For its Exhibition of Forgeries and Deceptive Copies, on view in the Department of Prints and Drawings since February, the British Museum has produced many fascinating objects which normally it keeps hidden away: with the passage of time, it can afford to indulge its sense of humour. As Sir Thomas Kendrick is reputed to have said when viewing the exhibits: ‘What fun it is when someone takes an immense amount of trouble to be really naughty.’
Contributions from the various Departments and from borrowed sources include Antiquities of all kinds, Ethnographical material, drawings and other examples of the Graphic Arts, Manuscripts and Printed Books, Music, Coins and Medals, and Postage Stamps. The Natural History Museum has also contributed a very popular section.
The only criticism of this entertaining and enlightening venture is that it would have been improved by concentrating on Forgeries and leaving out the Deceptive Copies. Few of us, except the specialist, can avoid boredom when confronted with rows of water-colours after Turner, or drawings after Canaletto. Works of the innocent copyist, or the conscientious restorer, even though exploited later by unscrupulous dealers, are in quite a different category to the productions of any forger worthy of the name. We may marvel at the technical skill of copyists, but it is the original and imaginative fakes that are interesting.