TBR News November 22, 2017

Nov 22 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., November 22, 2017:”Some years ago, it was revealed that peasants had dug up a large clay jar filled with very rare Greek coins in Turkey. Prestigious coin dealer rushed to acquire these and soon the very rich were cooing with arrogant delight at their glittering acquisitions. Unfortunately for such cultural luminaries as the Koch brothers, these coins were all proven to have been struck in a mint in Sofia, Bulgaria, to get money for the Bulgarian KGB. Art magazines and newspaper cultural writers gushed forth like a broken septic tank one day and were very silent the next. We see the same thing in almost every aspect of collecting, be it Adolf Hitler fake paintings, fake Chinese rare coins or repainted old pieces of art. Barnum said there was a sucker born every minute but with the increased population every second would be more realistic. Here are some examples of frauds and how they are engineered.”


Table of Contents

  • Trade in Dead Sea Scrolls awash with suspected forgeries, experts warn
  • Someone Spent Almost Half a Billion Dollars on a Possibly Inauthentic da Vinci Painting
  • Christie’s Is Selling This Painting for $100 Million. They Say It’s by Leonardo. I Have Doubts. Big Doubts.
  • The Anatomy of a Fraud
  • The Rommel Honor Dagger: How expensive frauds are created

Trade in Dead Sea Scrolls awash with suspected forgeries, experts warn

Two experts say a significant number of fragments bought in multimillion-dollar trade are suspected fakes

November 21, 2017

by Peter Beaumont in Jerusalem and Oliver Laughland in New York

The Guardian

A multimillion-dollar trade in fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls fuelled by a surge in interest from wealthy evangelicals in the US includes a significant number of suspected forgeries, two prominent experts have said.

On scholar said the problem was so serious that up to 90% of the 75 fragments sold since 2002 could be fakes. Six of 13 fragments bought by Steve Green, owner of the US arts and crafts retail chain Hobby Lobby, are among the potential fakes, another expert said.

The figures involved in these private sales are jaw-dropping: individual fragments can sell for well over $1m.

The Dead Sea Scrolls

The discovery of the scrolls in the middle of the last century electrified the study of the early bible.

Written largely in Hebrew, and dating largely from the last three centuries BC to the first century AD, the scrolls include sections of the Hebrew bible 1,000 years older than any previously known copy.

In purely academic terms, the scrolls revolutionised the understanding of the practices and beliefs of the period of rabbinic Judaism from which early Christianity emerged.

Bedouin shepherds stumbled on jars containing the first scrolls in the mid-1940s. Thinking them of little value, they sold on pieces of their find to a Palestinian Christian cobbler and part-time antiquities dealer, Khalil Eskander Shahin, nicknamed Kando.

For years an association between the Kando family and the scrolls was seen as a stamp of authenticity in a trade peopled by flamboyant scholars and elusive middlemen.

In the early noughties, dozens of new fragments began to enter the market after Kando’s son, William, unlocked a family vault in Zurich.

A new market, and new problems

Around the same time, a new generation of evangelical buyers in the US with a keen interest in objects related to the time of Christ came to prominence, chief among them Steve Green.

His family of devout Texas Christians and social conservatives have been on a buying spree in the name of Hobby Lobby to furnish the Museum of the Bible, a Green-funded project that opened in Washington DC on Friday.

Money is no object in their hunt for antiquities, which has previously brought them before the US justice department. In a July settlement with federal prosecutors in New York, the company agreed to forfeit 5,500 artefacts illegally imported from Iraq that it had bought from a dealer in December 2010.

“We should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled,” Hobby Lobby said in a statement at the time.

The evangelical interest in the scrolls is focused on texts drawn from the books of the Hebrew bible. “There is this sense of [bible fragments] bringing you closer,” said Kipp Davis, an associate of the Dead Sea Scrolls Institute at Trinity Western University. “To be part of and touching and experiencing something that close to God and Jesus.”

Davis was asked by the Museum of the Bible’s publications team to be part of a team involved in the examination of 13 fragments bought by Green.

“There is a spectrum of authenticity [and] I put six of the Green family fragments close to the forgery side of the spectrum,” Davis said. “But at this stage, because of the lack of provenance, there is a possibility that all of them could be fakes.”

Davis said the handwriting and the content of the texts themselves were red flags with the post-2002 fragments – a position also taken by Arstein Justnes, another scrolls expert, from Agder University College in Kristiansand, Norway.

“You can see that the hand [in the suspected forgeries] is hesitant or imitative,” Justnes said. “It is not a scribe’s hand. It is a naive hand. Or even hands.

“The other problem is that a number of the fragments look like they are not actual pieces of a scroll. It looks like the letters have been made smaller to fit the edge of the fragment.”

Justnes noted another puzzling anomaly: since 2002 the proportion of fragments appearing on the market that come from the books of the bible has jumped from about 25% to 86%. To his mind, that discrepancy suggests someone is producing exactly the pieces being sought by evangelical buyers.

The Guardian has approached Green about the concerns raised by Justnes and Davis but has not received a reply.

Suspicions about the Green scroll pieces have been given added weight by the physical examination of other fragments bought by another collection during the same period.

Davis, Justnes and several other scholars, including some from Berlin’s Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing, were asked to look at fragments owned by the Norwegian collector Martin Schøyen for a book accompanying an exhibition.

They published their findings in the journal Dead Sea Discoveries in October. The results appear damning.

In one fragment, sediment that should appear on the surface was evident beneath the ink. Another appeared to have been sprinkled with crystals of modern table salt. One crystal was apparently stained by the underlying 2,000-year-old ink – seemingly impossible if the fragment was genuine.

In a statement released in October, Schøyen seemed to agree that forgery had been a problem in “15%” of recently traded fragments, including his own. In a more recent statement sent to the Guardian, he cast doubt on the validity of examining ink on the fragments.

“The suggestion that they are forgeries rests on the possibility that the ink may be modern,” the statement said. “However, carbon-14 testing of the ink cannot be reliably carried out on such small fragments. There is not enough ink required for statistically significant testing and an ink sample will also be polluted from the parchment and its deposits.

“Therefore, the conjecture that these specific fragments may be forgeries rests alone of the interpretation of palaeography and the texts.”

The vault

Justnes told a gathering of scholars in Berlin this year that since 2002 “more than 75 previously unknown Dead Sea Scrolls fragments have surfaced on the antiquities market. Almost all of them are linked to William Kando – sometimes directly, sometimes only tenuously.

“Why is the Kando connection so important? [Because] in practical terms, a link to the Kando family has been the only way one can justify introducing new fragments into the [academic] dataset close to 50 years after the last Dead Sea Scrolls were found.”

The Green family has not disclosed the source of its 13 fragments, but the Guardian has established that almost half were bought from William Kando, and that Steve Green visited the Kandos’ vault in Zurich to view fragments.

Schøyen also purchased his fragments from – or with the assistance – of William Kando, as did another purchaser, Dorothy Patterson.

Patterson, who bought scroll segments for Southwest Baptist University in Missouri, is less reticent than other major recent purchasers and remains convinced that her fragments are real. However, her account illuminates key aspects of the recent trade in fragments, not least its extremely ad hoc nature.

Patterson told the Guardian that she had known the Kandos for many years, including the elder Kando, whom she first met while leading bible tours to the Holy Land.

Seven years ago, while she was visiting William Kando’s shop, he first broached the subject of selling her some fragments. “We were in the shop … when William called me aside and said: ‘Dorothy, the family has decided that we are going to sell some of our remaining fragments.’”

Lacking the expertise herself to authenticate the pieces, Paterson consulted with experts and raised the necessary funds, before being summoned to a meeting in Zurich with Kando.

“[William Kando’s] bank officer was there. They brought out the fragments so I could see the condition and everything,” she said.

Armed with a checklist that she said had been provided to her by expert – an unusual method of authentication for a major purchase in a field outside a scholar’s expertise – Patterson viewed the fragment she planned to purchase.

“I had my notes,” she said. “I was able to check everything.”

Patterson insisted the Kando connection was what convinced her of authenticity. “The senior Mr Kando is the one who received more [scrolls] than any other one person from [the Qumran] caves. [The Bedouin] came to him because he was a dealer in Bethlehem and they trusted him. So he is number one the person who received more than anyone else.”

