New England Glass Works (American, 1818-1888), Black-Amethyst Sinumbra Lamp, 1830-1835, Translucent dark amethyst glass appearing black, pressed, with patinated copper alloy (brass) fittings and iron alloy lamp mechanism, a blown transparent colorless glass shade, ground and wheel-cut, and a transparent blown glass chimney (replaced), 17 1/2 in., 2016.214.
A tale of literary forgery that came to light in the early 21st century was that of the celebrity biographer Lee Israel, who confessed in her memoir, Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2008), that while down on her luck in the 1990s she had forged and sold to collectors hundreds of letters by various notable figures—Louise Brooks, Noël Coward, Dorothy Parker, Humphrey Bogart, and Lillian Hellman among them.
Portrait of a Woman, attributed to Goya (1746-1828). X-ray images taken of this painting in 1954 revealed a portrait of another woman, circa 1790, beneath the surface. X-ray diffraction analysis revealed the presence of zinc white paint, invented after Goya's death. Further analysis revealed that the surface paint was modern and had been applied so as not to obscure the craquelure of the original. After analysis, the conservators left the work as you see it above, with portions of old and new visible, to illustrate the intricacies of art forgery, and the inherent difficulty of detecting it.
Provenance research, or the history of ownership of a work of art, is a regular part of museum practice. The goal of provenance research is to trace the history of an artwork through its owners and locations, from the moment of its creation until today. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art conducts regular, ongoing provenance research on the artwork in its collection.
A common narrative used by art scammers is to say their wife has been looking at your work and really enjoys it. Or, they have a new home and are looking for pieces to decorate it. At first glance, it may seem like a plausible story, but something about it seems abrupt or stunted. If they don’t use your name or any details about the works they are looking at, it is probably not legitimate.
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.
Knoedler’s fantastic tale of fraud begins in the early 1990s on the streets of Manhattan. That’s where a former waiter from Spain, Jose Carlos Bergantiños Diaz, came upon a Chinese artist peddling canvases on the sidewalk. Bergantiños approached the man, Pei-Shen Qian, and said that he had friends who wanted works by esteemed artists but could not afford the real things. Could Pei-Shen duplicate paintings for them? Bergantiños reportedly offered $500 per copy.
In recent weeks, the art world has been rocked by perhaps the biggest forgery scandal to hit the art world since Van Meegeren’s unmasking. The extent of the Old Master forgery ring is as of yet unknown, but Sotheby’s has already issued a refund to the buyer of a $10 million Frans Hals portrait, sold in 2011 in a private sale through London dealer Mark Weiss. James Martin’s Orion Analytical, a Williamstown, Massachusetts-based company which investigates artworks, found modern-day materials in the canvas, proving it to be a forgery.
Art history is rife with high profile scams, such as that of Han van Meegeren, a disillusioned painter who developed a complicated system of baking his Old Master-style work to age it, and subsequently sold $60 million in fake Vermeers to world class museums and Nazi leader Hermann Göring during the late 1930s and early 1940s. (While current art historians are quick to slam his work as obviously inferior, Van Meegeren actually had to paint a “new” Vermeer at trial to prove he had not sold the Nazis a priceless original.)
It is important to note that objects identified as containing a Nazi-era provenance are not assumed to have been looted during the Nazi era or to have been acquired illegally. Rather, by making this information available to the public, the Nelson-Atkins provides an opportunity for additional information to be made available and fulfills its mission to steward responsibly the collections in its care.
Whenever I am approached by someone to buy my art, who I did not know, I always insist that I be paid through PayPal or Payoneer. After that, I usually never heard from those people again. Another way for an artist to protect themselves in a transaction like this is to insist to have the transaction handled by an escrow agent. The final transaction, shipping etc. is not completed until all of the funds have been verified and cleared. Any legitimate buyer or collector of art will not have a problem dealing in either manner. Anyone who objects to this way of doing business with you is someone who you do not want to do business with!
The 2,200 photographs by masters like Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston and Edward Steichen — more than could fit into an 18-wheeler — were paid for, court papers say, with some of the $78 million that the authorities say Mr. Rivkin got from defrauding oil companies like Shell, Exxon, and Mobil. Mr. Rivkin, who has not been charged with any crimes, was last thought to be in Spain and had arranged to have the photos shipped there.
Consistent with general AML principles, the AML Standards stress that beneficial ownership may be obscured behind multiple layers of intermediaries, such as shell companies or offshore companies involving trusts. The AML Standards further provide a list of possible red flags for identifying increased risks of money laundering presented by a client that:
In the early 2000s, Brazilian financier Edmar Cid Ferreira had embezzled funds from his business empire — and he needed a way to hide the money. He found it in Hannibal, a painting by American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Appraised by the art world at $8 million, Ferreira showed up at New York’s Kennedy Airport in 2007 with the painting and a bill of lading listing the value as $100.
