French Museum Discovers More Than Half Its Collection Is Forged The gallery dedicated to the work of artist √Čtienne Terrus underwent a six-figure renovation only to find that 82 of its paintings are fakes.
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French Museum Discovers More Than Half Its Collection Is Forged

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French Museum Discovers More Than Half Its Collection Is Forged

French Museum Discovers More Than Half Its Collection Is Forged

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A museum in southern France has discovered that half its collection of paintings thought to be by a celebrated local artist are counterfeit. And it gets worse - investigators say that works by other regional artists could also be fake. Jake Cigainero in Paris sends us this report.

JAKE CIGAINERO, BYLINE: The quaint French village of Elne on Spain's border is proud to be the hometown of the Catalan painter Etienne Terrus. He was the late 19th century artist who specialized in local landscapes and was friends with the painter Henri Matisse. After a $365,000 renovation, the town was set to celebrate the grand reopening of the museum bearing Terrus's name, one of Elne's main attractions. Instead, the big reveal was that 82 paintings attributed to the artist in the museum's collection were fake.

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YVES BARNIOL: (Speaking French).

CIGAINERO: Local mayor Yves Barniol announced at the opening it was the guest curator who raised the alarm about the authenticity of the paintings.

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BARNIOL: (Through translator) Following this, we nominated a commission experts who can say with enough evidence that more than half the museum's collection was fake.

CIGAINERO: Art historian and curator Eric Forcada noticed buildings that appear in some of the paintings didn't actually exist in Terrus's time. Here, Forcada is showing a copy of one of the counterfeit works.

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ERIC FORCADA: (Through interpreter) We know the belltower here, but this building, La Chambre de la Reine, was constructed in 1958. Terrus died in 1922.

CIGAINERO: The town spent an estimated $200,000 over 20 years acquiring the works, and in some cases, was easily fooled.

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FORCADA: (Through interpreter) There are several types of fakes in the collection. There are some that were taken and just signed posteriorly with Terrus's name and others that were made expressly to look like his work.

CIGAINERO: Marthe-Marie Coderc, president of the local association Friends of the Terrus Museum, has dedicated years to raising money to buy paintings for the collection.

MARTHE-MARIE CODERC: (Through translator) Maybe we were a little naive to not have looked closer at the origins of these paintings.

CIGAINERO: She said members feel bad because so many people donated to help bolster the collection. The remaining 52 paintings in the museum's decimated collection have since been authenticated. The town has filed a formal complaint for forgery and fraud and hopes the crooks will be caught, but they haven't yet named the alleged forgers and dealers. Police have seized the Terrus fakes and have opened an official investigation. They say the scam could be the racket of an even-larger network. Authorities say paintings attributed to other southern France artists in museums could also be phony. These regional artists, like Pierre Brune and Balbino Giner, they say, are easier to fake than the well-known masters. Art experts estimate that at least 20 percent of paintings owned by institutions, either on display or in the vault, could actually be the work of someone other than the purported artist.

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FORCADA: (Speaking French).

CIGAINERO: "As art historians, we ask ourselves how to discern real from fakes in future generations, Forcada told French TV. "The Terrus case allows us to make a first pass at cleaning up this totally corrupt market." For NPR News, I'm Jake Cigainero in Paris.

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