News / Art

“Catastrophe” strikes French gallery with discovery that 60% of its collection is fake


An AFP journalist inspecting work by Étienne Terrus

It’s been a bad week for curators of the Musée Terrus in France following the discovery that over half of its collection are worthless fakes. Eighty-two of the 140 paintings by local artist Étienne Terrus, one of the forerunners of the Fauvist movement, were found to be forgeries.

Located in Elne just outside Perpignan in the south of France, the museum was opened in 1994 to house work by the 19th Century painter and other related artists. The discovery was made after an art historian brought in to reorganise the collection after the acquisition of 80 paintings and a €300,000 renovation spotted discrepancies with Terrus’ work.

A masterful deception it was not – one of the first signs of the deception was the depiction of buildings that had been constructed after the artist’s death in 1922. “At a stylistic level, it’s crude,” art historian Eric Forcada told reporters. “The cotton supports do not match the canvas used by Terrus. And there are some anachronisms. On one painting, the ink signature was wiped away when I passed my white glove over it.”

More than £140,000 of local council money had been spent buying oil paintings, watercolours and drawings for the state-owned museum in recent years, although some of the collection had been left to the museum by patrons.

An investigation launched by Elne’s mayor, Yves Barniol, has begun to hunt down the forgers and the dealers that sold them. It’s suspected that a significant number of paintings by other southern French artists may also fake. “Knowing that people have visited the museum and seen a collection, most of which is fake, that’s bad,” said Barniol. It’s a catastrophe for the municipality.”