The Art of Forgery by Noah Charney
Noah Charney gives us an enjoyable, if light weight, survey of one of my own favorite topics, Art Forgery. I consider Art Forgery to be a branch of applied psychology: it’s mostly in the heads of both the victims and the perpetrators. Be definition, art objects are more valuable than their constituent materials, and, indeed, “valuable” beyond any rational justification except maybe scarcity. Maybe.
Charney’s survey covers many of the important topics, mostly focusing on “why”. Why do forgers deceive? And why are people deceived by forgeries?
He organizes the prominent themes into chapters, “Genius”, “Pride”, “Fame”, “Revenge”, “Power”, “Money”, etc. These themes are illustrated by brief sketches from the history of Art Forgery. Many of the examples are familiar from other sources, indeed, a librarian would probably classify this as a “secondary” reference. Fortunately, he gives adequate endnotes to many of the more detailed sources.
In such an abbreviated format, he cannot give us much context of subtlety. This inevitably gives a misleadingly simple view of some of the cases. For example, he gives only the briefest possible rendition of the Piltdown Man episode, and so can not really consider the nationalist ferment of the times, which underlay the desire to find old fossils in Britain. Similarly, the Vinland Map game played out on a cultural background of both scholarly and counter-cultural contrarianism. And so on.
This isn’t a bad book, but I would recommend digging out the sources to learn more. Most of the tales are wonderfully crazy. Definitely get Eric Hebborn’s books and read up on recent scandals and craziness.
- Noah Charney, The Art of Forgery: The Minds, Motives and Methods of Master Forgers, New York, Phaidon, 2015.
Sunday Book Reviews