The Internet has put a new spin on the old crime. The rise of online banking institutions, anonymous online payment services and peer-to-peer (P2P) transfers with mobile phones have made detecting the illegal transfer of money even more difficult. Moreover, the use of proxy servers and anonymizing software makes the third component of money laundering, integration, almost impossible to detect—money can be transferred or withdrawn leaving little or no trace of an IP address.
The scandal kicked off with the high drama of French authorities seizing Venus by Lucas Cranach the Elder—owned by the Prince of Liechtenstein—from the Caumont Centre d’Art in Aix, and spread through the art world like wildfire, taking Orazio Gentileschi’s David with the Head of Goliath, and Velázquez’s Portrait of Cardinal Borgia with it, calling the authenticity of the Old Master works into question.
In this context, the provenance can occasionally be the detailed history of where an object has been since its creation, 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.
No forgery to attain recognition is better known than the “Thomas Rowley” poems of Thomas Chatterton (1752–70), which the youthful author attempted to pass off as the work of a medieval cleric. These poems, which caused a scholarly feud for many years, were influential in the Gothic revival. Chatterton, however, enjoys a place in English letters as a creative genius in his own right. The more conventional forger William Henry Ireland (1777–1835) cheerfully manufactured Shakespearean documents until his forged “lost” tragedy Vortigern and Rowena was laughed off the stage at the Drury Lane Theatre, London, in 1796. More fortunate was Charles Bertram, who produced an account of Roman Britain by “Richard of Westminster,” an imaginary monk. Bertram’s dupe, the eccentric antiquary Dr. William Stukeley, identified the monk with the chronicler Richard of Cirencester, known to have resided at Westminster in the 14th century. Bertram’s forgery (cunningly published in a volume containing the works of two genuine ancient authors, Gildas and Nennius) had an enormous influence upon historians of Roman Britain, lasting into the 20th century. Equally influential were the Ossianic poems of James Macpherson (1736–96), which influenced the early period of the Romantic movement. To what degree Macpherson’s poems are to be regarded as spurious is not certain. Denounced in his own day they were possibly, as he claimed, based upon a genuine oral tradition of Scottish Gaelic poetry; but there can be little doubt that they were carefully edited and interpolated by their collector.
In a market depressed and made anxious by fakes, investors and private collectors may start pulling out, leaving more room for museums to buy at prices they can afford, which in turn would be good news for any art lover who depends on our public collections. And, since museums don’t have to think about net worth and reselling (let’s forget the Detroit case for a moment), they can live with the risk of maybe having bought a fake. Their audience might still enjoy and learn from the new “Rothko” in the collection.
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art uses a variation of the format suggested by The AAM Guide to Provenance Research (Washington, D.C., 2001). Provenance is listed in chronological order, beginning with the earliest known owner. Methods of transactions and relationships between owners, if known, are indicated at the beginning of each line. The term “With” precedes a dealer’s name to indicate their commercial status when the method of their acquisition is unknown. Life dates for private collectors are included in parentheses and dates of ownership, when known, are indicated at the end of each line. Uncertain information is preceded by the terms “possibly” or “probably.” Footnotes are used to document or clarify information.
However, even this careful process can be faked by those knowledgeable enough. In our collector's reading list, we feature a book called Provenance that examines how two people were able to sell forged art at the highest levels. Their documentation for the inauthentic pieces they sold was so expertly faked that more obvious flaws in the pieces themselves were overlooked.
The fact that experts do not always agree on the authenticity of a particular item makes the matter of provenance more complex. Some artists have even accepted copies as their own work - Picasso once said that he "would sign a very good forgery". Camille Corot painted more than 700 works, but also signed copies made by others in his name, because he felt honored to be copied. Occasionally work that has previously been declared a forgery is later accepted as genuine; Vermeer's Young Woman Seated at the Virginals had been regarded as a forgery from 1947 until March 2004, when it was finally declared genuine, although some experts still disagree.
We’ll likely never know the provenance of the president’s purported Renoir, but Bloch’s is an example of the seldom-spoken yet widespread practice among institutions to forge famous pieces for collectors who’ve either donated or loaned the original works. In 2010, Henry and late wife Marion Bloch promised the Nelson-Atkins Museum their two-decade-old collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist art. In 2015, two years before the Bloch Collection was slated to debut, the museum began duplicating the works, some in-house, some with external help.
“The biggest [problem] is that . . . Rosales kept walking in [to Knoedler] with unknown works that had no documentation. This should have signaled that the works were fake,” he tells The Post. “It was too good to be true — this heir selling 31 unseen masterpieces by the greatest artists for fractions of their market prices? It happens, but the idea of 31 works going — unnoticed — out of these artists’ studios to a collector is like winning the lottery 31 times.”