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It has recently been reported that the French police has opened an investigation into the possible forgery of early photographs sold at the provincial auction house Artcurial Deauville on 29 March last year.
At issue is a catalogue of 83 lots that supposedly came from the family of Charles Edouard de Crespy Le Prince (1784-1850), a minor painter and engraver (the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Museum in Montmorency has one of his works). The catalogue comprised 185 images on salt paper and 73 negatives, all of which are studies of trees and rocks. The works were “rediscovered” according to a catalogue introduction that did not give other details of provenance. The text dated them to 1848, placing them close to the official beginning of photography (1839). Many leading dealers and collectors were present in the saleroom, and others were on the telephone. All the lots sold for prices between €745 and €34,080, mainly within estimate although some of the most expensive made ten times expectations. The sale totalled €554,200. The consignors were given a €100,000 advance.
Several dealers voiced doubts about the authenticity of the photographs immediately after the sale, but details of the affair did not begin to emerge until December when the vendors brought a lawsuit for non-payment against the auction house. The specialist photography dealer Alex Novak of Vintage Works did not attend the sale, nor buy, but has since examined some of the photographs. He points to a number of concerns. One is the paper used, which appears to be polluted. The leading US dealer Hans Kraus says “It is a salutatory lesson, not to trust catalogues, and to be more careful.”
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