Dulwich Picture Gallery reveals its ‘fake painting’

For the last three months, a fake work of art has hung among real masterpieces on the Hallowed walls of Dulwich Picture Gallery. This has been deliberate, with the institution inviting people to engage deeper with its collection. Can you, they have asked, spot a fake?
The answer has been no, which is perhaps not that altogether surprising. Only ten per cent of the 3,000 members of the public that cast their vote guessed correctly – amidst the many real splendours in the gallery, Jean-Honore Fragonard’s eighteenth century Young Woman has been a dud.
This replica, obtained from an artists’ workshop in China via for the remarkable price of £70, has seemingly settled in quite nicely among 270 paintings by old masters like Titian and Rubens.
On its official website, the Meisheng Oil Painting Manufacture Company claims that it can reproduce famous oil paintings in “large quantities”, irrespective of the style or subject matter. The works are not classed as fakes in the technical sense of the word because they are devised not to be wholly accurate – the sizes of the paintings, for example, are not exact.
The Made in China: A Doug Fishbourne Project is an intriguingly conceived idea that has multiple layers of meaning to it. It highlights the fact that many people fleetingly observe works of art; references the fact that old masters encouraged their apprentices to duplicate their work; and asks whether it matters if someone knows whether a work is fake or not.
Xavier Bray, chief curator of Dulwich Picture Gallery, said the project, which continues until July 26th, has been “an extraordinary experiment which has allowed people of all generations to reconnect with the collection and re-engage with it on a purely visual basis.”
Speaking to the Guardian, he added: “It was certainly quite provocative because it turns everything you assume you know upside down. A museum is a temple of art and as soon as you cross the threshold you expect everything you are told on a label is correct.”
The project has had a positive impact in attendance, with Mr Bray stating that visitor figures had quadrupled over the last three months. He said he was also impressed with the shift in viewing habits, noting that he has never seen as many people actively looking at works as they have done lately.
“Now Fragonard’s portrait of a young woman has returned to the gallery walls and hangs alongside its modern companion,” he went on to say. “The visual exercise of comparing and contrasting will demonstrate how exciting it is to engage with an original work of art, but also marvel at the skill of a modern copyist working 5,000 miles away.”
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