My favorite found object caused me a lot of speculation and confusion, but I still love it to this day. While writing a dissertation on the “flaneur” or urban stroller, I was well-immersed in the art and literature of the picturesque landscape-you know, the bucolic painter or writer who gazes in the distance and freeze-frames the scene. There was a long tradition that became even more fervent as industry started to encroach on the countryside. For example, while Rousseau waxes ecstatic about the pleasures of botanization, he interrupts his poetic speech when he hears a recurrent clicking sound. This turns out to be a stocking factory humming busily in a clearing. Oh well.
At any rate, these stories had been on my mind although I embarqued on the more Surrealist quest to find baffling found objects in the flea market, on this day, Vanves. I was near finished, a bit discouraged because most of the vendors that day were flogging overpriced trash and there were few cheap thrills to be found. But then I spotted a large 19th-century print in ragged condition on a ragged blanket. The landscape artist was priced even less than I would hope.
I feigned boredom and quickly paid up. Then, after moving further away to examine the loot, I saw the signature-NADAR-and near swooned. This was a providential piece of luck. I imagined the worth of my prized found object, but could also scarcely imagine parting with it.
I’m also hardly a sucker for this things. I was skeptical, sure. But it didn’t look like a cheap poster, even a vintage one. The backing was old and slighly moldy. It had been made well and preserved competently, at least for a while in its history.
When I set out to verify I got acquainted with the commercial antique world and consulted a number of experts. Most hemmed and hawed. The signature was exact. Nadar’s writing was notable for even a few laymen. He had been such a showman that his flourish in everything he did was legendary.
Finally, however, I found a photography expert in the Marais who delivered the blow with a fair degree of admiration for what it was. It was not real. But the counterfitter had gone through a large amount of trouble and expense to photograph the photograph with the best equipment of his time. The image was blurred in the places that pointed to picture of a picture. And it was backed and blown up with care. The signature forgery was expert, perhaps a bit too dark and the ink too thick. But still a masterpiece.
I was not overly disillusioned at my loss of the great lifetime find. In fact, the reversal made my object all the more worth cherishing.
Nadar was obsessed with all kinds of technical derring do in photography-aerial shots, portraits of difficult divas, you name it. He was an afficionado of urbanism yet made his country painter a significant subject. An anachronism that was appealing enough to counterfeit for a city customer.
The moral of the story has something to do with the counterfeit nature of nostalgia.