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The Promise and Peril of Local Heritage

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Elizabeth Campbell

Director of the Center for Art Collection Ethics

Isabel Folck

Center for Art Collections Ethics Graduate Assistant

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Retrieved from

Retrieved from

A picturesque town in the South of France finds itself in the midst of a cultural scandal. Elne , “City of Arts and Culture,” is home to a small museum dedicated to local artist Etienne Terrus (1857-1922), whose illustrious friends included Matisse, Maillol and Derain. Over the past twenty years, the municipality spent some €160,000 collecting the artist’s works, and invested thousands of euros restoring the paintings and renovating the museum facilities. But there is a problem: local art historian Eric Forcada recently determined that 82 of 140 pictures are forgeries, most likely acquired since 2013. 

The case of the Terrus museum illustrates the pressures faced by small towns, in France and elsewhere, to draw tourists through their art and heritage. Municipalities must be willing to invest in curators and other experts who will ensure ethical acquisition practices, including authentication and provenance research.

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