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Roussillon museum discovers half its artworks are fake

An art museum in the Pyrénées-Orientales has discovered that up to half of its exhibited paintings are fakes, with the fraud estimated to be worth €160,000 to the local mairie.

The Étienne Terrus museum in Elne (Languedoc-Roussillon), dedicated to the Roussillon painter of the same name, has found that 82 of its paintings are in fact fakes.

The municipal museum bought the works using public money and funds raised by museum supporters, apparently believing them to be genuine.

Yet, art expert Eric Forcada explained that one painting - for example - was found to have had elements added in 1968, despite Terrus himself having died in 1922.

All of the affected works are now in gendarmerie custody, with an investigation launched into the fraud.

Only paintings deemed to be genuine are still on show at the museum.

Mayor of Elne, Yves Barniol, said: “We have commissioned a team of experts, who concluded that the majority of the paintings we had in our collection were fakes.”

Police are now working to determine who ordered, created, and sold the fake paintings, with the period of acquisition said to be “fairly long”: from the 1990s-2000.

Mathieu Pons-Serradeil, lawyer for the Elne mairie, said: “We imagine that perhaps one person was able to sell off around 80 works; so yes, it will be an important and significant investigation.”

The museum’s support association, the Amis du Musée Terrus, has condemned the discovery as a “catastrophe”.

Marthe-Marie Coderc, president of the association, said: “We are very upset for all of our subscribers who helped us buy these paintings.”

The association warned that the fraud could point to even more fake paintings across the region and beyond, and may be part of a wider-scale counterfeit network.

Étienne Joseph Mathieu Terrus was born in 1857 and studied art in Paris aged just 17, but returned to his home region of Roussillon soon after, where he is known to have produced the majority of his works.

A peer of artists including George-Daniel de Monfreid, André Derain and Henri Matisse (the latter to whom he was a penfriend), Terrus died in 1922.

Along with the museum, he is remembered in Elne with a bronze bust in the town centre, created by Aristide Maillol (below).

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