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HOME > Short Stories > The Gentle Art of Faking > CHAPTER XXI FAKED POTTERY
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   Faked pottery—Old unglazed types—Artistic and scientific interest in pottery—Oriental glazed pottery—Greek and Etruscan half-glazed vases—Faience and its various types—Italian factories, Cafaggiolo, Urbino, etc.—Iridescent glazes, Hispano-Moresque, Deruta and Gubbio—French pottery—Faked Palissy and imitations of Henri II—Other types of French faience—China, the old and modern composition of china—Various ways of faking china of good marks—Half-faked pieces—Blunders in marks—Glasses and enamels.

Pottery presents one of the richest and most varied fields for imitation and faking. The endless types and specialities of this class seem to have spurred the versatile genius of the imitator.

Broadly speaking, and age apart, pottery may be divided into two classes: one in which glazing does not appear, and one in which this important element of ceramics lends an entirely different character to the product.

The first class more especially, if not exclusively, may be grouped into two types according to character: those that interest the scientist in particular, and those that come more into the domain of the artist and art lover. It is of course understood that there is no definite line of demarcation between the two.

Faking, however, with a great spirit of impartiality, makes no distinctions and is ready to meet its clients on the scientific or artistic field, and fully prepared to accommodate the scientist with an artistic bent or the artist possessing the learned propensities of the historian.

Thus Mexican idols and Peruvian pottery, as well as the productions of savage tribes, are imitated and copied with the247 same interest as the unglazed vases of Samos, Greek clay urns and Roman lamps. What regulates the increase of the forger’s activities and spurs his genius is, as we have said, the demand for an article and its price.

There is nothing surprising then in the fact that some rather indifferent types of pottery of savage tribes, or incomplete aboriginal specimens, should have been faked as though they presented the interest of a chef-d’œuvre. Not altogether of this class, but certainly of limited interest so far as art is concerned, are the Mexican articles which have been among the most exploited by those who know that these kinds of relics are in great demand by scientists as well as collectors who have a passion for specialities.

In the Exhibition of 1878, a group of scientists put the incautious upon their guard by exhibiting a whole series of faked Mexican idols, pottery and so forth. But as the articles, especially at that time, were in great vogue, the warning was not sufficient for specialists and collectors, and the show of faked Mexican art proved such a success that it stirred the honesty or cynicism, we hardly know which, of a Parisian dealer who conceived the notion to advertise his wares: “Forgeries of Mexican idols, 5–25 francs.”

Unglazed Oriental and Græco-Roman pottery, with its fine forms and decorative character, has not only proved an attraction to the collector but very tempting to the faker who finds no great difficulty in imitating it. The way to render such pottery antique-looking is easy. Acids may play their part here too, but they are hardly necessary as the porous nature of the clay makes it able to absorb any kind of hue, tone and dirt if buried in specially prepared ground or in a bed of fertilizer.

Curiously enough from one point of view, the imitation of this early art generally flourishes on the very spot where the originals are excavated, and still more odd is it that on more than one occasion those duped were the very ones supposed to be good connoisseurs and who took direct interest in the excavations. Thus it is that there is an248 abundance of faked Samos, Rhodes and other specimens, in collections now housed in museums. A superficial inspection of the Cesnola collection in the Metropolitan Museum of New York, ought to be sufficient to prove that even connoisseurs as good as Cesnola, are not quite safe in this speciality against the trickery of modern imitators.

With Greek, Campanian or Etruscan pottery that bears a peculiar polish or glazing the nature of which is still a mystery to ceramists the case is somewhat different; good imitations are rare. Naturally there cannot be included among convincing imitations those upon which a lead glaze has been used, as such imitations are covered with a thick layer of shining glaze and are only intended for veriest neophytes who have presumably never seen an original. Successful imitations are either finished with a very thin and non-shining glaze or an encaustic polish. To ascertain whether encaustic has been used, one has only to rub the piece with a cloth soaked in benzine, which will soon turn it opaque.

In the pottery museum of Sèvres there is an interesting series of faked Greek and Etruscan vases, urns, etc. It comprises some good specimens of the work of Touchard, an imitator flourishing about the year 1835, other pieces by the Giustiniani of Naples, and some of the most successful fakes of this particular kind of pottery, the pieces by Krieg from the Rheinzabern factory. These pieces were sold to the Sèvres Museum as genuine, by a Bavarian, in the year 1837.

We are told that a good method in imitating Etruscan pottery is to work with engobe, adding a well-ground frit to the barbotine that contains the elements of a glaze. To our knowledge all imitations of this kind are wanting in appearance and it is safe to assert that they could hardly receive serious consideration from a true connoisseur.

