Provenance can be difficult to determine. The information presented here is intended to be a teaching tool for those interested in provenance research, specifically how to read it and what to look out for in terms of periods and areas of added scrutiny. Beyond introducing readers to the subject, the page also aims to be the new home for information about the Toledo Museum of Art’s recently acquired works of art, especially those that require additional provenance research. The Museum welcomes any information from the public that may help close gaps or provide further information into the history of an object’s ownership.


In the movie-funding case, the scheme involved several participants, 10 countries, mislabeling transactions as “gifts” and “donations,” disguising the origins of the funds, and offshore shell companies. One letter stated that a transfer of $800 million from a Saudi prince to Razak was a “donation.” The head of the criminal operation used correspondent banks to transfer the funds in dollars.

When addressing the efforts to establish an artwork’s provenance history and authenticity under Guideline 4, the AML Guidelines provide that “[i]t is important to obtain and publish in any catalogue or sales document as much information as possible about the artwork, including any known provenance,” and to “check major databases of stolen and looted art and obtain any relevant and available legal documents, witness declarations, [and] expert opinions[.]” In addition to a physical examination of the artwork and a technical analysis and dating of the materials used, “[d]ocuments helpful in establishing ownership and provenance include invoices, receipts, dated photographs, insurance records, valuations, official records, exhibition catalogues, invoices for restoration work, diaries, dated newspaper articles, original signed and dated letters.”
The quality of provenance of an important work of art can make a considerable difference to its selling price in the market; this is affected by the degree of certainty of the provenance, the status of past owners as collectors, and in many cases by the strength of evidence that an object has not been illegally excavated or exported from another country. The provenance of a work of art may vary greatly in length, depending on context or the amount that is known, from a single name to an entry in a scholarly catalogue some thousands of words long.
“There are museums in the past who have wanted to take something of high value down and replace it with a replica, but that’s a behind-the-curtain thing,” says Timothy Carpenter, a supervisor and special agent in the FBI’s art theft program who frequently lectures collectors to do the same. “If you’ve got this $10 million painting that you’re concerned about, you can probably afford to make a $5,000 copy made and hang it. It’s the only guarantee to keep their painting safe if they don’t have security on their residence.”

In the case of photographer Man Ray[25] print production was often poorly managed during his lifetime, and many of his negatives were stolen by people who had access to his studio. The possession of the photo-negatives would allow a forger to print an unlimited number of fake prints, which he could then pass off as original. Fake prints would be nearly indistinguishable from originals, if the same photographic paper was used. Since unused photographic paper has a short (2–5 years) useful life, and the composition of photographic paper was frequently changed, the fakes would have had to be produced not long after the originals.
The fundamental consideration in determining forgery is “intent to deceive.” The act of copying a painting or other work of art is in itself not forgery, nor is the creation of a work “in the style” of a recognized painter, composer, or writer or of a particular historical period. Forgery may be the act not of the creator himself but of the dealer who adds a fraudulent signature or in some way alters the appearance of a painting or manuscript. Restoration of a damaged painting or manuscript, however, is not considered forgery even if the restorer in his work creates a significant part of the total work. Misattributions may result either from honest errors in scholarship—as in the attribution of a work to a well-known artist when the work was in fact done by a painter in his workshop, a pupil, or a later follower—or from a deliberate fraud.
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Seed provenance refers to the specified area in which plants that produced seed are located or were derived. Local provenancing is a position maintained by ecologists that suggests that only seeds of local provenance should be planted in a particular area. However, this view depends on the adaptationist program – a view that populations are universally locally adapted.[63] It is maintained that local seed is best adapted to local conditions, and that outbreeding depression will be avoided. Evolutionary biologists suggest that strict adherence to provenance collecting is not a wise decision because:

The Dutch forger Han van Meegeren employed a combined composite and stylistic procedure when he created seven paintings between 1936 and 1942 based on the work of Johannes Vermeer. In The Supper at Emmaus he combined figures, heads, hands, plates, and a wine jar from various early genuine Vermeers; it was hailed as a masterpiece and the earliest known Vermeer. Ironically, van Meegeren never was detected as a forger. At the end of World War II he was arrested for having sold a painting attributed to Vermeer to one of the enemy and was accused of being a collaborator. He chose to reveal himself as a forger, which was a lesser offense, and proved his confession by painting another “Vermeer” under the eye of the authorities.


