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More important Canadian antique memorabilia the Museum has preserved.

Falsies - Fake Busts & Historical Statues - 1899 - 2008 - 1

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A Cautionary Chronology of the Collapse of Fake Bronzes in the Canadian Market

In the spring and fall fine art auction session (May & November 2007) all the leading Canadian auction houses offered scores of bronzes they claimed were originals by top Canadian Victorian and Edwardian artists.

Doubles and triples of the same bronze figures were often at auction at the same time, sometimes at the same auction....

Joyner's alone offered 16 examples. They brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars from eager buyers...

In the spring session (May 2008) scores more were offered by all the auction houses. Joyner's alone offered 26. The money just kept rolling in...

In May, our web page "Falsies & Fake Busts" (2 above), warning of fakes went up to caution consumers. We were especially hard on supposed original works by Suzor-Coté, Philippe Hébert, and Alfred Laliberté, and anything on duplicate or shiny wooden bases.

As a result, in the subsequent fall (November 2008) fine art auction session these bronzes had, almost all, quite suddenly and mysteriously, disappeared from the fine art catalogues of, especially, Toronto, Canada, based auction houses.

And perhaps not so mysteriously, the main source for bronzes dramatically shifted to auction houses based in western Canada, where buyers are cash rich (cows with gas and oil) but not as quick to catch on, as more sophisticated eastern city slickers...

And also, not so mysteriously, fine art auctions started to prevent photographers from taking pictures of what they were selling at auctions.

Unlike before our consumer alert went up, when fine art auctioneers had freely allowed us and others to take photos of their fine art auction items, now staff ordered cameras put away, saying that patrons were no longer allowed to take pictures - reversing a long standing and common practice at all Canadian auctions.Some even posted custom made signs preventing recordings of all kinds.

Clearly, they feared that someone would also check up on what fine art auctioneers were actually saying during the auction, about specific lots they claimed to have sold, when in fact they clearly had not, but were just shamefully boosting prices by taking bogus bids from the floor, the post, the lamp, the Exit sign, and were selling to non-existent bidders in the hall.

The response is entirely natural. They had made hundreds of thousands from these bronze fakes. And were more than a little miffed to have us effectively remove this spurious - OK dishonest - source of income from their bottom line.

Our Complaints About Bronzes at Fine Art Auctions - Sotheby's, Heffels, Joyner's, Hodgins, Bonham's The Result - Sotheby's, Heffels, Joyner's, Hodgins, Bonham's
Auctions in May 2007 to May 2008
Auctions Nov 2008
Too many bronzes at once with 38 offerings at five auctions Down to 5 (Toronto-based); 10 (western-based)
Too many offerings with up to 26 at one auction Down to 4 at Joyner's; 4 at of Heffels; 5 at Levis
Too many duplicates at the same auction None
Too many duplicates across many auctions None
Too many at Toronto auction houses From dozens down to 5 (shift to 10 out of western Canada)
Too many common pieces Down to 1
Too many repeats Down to 2
Too many, with dozens by Laliberté Down to 7
Too many, with dozens by Suzor-Coté Down to 2
Too many by Philippe Hébert None
Too many shiny, new looking pieces, lacking age-burn 2 very convincing - Sotheby's & Hodgins
Too many without convincing dirt 2 very convincing - Sotheby's & Hodgins
Too many with duplicate bases One but very convincing
Too many with shiny wooden bases None
Under the resulting conditions, with declining numbers, in our view, it is not more likely that you will get a guaranteed original work of art by the artist, just that you are less likely to end up with an expensive repro made by someone else.

Suzor-Coté, below, who had been, by far, the most visible presence in copies at auctions - with at least 33 sculptures in his name put up for auction in the fall 2007 and spring 2008 - had almost entirely disappeared from fine art auction house catalogue in the fall of 2008.

Left Joyner's had a solitary Suzor-Coté offering, Le Remmancheur - note, without a secondary wooden base.

