Contemporary Art Market: Old Master faker fails to show a style of his own

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The Independent Online
THE WORK of the century's most successful faker of Old Master drawings, Eric Hebborn, is on show at Julian Hartnoll's Gallery (14 Mason's Yard, SW1) and he is asking the sort of prices that people pay for the drawings of well- known artists.

Many of the drawings on offer were illustrated in Hebborn's autobiography Drawn to Trouble (now reissued by Pan as Master Faker) but they do not seem to be selling like hot cakes.

The pen and ink head of Anthony Blunt, art historian and spy, has not found a taker at pounds 850, nor has the head and shoulders of Edgar, Hebborn's companion, which is priced at pounds 1,800. A little wash drawing, After Turner, has gone - which makes sense since it is very romantic and Turner- esque - and so has the Study in the Cast Room of the Royal Academy Schools, 1957 which is very Renaissance. The head and shoulders of a boy, After Corot, with which Hebborn claims to have deceived Colnaghi's, the Bond Street dealers, is still available at pounds 1,250.

The show of drawings, most of them not made as fakes, underlines the fact that a picture faker does not have the time to develop his own style. Hebborn is a very good draughtsman but this group of his work looks miscellaneous and gives no clue to what makes him tick.

While the fashionable avant- garde has lost interest in drawing, there are still some very good draughtsmen around, for instance Michael Murfin who has a show at the Piccadilly Gallery (16 Cork Street, W1), or Raymond Booth at the Fine Art Society (148 New Bond Street, W1). Both of them are working out visual problems that intrigue them with painterly passion. It somehow makes their drawings much more interesting than Hebborn's.

Murfin's work comes close to photo-realism. In this show he is concentrating on boat races - Sculler and Light Water in acrylic on board costs pounds 2,200 - and village life, Farm Cats, Penrallt, another acrylic, at pounds 3,500. Both are dazzling technical feats. His drawings are cheaper and better than Hebborn's, for instance a bird's-eye view of a village, densely realised in pencil and titled Winter Sunshine, costs pounds 300.

Raymond Booth is a phenomenon, a natural history painter obsessed by detail and perfect finish. Last time the Fine Art Society had a show, it had a queue outside the door and rationed buyers to three pictures each.

This time the society is showing Booth's 65 oil-on-board illustrations for a new book on Japanese flowers, Japonica Magnifica, and they are not for sale. Booth has grown every species in his own garden in Yorkshire and painted from the life.

He is one of the very few gardeners that Kew is prepared to entrust with seedlings of endangered species; apparently he can grow anything. Also for sale is a group of botanical illustrations priced between pounds 2,800 and pounds 3,500.

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