Nevertheless, there are subtle differences in the two versions of the model. First, note that the legs and feet on the birds are disproportionately thick in the questionable model (above right) and that they extend beyond the birds' tails in a manner they do not in the genuine article at left. (We leave aside here the matter of whether the flying birds' legs should extend beyond the tail. One of the ironies here is that, in the questionable model, the position of the feet vis-a-vis the tail is probably more faithful to the anatomy of a flying heron!)
A close-up view of the heads on the
The treatment of the heads in the questionable model is less succecssful. Note that the heads are parallel in the genuine model and that they actually touch - or "collide!" - in what may have been an ultimately unsuccessul effort by imitators to duplicate the original but which could just as easily have been an earlier genuine effort by actual NAO artisans that was subsequently perfected in the model. This decision to have the heads touching may have been dictated by the technical difficulties in getting those long necks and heads to suspend in space as they do in the known model. Lladró artisans are noted not only for their aesthetic but for their technical mastery - their ability to get long arms, legs, necks, and wings to occupy space as if they were suspended in it - or as if the air itself were holding them up. It's one of the telltale problems for counterfeiters, who generally don't have the technical expertise to be able to pull that off. On the other hand, that technical expertise is acquired over time, and it could be that the less successful rendition of the model is simply an earlier version that was later perfected.
I had originally been convinced, when I first wrote this web page, that a cobalt blue NAO mark was so definitively "not right" as to be the sure sign of a fake. Since then, however, I have myself purchased, in an antique shop in Northern New England, two companion models of NAO groupings with blue backstamps that I am absolutely convinced are genuine. Original NAO marks were, of course, etched or imprinted, without color, directly into the porcelain. It could be that the very earliest NAO backstamp, perhaps only used for the shortest of time periods, was actually cobalt blue, a sort of interim stamp before the brand came up with a distinctive dark brown mark color of its own.
In this particular example, I'm not bothered by the "dangling mark" (a term I use in my books on Lladró to describe a backstamp in which the paint chip doesn't completely unfurl). I am bothered by the poor definition of the NAO lettering. Though the pseudo-Greek stylization is faithful to the genuine mark, note the truncated left leg on the "N."
Still, on balance, I'm not as ready as I initially was to conclude that this blue-marked example is a counterfeit. It could, after all, be a very early example of the model, whose coarser modeling aspects were subsequently corrected as NAO artisans became increasingly skilled at making it.
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