Sotheby's had one Suzor-Coté, le modèle bottom.

Philippe Hébert whose copies had been the second most popular offering, with at least 15 in the same period, also disappeared entirely.

Alfred Laliberté's copies, with at least 18 offerings in May 2008, were the only multiple presence on the fall scene. There were only 4 remaining pieces of whatever, at Heffels. And this time, interestingly, the wooden bases, which we had complained made the bronzes highly suspect, were gone from all their Laliberté copies. And Hodgins had one, le vaisseau d'or which looked very convincing indeed, thanks to their great pictures.

Joyner's, which, in the previous two auctions, had offered an astonishing 42 specimens, was down to only the four (three shown here), two ascribed to Laliberté, including Le Diable left - note no wooden base - and a Suzor-Coté profile, below. This, a fourth attempt on similar profiles, the three previous offerings finding no buyers at auction. Joyner's had a reoffer, the Flapper by Henri Hébert, which it claimed to sell in May 2008, for $9,600, and now resold again in Nov 2008, for $4,600. Whoever took the bath on this is very, very clean indeed...

The Joyner catalogue also notes that Le Diable is "indistinctly signed." You might, with profit, want to read the section on making bronzes that could explain why this might be.

Walkers offered no bronzes; Bonham's offered none.

But there was a mysterious shift to numerous offerings, suddenly, from western Canadian based auction houses... four as noted above, at Heffels, and five at Levis, in Calgary...

Why the sudden relative drought from Toronto based fine art auction houses?

Even though dozens of bronze copies had sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars during the past year...

What was everyone thinking?

Better yet - what did they know, and when did they know it?

Once as numerous as the buffalo, which pooped up the plains, the passenger pigeons, which beclouded the skies and befouled the earth, and the bogus Bentleys, which once polluted the high school prom scene, the fake bronzes are no more...

There's just no way that we can say it any more gently,

But that B stands for bad, bronze, bogus, and Bentley...

We are proud to have done our part to wipe them out, though, we hasten to add, we had nothing to do with the disappearance of the buffalo, or those damn cooing pigeons...

But blush, we admit it, we once took our date in a Bentley. She was some impressed. But then what can you expect?

We were 16, and she was 14...

So it was in a Bentley we first learned about falsies and fake busts... And have been determined to expose them ever since... To prevent others from experiencing the same heartache...

Now go to page two and find out for yourself...

See why they deserve to have disappeared from the fine art auction scene...

And learn why you may have mistakenly blown tens of thousands of dollars on something worth only a coupla bucks.

And made a very bad investment...

Like others who bought a repro bronze, an Elliot Spitzer hooker, or a made-in-China, bogus Bentley...

Victorian & Edwardian bronze copies appearing at Canadian (mostly Toronto) fine art auctions.
May 2007
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10                                                          
Nov 2007
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24                              
April 2008 Our page 2 above, on Falsies & Fake Busts, warning of bogus bronzes goes up...
May 2008
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38  
Nov 2008
1 2 3 4 5 Toronto fine art auction houses                                        
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Calgary, Vancouver-based auction houses                            

A coincidence?

In 2007 these bronze copies brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars from rich fine art buyers...

Why stop offering them now?

It's all coming true, just as we predicted in Falsies & Other Fake Busts in May 2008.

"God works in mysterious ways...

We predict - you can quote us - that the bronze is going to go - with or without the participation of the fine art salesmen - the way of the other "after" types of art, like "after Krieghoff," "after Van Gogh," and "after Monet" or is that "after Money?"

Once purveyed, for tens of thousands of dollars, by pompadoured and scented men in suits, to gullible buyers eager for a piece of the real artist, "after" painting repros can, seldom now, be found at fine art auctions anymore, but are sold at the low end art auctions where frumpy men in scruffy shirts, with prosperous middles and bad hair, send them on their way, with a wry chuckle, for a few hundred dollars...

