Eric Hebborn was born in the London suburb of South Kensingtonin 1934. His mother was born in Brighton and his father in Oxford. 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 in Harold Wood, 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. He flourished at the Academy, winning the Hacker Portrait prize and the Silver Award, and the British Prix de Rome in Engraving, a two-year scholarship to the British School at Rome 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 in 1960, who told Hebborn that a couple of his drawings looked like Poussins. 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 canvases 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 also frequented a junk and antique shop near Leicester Square, 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 and were based on a drawing of a child by Andrea Schiavone. Graham Smith states that several of these were sold to their landlord Mr Davis, several to Bond Street galleries and two or three through Christie's sale rooms.
Eventually Hebborn decided to settle in Italy with Graham, and they founded a private gallery there.
When contemporary critics did not seem to appreciate his own paintings, Hebborn began to copy the style of old masters such as: Corot, Castiglione, Mantegna, Van Dyck, Poussin, Ghisi, Tiepolo, Rubens, Jan Breughel and Piranesi. Art historians such as Sir John Pope Hennessy 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 paintings, drawings and sculptures. 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 at the National Gallery of Art 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, one by Savelli Sperandio and the other by Francesco del Cossa. 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, 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 '...no 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.
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 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 8 January 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 hospital on 11 January 1996.
The provenance of many paintings connected to Hebborn, some of which hang in renowned collections, continues to be debated.
A documentary film 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.
Graham David Smith (born 1937) is an artist and writer currently living in London. He has also worked in the USA under the name Paul Cline.
Born in the East End, Smith attended Walthamstow art school where in 1956 he met and became the lover of Eric Hebborn, who was to become a notorious art forger. Smith moved on to the Royal College of Art and Hebborn to the Royal Academy, but the couple stayed together for the next 13 years.
Upon Hebborn's return from a two-year stay in Italy after winning the Academy's Prix-de-Rome, the couple lived together in the run-down Cumberland Hotel in Highbury. They set up business buying and selling art, and spent many hours scouring junk shops for bargains. They befriended Marie Gray, who owned a shop near Leicester Square, and it was at her suggestion and from her stock that they used blank sheets of period paper upon which Hebborn could create original drawings, while Smith 'antiqued' them.
In 1963 they moved to Italy and opened a gallery, which attracted the attention of several of the art cognoscenti of the day. Notable amongst them was Sir Anthony Blunt, who often stayed with the couple when visiting Rome.
Smith and Hebborn grew apart and in 1969 Smith returned to London. He moved into fabric and wallpaper design, creating stylised designs of trees, flowers, birds and animals for Jean Muir and Osborn & Little, amongst others.
In the late 1970s Smith relocated with his lover John Elliker to California, and again changed artistic direction, now working in book illustration under the name Paul Cline.
After Elliker died in 1987, Smith began to create a series of erotic drawings influenced by the medieval Dance of Death, and the resurrection of the genre by the Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada. These reflected his horror at the impact of AIDS on the homosexual community. Geraldine Norman, in her article in the Independent newspaper refers to them as 'terrifying' and states that they use 'a highly finished academic style, reminiscent of the fine drawing taught by 19th century French academies'. They were exhibited in the Rita Dean gallery in San Diego.
At this time Smith also lived a parallel life on the fringe of the hustler community in Los Angeles. He became friendly with Rick Castro and memorably appeared as Ambrose Sapperstein in his 1996 movie Hustler White.
Smith's autobiography was published in 1996, which, he says, he wrote partly to refute some of the claims of Hebborn's own autobiographical work.
In 1997 Smith returned to London where he now lives. He continues to write, mainly poetry, and to create further tableaux drawings on death and homo-erotic themes.
Drawn to Trouble: Confessions of a Master Forger: A Memoir by Eric Hebborn
Hardcover: 380 pages
Publisher: Random House (April 27, 1993)
Amazon: Drawn to Trouble: Confessions of a Master Forger: A Memoir
A premier art forger describes his rags-to-riches journey into the dark side of the art world, detailing the shady intrigues of the world's great museums and auction houses and offering a lesson in forgery techniques. 15,000 first printing.
Celebration: The Autobiography of Graham David Smith by Graham David Smith
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Mainstream Publishing (February 1998)
Amazon: Celebration: The Autobiography of Graham David Smith
Graham David Smith has lived a life overflowing with incident and adventure. This autobiography is a memoir of an eventful and picaresque journey through five decades and across two continents. It shows us the man in the circumstances and the places that formed him: in the slums of London shortly before the Blitz, where he was raped at the age of six; at the Royal College of Art, watching David Hockney perform in drag; submerging himself in the "dolce vita" of Rome in the 1960s with his lover, the celebrated art forger Eric Hebborn, where he became a hustler and first explored the world of S&M. Back in London in the 1970s he embarked on an endless round of drugs, parties and sex, somehow finding the time to paint and design fabrics. By the 1980s he was in Laguna Beach, California, a pleasure-ground of cocaine, sex and sun, the days filled with surfing, party boys and drug deals gone wrong - a hedonistic heaven before AIDS took hold. Smith is revealed as a friend and confidant of Derek Jacobi, Sir Anthony Blunt, Christine Keeler, Fellini, Pasolini, David Bowie and Lindsay Kemp. The autobiograhy celebrates what it means to be alive.
More LGBT Couples at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Real Life Romance
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