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A Museum in England Is Hiding a Forgery Among Its Masterpieces

A South London gallery is asking its patrons to identify the fake in order to spark discussion about how and why we appreciate the art

Inside Dulwich Picture Gallery, 2010 (Matt Lake via Flickr)
smithsonian.com

What makes one piece of art more valuable than the next?

The curators at Dulwich Picture Gallery are bringing new life to the old question with a creative experiment. They will place a £120 replica of a highly prized painting into their collection, which includes work by Rembrandt, Poussin, Ruben and Veronese. But don’t expect any help from museum officials on determining which are authentic and which one is the fake. Instead, the Guardian reports, patrons will be challenged to make the identification themselves.

It’s all part of “Made in China: A Doug Fishbone Project” set to open in early February. Together with Dulwich curators, Fishbone commissioned the replica from the Meishing Oil Painting Manufacture Company, one of many studios in China employing artists to recreate famous works of art ranging from “The Birth of Venus” to “Dogs Playing Poker.” After sending the company high-resolution images of the art to be reproduced, the museum received a finished product of “excellent quality” that they’ll be putting in the authentic work’s original frame to further confuse visiting sleuths.

“It’s not just a ‘Hey, spot the fake’ stunt,” Fishbone told the Guardian. “It raises serious issues of how we view, appreciate and value art. Hanging it at Dulwich gives our picture some provenance, and it’s interesting to see if that changes its value.”

After three months, the experiment will crescendo—and the reproduction will be revealed—in an exhibit featuring previously misattributed art at Dulwich. Like many art institutions, the museum, which is the world’s first purpose-built public art gallery, is no stranger to forgery. It was once home to five Titians—four of which turned out to be inauthentic.

Hundreds of companies in China are doing a booming, multi-million dollar trade in reproductions of notable art. The studios often make a point to slightly change the size or colors of the paintings to avoid accusations of forgery. Yet, with millions of reproduced masterpieces sold to buyers all over the world each year, artists like Fishbone are wondering what impact such developments will have on the way we appreciate art.

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