by Yoram Braier
It is said about Mane Katz that when he was asked what he thought about Chagall, Katz said that Chagall is an outstanding painter. When Katz was told that Chagall said that Katz is not a painter, Katz answered: Chagall is wrong!
Several years ago there was a theft of artworks in the Municipality of Safed amongst them some important works from the collection of Enrico Glitzenstein. The works were never found.
Some years ago a painting by Mane Katz was offered for sale by Sotheby;s. When the auction house checked with the Mane Katz Museum in Haifa it became clear that the work belonged to the Safed Municipality.
This is not the first case that works by Mane Katz have been stolen. However cases of forgery are discovered more frequently. Recently forgery of Katz's works has been reduced due to the drop in prices of his works.
In the late 1990s works by Mane Katz were offered for sale in Germany, by an Auction House not specializing in sales of works by Jewish artists. While selling the contents of an estate in Leipzig works by Mane Katz and Issachar Ber Rybak, amongst other works, have been offered for sale, as well as some works by other well-known Jewish artists. One of Mane Katz's works was purchased for a reasonable price. When the buyer asked to receive a certificate from the Mane Katz Museum he was astonished to be informed that the work is a forgery.
The buyer then asked the German Auction House for a reimbursement but was told that "Since the name Mane Katz does not appear in the catalogue in Upper Case Bold letters the auction house has no commitment that the work is by Mane Katz…The signature on the painting reads "Mane Katz" but the Auction House has no obligation to sell a work by the famous artist who lived in France and died in Israel where there is a museum in his name.
Attention has to be drawn to the "signature trap". Potential buyers of an artwork are mainly concerned about the signature on the painting. It is sometimes amazing to observe the "acrobatics" that both buyers and sellers perform when they are presented with a signed work in spite of the fact that the style is not characteristic of the artist, the work does not present his technical abilities, does not portray the subjects of his works but the buyers are drawn to the signature as if it were a magnet even though it is an element of an artwork which is easily copied.
Several years ago an artwork appeared in the art market. It was painted in Israel in the 1940s or 50s, depicting the city of Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee. The painting was not signed. A short time afterwards Paldi's signature appeared on the painting. When it was realized that this painting could absolutely not have been painted by Paldi – Shemi's signature appeared on it! An art expert expressed his opinion that it did not seem like Shemi's work. In the 1940s Shemi joined the British Army and was fighting in Egypt and Italy. During the 1950 his paintings were totally different in style. The painting seemed to the expert more like a Wechsler who painted in Israel in the 1940s.
Later on the signature was changed again – Wechsler appeared on the painting!
In such cases all that the potential buyer needs is an ultra-violet light which easily uncovers that the signature's paint is new and it glows differently than older paint.
Changing the signature is one of the most common methods of forgery. It all depends onthe current prices of the attributed work.