Eric Hebborn
Eric Hebborn 11 January 1996) was a British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 painter and art forger
Art forgery
Art forgery is the creation of works of art which are falsely attributed to other, usually more famous, artists. Art forgery can be extremely lucrative, but modern dating and analysis techniques have made the identification of forged artwork much simpler....

 and later an author
An author is broadly defined as "the person who originates or gives existence to anything" and that authorship determines responsibility for what is created. Narrowly defined, an author is the originator of any written work.-Legal significance:...


Early life

Eric Hebborn was born in the London suburb of South Kensington
South Kensington
South Kensington is a district in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in London. It is a built-up area located 2.4 miles west south-west of Charing Cross....

 to a Cockney
The term Cockney has both geographical and linguistic associations. Geographically and culturally, it often refers to working class Londoners, particularly those in the East End...

 family in 1934, although his mother was a gypsy. According to his autobiography, his mother beat him constantly as a child. At the age of eight, he states that he set fire to his school and was sent to Longmoor reformatory
Reformatory is a term that has had varied meanings within the penal system, depending on the jurisdiction and the era. It may refer to a youth detention center, or an adult correctional facility. The term is still in popular use for adult facilities throughout the United States, although most...

 in Harold Wood
Harold Wood
Harold Wood is a place in the London Borough of Havering, east London, England.It is a suburban development situated east-northeeast of Charing Cross...

, although his sister Rosemary disputes this. Teachers encouraged his painting talent and he became connected to the Maldon Art Club, where he first exhibited at the age of 15.

Hebborn attended Chelmsford Art School and Walthamstow Art School before attending the Royal Academy
Royal Academy
The Royal Academy of Arts is an art institution based in Burlington House on Piccadilly, London. The Royal Academy of Arts has a unique position in being an independent, privately funded institution led by eminent artists and architects whose purpose is to promote the creation, enjoyment and...

. He flourished at the Academy, winning the Hacker Portrait prize and the Silver Award, and the Rome Scholarship in Engraving, a two year scholarship
A scholarship is an award of financial aid for a student to further education. Scholarships are awarded on various criteria usually reflecting the values and purposes of the donor or founder of the award.-Types:...

 to the British School at Rome
British School at Rome
The British School at Rome was established in 1901 and granted a Royal Charter in 1912 as an educational institute in the fields of archaeology, literature, music, and history of Rome and Italy of every period, and for the study of the fine arts and architecture...

 in 1959. There he became part of the international art scene and formed acquaintances with many artists and art historians, including the British spy, Sir Anthony Blunt
Anthony Blunt
Anthony Frederick Blunt , was a British art historian who was exposed as a Soviet spy late in his life.Blunt was Professor of the History of Art at the University of London, director of the Courtauld Institute of Art, Surveyor of the King's Pictures and London...

 in 1960, who told Hebborn that a couple of his drawings looked like Poussin
Nicolas Poussin
Nicolas Poussin was a French painter in the classical style. His work predominantly features clarity, logic, and order, and favors line over color. His work serves as an alternative to the dominant Baroque style of the 17th century...

s. This sowed the seeds of his forgery career.

Hebborn returned to London where he was hired by art restorer George Aczel. During his employ he was instructed not only to restore paintings, but to alter them and improve them. George Aczel graduated him from restoring existing paintings to "restoring" paintings on entirely blank canvas
Canvas is an extremely heavy-duty plain-woven fabric used for making sails, tents, marquees, backpacks, and other items for which sturdiness is required. It is also popularly used by artists as a painting surface, typically stretched across a wooden frame...

es so that they could be sold for more money. A falling out over Eric's knowledge of painting and restoration destroyed the relationship between Aczel and Hebborn.

Eric and his lover Graham David Smith
Graham David Smith
Graham David Smith is an artist and writer currently living in London. He has also worked in the USA under the name Paul Cline.- Biography :...

  also frequented a junk and antique shop near Leicester Square
Leicester Square
Leicester Square is a pedestrianised square in the West End of London, England. The Square lies within an area bound by Lisle Street, to the north; Charing Cross Road, to the east; Orange Street, to the south; and Whitcomb Street, to the west...

