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Although forgery is of some interest to artists, on the whole  I find it pretty academic stuff. The aim of the art forger is to produce an image which will pass as another’s by adopting the style of a known master and using the same materials. To my mind, since the forger is not producing something in his own style, he is not often a source of ideas: his work is restricted. When a forgery is discovered and made public, I am usually disappointed as it is rarely as well executed or inspiring as an original. Undiscovered forgeries are, of course, unknown in quantity and, since they are undiscovered, probably very convincing.

A friend of mine in a similar creative profession introduced me to “The Art Forger’s Handbook” by Eric Hebborn (a brilliant forger, mostly of Old Master drawings – although he would argue over the epithet and was certainly never convicted of forgery). This book is no longer in print and I had to pay a lot more than the original price to get hold of a copy but the purchase was well worth it. There is a considerable amount of information about the techniques Hebborn used which were based on his extensive research into those of the old masters. Although it is exactly what the title says it is, the book has much in it for the artist who wants more information on materials, their use, their durabilty and their aging process. It is also written with wit and in an easy style. The fact that probably most of Hebborn’s forgeries remain undiscovered is proof of the efficacy of his methods and the thoroughness of his research which make this book sound reading for any artist.

Did the book make me want to indulge in forgery? No, but I was better informed of the nuts and bolts of painting and drawing after reading it. For would-be forgers, a warning – Hebborn, when unmasked, published his handbook, but soon afterwards his life came to a very suspicious and abrupt end in a back street in Rome.


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