Can You Spot Animal Crossing’s Art Forgeries?

Gamers are brushing up on their art history knowledge to spot Redd’s counterfeit creations

Island of the Dead
The game's art dealer, a cunning fox named Redd, sells Arnold Böcklin's Island of the Dead under the name Mysterious Painting. Theresa Machemer / Nintendo

A new update to smash hit game “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” brings classic artworks to players’ personal islands.

Those hoping to display items in the game’s museum can collect and donate objects found around the island. But while fossils, bugs and fish are readily available in the wild, artworks can only be acquired from Redd, a fox who appears on the scene in a green trawler. When Redd visits, players find four works of art for sale on his boat. They may resemble masterpieces by the likes of Vincent van Gogh and Leonardo da Vinci, but any number of them can be fakes. It’s up to the player to know what to look out for.

As Tanner West reports for artnet News, tiny details differentiate real paintings from forgeries. Some tells are on the more noticeable side—take Mona Lisa’s darkened, raised eyebrows; a wristwatch on the classic Greek sculpture Discobolus; or a coffee stain on the corner of da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. But others are harder to spot. In the fake version of Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas, for instance, a figure in the background is shown raising his hand just slightly higher than usual.

Animal Crossing forgeries
Real or fake? Courtesy of Nintendo

Redd peddles his paintings under unofficial descriptive names, making it difficult for players to research the original versions of artworks they can’t readily identify. (Van Gogh’s Starry Night is sold under the name Twinkling Painting, while Paul Cézanne’s Apples and Oranges goes by the moniker Perfect Painting.) Players have a chance to take a close-up look at artworks on Redd’s trawler, but of the four he has for sale, can only purchase one.

A quick search on social media shows just how difficult it is for players to identify Redd’s fake artwork. Guides detailing the fox’s real versus fake paintings have popped up online in recent days, but these helpful roundups are still a work in progress, as the character’s cunning continues to confound.

Determining the legitimacy of museum objects is a major endeavor in the real art world. In February, a Pennsylvania museum announced that new conservation work had identified a painting in its collection as a work by Rembrandt van Rijn himself, not a member of his studio as previously believed. On the flipside, a study published in March identified all of the Museum of the Bible’s Dead Sea Scrolls as modern forgeries.

Blathers, the owl who runs the “Animal Crossing” museum, can spot a fake on sight.

“Upon closer examination, I have grave news to share with you,” he tells duped buyers. “This work of art … is a FAKE!”

When the artwork is genuine, however, Blathers enthusiastically accepts it for inclusion in the museum’s gallery. There, the artwork is displayed alongside a placard detailing its real title and background.

The placard for John Everett Millais’ 19th-century painting Ophelia, sold by Redd under the name Sinking Painting, reads, “Ophelia is a tragic figure in the Shakespearean play Hamlet. There is an otherworldly expression on her face as she lies unconscious in a river.”

Redd is a longstanding character in the “Animal Crossing” franchise, but when “New Horizons” first launched, the in-game museum lacked an art gallery. This apparent oversight prompted artist Shing Yin Khor to hit back at Blathers by staging a series of modern art installations—including a tribute to Marina Abramović’s The Artist is Present and Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s The Umbrellasaround their island. Given that Blathers still seems to lack an eye for modern art, the gripe stands.

Real-life museums are joining the fun by making their work available to convert into “Animal Crossing” patterns. As artnet News reports, the J. Paul Getty Museum’s “Animal Crossing” Art Generator offers 70,000 artifacts for in-game use. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, meanwhile, has made more than 400,000 open access images available for conversion.

In short, if you’ve been burned by Redd’s sketchy art deals, know that he has some strong competition.

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