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College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

Center for Art Collection Ethics

Ellingen Stash Native American bowl

Center for Art Collection Ethics


Terrus Museum
May 8, 2018

The promise and perils of local heritage

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.

Photo Credit: Visitors exploring the museum dedicated to the French painter Étienne Terrus in Elne, France, on Saturday, one day after it reopened with a significantly reduced collection; taken by Raymond Roig/Agence France-Presse. Retrieved from