In keeping with last week’s theme, I thought I might touch upon another presumed forger who was conned into making legitimate fakes which were then resold behind his back. Unlike Rouchomovsky however, this particular artist did not go on to have a successful career.
Dossena, Madonna and Child, 1930. San Diego Museum of Art (image courtesy of Wikipedia)
Alceo Dossena was an incredibly gifted sculptor known for his abilities to work in the style of great masters, from the Renaissance to Ancient Rome. His dealers, being particularly unscrupulous, started to sell his sculptures as genuine works by Italian Masters such as Donatello or Da Fiesole. Eventually Dossena caught on, and in 1930 when he discovered that not only was his work (such as the Madonna and Child pictured above) being sold as works from the High Renaissance, but that he was not receiving any of the profits, he revealed himself as the true author of the pieces and sued his dealers. Although Dossena won his case and cleared his name, his subsequent career was not particularly successful, and he died penniless in 1937.
What I find particularly interesting about Dossena’s case is that his story was very similar to Rouchomovsky’s: two men who were commissioned to execute works in a classical style later discovered that their work had been misattributed. Yet why did Rouchomovsky’s career flourish and not Dossena’s? I have two theories. One: jewelry in a classical style was quite in fashion during the 1870’s and 80’s, as continued exploration (some might say exploitation) of archaeological sites around the Mediterranean induced a mania for all things classical. In short, Rouchomovsky happened to hit upon a goldmine (pun deliberately intended), and was in the right place at the right time. Dossena’s sculptures, on the other hand, would have appealed to a smaller market, which was hardly helped by the terrible conditions in Europe during the 1930’s. Two: perhaps Dossena’s lack of success is indicative of a changing attitude towards fake works of art, and his reputation inevitably suffered through association. The nineteenth century as a rule was far more lenient with its artistic attributions, an attitude which was no longer acceptable in the twentieth century. This new found antipathy to fake art and false advertising would later come to a head in the trial of Han van Meegeren.