, where Eric befriended one of the owners, Marie Gray. In organizing the prints catalogued in the shop Eric began to understand more about paper, and its history and uses in art. It was on some of these blank, but old, pieces of paper that Eric made his first forgeries.

His first true forgeries were pencil drawings after Augustus John
Augustus John
Augustus Edwin John OM, RA, was a Welsh painter, draughtsman, and etcher. For a short time around 1910, he was an important exponent of Post-Impressionism in the United Kingdom....

 and were based on a drawing of a child by Andrea Schiavone
Andrea Schiavone
Andrea Meldolla , also known as Andrea Schiavone or Andrea Lo Schiavone was an Italian Renaissance painter and etcher, born in present-day Croatia, active mainly in the city of Venice.-Biography:...

. Graham Smith states that several of these were sold to their landlord Mr Davis, several to Bond Street
Bond Street
Bond Street is a major shopping street in the West End of London that runs north-south through Mayfair between Oxford Street and Piccadilly. It has been a fashionable shopping street since the 18th century and is currently the home of many high price fashion shops...

 galleries and two or three through Christie's
Christie's is an art business and a fine arts auction house.- History :The official company literature states that founder James Christie conducted the first sale in London, England, on 5 December 1766, and the earliest auction catalogue the company retains is from December 1766...

 sale rooms.

Eventually Hebborn decided to settle in Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 with Graham, and they founded a private gallery there.

Life as a forger

When contemporary critics did not seem to appreciate his own paintings, Hebborn began to copy the style of old master
Old Master
"Old Master" is a term for a European painter of skill who worked before about 1800, or a painting by such an artist. An "old master print" is an original print made by an artist in the same period...

s such as; Corot, Castiglione
Giuseppe Castiglione (painter)
Giuseppe Castiglione, S.J. was an Italian Jesuit Brother, missionary in China, painter at the court of the Emperor....

, Mantegna
Andrea Mantegna
Andrea Mantegna was an Italian painter, a student of Roman archeology, and son in law of Jacopo Bellini. Like other artists of the time, Mantegna experimented with perspective, e.g., by lowering the horizon in order to create a sense of greater monumentality...

, Van Dyck, Poussin
Nicolas Poussin
Nicolas Poussin was a French painter in the classical style. His work predominantly features clarity, logic, and order, and favors line over color. His work serves as an alternative to the dominant Baroque style of the 17th century...

, Ghisi
Giorgio Ghisi
Giorgio Ghisi was an Italian artist in engraving and painting. Born in Mantua, he trained with Marcantonio Raimondi and subsequently worked with Hieronymus Cock in Antwerp....

, Tiepolo
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo , also known as Gianbattista or Giambattista Tiepolo, was an Italian painter and printmaker from the Republic of Venice...

, Rubens, Jan Breughel
Jan Brueghel the Elder
Jan Brueghel the Elder was a Flemish painter, son of Pieter Bruegel the Elder and father of Jan Brueghel the Younger. Nicknamed "Velvet" Brueghel, "Flower" Brueghel, and "Paradise" Brueghel, of which the latter two were derived from his floral still lifes which were his favored subjects, while the...

 and Piranesi. Art historians such as Sir John Pope Hennessy
John Wyndham Pope-Hennessy
Sir John Wyndham Pope-Hennessy CBE FBA FSA was an English art historian and museum director. He was a scholar of Italian Renaissance art...

 declared his paintings to be both authentic and stylistically brilliant and his paintings were sold for tens of thousands of pounds through art auction houses, including Christie's. According to Hebborn himself, he had sold thousands of fake painting
Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a surface . The application of the medium is commonly applied to the base with a brush but other objects can be used. In art, the term painting describes both the act and the result of the action. However, painting is...

s, drawing
Drawing is a form of visual art that makes use of any number of drawing instruments to mark a two-dimensional medium. Common instruments include graphite pencils, pen and ink, inked brushes, wax color pencils, crayons, charcoal, chalk, pastels, markers, styluses, and various metals .An artist who...

s and sculpture
Sculpture is three-dimensional artwork created by shaping or combining hard materials—typically stone such as marble—or metal, glass, or wood. Softer materials can also be used, such as clay, textiles, plastics, polymers and softer metals...

s. Most of the drawings Hebborn created were his own work, made to resemble the style of historical artists—and not slightly altered or combined copies of older work.