William Kando’s shop

In his shop in east Jerusalem, William Kando denied emphatically that any of the fragments associated with him – either sold directly or via intermediaries – were forgeries, even unknown to him. He described the scholars who questioned the fragments as “stupid” and suggested they had malign motives. At first Kando said he would not talk about money. But then he said he had sold seven fragments to Steve Green, and claimed that Green had offered him $40m at a dinner in Switzerland for one piece held in the vault in Zurich. Kando also said he had sold fragments to Schøyen.

“It is not possible we were misled,” Kando insisted. “These fragments are 100% [genuine]. It is pure animosity.”

The fragments in the Zurich vault were purchased from the family of a relative in Lebanon, Kando said.

“They were found in a box by a professor who checked them for my father. This was in 1966. My father kept the box with a cousin in Lebanon and then when the [civil] war in Lebanon began my cousin went to Europe.

“After the death of my father and after the cousin also died, we gave the money to his family and we got back all the fragments [from the box] and kept them in Switzerland. I think there are now 28 pieces left.”

Asked whether it was possible that someone else could have been selling forgeries to clients such as Green and Schøyen, Kando was dismissive.

Ira Rabin, an expert in inks and parchment from the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing in Berlin, undertook some of the physical tests on the Schøyen fragments. He said there was only one way to dispel the doubts.

“[William] Kando has to be open about the vault in Zurich. He has to open it and show it, and show what has been on the market,” Rabin said.


Someone Spent Almost Half a Billion Dollars on a Possibly Inauthentic da Vinci Painting

November 16, 2017

by Rhett Jones


On Wednesday, auction records were shattered when an anonymous buyer spent $450.3 million to be the proud owner of a “long lost” painting “by” Leonardo da Vinci. The thing is, it may not have even been painted by Leonardo, it’s in terrible shape, it’s not especially good, and in the financial world of art, none of that matters.

Christie’s auction house has been hyping the emergence of Salvator Mundi (“Savior of the World”) as “the greatest and most unexpected artistic rediscovery of the 21st century.” It’s believed to be the only Leonardo in private hands. According to Artnet, it was once part of the collection of King Charles I and has since bounced around less prestigious homes. In 1958, it was auctioned at Sotheby’s London for £45 and attributed to Boltraffio, a painter who worked in Leonardo da Vinci’s studio. It was then picked up at an estate sale for around $10,000 back in 2005. In the last decade, researchers and authenticators have studied its history and deemed it an authentic Leonardo.

The opening bid was set at $100 million and Christie’s reportedly wondered aloud if some collector could conceivably drop $2 billion on it. If the auction house truly thought that was a possibility, I guess they were a little disappointed by the final hammer price. But that $450.3 million is by far the highest price paid for a painting at auction. The previous record holder was Pablo Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger, which sold for $179,364,992 in 2015. The Guardian claims Salvator Mundi is also the highest priced artwork ever sold privately, but that record is a lot harder to definitively establish because artworks change hands without public records all the time.

Not everyone, however, is sure that this record-breaking painting is by Leonardo da Vinci. Authentication is a subjective trade, and a buyer’s confidence in an authenticator’s assessment is mostly based on that authenticator’s reputation. In the case of Salvator Mundi, it was being restored by Dianne Dwyer Modestini, a professor of paintings conservation at New York University, in 2007 when she started having a feeling that something was different about this piece. She was commissioned to clean up what she thought was a copy of the famous Florentine’s work but began to see details that were very Leonardo-like. A subsequent X-ray revealed traces of changes being made to the composition over time. Someone making a copy wouldn’t be making these drastic changes. Since then, many top scholars have concluded that it is, in fact, a Leonardo based on numerous factors including the technique, materials, and outside historical data

Other experts have their doubts. Charles Hope, an emeritus professor at the Warburg Institute at the University of London, wrote in the New York Review of Books, “even making allowances for its extremely poor state of preservation, it is a curiously unimpressive composition and it is hard to believe that Leonardo himself was responsible for anything so dull.”

Most critics seem to agree that the painting is far below Leonardo da Vinci’s typical standards, especially considering that Salvator Mundi has been dated to 1500. That would place its composition directly between The Last Supper (1498) and the Mona Lisa (1502). Jerry Saltz, art critic for New York Magazine, wrote:

The painting is absolutely dead. Its surface is inert, varnished, lurid, scrubbed over, and repainted so many times that it looks simultaneously new and old.

Experts estimate that there are only 15 to 20 existing da Vinci paintings. Not a single one of them pictures a person straight on like this one. There is also not a single painting picturing an individual Jesus either. All of his paintings, even single portraits, depict figures in far more complex poses. Even the figure that comes remotely close to this painting, Saint John the Baptist, also from 1500, gives us a turning, young, randy-looking man with hair utterly different from and much more developed in terms of painting than the few curls Christie’s is raving about in their picture.

Writing for the New York Times, art critic Jason Farago agrees that this is not the “Male Mona Lisa” it’s been advertised to be.

Authentication is a serious but subjective business. I’m not the man to affirm or reject its attribution; it is accepted as a Leonardo by many serious scholars, though not all. I can say, however, what I felt I was looking at when I took my place among the crowds who’d queued an hour or more to behold and endlessly photograph “Salvator Mundi”: a proficient but not especially distinguished religious picture from turn-of-the-16th-century Lombardy, put through a wringer of restorations.

Most assessments repeat similar criticisms: the composition is totally wrong; the details don’t say Leonardo; if it came from his studio, it was probably done by an assistant; and, on top of it all, the thing is a shadow of its former self because it’s been so heavily repainted. One expert cracked a joke to Saltz at the viewing: “Why is a Leonardo in a Modern and Contemporary auction? Because 90 percent of it was painted in the last 50 years.”

So why would this subpar and possibly misattributed Leonardo fetch so much money? Because quality and authenticity don’t really matter in art sales as long as a few top gatekeepers can get on the same page about the value of a work. As art critic Blake Gopnik told Marketplace:

I’m not saying that this isn’t Leonardo. I’m also not saying that it is a Leonardo. I’m actually saying that it’s a kind of incoherent question to ask. It’s kind of like asking, “Is the moon Jewish, or is the sun gay?” Pictures, even today (let alone in the 16th century), can be all sorts of things between being by a great master and being by some assortment of assistance.

Art brings in huge prices because it carries cultural cachet, looks good in your home, offers access to high society, and above all, is a very convenient way to park some money. High-priced art is often used for money laundering, but even in legitimate circumstances, it’s just another way to diversify the ways in which your money is being stored if you’re an extremely rich person. And hey, it goes up in value all the time.

Speaking of extremely rich people, who paid for this? We don’t know, and if the buyer doesn’t want to say, we may never know. Liu Yiqian, a Chinese billionaire, was rumored to be the buyer, but he told The New York Times it wasn’t him. Another possibility is Bill Gates. He did pay $30 million for Leonardo’s journals back in 1994.

But that’s the story with this piece. We don’t know for sure that it’s authentic, we don’t know that it’s any good, and we don’t know who bought it. We just know that some people decided it was worth a buttload of money. And so it is.


Christie’s Is Selling This Painting for $100 Million. They Say It’s by Leonardo. I Have Doubts. Big Doubts.

November 14, 20

by  Jerry Saltz


Sandwiched between onlookers who’d waited in line outside in the cold to be ushered into the dimmed Christie’s gallery to gaze and gawk at what the auction house trumpets as “the greatest and most unexpected artistic rediscovery of the 21st century” — that is, a brand-new Leonardo da Vinci lost in the 1600s, scheduled to be auctioned off this week — a well-known expert in the field leaned over and asked me a question. “Why is a Leonardo in a Modern and Contemporary auction?” Before I could say, “Yeah! Why?” he answered, “Because 90 percent of it was painted in the last 50 years.” He’s right. Not only does it look like a dreamed-up version of a missing da Vinci, various X-ray techniques show scratches and gouges in the work, paint missing, a warping board, a beard here and gone, and other parts of the painting obviously brushed up and corrected to make this probable copy look more like an original.

