Artists' Takeover: Helena Gouveia Monteiro

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"Cover image: photo-montage from Orson Welles' 'F For Fake'"

I have been thinking a lot about Forgery these days. Not that I am considering this new trade as an alternative source of income, but rather as a fuel for entertaining although far-fetched associations during lockdown.
The ideals of technical virtuosity and the self-effacing ability to see through another artists’ eyes have long fed the myth of the forger caught while manifesting himself through a slip of the finger and revealing the true proud author unmasked. Not least, the ability to convince, pose, and sell by creating a plausible narrative seem to have been indispensable qualities, possessed either by the forger himself or by a dubious although well connected third party.
Last year I came across the story of Mark Landis, a man from Mississippi who forged hundreds of impressionist paintings, from Signac and Lépine in particular, only to give them away to museums across the country. Although deceptive, his activities were not actually illegal and since he made no profits from the sale of the paintings Landis was never prosecuted.
“I gave a picture to a museum in the memory of my father which I hoped would please mother. Everyone was so nice that I was soon to get into the habit of donating pictures to museums. Being treated so nicely by people was something I was unfamiliar with and I liked it very much.” (excerpt from an interview, in the exhibition Mistaken Identity, The Art Museum, University of Lexington).
It is an unusual and fascinating case of forgery for the purpose of social ascension, integration, and access to culture.


Mistaken Identity, The Art Museum, College of Fine Arts, University of Lexington, 2019, https://finearts.uky.edu/art-museum/exhibitions/mistaken-identity
Another anecdote, referring to Francis Picabia’s childhood drew my attention:
“He won a prize for drawing at the age of ten, and was educated in art academies and ateliers. He claimed that he scored his first artistic coup as a teen-ager, by copying paintings in his father’s collection and swapping the fakes for the originals, which he sold.”
Francis Picabia Trouble Maker, Peter Schjeldahl, The New Yorker, November 2016
In William Gaddis’ novel The Recognitions, itself a tale of counterfeit and forgery, the main character Wyatt Gwyon, while still a young student, paints a copy of Hieronymus Bosch’s The Seven Deadly Sins and exchanges it with his father's original which he sells "in secret for ... for just about nothing" (p.246)
Most art museums around the world have had at least one major forgery scandal over the years. From the Louvre in Paris to the National Gallery in London, it is often difficult not only to identify and accurately determine attribution but also to ascertain whether the forgery in question was deliberately deceitful or a period reproduction, of which there were often many and for which age dating cannot be used as a distinguishing factor. The role of apprentices and assistants within the artist’s studio is equally misleading and presents an interesting point if we dig deeper into the construction of the concept of authorship and of the relation between creation and craft.
After some research into the Hugh Lane Gallery’s collection, I was able to find two interesting examples of controversial attribution:
“Even Corot!”
The first concerns a painting by the famous French landscape painter Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, presented by the Prince of Wales to the Dublin Gallery and exhibited in 1904, four years before the establishment of the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in 1908.
When it was brought to public attention that the National Museum in Budapest possessed a suspiciously similar work, a great public scandal ensued, with newspapers’ headlines questioning the picture’s authenticity and Colonel Plunkett infamously displaying photographs of the two similar paintings at the entrance to the exhibition. “Peasants by a Lake” was later established as a copy of a work by the Hungarian artist Géza Mészöly.
A contemporary article from the Illustrated London News confidently adds that “Our correspondent declares that neither painter could be suspected of having copied the other. The similarity must be due either to coincidence of subject, or to a misconception regarding the authorship of one”.
Upon viewing the picture in question, the English painter Sir John Millais (also in the collection) would have exclaimed: “You see that even Corot began as a Pre-Raphaelite!” Although the authenticity of this quote could be contested ....
Peasants by a Lake, Meszoly Geza, Hugh Lane Gallery Collection,
“Must have Gustave or the self-replicating selfie”
The second instalment concerns Self Portrait (Man with a Leather Belt), which was bought by Sir Hugh Lane in 1912.
It was first believed to be a smaller scale replica made by Courbet of his own replica (the self portrait, now displayed at Musée d’Orsay). Upon closer analysis, the picture was determined to have likely been painted after Courbet’s death and could not have been created by him.
Self Portrait (Man with a Leather Belt/L'Homme à la Ceinture de Cuir), After Courbet, Gustave, Hugh Lane Gallery Collection, (1880)
References:
https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/exhibitions/past/close-examination-fakes-mistakes-and-discoveries
“Sir Hugh Lane and the Gift of the Prince of Wales to the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin” by John Hutchinson in Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, 1979
The Lane Legacy, Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin
Millais’ comment is quoted by Hugh Lane in the appendix to the first catalogue of the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in 1908.
About the Artist
Helena Gouveia Monteiro is a visual artist and experimental filmmaker from Portugal. She received her MFA from the Villa Arson Art School in Nice in 2015 and lives and works between Dublin and Marseilles.
Her work has been shown internationally in both cinema and gallery settings and she was recently awarded the Digital Media Residency at Fire Station Artists’ Studios in Dublin, the Light Cone Atelier 105 Residency in Paris, and the Film Bursary Award from the Arts Council of Ireland.
She is the co-founder of Stereo Editions, an independent publishing collective of artists' editions, and currently co-directs the LUX Critical Forum Dublin.
Since 2019, she is a member of the Hugh Lane Gallery Artists, Guides and Lecturers Panel.