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HOME > Short Stories > The Gentle Art of Faking > CHAPTER XXIV VELVETS, TAPESTRIES AND BOOKS
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   Olla Podrida: Genuine and faked antique stuffs—The peculiar knowledge necessary to an expert on stuffs—The difficulty in imitating Renaissance velvet—Collectors of costumes—Collections of dolls—Tapestries—Repairs and faked parts or qualities—Book collecting—Two kinds of book collectors—The faking of editions and rare bindings—The extended and ambitious activity of the art of faking—Faked aerolites!

Assembling in this chapter a variety of objects under the title of minor branches of art collecting, we do not use the term artistically, but merely because these branches apparently attract fewer art lovers than the others, and the activity of the faker is more restricted in their case. In many of these branches, too, the art of collecting and connoisseurship is reduced to technical knowledge and artistic sentiment plays a very secondary part.

If there is any one branch of collecting in which it is necessary to be a specialist to ensure success, that branch is unquestionably antique stuffs. Artistic sentiment and good taste are of comparatively slight assistance compared with technical knowledge, and they may even at times produce two dangerous psychological elements only too often responsible for collectors’ blunders: enthusiasm and suggestion. The technician with knowledge of the different qualities of materials, with an eye for the various peculiarities of the weave and colour, and sound information as to the character of the various patterns, etc., is doubtlessly the best equipped as a connoisseur of stuffs. This may sound absurd to the outsider, especially to artists, whom we have ourselves found to be over-confident as to their qualities, their pictorial288 eye, their full acquaintance with form. Yet too many of these artists, not being collectors or experts, have bought modern goods as antique, old furniture re-covered with modern brocade that no expert would for a moment have taken as being of the same date as the furniture. We refer, of course, to those modern imitations generally the easiest to detect, however artfully they have been coloured and aged to give them the appearance of genuine antiquity.

The detection of modern products offers no difficulty to the expert. They may look extremely convincing to the uninitiated or beginner, as they possess what may be termed a general impression of antiquity, but to the trained eye of the expert there are too many essential differences; and they lack, above all, a character that in the case of a large quantity of stuff and not a mere sample, is inimitable. For the Jaquard machine is not the old weaving loom, the material used is produced with greater care and precision which gives the fabric a different look even when the coarseness of ancient textiles has been imitated, the colours are different and so is the chemical process for dyeing the thread, etc. The sum total of these elementary differences with which the art of imitation cannot cope, is what reveals to the expert almost at sight the antiquity or modernity of the product. In conclusion, with the exception of some rare samples of small pieces, the modern imitation of ancient stuffs is but a successful optical illusion.

Imitations that count at least a century of age, on the contrary, prove dangerous puzzles to experts and connoisseurs of this speciality, these imitations having been made in almost exactly the same way as the originals, before weaving machines were invented, and when the thread was spun and dyed in the simple old way before aniline dyes had furnished beautiful but most unstable colours.
Europa on the Bull.
By Andrea Brioschi called “Il Riccio.” Imitation of the Antique, Padua School.

In France, under Louis XIII, Renaissance patterns were admirably copied, as well as those of the sixteenth century. The reproduction of old designs is not confined to Italy and France alone. In nearly every country there have been289 imitators of the best samples of ancient stuffs, damasks, brocades and velvets.

As regards imitation, the more complex the pattern in design and colouring, the easier it can be reproduced with success. In fact plain velvet is the most difficult to imitate. No one, not even in the past, has ever reproduced the fine velvets of the Quattrocento and early Cinquecento with complete success.

Methods of ageing modern stuffs which have not the advantage of the genuine hues of age of old imitations, greatly resemble in general lines those adopted to give an appearance of age to other objects. If the colouring is crude and too new looking, the stuff is exposed to atmospheric action, rain, dew and sunshine. Needless to add, this treatment must be followed with care and discrimination otherwise the fabric may be reduced to a rag as well as to an appearance of age. To harmonize the colours and give them a more faded look, some put the goods into a bath of slightly tinted liquid, thus obtaining on the fabric what in painting is termed velatura. Others put the liquid into an atomizer and steam it on to the stuff. This process has the advantage of giving alternate hues without any sharp delimitation between them.

These methods, however, by which the artist can display variation, are not convenient or possible in the case of large quantities of fabric, nor is the result convincing in the proximity of the original. One does not need to be an expert, in fact, to see the difference between the old and the new on a piece of furniture or in a room where imitations have been used to supply what was lacking.

To make imitations more convincing, more especially in the case of small pieces, some antiquaries stitch on bands before discolouring the stuff, which are afterwards taken off leaving parts with fresher colours, as often happens in really antique pieces that have belonged to ecclesiastical copes, etc.

Strict order having been dispensed with in this chapter,290 and as, after all, fabrics are involved, we may here touch upon the subject of dress and past costumes. The rarity of such collections depends not only upon the fact that the roomy space of a museum is indispensable for their display but largely upon the scarcity of past century costumes. This branch of collecting is very useful to the history of fashion and national costumes, but it must be considered that to be of interest to the collector a dress must be at least forty years old, and very few garments attain that age nowadays. Either they are altered to conform to fashion, or unpicked or given away until they have run through the scale of society and end in rags. The rarity of the genuine article appears to correspond with the rarity of collectors of this line, and there is therefore no question of fakes, unless one should take seriously certain comic incidents and consider as a collector the simpleton who buys the cast-off costumes of an elegant fancy dress ball as genuine articles, those poor imitations, with no pretence at being anything else, of Henry IV, Marie Antoinette, and other historical garments.

