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Hebborn: An Example of Why Libel Laws Are Bad

May 16th, 2008 No comments

Eric Hebborn’s career gives us an example of why strict libel laws are bad. Wikipedia says:

In 1978 a curator at the National Gallery of Artin Washington DC , Konrad Oberhuber, was examining a pair of drawings he had purchased for the museum from Colnaghi a seemingly 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.[1]

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'[4]. 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.[2]

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