Apparently there is a museum in France dedicated to the works of a late 19th- early 20th century painter, Étienne Terrus.
The museum, located in Elne, France, in the Pyrénées, is full of paintings by Terrus.
Or at least many of the 140 paintings are by the artist.
And even more of them are, as has recently been discovered, fakes.
Experts have come in and determined that 82 of the paintings were not executed by Étienne Terrus, who died in 1922.
One of the clues in one of the landscapes: buildings that weren’t built until after the artist died.
You would think that something like that might be noticed.
But you often don’t see something unless you are looking, even if you’re looking right at it. And arguably there have been hundreds of people looking at those paintings, thinking to themselves, “That’s a nice Terrus.”
As the tagline for this site is not “Gouaches Can Change Your Life,” you are probably wondering what the Terrus Museum has to do with anything.
It got me to wondering about how we actually know whether music that we think has been recorded by an individual or a band really is aural evidence of that.
Certainly, the musicians that most of us listen to on a regular basis weren’t even born in 1922. Consequently, for musicians, even those who have died some years ago—Elvis, 1977, for example—there are still contemporaneous witnesses to what was or wasn’t done. That is, were someone to say that they’d just found a significant cache of Elvis recordings, there might be someone who would be able to knock that down in short order.
Of course, there is the question of a musician like Prince, who is said to have recorded everything he ever did in his studio. Would it not be possible for some things to be slipped into that collection that he actually didn’t do? Chances are there is no one who was there each and every day and heard everything (and let’s not forget that he could have simply gone into the studio one day and hit the “Record” button all by himself).
But let’s consider something Terrus-extreme. The Rolling Stones. In The Sun & the Moon & the Rolling Stones, Rich Cohen quotes the producer of Tattoo You, Chris Kimsey, the album released in 1981, as follows:
“Mick and Keith were not talking at the point and they needed an album. I said to their manager, listen, I know of at least six good songs I recorded during previous sessions that were never used. So I went looking for them. It was a labor of love. If I hadn’t been there, that album never would’ve come out. Only I remembered every cut from all the old sessions. ‘Waiting On a Friend’ was from Goats Head Soup. ‘Start Me Up’ was from Some Girls. It was recorded the same day as ‘Miss You.’ It almost ended up in the bin again.”
Certainly that is all music that the band recorded even though the organization of the album isn’t what one ordinarily considers, at least as regards to a band where the members are still living and this isn’t some sort of “best-of” collection. So while we might think of Tattoo You as being a piece onto itself, and although it was released as one, apparently the band didn’t necessarily see it that way.
But what if it turned out that music that we thought was by the Rolling Stones really wasn’t. Let’s imagine that Exile on Main Street was actually created by a group of mimics. We’ve heard the music for years. We know it is by the Stones. But what if it isn’t? Or what if, somehow, some clever producer and engineer took a bunch of discarded tracks and managed to digitally stitch them together, creating something that the Stones performed but never created as such?
Would it sound any different? Would the singing and the playing be somehow changed in an audible way?
While this might sound unthinkable, did the curator of the Terrus museum imagine that he was lining the walls with fakes? Didn’t s/he look at each and every painting, work to authenticate each and every painting, and conclude that those that would be displayed were from the hand of Étienne Terrus?
But now those paintings have been decreed fakes.
Do they look any different?