French art museum discovers over half the works in its collection are fake

Local mayor described the revelation as a catastrophe for the community

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 April, 2018, 3:53pm
UPDATED : Monday, 30 April, 2018, 10:18pm

An art museum in the south of France has discovered that more than half of its collection are fakes, in what the local mayor has described as a “catastrophe” for the region.

The tiny 8,000-strong community of Elne just outside Perpignan reopened its Etienne Terrus museum, dedicated to the works of the local artist born in 1857, on Friday after extensive renovation work.

But an art historian brought in to reorganise the museum following the recent acquisition of around 80 paintings, found that nearly 60 per cent of the entire collection were forgeries.

“Etienne Terrus was Elne’s great painter. He was part of the community, he was our painter,” said mayor Yves Barniol.

“Knowing that people have visited the museum and seen a collection most of which is fake, that’s bad. It’s a catastrophe for the municipality.” 

Eric Forcada, the art historian who uncovered the counterfeits, said he had seen straight away that most of the works were fake. 

“On one painting, the ink signature was wiped away when I passed my white glove over it.” 

He alerted the region’s cultural attaché and requested a meeting of a panel of experts to confirm his findings. 

“At a stylistic level, it’s crude. The cotton supports do not match the canvas used by Terrus and there are some anachronisms,” Forcada said.  

In all, out of the 140 works that make up the collection, 82 were forgeries. 

 Mayor Barniol insisted that the investigation would continue until the culprits had been found. 

“We’re not giving up,” he said. 

Forcada said before the scandal, paintings by Terrus – who died in 1922 – could fetch up to 15,000 (US$18,200) and drawings and watercolours would sell for up to 2,000.