In 2014, during ANTIQUES ROADSHOW’s event in Birmingham, Alabama, Paintings & Drawings appraiser Colleene Fesko met Ty Dodge, the owner of a stunning original portrait by American artist Frederic Remington. The painting depicts Ty’s great-grandfather, Army cavalry captain Lea Febiger, who was a friend of Remington’s and posed for the artist in 1896 in El Paso, Texas, as part of a military series he was producing. Although the painting is now a priceless family heirloom to Ty, it was once the catalyst of a forgery scandal for the Frederic Remington Museum of Art.
In 1938, an agreement was struck between Ty’s grandmother, Frances Febiger Marrack, and the Frederic Remington Museum, in which Marrack would exchange a black-and-white Remington from an art dealer in Boston for the 1896 portrait. Marrack paid the dealer, Ernest Zimmerman, $500 for the black-and-white illustration. After the initial purchase and exchange occurred, Zimmerman convinced the Remington Museum to buy a second black-and-white Remington as part of a bargain deal that would cost the museum only $500 more. All was well until 1971, when the museum discovered that the two black-and-white illustrations were fake. “We don’t know if anybody in this chain ever knew that these were not legitimate Remingtons,” Laura A. Foster, the museum’s director, said in an interview she gave to AL.com in 2015.
Foster went on to say she did “an intense investigation” into the 1938 trade after Ty’s appraisal aired on ROADSHOW earlier that spring. She immediately researched the 1938 board meeting that discussed exchanging the 1896 Remington for the two black-and-white illustrations. She says of the fakes:
“I have been aware of their existence since I came to work here in 1989. We have quite a collection of fakes that people have given us. Hopefully, we haven’t bought many.”
According to Foster, the fake illustrations copy Remington’s style and medium rather than a particular piece of his. She believed that if someone with a background in art looked at the illustrations, they would have identified them as fakes. Thus, Foster presumes that none of the trustees involved in the 1938 deal knew much about art.
Yet, in any event, it was not uncommon at the time to come across a fake Remington piece. As Foster put it:
“In 1938, the world was full of fake Remingtons. Remington has always been a great target for fakes and forgeries.”
And Fesko, who originally appraised this Remington portrait at $600,000 to $800,000, agrees. In this bonus video, Fesko talks more about why Remington was so easy to forge, and why he remains one of the most faked artists in American history.
Hear her full expert take below!