Antoine Blanchard: Appraisals & Authentications

Separating Blanchard Forgeries and Imitations from Authentic Works

By Jeffrey Morseburg

My family began dealing in the works of the French painter Antoine Blanchard (born as Marcel Masson) more than forty years ago, and because of our long association with the artist, I am asked to authenticate and appraise his paintings for dealers, collectors and galleries.   There are few other 20th-century painters whose market is as obscured by copies, imitations and forgeries as that of the Antoine Blanchard.   While it is good news that forgeries are less of a problem in the art market than the layman may believe, the bad news is that Antoine Blanchard’s works were copied early and often, and now even auction houses seem to be unable to discern the good paintings from those that are clearly fakes – if they even care to look at them with a critical eye.  (Sometimes, when a dealer is able to buy a Blanchard for a price that is well under market value, they should be – but are not always – suspicious as to its origins; more often, dealers and auctioneers can be as unsure of what characterizes a “good” painting as collectors are.) Blanchard forgeries are so common that they make up a significant part of the market for his work, a situation that clearly needs to be rectified so that collectors can regain confidence in what they are buying. I hope that this modest essay will shed some light on the problem of Blanchard forgeries and serve as a helpful guide in separating the authentic paintings from the imitations.

Blanchard Forgeries Began Early

In most circumstances artists only begin to copy or fake the work of other better-known painters decades or even centuries after the authentic works were done. This gives the researcher or expert an advantage, because a forgery pops up on the market long after the authentic works, which naturally attracts scrutiny. And in such cases, of course, in addition to the formal qualities of the composition, the materials, pigments, framing and dozens of details can be closely examined. However, when a forgery was done contemporaneously, in the same era or even at the same time as the originals, it is much more difficult to sort the bad works out, because the forgeries will have experienced the same effects of age and may share some of the characteristics of the authentic works. In the case of Antoine Blanchard, most of the imitations or forgeries were painted and sold while the artist was alive. Indeed, he was most actively copied while he was still a middle-aged man at the height of his career. The good news for collectors and dealers alike is that the vast majority of the forgeries can nevertheless be detected, and once that is done, Blanchard’s market can proceed apace with greater confidence.

Blanchard Kept a Low Profile

Antoine Blanchard was not an outgoing painter like his contemporary Marcel Dyf. It was not his practice to attend openings and exhibitions and charm his audience.  Instead, he labored relentlessly in his studio, creating Parisian scenes that were inspired by artists like Edouard Cortes (1884-1969) and E. Galien Laloue but which relied on his own unique palette and fluid brushwork.  His romanticized scenes of fin-de-siècle Paris were not sold by the artist directly to galleries, but to agents, essentially art brokers, who then sent them to galleries in Europe, the United Kingdom and, especially, the United States.  And, Blanchard dealt with a number of dealers, because cash on the barrel counted more than good intentions.  He came of age in an era when dealers bought and owned their inventory.  Galleries purchased the works of contemporary painters instead of taking work on consignment as is customary today.  So, Blanchard was more than willing to sell his paintings while knowing that his broker would mark them up when he sold them to the gallery, and then that the gallery had to make their profit as well.  In the 1960s, when Blanchards first became popular places like New York, Los Angeles and Texas, it took a lot more effort and a considerable investment for a broker to develop a network of dealers in the United States.  So the artist set his price and was usually content to work in his studio and allow others to do the traveling, marketing and promotion that will always be part of the art business.

Once a European or American agent purchased a group of paintings from Blanchard, he would then in turn sell them to galleries in the United States, usually ones that he worked with and sold the work of other artists to.  A gallery bought the Blanchard paintings outright, usually sending a deposit and then the balance once the paintings arrived.  In the 1950s through the 1970s, most of these agents had a large inventory and they usually extended some credit to their dealers to encourage purchases.  The Blanchards were normally sent to the United States rolled in tubes. It was quicker,  less expensive and safer to send the paintings rolled in a sturdy tube than it was to stretch them in Europe, pack them in boxes and send them off on a long voyage.

