The Etienne Terrus Museum in Elne, France. Photo: the Departmental Council of Pyrénées-Orientale.

French Museum Discovers the Majority of Its Collection Is Fake

An art museum in Elne, a village in southern France, recently discovered that more than half of its collection consists of counterfeit works. Dedicated to the celebrated local painter Etienne Terrus, who died in 1922, the eponymous museum had just completed a $365,000 renovation and was planning to celebrate its reopening when a guest curator raised concerns over the authenticity of its paintings.

Art historian Eric Forcada noticed that some of the works featured buildings that had not yet been constructed at the time the canvas was supposedly created. “There are several types of fakes in the collection,” Forcada told NPR. “There are some that were taken and just signed posteriorly with Terrus’s name, and others that were made expressly to look like Terrus’s work.”

A commission of experts reviewed Forcada’s findings and confirmed that 60 percent of the museum’s holdings are forgeries. The police have since seized the works and launched an investigation. The institution, which spent around $200,000 acquiring the pieces over the last twenty years, said the other fifty-two canvases in its collection have been authenticated.

“It’s a catastrophe,” Yves Barniol, the mayor of Elne, told The Telegraph. “I put myself in the place of all the people who came to visit the museum, who saw fake works of art, who paid an entrance fee. It’s intolerable and I hope we find those responsible.”