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Traces of the Hand: Master Drawings from the Collection of Frederick and Lucy S. Herman


Karel la Fargue
Dutch, 1738–1793
Forgery after Cornelis Gerritsz. Decker
Dutch, d. 1678
View of a House on a Canal and Men Unloading a Boat, c. 1770–1790
Black chalk with wash
7 1/4 x 10 1/4 in, 18.42 x 26.04 cm (sheet)
Provenance: Sir Robert Witt, London (Lugt 2228b); Bernard Houthakker Gallery, Amsterdam, by 1969; acquired from Houthakker, 1970
Inscriptions: (recto) lower right in chalk, falsely signed "C. Decker"; (verso) at top: "MAC NO 1519C. ESOZ" and "1"; at bottom: "1519," "I," "Ec hole," and "Van goyen"
Gift of The Frederick and Lucy S. Herman Foundation, 2007.15.29


Though heralded by Bernard Houthakker as "the only known drawing" by Cornelis Decker in his exhibition catalogue of 19691 and, until recently, catalogued as such in the Museum’s collection, the present drawing has been shown to be the work of the somewhat mysterious eighteenth-century forger Karel la Fargue.2 Karel was the youngest brother of the famous land- and townscape artist Paulus Constantijn la Fargue (1729–1782) and is known today by roughly 250 drawings, of which fewer than eighty were of his own invention. The remaining drawings that are today given to Karel are copies after seventeenth-century paintings, prints, and—less frequently—drawings.3

Increasing eighteenth-century interest in works by artists of the Dutch Golden Age often provided the incentive for artists to copy the works of their forebears. Generally speaking, such activity was not intended to deceive the consumer and, frequently, artists acknowledged that their work was a copy of an earlier work on the sheet’s verso. Cornelis Ploos van Amstel, whose series of 45 Hoofdprenten (Major Prints) after drawings by earlier artists first published in 1765 even went so far as to state that his works would "prevent [a new amateur collector] from taking a copy for an original and being swindled."4 Such contemporary concerns about counterfeits seem altogether justified in light of Karel la Fargue’s activity. Unlike his contemporary Ploos, who indicated the name of the artist whose work he replicated on the verso of each print, la Fargue never signed his copies and deliberately forged the signatures of earlier artists to pass them off as original works.

The Herman drawing exhibits a number of telltale signs indicating la Fargue’s authorship. It is not only executed in the artist’s favored media of black chalk with the addition of wash but also shows certain deficiencies in the conception of the figures unloading the boat and a tendency toward spiky foreground vegetation. La Fargue’s source for the Herman sheet has been identified as Decker’s painting in Budapest.5 The present drawing is the only known work by la Fargue imitating Decker.

John Hawley


1. Bernard Houthakker Gallery, Master Drawings, Amsterdam, 1969, no. 16.

2. Charles Dumas and Michiel C. Plomp, "Karel la Fargue (1738–1793) as a forger of seventeenth-century Dutch drawings," Oud Holland, 112, 1998, p. 1–23.

3. Dumas and Plomp, "Karel la Fargue," 7 ff.

4. Quoted in Dumas and Plomp, "Karel la Fargue," 2.

5. Szépmüvészeti Múzeum (inv. no. 53.408). Charles Dumas and Michiel C. Plomp, "Provisional catalogue of forgeries by Karel la Fargue," Oud Holland, 112, 1998, 24–73, esp. 34, no. 32.


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