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The fakes in Art Deco by Alexandra Jaffré


A market under pressure...

Art Deco is a creative period in the decorative arts that began in France in 1909, the date of the first Ballet Russe performed in Paris. It reached its peak at the International Exhibition of Industrial and Modern Decorative Arts in 1925. The famous financial crisis of 1929 symbolically marked its decline.

In the early 1970s, the artistic production of this period was rediscovered by dealers, pioneers of the avant-garde. The emergence of this young market was accompanied by a demand that outstripped supply, naturally leading to the appearance of fakes.

What is a fake?

A fake is a "materialized lie" that takes the physical form of an object intended to deceive the buyer into thinking he is acquiring an authentic work.

This term covers simple forgeries, i.e. modern copies made from an original model, sometimes bearing a false signature. There are also artistic forgeries, which are true modern plagiarisms that do not copy existing models but are original fabrications designed by drawing on the stylistic repertoire of the plagiarised artist. They are intended to make people believe that they are genuine, unreferenced creations. Period furniture or objects bearing the counterfeit mark of prestigious names are also considered fakes.

The counterfeiter, a profile that repeats itself

Counterfeiters active on the Art Deco market have not invented any of the same old techniques as their predecessors in deception since the trade in forgeries spread in the 17th century. Their tricks remain the same for Art Deco when it comes to age-old materials like wood, metal, ivory and lacquer. Jean Dunand, Eileen Gray, Paul Iribe, Pierre Legrain, Gustave Miklos, Armand-Albert Rateau, Clément Rousseau, Jacques Émile Ruhlmann and Eugénie O'Kin, among others, are the post-mortem victims of modern forgers. As well as Eugène Printz, Pierre Chareau and Jean-Michel Frank.

A fake is still detectable

However, the original object that has been imitated or plagiarised is never fully understood. A fake always loses information in relation to the original, whether in the precision of its details, the quality of execution, the mastery of techniques or the understanding of the artist's style. Indications of obsolescence do not exist or are not convincing. Often anachronistic elements denounce it.

To accompany the Art Deco forgery, the forger sometimes resorts to fraudulent narrative procedures. He may ask for certificates from manipulated rightful owners, invent false origins or usurp identities, use real preparatory drawings or fabricate false antique documents, but also stage black and white photographs to give the illusion of the age of the criminal piece. This "beautiful story" will nevertheless lack coherence, either in its own logic or in relation to the object.

Even though it may appear to be well executed and be accompanied by a plausible narrative, a forgery carries all the signs of illegitimacy.

It is up to the Art Deco expert to unmask them.

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