As regards glazed Oriental ceramics, there are to be noted some good imitations of Persian work and, above all, imitations of the characteristic pottery of Rhodes. Factories for these ceramics are almost everywhere. Perhaps the best imitations come from a factory in Paris. Imitations from this249 factory have succeeded in deceiving more than one connoisseur. A well-known curator of a Berlin museum bought one of these samples as genuine, paying eighty pounds for it, and an antiquary of Florence, quite a specialist in ceramics, very nearly committed the same mistake, but by good luck he was warned by a friend who had been taught by hard experience that this Oriental pottery is a product of very Western origin. Curiously enough the manufacturers do not sell their produce for anything but imitations; however, through the usual frauds in which the market in antiques abounds, these pieces are evidently palmed off on unwary collectors outside France. Oriental pottery is usually so well preserved, thanks to its hard glaze, that the faker is spared all complicated processes to give the piece an appearance of age.

The glazed work of Hispano-Moresque pottery presents a more or less successful field to imitators. The lustrous glaze of various hues does not seem to offer difficulties to the modern ceramist, who has learned how to use the mysterious co-operation of smoke in the so-called muffle glaze. Yet when confronted with originals, which are becoming rarer and rarer in the market every day, the best of imitations leaves room for meditation as the genuine is usually a very uncomfortable neighbour to the counterfeit.

The Italian Renaissance with its various and interesting types has yielded a fine crop of imitations. In fact plagiarism was already rampant when the old factories, now extinct, were in full activity. Thus on more than one occasion Faenza has copied Cafaggiolo, and the models of Urbino, Pesaro and Casteldurante are often interchanged, while the factory of Savona seems to have blended its unmistakable individuality with the models of all the most successful factories. Cafaggiolo, Gubbio and Derutha are perhaps the types of old Italian pottery to which the faker has given preference. There are some modern imitations of Cafaggiolo made by a ceramist of Florence so well done that they have deceived the best connoisseurs of Paris and Berlin. But for the fact250 that we have pledged ourselves to point out the sins and not the sinners or their victims, we could enumerate a rather interesting list of illustrious victims to this clever imitator of Cafaggiolo, who is still at work in Florence and more dangerous every day by reason of the perfecting of his deceitful art.

There are also old imitations of Cafaggiolo, made by the Sicilian factory of Caltagirone, and if one thing surprises us more than another it is that good collectors should buy this type freely as genuine. They are apparently blind to the grossness of the imitation and above all to its dark, dirty blue which has nothing in common with the beautiful colour of a genuine Cafaggiolo.

Another cherished type offering great enticement to the Italian faker, even though not imitated successfully enough to take in the real expert, is the work of Della Robbia. Imitations of this work, copies from good originals and honestly sold as such, are to be seen at one of the most important potteries of Florence, Cantagalli, a firm of almost historical reputation. Being intended to be sold as reproductions, copies or imitations, no patina is given to these.

It is not only in Italy that Italian faience has been freely imitated but also in other countries, particularly France. Among the successful imitators we may quote Joseph Devers, who made such good imitations of Italian faience that he had the honour to sell some of his specimens to the Sèvres Museum in 1851. Looking now at these imitations of Della Robbia, made so successfully by Devers in 1851, one wonders how they could have been taken for genuine by experienced connoisseurs.

The lustre work of Maestro Giorgio Andreoli and Derutha has been imitated by many factories, but, notwithstanding the efforts put forth and the progress made in discovering the secret of lustrous glazing, the imitations, especially of Maestro Giorgio, are deficient. In the Gubbio work of the best epoch a special firing must have been used, especially for the red hue, which is so original and characteristic that it seems to251 defy imitation. That the Maestro Giorgios must have been glazed at a low temperature, at any rate for the production of the iridescent effect of the colours, may be concluded from an incident that occurred in Gubbio years ago. On the spot where Maestro Giorgio is supposed to have had his furnace for firing his masterpieces, some debris of fine Gubbio work was found. By chance a woman put one of these pieces that had apparently not received the last firing for the iridescent hue into the warming pan with which she was warming her hands, and the moderate heat of the ashes was sufficient to produce the iridescent effect. Imitators of this kind of work use various methods, but one of the most common is muffled glaze, specially prepared and aided by smoke which envelopes the piece when incandescent and the glaze about to melt.