Sizes Are an Important Key Toward Determining Blanchard Authenticity

Now, dealers of the 1950s and 1960s were usually more practical than those of today, some of whom have never learned to stretch or frame a painting.  So it was second nature for them to stretch the paintings that came from Europe themselves. And, it is the fact that the paintings were stretched here in the States – the land of the inch and foot – that accounts for the slight variation in sizes that is found in authentic Blanchards on the American market.  Blanchard painted his work to fit standard size French stretcher bars.  In the early years, tourists often purchased Blanchard’s paintings in Paris. His smaller works could be taken home in a suitcase. These would mostly have been framed in France. As an export market developed, however, he sent his paintings to his agent – who could be in France or Austria for example – who then shipped them onto dealers in the United States or the U.K.   These paintings were painted roughly to the size of 35 x 45cm or 45 x 55cm, which works out to be precisely 13.7” x 17.7” and 17.7” x 21.65” respectively. These are anything but standard sizes on our market.  So, when the dealers stretched the paintings here in the United States, they had to go to the expense of ordering or mitering “custom” stretcher bars. This meant the small paintings were usually stretched and framed to 13” x 18” and 18” x 22” when Blanchard gave us enough overage or sometimes 13” x 17 ½” or 17 ½” x 21 ½”. As a young man, it was my job to take the Blanchard paintings out of the shipping tubes and then stretch them. After thirty-five or forty years, I still remember trying to see if I could stretch them to fit the 13” x 18” and 18” x 22” bars we normally stocked for them. Now, I know that all this discussion of sizes seems arcane, but it must be the first and most important factor in determining the authenticity of paintings by Antoine Blanchard.

Knock-Offs, Fakes, Forgeries and Imitations

Because Blanchard became quite successful at selling his views of Paris, the “knock-offs” or forgeries of his work arrived early, with many of them date back to the 1960s.  Because the imitations had to be sold for much less than an authentic Blanchard, they were painted abroad to fit standard American stretcher bars and frames.  When a real Blanchard was sold for hundreds of dollars retail and the knock offs were twenty- or thirty-dollar items, no one was going to go to the time and expense of stretching them on custom stretcher bars. Not when a Mexican frame was available for a few dollars. There was at least one dealer – now long gone – who sold originals and imitation Blanchards at the same time because he used to say that “anyone can take one look and tell the difference.”  It is true that the “knock offs” or “copies” as they were referred to in those days were well known by buyers and sellers to be copies and were sold for a fraction of what the authentic Blanchards sold for, but this is no longer the case.  More than forty years ago my father was prescient enough to tell the minor dealers who sold the “knock offs” that the sales of hundreds of fakes would eventually cloud the Blanchard market, when both the originals and the imitations had dulled down, yellowed and taken on the patina of age.  And, unfortunately, this is just what has happened.

From my observations of the day, most of the old faux-Blanchards were painted in Europe in a sort of series production by a reasonably good painter or perhaps even more than one painter. They were painted in standard American sizes of either 16” x 20” or 20” x 24” and then usually framed in Mexican-made frames, which were the inexpensive choice in the 1960s and early 1970s. (Later they were often framed in Taiwanese frames.) If you look at them closely, the technique and especially the palette is clearly different from Antonie Blanchard’s work. Most of the forged Blanchard paintings are reasonably nice depictions of Paris, but the colors are usually more intense, bolder than Blanchard used, and are best described as garish, lacking the subtlety of a more sophisticated painter. So, when you see a Blanchard in these sizes, 16” x 20” and 20” x 24,” bells should go off.  Another thing to look for is the signature. Sometime a signature would be painted out and a replacement “Blanchard” signature applied after a painting was imported – even with a marking pen for expediency’s sake or because the faker wasn’t proficient with oil paints!

Now, on occasion, Blanchard did paint works that were designed from the start to be stretched and framed here in the United States, to fit in our standard sized frames, but those were usually large 24” x 36” works that were intended for our market from the beginning. These large works are quite rare and consequently were expensive even when they were painted. Virtually all of these works date from the last two decades of Blanchard’s career. There are roughly fifty or more of the smaller works for each painting of this size. In my father’s gallery and most others, these large paintings were usually stretched and framed in rather baroque French “Louie-Louie” style frames that were imported from Belgium or France, and this is how most of the large works are found today.

In conclusion, while I hope I have given the collector some well thought-out clues to determine the authenticity of Antoine Blanchard paintings, there is, of course, no substitute for experience. Looking at and dealing in an artist’s work for a number of decades is the best education and is necessary to make an educated determination as to which works are indeed by Antoine Blanchard and which ones are forgeries or imitations. If you need assistance in authenticating and appraising a work by Antoine Blanchard, please contact us.  By examining the painting and its history, we can establish whether it is indeed authentic, and if so, estimate a range of value.

Do You Have a Blanchard Painting That You Need to Have Appraised or Evaluated?

