4 artists who never existed

Nat Tate

One of the very few Tate photographs .

In the 50s, a mysterious abstract expressionist painter lived in New York: Nat Tate (1928–1960), the perfect and romantic example of a bohemian, alcoholic, suicidal and insecure artist, who ended up destroying most of his work before destroying himself.

According to his biographer, Nathwell “Nat” Tate was a highly respected figure in the New York school, a cult artist who influenced his contemporaries ( Pollock, Rothko…) but was virtually unknown to the general public.

A recurring motif in Tate ‘s works was painting bridges, a theme apparently inspired by the poetry of Hart Crane.

“Puente no. 114” by Nat Tate.

As is often the case with insecure and misunderstood geniuses, by the end of his life Tate was already an intractable alcoholic. After a trip to Europe in 1959, where he met Braque, he was overwhelmed by the quality of the art he saw there and when he returned home he felt like a con man and decided to destroy all his work (he succeeded with about 99% of his money). worked).

Emulating the death of Hart Crane, Tate ended up committing suicide convinced he was a con man on January 12, 1960, jumping off the Staten Island ferry.

A heartbreaking story, right…?

Well it’s a lie. Everything emerges as a joke made into a book, a fictional biography of the writer William Boyd.

Boyd invented this tormented artist to laugh a bit at the imposture of contemporary art today, especially the artists he saw as succeeding in the United Kingdom, the so-called YBAs or Young British Artists, guys with more success than talent, ( if we except mercantile talent).

Some of the paintings that appear in the book were painted by Boyd himself, and the writer relied on accomplices to push the hoax as far as possible. “Reliable” people like Bowie, collector and philanthropist, or Gore Vidal who wrote a few lines on the book jacket to legitimize the joke.

The photographs of Nat Tate featured in the “biography” (such as the one above) are of unknowns from Boyd’s own photo collection.

The fraud reached its most surreal level in 2011, when a painting by Nat Tate titled Bridge no. 114 was auctioned at Sotheby’s for £7,250, well above the asking price.

Jusep Torres Campalans

Pablo Picasso and Jusep Torres Campalans.

Jusep Torres Campalans (1886–1957) was the third most important Cubist painter, along with Braque and Picasso. The son of Catalan farmers, he emigrated to Paris at the height of the avant-garde and befriended artists such as Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani and Piet Mondrian.

Max Aub was also in contact with the painter, and in fact he is the main source to learn about his life, since he wrote a biography of the artist after meeting him in his exile in Chiapas.

Described as a “Catalanista to the bone” and “anti-bourgeois anarchist”, as well as a fervent Catholic, Aub says that Campalans dressed like a worker and always wore the same well-worn corduroy suit and a perpetual turtleneck sweater.

A reveler until dawn, he fully lived the Parisian avant-garde night together with his many friends, although it is known that he despised Juan Gris above all, perhaps because he was his main competition in the position of third cubist.

He lived an intense friendship with Picasso that went back to the painter’s years in Barcelona. At that time , Jusep confessed to the painter that he had only seen naked women in photographs. Picasso invited him to a “brothel on Calle de Avinyo” in Barcelona, ​​becoming his sexual sponsor and future artistic mentor.

As a result of that friendship, several portraits of his friend remained for history.

Picasso portrait signed JTC.

Campalans paints for eight intense years in that effervescent Paris, but he suddenly abandons art for no apparent reason (everything coincides with the outbreak of the Great War). It is suggested that he became aware that he would never have the genius he aspired to and decides to get lost in the mountains of Chiapas, Mexico, where he ends his days in isolation.

Avant-garde personalities, documents and catalogs accredited the existence of the mysterious artist. People like Guillaume Apollinaire, Gertrude Stein or Max Aub attested that Campanals not only existed, but that it could have been fundamental to the process of creating the first Cubist works.

But in 1958 it was discovered that Torres Campalans was actually a hoax. Aub himself explains that his novel, despite the fact that it seemed like a real biography (testimonials, photographs -the one above is a photomontage-, reproductions of his works…), was basically a joke.

