared with me and described it as a work from eastern Europe, most likely made in the 1950s or 60s.  Pieces of which surface from time to time.  It turns out he was a nice guy and had visited Mora Minnesota before.

What to do, what to do?  Finally figuring the right thing to do is to warn the masses so I sent the auctioneer an email and then I sent my supporting documents.  After two days I got an answer.  It turns out the ‘expert’ at the auction house in North Carolina, sets his provenance by looking up the item on the internet.  In this case he hadn’t even seen the item.  “Well similar items have been sold as Zorn works in the past.”  In reality, he hadn’t done anything to authenticate it and if you can sell a forgery enough times, you can more of them, as leaving a trail of sold items makes them appear real.

The auctioneer ended up from my email changing one word on his auction listing, he added the word ‘after,’ “After Anders Zorn,” which means, it was made after his work.  It seemed a little loose in marketing that the fact that the piece was definitely not made by him was mysteriously, and in my case suspiciously omitted.

Undeterred, I found a second piece of art that was definitely a forgery appear at a separate auction in New York.  This work, a Walter Einbeck oil painting wasn’t even a good forgery.  I had seen this piece in person and it is actually a computer generated print done on new canvas put into an older appearing frame.  The hardware is new, the canvas is new, the stretcher is new and there is no evidence of oil paint.  This piece by a scratch I had placed in the canvas stretcher was the exact same one I had seen.  In fact, this same piece of art or other copies have been sold or attempted to be sold, thirty times in the last seven years.

Is it difficult to notice this?  No, a simple internet search would reveal this answer.  Is this piece that hard to notice that it is not an oil painting?  No, my eleven year old at the time noticed it.  I sent this information to this auction expert.  She just thanked me for the information after I asked her if she had even looked at the canvas.  What did she do?  She changed a word again, from painted by Walter Einbeck to “attributed to” Walter Einbeck but continued to advertise the piece as an oil painting when it was most definitely not.

The result of these auctions?  The Zorn forgery was sold for $625.  The auctioneer earned a commission of $125.  That seems a lot for a piece of bronze with no real collector’s value.  The minimum bid for the Einbeck was $1800 and the item passed as nobody was apparently gullible enough to bid on it.

Is there any consumer protection available?  No, buyer beware.  Words “attributed to”, “after,” or “in manner of” are keywords for fakes.  Remember most fakes don’t have vigilant Olaf looking out for you, and most fakes are listed as original artworks.  This Einbeck will reappear on the auction circuit in a month or two and to be honest, I won’t even bother to email the auctioneer.  I would suspect that there are a lot of fakes out there, especially at the smaller auction houses as the bigger ones like Christies, Bonhams, and Sotherby’s have real experts on these items and their opinion has value.  Items on Ebay, internet only auctions, and by out of the way auction houses, be it furniture, art, or antiques should be suspected.  It is doggie dog out there, and even cheaper items can be forged.  So be careful.

Look for similar items on the internet, if there seems to be a lot of the item you are looking at assume it was mass produced as a fake.  There is little incentive to make one fake Anders Zorn Bronze, but a hundred?  That is more cost effective for forger.  Look things up, and if a ten thousand dollar Zorn piece is being sold for a thousand, be skeptical.  If a red flag comes up, run.  As it is said, ‘a fool and his money are easily parted.’  An auctioneer gets 25% commision on the sale of a forgery just as he would from the real thing.  There is NO incentive for crooked auctioneers to do anything but take your money.  Apparently reputation is worthless in the art world, I wonder….?

Now I’m sure that the guy who bought the Zorn forgery decided that $625 was a cheap lottery ticket in the outside chance it was real but in his case, it was a waste of money, as it isn’t.  Oh well, I can’t save everyone from themselves.  Greed may be good, but it can also be costly.

Be wary, my friends


9 thoughts on ““Buyer Beware” September 30, 2012

  1. Thanks for that Olaf – enjoyed reading that little piece. I have been looking at some Josef Lorenzl sculptures on an UK website. He seems to have quite a few of them so now I am suspicious. There is one particularly beautiful Nude Female Dancer with elongated arms and legs that I would love to own.
    I have always been weary of “in the manner of” but thought that “attributed too” was a fairly safe bet.
    There is so much stuff out there that one could very easily be mislead.
    Thanks for warning !

  2. The trouble with bronzes is that in the case of the Breker pieces I own, there is 300 of them made, so there is a chance they could all end up at the same place. I saw two of the same piece of “Grazie” at auction on the same weekend. “Attributed to” has a whole new meaning. I own an “Attributed to” painting and although it looks like the bigger one on similar subject signed, I wonder. Who “attributed it” to the artist is the question. The museum, an academic, or a guy named Steve, who happened to stay at a Holdiay Inn Express the night before?

  3. hello olaf,
    i have a bronze of zorn anders and it has a dark patina, also on the inside.
    2 antique experts of an auction house can not make out if its 1900 or younger?
    can you help how to find more info about it?

    • Eric
      Assuming you are in belgium, which auctionhouses have you had look at it?
      Obviously you must be interested in selling it,
      If I remember correctly, someone 80-90 years ago documented all of Zorn’s bronze work in some book
      that being said, the only copy of it may be in Mora
      if it was my piece, I’d contact either of the auktionhouses

      Bukowski’s in Stockholm
      or Uppsala Auktionhouse in Uppsala, one of the Curators at Bulowski’s, I think did her graduate work on Zorn, they will then put it up for auction if that is your goal
      if you goal is to authenticate it, the manager of the Zornmuseet in Mora Sweden will probably respond to you


    • Well, first question is where did you buy it? I have seen recently some ‘after Zorn’ paintings for sale in European auctions but they looked more like his Darlarna nude scenes. He did do some Algeria paintings that I have seen early on in his career, they aren’t worth as much maybe 50-100K. If it was I and felt it was likely (like my great grandmother bought this painting etc. I’d contact Bukowskis auctionhouse in Stockholm (bukowskis.com) They are the experts. Okay you got to pay or at least put it up for sale through them, but heck you’ll get that back in spades. They will want to see it though and shipping overseas is frought with peril if you live in North America…but maybe they can direct you to someone in the know in the USA, there isn’t many. If this is sort a Zorn wannabee quest and the provenance is suspect or you are low budget…..I’d still contact them and send pictures. See what they say, the curator of the Zornmuseet in Mora is also a good question.

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