Sandro Botticelli’s most famous work,“The Birth of Venus,” is conspicuously missing from the Gallery of Old Masters show in the Gemäldegalerie at the Kulturforum in Berlin. The Uffizi Gallery Museum in Florence said that the goddess born from the sea foam was indispensable to its own collection.
While the Renaissance painter’s 1485 masterpiece won’t be on show in Berlin, she can be seen in a small storefront gallery in the city’s Neukölln district.
The gallery serves as a studio for three Russian brothers, copyists and counterfeiters who are known far beyond Berlin. Unlike infamous German art forger, Wolfgang Beltracchi, who served a prison term for forgery-related charges, brothers Eugen, Michael and Semjon Posin are all legal and above board. Their Venus was commissioned a year ago by an art lover from Spain for his private collection.
Seen from outside, the Art Salon Posin on little Wipper Street parallel to Karl Marx Allee, is unassuming. Its opaque glass door leads to two, cave-like rooms with a few old-fashioned and visibly worn chairs.
"Forger” is just a minor, promotional flirtation of sorts; it gives the works a whiff of prohibition.
But it’s a treasure chamber of art history. Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies”, sunflowers from Vincent van Gogh, works by Rembrandt, Kirchner, El Greco, Marc, Dalí, Cranach – they’re all here. Antique picture frames lie around, with palettes, arrays of brushes, glasses and tubes.
The brothers opened their gallery in 2001. All three of the brothers – 67-year-old Eugen, Michael, 65, and Semjon, 70 – studied painting in Leningrad and, one after another, left their socialist homeland to seek their fortunes in the West. Eugen was first emigrant, in 1984. The men are laconic, have pronounced Russian accents, sport facial hair and display a preference for old-fashioned checkered shirts and leather vests.
Forgers? They don’t have anything against the word to describe their professional occupation. “Copies and Forgeries” is on their small leaflet.
Eugen, the most talkative brother, is happy to refer to the “Forgery Museum” dedicated to them at the Seehotel Großräschen in the Lausitz region. Using the word “forger” is just a minor, promotional flirtation of sorts; it gives the works a whiff of adventurousness and prohibition.
The Posins, in fact, adhere to the law, which stipulates that one may only copy works by artists who have been dead for at least 70 years. Plus, the Posin works always diverge a little from the originals. Their “Birth of Venus,” for example, is a centimeter longer in both directions. As a final touch, the the pictures are signed on the back by the Posins and are accompanied by a certificate stating: “This copy was created according to the following original painting.”
Nonetheless, one purchaser of a work they had copied from British Romantic landscape painter William Turner tried to resell the painting as genuine without the knowledge of the Posin brothers. He failed and his attempt at fraud had no legal consequences for the copyists.
The Posins consider themselves artists. They thoroughly investigate how the respective painter worked and “repeat his process,” as Eugen explained. He says that’s a simple task with some Old Masters, and the brothers’ own works likewise don’t take too long to finish. But an artist like Botticelli presents difficulties and it has taken them a whole year to copy his work.
Eugen viewed the original “Venus” in Florence a while ago. An approximately 40- by 70-centimeter poster serves as a model. The usual procedure is to cover an image with a grid in order to be able to transfer the figures onto the canvas by means of a larger grid. The artwork’s figures are painted first in shades of brown, then in the colors of the original.
But how can all three brothers work together? Does one of them do the background, another the subsidiary figures? Is one of them a specialist for hands and feet, for hair, clothing and naked skin? In no way, assures Eugen: Even though each brother creates his own work without any model beyond the original work of art, the copies are the products of joint collaboration. Brothers copying the great artists together, to create something new.
This is a version of the original article that first appeared in Tagesspiegel daily newspaper. To contact the author: email@example.com