|Portraits Page 2
||Great Canadian Portraits
Falsies - Fake Busts & Historical Statues - 1899 - 2008 - 2
|Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Laurier - A Sad Case
In May 2008, at a Joyner's fine art auction in Toronto, this bronze, which might possibly be called "a statue after Philippe Hébert," and valued by the auctioneer at $15,000, failed to elicit even a lowball bid from hundreds of fine art dealers from all over Canada.
Now why should that be?
For the last two to three years leading Canadian art auction houses in Vancouver (Heffel), Calgary (Hodgins), Toronto (Heffel, Joyner, Sotheby's, Waddingtons), and Montreal (Bonham's), have been selling what they claim were original bronze busts and statues by Canada's leading artists of the Victorian and Edwardian eras: Louis-Philippe Hébert, Alfred Laliberté, R. Tait McKenzie, Hamilton MacCarthy, and Marc Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté.
People have been paying $10,000 to $30,000 for bronzes that shockingly, almost all, look they were made last week...
And should have sold for a couple of hundred dollars, as recent repros, because they clearly lack the age burn that certifies a real antique work of art made by an artist 100 years ago.
Not to mention that these so-called rare antiques are all flooding the market at the different auction houses at the same time.
Why do they appear, regular as clockwork, at every auction, as if they were coming off an assembly line, instead of as a found treasure making a rare appearance from a dead collector's estate sale?
READ ON TO FIND OUT HOW TO TELL THE FAKES
|Sir Wilfrid Laurier 1898, by Philippe Hébert
|Orig. plaster statue - Size - 72.5 cm wt 7.3 kg
Found - Hawkesbury, PQ
Signed Louis-Philippe Hébert
Above is a very rare real antique plaster statue made by Louis-Philippe Hébert, in 1898. It is also the only one we have ever seen.
Not a bad clue - see one, probably an original and old; see three, suspect repros done recently...
It shows all the earmarks of being an original casting done by the artist himself, in 1898: dull surface patina, wear, dirt in crevices, nicks, chips etc. all one would expect of a statue that is over 100 years old - a genuine antique. (Plasters like this were used by artists to make their bronzes.)
But because these are so rare, and the demand for work by famous artists like Hébert, among interested antique buyers, is rising ravenously, unscrupulous persons have started to make fakes - especially bronzes - they distribute to sell as originals by the long dead artist when, in fact, they were recently made by a seedy fabricator in a back room on St. Paul Street in Quebec and have the same relationship to fine art as a Bateman print, an Arthur Heming textbook illustration, or JD Kelly calendar art has to the original "fine art" oil, watercolour, pastel, or gouache these were copied from.
But gullible buyers are taken in and spend a fortune on what they think are originals when in fact, many or most, are repros or fakes...
Did you know that Hébert's genuine original plaster statues of Laurier were sought out for destruction by fine art dealers in Montreal in the 1940s to 60s just to enhance the value of the much later bronze copies that they reproduced? Is the one above right, one of those?
|Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
||A large absolutely fabulous antique, World War I equestrian statue of French Marshall "Papa" Joffre, which has all the earmarks you should expect to see before you decide to throw good money after bad art and acquire real antique figural sculptures - busts and statues - of your own at fine art auctions or antique stores.
Conveyor Belt Marketing - This is the only such statue we have ever seen, anywhere. But so many other repro busts and statues are being manufactured, of military and civilian figures of bygone times, you can be certain the fakes (latter day repros) far outnumber the real old antiques.
So avoid figures that start appearing in various markets as multiples of two or more at the same time.
Patina - This huge statue is of a high quality metal and so quite heavy and looks a cut above other spelter or white metal figures.
It has the fabulously fine, dull looking patina - surface colour and texture - of age burned metal that has never been polished since it was cast in 1915.
Suspect any metal that looks shiny, or has shiny highlights, instead of the dull surface created by oxidation through time.
Dirt - There is clearly dirt - very old dirt - that has piled up and embedded itself in whatever nooks and crannies were available. This is especially noticeable on the base where generations of dust have accumulated and never been removed.
Dirt is great because ground in old dust and wear is the best visible proof that something is antique. Patina and old dirt are virtually impossible to fake because it takes so much effort no repro man could afford to spend the time to do it.
Luckily for them there are countless gullible buyers out there so they don't need to fake it at all.
Base - Suspect a figure of any kind on a base that is shiny, new looking, unmarked and clean. Or on a base other than - or in addition to - that created by the artist. (see Laurier above)
|Statue, "France" (Field Marshall Joseph Césaire "Papa" Joffre) - 1915
|Orig. metal - Size - 45 cm h
Found - Omaha, NB
|Among the French Papa Joffre was wildly feted as the Saviour of France as the French Army he commanded held off the German attack during the Battle of the Marne in September 1914.
|Dirt Deposition & Distribution - This statue shows a key difference you will not find in repros or modern copies.
Note the clean crevices in the verticals of the horses legs, compared to the horizontal surfaces.
Gravity makes dirt fall away from verticals and pile up, thicken, and harden, on flat horizontal surfaces. With the passing decades this kind of age burn, in the crevices, becomes quite noticeable, to the educated eye.
There is an awful lot of dirt on the base surrounding the cannon and on the tops of the grass and bush frieze around the bottom, which is lacking in the legs. The legs are brazed solidly into the footing so they have exactly the same age burn as the base but not the dirt build-up.
Modern repros have uniformly clean (or soiled) vertical and horizontal surfaces. They have a uniform clean look across the entire figure whether looked at from the top or side. As you would expect of something which just came out of a mould in recent times and hasn't had time for dirt build-up.
Left & below two of three recently offered for sale copies of Alfred Laliberté's Conteurs, the original of which was cast by him c 1924.
This view from above shows the uniformity of the surface dirt - is there any? - and how the vertical surfaces look exactly like the horizontal surfaces. All seem equally devoid of dirt build up.
Do you think this is one of Alfred's originals from 1924 or a more recent repro?
Before you decide, look at that nice shiny wooden base.
For certain, whatever you decide about the bronze, the base was made scores of years after Laliberté's death.
Maybe quite recently - maybe weeks or months?
It's also a composite wooden base, made by glueing small boards together because the manufacturer didn't want to spend money on larger one piece boards... Somebody interested in maximizing profit... Hmmmh...
Which begs the question, just when was the casting made that sits on top of the new base so carefully custom cut to fit the bottom?
The bronze left was in a fine art auction in 2008; the duplicate Conteurs bronze below was sold recently in a Montreal store for $24,000.... Or did it? Was it a c'mon?
Who got the better deal? Did anyone?
Is it just a coincidence that three of these come on the fine art market at the same time?
Beware Bad Photographs
Don't be fooled by the difference in the pictures. The one on the bottom came from a bad web image. It probably looks exactly like the good quality picture above it.
Remember many people have made horrible mistakes buying paintings at fine art auctions based on catalogue photos, posted web photos, or pdf files.
When the painting arrived many have found, to their utter dismay, that they have misspent thousands of dollars because the real thing looked nothing like the one they saw on the web or the catalogue.