Please Contact jeffreymorseburg@yahoo.com or (310) 967-3072

Advertisements

Antoine Blanchard

(1910-1988)

by Jeffrey Morseburg

Antoine Blanchard (c.1910-1988) was a prolific and successful Neo-Impressionist painter who specialized in nostalgic scenes of Fin de Siècle Paris.  Inspired by the subjects as well as the success of earlier painters of Parisian life like E. Galien Laloue (1854-1941), Eduard Cortes (1882-1969), Jean Béraud (1849-1935) and Luigi Loir (1845-1916), Blanchard painted hundreds of views of the “City of Light.” In the late 1950s, his street scenes were exported to the United States and the United Kingdom, where they sold briskly to collectors. By the1960s, Blanchard paintings were bringing several hundred dollars in galleries, so they were not inexpensive, but were attractive to collectors who loved Parisian scenes but who could not afford the works of Cortes or one of the other French painters known for their views of Paris in Belle Époque. Eventually Blanchard’s more delicate, feathery pastel-toned scenes of rain-swept Paris became sought after in their own right and, when he died, he was considered the last of the Ecole de Paris or “School of Paris” painters.

"La Madeleine" by Antoine Blanchard

The Early Life of Marcel Masson né Antoine Blanchard

The most salient fact about the life and career of the painter Antoine Blanchard was that he was actually born Marcel Masson, the son of a furniture maker who lived in the scenic Loire Valley, south of Paris, where the French nobility had their chateaus. The date that is usually given for Blanchard’s birth is November 15, 1910, but some of the facts of his life have always been clouded by early biographies that claimed even earlier dates for his birth, probably so that he would seem to be seen as a contemporary of the famous Belle Epoch painters rather than a follower. Blanchard grew up in the hardscrabble years following the First World War. Because he was artistically talented, he was sent first to the nearby city of Blois, the capital of the Loire-et-Cher Département, for artistic training and then to the École des Beaux-Arts in Rennes, on the Brittany peninsula, where he received a classical art education. By some accounts Blanchard also studied in Paris, where the historic École des Beaux-Arts is located, but the depth of his study and the style of his earliest work will require further research.

Marcel Masson was married in 1939, as war clouds gathered on the French horizon. He was drafted for service in the French Army and participated in the short and futile struggle against the invading German Panzers before returning to his family and his art during the Nazi occupation. A daughter, Nicole, was born in 1944 with a second daughter, Eveline, who eventually came to the United States, following in 1946.  Masson’s early art career was interrupted, first by World War II and later by the necessity of keeping his father’s workshop running in the years after his death. By the late 1940s, though, Masson returned to his art and moved to Paris in order to further his career.

"Saint Denis" by Antoine Blanchard

The Birth of Antoine Blanchard, Painter of la ville des lumières

Exactly when Marcel Masson adopted the pseudonym Antoine Blanchard is not known, nor are we aware of his motivations for adopting a nom de plume, but the practice was not unusual for French painters. In most cases a pseudonym was adopted because the artist had contractual obligations with more than one agent or dealer. Another motivation could be to obscure the scope of a sizable artistic production. Or, like many painters before him Masson may have initially painted different subjects under different names. Marcel Masson né Blanchard would have been well aware that the famous and prolific French painter E. Galien Laloue painted under no less than four names – three pseudonyms in addition to name he was christened with – and so the adoption of another name was probably not seen as a libaility to him.

In any event, by the 1950s Marcel Masson had become Antoine Blanchard, a painter of Paris. With the aging Edouard Cortes as a model, Blanchard began to specialize in scenes of la ville des lumières, or the “City of Light.”  However, instead of painting contemporary Paris, the crowded metropolis of his own time, which he may have felt was lacking in romance, he chose to look at the French capital through the rear-view mirror. So Blanchard became known for his depictions of the hurly-burly life of Belle Epoch Paris. For inspiration, he is said to have collected old sepia-toned postcards of life in La Belle Époque (“The Beautiul Era”), the long period of peace and relative prosperity between the end of the Franco-Prussian War and the start of the First World War. In addition, however, the paintings of Loir, Baraud, Laloue and Cortes could be found and studied in the flea markets of Paris as well as the auctions at the l’Hôtel Drouot.  Reminders of the Belle Epoch were thus all around Blanchard, and of course the architecture that he painted had survived the war intact. Soon he was painting the horse-drawn omnibuses that took turn-of-the-century Parisians on longer trips throughout the city as well as the tradesmen, children and fashionably dressed ladies that populated Baron Haussmann’s Les Grand Boulevards.