The painting is titled Salvator Mundi (Savior of the World) and is a portrait of a smoky floating man in a blue robe looking at us, raising his right hand in blessing, holding a crystal orb in his left hand, pictured against a black background. It’s said to have been painted around 1500, when the real Leonardo would have been 48 years old and already the most famous artist alive. On Wednesday night, this small picture is being auctioned off by Christie’s with massive jubilation. The opening bid is set at $100 million. (Which might even seem cheap when you remember that Damien Hirst’s 2007 For the Love of God, a diamond-and-platinum-encrusted human skull, was priced the same.) This explains why one Christie’s official rapturously primed the collector pump by wondering aloud if someone might bid “$2 billion.” In a world this out of whack, that could happen. Promoting the sale is a glossy 162-page book with quotes from Dostoyevsky, Freud, and Leonardo, and several platitudinal Christie’s videos of enraptured gazers gawking in wonder at “the new masterpiece.” Don’t miss the extended clip of three male company bigwigs pitching it to Hong Kong clients as “the holy grail of our business, a male Mona Lisa, the last da Vinci, our baby, something with blockbuster appeal, akin to the discovery of a new planet, and more valuable than a petro chemical plant.”

I’m no art historian or any kind of expert in old masters. But I’ve looked at art for almost 50 years and one look at this painting tells me it’s no Leonardo. The painting is absolutely dead. Its surface is inert, varnished, lurid, scrubbed over, and repainted so many times that it looks simultaneously new and old. This explains why Christie’s pitches it with vague terms like “mysterious,” filled with “aura,” and something that “could go viral.” Go viral? As a poster, maybe. A two-dimensional ersatz dashboard Jesus.

Why else do I think this is a sham? Experts estimate that there are only 15 to 20 existing da Vinci paintings. Not a single one of them pictures a person straight on like this one. There is also not a single painting picturing an individual Jesus either. All of his paintings, even single portraits, depict figures in far more complex poses. Even the figure that comes remotely close to this painting, Saint John the Baptist, also from 1500, gives us a turning, young, randy-looking man with hair utterly different from and much more developed in terms of painting than the few curls Christie’s is raving about in their picture. Leonardo was an inventor of — and in love with — posing people in dynamic, weaving, more curved, and corkscrewing positions, predicting the compositions of Raphael, then in his 20s, and already being highly influenced, according to Vasari, by his acquaintance Leonardo. Renaissance masters were all about letting figures interact with the surface and the structure of the painting, curving space, involving the viewer in way more than an old-fashioned direct headshot. Leonardo never let a subject come at you all at once like this much more Byzantine, flat, forward-facing symmetry. No other Renaissance master was involved with Byzantine portraiture like this either. They were all pushing way beyond that by then.

Christie’s marketing has played the “golden ratio” card heavily here. The golden section or golden ratio is said to have been developed almost 2500 years ago and was widely employed in ancient Greek art — which had a huge influence in the Renaissance. Basically, it’s a mathematical system of measuring space whereby rectangles and proportions within the painting can in turn be divided into an almost endless, fractal series of repeating smaller rectangles, squares, ovals, and the like. Christie’s painting is riddled with this proportion. However, I’d imagine that no great artist worth their name would stoop to being this obvious, especially this far into their career when they had total freedom to do whatever they liked and had a lifetime of always doing that in increasingly original ways. All those enthralled by the Salvatore Mundi being a perfect golden section need to get a grip and see that the golden section can be imposed one way or another on almost any image. Leonardo, who was nothing if not an inventor every time out, would have been laughed out of Italy.

By 1500, Michelangelo had already completed his tremendous Pietà in Rome and was in Florence working on the David. Botticelli was there too. It’s hard to imagine that da Vinci coming to Florence and being around the young Michelangelo — who was being hailed as “the new da Vinci” — would suddenly put the pictorial brakes on and produce a far more conservative, backward-looking picture. These artists were as competitive then as they are now. When Leonardo sat on the committee to decide where the still-unfinished David was to be situated in Florence, he voted against giving it the pride of place it eventually won, next to the Palazzo Vecchio. On top of all that, if we’re to believe this picture was made around 1500, that means Leonardo himself had already surpassed more primitive portraiture ideas like this, many times over, including in his many Madonnas, his beautiful Portrait of a Musician from 1485, and the two great Virgin of the Rocks, painted between 1483 and 1499. Not to mention his multi-spaced, multi-portrait, consciousness-expanding Last Supper, completed in 1498. It makes no sense to suddenly have Leonardo come to Florence only to become a hack painter of post-Byzantine portraits — which is what the narrative being promoted by Christie’s subtly suggests.

In fact, we know Leonardo did just the opposite, because in 1502 he painted the Mona Lisa. Salvator Mundi doesn’t fit into his work no matter how you try to twist things. If we want to give Christie’s the benefit of the doubt, however, let’s be generous and say that this work does date from that time and that Leonardo did maybe paint a ringlet of hair and a hand. Even if that holds, the rest of the painting — including the intricate patterning and clear glass, which would have been a specialty of numerous studio assistants at the time — is still sensuously and physically inert. The painting is spooky and olden-looking like a lot of pictures of Jesus blessing saints, another argument against this being made by an artist of Leonardo’s epic skills.

This kind of salesmanship is an old game: pure and simple greed, an irresponsible knowing flimflam that defrauds a mass audience into thinking it is “appreciating” an old master when it’s all smoky spectacle and mirrors. One of the first things you’ll hear from a Christie’s official is “the only way to know what this painting is worth is to bring it to auction”; this is patently untrue. Were this a real da Vinci, its worth would be something known in the collective culture. The idea that the best test of a painting is to place it under the hammer at auction simply tells you how out of touch Christie’s has become. But it’s also a sign of a new system of authority, a sad sign of how much power the auction houses have acquired that one of them is pushing a new work by an old master — a work that some experts accept, while many others are highly skeptical of, and yet no furor has been raised.

Those experts are probably thinking, “Well, scholarship changes every 20 years and others will correct this,” not wanting to rock the already splintering institutional boat. As in the wider world where people sit by for fear of losing position, it’s no wonder that many old master experts are keeping quiet, not saying much of anything. And of course no one at Christie’s can say, “Wait a minute, guys.” I know many of the people there; all are as passionate and knowledgeable about art as anyone I know. But if any of them think anything is fishy they’re all too far in now to risk their jobs by saying anything publicly, when the mood is “nothing is going to change anyway, and that train has already left the station.”

But all’s well that ends well, and this is bound to end well. By which I mean: poorly for Christie’s. No museum on Earth can afford an iffy picture like this at these prices — even if it’s true that any institution or collector who buys this painting for however much money will be able to foist it on viewers center stage as “the last da Vinci” and make bundles of money. And for any private collector who gets suckered into buying this picture and places it in their apartment or storage, it serves them right. (Though it is hard not to think of what better good that $100 million — or $2 billion — could do.) As for Christie’s, as an auction house, it should be shunned by the art world, recognized for what it is — a hostile witness to art. Let Andy Warhol have the last word in summing up what’s really going on; when he heard that the Mona Lisa was coming to New York in 1963, he said, “Why don’t they have someone copy it and send the copy, no one would know the difference.”

The Anatomy of a Fraud

by Gregory Douglas

On May 23, 1977, a Basilisk Press of Santa Clara, California made a mass mailing. The yellow envelope sported a drawing of the mythological Basilisk, a creature described in the literature of the Middle Ages as being half serpent and half rooster whose very glance could kill.

Inside was a letter from the Press to prospective customers advertising a book that they were in the process of publishing. This was Rodin: The Anatomy of a Fraud by one Friederich Hasek. The brochure spoke of “deliberate fakery” in the world of fine art and discussed a series of books on the subject of massive art fraud that the Press was in the process of publishing.

The Rodin book ad strongly alleged that “Rodin hired students to prepare works he took credit for” and “Rodin works were being faked in the artist’s lifetime and with his consent.” More interesting to some was the statement that preceded these that spoke of, “…the production of fake bronzes, outlining in detail how bronzes are produced and how to detect recent forgeries by a series of simple measurements.”

Other books the Press claimed were to be part of their new series were an additional eighteen titles covering such diverse topics as the bronzes of Remington, Georgian silver, ancient Greek and Roman coins, counterfeit Japanese swords, pre-Colombian and Incan artifacts and a number of other subjects that were guaranteed to give a terrible case of spastic colon to the majority of the major art galleries and auction houses.

