December 13, 2004

Earl M. Washington prints have been showing up at auction houses all over the country.

The following story usually accompanies each print. "Earl M. Washington was African-American printmaker whose career spanned between 1875 and 1952, beginning at the young age of thirteen. When he was eighteen he moved to New York City. While working in New York, Washington started collecting woodblocks; “I was going to midtown (Manhattan) to see George, an old carving buddy who did cuts for the larger places. When I arrived at the shop I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were fire-fighters, police and mayhem surrounding the fire-ravaged printing shop...The next week I returned to that area to have some tools sharpened. George’s shop was all boarded up, and in a large pile of fire and water damaged rubbish I noticed these beautiful woodblocks. Some were large, most were small, some were signed, others burned, all were wet and dirty". Through his contacts and artist friends, Washington amassed a large collection of blocks and plates, most of which he printed for his collectiion. These prints offer a stunning view into the social messages and creativity produced by printmakers in the late 19th century and early 20th century". There's only one problem. They're fake. It's one of the best cons pulled on the art world in years. They even showed up at an auction here in Chicago. I bought a few for the house. Strangely, even though they're now being advertised as fakes, people are still buying them.

  • That is just bizarrre...
  • <snark>The country? Which one would that be, then? We're not all from the US around here, you know</snark>
  • Notwithstanding, this is fascinating. It poses some interesting questions about the worth of a piece of art, and what constitutes art. In some ways, it parallels the mysterious value of brand goods. Now that the fraud has been unmasked, will this give them added value? Rather than making them worthless, it could be that a mystique has been created, and a brand created out of notoriety.
  • Fake or not, these are pretty nice.
  • Yeah, they're beautiful.
  • I hear Antony Flew has bought several.
  • Something like this happened a few years ago (1998), with a painter, Nat Tate. David Bowie was in on the hoax. It seemed a bit more benign, however.
  • ThreeDayMonk ahem... "The world" /ugly american
  • This is fascinating. Thanks!