And smirk privately, because, hey, they themselves wouldn't pay even that much for them...

Invariably, we admit, some of these will, with a nice "floating" signature, courtesy of a repro artist, make their way back into the fine art auctions, this time as a "genuine signed work" by a major artist like Krieghoff.

Go to Krieghoff You Fake

Similarly, the bronzes will soon show up in the "after" market as well, selling, as a nice piece of metal for a couple of hundred bucks...

Go to The Fakes Page

And some of these will be recycled back too... to the fine art market, offered for tens of thousands by men in scented suits...

Isn't this where we came in?"

Auction Results - Victorian, Edwardian, Georgian Bronze copies at Canadian Fine Art Auctions Nov. 2008
Auction Auction Date Bronze Name Artist Auction Estimate Sold For Hmmmh... Status of the Bronze
Levis, Calgary Nov 16, 2008 Le creuseur d'auge AL $15-20,000 No Sale Levis and Heffels became the lead auctioneers for these bronzes in Nov 2008. We have observed that when art works fail to sell at Toronto auctions - we have noted this with questionable Maud Lewis, Norval Morrisseau, and William Armstrong pieces - they start appearing at more remote auctions (Kingston, Calgary, Vancouver) consigners believing, that auctioneers and buyers are less sophisticated or discerning, probably, in outlying regions. When five bronze pieces attributed to Canada's top Victorian and Edwardian sculptors, and supposedly worth $20-30,000, can't get buying interest - at any level - from art dealers from anywhere in Canada, what is going on?
Levis, Calgary Nov 16, 2008 La compagne de pionnier SC $15-20,000 No Sale
Levis, Calgary Nov 16, 2008 Le vieux pionnier canadien SC $15-20,000 No Sale
Levis, Calgary Nov 16, 2008 Glaneuse SC $15-20,000 No Sale
Levis, Calgary Nov 16, 2008 Femmes de Caughnawaga SC $25-30,000 No Sale
Heffels, Vancouver Nov 19, 2008 La prière en famille AL $16-20,000 No Sale The Heffels sold their last Laliberté, which they had estimated at $20,000, for over $37,000. This time they failed to get takers even when opening at $5-6,000, way below half their estimates... Heffels lists them now as "Available for post-auction sale." But when bronzes they list as worth $15-20,000, can't get opening bids of $5-6,000, in Toronto, from the smartest art buyers in Canada, are you comfortable offering $1,000 or $100 for any of them, even as a useful doorstop?
Heffels, Vancouver Nov 19, 2008 La balance AL $12-15,000 No Sale
Heffels, Vancouver Nov 19, 2008 Le jeu de cartes du diable AL $9-12,000 No Sale
Aren't you glad you weren't the buyer who paid $37,000 for one and need to resell it in a hurry? But all is not lost; the prices should climb again, to those levels, in a century...
Hodgins, Calgary Nov 24, 2008 Le vaisseau d'or AL $15-20,000 No Sale
No opening bid received on old looking piece...
Has all the suspicion of fakes soured the trust of buyers in even genuine old bronzes?
Sotheby's, Toronto Nov 24, 2008 Le modèle SC $30-40,000 No Sale
No opening bid received on old looking piece...
Joyner's, Toronto Nov 26, 2008 Le diable AL $5-7.000 No Sale Nobody wanted to put a bid on this. In the last two fine art auctions Joyner's has auctioned 31 offerings of bronzes attributed to Laliberté, Suzor-Coté, Hébert and their contemporaries, and failed to sell 25 of them, which is an astonishing failure rate of 81%. (That is over double Joyner's failure rate of unsold lots overall, which has climbed from 33% in May to a whopping 37% in November.)
Joyner's, Toronto Nov 26, 2008 Profile portrait, Suzor-Coté AL $2-3,000 No Sale 4th failure in a row to get a bid on such a Suzor-Coté profile.
Joyner's, Toronto Nov 26, 2008 Le remmancheur SC $5-7.000 $3400 Reported sold but far below its bottom estimated value...
Joyner's, Toronto Nov 26, 2008 Flapper HH $6-8,000 $4600 Reported sold but far below its bottom estimated value...
Heffels, Vancouver Nov 27, 2008 Le bucheron AL $6-8,000 No Sale Nobody wanted to put a bid on this. Why did Heffels fail to sell all four of the bronzes it offered for sale?
Summary - Of the 15 Laliberté, Suzor-Coté, Hébert bronze copies offered for auction, a stunning 13 failed to even get an opening bid. The only two that managed to get bids at all, sold for only half of their estimated value. Whereas in 2007 such copies brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars, earnings in November 2008 only amounted to $8,000 for two. Hopefully the buyers knew what they were paying for... It may also be that the auction house bought them back with their own house number, rather than let them go so cheap... In that case all 15 failed to find a buyer... Have the fine art auctioneers destroyed the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg, by flooding the market in the past couple of years with scores of questionable duplicate copies, and killed off the trust of sophisticated art buyers across Canada who got terribly burned paying tens of thousands of dollars for what they now suspect were not genuine antiques at all but simply cheap bogus copies made by unscrupulous repro men?