The photographic process puts another level of deception between the consumer and the artwork.
Making the photo look like the original is almost impossible.
Auction photo contractors also want the picture to look good to make sales and so use Photoshop to improve contrast, brightness, colour rendition, etc. Hey, they want the client to be pleased with the job they're doing, not be criticized for making the art look bad, especially when it is...
Many art enthusiasts have paid dearly - pun intended - for not realizing this. Don't buy what you haven't seen personally or touched with your own hands...
|Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
||A very rare - it is the only one we have ever seen - and absolutely fabulous antique, Boer War statue of British General Sir Redvers Buller VC. He was the original British Commander-in-Chief of the Army in South Africa when the Boer War started in 1899 and became a very popular hero in the UK and Canada even though he suffered heavy defeats and was replaced by Lord Roberts within a few months.
But Buller remained much beloved by his men as well as the British populace which demanded and bought up all kinds of laudatory memorabilia in his honour.
This wonderful and rare antique showing the famous Victoria Cross winning general definitely dates to 1900 even though the statue itself has been kept up through the years - someone half a century ago gave it a coat of paint, which, though generally frowned on by purists has enhanced the antique look of this figure.
Clearly the repaint was done out of respect for the general, and the piece, not to tart it up for sale to a gullible buyer.
Base Art - The base tells the tale and confirms the authenticity of the work..
Clearly original to the statue it has not been touched in over 100 years.
The original black paint has flaked off in spots; the metal General Buller plaque shows its age; the wooden base has patches of ground in dirt that has lain there for generations; the nicks and gouges all over it testify to the hurly burly existence it has led, being bounced about during the entire 20th century among countless families.
If you are considering acquiring a statue or bust of a similar age - say 75 to 100 years old - and it does not show these signs of age burn, become extremely suspicious at best.
Better yet, spend your money elsewhere, like, say on a Bentley, so you can amuse yourself watching thousand dollar bills rust off into your drive every month...
Read on to see how busts and figures are made by artists and see where the fakery comes in.
|Statue, Sir Redvers Buller - 1900
|Orig. spelter - Size - 34 cm h
Found - Los Angeles, CA
|The Stages in the Lost Wax Process of Making a Bronze Figure
|An Artist Creates a Genuine Work of Fine Art
||A Repro Man makes a Fake
- The artist creates a one-of-a-kind sculptural model, usually out of clay or plaster.
By definition, genuine fine art Victorian and Edwardian antique bronzes (& spelters, marbles, parians, plasters) must actually have been made (cast) between c 1840 to 1914.
An original work of art, like a painting, made by the artist's own hands.
The problem is that individual sculptures take too much time to make for it to be economical. So a way of copying them has been invented so that some duplicate works can be considered "originals made by the artist." But strict rules apply for them to be considered genuine and not later, fake repros.
The original artistic materials are not available, so neither the artist's original masters are used to make repros, and neither are his hands involved anywhere in making these second rate copies.
Everything in this column is carried out by an unshaven, underpaid, illegally landed immigrant.
It may very well be that these repros themselves are illegally copied without copyright approval from the artist, or his estate, who alone have the legal right to make copies.
Lacking both, the artist's original clay model, and the artist's original mother mould, the repro man (many repro men using different materials are making bronzes) uses any copy of a bust or statue he can find, to make an impression on a rubber mould and create his own mother mould with these inferior copies.
|- The clay model is laid in a bed of soft rubber contained in a hard shell casing made of two halves closing tightly together around the sculpture.
||The artist makes a reverse image of his work by creating an impression in a soft material that hardens and fixes the shapes. (e.g. a protruding nose becomes a hollow in the mould wall.)
- This mould case is opened, the sculpture removed, revealing a perfect impression, front and back of the sculpture, in the rubber mould. This is the mother mould, from which many copies can be made.
The rubber mother mould made from an original carving is the only source for a genuine original sculpture (copy) made by the original artist.
It alone is handled by the artist; it alone has the most faithful original impression of the artist's original clay work; its detail is sharpest; its imperfections the most minimal. It was made while the artist was living.
When an artist dies the family, or estate, keeps the mother mould. They rarely allow it to be used again. But that doesn't stop the repro man from making his own...
|- The mould case is closed and hot wax is poured in, replacing the exact space previously occupied by the artist's original sculpture. Great care is taken to make sure that every nook and cranny of the original impression is faithfully filled with wax.
||The artist uses his rubber mother mould to make a wax duplicate of his original clay figure.
||The repro man uses his inferior mother mould to make degraded copies of his dupe figures.
|- When cooled the mother mould is opened and a hard wax copy of the original sculpture is lifted out. This wax sculpture, faithful to the original in every detail, is called the wax pattern. The wax figure is hand finished to remove imperfections and make it faithful to the original in every way.
The artist's signature is added, as well as a cast number, and a foundry seal or name.
The artist cleans and perfects the wax figure and inscribes his name into the model, the number of copies he plans to make, and the date he creates his work.
|The repro man doesn't need to add the date and signature since they are already on the copy he made his master from and the resulting repro mother mould. Since signatures etc., are multi-generational - not off the original master - they are fainter and less pronounced than real originals.
|- Wax strips (sprues and gates) are attached at various places on the extremities of the wax figure leading back to the throat of the mould. These will become drain holes to let melting wax out and replacement liquid bronze into the mould.
||The artist prepares the wax figure for coating with hard slurry.
||The repro man prepares and coats his repro wax pattern with slurry.
- The wax figure with all its attached strips is dipped in a liquid binder solution (slurry) that clings to the surface of the wax and is allowed to dry. Dipping and drying is done several times as the slurry forms a thick hard shell around the wax figure, into every nook and cranny and around all the wax strips. Many coats of sand are added between dippings to make the investment mould very strong.
- The result is a thick, heavy and hard chunk of material called the investment mould, which completely covers the wax figure (pattern). The investment mould acts exactly like the rubber mould in the earlier mother mould. But this time the mould has hardened slurry sides so it can hold the image when liquid bronze is poured in.
The artist completely covers his wax figure with a thick coating of hardening slurry and lets it dry.
This hard mould is called the investment mould.
|- The investment mould is heated; the wax melts and flows out through all the wax strips. An empty one piece mould result whose hard inner walls hold a perfect impression of the "lost wax figure" that has been drained out.
||The artist heats the investment mould draining out the wax and creating a hollow vessel with the figure impression inside it.
||The repro man drains the wax.
|- Hot liquid bronze is now poured into the throat of the investment mould to take up the space vacated by the lost wax, and taking up the image of the wax figure.
||The artist pours the bronze.
||The repro man pours the bronze.
|- When cool the investment mould is broken, the hardened slurry casing falling away to reveal an exact bronze copy of the earlier wax figure with all its strips attached.
||The artist breaks the investment mould to free the bronze figure encased inside.
||The repro man breaks the investment mould.
|- The bronze strips are cut away, the locations filed so no imperfections of any kind can be seen. This hand finishing of the bronze to perfection is called chasing.
||The artist hand finishes the bronze.
||Repros - since they were made from a copy have all the imperfections, gouges, chips, of the beaten up figure that was used to make the repro mother mould. Slag and metal remains in nooks and crannies are a sign of careless casting work by the repro man not the aging effects of time.
|- Chemicals called oxides are applied to the surface of the bronze to make it look aged (give it a patina).
||The artist applies chemicals.
|- The artist (sometimes) selects a base for the bronze.
||The artist selects a base block in 1899 or 1910.
||The repro man selects a fine base in 2006.