"Cafe de la Paix, l'Opera" by Antoine Blanchard

Antoine Blanchard Reaches Artistic Maturity

Blanchard’s early work was clearly modeled after the paintings of Edouard Cortes, but he was always his own man and never a slavish copyist. These paintings were darker in palette than the Blanchard paintings most American collectors have become familiar with and and his red and blue tones were often bolder than those of Cortes. He never adopted the heavy “impasto,” the build-up of paint on the highlights of Cortes’ work, leaving that artistic trademark to the master.  Blanchard’s brushwork was painterly, but the buildings in the paintings were always well-rendered, for he had an excellent command of perspective.

In the late 1950s, agents began to purchase Blanchard’s paintings and then to export them to the United States, selling them to commercial galleries in far away Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York.  By 1965, his work was already well known enough to be in reproduced by print publishers. By the end of the 1960s, Blanchard had began to develop his own mature style by employing a lighter, brighter, palette and a deft, almost calligraphic style of brushwork.  This helped him step out of Cortes’ shadow and become a sought-after painter in his own right.

Blanchard worked through agents, essentially brokers, who purchased his work and created a demand for it in the United States and Canada. The vast majority of his paintings were smaller works, which were sent to the United States in tubes and stretched and framed here by the galleries that sold them. Virtually all of these Blanchards were European sizes, roughly 13” x 18” or 18” x 21 1/2″, but on rare occasion he painted much larger works in American sizes – such as 24” x 36” – on commission for dealers like my father, Howard Morseburg.

"Église de la Madeleine" by Antoine Blanchard

Fakes, Forgeries and Faux-Blanchards

Once Blanchard’s work was selling briskly through galleries and retailing for several hundred dollars, other painters – who may have been getting for ten or twenty dollars for their paintings when they sold – took notice and began to imitate his work. These works were painted abroad, purchased by agents and then sent to lesser galleries, furniture stores and frame shops in the United States where they were sold for a fraction of what an authentic Blanchard sole for. Thus few people were fooled at the time. These were also painted in standard American sizes, which makes them stand out from the real Blanchards.  However, now these faux-Blanchards are more than forty years old and have the patina of age to obscure their less-than-immaculate conception. There are now hundreds of these Blanchard copies on the market and the artist’s failure to adopt some form of French trademark for his chosen nom de plume has made life difficult for the less experienced dealer or collector.

"Place de la Concord" by Antoine Blanchard

Blanchard’s Late Work

By the 1970s Blanchard’s paintings were being sold by galleries across the United States, and the American market absorbed virtually all of his work. In 1969, with the passing of Edouard Cortes, he became the last of the long series of prolific French painters of Parisian life. Blanchard’s later works were usually daylight scenes, with Paris seen awash in rain or with a mantle of soft snow, and so collectors no longer confused him with Cortes, whose Parisian clock seemed to always be set at twilight. These paintings were rendered in softer, pastel tones and he used his brush with a light touch. These qualities gave Blanchard’s work of the 1970s and 1980s a lighter, more decorative appearance.

In the late 1970s, the French agent Paule Larde published a lavish book that was claimed to be an authorized biography of Antoine Blanchard by his exclusive dealer. Today, this book is almost impossible to find and if my memory is accurate, this is because it was the subject of a lawsuit in France. Because some of the information in the Larde book was contested and found inaccurate, it was apparently withdrawn from publication. One claim that Larde made was that Blanchard’s production was extremely limited, but while he was not as prolific as Cortes or Laloue, he was a hard-working painter who managed to supply a long list of galleries with his work. At one time, we had a copy of the Larde book in our family library, but I haven’t been able to locate it in recent years, to compare its contents to later and probably more accurate information. When the motivation for a monograph is marketing rather than art history, accurate and important details can be swept aside by exaggeration hyperbole and claims of exclusivity that were meant to discourage collectors or galleries from buying Blanchard’s from other representatives.

The details of Antoine Blanchard’s life are not well known because he never sought the limelight. He was content to work in his studio and ship his paintings to his agents who sold them abroad. Eventually both his daughters – Nicole and Evelyn – followed in his footsteps and became painters themselves. Eveline (1946-2008) was savvy enough to adopt the Blanchard nom de plume and she began painting street scenes that closely resembled her father’s later work. Antoine Blanchard passed away in 1988, leaving hundreds of paintings of Belle Époque Paris– the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Opera, the Arc de Triomphe and Place Concorde – as his lasting legacy.

Do You Have an Antoine Blanchard That You Need to Have Appraised or Evaluated?

Contact: jeffreymorseburg@yahoo.com or (310) 967-3072