Works by master forger sell for over £50,000

Eric Hebborn: The Greatest Art Forger of Modern Times

A collection of art by one of the world's most successful forgers has fetched more than £50,000 at auction.

Eric Hebborn's work fooled thousands of experts over the years, and it's believed that many of his works still hang undetected in museums and galleries around the world.

"Eric Hebborn is a fascinating and influential figure, who still remains an enigma in the world of Old Master drawings," says Simon Wingett, auctioneer at Webbs of Wilton, which handled the sale.

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Found in his house

This particular collection was rescued from Hebborn's house in Italy after his unsolved murder in Rome in January 1996. It consists of 234 drawings in ink, crayon and watercolours, as well as a sculpture of a head that Hebborn had on his desk and his watercolour paintbox.

The auction house describes the interest in the auction as "phenomenal", with between 50 and 80 people in the auction room at any one time and over 250 online bidders. No one buyer purchased more than three items.

One drawing, After A Design By Michelangelo, was expected to fetch up to £120 but instead sold for £2,200. And Hebborn's drawing manual, The Language Of Line, sold for more than £3,000.

Successful buyers are now likely to try and trace similar drawings and paintings in galleries - potentially boosting the value of the work they've bought.

16th-century paper

Hebborn rarely copied particular drawings or paintings, instead creating his own works in the style of historical artists such as Michelangelo, van Dyck, Piranesi and Rubens. He used 16th-century paper and an 18th-century paintbox, selling his work through Bond Street dealers.

But he never forged signatures or attempted to pass the works off as originals, instead letting the experts fool themselves. He once said: "Only the experts are worth fooling; the greater the expert, the greater the satisfaction of deceiving them."

Altogether, he produced more than 1,000 works. He was finally unmasked by an eagle-eyed curator at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, who noticed that two pictures that were supposedly by different artists were drawn on identical paper. He was never charged with any offence.

But Hebborn's works are by no means the only forgeries out there. Earlier this month, fine art expert Yann Walther, head of the Fine Arts Expert Institute (FAEI), said he believed that more than 50% of the artworks in circulation today are fakes.

"When you buy an apartment, you always get an appraisal first," he told Art Daily. But in the art world, until recently, you could buy works for 10 million euros without sufficient documentation."

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