The idea of three sixtysomething Russian brothers earning their keep by painting fake masterpieces in Berlin might sound like an off-Broadway farce, but that reality belongs to Mikhail, Yevgeny and Semyon Posin. In fact, their knack for creating copies of Claude Monet, Vincent Van Gogh, William Turner, Leonardo da Vinci and other artistic greats for commercial purposes has left them with little time to work on their own art. Raised in Siberia, the trio first studiously painted imitations as part of their training at Leningrad Arts Academy. In 1984, they fled communist rule to relocate to Berlin, where they initially worked for other galleries before opening the Art Posin gallery in 2001.
In step with their scholarly approach, they allow themselves only the amount of time the original artist took to complete a specific work. “If an artist only needed one month to do it, that’s what we do. We try to climb into the skin of the artist,” Mikhail Posin explained.
They now produce 80 paintings a year, with each taking anywhere from one month to 18 months to complete and selling for about $1,000 and up. Many of their clients first caught a glimpse of their knockoffs at The Forgery Museum, which houses 145 of their creations and attracts 50,000 visitors each year to the northern Germany space that opened in 2007. But the Posin’s clients (many of whom hail from Japan, Australia, the U.S. and Germany) need not question whether the paintings are authentic. Each is marked on the back as a reproduction, in compliance with the law. That still did not deter one buyer from trying to resell a William Turner copy as an original to an art collector in Antwerps in 2001. The ploy landed him in jail.
On occasion, clients ask that images of family members be added to, say, the Mona Lisa. Others buy replicas of prized art they already own, so that the original piece can be stored in a safe. While there’s no disputing the brothers are professional copycats, Mikhail Posin bristled at the mention of “copies.” “He said, “We paint pictures — not copies — a picture with a soul. Every picture has a soul, and we try to do that. A picture has to be alive.”