A French Museum Just Discovered That Half of Its Collection Is Fake

A visiting art historian made the shocking discovery.

Visitors look at the painting Le clocher de Ria (The bell tower of Ria) at the museum dedicated to French painter Étienne Terrus. Photo: Raymond Roig/AFP/Getty Images.

More than half of the works in the collection of a French museum dedicated to the 19th-century Fauvist Étienne Terrus (1857–1922) were revealed to be fakes after a visiting art historian alerted unknowing staff that the works appeared suspicious.

The Étienne Terrus Museum, located in the artist’s tiny hometown of Elne, hired art historian Eric Forcada to rehang its collection following the recent restoration of its building. During his assignment, Forcada discovered that 82 paintings—or about 60 percent of the museum’s holdings—were not painted by Terrus, according to the Guardian.

Forcada said he noticed the works were fake almost immediately. “On one painting, the signature was wiped away when I passed my white glove over it,” he told the Guardian.

A real work by Étienne Terrus Vue d’Elne (ca. 1900). Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The art historian informed the region’s cultural minister and convened a panel of experts, who confirmed his suspicions. “At a stylistic level, it’s crude,” Forcada said, referring to the fakes. “The cotton supports do not match the canvas used by Terrus. And there are some anachronisms.”

The local council acquired the collection of 140 paintings and watercolors for the museum over two decades. The findings have shocked locals, including town mayor Yves Barniol. “Étienne Terrus was Elne’s great painter. He was part of the community, he was our painter,” Barniol told the Guardian. “Knowing that people have visited the museum and seen a collection, most of which is fake, that’s bad. It’s a catastrophe for the municipality.”

The mayor has opened an investigation into the forgeries and insisted those responsible will be caught. “We’re not giving up,” he said.

Officials at the Musée Terrus did not immediately reply to artnet News’s request for comment.

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