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Maybe I should title this entry, “Would the Real Leda Please Stand Up?”

You may remember my last post described a conversation overheard in a local consignment shop.  I’d gone there to take pictures of a small bronze sculpture depicting one of the more salacious episodes of Greek mythology: Leda and the Swan.

Leda and the Swan, after Fernando Botero. Signed “Rubin.”

In the myth, Zeus disguises himself as a swan in order to seduce the Spartan queen, Leda.  Leda conceives the twins Helen and Clytemnestra, thus leading indirectly to both the fall of Troy and the murder of Agamemnon.

It’s a story of sensuality and of deception.

And so is this little bronze, because it’s a blatant copy of the sculptural work of Colombian artist, Fernando Botero (b. 1932).  Botero is usually the only South American artist whom most Americans can name even if they are unfamiliar with Latin American Art generally.  And if they can’t actually name him, they can ask, a little sheepishly, “is he the guy who paints the really fat people?” Yes, that’s the guy.

I always found Botero’s claim that his corpulent figures were intended to evoke classical volumes a little, um, thin.  But then I got to know his bronzes and suddenly the weight and solidity of those hugely voluminous forms made sense.  The massive shapes (I once had to install a special plate under one of his titanic horses to keep it from crashing through York Avenue) come alive for me in a way that his more famous paintings rarely do.  And the table-top sized miniature versions have a grace and charm that make them really irresistible.

Since the 1990s Botero has done at least three versions of the Leda theme, including the one from which our example was copied.

A real Botero Leda, exhibited at Ebisu Garden Place, Japan. Photo credit: Ron Reznik.

The fake Leda, photographed August 5, 2012.

Because his style is so recognizable—and so easily caricatured—Botero forgeries are common.  Over the years I’ve been offered more fake Boteros than just about anything else.  At this very moment there are 140 of them being sold on eBay.  Many of them bear false “Botero” signatures.  But if caught, the maker of our consignment shop bronze could claim that there was no attempt to deceive because he had signed his own name.  Technically, our consignment shop bronze wouldn’t even be called a fake, because it’s signed, “Rubin.”

In auction catalogues and on eBay this type of deception is couched in euphemisms like “style of,” “after,” and “tribute.”  But it’s still an attempt to profit from another’s artistic originality and intellectual property.  It may not be enough to launch a thousand ships, but it’s still an attempt to seduce and deceive.

So, what’s it worth?

Consignment Shop Copy: $325, as marked.

The Real Thing: in 2011 a large botero bronze sold for almost $1.8 million.  A small one with these approximate dimensions might bring around $175,000 at a major auction house like Christie’s or Sotheby’s.

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