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Fakes in Russia and the USSR: How were collectors and famous museums selling fakes

Collectors and investors with big money for decades have held a high level of demand for works of art. Not far behind them, and museums, buying all new masterpieces from a variety of sources. Do not run out and supply streams fake “finds”. Even at a world-famous auction, you can become a “happy owner” of a fake. Russian craftsmen do not lag behind the world, using the laws of the market remarkably cleverly.

The history of Russian fakes works of art began before the revolution. Number of the first of those times was the “tiara of the king Saytaferna”, bought by the Louvre in 1895 for 200 thousand francs. The author of a unique imitation of the property of the Scythian ruler of the 3rd century BC. was a famous jeweler from Odessa Israel Rukhomovsky.

If the jeweler depicted filigree golden figures and the inscription on the crown in accordance with the customs of those times, the forgery would never have been discovered. But the master did not have enough knowledge, although he used books on the history of culture.

When the jeweler himself admitted his authorship, they did not believe him, even after seeing other similar works. Rukhomovsky had to recreate a fragment of the crown according to his drawings. The jeweler did not receive any punishment for the scam, since the seller was a mediator. No one ever knew what the role of the author was in the deal, and whether she brought him income. And the management of the Louvre has not parted with rarity, it just transferred it to the hall of modern art.

In Soviet times, the demand for art was small – most citizens had no money. Rich Russians were rare, but they lacked knowledge for collecting.

Golden times for swindlers began with a surge of interest of Western collectors to the artists of the Russian avant-garde. Making fakes of the Suprematists is much easier than the masters of classical painting – the forms are simplified to the limit, and the colors according to old recipes do not need to be mixed. Fun from art perk.

Turbulent streams of paintings by Kandinsky, Larionov, Goncharova, and even Malevich rushed to auctions, private collections, museums. Many canvases had a curt history: found from impoverished relatives, returned from the collection seized by the KGB, sold during the famine years on the black market – revolutions, wars, regime change – how can one not get lost treasures! Many “masterpieces” had assurances from experts of state museums.

And the loudest scandal happened in the 90s with the debunking of the artist of the school Malevich Anna Kagan – at the exhibition “The Great Utopia” in 1996 her work attracted attention. It turned out that many paintings with Kagan’s signature were painted by someone unknown as a fan of the great avant-garde artist created several watercolors and stopped her creative activity. In the 80s, a large number of paintings by the artist were suddenly discovered, which were sold and exhibited. The original creator (or creators) of the masterpieces did not wish to appear to the public.

At the scandalous exhibition of Alexandra Exter 2009 in the museum of the French city of Tour 190 paintings out of 192 were found fake. The exhibition was closed at the request of experts. It is believed that today there are more fake canvases of avant-garde artists in museums and private collections than were created by artists.

Another group of speculators invented a new “business” on works of art, focused on the domestic market – the miraculous transformation of genuine canvases of little-known Western masters into paintings by famous Russian artists. No fakes, except for the substitution of the master’s autograph and the destruction of subtle details (for example, figures in the “wrong” clothes) – and the masterpiece briskly goes into private collections and even museum collections.

The whole point is that the paintings of the famous Dutch and Germans are ten times cheaper than the “discovered” Shishkin, Levitan, Aivazovsky, Savrasov. Unknown authors of the brilliant idea took into account that the nouveau riche in native open spaces is unmeasured, and they part with money more easily than Western collectors of rare books. “Masterpiece” by Ivan Shishkin “Landscape with a stream” came out of the Dutch Kukkuk bought at another auction for a price almost 20 times less.

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