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Number of fake Moores on the increase

Dramatic rise in counterfeit bronzes on the market

The number of fake sculptures and drawings based on works by Henry Moore has increased dramatically since his death in 1986. The Foundation, based in Much Hadham, Hertfordshire, now has a record of over 350 fake works, of which over 150 are sculptures. The Foundation is convinced that it gets to see only a small proportion of what is circulating on the market.

Fake sculptures fall into various categories: the easiest category to dismiss are the misattributions. People who find a Moore-like shape will frequently submit it to the Foundation on the off-chance that it is an unknown Moore. Generally these are easy to spot, and provided they are not being passed off as Moores, are simply labelled misattributions.

Rather more complicated are the sculptures deliberately made in the style of Moore, but not actually based on a known work. These are classed as fakes and every effort is made to trace their provenance. This category of work accounts for about 30% of all fakes.

The fake sculptures which cause most concern to the Henry Moore Foundation are the copies of known and recorded casts. These are difficult to spot and have been known to slip through the net and be sold as genuine Moores. Some are quite convincing and it is only when they are compared with a cast of the genuine sculpture that it becomes obvious that the fake is of a different quality.

A cast of a cast is slightly smaller than the original since bronze shrinks as it cools, and they usually betray other tell-tale features such as blemishes in the surface patination which one would not see on a Moore. Often they are mounted on lavish marble bases which is also untypical, but to anyone but an expert these slight anomalies might not readily be recognised.

“Reclining Figure: Circle” 1983 is the work which has been most widely faked. “Maquette for Reclining Figure: Circle” (LH 902), 15cm long, was cast in 1983 and the larger “Reclining Figure: Circle” (LH 903), 89cm long, was cast in the same year at Fiorini Foundry, London. Current auction estimates for genuine examples are in the £8,000-12,000 and £25,000-35,000 region respectively. In May 1987 the Foundation was approached by an auction house in Zurich which requested a certificate of authentication for a work purporting to be by Moore which was to be offered in their forthcoming August sale. The work was signed and numbered on top of the base 1/10. It was immediately obvious that the work on offer was in fact of an intermediate size, 33cm long—not one of either of the editions known to have been made by Moore in 1983.

This was therefore a fake sculpture, based on either the maquette or the larger version of “Reclining Figure: Circle”, and was being passed off as a Moore. Apart from the fact that this intermediate size corresponded to neither the maquette nor the larger version, the signature was not that of Moore and the number was incorrect. Moore cast both the maquette and the larger version in editions of nine, as was his general practice for works on this scale, and this cast was from an edition of ten. Over the next year another cast 8/10 appeared in New York. All requests for further information as to provenance, history of the casting and other details were ignored.

It later became obvious that the fakers had not taken a clear decision as to size of the edition they were making. In 1989 casts 2/7 and 3/4 appeared in St Louis and Madrid respectively. The Madrid cast 3/4 was accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by a consultant to the Fogg Art Museum in Boston, dated March 1979 indicating that the “bronze maquette signed H. Moore belongs to a series executed around 1950 and cast by Hermann Noack in Berlin”. This gave rise to particular concern among Foundation staff as the facts in the authentication certificate were completely wrong, the certificate was dated four years before the “Maquette for Reclining Figure: Circle” was even conceived by Moore, and the Fogg Art Museum denied any knowledge of the so-called consultant.

It became obvious that somebody was casting the sculptures and systematically putting them on to the market. 1990 saw 1/7 appear in Berlin and 4/9 in Boca Raton (Florida). In 1991 details of a signed but unnumbered cast from Tampa (Florida) were sent to the Foundation. Cast 8/9 appeared in London in the same year but had been purchased in 1986 on the Continent and had subsequently been as far afield as Rio de Janeiro. Cast 5/7 appeared in New York in February 1991.

