Forger is a genuine success

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The Independent Online
TRADITIONALLY, artists paid their restaurant bills by dashing off a quick masterpiece on the tablecloth. That custom has now been refined and updated by the authorities in Stuttgart.

A master faker, who two months ago received a suspended prison sentence and was ordered to pay pounds 16,000 in compensation, has been given permission for some special fundraising. In order to pay up, he will auction off his own fakes.

Wolfgang Lammle caused anger and confusion when it was realised he had palmed off a number of drawings and paintings to well-known galleries and auction houses.

He produced home-grown versions of Egon Schiele, the Viennese painter of decadent nudes, and he manufactured works by many of Germany's best-known 20th-century artists. These were authenticated by experts, and sold for around pounds 30,000.

He continued with this game for three years, from 1985 to 1988, and produced about 200 fakes during that time. He sold a number to leading galleries and auction houses.

When Lammle was convicted in November, the judge said that he was giving him the minimum punishment for his offence. Almost admiringly, the judge commented that Lammle had shown 'a hefty dose of Swabian slit- earedness'. (To be schlitzohrig, or slit-eared, is to be sly and cunning.)

The court described Lammle as a 'passionate painter', and accepted that he was motivated, above all, by his desire to score points against the art establishment.

He was said to have been embittered by his failure to sell his own paintings, and because experts were more interested in big names than in the paintings' intrinsic quality. The Stuttgart court appeared to sympathise with Lammle's 'personal disappointment at the pricing methods of the art market'.

The fakes, initially confiscated by the court, will go on sale in Stuttgart next week. In case of confusion, Lammle has been asked to add his own signature, so that each drawing and painting is now signed twice.

Prices for his work have risen sharply, as people fight to get a genuine Lammle. But the artist insists that this is not important to him. He said he wants people to buy pictures 'because of interest in art'.

This meditative approach is not entirely new. Some years ago, under a self-portrait, Lammle wrote: 'Every man is a criminal. But some are too lazy to commit crime.'