Having mentioned the subject of costumes, we may speak of another kind of collection that is also very useful to the history of past usages and fashions, that of dolls and toys of past centuries. Dolls and children’s toys are not an invention of to-day. It is safe to say that their existence can be traced almost as far as the history of civilization. The Romans used to bury dolls and toys with the bodies of their little ones or place them in the funereal urn, a usage that has preserved for us specimens of these tiny objects that have drawn smiles from young lips closed and sealed centuries ago. Together with these relics are other images that illustrate the history of costumes like the dolls, the statuettes offered to temples and churches as ex-votos and those used in the construction of the old presepio (birth of Christ scene), the Christmas Eve representations of the Bethlehem scene. These wooden dolls and statuettes are not only artistic in themselves, but are dressed in stuffs of their epoch very often cut in the fashion of the time.

291 Some of these collections have really been excellent commentaries on the history of fashion and domestic customs of past ages. Among the few important collections we may quote as an example that of Mme. Agar, exhibited by this celebrated French artist several years ago in the Palais de l’Industrie now demolished. Mme. Agar’s collection was very complete and illustrative of fashion and life in Holland centuries ago. The collection had originally belonged to the infant princess, the daughter of William of Orange and Nassau. Not only was it extremely artistic, containing several interiors of Dutch houses with inmates and accurate details suggesting a painting by Terburg or Teniers, but it represented all kinds of expression of seventeenth-century Dutch life. Mme. Agar came into possession of this fine collection under the following circumstances. Returning from one of her artistic tours in Belgium she visited the city of Ghent and found the collection in the hands of a gentleman to whom she had been introduced upon her arrival. She offered to buy it, but the owner refused all offers declaring that he did not wish to part with the precious collection. However, after having heard Mme. Agar at the theatre one evening, he was so taken by her art that he wrote to the actress the very same night, “Come to fetch my toys. I offer them to you, they are yours.”

There is no question of fakes in this branch either. The difficulty in finding old stuffs and linen with which to garb the figures is sufficient to discourage the trade, especially when one remembers how few customers the imitator could hope to attract.

The art of tapestry weaving is the most complete of the class. Although technique may play its part in constituting expert knowledge, it is certainly subordinate to the artistic qualities necessary to perfect connoisseurship.

Faking plays no part in this field, at least not the conspicuous part that it plays in painting and other artistic products likely to attract rich amateurs. This is easily understood when one takes into consideration the time,292 patience and money needful to the making of tapestry; it costs something like eighty pounds a square yard. The imitator also knows that it would be a waste of time and money to fake old tapestries as any expert can tell modern work from old. The apparatus has hardly undergone any essential change it is true, but the materials are so different from formerly that fairly tolerable imitations can only be given in the case of repairs to old pieces. On account of the great cost of modern tapestry the few existing factories either belong to the State or potentates, or they are supported by the lavish encouragement of some modern Mæcenas. As we have said, the difference between the work of modern and ancient tapestry does not lie in a difference of process, unchanged in essentials since the Egyptian dynasties, but rather in the impossibility of obtaining materials like the old ones.

Although some unscrupulous dealers do palm off over-repaired pieces of tapestry on foolish novices, the repair of tapestry is no faking after all, for the decorative character of the fabric fully justifies the mending and restoration of missing parts and, unlike painting, the work does not bear an individual imprint. It is our duty, however, to warn the neophyte that repairs are very seldom pointed out by dealers and that it is absolutely necessary for the collector to train his eye in order to be able to detect the modern parts from the old and to know how much must be bought as antique and how much as modern. This is not so difficult as it may appear. The modern parts are worked in with the needle and although the threads have generally been specially dyed, as the usual colours now on sale are very rarely suitable, there is a slight difference in the final effect. Nothing to offend the eye, even when closely examined, but enough to warn the expert of the size of the repaired piece. Sometimes the repairer of tapestries uses a method which in our opinion comes under the head of faking. This consists of re-colouring faded parts with water-colours or tempera. Some of this touching up is really cleverly done, at other times it is so293 clumsy that one wonders how even a novice can be taken in. If there is any suspicion that the tapestry has been coloured, a practical test is the displacement of the threads with a needle as the fresh colours are generally laid on with a brush and never penetrate between the threads where the old faded colour is visible. Incredible as it may seem, some tapestries are touched up with pastel. This was sometimes done even in the eighteenth century to disguise defects and crudeness of tone and now it is practised to deceive the eye by making a better match between the old and the new parts. Of course pastel work is easily detected if one is allowed to rub the part, but this is not always feasible, especially at public sales where the tapestry is hung on the wall, sometimes very high up, on purpose to defy close inspection. There is also a method of fixing the pastel retouch with an atomizer and a certain liquid sold in Paris, but even these means are not so effective as milk and tempera, and hard rubbing with a white cloth will always reveal the deception when pastel has been used.

Rugs, particularly Oriental rugs, belong in a way to the same family as tapestry and may be classified with it. There is this difference, however: being less complicated in character and for the most part adorned only with geometrical patterns and rudimentary arabesques, rugs are imitated with greater facility. Things do not change so quickly in the East as in Western countries, and there the old weaving apparatus is still in use and materials are only just ............
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