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Art reproductions and authenticity

  • Trevor Fawcett (a1)


Whatever their format, reproductions provide illusory experiences of art, but may count as ‘authentic’ if adequate to their purpose and the technical possibilities and expectations of their time. A reproduction seizes the original at one moment in its history, a fact that should be made clear in its captioning. Engraved and other graphic reproductions, being hand-made, were always subjective and idealising. The camera brought greater objectivity, but even modern colour photographs interpret and mislead. The digital image offers still greater potential for exact realisation of, and access to, works of art, but its ease of manipulation increases the risk of falsification. Reproductions also have a psychological existence as mental constructs. Art and its institutions depend on them, and allow them to create their own authenticity.



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1. Grimm, Herman. ‘Die Umgestaltung des Universitätsvorlesungen über neuere Kunstgeschichte durch die Anwendung des Skioptikons’, Beiträge zur deutschenCulturgeschichte. Berlin, 1897, p.276395.
2. Delacroix, Eugène. Journal, ed. Joubin, A., 3 vols. Paris 1932, vol. 2, entry for 29 July 1854.
3. Athenaeum, 1855 p.1245.
4. Scott, George Gilbert. A Plea for the Faithful Restoration of our Ancient Churches. London, 1850, p.21.
5. Boudon, Philippe. Lived-in Architecture: Le Gorbusier’s Pessac Revisited. London, 1972.
6. For a fuller comparison of the processes see Fawcett, Trevor, ‘Graphic versus photographic in the nineteenth-century reproduction’, Art History vol.9 no. 2, 1986 p.185212.
7. Beaux-Arts, Gazette des 1865 p.316, translated from the original French.
8. Miller’s, Jonathan phrase, quoted by Hughes, Robert in the symposium ‘The one and the many: art and mass reproduction’, Art News vol. 81 November 1982 p.110120.
9. For the impact of digitisation see Hamber, Anthony, ‘Conventional photography vs analogue and digital electronic imaging’, Computers and the History of Art, ed. Hamber, A., Miles, J. and Vaughan, W.. London, 1989, p.2349. Recent technical developments can be followed in magazines like British Journal of Digital Imaging.
10. The paradox is discussed in Lieberman, Ralph, ‘Thoughts of an art historian/photographer on the relationship of his two disciplines’, Art History through the Camera’s Lens, ed. Roberts, Helene E.. Amsterdam, 1995, p.217246. On the ‘unnaturalness’ of photography and the assumptions of picture-making see also Snyder, Joel, ‘Picturing vision’, The Language of Images, ed. Mitchell, W. J. T.. Chicago, 1980.
11. Eitner, Lorenz. Art history and the sense of quality’, Critiques III. New York, Cooper School of Art and Architecture, 1974, p.1336.

Art reproductions and authenticity

  • Trevor Fawcett (a1)


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