Published  14/01/2002

Forgery in the citadel of connoisseurship


The Getty Museum was deeply shocked to be alerted to the possibility of a number of forged Renaissance drawings in its midst, especially since the purchasing policy has been altruistic, scholarly, and, need one say it, generous. And yet the spectre of forgery came to haunt the sublime piazzas and vaults of the newly sanctified Getty Museum, Los Angeles. The late, unlamented British-born forger Eric Hebborn appeared to emerge as the culprit, from a sophisticated decoding process applied by then curator Nicholas Turner. This increased the likelihood that up to five Renaissance drawings might be from the hand of Hebborn: and even if this was not verified, other tests indicated forgery to be probable. Public knowledge of this trauma occurred soon after curator Turner’s impromptu departure from the Getty. Turner had been working on the definitive catalogue of the museum’s drawings collection. Given his singular reputation as a Renaissance scholar, this should prove an important milestone in the development of the Getty as a world-class centre of excellence in museum terms. Publication has now been suspended, Turner himself is back in England, now working on a forthcoming publication on Renaissance art, which is itself keenly anticipated by academic and museum interests. Fortunately, Turner’s scholarly reputation remains unsullied by his previous rejection. As Mark Jones, present Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, maintained himself not long ago, as the curator of an outstanding British Museum exhibition, entitled Fake; ‘Museums act as a guarantee of the authenticity of what’s on display’. He added, ‘if a museum contains things which are inauthentic, then what it is saying becomes a lie.’ The guarantee in fact has to be cast iron, and the museum’s integrity is otherwise at stake regardless.

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