Fine Art - the artist's own hands made the original clay model, the original mother mould, and the first production run of authorized copies signed and dated by him as the creator and manufacturer.
Having been made 100 years ago they look antique and sometimes grotty today.
|Fake - the artist or his original model or mother mould have nothing to do with this run of copies. All are made by a repro man, often illegally using a bust copy to make a fake mother mould, to produce unauthorized second, or third rate copies.
Being new they look shiny and nice on nice bases.
Over the past few years sculptures, supposedly created by famous Canadian artists like Philippe Hébert, Alfred Laliberté, Tait Mackenzie, Marc- Aurèle de Foy Suzor Coté, have been appearing at high end Canadian art auctions in Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver.
They are marketed and sold with their names attached as if their own hands had something to do with creating these particular busts and statues.
By associating the sale of sculptures alongside the sale of original paintings which claim to be hand made and signed by the original painter, the auction houses have been saying these sculptures too were originals made by the sculptor. At least that is what they hope the buyers will think.
Sadly, some buyers believed them and paid 10 to 30 thousand and more for repros because they thought that, like the oils and watercolours that were sold alongside them, these sculptures too were hand-made creations by the original sculptor/artist...
But were they?
What proof is there, that any of them were originals made by the artist?
Do they, in fact, pass the time test, and look like they date back to the time the artist was alive, 75 or 100 years ago?
Apply the preliminary tests illustrated above to the sculpture itself and the base on which it stands: Is the metal shiny or age burned? Are the bases new and unworn without chips and gouges? Are a slew of these so-called antiques suddenly flooding the market?
To assess what is a genuine antique, or original artwork made by an artist, you had better familiarize yourself with the process used to make original sculptures ready for the market. See above.
Clearly sculptors like Frederick Remington created original works, and using the lost wax process, made a small number of their statues available for sale to buyers.
But there are thousands of "Remingtons" offered every year at countless antique auctions across Canada and the US. And gullible people spend thousands for them thinking they have bought an original work of art by the master.
But have they? Did Remington have anything, at all, to do with the sculpture they bought?
Or is the sculpture, in fact, little more than a xerox copy of a painting? And just as valuable...
You can ask the same question with considerable concern about the busts and statues of Canadian sculptors that are appearing with frenetic frequency at Canadian high end auctions.
Is it any wonder the repro men are working overtime casting bogus sculptures in back rooms from repro moulds when a repro small bronze casting brings 15 to 30 thousand dollars at high end auctions.
|Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
A huge and fabulous antique bust of Queen Victoria dating from 1885 which shows the excellent patina that age burn creates on genuine old figures.
The crevices show dirt; the crown has ancient chips missing; the metal top piece is rusty and has worn the parian in a few spots.
The base, which is attached permanently, has dulled the same degree as the rest of the bust.
From top to bottom a genuine antique bust that is 120 years old.
It has heard generations of conversation about momentous occasions in Canadian history in rooms over which it proudly presided from the mantle.
It is the only one we have ever seen.
|Bust, Queen Victoria, 1887 - RJ Morris
|Orig. ceramic bust - Size - 37 cm
Found - Niagara Falls, ON
None of the auction houses (Heffel, Hodgins, Joyner, Sotheby's, Bonham's) put disclaimers in their catalogues saying the bronzes they offer might be repros. They have been selling them all along as original works of art by the artists, mixed in among all their high end original paintings - no repros, or dupes of any kind allowed, thank you.
Alarm bells should have gone off long ago but for some unfathomable reason did not...
The only auction house ever to warn buyers that the bronzes they offer might be repros (mixed in among their original paintings) was Joyner's in May 2008, when it stuck several prominent paper labels above around the bases of most of its bronzes. (But not on the catalogue entries; so internet, out of town, and international bidders would not have seen the disclaimers.)
Clearly Joyner's now believes these to be, not original works of art by the artist himself, but repros done after he has died. It could be many, many years after he has died. It might, in fact, be very recently. Be careful, some may be hot yet to the touch from the forge...
In fact even the warning is not accurate.
Joyner's, of course, has no way of knowing that any of these bronzes were, in fact, recasts of "the artist's original work," which were, of course, his clay models. The artist's original models are virtually impossible for any repro man to find as are his mother moulds made from them.
It is a virtual certainty that neither Joyner nor any other fine art auctioneer can prove that the bronzes they sell were made by the artist himself, or from his clay models, or from his mother-mould...
It is virtually certain that the recasts or repros were made by using existing copies - some of these might even be repros of originals themselves and so degraded another generation - to make new mother moulds. It is obvious that the process will produce an inferior bronze to that originally made by the artist using his original clay models and mother mould.
The result, sales of bronzes tanked precipitously. A bronze that sold for $24,000 in November, 2007, failed to get a bid for $6,000 and failed to sell, though it was similar in every detail to the earlier offering.
So how do the collectors or buyers feel who paid $24,000 for a similar bronze a few months before?
Fine art auctions and art dealers take great pains to say their paintings are all certified originals done by the artist, and originals to his/her time, and we do not allow dupes or any kind, thank you....
If someone paints a copy of a Cornelius Krieghoff painting or a Tom Thomson sketch, complete with signature and date, the auctions turn up their nose and quickly label it as "after Cornelius Krieghoff" or "after Tom Thomson" which in the art world is a polite way of saying "FAKE."
So if someone recasts in bronze - instead of repaints in oil - an original work of art by a sculptor, why has no auction house ever used the phrase "after Philippe Hébert, Alfred Laliberté, Suzor-Coté," after repro works of these top Canadian artists, pretending, instead, that all offerings are genuine works executed by these men in their lifetime?
And why are they mum, in their catalogues, about the real artistic status of the bronzes they offer at the same high end auctions?
Aren't they worried that by refusing to be specific some hapless buyer may just make a mistake and pay tens of thousands for a bronze that is really one worth a dollar or two?
They refuse to alert potential buyers about the problem and refuse to differentiate between the four classes of sculpture that are out there, in descending order of value:
- original bronzes made by the artist in his lifetime, using his original materials (clay model & mother mould) - worth - $10,000-$30,000
- posthumous legal copies made by the artist's estate using the original artist's clay model & mother mould - worth - it's up to you...
- posthumous illegal copies, without the copyright holder's permission and not using the artist's original materials but scavenged duplicates (during the 1940s or 50s or 2008.)
- is $100 too much?
- posthumous legal copies (copyright expired so very new) using scavenged duplicates - worth - $30 bucks, take it or leave it...