It is the general, and very sensible, attitude on the part of individuals and organizations that might be severely damaged by such publications, to say absolutely nothing about a work that might well seriously damage their business and professional reputations, and pray that either the publisher will go bankrupt after the first book or be run over by a drunken truck driver while on the way to the bank.

Art salesmen thrive on publicity but only of their own generating.

However, in the case of the Basilisk mailing, one of the seeds fell into fertile ground and produced a mini-scandal which was no doubt very pleasing to someone but certainly not to persons who either bought or sold the works of Auguste Rodin.

One of these mailers apparently got into the hands of one Albert Edward Elsen, a local art expert, who shortly thereafter appeared at the address of the Basilisk Press given on the envelope. It was 2275 Park Avenue in Santa Clara and it housed a Western Union office, telephone answering service and mail drop firm.

There was no sign anywhere on the building to indicate that the Press was engaged in business there.

In spite of this, Elsen, an overweight and florid man with a thick, graying mustache, had a highly vocal and very intemperate heated exchange with the manager of the mail service, demanding at full voice to know where the owners of the press lived. When told that this information was not available, he became even more agitated and was eventually asked to leave the premises before the police had to be summoned.

In August of 1978, George Schattle, an industrial designer of Menlo Park, California, a suburb of San Francisco, filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court of the County of Santa Clara, California.

The suit charged one Albert Edward Elsen, a professor of art history at the prestigious Stanford University and a published specialist on the works of French Impressionist sculptor, Auguste Rodin, with libel, defamation, interference with advantageous contractual rights and invasion of privacy.

Mr. Schattle requested $3.75 million in punitive and exemplary damages from the savant-cum-art expert.

Most of the issues raised in this case relate directly to the marketing of what is sometimes called ‘fine art’ and although Schattle vs. Elsen achieved a very private, out-of-court settlement, the facts remain a matter of record and highlight what appears to be certain questionable but long-accepted practices in the merchandising of fine art.

Schattle’s claim was that on August 3, 1978, Professor Albert Edward Elsen had written a completely unsolicited letter on his official Stanford University letterhead to one Jerry Jensen, a television anchorman with the San Francisco-based KGO-TV.

Mr. Schattle’s attorney, Charles Hawkins, attached this letter to the suit as Exhibit A and as it is public record, significant portions of it are quoted here:

“Dear Mr. Jenson (sic)

“From Gay Morris, who writes on art for the Palo Alto Times, and who has been in touch with the Basilisk Press people, I gather you have a copy of a manuscript titles, ‘Rodin: Portrait of a Fraud’ (sic) authored by Frederich Hasek. I am also given to understand that you have a long time interest in art frauds and that your researches coincide with the findings in this manuscript. Gay Morris was told this on the phone by a M. McGregor who claims to be one of a group of businessmen who have bought manuscripts from Hasek.”

There is a reference to someone Elsen suspects might have written the manuscript, couched in savage, and badly written, derogatory terms and the letter continues:

“For the past three years he and a George Schattle of Menlo Park have been trying to con unsuspecting businessmen into buying four reputedly unique Rodin sculptures, supposedly obtained by an American army officer during the second world war (sic) from Goering’s art collection, to which they had come after the Wehrmacht moved into Poland. These sculptures come in a Wehrmacht crate and these men have a raft of documentation testifying to the authenticity of the Wehrmacht markings–but not a scintilla of evidence on that of the sculptures. The sculptures are outright fakes. For three years, and on one occasion working with the police, I have thwarted the sale of these sculptures.”

Elsen goes on to claim that over the years, Schattle and others have tried to slander him, Stanford University, “one of our principle (sic) donors,” and even the government of France! He continues on to state that the alleged author of the manuscript also “libels Rodin (Rodin never ‘condoned fakes’ in his lifetime, as the Basilisk Press advertised in its flyer on the book.)”

Elsen was undoubtedly unaware that the dead cannot be libeled.

The balance of this rather extraordinary outburst sets forth the writer’s academic and literary credentials (and the latter are not especially bolstered by a mass of grammatical errata) and claims that he is the world’s “foremost expert on Rodin”, finally asking Jensen, in a burst of petulant outrage, “Why, in fact, are you given the manuscript to read but not me?”

He concludes with a demand to see the manuscript in Mr. Jensen’s possession and have the pleasure of his company through a personal visit when Professor Elsen can personally discuss the “truth and the reputation of a great artist.”

By one means or another, never made clear by any of the parties to the suit, this letter came into the possession of the unfortunate Mr. Schattle who then referred it to an attorney.

Prior to the filing of this suit, Mr. Schattle’s attorney, Charles Hawkins of San Jose, wrote on May 25, 1978, to Stanford President Richard Lyman.

“Dear President Lyman

“Please be advised that this office represents Mr. George Schattle in connection with pending litigation involving the activities of Professor Albert Elsen.

“Mr. Schattle is the owner of four (4) pieces of Rodin sculpture which he believes to be authentic. Mr. Elsen has examined two of these pieces and for subjective reasons best known to him, Mr. Elsen has formed the opinion that said pieces are not genuine. Another noted art expert has expressed a contrary view.

“Had Mr. Elsen let this matter rest, there would have been no significant problem. However, for unexplained reasons, Mr. Elsen has personally undertaken a campaign to discredit and damage Mr. Schattle and to destroy the value of Mr. Schattle’s sculptures.

“I am enclosing herewith a copy of Mr. Elsen’s unsolicited letter of Aug 3, 1977 addressed to Mr. Jerry Jensen of Channel 7 news. You will note that the letter is on Stanford University stationery and makes reference to Mr. Elsen’s position at Stanford University. This letter is libelous on its face in that it accuses Mr. Schattle of ‘trying to con unsuspecting businessmen into buying four unique Rodin sculptures….’ Other references in the letter are equally as damaging and distasteful.

“Furthermore, Mr. Elsen admits that he has thwarted the sale of my client’s sculptures and it has come to my attention that Mr. Elsen has contacted the local office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the District Attorney of Santa Clara County, and the Palo Alto Police Department in an effort to have unfounded criminal charges files against Mr. Schattle. Elsen has engaged in other activities which are equally as bizarre and damaging to my client’s reputation and financial interests, but it would serve no purpose to detail such activity in this letter. Suffice it to say that this office is in the process of preparing a complaint against Mr. Elsen on behalf of Mr. Schattle to recover damages resulting from Mr. Elsen’s conduct.

“The purpose of this letter is to determine whether or not Stanford University should be included as a party defendant in this matter. Mr. Elsen’s libelous letter was written on Stanford University stationery and he has apparently represented himself to the news media and the police authorities as speaking on behalf of the University. If in fact Stanford University has authorized, ratified, or affirmed Mr. Elsen’s conduct in this matter I will, of course, have no choice but to name the University as a party defendant. If Mr. Elsen was acting as an individual without the authority of the University I would refrain from naming Stanford as a party to this litigation.

“Therefore, I would appreciate hearing from your representative in the immediate future concerning the posture of the University in this matter. If I do not hear anything from you within two weeks of the date of this letter, I shall have no choice other than to proceed with the litigation with the University as a party defendant. I hope that you would give this matter your immediate attention and I am looking forward to hearing from your representative in this regard.”

John J. Schwartz, University Counsel, with a copy to Albert Elsen, sent Stanford’s response on June 5, 1978.

“Dear Mr. Hawkins:

“I am responding to your letter of May 25, 1978 to President Lyman. In answer to your question, please be advised that Stanford University has not authorized, ratified or affirmed the action to which you refer.”

The lawsuit against Elsen, duly amended, was filed on December 22, 1978.

An initial impression would certainly be that this litigation appears to be based on a sharp difference of subjective opinion between a highly aggressive, opinionated expert with very little self-control on the one hand and another individual who is in possession of art work that the published expert believes to unoriginal.

Both the letter and the actions of Elsen could well indicate that the art professor had become so outraged at the thought of fakes being marketed that his zeal overcame whatever common sense he might possess, causing him to overreact to the point where provable and actionable indiscretions were committed.

