I will feel I have truly made it when someone forges my work.
A high school essay assignment in my Great Issues course received an A- but had the usual corrections for punctuation, style, run-on sentences, etc. That was back when most teachers were not afraid to tell you you were wrong, that there is a right way, and they were smart enough to know the difference. But one of his margin comments, written in his own hand, burned me.
My essay was a story about what I want to be and how I want to affect the world, and was to site someone I admire.
See, I wanted to be an artist. “Just like Norman Rockwell.”
My Great Issues teacher wrote in the margin on my paper “Norman Rockwell was an illustrator, not an artist.”
In the same instant I read that remark, my teacher became as insignificant to me as the A- on my paper. I never cared about, nor do I remember, anything else he taught that semester.
You have to stand in front of a Norman Rockwell original before you dismiss anything about the man, even if you’re inclined to write him off as commercial. In the estimation of virtually every painter I know, Rockwell was an artist’s artist. He was, first and foremost, inarguably the finest, most-skilled of draughtsman (he could ‘drawr’ real good). But the man could handle paint and brushes as masterfully as anyone ever has.
Beyond that, though, was his ability to evoke emotion in millions of people across America and the world, with his art that graced the covers of Saturday Evening Post, countless Boy Scouts of America ads, and even presidential portraits. Not only could he evoke emotion from observers of his work, but he possessed a unique understanding of the subtleties of human expression and body language, and you could see the emotions of his subjects in his work.
Fake Or Good Study?
Well, a replica or forgery of Rockwell’s painting Breaking Family Ties has been hanging in the gallery, or on display in his traveling exhibitions, for decades. And recently the original was discovered in a secret compartment built into the wall of the man who painted the forgery. He was a friend of Rockwell’s, and a collector of his work. He was also an illustrator, himself.
The not-known-to-be-a replica has bothered Norman Rockwell experts for a long time. Even the sons of the man who owned and hid the original, but displayed his own forgery, commented about the eyes of the boy in the replica. There was “just something not-quite-right with them.” Why did Rockwell go back in and “fix this painting” after it had been published? And why did he do it without his usual flare and skill?
In reference to the replica that has been on display, NPR’s online article says:
For decades, the painting’s flaws stumped Rockwell experts. Something about it wasn’t quite right: The colors looked dull; the wrinkles in the clothing didn’t fall quite the right way.
The owner of the painting was Donald Trachte, Sr., a former friend and neighbor of Rockwell. Trachte and his wife bought Breaking Home Ties in 1960, and he kept the painting after they divorced.
It turns out Trachte — who died in 2005 — had painted an almost perfect replica and tucked away the original in a secret compartment behind a bookcase in his home.
In an intereview of one of the sons of the now-deceased forger, it is revealed that the family didn’t even know that their father—who drew the Sunday version Carl Anderson’s cartoon creation Henry from 1932 — 1992—had stowed the painting away, nor that he could even paint with such skill.
Their parents divorced in the early 1970’s, and there is some speculation that maintaining possession of the original may have been a motivation for making a copy. Sounds like a resonable scenario. But his son asserts that he believes his father just wanted to protect the original for his family.
I offer that their dad was motivated more by the lessons that could be learned by copying the work of an artistic genius. If I could paint just like Norman Rockwell, I would be very impressed with my little self. And there are few better ways to learn to paint like the masters than to copy their work.
Calling Trachte’s copy a forgery implies planning, the intent to deceive, and all sorts of libelous things. That hardly seems fair with the known evidence. Calling it a replica has so much more of a positive feel to it. I mean, the man did purchase the original, and several others. The evidence would strongly suggest that Trachte really liked Rockwell’s work. Calling it a copy would be fair, I suppose, but given the high quality and complexity of the image Rockwell painted, I would have to call Trachte’s version amazing.
My hat’s off to the man. Well done!