SO WHICH ONE OF THESE IS THE BRONZE THAT YOU PAID $25,000 FOR?
People pay thousands for an oil painting by a major artist because his or her hands held that paper, worked that paint, slaved over that very picture to get it right, and proudly signed it as a one-of-a-kind highlight of their painting career.
Famed British sculptor RJ Morris personally supervised the issuing of his huge commemorative bust above, the only one we've ever seen.
The painting was a partner in a time frame in the artist's life long ago. Buyers want to connect personally with this tie to the artist, and are willing to pay high for this most personal connection.
No one wants to pay similar sums for xerox copies, or calendar art of the same picture, regardless of how large or how well done.
It is why people pay $60,000 for 9 x 10 by AY Jackson and only a dollar or two for the same work in a calendar. And why full size fine art prints of the same, in $300 frames, sell for $60 at auctions of estate clearances all over Ontario every day of the week.
It is the same with antiques or memorabilia generally.
People pay high for original furniture, fabrics, or ceramics, and little or less for repros of any kind.
But that's not the case with bronze sculptures.
Unwary Canadian buyers have been caught napping and have paid tens of thousands of dollars for mass produced sculptures that have flooded the art market in recent years.
How & Why Fakes are Made
A fake sculpture of bronze is one not made by the artist's hands (it's shiny and new looking; he's been dead for eons) and not made from the artist's original clay model or its mother mould.
Many original mother moulds are lost or destroyed; a few are controlled by family estates, who won't let repro men near them.
It's easy to see why. Making any posthumous copies devalues the originals made by the artist. When a dealer, recently, wanted to sell a batch of Riopelle originals - not dupes or copies or fakes - the Riopelle family went to court to successfully prevent the rightful owner from selling his genuine Riopelles as a group at one time, because, they told the judge, so many paintings coming on to the market at once would depress the value of the artist's other works.
So what's an art dealer to do when he sees a hungry new market for bonzes but can't locate original antiques to sell?
Why not make new ones...?
He can't locate or get access to an original mother mould so he makes his own.
He finds an original antique figure, say like our plaster Laurier above or even an old bronze, if he can find one, and with all its imperfections that give it the look and feel of an antique, presses that into a rubber mould so creating his own mother mould.
But because he uses a worn statue - itself a copy, of a copy, of a copy - his mould will be considerably softer than originals made from the artist's mother mould which came from a finely sculpted original.
The repro man goes through all the same stages, the wax pattern pour and melt, and the slurry investment mould into which he pours the bronze.
He breaks the investment mould to produce a very bright shiny bronze copy of our plaster copy.
Note: The artist's original was also shiny when he broke open the mould, but he did it a hundred years ago, after which time his bronze has developed a rich patina dusted with dirt of a real antique.
Which should be the first alarm bell for a fake: bright, shiny bronze, with glowing highlights is recently poured bronze.
The repro also has the dead artist's signature and his original date 1896, not what it really should have, the repro man's pour date 2006. No bright, shiny bronze today was poured in 1896.
Unwary collectors who are primed to believe that a painting with an 1890 date was actually painted then - and most are - are frequently taken in by bronzes sold alongside them at fine art auctions, thinking that the work they are fondling was actually made in the date it carries, 1899. To be truly in parallel to the paintings the bronze should carry the date when the repro man made it, 2006, not that of the artist from whose original work the displayed figure was cheaply copied by a con man.
Not declaring when the work was recast (say 2005) is underhand, unethical, and dishonest. The intent is clearly to let the unwary buyer believe he/she is actually fondling a dated antique made by the artist, instead of a recent cheap repro.
The repro man, proud of his shiny 2006 work - hell he's a con man, not an artist or a knowledgeable antique collector - now puts a nice shiny, new base under his newly poured bronze.
Most of the bronzes we've seen at major art auctions have been on brand new, bright shiny wooden or marble bases. Strange for a sculpture supposedly sitting on it for over a hundred years. Some bases are even made of composite wood of the kind favoured by IKEA.
The Auction Houses.
Have they no shame?
They fence these, no questions asked, even though big time alarm bells should have gone off, long ago, among their so-called art experts. (And yes experts at competing auction houses have told us privately that real fakes are bing sold by the other fine art sellers...
But hey, if they're getting $15 to $30,000 - if you can believe it - for each of these likely fakes is it any wonder that they are putting more and more on the auction block.
Fine Art or Fake? - Sold for $24,150
This statue of Madeleine de Verchères, the original of which was executed by Canada's top Victorian and Edwardian sculptor, Louis-Philippe Hébert, in 1911, was one of numerous bronze copies offered during the past year, at Canadian fine art auctions in Vancouver (Heffel), Calgary (Hodgins), Toronto (Heffel, Joyner, Sotheby's).
They have been sold as original works of fine art by the artist, for from $10 to $30,000.
Philippe created the original and its mother mould in 1911.
Does this look like it was made by him, then, or at any time during his life time - he died in 1917?
The circumstantial evidence appears to be all against it...
You might consider the patina... Have those shiny bright highlights been exposed to a century of oxidation?
Where are the heavy layers of the dust of a century plus, in the nooks and crannies of the rifle, the clothing, etc.?
A huge proportion of the busts and statues we have seen at art auctions do not come off well, at all, when comparing them, with a critical eye, with genuine, certified plaster, iron, or bronze antiques of a century ago.
Especially suspicious is the fact that they are all making their sudden appearance at all the fine art auctions at the same time... The same mould, stamp, size, and weight. Many are on identical bases. Some dupes come from the same Art Gallery.
Why should that be?
Do real antiques suddenly appear, simply by coincidence, as if they are coming off an assembly line?
We have wondered why the leading auction houses have not looked with a critical eye at this bonanza of original sculptures by Canada's leading Victorian and Edwardian artists suddenly bursting on the scene with such gusto during 2007-2008?
Bonanza is maybe the right word since they all have been selling them for $10 to $30,000... as if they were genuine original works of fine art made by the artist himself in his lifetime.
But were they?
Would you, as a collector, be happy to pay $20,000 for a Bateman print, when his original painting of the same scene is available for $20,000.
Left is another bronze (Le Violoneux by Alfred Laliberté ) offered at a recent Canadian fine art auction. It sold for $9,200.
The original of this - note our use of language - was made by Alfred Laliberté c 1925. Did he, with his own hands, strike this particular one from his original mother mould at the same time?
Does the patina betray almost a century of oxidation? Is a century of dirt packed into the crevices?
Look at the base...
Almost all the statues and busts we have seen at fine art auctions come mounted on brand, spanking new, shiny wood or marble bases.
You've seen old tables, chairs, cupboards that have lain around for a 100 years... Does this base - or other similar ones under these statues - compare? Was it manufactured in 1925? And has it weathered 90 years of age burn beneath this statue, through countless generations of careless handling?
So, should you suddenly realize you've bought a fake for tens of thousands of dollars... what do you do? What can you do?
Caveat emptor, big time, in the art auction world...
The auction houses have already protected themselves by stating in their catalogues that anything they sell at their auctions is "in our qualified opinion a work by the artist."
