Back in 1940 Newsweek reported that out of 2,500 paintings produced by Corot, 7,800 were in the United States. In 1953 ARTnewsstated that there was a “saying in France that Corot painted 2,000 canvases, 5,000 of which are in America.”
In 1957 the Guardian in London noted that Corot painted 5,000 works, of which 10,000 were in the United States. And in 1990 Timemagazine let it be known that “it used to be said” that Corot painted 800 pictures in his lifetime, of which 4,000 ended up in U.S. collections.
Art historians have noted that Corot sometimes authorized poor artists who imitated him to put his name on their paintings so that they would be easier to sell.
So how many Corot fakes are there? How many Corots by Corot? Plenty in each category, but nobody really knows for sure.
In the recent ARTnewssurvey of art forgery, experts were asked, Who are the ten most faked artists in history?
The almost unanimous vote went to Corot. Here is the list, in alphabetical order:
Giorgio de Chirico(1888–1978)
Vincent van Gogh(1853–90)
Although Rubens is not in the top ten, his workshop, which has been described as a factory, created all sorts of problems. There was a blurring of the lines between works by Rubens and his students.
The historian Jacob Burckhardt divided paintings associated with Rubens’s name into six categories: 1–pictures entirely by Rubens’s own hand; 2–works that Rubens sketched for his assistants, supervised, and later touched up; 3–works in which a formal division of labor took place; 4–workshop pictures, painted in the spirit of Rubens by his assistants, in which his share was small; 5–school copies without the artist’s personal participation; 6–copies executed by painters of other schools, sometimes to order.
“There are letters from Rubens in which he says a painting is a genuine Rubens, but you look at one these days and one is not sure that that is the case,” said Anne-Marie Logan, a Rubens scholar, who was guest research curator of drawings and prints for the recent Rubens exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum. “Rubens was a good salesman. His own paintings would get a better price.”
Not all works of art sold with forged signatures are intentional fakes. “There have always been those painters whose only weakness is to imitate too closely the style of some great contemporary,” John Rewald once wrote in ARTnews. “They have never intended, or participated in, fraudulent maneuvers, but they cannot prevent unscrupulous owners of their works from replacing their genuine signatures with those of the more famous artists whose style they resemble.”
Experts have also pointed out that some certificates of authentication are not worth the paper they are written on. Some, including letters from the descendants of artists, have been known to be forged.
Some replies to the ARTnews survey quoted the late Theodore Rousseau, vice director and curator-in-chief of the Metropolitan Museum, who wrote: “We should all realize that we can only talk about the bad forgeries, the ones that have been detected; the good ones are still hanging on the walls.”