On the other hand, the violence and apparent malice of Elsen’s reaction is certainly out of character for the occupant of the Walter A. Haas Chair of Art History at a prestigious and wealthy university.

Sedate institutions of higher learning do not, as a rule, condone members of their faculty engaging in distasteful public vendettas and in this case, quickly and officially distanced themselves from the specter of an ugly lawsuit with a potential for negative publicity for both the institution and one of its more prominent and tenured staff members.

Albert Elsen was not a stranger to media attention and had been presenting himself with vigor in the local press for some time prior to the Schattle suit. He was very evidently not the sort of individual to keep his opinions, correct or otherwise, to himself.

Albert Edward Elsen was born in New York City in 1927 and obtained his PhD at Columbia University in 1955. From 1952 to 1958, he was associate professor of art at Carleton College in Minnesota, later an associate professor at Indiana University from 1958 to 1962 and a full professor from 1963 to 1968. Elsen had been engaged by Stanford as a professor of art history in 1968.

Among his publication credits are two works that deal specifically with the works of Auguste Rodin: Rodin’s Gates of Hell in 1960 and Rodin in 1963.

In February of 1974, the San Francisco Bay Area press carried several stories about a large gift of Rodin works to Stanford University by one B. Gerald Cantor, a Los Angeles investment banker.

As reported, the initial gift consisted of an incredible 88 pieces of Rodin’s work and this largess was increased by an additional seventy more Rodin sculptures from the cultivated and benevolent banker. The press stories also mentioned that Cantor was donating a large sum of cash to Stanford to establish a ‘Rodin Sculpture Garden.’

Elsen was quoted very often in print as saying that all of these pieces had been made during Rodin’s lifetime, the last one completed “a few months before Rodin’s death in 1917.”

Nearly all of the pieces were bronzes and all, without exception, bore the signature ‘A. Rodin’ and most noteworthy, the French foundry marking, ‘Georges Rudier/Fondeur, Paris.’

Elsen and Cantor both stated repeatedly to the press that this impressive collection was valued at $3 million, five hundred thousand at current art market prices.

Lengthy, well-illustrated local press coverage contained statements by Elsen about the importance of this huge collection of original Rodin works and all of these articles were graced with large photographs of Elsen himself in proximity to the Cantor gifts.

As Mr. Cantor, the generous benefactor, had also included a cash bequest of over $ 200 thousand so that the University could create the ‘Rodin Sculpture Garden,’ University publications produced articles lauding Mr. Cantor’s generosity and vision. Pictures accompanying the Stanford articles showed the beaming donor standing in proximity to several of his gifts.

Over the next three years, relative quiet descended on the subject of Rodin and his bronzes, broken only by occasional press releases generated by Elsen and the University about the progress of the ‘Rodin Sculpture Garden’ at Stanford’s aging and earthquake-damaged museum complex.

One article did appear in the San Francisco ‘Chronicle’ that did not laud the brilliance of Albert Edward Elsen, the great generosity of B. Gerald Cantor or the advantages to society in general of a Rodin sculpture garden.

This was a piece in a Sunday supplement by Alfred Frankenstein, also a published art historian, art critic for the ‘Chronicle’, lecturer on art at Stanford University and a personal friend of Albert Elsen.

In this article, Frankenstein made very pointed, though not specific, mention of the “recent appearance of four fake Rodin pieces in the Bay Area.”

Prior to the appearance of this article, on April 6, 1974, George Schattle kept an appointment he had made with Rodin expert Elsen at the latter’s home on Alvarado Row on the Stanford campus. Schattle brought two bronze works of art with him for this meeting.

Several years previously, in 1972, Schattle had bought four crated statues from the Ryan family of Newport Beach, California. One of the family members was acquainted with Schattle’s mother and as Mr. Schattle was a collector of old arms and armor, the Ryans felt that the old statues stored in their garage since the end of the Second World War might be of interest to him because of their connection with Hermann Goering. As they told Schattle at the time, one of their relatives had found the crates on Goering’s abandoned private train in Bavaria at the end of the war.

The custom-built crates and their markings appeared to be entirely authentic but it was not possible for Schattle to determine the value of the statues inside. As Professor Elsen was a well-publicized Bay Area expert and had appeared often, and at length, in the local media on the subject of Rodin, Schattle contacted him for his professional opinion of the pieces and their possible value for reasons of obtaining insurance.

Elsen, according to Schattle’s subsequent deposition, appeared to be very agitated when told that these pieces had once been the property of Hermann Goering and had, according to the labels on the crates, been acquired by the Germans in Poland in 1939. He stated that these pieces had been obviously stolen by the “evil Nazis and had to be returned at once.” Citing his credentials, Elsen offered to act as a disinterested party in returning what he called “Nazi loot.”

Initially, after Elsen had inspected the pieces, there was no talk about them being fake but when Schattle refused to discuss returning them to Polish custody, Elsen, again according to the deposition, became alarmingly angry and said in a loud voice that he now determined that both the pieces were very recent fakes and could not be sold by Schattle without his certainly being arrested for possession of stolen material.

Elsen then renewed his offer to take “protective custody” of the pieces and thereby relieve Schattle of any further possibility of prosecution. Schattle again declined and left Elsen in what he described, and what seems entirely believable considering Elsen’s behavior, as a “very loud, incoherent rage. He shouted at me that if I didn’t immediately give him all of these Rodin pieces, he would have me arrested that night by the FBI.”

It would seem that Albert Edward Elsen did not number an understanding of basic logic among his many virtues because if the pieces were recent fakes, as Elsen alleged, they could not at the same time be loot from 1939 Poland.

The next day, Elsen wrote a long letter to Schattle setting forth his own esthetic and very subjective reasons why all of the pieces were obvious fakes. Since the angry expert had only seen two of the four, this judgment could only be considered as faulty at best.

As example of his polished, professional writing, Elsen’s last sentence read:

“In neither sculpture is the finishing and patina up to Alexis Rudier (sic) standards. I gather from you that the Victor Hugo was repatined. It is a lousy job.”

As Schattle merely wanted approximate values of his pieces for insurance purposes, he then turned to Thomas Carr Howe, former director of the San Francisco Palace of the Legion of Honor Museum, an institution that possessed a large collection of original Rodin works that had been purchased prior to the sculptor’s death in 1917.

Mr. Howe had also been deeply involved with the recovery and identification of looted German art following the end of the war in Europe and was able to favorably address not only the originality of the four bronzes but also the distinctive, custom-made wooden crates in which they came.

He duly authenticated the pieces in writing and there the matter remained until the Frankenstein article.

When Mr. Schattle called the editorial department of the ‘Chronicle’ to complain about the implications of fraud contained in the article, he was informed by legal counsel for the paper that since the Schattle name had not appeared in the article nor the pieces specifically identified, no actual damages had occurred and therefore no retraction of any kind would issue.

When later called by Schattle, Alfred Frankenstein refused to speak with him other than to inform him, very emotionally, as Schattle reported in his deposition, “gangs of Nazis were behind this and have been attacking poor Al Elsen.”

Schattle said later when interviewed for this article, that he had visions of very elderly SS men, armed with walkers and canes, throwing refuse on Elsen’s crabgrass-infested front lawn on Alvarado Row.

Subsequent to the publication of the Frankenstein article, Elsen had learned of Howe’s authentication of the questioned pieces and bombarded the retired museum head with numerous, aggressive telephone calls, urging him to withdraw his opinion. Howe eventually did so in a formal letter to Schattle but without questioning their authenticity. He merely withdrew permission to use his name but did not state that the bronzes in question were fake.

In an interview with a member of the media, the notes of the reporter who later spoke with Howe quoted him as saying, “I am too old and I do not want to get into a pissing match with Al Elsen.”

It was shortly after this that the Basilisk Press sent out its momentous flyer.

Subsequently, a Ms. Gay Morris, art critic for the Palo Alto Times, a small paper in the town adjacent to Stanford University, wrote a letter to the Press and was at once contacted by a Mr. MacGregor who claimed to be a director of the firm. It was subsequently disclosed that Ms Morris was a former pupil of the great Rodin expert.

