Dutch Art Forger Proudly Exhibits His Works

ent-forge.jpgZEIST ~ Dutch art forger Geert Jan Jansen’s fortunes have turned. Once rebuked for his fakes of Picasso, Matisse and other masters, this copy-cat virtuosity is now making him an honest living.

Jansen walks proudly through an exhibition of his imitations in the central city of Zeist. He still produces fakes – but today his own name completes the canvases, alongside the “signature” of the original master.

Sometimes, his own name even stands alone.

After stumbling onto his talent as a cash-strapped young man, Jansen flooded art collections of Europe and beyond with brilliantly forged masterpieces for three decades until he was caught in 1994.

If he owes his livelihood to the controversy still clinging to his name, he is bittersweet about his ability.

“When a musician reproduces a sonata of Bach, one applauds him. Me, I reproduce a sonata of Picasso and I am placed under arrest,” he says with a smile.

Grey, bespectacled and approaching his 70s, Jansen is no longer intent on hoodwinking buyers but hints that many of his forgeries may still be fooling experts and art lovers worldwide.

“Today, still, several collections have my work,” he says, stopping abruptly, preferring not to dwell on “the past.”

Jansen’s arrest came after an expert at a gallery noticed an error on a fake certificate of authentication. He spent several months in detention awaiting trial in Orleans, France, passing the time writing his autobiography.

The book was later published, disclosing much about his grand deception, but Jansen has never been convicted of forgery.

Some 1,600 canvasses, all but a handful believed to be fake, were seized upon his arrest, but prosecutors could never convict him because no gallery was prepared to step forward as a complainant.

Today, the artist does not take issue with being called the “master forger of the 20th century,” and even touts its cachet to attract attention and prospective buyers.

But Jansen insists he has standards: he only mimics artists he admires.

“It is essential that I like them. Without that, I am incapable of imitating them,” Jansen said at the chateau in Zeist where his works are on display.

A onetime student of art history, Jansen had no formal training in painting.

He started off as a young, struggling owner of a small gallery in Amsterdam, passionate about art and the original works he was trying to sell.

“I was unable to pay the rent, electricity,” he recalls, but saw rival, more successful galleries selling works whose provenance was doubtful.

Likening himself to an artistic Robin Hood, he said he turned to forgery “since that is what people wanted.”

Soon he started buying etches of Chagall in Paris, adding some colour and a signature, and selling them in Amsterdam.

As time passed, forgery became his full-time business. He started “discovering” paintings by famous artists he claimed were a hitherto unknown missing link in a series of works.

His chosen path, says Jansen, was not always easy or lucrative.

“It takes time and a lot of practice to make a convincing copy, and one cannot ‘discover’ a new work every month.”

Jansen suggests that art merchants were not always innocent in their transactions with him – often worming out of paying him or giving him a fraction of the price at which they sold his copies.

And appraisers at auctions taught him a lot in his quest for perfection.

“I presented them with pieces in which I doubted myself, but they authenticated them. I asked them on what basis, and I registered their responses for the future.”

With all that in the past, Jansen now also longs to be regarded as an original artist in his own right.

A few of his works hang alongside his famous copies at Zeist, inspired by the graffiti of New York and painted in thick acrylic strokes.

Is he never tempted to see if he still has what it takes to mimic the masters and fool the experts?

“No, today I can paint and exhibit freely,” he says with a sigh of relief.

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