In 1978 a curator
A curator is a manager or overseer. Traditionally, a curator or keeper of a cultural heritage institution is a content specialist responsible for an institution's collections and involved with the interpretation of heritage material...

 at the National Gallery of Art
National Gallery of Art
The National Gallery of Art and its Sculpture Garden is a national art museum, located on the National Mall between 3rd and 9th Streets at Constitution Avenue NW, in Washington, DC...

 in Washington DC , Konrad Oberhuber, was examining a pair of drawings he had purchased for the museum from Colnaghi an established and reputable old-master dealer in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, one by Savelli Sperandio and the other by Francesco del Cossa
Francesco del Cossa
Francesco del Cossa was an Italian early-Renaissance painter of the School of Ferrara.-Biography:...

. Oberhuber noticed that two drawings had been executed on the same kind of paper.

Oberhuber was taken aback by the similarities of the paper used in the two pieces and decided to alert his colleagues in the art world. Upon finding another fake "Cossa" at the Morgan Library
Morgan Library
The Morgan Library & Museum is a museum and research library in New York City, USA. It was founded to house the private library of J. P. Morgan in 1906, which included, besides the manuscripts and printed books, some of them in rare bindings, his collection of prints and drawings...

, this one having passed through the hands of at least three experts, Oberhuber contacted Colnaghi, the source of all three fakes. Colnaghi, in turn, informed the worried curators that all three had been acquired from Hebborn.

Colnaghi waited a full eighteen months before revealing the deception to the media, and, even then never mentioned Hebborn's name, for fear of a libel suit. Alice Beckett states that she was told ' one talks about him...The trouble is he's too good'. Thus Hebborn continued to create his forgeries, changing his style slightly to avoid any further unmasking, and manufactured at least 500 more drawings between 1978 and 1988.

Confession, criticism and murder

In 1984 Hebborn confessed to the forgeries —and feeling as though he had done nothing wrong, he used the press generated by his confession to denigrate the art world.

In his autobiography
An autobiography is a book about the life of a person, written by that person.-Origin of the term:...

 Drawn to Trouble (1991), Hebborn continued his assault on the art world, critics and art dealers. He boasted of how easily he had fooled supposed art experts and how eager the art dealers were to declare his works authentic to maximize their profits. Hebborn also claimed that some of the works that had been proven genuine were actually his fakes and that Sir Anthony Blunt had not been his lover, as stated in some articles.
On one page he offers a side-by-side comparison of his forgeries of Henri Leroy by Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, and the authentic drawing, challenging "art experts" to tell them apart.

On January 8, 1996, shortly after the publication of the Italian edition of his book The Art Forger's Handbook, Eric Hebborn was found lying in a street in Rome, his skull crushed with a blunt instrument. He died in the hospital on January 11, 1996.

The provenance of many paintings connected to Hebborn, some of which hang in renowned collections, continues to be debated.

A documentary film
Documentary film
Documentary films constitute a broad category of nonfictional motion pictures intended to document some aspect of reality, primarily for the purposes of instruction or maintaining a historical record...

 Eric Hebborn: Portrait Of A Master Forger, featuring an extended interview with Hebborn at his home in Italy, was produced for the BBC Omnibus strand and broadcast in 1991.

Hebborn's books

  • Drawn to Trouble Mainstream, 1991 ISBN 1851583696
  • Art Forger's Handbook Overlook, 1997 (posthumous) ISBN 1585676268

External links

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