Mr. MacGregor told the art critic a good deal about the book, its author and the new Rodin collection at Stanford. Somehow in the conversation, MacGregor intimated that Mr. Jerry Jensen, a well-known local television personality, was interested in the pieces at Stanford and he implied, according to Elsen’s letter to Jensen, that there was some question about the authenticity of this collection.

This information was obviously given to Elsen by his former pupil and this resulted in the disastrous letter.

As if this imputation of chicanery was not enough of a provocation to Elsen, he then received in the mail from an unknown source, a copy of what was purported to be a news article from an undated and unidentified newspaper.

“And more news of local travelers…. Harvey and Joan Kildrup (he’s head of the Ardeth Grange) have returned from three weeks in Palm Springs with beautiful tans and four unique works of art by famed French artist August (sic) Rodin. A previous owner was the infamous Nazi bigwig Herman Goring (sic). The Kildrups will be entertaining Dr. Frederick Hasek, Rodin authority who arranged the sale, this summer. Also included in their purchases is a painting by Claude Monet which once hung in Goring’s (sic) office.”

Upon receipt of this undated, unidentified and anonymous item, Elsen immediately contacted various local offices of both state and federal law enforcement agencies, including a futile attempt to speak personally with the Attorney General of the United States. Elsen also contacted as many members of the local media as he could find.

Several reporters later indicated in their articles, most of which were written tongue in cheek, that Albert Elsen was verging on hysteria and extremely difficult to understand.

An article appearing in the Palo Alto ‘Times’ of August 19, 1977, disclosed that there was no municipality by the name of Ardeth in the continental United States and when the FBI attempted to locate an Ardeth Grange at Elsen’s repeated insistence, they found that no such farmer’s organization chapter ever existed.

At this point, it could be quite reasonably assumed that Professor Elsen had certainly overreacted to provocation that was transparently false. His verbal explosions could well be ascribed to territorialism for Elsen was, by his own oft-repeated statements, the leading American expert on Rodin, but his injudicious letter to Jensen appeared to be far more concerned with the contents of the alleged forthcoming book on Rodin fakes than in exposing art work he felt was not original.

The basic thrust of the letter, which had obviously been triggered by the anonymous clipping that appeared to be the creative and malicious work of persons still unknown, appeared to be far more of a frantic and insistent demand to know what had been written about the faking of Rodin statues than to address Mr. Schattle’s Polish pieces, though Elsen did manage to attack them with his usual disconnected venom as well.

Perhaps Professor Elsen had been further provoked by Mr. Jensen’s probing into the art circles of the Bay Area.

On June 7 of that year, nearly a month before Elsen wrote his letter, Jensen contacted a number of institutions and experts to verify certain controversial matters that were contained in his copy of the Hasek manuscript.

Jensen’s notes of the contacts contain considerable information not generally in the public domain nor highly unlikely to ever be so.

From a Ms. Cameron of the staff of the De Young Museum in San Francisco, he learned concerning Rodin bronzes that a “Paris factory is churning them out and selling them world wide.”

His next call, according to his notes, was to Ian White of the Palace of the Legion of Honor Museum, also in San Francisco, who, upon being read quotations from the manuscript, said they were “essentially true” but referred Jensen to Elsen for any further comment.

Jensen also contacted fellow Bohemian Club member, Thomas Carr Howe who acknowledged seeing the Schattle Rodins and indicated that they appeared original but that Elsen had disagreed with him. Among other remarks about Elsen, Howe also added that art fakery was “the most lucrative pastime in the world…if you can get away with it.”

Jensen’s last call was to Alfred Frankenstein, a personal friend of both himself and Albert Elsen. Frankenstein had apparently been well-briefed on the subject by Elsen so when Jensen asked him about the allegations in the manuscript, Frankenstein cut him off and claimed that he was well aware of the book and stated that it was written by someone trying to make money by “spreading lies about the art world.” He flatly refused to discuss the matter until Jensen supplied him with a full copy of the manuscript.

Jensen did not do so and the immediate result of his refusal was a quick chilling of his relationship with Frankenstein.

Apparently, there was considerable activity behind the scenes following these calls because Jensen received a personal telephone call on September 15, 1977 from Dr. Wallace Sterling, President Emeritus of Stanford and an old friend. It deserves to be quoted from Jensen’s notes in full.

“Received a call this AM from W. Sterling, former Pres of Stanford. Old Friend. Ster. sez ‘What’s all this about the Rodins?’ When told about findings, sez, ‘Isn’t all of this just a matter of opinion?’ Understood someone is putting out slanderous statements about the originality of the Cantor donation and poss. income tax fraud. ‘I don’t think we need this.’ Rep, tax angle not in question but only originality of Stanford pieces/gifts. St. sez ‘We have chance of becoming Rodin study center…good PI.’ Mentioned letter from Elsen. St. sez ‘Al Elsen is an asset to the University’ but admits’ he beats his own drum too much.’ Asked if Elsen gets fees from outside appraisals, sez ‘We are very liberal in our policy about outside income.’ Also wants complete copy of book, sez ‘Al Frankenstein beating my ear about this one.’ Sez he knows nothing about Schattle but also ‘Al thinks he owns Rodin, lock, stock and barrel and gets upset when challenged. No crime though, just a personality problem.’ Sez ‘Hope we can resolve this without any further media coverage.’

In the event, Dr. Sterling’s apprehensions did not materialize because Mr. Jensen decided against airing any of his findings.

His notes indicated that he felt the story was on the verge of getting out of control and causing acute problems for many people who were personal friends.

He also mentioned that Sterling had offered him the possibility of a lucrative public relations job at the University, obviously to assist him in his decision about any airing of the entire matter.

No further comments from Dr. Sterling, who died shortly afterwards, appear in Jensen’s notes.

When asked about the matter later by a student reporter for the Stanford Daily, Jensen stated that he had no contact with Elsen prior to receiving the letter that led to the lawsuit and concluded his interview of March 1, 1979 by saying:

“I have no idea, in God’s name, what led him to write that letter. He might have heard from other sources that I may have done research that could lead to something embarrassing.”

The question of the originality of the Schattle Rodins is basically a difference of subjective opinion between art experts but the matter of the Hasek manuscript is not as clear cut.

Basilisk Press, which claimed to be bringing forth a book on fake Rodin bronzes as well as the simple technical means by which such fakes could be detected by possible purchasers or even owners, was housed in a commercial building that hosted a telephone answering service and mail drop concern. Investigation has disclosed that Basilisk Press was not licensed to operate in the city or county of Santa Clara or any other county of the State of California.

A search of the records of the Library of Congress and other public sources does not show any publication entitled Rodin: The Anatomy of a Fraud by Frederick Hasek. Basilisk Press has apparently never published any books at all and yet a manuscript obviously did exist because Mr. Jensen read parts of it to various individuals.

The only known copy of the work was located in Mr. Jensen’s files after his death in 1984. It was in a file filled with typed notes on the subject of fake Rodin pieces and the activities of Albert Elsen. Some of these notes have been reprinted here.

The Hasek manuscript is basically a work concerned with an overview of art frauds, most especially frauds concerning Auguste Rodin, a history of the French sculptor and a fascinating section on the manufacture of bronze works of art and how fakes or copies of known famous bronzes can be easily detected.

Portions of the Hasek manuscript are set forth here to provide the reader with a strong and highly reasonable explanation for the furious and intemperate actions of Professor Albert Elsen and others who shared a strong vested interest in avoiding any controversy whatsoever concerning Auguste Rodin and his works.

“Fakery, fraud and deceit have long been handmaidens to the Muse of the Fine Arts and the marketplace for sculpture and paintings is no place for the uninitiated. Yet every day, thousands of dollars worth of allegedly original and rare pieces change hands, enriching the few and deluding the many.”

This is the opening of the work and the author goes on to be far more specific.

“An original piece by any artist, be it Rodin or Da Vinci, is one that the artist conceived and at least partially executed in his lifetime. Anything else, regardless of whatever euphonious title be applied to it: ‘authorized,’ ‘post-mortem work,’ or ‘posthumous casting’ is nothing more nor less than a modern copy, worth only a small fraction of the price of an original. Further, a modern piece taken from an unsigned original plaster study and carrying a copy of the signature of the purported artist is nothing less than a forgery and of even less worth than a replica which originally bore the artist’s name.”

