In the first painting, a castle is seen which was built in late 1950s. However Etienne Terrus, the artist who has painted it, died three decades ago in 1920!
In second painting, just a few touches of finger can easily wipe out the signature of Etienne Terrus!
These are just two examples of recent fraud scandal occurred in a South France art museum. In the shocking discovery, it is found that half of the museum’s collection are fake.
‘The Terrus Museum’, located at Elne, France, has been displaying the artworks of local famous artist Etienne Terrus for the last two decades. Terrus was born in 1857 and died in 1922. He is renowned for his landscape paintings of Roussillon of Southern France.
In last September, this shocking incident came to light by a local art historian Eric Forsada. He received an email containing some photographs of Etienne Terrus’s paintings displayed in Terrus Museum. After thoroughly looking at the pictures, doubt arose in Forsada’s mind. He then personally visited the museum and became more convince about his doubt. To be more sure, he took help from a panel of experts. After thorough investigation of couple of weeks, Forsada announced that 82 out of total 140 paintings of the museum are fake. The finding shook the whole country.
In the Terrus Museum, most of the artworks were collected after 2013. But most of them weren’t displayed yet, that’s because the museum authority hadn’t finished the construction of another floor of the museum for display. However in other sections, 10 to 15 fake paintings of Terrus was hung on displays for years. The mayor of Elne describes the incident as catastrophic for his municipality.
After the town council officially lodged complain, the local police started investigating the matter. The museum was shut down for weeks for the investigation. Last Friday, Terrus Museum was reopened with 60 paintings of Itienne Terrus, all of which are genuine. The investigating authority has said that it may take years to find out how many and who were behind this notorious act.
Undoubtedly the incident has brought immense shame and embarrassment for the museum and Elne city, but it has also became an alarm for everyone about the qualities of local museums and art galleries throughout Europe. To promote local heritage and to attract tourists, many localities may have been practiced this type of illegal activities so far. It has now been brought to light that the Terrus Museum neither had any curator nor any team of experts for artwork purchasing or collecting.
In recent years, the Terrus Museum had increased it’s budget for buying artworks of Etienne Terrus. It has also increased expenses on restoring paintings, setting up new light adjustments, controlling temperatures for the paintings etc.
A lawyer associated with the town council informed that the council itself has spent over 160,000 euros to purchase new paintings. Apart for buying, the authority has collected new artworks through fund raising and art donations from collectors.
Back to Eric Forsada. The art historian who caught the groundbreaking scandal, commented that it us easier to spread fake art pieces in local museums rather than of national levels. It is easy to purchase a 5 euro fake panting from flea market and then sell that to a local museum claiming the painting to be of Picasso or Matisse. Doing the same in any Paris or other major cities’ museum is quite tough.
It has seen that in many of the fake Terrus paintings, from content to even signature and date have been cautiously and perfectly copied.
However this is not the first this type of case in any French museum. In 2016, the ministry of culture issued a statement saying that they are investigating on some antiques (including two chairs of Louis XV) of Versailles Palace museum priced 2.7 million euro which were possibly fake.
An art historian and a gallery director were arrested in the case.
After this recent scandal shocked the country, the French ministry of culture has issued fresh changes in regulations for purchasing and collecting new artwork or antiques. The ministry has set up Research Centers throughout the countries, whose job will be to check each and every artwork or antique’s authenticity before they enter in any national level museum or gallery.
Who Was Etienne Terrus?
Born in 1857, Etienne Terrus went to Paris at the age of 17 to study art further. Terrus was quite reluctant for fame. That made him to return to Elne in 1882. Though Terrus never wanted to be labeled in any specific genre of painting, he has been portrayed as a follower of fauvism.
Fauvism is a form of painting where with the use of bright and vibrant color, the rural landscapes are drawn. This art form was popularized by Henry Mattis, who also was Terrus’ friend.
Erik Forsada commented that Terrus is still a mystery to researchers. Terrus used to consider himself as an anarchist. Despite his famous sculpture friend Aristide Maillol’s request to promote Terrus in Paris, Terrus refused the request and returned to Elne. He remained to Elne till his last breath in 1922.