In France the hard-glazed work of Palissy was naturally an incentive to the imitator’s versatile aptitude, and later on to the faker’s. Being as esteemed for his work, as ill-treated for his religious convictions, Palissy had many imitators in his own time, mostly among his pupils or enthusiastic followers. However, Palissy died in the Bastille without revealing the secret of his glaze or the composition of his clay, so even his followers could only grope in the dark, to use the expression by which Palissy defined his long and arduous research, before he discovered the secret of his marvellous pottery. Perhaps because plagiarists are, after all, always plagiarists, the fact remains that none of the sixteenth and seventeenth-century imitators reached the level of the master.

However, false Palissys are legion now. They are of all kinds and the originals being now practically off the market, museums, as usual, abounding in pseudo-Palissys, so a comparison with an original is not always possible.

Apart from his immediate followers, Palissy was copied and imitated at Avon near Fontainebleau in the seventeenth century during Louis XIII reign. Demmin, a real authority on Palissy ceramics, mentions many false Palissys now in252 museums, some of them regular pastiches, suggested from well-known prints of a later date than Palissy. According to Demmin, some of these pieces are in the Victoria and Albert Museum, the motives of the composition, old-fashioned gardens, being taken from engravings in the style of Lenotre, possibly dating between 1603 and 1638.

In modern times there are to be noted imitations by Alfred Corplet, a restorer of pottery who filled the market after the year 1852 with passable imitations, sold as such, of Palissy work. For a long time he had been a restorer of broken and damaged Palissy work and thus he had had opportunity to study the work of the master closely, and at one time his imitations fetched high prices. A. M. Pull also imitated Palissy work about the year 1878, as well as Barbizet Brothers, of whom a plat à reptiles is kept in the Sèvres Museum. Some firms even reproduce sea-fish which are never found on genuine Palissys, as the master only moulded such animals and fish as he found in the environs of Paris.

There are many fakers who still love to imitate the work of Palissy, and if we may give advice to the inexperienced collector we would say: “Don’t go after Palissys nowadays, as a find in this line is almost an impossibility; good originals are either kept in well-known collections or jealously guarded in museums.”

Henry II faience, the technique of which is as much a mystery as Bernard Palissy’s glaze, has also been imitated, but, with the exception of a few specimens, the imitations are so coarse that they could hardly be dangerous even to the neophyte who had perchance some slight acquaintance with originals. As in the case of Palissy, however, Henry II ceramics do not abound on the market and such a thing as a find is not to be hoped for.

More common are the imitations of Rouen, Moustiers, down to the ceramics of the Revolution. The latter were at one time in such demand that a very commercial type was produced which can be imitated, of course, with ease. In this field also, therefore, do not get excited too quickly over253 some truculent subject with the conspicuous date of the Terror. Naturally among these subjects, the assiettes au confesseur and à la guillotine, depicting the execution of Louis XVI, are too tempting to forgers not to be given a certain preference among the faked pottery of the Revolution.

We would point out, further, that the pottery of all parts of the world has invariably been faked or imitated, as soon as a promise of success was presented to the imitator and of gain to the faker, but it is not the purpose of this work to make a long exposition of the countless types of faking, which would considerably increase its bulk and risk monotony by an endless list of names and almost identical facts with the usual dramatis personæ—the cheater and the cheated.

To give an appearance of age to pottery, especially glazed pottery, there are various methods, as we have already said.

Sometimes it is not only a question of determining whether an object is genuine or not, but as pottery is apt to be one of the most restored articles of antiquity offered to the collector, the art lover must be acquainted with the means of detecting which parts of a piece of pottery have been restored, often over-restored. There are two ways of restoring pottery where parts are missing. One is to make the missing part in clay, bake it, and glaze and colour it to imitate the genuine part of the object. When this is done the new part is cemented to the old, and the piece is supposed to have been only broken and mended, a fact which does not lessen the value of the object in the eyes of the collector so much as incompleteness would. As this operation is an extremely difficult one which only a few specialists can perform—there is a Florentine ceramist who does it to perfection—and very expensive as well, only really fine pieces of pottery are restored in this way as a rule. Ordinary pieces are repaired as follows. The fragments of the object are carefully cemented together and the missing parts are then supplied with plaster. Some use plaster mixed with glue, others some similar254 composition, in fact any soft substance will do if it will harden after it has been modelled and properly shaped. When the missing parts have been filled in and carefully polished with sand-paper, they are prepared for oil paint with a light coating of a weak solution of glue. After this the artist paints in the missing pattern with oil colours and a brush, copying from the original parts of the object. This finished, the glaze is imitated by a coat of varnish.

Incredible as it may sound, in the hands of a clever artist this rather clumsy method produces an almost complete illusion. It is, however, easy............
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