Examining the career of Rodin, the author continues:

“…. in November of 1913, Rodin angrily demanded that a work, ‘The Earth’ attributed to him and on display at the gallery of a Parisian dealer be seized as a forgery. Shortly thereafter, it was conclusively proved that the piece had in fact been done by Rodin himself in 1898 and displayed by him at the Exposition Rodin. Confronted with this evidence, Rodin freely admitted that he had been in error. This episode is an excellent example of why ‘absolute’ statements must be view with great caution.”

There follows a technical discussion of the preparation of molds of sculpture and the techniques for the casting of bronze works. It concludes with the passage:

“The general impression that ‘original molds’ of plaster exist into which molten bronze is poured is completely incorrect in point of fact and if used, would prove to be dangerous in the extreme, the plaster exploding on contact with the hot metal.

“The rubber mold may be used time and time again to produce more wax pieces but every bronze must be hand done and is not poured into a mold like a lead soldier.”

And further:

“The statement, so often heard, that ‘Rodin pieces are cast with his consent from original molds’ is completely false and a deliberate attempt to mislead prospective purchasers. What does exist in Paris at the Museé Rodin are original plasters…and bronzes…and it is from these that new molds are made and from these new molds, new copies. This is called surmoulage and the resulting pieces are replicas, to be more than generous, not ‘authorized pieces from original patterns.'”

This section ends with specifics that need no comment:

“How is it possible, then, to detect a fake Rodin made in this manner if it is made up from original bronzes or an original plaster?

“Firstly, if the piece is taken from an original bronze, it should be noted that bronze shrinks as it cools from the molten state and therefore a copy will always be smaller than the original. In the case of bronze, the shrinkage amounts to 5%. Attempts have been made to offset this shrinkage by adding small amounts of wax to the base of the waxen form prior to casting. This will serve to bring the height up to the correct size but the width cannot be altered.

“Secondly, the foundry markings on copy Rodin pieces are of great importance. In Rodin’s time, he very often used the famous Parisian firm of Alexis Rudier. This gentleman did not use the lost-wax process described here but instead, cast his pieces in fine sand.

“This is called sand casting as opposed to lost-wax casting and the interiors of the pieces show very clearly what process was used. Lost-wax pieces show details of the painting or pouring of the wax while sand cast pieces have an even, slightly gritty inner surface (which can be smoothed out but is still very uniform.)

“Original Rodin pieces show the foundry marks, ‘Alexis Rudier/Fondeur, Paris’ on the outer surface of the bronze, generally at the base near the artist’s signature.

“In 1954, the Museé Rodin began to use the services of one Georges Rudier, nephew of Eugiene, the son of the original Alexis. Georges Rudier, unlike his ancestor, uses the lost-wax casting process and it should become painfully obvious, therefore, that a piece marked ‘Georges Rudier/Fondeur, Paris’ must of necessity be a very modern replica and, of course, not made from ‘the original mold under authority from Rodin himself.’

“Most of these modern surmoulage replicas are badly produced and instead of being carefully patined by hand with heat and chemicals, are painted with a brown lacquer.

“One should note that the collection of the Museé Rodin contains all of the pieces found in Rodin’s studio at the time the collection was taken over by the French government; including many pieces made by Rodin’s students. Also in the collection are many plaster maquettes or small studies for larger pieces. Some of these crude and unsigned plaster studies have appeared on the art market in bronze, signed ‘A.Rodin’ and with the Georges Rudier foundry signature. The original studies were never signed and as examples of the artist’s work in progress (if they were even done by Rodin and not an eager pupil) have some small value but small value indeed when compared with the selling prices of known originals.”

The final comment on the subject of copies is:

“A general rule of thumb in measuring a casting to determine its pedigree is the 5% figure. A work which approximates 5% less in size than a known prime copy is a secondhand work without question and most certainly neither original nor of any value whatsoever other than a decorative piece with which to impress visitors.”

In a published interview with a student reporter from the Stanford ‘Daily’ on February 16, 1979, Charles Hawkins, Schattle’s attorney said he believed the case would hold “some surprises” and felt that it would be quickly resolved but that it if wasn’t concluded within a month, it could open up a whole new issue.

“What we might get into in this case is that Stanford might be holding $3 million in fakes.”

This admonition must have had some effect because Elsen suddenly stopped preparing regular press releases attesting to the absolute authenticity of the Cantor bequest and two months later, with no press coverage whatsoever, quietly settled the case out of court. The terms of the settlement were never made public and are not a part of the official records now located in the courthouse annex in San Jose.

Mr. Jensen’s notes indicate that after the settlement, Professor Elsen made repeated and very vocal attempts to contact him to discover how Elsen’s letter had ended up in the hands of George Schattle. Jensen declined to speak with Elsen and after the furious Rodin expert made a number of additional but equally fruitless calls on the same subject to other staff members at KGO-TV in San Francisco, he gave up his quest.

Jensen made one final note on the case before he closed his files. This dealt with the sale of the Hasek manuscript on Rodin fakes to parties whom Jensen called “concerned, interested and very influential parties from the higher reaches of the art world” for an undisclosed but apparently impressive sum of money. Jensen was requested by the purchasers, who Jensen listed by name, title and occupation, to surrender his copy of the manuscript. He claimed that he had disposed of it by giving it to his former friend, Alfred Frankenstein. As the latter had very recently died as the result of a massive heart attack, the purchasers abandoned their pursuit.

Jensen obviously did not dispose of the manuscript and it was subsequently found in his papers, quite intact and covered with the late newsman’s notes.

Jensen’s last note said:

“Al Frankenstein was wrong after all. If someone wrote a book telling lies about the art world, the author managed to convince the big boys otherwise.”

The four Rodin statues that began the controversy were reported in the media as having been sold by Mr. Schattle for an undisclosed but substantial sum.

There were no further public comments from Professor Albert Edward Elsen when news of this sale became public.

Rodin: The Anatomy of a Fraud was written in 1977 and one statement made at the conclusion of the manuscript is now in error.

“There is another use to which replica art may be put besides merely merchandising it to the trusting and innocent. Wealthy individuals are known to buy up quantities of replicas and then make some kind of arrangement with a willing expert whereby the latter will supply an appraisal attesting to the high intrinsic value of the items.

“Armed with this, and often with the further assistance of the expert, the owner of the pieces now poses as a philanthropist and distinguished patron of the arts and in this role, donates the replicas to a public, non-profit institution such as a museum or public gallery. He is then able to declare this give on his income tax return and take a massive deduction based, not on the purchase price, but the appraisal value.”

In 1986, the tax laws were altered to specifically to prevent this from happening. From that year onwards, the only sum a donor of art objects to a tax-free entity cam claim is the actual purchase price of the piece or pieces, not an inflated valuation supplied by a potentially venial expert.

Perhaps this aspect of the manuscript was what Mr. Jensen meant when he spoke of “something embarrassing.”

The chronicle of the four Rodin pieces is such an interesting microcosm of the more negative aspects of the human condition in general and the fine art market in specific that its study has proven to be well worth the research involved.

There seems to be no question that it is relatively easy to make fake copies of original bronze works of art. Merchandising them, one can clearly see, calls for the cooperation of a willing expert, but in reading through the thick files of official documents, letters, notes, records of depositions and yellowing newspaper clippings, the reader is struck by what most certainly appears to be a pattern of very malicious manipulation of individuals and establishments.

The chronology of events would seem to indicate that the elusive but quite deadly manuscript that caused so much trouble appeared after Mr. Schattle had his personal encounter with Professor Elsen.

It also seems reasonably certain that someone, perhaps Mr. Schattle but more probably someone else, had taken the measure of both the art world and one of its more emotional spokesmen and played on all of them like an out of tune piano.

Two decades after the final settlement was made, the questioned pieces sold and Elsen retired to his classroom to lick his wounds, most of the participants are dead and rapidly forgotten.

Mr. Howe, Jerry Jensen, Dr. Sterling, Alfred Frankenstein and a number of others have left the stage. B. Gerald Cantor gave more of his interesting pieces to Stanford’s Rodin Sculpture Garden, which resulted in a small article in the local press, and then joined the others in their very long silence. Only Albert Edward Elsen and George Schattle remain and somewhere, there are four Rodin bronze statues, which produced a great deal of entertaining sound and fury, signifying absolutely nothing.


