I’d almost forgotten about the undated essay I received from Reynolds Morse, probably in 1988-1990. The founder and president of The Salvador Dali Museum and I were corresponding about the massive increase in fake prints attributed to Salvador Dali. We had met and shared what each of us knew and we’d also had meetings with prosecutors who were filing charges and scheduling court cases. Little did I know that in the next five years I’d spent as much as 70% of my time as an expert for almost every federal law enforcement and regulatory agency as well as a great many state and private entities.
The document is titled MEMORANDUM for Prosecutors, Judges and Juries Involved in Dali Art Fraud Cases. The cover page is on the letterhead of The Salvador Dali Foundation, Inc. and IMS Company, Morse’s plastic injection molding company. There is a typed message “With my compliments and gratitude. When evil is Bold Right must be Strong. Ren Morse.”
There is then a hand-written note: “Dear Bernard: Here is the first “final” draft of something I have felt needed by all who are trying to stem the flood of Dali bogus reproductions. Any comments or suggestions will be appreciated to make this more useful. Sincerely, Ren.”
In the opening paragraph, Ren uses a word he coined from which I have always gotten a kick. He refers to “unscrupulous art dealsters (dealer-gangsters),” a concept that was to prove far more true and wide spread than either of us knew at the time.
He goes on to point out that the “dealsters” and their lawyers keep confusing prosecutors and judges with “verbal obfuscations” to “muddy and distort simple facts.” He was so right as he was in his observation that, “…a sort of clandestine art mafia has grown up…” he just didn’t know the extent of the problem. Or, perhaps he did because he then mentions, “the sheer enormity of the multi-billion dollar Dali scams”
Ren Morse, in his memo, addresses the various purported mediums of the genuine and the fake prints. I am especially interested to note something that I had forgotten he said, but which I had probably figured out by then. Dali’s etchings are not etchings, but are drypoints.
He wrote, “Many were by his own hand, and were done between 1934 and 1978. On some plates, professional help was supplied. But in the end, for all practical purposes here, all of his etchings (drypoints) were produced under his own personal supervision and were signed by him for specific clients such as Pierre Argillet and others.”
Unfortunately, the market for Dali prints always gets it wrong and lists all intaglio prints as etchings. The problem is that almost no one knows the difference. Having actually done both, I do. A drypoint is created when the artist scratches the design into the surface of a copper or zinc plate and that plate is inked and polished prior to passing through the press with a piece of paper. The lines in the plate that hold the ink for an etching are created (bitten) by acid and in an engraving they are gouged out of the surface. Each intaglio medium looks sightly different and connoisseurship is required to properly identify the resulting prints.
Salvador Dali chose drypoint because it was immediate. He “drew” on the plate with his diamond point in a totally spontaneous act of creation and did not have to muck around with ground, acid, proofs and all the rest of what he considered the tiresome process of creating an etching.
Does it matter? It does if one is examining a print to discern all of the clues that demonstrate it is a genuine Dali. It does if one is interested in accuracy. It is also one of the many tell-tale signs that an art professional is, or ain’t.
We’ll look further at Reynold Morse’s memo in future postings. In the meantime,don’t refer to “Dali’s etchings”.