I remember once having a conversation with some people about whether or not a fake is ever justified, and if so when. I of course was in the “when hell freezes over” camp, but my companions kept at it, and eventually came up with the scenario where a fake painting was created to fool a drug lord into thinking he had an original, thus catching him in an attempt to buy stolen goods. Despite my efforts to then explain to my companions that this would then be called a “copy” and not a fake, and would probably still be an ethical gray area, the debate was never satisfactorily concluded.
Which is why when I came across this article in the Wall Street Journal (apologies if you can’t open it, here’s a link that should easier to access) I felt compelled to include it here as a Famous Fake, or rather Famous Copy. Primarily because it combines a few of my favorite things: fine art and James McAvoy.
In his latest movie Trance, McAvoy plays a young auctioneer who undergoes hypnotherapy to relocate a painting that was stolen during one of his auctions. The director, Danny Boyle , decided to use Goya’s Witches in the Air because it was both psychologically gothic and would be easy to snatch due to its size. It depicts three male witches (go figure) eating one man while another tries to flee the scene with a sheet over his head. It’s a profoundly disturbing painting and a great example of Goya’s
twisted overactive boundless imagination.
Francisco Goya, Witches in the Air, 1798. Museo Prado, Madrid.
Boyle commissioned three copies of the painting, one for presentation, one for “stunt work” and one as a backup. The artist, Charlie Cobb, went to great lengths to ensure as accurate a representation of the paintings as he could, eventually adding an oxidizing layer and a yellow varnish to age the paintings. He also had to specially request some of the more toxic (but historically) accurate pigments. However, it is important to bear in mind that while he did go to great lengths to make his version’s of Goya’s painting as close to the original as possible (which would place them in borderline fake territory considering the level of historical authenticity) they are sanctioned copies of known painting for use in a movie, therefore they are copies.
Have a good weekend, and be sure to check out Trance when it comes out in the States!