Newcomb Art Gallery accused of hosting forgeries in Degas exhibit

Pictured above is a sketch of a woman done by author Edgar Degas. This picture depicts a work similar to those presented in the Newcomb Art Gallery exhibition. 

Pictured above is a sketch of a woman done by author Edgar Degas. This picture depicts a work similar to those presented in the Newcomb Art Gallery exhibition. 

Brandi Doyal, Print News Editor

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The Newcomb Art Gallery has recently been accused of presenting known forgeries in its new exhibition displaying Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Claude Monet’s work by artist and art scholar Gary Arseneau.

The “Edgar Degas: The Private Impressionist: Works on Paper by the Artist and His Circle” exhibition opened in the Newcomb Art Gallery Feb. 18. Arseneau has raised his concerns to several universities and museums that hosted the private collection of Robert Flynn Johnson, curator emeritus of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Many of the works in the collection are posthumous works. Posthumous works are pieces that may have been created by his associates after an artist died, that were started by the artist and completed after his or her death, or that were credited to an artist after he or she died.

Arseneau said he believes that posthumous works should not be considered works of the artist. in an article printed by Naples News when the exhibition was on show in 2011. 

“Degas has never seen the bronze. He was dead. He’s never seen these engravings because he was dead.” Arseneau said. “I don’t know who in the history of art gets credit for something he’s never seen.” 

Newcomb Art Gallery Director Monica Ramirez-Montagut said that some people do not consider works created posthumously original works.

“Forgeries are copies not made by the artist, but presented as originals,” Ramirez-Montagut said. “There is no place in museums for forgeries, but there are plenty museums currently displaying posthumous work.”

The practice of printing works from an artist’s original cancelled plate or casting figures from an original mold is quite common in the art world.

“While the artist’s hand may not be directly involved, such works still represent invaluable, tangible manifestations of their mind and creative process,” Ramirez-Montagut said. “In this regard, Degas’ works in ‘The Private Impressionist’ are in good company. [James] Whistler’s posthumous impressions and [Auguste] Rodin’s posthumous sculptures, for example, fill esteemed museums the world over.”

Ramirez-Montagut said that neither the exhibition organizers nor the Newcomb Art Gallery planned to conceal the posthumous status of several works in the exhibition that opened. All objects in the exhibition are marked with the appropriate creation date and state if the print was made from a canceled plate.

In light of Arseneau’s allegations, however, the Newcomb Art Gallery decided to add a disclaimer to the introduction stating that some of the works were posthumous and would be marked with an asterisk on their label.

Many art historians, including Ann Dumas, curator of the Royal Academy of Arts in London, however, have recognized the collection as legitimate. Dumas wrote the introduction to a book on the collection currently on sale in the Newcomb Art Gallery.

The Newcomb Art Gallery decided to host a panel concerning the pros and cons related to museums’ current practices concerning exhibitions of copies and posthumous works. The panel will be held 6 p.m. March 18 in the Freeman Auditorium in the Woldenberg Art Center.

Arseneau asked to be a part of the panel in an email to Ramierez-Montagut Jan. 28.

“Since these contentious issues of authenticity were brought to the attention of Tulane University and its Newcomb Art Gallery by [myself], I believe my participation as a panelist is appropriate,” Arseneau wrote.

Ramirez-Montagut said Arseneau had sent emails across the university and to various press media about his concerns and he would not be instated on the panel.

“Mr. Arseneau will not be part of the panel, though he’s attempted to get himself invited,” Ramirez-Montagut said. “Mr. Arseneau is quite the zealot who has made the issue of undisclosed posthumous work and alleged forgeries his personal crusade.”

Junior James Newton is an art history major who works in the gallery. Newton said even though some of the works were created posthumously, the gallery still offers insight into Degas’ art and is extraordinarily engaging. 

“The current exhibition at the Newcomb Art Gallery is really superb in the way that it looks at Degas in an atypical fashion, focusing on his less famous works,” Newton said. “Ultimately, the show, excellently mounted and marketed by the gallery staff shows a side of the artist that most do not see.”