The auction house will simply reply, "So we were wrong. We didn't claim to be infallible like the Pope. Which is why we offer a qualified opinion and disclaimer in our catalogue. Our regrets to you but we sold it and you bought it. Sale completed. Enjoy it. We're certainly enjoying our 10 grand."
You really have no one to blame but yourself. For trusting an auctioneer, anytime, any place, at any auction, to be looking out for your best interests... instead of his...
Base Art or Fine Art?
Compare this genuine antique bust of Robert Wright by Frederick Dunbar c 1890, offered by Joyner Fine Arts in 2007. Though painted plaster it shows the age burn that you expect in genuine antiques:
It also has the wooden type base you should look for on genuine Victorian and Edwardian busts and statues.The evidence of antiquity is obvious.
The surface gloss that once was there has faded and abraded, over the years, to a weathered, dry and dull look. Why it looks like a real antique...
Of special note is the type of wood construction that was used - pie shaped wooden sections cut and carefully fitted and glued together by a craftsman. Not cheap.
And do note, how, in a hundred years, the wooden sections have shrunk and the glue has come apart in places.
Compare this with the shiny new wooden and marble bases that are underneath 90% of the bronzes offered at fine art auctions these days.
Right offered at a recent Canadian fine art auction is this bronze, supposedly c 1925 by Alfred Laliberté. It sold for $9,200.
Note that many composite wooden bases supposedly under "original antique" bronzes are made cheap IKEA style, by gluing bits of wood together to make a single base. (Long narrow boards - usually cast offs from more valuable wide board construction - are glued together, side by side, to make a wide board from which various shapes are jig sawed out. You can cut out many bases for bronzes in a few minutes.)
Frankly, it looks cheap and is cheap, when you might expects a solid piece of fine wood as a base for a valuable antique. Though it may look adequate to a fast talking salesman, would the original artist have gone for that IKEA cheap look?
Does this base date from the 1920s?
Point of Information: The Amon Carter Museum (Fort Worth, Texas), which has a huge collection of original Remingtons and Charlie Russell bronzes, states categorically that Russell never put a marble base under any of his sculptures, but the repros of his works often have them - so a Charlie Russell bronze with a nice marble base is a fake... (Remington and Russell were contemporaries of Suzor-Coté)
Think about it... in his original composition, an artist includes a base of a type that sets off his sculpture the best. The artist creates a complete work to begin with, of the materials and support platform that suits - and does not detract from - his work. If the base is integral to the figure - cast as one piece, like in parians and plasters - then the base is artist created. If a bronze has something screwed into the base, a salesman is trying to screw you, by tarting up the bottom of a figure which the artist had declared "perfect" without a wooden or shiny marble base.
Think about it... Would you put two hats on a head? Why two feet on a statue?
Dust is not Dirt - You may note the dirt on the work above and say "Good, it's old."
You would be wrong of course. It's merely dusty, as anything gets to be if left alone in any house for a few months. Fondling fingers have already removed some of it; a feathery swiffer will remove the rest easily, perhaps revealing it to be a brand, spanking new bronze, cast by a repro man in some disreputable cellar in the Rue St. Paul in Quebec.
Genuine antiques have real hard dirt in the crevices, that no swiffer can remove...
Compare the dirt and age with the four 19th century bases illustrated here, two wooden ones, and a black and a white marble.
As dust accumulates through the passing decades, it coagulates, mixes with impurities in the air, changes chemically, and starts to interact with the metal and begins to bond with it. Through time it almost becomes glued into crevices, and hollows. It will take a stiff brush and plenty of elbow grease to remove it. If you're dumb enough.
No one, but no one, removes patina or surface age burn from any antique, whether furniture or bust. The age burn validates it as an antique. Why devalue a genuine old looking antique to make it look brand new as if it came from IKEA, Leon's, the Brick, or some disreputable repro maker?
The dullness, and abrasions on the old black wooden base can be excellent proof that the statue on it is old if it has the same age burn as the base.
The dullness of old marble is evident in both marble bases. The ring of old dirt in the black one is ancient. The white marble, pristine when made, has taken on the discoloration, and nicks and gouges of a hundred years of handling and age burn.
Left don't forget to look underneath an "antique" bronze or marble, to see how the "antique" base (socle or plinth) is attached...
Few people do and are bitterly disappointed when they get home..
On real antiques bolts, nuts, and washers that are 100 years old, like this one, are rusty, discoloured, and may be rusted shut. The marble stained by rust draining off over the decades.
Below, under another marble base on a so-called antique being sold at a Canadian fine art auction.
This black marble base still has white dust from the countersinking process to make way for the bright shiny Robertson screws to hold it in place...
Bought at Home Depot last week...
Two very fine antique horses, a Victorian Pyotr Turgenev in bronze left, the other of Emperor Franz-Joseph of Austria-Hungary in silver, show you what to look for to separate fine art from repros.
Note how the metal oxidized differently over time, leaving the surface of a real antique with a patchy patina that adds valuable antique punch and increases the value of a bust or figure. Newly poured bronze is comparatively even looking by comparison..
The dirt, again, in all the nooks and crannies show the chemical interaction it has undergone and in places has actually started to burrow into the metal.
This creates a patina that antique collectors love to see because it gives an antique a warmth and a lived in look that just cannot be matched by shiny newly poured bronze figures, no matter how charming the subject may be.
That's why they pay a premium for these and shun the shiny and clean repro looking bronzes that look like they were made as prizes at the Toronto Exhibition or an upcoming local Fall Fair.
|Fine Art ? Or Fart for Short
Curious antique collectors are asking why so many copies of Suzor-Coté's original Women of Caughnawaga have appeared at fine art auctions since 2006? For years one sees none; then suddenly a glut...
Some versions are split; others have all three women on one casting. You only want two? Or one? The convertible model is designed to offer something for every preference...
Right just in time to satisfy a resurgent interest in French-Canadian heroes, is a bronze of an original by Philippe Hébert right. Would you pay $20,000 for it as an original by Philippe, from 1898, or a couple of hundred dollars for a very recent repro? This one sold for $26,450... Was that a good deal? Or a very bad investment?
Frankly, for starters, we would have preferred a different base, rather than one which duplicatesone already put on by the artist, and looks like it came from the Brick or Leon's... last month... But then, what do we know?
Clearly, when considering sculpture as a fine art investment you are on your own. There are no guarantees possible. And the pitfalls are many.
It Rains; It...
Happy coincidence? Or...
Alfred Laliberté's La Poésie showing up a week apart, at Hodgins (Calgary) left, and TWO at Joyner's (Toronto) below.
And all on different bases...
Make that bases under bases!!!
|Madeleine de Verchères
Philippe Hébert's Madeleine de Verchères offered, at Canadian fine art auctions, within months of each other, above left to right at:
- Joyner's Fine Art (winter 07 sold for $24,150),
- Heffel's Fine Art (winter 07 sold for $8,100),
- Sotheby's Fine Art (spring 08 sold for $18,000),
- Joyner's Fine Art (May 27, 2008, actually had TWO, left and right but failed to get opening bids for either, one offered at $14,000, the other at $6,000.