In this context, the provenance can occasionally be the detailed history of where an object has been since its creation,[26] as in art history contexts – not just since its modern finding. In some cases, such as where there is an inscription on the object, or an account of it in written materials from the same era, an object of study in archaeology or cultural anthropology may have an early provenance – a known history that predates modern research – then a provenience from its modern finding, and finally a continued provenance relating to its handling and storage or display after the modern acquisition.
The United States passed the Banking Secrecy Act in 1970, requiring financial institutions to report certain transactions to the Department of the Treasury, such as cash transactions above $10,000 or any others they deem suspicious, on a suspicious activity report (SAR). The information the banks provide to the Treasury Department is used by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), which can share it with domestic criminal investigators, international bodies or foreign financial intelligence units.
Forgeries may be detected by the methods of examination formulated by Jean Mabillon, in his great work De re diplomatica (1681), for determining the authenticity of a document by the writing and the style of the terminology. These techniques have developed during three centuries into the modern sciences of paleography and diplomatics, by which various scripts and formulas can be assigned to particular ages and localities, and effective comparison can be made between two examples of handwriting purporting to come from the same pen. Thus it is possible to state that a particular document could not have been written at the date that it bears. In dealing with printed texts, analogous methods are employed.
The United States passed the Banking Secrecy Act in 1970, requiring financial institutions to report certain transactions to the Department of the Treasury, such as cash transactions above $10,000 or any others they deem suspicious, on a suspicious activity report (SAR). The information the banks provide to the Treasury Department is used by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), which can share it with domestic criminal investigators, international bodies or foreign financial intelligence units.
Your documents must be investigated—because they are worth nothing until proven to be authentic. You have to be able to trace the qualified individual’s signature, the artist in the question, or previous owners back to real people. This will help you confirm that the document given to you is not fallacious. Unqualified experts attribute art all the time, and the documents might be completely trustworthy.
When addressing the efforts to establish an artwork’s provenance history and authenticity under Guideline 4, the AML Guidelines provide that “[i]t is important to obtain and publish in any catalogue or sales document as much information as possible about the artwork, including any known provenance,” and to “check major databases of stolen and looted art and obtain any relevant and available legal documents, witness declarations, [and] expert opinions[.]” In addition to a physical examination of the artwork and a technical analysis and dating of the materials used, “[d]ocuments helpful in establishing ownership and provenance include invoices, receipts, dated photographs, insurance records, valuations, official records, exhibition catalogues, invoices for restoration work, diaries, dated newspaper articles, original signed and dated letters.”

We take the stewardship and integrity of our collection seriously, from acquisition to deaccession, and maintain transparency about all of our professional practices. Preserving the world’s cultural heritage is of the utmost importance to collecting institutions. To that end, we publicly share our Collections Management Policy (see here) as well as our commitment to ensuring clear provenance. The donors of the deaccessioned objects or their heirs have been contacted, and none have objected to the sales. And indeed, any future acquisitions made with the funds earned through deaccessioning will acknowledge the original donor in the credit line.
In fact, we are not aware of any judicial decisions addressing whether an error or omission in the listed provenance or exhibition history,4 standing alone, gives rise to a breach of warranty claim under the Uniform Commercial Code. This absence of reported cases has likely given rise to a certain complacency in the art world concerning the legal significance of provenance in connection with art sales. Nevertheless, the art world is not getting less litigious as art values escalate, and it may not be long before the courts are called upon to address this issue.

Price flexibility in the art world is just one of the many advantages for a certain subset of the criminals — money launderers. Other advantages include portability, lack of a paper trail, anonymity, and no regulations. Artwork is lightweight compared to other valuables, like gold and cash. Artwork is bought and sold with minimal paperwork, unlike real estate. Artwork purchases can be anonymous, unlike everything else.

