eBay is chockablock with fake art. On one hand, if you do a search for any famous artist you’ll find sellers claiming to have pricy originals (or prints) that seem too good to be true. On the other hand, sometimes sellers are ambiguous about what you’re getting: they don’t quite say the piece is authentic, but they also don’t quite say that it is a fake or done as an homage.
I recently came across two sellers as I was browsing eBay for Rene Magritte. User art.2021, who currently has 1,407 items for sale, proudly proclaims in their bio, “Art and collecting is my Passion.” Another seller, martha_50845, says that they “like to travel, listen to music and appreciate art in its entirety.” Both sellers, according to their profiles, are based in Peru. Both sellers, also, are dealing in original drawings of fake, reimagined, and recreated masterpieces.
Many of art.2021’s offerings have a Buy-it-Now price of $104.00. There are drawings of Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat, Degas’ ballerinas, and Magritte’s apple-faced bowler men. In general, the works appear to be on aged paper and are handmade — this is emphasized in many of the items’ descriptions, which read “IT IS A DRAWING AND NOT AN IMPRESSION OR LITHOGRAPH OF ANY KIND.” As an added illusion of authenticity, the works also often are stamped on the reverse.
martha_50845’s listings have similar attributes. One rendering of Van Gogh’s famous self-portrait has a slew of markings on the back, including multiple alleged stamps for the Musée d’Orsay, another from a Paris gallery, and a label claiming it was part of a private collection in Chicago. The listing’s description does, however, acknowledge the limitations around attribution of the piece: “THIS DRAWING IS A WORK OF ART THAT WAS PRESERVED IN GOOD CONDITION AND IS BEING SOLD AS IS AS AN ARTIST STYLE REPRODUCTION BECAUSE NO FORMAL DOCUMENTATION WAS FOUND ATTACHED.”
While I do believe the occasional gem might be found in a thrift store or on eBay, I feel these works are likely Peruvian reproductions of and homages to our 20th century canon. This isn’t to say they don’t have some artistic integrity themselves — any work that goes to such great lengths to vaguely disguise itself, under the cover of a noncommittal eBay listing, has something else going for it; a sort of sneaky, conceptual cover that, whether or not it is purposeful, is as powerful as any masterpiece.