There are many forms of provenance documentation. A signed statement of authenticity from the artist or an expert on the artist is ideal. An original gallery sales receipt, receipt directly from the artist, or an appraisal from an expert in the era are also good options. Unfortunately, anything can be copied or falsified, but these are generally good options.
The innocuous nature of these copies gets overshadowed by the explosive scandals that do rock the art world from time to time. Recent headlines include the Modigliani exhibition in Genoa, which was shut down this summer after 30 percent of the paintings were alleged to be forgeries, and the Sotheby’s $10.6 million sale of a fake Frans Hals a year ago. Legally, Lowy clients are formally required to acknowledge that the piece it is a copy and will not be used unlawfully, but just in case, the firm’s contract indemnifies the company against any potential wrongdoing. “There is certainly fraudulent behavior out there,” says co-owner Brad Shar. “We wanted to make sure that we were legally protected.”
In summer 2009, ARCA - the Association for Research into Crimes against Art - began offering the first postgraduate program dedicated to the study of art crime. The Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection includes coursework that discusses art fakes and forgery. Education on art crime also requires research efforts from the scholarly community through analysis on fake and forged artworks.
Archaeology and anthropology researchers use provenience to refer to the exact location or find spot of an artifact, a bone or other remains, a soil sample, or a feature within an ancient site, whereas provenance covers an object's complete documented history. Ideally, in modern excavations, the provenience is recorded in three dimensions on a site grid with great precision, and may also be recorded on video to provide additional proof and context. In older work, often undertaken by amateurs, only the general site or approximate area may be known, especially when an artifact was found outside a professional excavation and its specific position not recorded. The term provenience appeared in the 1880s, about a century after provenance. Outside of academic contexts, it has been used as a synonymous variant spelling of provenance, especially in American English.
Often a thorough examination (sometimes referred to as Morellian Analysis) of the piece is enough to determine authenticity. For example, a sculpture may have been created obviously with modern methods and tools. Some forgers have used artistic methods inconsistent with those of the original artists, such as incorrect characteristic brushwork, perspective, preferred themes or techniques, or have used colors that were not available during the artist's lifetime to create the painting. Some forgers have dipped pieces in chemicals to "age" them and some have even tried to imitate worm marks by drilling holes into objects (see image, right).
To combat these problems The Authentication in Art Foundation was established in 2012 by experts from different fields involved with the authenticity of art. The aim of the foundation is to bring together experts from different specialities to combat art forgery. Among its members are noted experts such as David Bomford, Martin Kemp, and Mauricio Seracini.
Ultraviolet rays readily reveal additions or alterations to a painting, since the varnish layers and some of the paint layers fluoresce to different colours. Ultraviolet is also used in the examination of marble sculpture. Old marble develops a surface that will fluoresce to a yellow-greenish colour, whereas a modern piece or an old surface recently recut will fluoresce to a bright violet. Infrared rays can penetrate thin paint layers in an oil painting to reveal underpainting that may disclose an earlier painting on the same canvas, or perhaps a signature that has been painted out and covered by a more profitable one. X rays are used to examine the internal structure of an object. A carved wooden Virgin supposedly of the 15th century but revealing modern machine-made nails deep inside is obviously a fraud. A forger usually works for the surface effect and is not concerned with the internal structures.
At any point in a work of art's history, its authenticity can come into question. Often, art is accompanied by documentation, commonly known as provenance, that confirms its authenticity mainly through ownership history. Good provenance (ownership history) leaves no doubt that a work of art is genuine and by the artist who it is stated to be by or whose signature it bears. Unfortunately, numerous forged or otherwise misrepresented works of art are offered for sale with fake or questionable provenance at online auctions, at fixed-price art websites, and at bricks-and-mortar establishments. But nowhere is the proliferation of art with problematic provenance more pervasive than at online auctions.
In the composite fraud, or pastiche, the forger combines copies of various parts of another artist’s work to form a new composition and adds a few connecting elements of his own to make it a convincing presentation. This type of forgery is more difficult to detect than the copy. Such a combining of various elements from different pieces can be very deceptive, because a creative artist often borrows from his own work. In fact, the similarity of a figure or an object in a forgery to that in a well-known work of art often adds to the believability of the new creation.
Other paintings are now also implicated, including a Lucas Cranach the Elder, from the collection of the Prince of Liechtenstein, that was seized by French authorities from the Caumont Centre d’Art in Aix in March. An Orazio Gentileschi painting on lapis lazuli, also sold by Weiss, and a purported Parmigianino have been identified as suspect as well. Rumor has it that works by up to 25 different Old Master paintings may be involved. (For a break-down on what we know so far, read “The Frans Hals Forgery Scandal, Explained.”)
Also the documents supposedly supporting the authenticity of the art were forged. According to the art fraud detective, the fraudulent art pieces looked like they had been purchased in a dollar store because they were so bad. When the police searched his one-room condo, some of the works still were wet with paint. At the time of his arrest, another buyer filed a complaint that the piece she purchased from him was a forgery (Moore, 2004).
The wealthy figured this out in a big way back in the 1980s, giving rise to ‘art stars’ valued in the millions. And with the increasing popularity and geographical scope of biennials and art fairs in the 1990s, rich people all over the world now have access to seas of multi-million dollar investments that can be rolled up and stored just about anywhere.
The United States similarly requires all cash transactions of $10,000 or more to be reported. Still, laundering involving art tends to be handled case by case. Federal prosecutors, who usually discover art-related laundering through suspicious banking activity or illegal transport across borders, have worked closely with other countries and aggressively used their powers under civil law to confiscate art that they can establish is linked to a crime, even in the absence of a criminal conviction.
"Katzen and Sack indicated to the undercover agent that they could resell the paintings overseas as part of the money-laundering scheme," said the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, Michael J. Sullivan. The undercover sting investigation, apparently prompted by an informant's tip, was conducted by the U.S. Customs Service and the FBI.
Copies, replicas, reproductions and pastiches are often legitimate works, and the distinction between a legitimate reproduction and deliberate forgery is blurred. For example, Guy Hain used original molds to reproduce several of Auguste Rodin's sculptures. However, when Hain then signed the reproductions with the name of Rodin's original foundry, the works became deliberate forgeries.
The victims of art fraud are the artists who own the works, collectors who are defrauded through purchase of forged works, and museums that may use public or donated money to buy fraudulent works of art or works with a falsified provenance. Countries that lose valuable works of art to the international art market under false pretenses are also subject to art fraud.