Below, the location of Canada's largest and finest bronze statue at Verchères near Montreal, where the heroic Madeleine defended her farming neighbours from Indian attack. It is for this location that this statue was an original commission in 1911.
Luckily there seems to be an endless supply for those who would like one of these.
So they turn up at almost every fine art auction to ensure that no customer - like for dolls at the Ex - needs to fear going home without one.
Right is the statue as it stood 100 years ago, after it was ereced.
Below as it sits today.
|Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
||Utilistone, Type 10: Statue Pedestal
Canada's largest bronze statue, by famed sculptor Philippe Hébert at Verchères, is supported on a pedestal adorned with bystoneders gathered from where Madeleine defended her community from annihilation in 1692.
Not bad for a 14 year old, and a girl...
The figure beside the monument gives an idea of scale.
The utilistones are framed by concrete alterstones.
The statue, for our money - and we've seen them all - is simply the finest, the most emotive, the most artistic, of any in all of Canada.
The stance is truly Canadian, not threatening, not warlike, not aggressive, not macho, but vibrantly alert, and the rifle, not up to give offense, but perfectly placed "at the ready" to defend hearth and home.
Madeleine would be proud. It is a statue every Canadian should take a side trip to see.
From a distant past when leading women worked for the good of the community, instead of like today, where many of them - like female media types - just pander grovelingly at the feet of the rich and super-rich corporate men to help them manipulate the masses and subvert the democracy for their own selfish purposes.
|Utilistone, Monument, Madeleine de Verchères, Verchères, PQ
|Orig. statue -
Found - Verchères, PQ
|Evangeline - Below Philippe's very popular Evangeline, which was actually finished by his son Henri in 1921.
One just wishes that Philippe - as well as Alfred above - could make up their minds about what kind of base to use to set off their work to its best advantage; all three are different, again...!!!
Below left to right Evangeline at Heffel's (Nov 23, 2007, sold for $9,200); Joyner's (Nov 20, 2007, sold for $11,500): Joyner's (May 27, 08, failed to get a bid at $6,000).
There were other Evangelines offered for sale at fine art stores in Montreal and Quebec, as well as on the internet.
So don't be disappointed that you don't have yours yet...
Which reminds us of the joke going on after Elizabeth Taylor married her eighth husband. Said one wag, at the time, "Hey every man deserves to sleep with Elizabeth Taylor... And at the rate she's going, every man will!"
So hang in there; you'll shortly find your Madeleine, or Evangeline, or Caughnawaga Women, or...
The question is, do you want to pay $25,000 for the privilege, or $10,000? Or is $40 more reasonable for what they really are?
Better shop carefully... there are a lot of unhappy high bidders out there, who thought they were buying an original work of art by the artist, only to discover later, they merely owned a repro made recently by a less noble individual...
Remember - there are no iron clad guarantees on items bought at auctions, only very qualified opinions of authenticity from the auction house. If you suspect you've bought a fake, it's up to you to spend your money to prove it. And you can only do it using experts that the auction houses approve of... Sounds like a losing game.
It is... For you...
|Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
||Now for a real bronze: the original statue contracted out to Louis-Philippe Hébert and finished by his son Henri Hébert in 1921 (left and above)
This place is overrun with tourists in the summer, who all go home wanting a copy of this statue in their TV room. But not for $25,000, or $9,000 which fine art evaluators are saying they're worth, pretending they are originals cast by the master himself.
Below Louis-Philippe's own hands helped shape this very bronze in 1917, and though he probably didn't sign the base of the wax figure that came out of his mother mould (he died before it was finished) this is a priceless original. And Parks Canada can prove it...
Henri also made a limited number of small copies, with his own hands, from his father's original clay model, and the resulting mother mould.
They are wonderful to own, if you can ever find one... Think about it... Who would ever give one up??? So how do you explain the glut of Madeleines and Evangélines at fine art auctions?
And who is expert enough to tell Henri's own collector targetted originals from 1921, apart from the countless repros made in the 1990s to satisfy the tourist hunger...? Which are worth a couple of hundred dollars... If the copies are good...
|Evangeline, Grand Pré, Nova Scotia - Louis-Philippe Hébert
|Orig. bronze - Size - over life size
Found - Grand Pré, Nova Scotia
Executed - 1921
|Looking for a Gullible Buyer???
Right and below, two bronzes of Suzor-Coté's L'iroquois suddenly appeared together at different fine art auctions, and sold within one day of each other: the one right selling at Joyner's (Nov 20, 2007) for $14,950; the one below at Sotheby's (Nov 19, 2007) for $24,000. Joyner's tried another in May 2008, but found no bidder this time.
Curious though... Not a speck of dust on any of them. I guess when you ask to get 20 grand you can afford to have a cleaning lady steel brush them clean... So they look nice and spiffy to appeal even to the most picky customers...
Who got the deal? Did anyone?
And the auctioneers don't count...
Right Joyner's found no bidders for the L'iroquois in May 2008.
Below Bonham's first ever Canadian fine art auction sale in Toronto, Ontario, (June 19, 2008) came up with the fourth copy of L'iroquois to appear in fine art auctions in a six month period. It failed to find a bidder...
But, however nice an original Suzor-Coté is, virtually no one has ever seen one, let alone owned one...!
An expert - he called himself the authority on Suzor-Coté bronzes - informed us that Suzor-Coté made only a very odd one or two himself because, in his lifetime, there was no market hue and cry for his bronzes.
Furthermore, the expert informed us, all the Suzor-Coté bronzes were made long after the artist's death by a relative who inherited his estate.
A niece started to make copies from the original plasters in 1979, and had them cast and stamped by the Roman Bronze Works, Inc. which was in business, in New York, till 1988.
Famed American sculptors Frederick Remington and Charlie Russell had their bronzes cast there, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, while they were alive. But not Suzor-Coté.
So none of the Suzor-Coté bronzes that appear at fine art auctions are antiques, or were made by him, felt the brush of his hand, or heard his voice... They all have lost the magic touch or connection to the artist that collectors of originals cherish so much.
So if so-called "Krieghoffs," painted after he died, are labelled as "after Krieghoff" - a nice way of saying "fakes" - shouldn't bronzes cast by others be similarly referred to, not as works by the artist, but works "after Suzor-Coté?" After all they were made "after" he died; and someone else "chased" them and removed the imperfections to make them ready for marketing.
Furthermore, the expert contends, many of the Suzor-Coté bronzes which appeare at fine art auctions, are not even estate produced originals from the Roman Bronze Works period.
This means they are not made from good original plasters but from inferior dupes, one or two generations further along in the manufacturing process.
Tantalizingly he told us he, in fact, knew who was making the fake dupes, many of which are flooding the market recently.
SO, WHEN BUYERS SPEND $10,000 ON A SUZOR-COTÉ BRONZE HOW DO THEY KNOW WHICH FAKES THEY ARE BUYING - THE FAKES MADE BY THE NIECE, OR THE FAKES CONTINUING TO BE MADE BY THE MYSTERIOUS REPRO MAN???
