Art forgery. Boston. The Gardner heist. Degas. A woman artist-protagonist. The personal letters of Isabella herself. Even a whiff of Whitey Bulger. This book had all the promising ingredients for something delectable, but unfortunately, the souffle fell flat when the oven door opened up. The main character, starving artist Claire, is an unpalatable combination of hyper-competent artist/forger and a whiny young woman who constantly plays the victim. Not to say that you would never find those trai ...more
This is a novel that is based on a true crime: a $500 million art heist at the Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990. The story centers around artist Claire Roth, who is good at making reproductions of famous paintings. Early in the book, a dealer asks Claire to make a forgery of one of the Edgar Degas paintings that was stolen from the Gardner. Claire recognizes that she's making a deal with the devil, and part of her payment is she gets her own art show.
There are no accepted estimates on the amounts of money laundered through the art market, although the general belief is that it is enormous and expanding as regulations on other asset classes, from real estate to foreign exchange, tighten up everywhere. The International Monetary Fund estimated that "the amount available for laundering through the financial system" was worth 2.7 per cent of global gross domestic product in 2009 or $1.6-trillion (U.S.).
French artist Orlan sued American pop star Lady Gaga for forgery after the release of the 2011 hit video “Born This Way,” but ultimately lost her case. Orlan pointed out similarities to her piece Bumpload (1989), in which she added prosthetic ridges to her face, and Woman With Head (1996), which featured a decapitated head on a table. After losing her $31.7 million lawsuit, Orlan was ordered to pay the singer and her record label €20,000 ($22,000)
Perhaps most frightening of all, there is no telling how many fakes still lie in plain sight, accepted as originals by experts and the public alike. Famed contemporary forgers such as Wolfgang Beltracchi and Mark Landis, for instance, have infiltrated many museum collections. In 2014, Switzerland’s Fine Art Expert Institute estimated that 50 percent of all work on the market is fake—a figure that was quickly second-guessed, but remains troubling.
Every work of art carries with it not only the history of its creator, but of its owners as well. Provenance—the record of ownership for a work of art—provides important documentation explaining who, at various points in history, owned the painting, sculpture or artifact at hand. This is an especially important issue for museums, who pay careful attention to provenance to confirm the authenticity of a work of art and its rightful ownership.

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 scientific examination of a forged document may demonstrate its spurious character by showing that the parchment, paper, or ink cannot belong to the period to which they pretend. A skillful forger takes care, however, to secure appropriate materials; and in any case, scientific examination will not avail against the contemporary forger, living in the same age as his victim. Accordingly, other tests must be employed.
Edward Winkleman tells us that “transfer of title for digital art happens with an invoice. The collector generally receives a certificate of authenticity, which is required if they ever want to resell or donate the work to a museum. The artwork could indeed be delivered digitally, and payment could indeed be received digitally, but the bank records will show the transaction.”

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.
When one of the oldest and most respected art galleries in America, the Knoedler Gallery in New York, closed its doors abruptly in 2011, the art world was stunned. Not because the gallery closed, but by the discovery that over the course of 15 years, the gallery and its president, Ann Freedman, had sold millions of dollars in forgeries to wealthy collectors.
From 1994 until 2009, Knoedler & Co. admittedly — but, the claim goes, unknowingly — sold 31 other bogus paintings. Through those sales, the gallery raked in some $80 million. Luke Nikas, Freedman’s lawyer, says that she earned $10- to $12-million between 1994 and 2008. Moguls and megalevel tastemakers all thought they were buying works by such abstract expressionist blue-chippers as Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell and Willem de Kooning.

The ownership history of a work of art is of fundamental importance for all those involved in the collecting, exhibiting and study of art, for determining both attribution as well as legal title. Recent ownership claims by heirs of Holocaust victims whose art works were looted or otherwise misappropriated during the Nazi-era, and also claims by foreign “source” countries for objects they believe were exported in violation of patrimony or export laws, underscore the importance of provenance research. 


Forgeries again came into play at Turkey’s State Art and Sculpture Museum in Ankara, where a group of museum officials and criminals are believed to have teamed up to steal some 302 works from the institution between 2005 and 2009. The crime was discovered in 2012, when the museum realized that 46 pieces in the collection had been replaced by copies. Another 30 works also raised suspicion.


An example of this risk without fault arose out of an art dealer’s acquisition of a painting by another distinguished 20th-century artist. Again, there was no question concerning the authenticity of the work. The information provided by the seller at the time of the sale noted that the work had been part of a celebrated 1960s exhibition of the artist’s work at a well-known New York museum. The inclusion of the work in this exhibition was acknowledgment of the work’s value and its importance to the artist’s oeuvre (not to mention further corroboration of its authenticity). Unfortunately, the exhibition history was not correct. The work was not included in the exhibition; the work was supposed to be included, but due to various circumstances another work was selected instead. There were even documents indicating that the work was in the show and it took some investigation to determine that it was not. Even though the seller had not intended to deceive or mislead the buyer/dealer, that did not change the fact that the work was measurably less valuable than the dealer thought at the time of the purchase, based on the information provided. Because the case settled before any lawsuit was filed, no court had the opportunity to address whether the erroneous exhibition history gave rise to a valid breach of warranty claim.
The copying of famous works of art dates to the origins of the history of art collecting and therefore to the beginning of the history of art. In the ancient world, replicas of famous works were made in order to satisfy demand by collectors for such works. The bronze Spear Bearer (c. 450–440 bce) by Greek sculptor Polyclitus, for example, achieved great renown for its perfect proportions and beauty. As a result, it was often copied in marble for Roman collectors in subsequent centuries. The copies, which are all that survived into the 21st century, made no pretense of being the original or having been made by Polyclitus.
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