Would you fork out your redundancy money to buy a Picasso off the internet? Happens all the time. The Daily Telegraph's Elizabeth Fortescue reported last week that a young Sydney woman took her online Picasso to an "antiques roadshow" in Dee Why the other day. She asked the expert if she’d done the right thing. The news was stunning.
Fine art valuer Sue-ann Smiles immediately identified it as a Picasso. "I knew straight away. Quite frankly, (the painting) should be in the National Gallery of Australia. This is a cultural heritage piece," she said. The woman told Ms Smiles she had bought the painting, sight unseen, from a private owner in Europe and that she only had the person's word that the painting was the real thing.
It’s heart-warming to know that trust still glows sweetly in cynical Sydney. And gratifying that such trust is rewarded so handsomely. In no time at all, the story was picked up by Sky News. The world marvelled at the buyer’s good fortune. Ms Smiles would not be drawn on the value of the picture but coyly remarked that it would pay off the mortgage. It certainly would, if it was genuine. Dated 1937, it purports to be one of a series of important Picasso portraits of his mistress, Marie-Therese Walter. Worth perhaps $2 or $3 million. In fact it’s worth nothing. It is a watercolour copy of an oil painted by Picasso on 4 December 1937. A rather amateurish copy, but then they nearly always are. Semi-abstract or abstract works seem easy to imitate. Picasso’s swash-buckling style, apparently casual and rough, appeals to copyists and fakers because they think errors will be seen as creative enthusiasm. In fact, Picasso is difficult to fake convincingly. His strength of composition and mastery of line are such that fakes usually look weak and labored, as this copy does:

The watercolor copy.