Nearly 40 paintings, supposedly created by some of the most important artists of the 20th century, were all fakes, painted by a struggling artist in his garage in Queens. The fraud might still be going on if it weren't for an art historian Jack Flam -- who was the first person to uncover the scheme and blow the whistle to the government, putting the brakes on an $80 million con -- the most audacious and lucrative art fraud in U.S. history.
An expert certification can mean the difference between an object having no value and being worth a fortune. Certifications themselves may be open to question. Jacques van Meegeren forged the work of his father Han van Meegeren (who in his turn had forged the work of Vermeer). Jacques sometimes produced a certificate with his forgeries stating that a work was created by his father.
The layout of the book is unconventional, but the material itself is fascinating. This, like the recent movie "Big Eyes" and the works of contemporary artists like Banksy and Koons stimulates the age-old debate of what art "is". Aristotle's definition (pg. 108) seems amazingly accurate over 2,000 years later. Because so much is covered in such a brief manner, it certainly will lead me to more detailed books and primary sources amply provided in Charney's "Selected Bibliography." I find the effects of mass psychology (the willingness to be fooled that greed begets), institutional jealousies, the arrogance of the "connoisseur" class, and the exclusivity of gallerists - all fascinating - and all ample motivation for the revenge of the forgers.
More typically, provenance will be scrutinized where questions of authenticity arise. A few years back, an issue arose concerning the authenticity of a century-old sculpture attributed to a 20th-century artist of iconic stature. The work was sold to a prominent collector through an auction house with a certificate of authenticity from a qualified and appropriately-credentialed scholar of the artist’s work. According to the provenance provided at the time of sale, the work had been acquired in Paris after World War II by an art history professor from an Ivy League university. When questions of authenticity arose several years later, an Internet search and a few telephone calls to the university revealed that no such art history professor ever existed. Also left off the provenance was the fact that just months prior to the multi-million dollar sale to the prominent collector, the work had been purchased from an obscure antique store owned and operated by someone who had served jail time for art insurance fraud. Had these “errors and omissions” in the provenance been discovered at the time of the sale, the sale itself and several years of costly litigation would have been avoided.
John Drewe was able to pass off as genuine paintings, a large number of forgeries that would have easily been recognised as such by scientific examination. He established an impressive (but false) provenance and because of this galleries and dealers accepted the paintings as genuine. He created this false provenance by forging letters and other documents, including false entries in earlier exhibition catalogues.[5]
Recently, some countries in Europe, including Luxembourg and Switzerland, have passed laws to clamp down on money laundering in the art market. Starting in 2016, Switzerland will cap cash transactions at 100,000 Swiss francs ($135,000). Payments above that cash limit will have to be made by credit card, creating a paper trail, or the seller will have to carry out due diligence to ensure the legal origins of the funds.
The history of the arts reveals instances of persons who have used forgery either to gain recognition of their own craftsmanship or to enjoy deceiving the critics who had rejected their genuine work. A legend told about Michelangelo illustrates this point. At the age of 21, he carved in marble a small sleeping Eros, or Cupid, based on ancient Roman works that he admired. Some time later this carving was sold as an antique to the well-known collector Cardinal Riario, who prized it highly. When Michelangelo stepped forward and claimed the work as his own he won immediate fame as a young man who could rival the work of the greatly venerated ancient sculptors.
* FIRST AND FOREMOST: NEVER BID ON OR BUY ART WITHOUT SEEING THE PROVENANCE FIRST. Sellers may say they have provenance, but will only show or give it to winning bidders or buyers after they purchase the art. Other common excuses for not showing provenance include protecting the privacy of the previous owners, keeping bidders from contacting previous owners, or keeping it private. In most cases, the real reason for not showing the provenance is that it's questionable in nature or worse yet, it doesn't even exist. If the seller won't let you see it up front, don't bid and don't buy. Period.
The paintings were sent "in respect to a money-laundering transaction," which was "related to this drug deal," she clarified, adding that "it was the money-laundering debt that Clemente was repaying." The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration believes that oil paintings are "a way in which drug dealers launder money. It is an investment for their drug transaction proceeds," she said.
