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Eric Hebborn

1 Dec

Eric Hebborn, the man who, in chapter 2, is bruited as a possible fourth victim of the obsidian mirror murderer, was a talented artist who became more famous as a picture faker than for the work he did under his own name.

Born into poverty in London in 1934, his childhood was spent in and out of reform school. He showed talent as an artist and in 1959 was awarded a scholarship to the British School in Rome. He accepted (in part to avoid conscription) and spent the next two years there. It was in Rome that he met Anthony Blunt  (see The Cambridge Five,November) then Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures and Director of the Courtauld Institute. He and Blunt would become lifelong friends, though not particularly close ones.

According to Hebborn’s autobiography, it was during the sixties that he began his career as a forger, falling into it quite casually. He took great pride in his ability to imitate the style of specific Old and Not-So-Old Masters to the point where even many experts were fooled. But in 1978 he was unmasked by a curator at the National Gallery in Washington D.C. Hebborn didn’t confess until 1984, and always resisted attempts to scapegoat him as a rogue agent. He was right: the three drawings which had led to his unmasking had all been sold through the same dealer: the fact that this dealer hadn’t noticed anything amiss suggests he either had no business styling himself as an `expert’ or that he had tacitly colluded with Hebborn. It would have been impossible for him to do what he did for as long as he did it without the tacit consent (if not the active collusion) of the art dealers who were the principal conduits for passing his forgeries to the public. But his unapologetic stance earned him many enemies, as did his eagerness to demonstrate his techniques in the media: they shone an unpleasantly harsh light on the seamier workings of the gallery world. On January 8 1996, he was found lying in the street in Rome,his head bashed in with a `blunt instrument.’ He died on January 11, never having regained consciousness.

In Stone of the Goddess, he is a peripheral figure: an associate of the art-trafficking Qarmati Emir and Anthony Blunt, he is also a possible victim of the obsidian mirror murderer, or at the least of the same forces that caused the three subsequent murders.

Here is the only video of Hebborn available on Youtube: unfortunately, it is in Italian without subtitles. It also has a mildly ridiculous introduction by tarty actress Claudia Kohl, which is almost worth watching all by itself.