Mumsey Nemiroff Discusses Fakes, Frauds and Forgeries in the Art World at the Virginia Robinson Gardens

Left to right: President Betty Goldstein, Mumsey Nemiroff, Co-Chair Ann Petersen

The Virginia Robinson Gardens played host this past month to an intimate salon featuring guest speaker Mumsey Nemiroff. An experienced lecturer, having taught at UCLA for two decades on the subject of art connoisseurship, Mumsey recently spent a particularly gorgeous November morning illuminating just over two dozen Friends and their friends about the art of collecting.

“Understand what you’re buying,” she advises. “Buyer beware, always.”

In spotting a fake, Mumsey has identified six criteria to help collectors successfully procure genuine art: age, condition, rarity, aesthetic, provenance, and price. “Always beware of the words unique and rare,” she cautions.

In her talk about the art of collecting as part of the Friends’ series of salons held at the Virginia Robinson Gardens, Mumsey detailed precisely how to spot a fake relying on keys she has cultivated as a passionate art collector, connoisseur, and patron of the arts, with an aesthetic greatly informed by her extensive travels.

“I’ve gone all over the world and collected,” she shared.

For some classical artists such as Peter Paul Rubens or Rembrandt van Rijn, who might do a sketch and then have students finish it and sign it with the artist’s name, it was standard practice to create paintings not done entirely by the artist’s hand.

“In ancient times it was considered a compliment to the artist to create fakes of their work, and of course today it gives you a jail sentence,” Mumsey said. “The idea of massive forgeries, of course, has changed in contemporary times to brand name goods like Chanel, Dior, Rolex and so forth. However, the fine art and antique market is laden with fakes, frauds and forgeries, and many of them were not intended to be fakes at all.”

Beyond discerning a bevy of standard flags that one must learn to artfully deduce forgeries, frequently visiting museums and learning to understand collections is also key to the art of collecting avers Mumsey.

“One of the ways to train yourself and raise your aesthetic is to haunt museums and see what the collections look like, and see the best that’s available at auctions and galleries,” she recommends.

These days, authentic works that do surface generally require restoration - its own perilous journey given that some restorers “over-restore” the works “to the point where it becomes a fake,” Mumsey explains.

“Before you purchase something, train your eye and your hands,” Mumsey advises.

Tactile experiences are particularly useful in procuring porcelain, furniture and sculptures, she emphasized, noting that “your hands can sometimes find cracks that have been filled in and repaired beautifully that your eyes will miss.”

“There have always been fakes,” she attests. “Most museums in the world have at least one fake that they’ve acquired.”

Mumsey exampled the Getty’s kouros - a source of continued debate - as perhaps the most famous local fake, or at least, as an artwork that is likely a fake. “It’s either modern or 6th century BC. The experts can’t agree on it. However, popular thought is that it is a fake… a modern fake,” she explained.

Mumsey’s highly cultivated eye, deeply informed by her passion and world travels, has led her to derive particular joy when visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum’s gallery of fakes whenever she’s in London.

“Anything that becomes popular gets to be faked,” she said.

A lifetime Beverly Hills resident, Mumsey first visited the Gardens back when legendary Major Domo Ivo Hadjev managed the estate. After taking one of her UCLA classes to visit the property, over lunch, Ivo regaled Mumsey and her students about Virginia Robinson’s soirees to celebrate the Autumn Full Moon and other occasions of entertainment.

Four decades later at Beverly Hills’ first estate on this sublime autumn day, which began with mimosas and mingling, Mumsey expounded on her prolific knowledge, this time detailing the fascinating world of authenticating with her standard charm, easily beguiling her audience.

Following Mumsey’s lecture, the event continued with a delicious luncheon al fresco by Josh Jackson of Great Taste Catering consisting of pan-roasted salmon, roasted winter vegetables, crispy smashed potatoes, a salad of romaine and butter lettuce with heirloom tomatoes, and a luscious trio of desserts.

But at the center of the event was how to wisely invest one’s money in art. And for those in attendance, including President Betty Goldstein and past Presidents Kerstin Royce and Patti Reinstein, Mumsey’s talk proved incredibly informative about what to look for when purchasing genuine art and antiques.

Post by Laura Coleman
Friends of Robinson Gardens Member
Photos by Elaine Stein
Friends of Robinson Gardens Executive Board Member

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