Even so, Max Aub ‘s book is today considered a valuable testimony on avant-garde movements.

Pierre Brassau

The successful Brassau exhibition.

In February 1964, four paintings by a previously unknown artist from the French avant-garde named Pierre Brassau appeared in an exhibition in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Everyone was enthralled to see the painter’s creations. Art critics exalted him, journalists covered the news on the front page, art students admired him… The renowned critic Rolf Anderberg said this about the work of the enigmatic artist:

While most of the pieces were “heavy”, the Brassau work was not. Pierre Brassau paints with powerful strokes under a very clear determination. His brushstrokes twist with furious meticulousness. Pierre is an artist whose pieces are performed with the delicacy of a ballet dancer…

Rolf Anderberg

Brassau ‘s strokes were indeed spontaneous, fresh, powerful, furious… as if painted with a very clear determination.

“Untitled” by Pierre Brassau.

What neither the people nor the critics knew was that Brassau was not called Pierre, actually his name was Peter… and he was a chimpanzee.

It was all a big joke by journalist Ake Axelsson, who just wanted to test the reliability of art critics. Would a wise critic be able to distinguish between modern art and the art made by a monkey…? The answer was clear.

Axelsson visited a zoo and convinced Peter ‘s keeper to pass him brushes and oil paints. The chimpanzee swallowed some paints (especially the cobalt blue), but over time he began to paint the canvases with “nice spots”, many of which were in that cobalt blue that he had loved so much.

When the cake was discovered, the famed critic Rolf Anderberg stuck to his idea, although no one took it too seriously again. Peter returned to the zoo and the performance went down in history as one of the great slaps in the face of the art world.

Joachim-Raphael Boronali

A group of masked artists. Among them the mysterious Boronali.

This Genoese futurist painter was the promoter and the only representative of the so-called Excessivism, a brief avant-garde movement from 1910. So brief that it only lasted a few days.

Boronali frequented the mythical Parisian cabaret Lapin Agile in Montmartre, and we only know two things about him: that he wrote the excesivist manifesto, a pictorial school more radical than Futurism that advocated “destroying museums and trampling on infamous routines”; and that he painted a picture exhibited in the cabaret frequented by the most exalted intellectuals and artists in Europe.

The painting was extraordinary. Never seen in 1910. And with a most poetic and evocative title: “Et le soleil s’endormit sur l’Adriatique ( And the sun fell asleep in the Adriatic)”. Paris was revolutionized and everyone started talking about this painting from the future and its mysterious author.

“And the sun fell asleep in the Adriatic” by Boronali. (1910).

With such success, the work ended up hanging in the Salon des Independants in Paris, along with paintings by Matisse and Rousseau. The most prestigious critic called the painting an example of “unusual perspectives”, “brilliant fillings” and “transcendent sense of color”. It was sold for a whopping 400 francs. Artists like Modigliani have never seen so much money in their lives.

The time had come to meet the elusive Italian artist. And when everyone was on edge, the journalist Roland Dorgeles came to the fore, explaining the joke. One morning you could read this headline on the front page of Le Matin: “A donkey for head of school.”

Together with the painter Pierre Girieud, the critic Andre Warnod and the owner of the cabaret, Frederic Gerard (as well as a notary to document everything), they filled buckets with the colors blue, green, yellow and red and brought the paintings to Gerard ‘s donkey. , called Lolo.

With a brush tied to its tail and rewarded with two of its favorite delicacies (carrots and tobacco), the donkey wagged its tail and gave birth to the masterpiece everyone was admiring. Take a look at the photograph above.

When Dorgeles and his cronies published the story in the newspaper saying that Boronali was actually a donkey, an art critic threatened them with a lawsuit for insulting such a great artist. That’s what the notary was used for, who attested to the farce.

Gerard y Lolo.

What Dorgeles wanted was to expose the art world. If something like cubism was succeeding, Paris was going to know what a true avant-garde was.

Even so, despite the discovery of the assembly, the painting continued its own life and it is known that its last buyer insured it for 5 million francs. Such is the world of art. A nonsense.