Art fraud in publishing (?)

December 12th, 2016 by anna-corrine_egermo | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Art fraud in publishing (?)
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Vincent van Gogh, self-portrait

All publicity is good publicity. What prompted me to reuse this fabulously cliché phrase is the controversy in France over a book with 65 sketches allegedly by Vincent van Gogh. Publisher Editions du Seuil claims that they are previously unknown drawings, while the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam claims they are fake. By the sound of it, it is all a lovely mess.

One can imagine that publishers are careful when taking on an art book, especially when it makes a claim of containing previously “lost” sketches and notes. Editions du Seuil is not revealing where this sketchbook came from, but they did get two art historians, and internationally recognised authorities on van Gogh, to write the foreword and text: Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov and Ronald Pickvance. Nevertheless, experts have been fooled before.

It’s hard not to think of the great Vermeer forger Han van Meegeren, who was only found out because he could not say where the Vermeer he had sold to Hermann Göring originally came from. Perhaps the best part of the story is when van Meegeren’s very first “Vermeer” got the most eminent authority on Dutch baroque art to write that it was a “masterpiece”, and a “wonderful moment in the life of a lover of art”. It is possible that Welsh-Ovcharov and Pickvance had similar revelations.

Hermann Göring’s “Vermeer”. Photo: Croes, Rob C., Fotocollectie Anefo, Nationaal Archief NL.

At the moment, according to The Bookseller, there is still uncertainty as to who is right, but customers has so far preferred to err on the side of caution. Making this the sort of publicity one should like to avoid, unless, it can be publicly proved that the sketches are authentic.

Until it all is resolved I would like to ponder the words of Theodore Rousseau: “We should all realise that we can only talk about the bad forgeries, the ones that have been detected; the good ones are still hanging on the walls.” And perhaps, standing on our bookshelves.


Vincent van Gogh: The Lost Arles Sketchbook can be bought here for $85. If you think that is too much the Book Depository has it for £35.75. Grab a bargain!

Elena Ferrante’s ‘Unmasking’: A Publicity Boost?

October 11th, 2016 by Otieno Owino | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Elena Ferrante’s ‘Unmasking’: A Publicity Boost?
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ferranteWhen, on Sunday 2nd October, news started trickling in about the Italian author Elena Ferrante’s ‘outing’ it was on Facebook that I first learnt about it. Soon the news spread on Twitter and went viral.

Following a trail of financial transactions by Ferrante’s publisher Edizione e/o, Italian journalist Claudio Gatti presents a strong case that translator Anita Raja has been the beneficiary of the success of Elena’s books, and that she is indeed the author of the critically acclaimed Neapolitan novels among other books. The publisher and Raja have not confirmed or denied this claim.

In this digital age, where writers and readers have become a community, and engagements between the two groups continue to become intimate, I was surprised by the reactions that followed. Deborah Orr commenting on the Guardian said the revelations violated her right to not know, while Aaron Bady, an American critic, questioned the logic of this ‘outing’. Most people in my reader circles were outraged at the sheer intrusion of privacy and the fact that whatever persona Ferrante had chosen to identify herself with was not important but the quality of her work, which many agree is among the best.

Could Ferrante have been an exception? That even in this age, a writer could stay out of social media, blogs, and only offer a few interviews on select mainstream media and still move books? The number of her books sold tell their own story. The success of the Neapolitan novels My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child have shifted a combined 372,760 copies in the UK according to an article in The Bookseller, which cites Nielsen Bookscan Data.

What a massive boost from a publicity point of view. Online literary magazines such as The New Yorker and LitHub, have picked up the story as well as other major news sites and magazines including the Guardian, New York Times, Independent and the Daily Mail, to name a few. Many readers who would not have heard about Elena Ferrante will by now have heard something about her.

But there could be good news from this after all. According to the Bookseller, retailers say that Ferrante’s ‘unmasking’ may lead to increased sales in books. And perhaps Claudio Gatti will have to find ways of looking into Anita Raja’s financial records again to verify if the figures correspond with increased sales.

By Otieno Owino