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Farewell to forgeries: The V&A’s Fakes Gallery to close

The V&A’s guidebook used to describe the Fakes Gallery as one of its “most diverse, intriguing and entertaining” displays.

The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) has decided to close its Fakes and Forgeries Gallery. Set up in 1983 as the world’s first dedicated museum display of fakes, it lay between the two Cast Courts. Its contents were temporarily removed five years ago, when work began on the nearby Medieval and Renaissance Galleries, which will open in November. Last month a V&A spokeswoman confirmed that the fakes will not be returning, and instead the space is likely to be used for enamels and ivories.

Star pieces on show included the Marcy Chessboard (purportedly French, around 1330, but made around 1890 by Louis Marcy), a marble relief of the Virgin and Child (purportedly Florentine, 15th century, but made in the 1850s by Giovanni Bastianini) and a portrait of Edward VI, purportedly around 1540, but in fact a later adaptation of a painting of a girl of around 1620 (right).

It may come as a surprise that the Fakes Gallery has been dropped by a museum director who is Britain’s foremost expert on the subject. In 1990, when Mark Jones was a curator at the British Museum, he organised a major exhibition entitled “Fake? The Art of Deception”. As he wrote in the catalogue: “Fakes, scorned or passed over, are unjustly neglected…Fakes can teach us many things, most obviously perhaps the fallibility of experts.”

A V&A spokesman told us that despite the demise of the Fakes Gallery, individual fakes may well be displayed occasionally alongside authentic works, when appropriate.

Ironically, the V&A’s decision comes at a time when the National Gallery is about to put the spotlight on fakes. The gallery is planning an exhibition entitled “Close Examination: Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries”, opening in June 2010. In announcing the show, director Nicholas Penny said that he would like to establish a small study collection of fakes, adding provocatively: “I wish the gallery had more fakes.”

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Farewell to forgeries'