Art: True or False?

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The Netherlands, which has produced some of the world's finest painters, has also produced some of the finest fakers of old masters. *Partly for fun and partly to show the public "what the essence of a work of art is," Amsterdam's experts decided two years ago to stage a "Fake and Genuine" exhibition. The Municipal Museum began collecting as many fake paintings as it could find.

Borrowing fake pictures turned out to be a difficult task. Many collectors were too shy to lend the gold bricks they had bought. Some refused to admit owning them, others were indignant at being asked, while a number merely refused to answer letters. "For every fake in the exhibition," said one museum staffer, "there were five we couldn't get." The museum finally opened the show this June. Last week the exhibition was still pulling in curious crowds.

The museumgoers themselves looked curious: they were provided with headsets over which tape-recorded voices directed them from one spot to another. The paintings, hung side by side, were labeled with notes explaining the how & why of fakery. A favorite pair were similar canvases showing straight lines and painted blocks, both signed "P.M." (Piet Mondrian). In the fake, the colors are dingy; Mondrian's are light, lively and bright. Another set, Portrait of Van Boetzelaar, by J. H. Hodges, has only minor differences in detail (see cuts).*

To catch the unwary visitor, there were two paintings called The Empty Chair, both of which are genuine works by David Bles, who simply made a larger version of his first Chair. Visitors were urged to fill out questionnaires identifying unlabeled fakes and genuine pictures; of 1,827 — including some experts— only seven scored 100%. (Wrote one canny viewer: "This picture can't be real, because if it were, there'd be a guard here.")

*Finest: the late Hans van Meegeren, who forged seven "Vermeers" so expertly that world-famous authorities certified them genuine (TIME, Nov. 24, 1947). Van Meegeren earned $2,800,000 with his old-masterly brush.