Forgeries at the Louvre by Anne Trager
American translator and editor Anne Trager loves France so much she has lived there for over a quarter of a century, and just can’t seem to leave. She founded publishing company Le French Book, bringing the best mysteries, thrillers, and short stories to new readers across the English-speaking world. As Anne was finalizing the translation of a recent mystery, a burning question occurred to her….
When I go to museums, I expect genuine art and artifacts. But what does it take to weed out the fakes? In Paris, at the Louvre, it takes some 200 people working for the Museums of France Research and Restoration Center and a dedicated particle accelerator.
French art reporter and mystery writer Anne-Laure Thiéblemont filled me in the details recently. I was finalizing the translation of her novel The Collector, an art world mystery set in Paris, and I had a burning question: Could there really be forgeries in the Louvre?
She reminded me that collections at major museums often date to times when curators were not so careful about where objects came from. Collectors and donors still often don’t know better. And of course, there are trends. For example, during the second half of the 19th century, figurines and pottery were produced near the archeological site of Teotihuacan and sold to travelers. These objects soon flooded museums in Europe and the United States, as did Egyptian art between the first and second world wars.
One of the most famous fakes at the Louvre is The Blue Head, an Egyptian “masterpiece” made of blue glass, which the museum acquired in 1923. It was thought to date from 1400 BC—that is, until 2001 when chemistry proved it was a forgery and x-rays, gamma rays and microscopes dated the glass to 17th-century Venice. Flourhydric acid had been used to age it.
Nowadays, the Louvre uses the Accélérateur Grand Louvre d’analyse élémentaire (AGLAE) to beam protons and alpha particles into artifacts to find out what they are really made of. With it, they found that an Indiana Jones-like crystal skull thought to be Pre-Columbian was in fact from the 19th century.
Of course, as detection methods improve, so do forgeries. Scarcity, speculation and high prices encourage it. In 2011, a Mayan figure sold at the Paris auction house Drouot for three million euros. It was not the real thing. It may even have been the work of the Mexican forger Brigido Lara, like the dummy Aztec mask that was given to the Louvre and unmasked (sorry for the pun) as a fake in 1986. The man confessed to producing nearly 40,000 forgeries of pre-Columbian pottery over a period of 20 years.
It makes you wonder what you really are looking at.
Anne Trager founded the translation publishing house Le French Book to bring more European mystery and thriller voices to the US market. French art reporter and trained gem specialist Anne-Laure Thiéblemont is known for her investigations into stolen art and gem trafficking. Her art world mystery novel, The Collector, just came out in English.
There's nothing we love more at Shelf Pleasure than a ..
Author and Shelf Pleasure contributor Karen A. Chase on how ..
One of author Mary Miley’s favorite things about being a ..
Author and police psychologist Ellen Kirschman, Ph.D., weighs the pitfalls ..
Little known fact about Shelf Pleasure's Kristen: she's obsessed with ..
Although Debbie De Louise has been a librarian and avid ..