“Pierre Brassau,” at the time known as Peter, was a four- year-old common chimpanzee from Sweden’s Borås Djurpark. Axelsson persuaded his keeper to give him a brush and paint and, after Peter had created several paintings, he chose the best four and arranged to have them exhibited at the Gallerie Christinae in Göteborg, Sweden, under the pretence that they were the work of a previously unknown French artist named “Pierre Brassau” in order to test whether critics could tell the difference between true avant-garde modern art and the work of a non-human primate.
While one critic observed that “only an ape could have done this”, most praised the works. Journalist Rolf Anderberg of the Göteborgs-Posten wrote, “Brassau paints with powerful strokes, but also with clear determination. His brush strokes twist with furious fastidio- usness. Pierre is an artist who performs with the delicacy of a ballet dancer.” After the hoax was revealed, Anderberg insisted that Peter’s work was “still the best in the exhibition”. A private collector even bought one of the paintings for US$90 (equivalent to $786 in 2021).