So, next time you plan to spend thousands on the conveyor belt bronzes sure to be coming down the assembly line, at a fine art auction near you, ask the art expert, just how do you know what you have and what proof is there? The answer should not make you sleep better at night...
|Le Médecin - The Doctor to you...
In November 2007, Joyner's offered 16 bronzes attributed to Suzor-Coté, Alfred Laliberté, Philippe Hébert, and R Tait McKenzie.
Only two of 16 did not sell; the other 14 went for tens of thousands of dollars, many in the mid $20,000 range, and one for $39,100. Joyner's proudly published its auction results.
Six months later, in May 2008, Joyner's, obviously wanting to capitalize on a good thing, offered 26 similar bronzes, named to the same artists, almost doubling the bronze offerings of their previous sale.
A number were repeats of the earlier figures. For instance, another le Médecin (the Doctor) by Suzor-Coté right showed up. Sporting a very nice new two piece wooden base.
After all it only makes good business sense.... At the previous sale one below had sold for a whopping $25,300, probably by someone waving an OHIP card.
Joyner's now even offered multiples (at the same auction) of some bronze figures including: doubles of La Poésie, doubles of plaque profiles of Suzor-Coté, doubles of Maria Chapdelaine, and blush - greed is so unbecoming - doubles of Madeleine de Verchères, one of which had gotten $24,150 in the fall sale. And why not? Two more would rake in a cool $50,000.
Shock! Shock! Shock! - Only four of the 26 bronzes sold this time; a whopping 22 bronzes did not sell at auction, failing to even get the minimum opening bids asked for by the auctioneers. (Four bronzes were sold for lesser amounts and reduced premiums through side deals after the auction.)
What was suddenly wrong with the bidders - the same crowd which was at the previous auction? Didn't they recognize original fine art bronzes personally hand-crafted by Canada's leading Victorian and Edwardian sculptors?
Were the buyers spooked by a suspicious glut of similar figures...?
Clearly, buyers were getting cold feet...
They were now in a cold sweat.
Were the supposed fine art originals, which they thought they had bought before - at fine art auctions across Canada - not the rare originals they thought had been pried loose from deceased collectors, but were, instead, hot off the press copies from a conveyor belt run by a greedy repro man pouring them as fast as he could in a seedy back street in Montreal?
Did they pay tens of thousands of dollars, before, for repros that were worth only a couple of hundred bucks?
And the answer to that is...
Clearly the buyers - collectors and resellers - were now totally spooked...
If they put their bronze - for which they had paid $25,000 - back on the market they were clearly faced with not being able to recoup even five or six thousand dollars, if they were lucky, from a market that appeared totally suspicious now.
Oh, and half of any sale also goes to the auction house, for reselling your bronze. You're down to two grand - if you're lucky enough to find a buyer even at that price...
Frankly, suicide is a better way out...
Or start your own fine art auction house...
It might be a very good time. There are still no rules regulating the conduct of auction houses, or auctioneers, in Canada. They can say and do pretty much what they want without having to conform with either provincial or Canadian statutes and regulations. Not like in the US where strict regulations apply to restrain auction houses from abusing their clientele with a wide variety of spurious practices all designed to "separate a fool from his money."
|Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
||Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
|Boer War Statue, Brantford, ON - Hamilton MacCarthy
||Boer War Statue, Halifax, NS - Hamilton MacCarthy
|Orig. statue - Size - over life size
Found - Brantford, ON
|Orig. statue - Size - over life size
Found - Hallifax, NS
Above and below, a superlative Canadian collection of fabulous genuine "fine art" bronzes, sculpted and cast with guaranteed hands-on craftsmanship by Canada's finest Victorian and Edwardian sculptors.
They are the high end of fine art indeed; no repro man made these from dupes of dubious origin.
They are one-ofs, only one ever having been made of each, and so are priceless.
Each one heard its creator's voice, felt his touch...
And they show the patina of a hundred years of exposure to the atmosphere. The signatures were made by the artists themselves on the wax pattern from which the bronzes were cast.
Two of the top Victorian and Edwardian sculptors, left Philippe Hébert and Hamilton MacCarthy.
Fortunate are those lucky enough to own a genuine piece of fine art crafted by these geniuses and their contemporaries Alfred Laliberté and Suzor-Coté.
Unfortunately, those collectors are very few indeed.
|Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
||Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
|Lt. Borden Bust, Canning, NS - Hamilton MacCarthy
||Boer War Statue, Calgary, AB - Philippe Hébert
Of course only governments can afford to commission such huge one-of, genuine fine art bronzes. But private collectors, too, would like to have work by famous sculptors, so small bronzes and plasters were made and copied under the artist's supervision to allow people to have their work to put in their homes at an affordable price.
The problem arises because today few originals made by the artists themselves are available, and the demand is growing. So repro men step in to be of service and make hundreds of bronze repros to satisfy the hunger. These, of course, have the same relationship to the original artist as a Bateman print has to Robert Bateman. Nice enough, as far as they go. But would you pay for such a depersonalized machine made copy as if it were an original masterpiece that once graced Bob's studio, felt the touch of his brush, and heard his voice as he toiled on into the night?
With a dupe bronze you can hear voices too - the jubilant cackle of the gloating repro man as he lifts another off the conveyor belt and readies it for shipment to a fine art store or fine art auction near you...
The Case of the Missing Provenance
Where has that fine art sculpture spent the last hundred years?
With these huge public monuments there is no gap in the paper trail to the artist. Hamilton MacCarthy's fabulous Boer War soldier right has graced the public square in downtown Charlottetown, PEI since 1902. Its pedigree, and that of all the other monumental sculptures, is bullet-proof. These are the genuine fine art models hand-crafted by the original artists themselves.
Small bronzes which show up at fine art auctions either have no provenance - or less - listed in the catalogues. Where have they been? Where have they come from? The original artist? Or...
The best any of them can boast is "private collection" which covers absolutely everyone in the Western World including the auctioneers themselves and repro fabricators everywhere.
"Private collection" is, in fact, in the art world, more a cover for abuse of provenance, rather than proof of authenticity as an antique, let alone certifying a real tie to its creator.
Just looking at the different condition of the bronzes that appear at auctions - no one bothers duping plasters - and the widely varying bases they are on, should tell you that these copies do not come from one creative genius - the artist - but a wide assortment of unartistic clods more attuned to Fuller Brush duping and salesmanship than fine art presentation.
Repros, in fact, can be - and are - made by anyone who wants to dupe some kind of bust or statue by striking a mould from an existing sculpture. Which accounts for the wide variation in quality.
Bronzes for duping are preferred by repro men. You can ask for a lot more money for them than you can for plaster busts.
In fact in the mid-20th century fine art dealers in Montreal openly encouraged each other to find plaster busts and statues simply to destroy them to increase the value of their more expensive bronze copies.
Specific targets for destruction were the original plasters of Laurier, at the top left of this page, to enhance the value of the bronze counterparts top right..
