Let’s say you had some extra cash sitting around and decided to buy a painting that had not been authenticated. 20 years later, you decide to find out if the painting is real or fake. After finding out your painting was in fact a forgery, you then find out it’s going to be burned according to an ancient French law meant to protect the rights of artists. This is what happened to a man named Martin Lang.
Lang was recently part of the reality show Fake or Fortune, which investigates “lost masterpieces, forgers and Nazi looted art” (TVO, 2014). They want to discover the story behind works of art. After much research, the only way to have Lang’s Chagall painting authenticated was to send it to France, which is where the problems began.
A committee consisting of two of Chagall’s granddaughters and other authenticators determined that Lang’s painting was a “very bad copy“, which means they have the right (and it is customary in France to use this right) to destroy the painting.
This brings up an interesting point. When it comes to property, who decides what gets to be done with it? The artist (or their descendants) who create the art? Or the people who buy the art? In the UK, the person who buys the property, fake or not, has the final say with what happens to it. Unfortunately for Lang, in France, that is not the case.
In an article written by Philip Mould, one of the hosts of Fake or Fortune, he lists several alternatives to destroying the painting. Instead of destroying it, the painting could be donated to an art museum to help identify other forgeries. He also makes the point that once a painting is burned, it is gone forever. So if future technologies are created that could verify the authenticity of the painting, it would be too late. The descendants of the artists could have destroyed an actual piece created by their relative.
This actually happened on Fake or Fortune. Three paintings by J.M.W. Turner that were believed to be forgeries inthe past have recently come to be regarded as originals through investigation. (NYTimes.com,2012) What if they had been burned?
I understand where the law is coming from, but to me it just seems so permanent. The law is meant to protect the rights of artists and discourage people from forging their work. However, it seems to me the people who are being hurt by this law are not the forgers, but the patrons of fine art.
I definitely support the UK standpoint of when you buy a painting, it is yours to do with as you please. Why do descendants of artists, who may or may not have been trained in the artistic style of their relative have the right to decide what happens to the painting? Wouldn’t it be better to label the work of art as a fake, but allow future generations to interpret the work as they will?
What do you think? Do you think a French law should let artists (or their descendants) burn paintings that have been determined as forgeries? Or is it the right of the person who bought the painting to decide what they get to do about it?
If you disagree with the ruling, there is a petition you can sign here.