In 1992 the Foundation was notified of three casts. Cast 1/7 had now made an appearance in California. We were fairly certain that this was the cast from Berlin which the Foundation’s Expert Committee had rejected in October 1990. This was also the first time that we became aware of the price the work was commanding. The owner in California had paid $2,200 for the sculpture. To anyone with knowledge of Moore’s work this would seem to be so very low a price for a work of this size as to be most suspicious, but to the amateur it clearly seemed a bargain.

In May 1992 a collector in New York wrote to the Berlin foundry, Noack, to check the authenticity of the foundry stamp on a sculpture—another cast of this fake edition—in which he was interested. Noack had cast many of Moore’s works from the end of the 1950s onwards, although coincidentally not this particular sculpture either in the maquette or working model size. Hermann Noack was particularly incensed as the work was not only a fake cast but also had a fake Noack foundry mark. Once again, all attempts to pursue the history of the cast in question resulted in a frustrating silence.

In June 1992 Sotheby’s New York contacted the Foundation requesting information on cast 2/8. Further information from the consignor via Sotheby’s was requested but was never forthcoming and no photograph of this cast was ever seen. However, it was the first occasion on which cast 2/8 had come to our attention, so it had to be added to the list of works, now totalling nine, bearing in mind cast 1/7 had been seen twice.

In 1993 a collector in Florida wrote to the Foundation about a signed but unnumbered cast of this sculpture. This was the second unnumbered cast to be brought to our attention and, in all probability, it was in fact the second appearance of the same cast, photographs of which had been seen by the Foundation in 1991, as they both came from Florida. A London dealer notified us of a further cast, 5/8, in 1993. He, too, had little information on the provenance.

This year has seen more casts of this fake. 8/8 was brought to our attention in July. Most worrying of all was cast 5/9, hitherto unrecorded by the Foundation, which was to be gifted to the Boca Museum in Florida. The museum wrote to the Foundation at the beginning of June asking for confirmation of its authenticity and were horrified, as was the donor, by our response. The owner claimed to have purchased the sculpture from a commercial gallery, no longer in business. Almost two months later we received a letter from a dealer in Palm Beach, Florida, requesting confirmation of authenticity for the same cast. In other words, the work changed hands quickly and was still being passed off as a Moore despite the Boca Museum and the donor knowing that it was a fake. This is not the only work of Moore’s to have been faked. A fake edition of bronzes of a “Mother and Child” (LH 682) maquette are known to have been made and widely circulated. A fake cast of this sculpture was sold through one of the London auction houses but is now on permanent loan to the Henry Moore Foundation. There are believed to be at least twelve casts of this fake.

The Henry Moore Foundation is very concerned by the proliferation of fake sculptures. We remain convinced that there are more casts than those that have so far come to light.

The three members of the Expert Committee are Alan Bowness, Bernard Meadows and David Mitchinson. Alan Bowness met Moore during the 1950s and took over the cataloguing of his sculpture in the early 1960s. On Mrs Moore’s request became Director of the Henry Moore Foundation in 1988. Bernard Meadows worked for Moore as an assistant during the 1930s and again after the war. He now sits on the Expert Committee.

David Mitchinson began to work for Henry Moore in 1968 and spent many years working with the drawings. He became the Foundation’s Curator in 1988 and has been on the Expert Committee since that date.

The Committee meets regularly to discuss works submitted to the Foundation and to offer an opinion on their authenticity. No work is accepted as being genuine without being seen by all members of the Committee. Those accepted will be recorded in the Complete Catalogue of Henry Moore’s sculpture edited by Alan Bowness and published by Lund Humphries.

The Foundation has a record of over 150 fake sculptures, almost 200 fake drawings and a handful of fake graphics. One should, however, not overlook the fact that the majority of the works submitted to the Foundation by the auction houses, dealers, collectors and other institutions are genuine works by Henry Moore. If the owner wishes, the information is treated in the strictest confidence. There is no charge for this advisory service.

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 42 November 1994