‘The Simpsons’: A lesson in art forgery, with Max von Sydow


“The Simpsons” on Fox took a trip into the art market on Sunday’s new episode titled “The War of Art,” which included a lesson in forgery delivered by actor Max von Sydow.

Sunday’s episode echoed a number of real-life art stories, including the case of Wolfgang Beltracchi, the convicted art forger who was recently profiled on “60 Minutes,” as well as the case of a Pierre-Auguste Renoir landscape painting that was purchased at a flea market for $7.

When Homer and Marge realize that the painting they purchased for $20 from the Van Houtens’ yard sale is actually a valuable masterpiece -- the artist is the fictional Johan Oldenvelt -- they conspire to keep the truth from their neighbors and to cash in on the painting, which could be worth $100,000.


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But an auction at “Gavelby’s” goes awry, forcing the Simpsons to authenticate the painting, which leads them to the island where Kirk Van Houten bought the work of art off the wall of a restaurant. There, they meet a career art forger (Von Sydow), who informs them that he created the Oldenvelt painting along with many others.

“Beauty is beauty, whether it hangs on the walls of an art gallery or on a freshman’s wall at Cal State Fullerton,” he tells the Simpsons.

The real-life Beltracchi case involved sophisticated art forgeries perpetrated over decades. The German art forger specialized in imitating the styles of contemporary artists including Max Ernst, Fernand Leger and Andre Derain. Beltracchi and his partner were arrested in 2010 and convicted and sentenced to jail the following year.

Since his release, Beltracchi has been interviewed by a number of journalists, including Bob Simon of “60 Minutes” on CBS. The art forger has also published books, including an autobiography.

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“The Simpsons” episode also echoes a number of real-life flea-market art discoveries, including the case of the $7 Renoir. After the new owner attempted to sell it, the Baltimore Museum of Art claimed that the Renoir was stolen from its premises in 1951.

In January, a court in Virginia decided in favor of the museum. The Renoir painting, titled “Paysage Bords de Seine,” is on view at the museum. Reported estimates had put the painting’s value as high as $100,000.


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