An original work by the artist was destroyed to enhance the value of a later repro.
Some people, in the fine art world, will do anything for money...
|Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
|Boer War Memorial - Charlotteown, PEI - Hamilton MacCarthy 1902
|Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
||Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
|Queen Victoria - Hamilton MacCarthy 1897
||Sir John A Macdonald, by Louis-Philippe Hébert - 1886
|Orig. bronze bust - Size - 46 cm, wt 11.8 kg
Found - Shakespeare, ON
Signed H MacCarthy RCA, Sculptor, 1897
|Orig. plaster statue - Size - 75 cm, wt 7.3 kg
Found - Cambridge, ON
Signed Philippe Hébert
|Two superlative sculptures - fine art thank you, not repros - made over 100 years ago by the very hands of Hamilton MacCarthy and Philippe Hébert. And both on bases the artist chose...
The Queen Victoria is a very rare heavy bronze Hamilton himself made in 1897; you won't find another in your lifetime. The John A Madonald is suitably plastered and very hard to find, made by Philippe Hébert in 1886.
The sculptors made the original clay models and then went through the process to make a very limited number of legitimate "fine art" duplicates.
The signature on the right shows Philippe cast the wax master for this statue on Jan 14, 1886 and supervised the casting of this legitimate "fine art copy" shortly after.
If one were to make a repro mould using this statue it would of course contain all the imperfections of this time worn plaster. The signature would become less distinct. Worst of all - from a collector's viewpoint, though not that of the repro man or the auction houses - the original date would be copied making the buyer think he was buying a work made in 1886, when in fact, it was recast by repro man with new bronze in 2008.
Philippe, of course, would have no connection with the repro bronze that results. The mystique of fine art, the spiritual connection with the artist himself is gone... So why pay for what isn't?
It should still be worth two or three hundred dollars, but not the multi-thousands of an original like the two above..
Nothing shows the pride an artist has in the work he makes than the signature here, scratched by Philippe Hébert, into his wax mould that January day in 1886.
"Philippe Hébert fecit 14-1- 86" he proudly announced to the world.
Fecit is Latin for "he made (it)" and was used in the 19th century by sculptors.
Would that the repro men were as open about when they made their copies. And the auction houses about making them come clean...
Don't hold your breath...
Fine art auction houses and art dealers must start to come clean about what kind of bronzes they are really selling and not just lump all four categories of bronze castings into one group, pretending - however good it is for their business - that all were made by the artist, at the date inscribed, with the original materials. (See Four Classes of Sculptures above.)
The vast majority of Frederick Remingtons are fakes, repros made from whatever by whoever takes the trouble to make a duping mould.
There are thousands out there. And the low prices they get at auctions - regardless of how large or magnificent - are in the hundreds of dollars, not tens of thousands...
The Canadian marketeers must recognize that the same glut of repros situation exists in Canada and start labelling their bronzes more honestly, if they want to salvage whatever is left of their reputations among those who love Canadian art and antiques.
Evaluations of Fine Art Bronzes
What is especially disturbing, in evaluations of the bronzes by fine art auction houses listed above, is that prices for statues with the same name get the same value... the originals, the estate repros, the bad fakes, and the good fakes. Though they carefully avoid tagging them so the unaware buyer can assume whatever he/she would like...
So all four Joyner Maria Chapdelaines were valued at $8,000 as was the Sotheby one. And the four Evangelines were all pegged at $10,000. Even by auction houses who have not seen the bronzes the others are selling.
Now why should that be?
Evaluating bronzes by fine art auction houses is not an exact science; far from it. Evaluations are based on prices realized, previously, for similar works... Really that's all. It takes no brains to check prices realized at past auctions and average them or raise the estimate slightly, or a lot, if the market is hot, and hope someone will rise and take the bait.
And usually there is a brash stock market wheeler-dealer type who's just made a killing in the market and wants to show off, ready to rise to the bait.
So if some brash show-off mistakenly pays $25,000 for a fake bronze, that enters the computation. If several fakes sell for $20,000, that becomes the benchmark valuation for a fake that would otherwise be worth only a few dollars. It's how the ignorant, and the rich, skew the valuations of bronzes and art in general. And fine art salesmen (stores, dealers, and auctions) are not going to step in and order a corrective. Not when they make multi-thousands on every sale...
Of course they crow loudly indeed when they have a genuine work of art. But they're not so mysteriously mum when the bronze is questionable at best. It's all about the bottom line.
The rich are accustomed to want instant gratification that lots of money has given them the power to command. So they tell their art dealer "Get me a Riopelle or a couple of Suzor-Cotés for the board room; just keep it under a million."
Art dealers love this kind of junk bond salesman type of client and scurry fast to scoop up anything with Suzor-Coté's name on it, before the customer gets cold feet and he loses his 20% commission (finder's fee.)
No wonder the conveyor belts are busy rolling out the bronzes...
The paternity of bronzes may always prove to be a problem.
So invest instead in sculptures in other materials where duping them is very difficult or not possible.
Parian ware figures are a fabulous substitute if they are signed and pass the time test.
Spelter figures - like Joffre top - can be fabulous.
But not for the rich of course.
They know the price of everything and the value of nothing...
They buy, not because an item has historic or cultural value, but because it cost lots - tons - and they want their friends - and enemies - to know that, and wave it in their face at the next dinner party.
"Wow! You could afford to spend that much on that little thing? What is it anyway?"
"Well I don't know, but my art dealer said it was a very good price at $35,000, and convinced me to buy it." (PS Art dealers get 20% or more, of any deal.)
So the only ones who suffer from overpriced repros are the ones who caused the problem in the first place, those rich enough to pay $25,000 for a hunk of metal of questionable origin.
God works in mysterious ways...
We predict - you can quote us - that the bronze is going to go - with or without the participation of the fine art salesmen - the way of the other "after" types of art, like "after Krieghoff," "after Van Gogh," and "after Monet" or is that "after Money?"
Once purveyed, for tens of thousands of dollars, by pompadoured and scented men in suits, to gullible buyers eager for a piece of the real artist, "after" painting repros can, seldom now, be found at fine art auctions anymore, but are sold at the low end art auctions where frumpy men in scruffy shirts, with prosperous middles and bad hair, send them on their way, with a wry chuckle, for a few hundred dollars... And smirk privately, because, hey, they themselves wouldn't pay even that much for them...
Invariably, we admit, some of these will, with a nice "floating" signature, courtesy of a repro artist, make their way back into the fine art auctions, this time as a "genuine signed work" by a major artist like Krieghoff.
The bronzes will soon show up in the after market as well, selling, as a nice piece of metal for a couple of hundred bucks...
And some of these will be recycled back too... to men in scented suits...
Isn't this where we came in?
For those who want to buy repros of famous people why not buy these?
They're nice, done to look like bronze.
You can buy both on ebay for $49 any day of the week.
Now that's a good deal for a bronzy repro: 24 bucks for one...
|Copyright Goldi Productions Ltd. - 1996, 1999, 2005, 2010