Heffels offered these four uniform looking bronze pieces, which they attributed to Alfred Laliberté, in November 2008, trying one on the internet, and three at their Toronto fine art auction.

Heffels evaluated three of these works from between $15 to 20,000.

But Heffels failed to attract even bottom bids of $5 to 6,000 from the most knowledgeable art dealers and collectors from across Canada for any of the pieces.

Previously, in Nov 2007, Heffels had evaluated another of the same kind, again attributed to Laliberté - le colon right - for from $20 to 30,000.

It had sold to someone for over $37,000.

Was this a good investment?

How can four bronzes Heffels evaluates at up to $20,000 each, be considered worthless by the Canadian art dealer community, while another of the same kind gets a bid of $37,000 plus from someone?

Fine Art - November, 2008

The bronze that took a bath...

In May 2008, the Joyner's auctioneer declared he sold this piece, said to be the Flapper by Henri Hébert, for $9,700 "to the order," whoever that was... (Order or "in my book" bidders are people who may be out of town, or from other cities who couldn't attend the preview or the auction and leave bids on the books. But they can also be the auctioneer himself buying the item back for the auction house with a house number. At fine art auctions you can never tell whether you are really bidding against another interested buyer - and so trying to establish a true market value - or just against the auction house, bidding you up to an inflated amount it wants you to pay for an item the market says is overvalued (no other real buyer has put in bids.)

Six months later, in November, the Joyner's auctioneer (re)sold this same piece - could two similar ones be offered by the same auction house only a few months apart? - for a bid of $4600... less than half the price Joyner's claimed to have sold it for before...

Who took the bath, and why?

Did a savvy art dealer who had the winning bid in May come to believe it was a repro, and refuse to pay the $9700? So Joyner's had to take the bronze back, to try to resell the reject again, later?

So who's the lucky owner who paid $4600 for a piece an art expert earlier rejected as bogus?

And if they were different pieces!!! which was the repro? So, under the circumstances, was $4600, or $9700, a good investment for either one? Whatever they were...

Above - Le vaisseau d'or by Laliberté offered by Hodgins of Calgary, Alberta. It shows the aged patina, uniformity of age burn on surfaces, and dirt distribution that one would like to see in a piece purported to be old.

Alfred made the original in 1910.

Above - Le modèle by Suzor-Coté offered by Sotheby's of Toronto, Ontario.

If you examine it in hand, it too shows patina, dirt, and age burn throughout that one should find on the best old pieces.

Hodgins does their piece justice with wonderful large and explicit photos.

Sotheby's publishes a small and awful picture that does not help convince out-of-town internet buyers that it has something worth selling.