  • Envoi


At the beginning of February, 1995, a copy of this commentary was sent to Professor Albert Elsen, by an academic colleague, for his comments and observations.

On February 5, 1995, a news story came over the Associated Press wire concerning the progenitor of the Rodin Sculpture Garden.

Stanford-AP  Albert Elsen, a Stanford University art professor and expert on the sculptor Auguste Rodin, has died. He was 67. Mr. Elsen died Thursday of an apparent heart attack.”

The Rommel Honor Dagger: How expensive frauds are created

by Christian Jürs

Many collectors seem to be drawn to technical works that are published solely to sell fakes. These gaudy books contain endless “variant” pieces, “prototypes,” “late-war production” items and many other entertaining holy relics that happen to be in the possession of either the author or one of his partners in crime.

It might prove instructive to illustrate a fictional fraud, based entirely on factual procedures.

Let us consider the “Rommel Honor Dagger.”

This would be a special, custom-made item given by Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini to German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel upon the occasion of his capture of the British North African military base at Tobruk.

The merchandiser of this piece is the fictive Lothar Sneed, America’s Biggest Dagger Dealer. Sneed stands at five foot, six inches and weighs in at three hundred and fifty pounds.

He once worked for the CIA, selling encryption machines to one country and the encryption codes to their rivals. He also sold surplus military weapons to groups supported by the private policy aims of that agency and, on the side, smuggled drugs with a reasonable profit going to his employers. After in interesting lifetime of manipulative mendacity, Sneed is now retired and makes a very large amount of money as America’s Biggest Dagger Dealer.

Sneed has a friend, Basil Colon, who publishes books on rare and unusual daggers and swords of the Third Reich period. An artifact that appears in a Colon book is an artifact that can be sold for large sums of money.

Sneed has an arrangement with a dagger manufacturer in Milan, Italy. This enterprising gentleman inherited a factory from his grandfather and the inventory contained parts and the dies to make Fascist dress daggers.

Colon did a series on rare Italian Fascist Daggers, thereby creating an interest in the collecting fraternity. Signor Stronzo has been cranking out his “official” daggers for three years and has sold almost every one of these new creations to Lothar Sneed. Helped by the Colon books, Sneed has developed a reputation as the sole source for these daggers. Once the standard Fascist dagger has saturated the market, Sneed and Colon have decided to produce interesting, and salable, “variants” and “presentation” models.

One day, while visiting Signor Stronzo’s shop, Sneed sees a gaudy dagger in a case. It turns out to be a fancy piece manufactured to the specifications of a well-known Italian typewriter manufacturer. Unfortunately for Signor Stronzo, the manufacturer died of an infarction while servicing his sixteen year old mistress and the dagger has been unclaimed.

Colon buys it and back in the United States, he shows it to a friend of his, Wally Smegma. Wally is an expert in creating new and interesting rare pieces for the trade.

The finial of the typewriter dagger depicts a melon-breasted woman and has to go. The plotters have decided to create the “Rommel Honor Dagger” for both fun and profit.

The finial is replaced with a silver one depicting the Italian Fasces on one side and the German swastika on the other. The blade is engraved with a bad Italian inscription from Mussolini to Rommel and with a facsimile of the Duce’s signature.

Four hours in a lapidary rock-polishing drum with a handful of sawdust and some buck shot added a marvelous patina to the dagger.

The finished piece is then photographed from many angles in black and white and the next stage of the operation is launched.

The physical dagger exists but no one would buy it without a provenance.

In the elegant world of fine art, this provenance is most often achieved by inserting a fake into a commissioned coffee table book on an artist or period. This is called Salting the Mine.

Firstly, a series of original photographs of Mussolini and Rommel are purchased from Photo Luce in Italy. The black and white pictures are culled and finally, an original picture of Rommel is carefully applied to a selected photograph of Mussolini, with another addition of the new dagger, rephotographed and then screened.

An original German wartime newspaper is located, the front page photographed front and back and the picture of the two men and most especially the new dagger, set into the page. The whole is re-photographed and run off on newsprint at a local print shop.

The finished page, printed front and back, is placed between two sheets of glass and stuck in an attic window of the Sneed estate to age gracefully in the sun. After about a month, when the paper has turned a lovely shade of ochre, it is removed, excess portions removed and the whole glued into a photo album.

Sneed has a postman with the right appearance and he dresses him in a U.S. Army uniform of the wartime period, takes him into his back yard and poses the costumed man holding up a swastika flag in one hand and the Rommel Honor Dagger in the other. The finished photograph is soaked in tea until it attains a lovely patina of age and it too is glued into the album beside the original newspaper.

Sneed bought the album, which is genuine, at a military collector’s show. It is full of pictures of shattered German buildings and other ruins and came from the estate of a deceased warrior. The few extra blank pages in the rear now sport the picture of the bogus GI with the equally bogus dagger and authenticating newspaper clipping.

In return for his standard fee of 30%, Colon agrees to include the newly-discovered treasure in his next book. “Daggers and Edged Weapons of the Third Reich, Volume 11.” For an additional fifteen Italian Fascist High Leader’s Daggers plus three Gestapo General’s Belt Buckle guns (invented by Sneed five years ago and a standard item in his catalog of incredibly rare relics) Colon agrees to place a full color depiction of the Rommel Honor Dagger on the cover of the forthcoming book.

This absolutely guarantees instant and frantic interest on the part of the more advanced of the dagger and sword collectors and Sneed views this as a reasonable operating expense.

To actually own a piece depicted on the cover of a Colon book is a consummation devoutly to be wished by an advanced collector and this piece is no exception. The Rommel Honor Dagger is such a gaudy and generally aesthetically tasteless piece as to inflame the passions of any advanced collector and Sneed now begins his final operation.

Sneed and the dagger will appear at a prestigious military collector’s show given by himself and Colon. The dagger, now ensconced in an expensive rosewood case (which Sneed has used before and will use again), is put on display along with the doctored photo album, open to the page with the recent but aged additions.

Awed attendees to the show stand in line in front of the Sneed display tables and slowly file past the newest treasure. They are allowed no more than thirty seconds of viewing time and then must move on to let others experience the historical treasure.

The piece is not necessarily for sale, Sneed tells the gawping multitude. He might present it to a German museum as his token of respect for that now-free and democratic American-controlled republic. On the other hand, he might be persuaded to consider offers if, and only if, they are serious offers.

This is a piece, as Sneed says later during a speech to the attendees, that belongs in a really advanced collection. It rightfully belongs to someone who understands history and has the capability of truly appreciating a genuine piece of world history.

Later that evening, as Sneed held court at the local Bob’s Big Boy restaurant, an offer is made to him that he cannot refuse.

Carl Mudd, a born-again Christian latex marital-aid manufacturer from Sweetwater, Florida declares his determination to possess what Sneed refers to as “an investment in history for a discriminating collector.” His wife, Winifred, was tragically and accidentally compacted while rummaging deep inside in a dumpster behind the local Piggly Wiggly Food Mart, seeking food bargains.

The insurance company had recently settled with Mudd and he offers Sneed one hundred thousand dollars in cash and his late wife’s collection of Barbie dolls for the Rommel Honor Dagger. Sneed will accept the money with dignified mien and the dolls will end up in another dumpster.

The Rommel Honor Dagger will still appear in several books but this time, a quivering Mudd is told, the line “From the Carl Mudd Collection” can be seen beneath the pictures of his latest treasure.

And that is how the world turns.

And for ‘Rommel Honor Dagger’ one could just as easily say ‘Monet,’ ‘Rodin,’ ‘Remington’, ‘Dali,” “Leonardo da  Vinci” or ‘Athenian decadrachma.’

There is, of course, truth in this jest.

The Colon books exist in fact and certainly in spirit. These types of “reference works” are popular in the world of expensive artifacts, be it Nazi daggers or fine art, because they are very well illustrated, if nothing more than catalogs of available and expensive fakes.

The pictures are important because it is to be regretted that large numbers of the American population, in addition to being grossly overweight, are nearly incapable of reading English, let alone a foreign language, so no doubt we can expect the future to contain an increasingly large number of picture books



No responses yet

Leave a Reply