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New Objects on Display in Friend or Faux: Imitation & Invention
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), autograph letter (polygraph): Monticello, to Gilbert Stuart, 9 August, 1814.

PHILADELPHIA, PA.- On March 16, 2010, a second rotation of objects will be installed in the exhibition Friend or Faux: Imitation and Invention from Innocent to Fraudulent, now on view at the Rosenbach Museum & Library. The major exhibition, which opened in November and will be on display through July 11, 2010, explores the notion of authenticity across a range of periods and media. From innocent copies of artwork made as family mementos to illegal forgeries intended to fool even the most seasoned scholar, Friend or Faux engages visitors in the stories behind the museum’s collection of copies, imitations and forgeries. Who created them? Why were they acquired? The exhibition addresses these questions and more, demonstrating that both friend and faux can be useful tools for understanding the past.

New exhibition highlights include a faux playbill from Ford’s Theatre from 1865. According to affidavits from the owner of the theater, this playbill was picked up off the floor near President Abraham Lincoln's chair after the assassination. Despite the affidavits, the playbill is not in fact an original. After Lincoln’s death, many people wanted mementos of the tragedy and this is an example of a so-called "Buckingham reprint," named after the Ford's Theatre doorkeeper who sold such facsimiles.

Another new object in the exhibition is a letter from Thomas Jefferson sent to the artist Gilbert Stuart in 1814. Jefferson wrote the letter to retrieve a portrait of himself that the artist created for the purpose of having print copies made. It was recently discovered that the letter was produced on Jefferson’s mechanical copying device called a polygraph, yet Jefferson ironically speaks of the value of excellent originals versus inferior copies within the letter itself.

Objects featured in Friend or Faux date from the fifteenth to the twentieth century, spanning over five hundred years of history. Presented in five sections, across two galleries, the exhibition begins with Copies, which explores objects made without the intent to deceive, such as a family memento, an artist’s homage to a mentor, or a replacement for a missing object. Local Legends looks at how some objects take on stories through no fault of their own. Objects created with the intent to deceive are exposed in Forgeries, while How Much is Real? questions when an object is no longer what it purports to be (if a missing page in a hundred-page book is replaced, the book is mostly authentic; what if twenty were replaced?). Attribution takes on how works are attributed to an artist, author, or period of manufacture.

Some of the objects featured in Friend or Faux were acquired with full knowledge of their history while others may have fooled even Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach, co-founder of the Rosenbach Museum & Library. Additional objects on display include:

• The Rosenbach’s genuine copy of the 1640 Bay Psalm Book, the first book printed in what is now the United States, which provided forensic evidence in a notorious forgery case that included two murders.

• William Henry Ireland’s infamous forgeries of Shakespeare, which range from love letters to entire manuscripts of plays. Ireland found many people ready to believe in his fabricated Shakespeare documents.

• Thomas Sully’s portrait of renowned Philadelphia merchant Michael Gratz, and a copy of it made by Sully’s own daughter.

• Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, from the library of his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne.

• Manuscript facsimiles of rare American pamphlets made by Dr. Rosenbach’s uncle.

• A Bellarmine jug, a genuine Elizabethan object, which by the mid-20th century had an unusual legend attached to the piece. It was claimed to be the “Earl of Oxford’s jug,” owned by Edward de Vere, whom some insist was the true author behind Shakespeare’s works. Under scrutiny, this legend falls apart.

The exhibition features an audio program featuring commentary from project experts. Visitors can check out MP3 players from the museum, or download the audio tracks for use on personal MP3 player devices in advance via the Friend or Faux exhibition page on museum's website.

Friend or Faux is collaboratively curated by the Rosenbach Museum & Library’s Judith M. Guston, Curator and Director of Collections; Elizabeth E. Fuller, Librarian; and Kathy Haas, Assistant Curator.

The Rosenbach curatorial team is joined by a group of experts who provide commentary on some of the objects and exhibition themes. Project experts include: Nicolas Barker, editor, The Book Collector, co-author of the 1990 British Library exhibition catalog Fake: The Art of Deception; Jack Lynch, Associate Professor of English, Rutgers University, author of Becoming Shakespeare: The unlikely afterlife that turned a provincial playwright into the bard, which includes chapters on Shakespeare forgeries; Jude Robison, Philadelphia Center for the Book, an expert on artists’ books; Ed Redmond, reference specialist at the Library of Congress; Carol Soltis, Consulting Curator, Center for American Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, a specialist on the paintings of Thomas Sully and his circle; and Anne Verplanck, Consulting Curator and former Curator of Prints and Paintings at Winterthur.

Rosenbach Museum & Library | Friend or Faux | Judith M. Guston | Elizabeth E. Fuller | Kathy Haas |

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