As a result no internet bidder is going to be offering bids and take a chance on the Sotheby piece, no thanks to the grotty picture.

Now, were these copies actually made by the original artist? Perhaps the buyer doesn't care, either way...

But he/she should. Because like the genuine signature on a painting, that gives assurance that the original artist actually put his talented hands to work on this exact work of art, you should demand the same intimacy of contact with the artist associated with a bronze.

When the intimate link with the artist is broken, like in fine art prints, no collector wants them. It is the difference between the original AY Jackson and a calendar art print of the same thing.

When bronzes are made by hands other than the artist they should be considered bogus originals, just like AY's calendar print, and be evaluated the same, a coupla bucks, not $30,000.

Update - Neither le vaisseau or le modèle received opening bids.

A bad picture?

A tanking economy?

An outrageous auction valuation for a genuine piece at last?

Or have buyers and dealers been just too turned off all bronzes because of the huge glut of questionable pieces that fine art auctioneers have put on the market over the past year?

Note: You may confirm sales data on our pages, regarding auctions, items, and prices, by simply double-checking with auction house web sites, where they publish all the data we quote.

Canada's Heritage Debased

The future of Victorian Bronzes of Philippe Hébert, Alfred Laliberté, (left and right), Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté, and Hamilton MacCarthy (bottom.)

Don't expect to see more bronzes attributed to Canada's top Victorian and Edwardian sculptors in the May 2009 fine art auctions, at least not in Toronto where the most sophisticated fine art dealers and collectors gather...

We cannot speak for the "straw-hat auctioneers" who serve a different, less discerning clientele - they voted for Stephen Harper - further west in Canada.

It is a shame that the legitimate work by these top Canadian sculptors has been so debased, by greedy auction houses, marketing scores of highly suspect bronzes, that no serious buyer wants to go near any of them anymore with good money.

That includes the obvious repros - which are outrageously over priced by auction house - but also, as this latest auction season has shown, bronzes which seem to pass all the smell tests that an original should pass.

Part of the problem is that, compared to paintings by the masters, bronzes are too easy to fake, even by bumbling repro men. And you can pour many at once.

But it takes time, and great skill, to make a single, believable bogus Tom Thomson, AY Jackson, or Robert Bateman painting. Then you have to make another from scratch... It just doesn't pay.

The stunning failure rate of bronze sales of the top Canadian Victorian artists is in stark contrast to other types of sculptures, which invariably - always - sell: the depersonalized, pedestrian bronzes of William McElcheran, which perfectly capture the cold and heartless businessmen; even the pointless, twisted concoctions of Sorel Etrog, or junkyard detritus welded together by someone who was obviously high on hash...

What a tragedy, that the fine art output of all the great Canadian Victorian and Edwardian sculptors (Suzor-Coté above, MacCarthy right) has been so debased by greedy salesman types.

It should serve to remind collectors that the fine art auctions - like any type of auction - are not philanthropic organizations, like museums, dedicated to promoting Canadian heritage, but are operated by single-minded salesmen, like those of other businesses selling used stuff, like second hand furniture, kitchen ware, clothes, or used cars.

Remember, many of them started out, like Al Bundy, selling shoes, second-hand sex toys, or lady's lingerie, before ending up selling art, because you could make more money doing it, drive a Bentley, and mix with a better class of people...

So it's wise to remember, like when you buy used anything, anywhere, it's buyer beware, lest you end up paying good money for a rusting jalopy, with the speedometer turned back, and the engine block cracked, to a salesman in a scented suit, with a printed grin on his face, trying to lure you in...

Fine art auction houses have spectacularly failed to offer consumer protection by not weeding out the fakes, in their single-minded drive to maximize profits above all other considerations.

So educate yourself; don't you be caught going home with a fake bronze no one else wanted, on which you were bid up by an auction house number...

Go to Hamilton MacCarthy
Go to Philippe Hébert