Risks when buying bronze sculpture  ? 

18 September 2001 by Andries Loots

In the September 2001 issue of ARTNews magazine, an article is addressing the issue of one of the largest art forgery scams in history. Over a period of 15 years more than 5000 fakes of late-19th and 20th-century bronze statues have found their way into private and public collections. 

I recently viewed a sculpture exhibition of works by Rodin in Johannesburg and was shocked to see the quality of the casts on display. The sculptures looked half finished and hastily done,  with seams of the mould showing very distinctly in the casts. I am sure Rodin or the Rodin Museum would have never allowed such works to leave his studio or the foundry. There were no indications that these could be reproductions, although the prices seemed " real " enough ?  In many other cases works were cast from the original plaster as permission was given to complete the editions but in many other cases casts were done from casts or done without the knowledge of the Rodin Museum.

It is however not only Internationally were these forgeries or reproductions are done. There are numerous local known casts of Van Wouw's work that are fakes. Some foundries in South Africa have been casting from many years and are still doing so. Here artists like Van Wouw,  Fanie Eloff, Moses Kottler, Ivan Mitford-Barberton, Emest Ullman, Willem de Sanderes Hendrikz,   Eduardo VillaLucas Sithole, Sydney Kumalo Ezrom LegaePercy Konqobe and many of our countries greatest artists worked and entrusted their works to be cast. Some of these pioneer artists gave the Foundry a sculpture or two as part payment for the work done and these were rightfully sold later. The problems started when the original plasters left with the foundry were later cast over and over again without the knowledge of the artist or even the Galleries representing them. 

In the late eighties a scam was discovered as works kept on coming onto the markets and the connection was made to a well known art academic in Pretoria. The case was never pursued due to 'lack of evidence'.

It is possible for anybody to " order " a work of many a deceased artist from a 'foundry' and at a fraction of the cost, walk away with an expensive collectors item. The works would be signed and in some cases even numbered. Sometimes these works appear on auctions and are sold as originals.

It is therefore imperative to always make sure when buying a bronze to obtain a provenance, inspect the signature and to ensure that the work is at least numbered as this might give some indication of how many copies have been made. Quality and dimensions play a crucial role in assessing the authenticity as recasts done from existing casts lose quality and finer detail. They are also always smaller in size than the original casts done from the plaster or original. 
Be wary of buying a bronze cast from a Foundry,  unless it is on an exhibition or with the full knowledge of the artist. There  are numerous temporary employees working in these businesses who could easily slip through a signed cast in the process.

Artists are advised to:
- safely store originals after a mould is made and to destroy the original after the series of casts are completed to prevent anybody in future from recasting the work.
- always keep the mould and only take it to the foundry when doing a cast.
- when collecting casts,  ensure that there are no other imperfect casts or waxes standing around in the foundry.
- keep a very good record of every cast sold as this would prevent duplication of numbers.  
- it is a good idea to do the final finishing of the wax and to sign it yourself  and not to leave test signatures behind for the foundry to sign the work on your behalf.

Collectors should be more aware of what they buy and only deal with educated and reputable sources. 

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