This scam works for the scammer because the transaction will take time due to the distance involved for both parties.  To the unwary artist, the credit card transaction will go through, the art is shipped, only for the artist to find out later that credit card number was stolen and or that the check was no good and that the artist will not be receiving their funds.  Then as a consequence of all this, the artist is out of their art and the costs involved, plus the cost of the shipping. 
IN Queens, a guy working in his garage churned out “Pollocks” and “Rothkos” that fooled the experts, sold for millions of dollars and helped destroy the Knoedler & Company gallery, as we learned in recent months. In China, thousands of artisans have forged the country’s artistic treasures, both ancient and modern, according to a report in The New York Times.
Many works of art acknowledged to be authentic carry some risk that in the future questions of authenticity may arise. After all, experts sometimes change their minds, new experts may disagree with the old consensus, and new facts or technologies may emerge. An impeccable provenance that can be verified serves to mitigate that investment risk. On the other hand, we have seen that a dubious provenance may itself be used as circumstantial evidence that the work is a fake. Thus, even where authenticity is not currently an issue, an inaccurate or incomplete provenance still could give rise to a claim in the future.
While these laws were helpful in tracking criminal activity, money laundering itself wasn't made illegal in the United States until 1986, with the passage of the Money Laundering Control Act. Shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the USA Patriot Act expanded money-laundering efforts by allowing investigative tools designed for organized crime and drug trafficking prevention to be used in terrorist investigations.
Mr. Ellis serves as Director of Business Development and Marketing of AML RightSource. He has over 15 years of experience in business development, marketing, and professional consulting within the healthcare and financial services industries. Mr. Ellis earned his undergraduate degree from Bowling Green State University and obtained his juris doctor from Cleveland State University – Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.
Of course, beyond AML-related process concerns, any art dealer — just like any business person — always must remember that just about any financial transaction that involves proceeds known to have originated from illegal activity represents a criminal money laundering offense.  Stated otherwise, even if the BSA is not expanded to include dealers in art and antiquities, those in the U.S. art industry still need to bear in mind, in extreme examples, the omnipresent federal criminal code.  Sometimes, the provenance of the funds can be more critical than the provenance of the art.
The potential role of high-end art and antiquities in money laundering schemes has attracted increasing attention over the last several years, particularly as the prices for such objects steadily rise and a tightening global enforcement and regulatory net has rendered other possible avenues for money laundering increasingly less attractive. The effort to subject U.S. dealers in art and antiquities to Anti-Money-Laundering (“AML”) obligations recently has gained new life.  As we blogged, the House Financial Services Committee just released three proposed bills to codify many of the reform ideas that have been swirling around the Bank Secretary Act (“BSA”) and AML and Combating the Financing of Terrorism (“CFT”) laws.  One of the bills — entitled as the “To make reforms to the Federal Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money laundering laws, and for other purposes” —  catalogues various detailed provisions seeking to reform the BSA and AML laws.  Nestled admist all of the other, generally higher-profile proposals (such as the creation of a BSA whistleblower program), one short section of this bill simply expands the list of defined “financial institutions” covered by the BSA to include “dealers in art or antiquities,” and then states that the Secretary of the Treasury shall issue implementing regulations within 180 days of the bill’s enactment.
Despite those advances, the detection of fraudulent art remains a complex undertaking. It is particularly difficult to weed out forgeries in the work of modern artists whose large numbers of works and superstar statuses make them especially attractive to those who commit fraud. Pablo Picasso, for example, was a prolific artist, creating a huge number of works on canvas and on paper as well as sculptures and ceramics. Considering his vast output and the varying styles and media in which he worked, scholars have had difficulty establishing a definitive corpus for him. The prestige associated with owning a Picasso and the difficulty of attribution, especially for a drawing, made and continues to make fraudulent representations of his work hard to police.
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