Claerhout 'forgeries galore'

2002-05-05 21:45

Johannesburg - Fears abound that hundreds of works by world-acclaimed South African artist Father Frans Claerhout could be worthless after the 83-year-old painter admitted that forgeries were printed and sold as originals by a Bloemfontein art dealer.

Works by the Belgian-born Claerhout, who stays at Tweespruit in the Free State, were considered good investments.

Cecile Loedolff, vice-president of the Association of Art in Pretoria and Absa bank's art manager, said their gallery had two Claerhout paintings that were purchased in the '70s.

"We decided long ago not to buy his paintings ... rumours of this nature have been around for a long time. I don't touch a Claerhout," she said on Sunday.

"I find it very strange that nobody became suspicious earlier. In the last few years, Claerhouts have been issued at the speed of white light."

Claerhout never dates his paintings and that could be one of the reasons why the fraud was not spotted earlier, she said.

"It's really a pity that it took him such a long time to go public. He's not going to sell his works that easily any more."

She said his earlier works were "beautiful", but the later paintings became formulaic.

"It does not have any investment value for a corporate company."

Value of Claerhouts

Marilyn Martin, director of art collections for Iziko Museums in Cape Town, said the SA National Gallery bought two Claerhouts in the '60s.

Martin said she doubted whether the latest revelations would influence the value of his original works: "Art works should have their intrinsic value."

She said owners of his work should take their investments to an art expert or auctioneer, or even Claerhout himself, to authenticate them.

"My personal perspective is that when you buy art, you buy for yourself because you like it and you enjoy it. But, obviously, it's not a nice feeling if you know you were cheated."

Asked whether she did not find it suspicious that so many Claerhouts were in circulation, Martin replied: "We were not aware of the number of Claerhouts on the market, and you know, some artists are very prolific."

Things will sort themselves out

Antiques and arts specialist Stephen Welz said art lovers would probably not be able to spot the difference between a fake and an original.

Claerhout - according to Welz - has been painting for the past 50 or 60 years, but the forgeries have only been in circulation for about three years, according to the newspaper report.

"A period of uncertainty about his paintings might follow with people staying away from his work, but things will sort themselves out again. Now might well be the time to buy an original," he said.

Claerhout admitted in an interview with Rapport on Sunday that the Bloemfontain art dealer, someone he has reportedly known for 45 years, had been falsifying his works.

"[She] confessed to me. This has been going on for years. Hundreds of my works have been falsified," he reportedly told Rapport.

He was unable to explain why he had not disclosed the information earlier.

Neither Claerhout nor his art dealer could be reached for comment on Sunday.

Police have opened docket

Free State police spokesperson Superintendent Annelie van der Bank said she had no knowledge of any police investigations into the alleged fraud.

The West Rand police in Gauteng, however, confirmed that a docket had been opened in Johannesburg where an apparently fake painting was bought.

Superintendent Milica Bezuidenthout said details on the case were still sketchy.