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.

According to former art consultant Beth Fiore, people don’t normally buy art with cash in the US; “Cash payments for art happen in Russia [and the] Middle East” more often. So if you’re keeping your fortune under your mattress and don’t live in either of those places, you’ll need to get your money into a bank account without alerting the authorities. One way to do that is by smurfing. Despite the mental image of a blue cartoon character riding a surfboard that you may have conjured, smurfing means depositing money into a bank account or several bank accounts by breaking it up in to many small amounts that are deposited at different times, by different people. US banks must report any deposits over $10,000 to the IRS, so in order to stay sneaky, you’ll need to make a series of deposits that are less than that amount. You can hire “smurfs” to help you, who are often ordinary people willing to make an extra buck by opening up a joint bank account in their name, that you or your company has access to, and depositing money into it every day.
On the night of St Patrick's Day in 1990 when the attention of Boston was focused elsewhere, thieves entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and made off with art valued at $500 million, including three Rembrandts, one of only 34 known paintings by Vermeer, and works by Manet and Degas. Because the eccentric Isabella insisted in her will that nothing be changed in the museum (nothing!), the empty frames remain on the walls as a sad reminder of what has been lost.
Aging (artwork) Anastylosis Arrested decay Architecture Cradling (paintings) Detachment of wall paintings Desmet method Historic paint analysis Imaging of cultural heritage Inpainting Kintsugi Leafcasting Lining of paintings Mass deacidification Mold control and prevention in libraries Overpainting Paper splitting Radiography of cultural objects Reconstruction (architecture) Rissverklebung Textile stabilization Transfer of panel paintings UVC-based preservation

Rapid and dramatic rises—and collapses—in price are bad things for money laundering whose sole purpose is to find a relatively stable vehicle to mask the source of funds. Money launderers are not looking to make a profit on their purchases let alone a killing. In fact, a money launderer is willing to take a loss on the vehicle that hides the illicit source of the funds because that is the price of washing the money. If a money launderer buys something with dirty money that has the potential to be unsalable for clean money, it doesn’t work. Art, even some of the world’s best art, is often temporarily unsalable for a variety of real and legitimate reasons.
In order to fool inexperienced buyers, unscrupulous sellers often say they have provenance or documented ownership histories that they claim confirms the authenticity of bogus art. In some cases, this concocted provenance appears to date all the way back to the original artists themselves. Before bidding on or buying any art, your job is to make sure any such provenance offered by sellers is correct, legitimate, verifiable and does in fact attest to the authorship of the art. (Problem art may also be accompanied by questionable Certificates of Authenticity. To evaluate a Certificate of Authenticity or COA, read Is Your Certificate of Authenticity Worth the Paper It's Printed On?)

Evidence of provenance in the more general sense can be of importance in archaeology. Fakes are not unknown, and finds are sometimes removed from the context in which they were found without documentation, reducing their value to science. Even when apparently discovered in situ, archaeological finds are treated with caution. The provenience of a find may not be properly represented by the context in which it was found (e.g. due to stratigraphic layers being disturbed by erosion, earthquakes, or ancient reconstruction or other disturbance at a site. Artifacts can also be moved through looting as well as trade, far from their place of origin and long before modern rediscovery. Further research is often required to establish the true provenance of a find, and what the relationship is between the exact provenience and the overall provenance.

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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.