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.
This essay addresses provenance issues in the context of a sale. Of course the provenance of a piece is an important factor in determining its authenticity, but how important to the seller and buyer is knowing that, for example, there were three private owners between the artist and the current owner. If one of those owners was Paul Mellon or a major museum, it might be very important. And, have the buyer and seller made that importance clear in their sale agreement?
Particularly notorious was the case of the Wise forgeries. Thomas James Wise (1859–1937) had the reputation of being one of the most distinguished private book collectors on either side of the Atlantic, and his Ashley Library in London became a place of pilgrimage for scholars from Europe and the United States. He constantly exposed piracies and forgeries and always denied that he was a dealer. The shock was accordingly the greater in 1934 when John W. Carter and Henry Graham Pollard published An Enquiry into the Nature of Certain Nineteenth Century Pamphlets, proving that about 40 or 50 of these, commanding high prices, were forgeries, and that all could be traced to Wise. Subsequent research confirmed the finding of Carter and Pollard and indicted Wise for other and more serious offenses, including the sophistication of many of his own copies of early printed books with leaves stolen from copies in the British Museum.
“It’s a useful resource for museums, auction houses, and dealers primarily that need to ply a particular artwork out of a collection,” says Brad Shar, whose New York–based firm Lowy works with both institutions and individual collectors to create reproductions. “The possibility of having an exact copy to fill a wall space is a powerful incentive a lot of the time.”
* Get full names and contact information for all private parties who the seller claims previously owned the art, or other forms of proof that they indeed owned it. Confirm that these people actually exist (or existed) and, when possible, contact them or their descendants directly to confirm all claims. Or have the seller do it for you. Simply being given a list of names with no other accompanying or verifiable information is not enough.
Money obtained illegally—from fraud, embezzlement, bribery, etc.—needs a hiding place. A huge deposit into a bank account, with no clear indication of where that money came from, is a red flag for the IRS. So instead of depositing dirty money, or holding onto it as cash, disreputable people will often turn the money into something else (cars, mansions) or filter it through a business so it comes out the other side looking like the profits of a legitimate enterprise.
The commonest motivation for fraudulence is monetary gain. Fraudulence is most likely to occur when the demand for a certain kind of work coincides with scarcity and thus raises the market prices. Unprincipled dealers have encouraged technically skilled artists to create forgeries, occasionally guiding them to supply the precise demands of collectors or museums. This is by no means a modern phenomenon: in the 1st and 2nd centuries ad, sculptors working in Rome made replicas of Grecian works to satisfy the demands for the greatly admired Grecian sculpture of the preceding five centuries. These copies or adaptations apparently were not offered as contemporary work but as booty from Greece at the extraordinarily high prices paid for such works in imperial Rome. Similar circumstances may account for the “discovery” of a manuscript or autograph by a dead author or composer, although many such finds are quite legitimate and have been authenticated.

All the paintings appear to have originated with one man, an obscure French collector-turned-dealer named Giulano Ruffini. The works appear to have had next-to-no provenance, save that they came from the collection of French civil engineer André Borie. Ruffini insists he never suggested they were the real deal, and that eager dealers were the ones to declare his paintings Old Master originals.
The Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists (ACAMS) offers a professional designation known as a Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist (CAMS). Individuals who earn CAMS certification may work as brokerage compliance managers, Bank Secrecy Act officers, financial intelligence unit managers, surveillance analysts and financial crimes investigative analysts.
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.

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.
Occasionally a forger appears with a certain specious glamour like Constantine Simonides (1824–67), a Greek adventurer who varied his trade in perfectly genuine manuscripts with the sale of strange concoctions of his own. Maj. George de Luna Byron, alias de Gibler, who claimed to be a natural son of Byron by a Spanish countess, successfully produced and disposed of large quantities of forgeries ascribed to his alleged father and to Shelley, John Keats, and others. More commonplace is the forgery encountered in the case of the Edinburgh forger A.H. (“Antique”) Smith, who was responsible for forgeries of Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, Mary Stuart, and other persons from Scottish literature and history—a feat that ultimately earned him 12 months’ imprisonment.
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.
Jack Flam should know. He is one of the world's top experts in Robert Motherwell and was friends with the artist for years. Robert Motherwell was the youngest of a group of famous American painters that included Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning, who pioneered a new style of American art known as abstract expressionism. After Robert Motherwell's death, Jack Flam became president of the foundation dedicated to his work, and was assembling a catalogue of all of Motherwell's paintings - what's known as a catalogue raisonne.
Art forgery may also be subject to civil sanctions. The Federal Trade Commission, for example, has used the FTC Act to combat an array of unfair trade practices in the art market. An FTC Act case was successfully brought against a purveyor of fake Dalí prints in FTC v. Magui Publishers, Inc., who was permanently enjoined from fraudulent activity and ordered to restore their illegal profits.[28][29] In that case, the defendant had collected millions of dollars from his sale of forged prints.
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.)
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.
This painting, known as “Hannibal” after a word scribbled on its surface, was brought into the United States in 2007 as part of a Brazilian embezzler’s elaborate effort to launder money, the authorities say. It was later seized at a Manhattan warehouse by federal investigators who are now preparing to return it to Brazil at the behest of law enforcement officials there.
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.
While the US art market remains relatively unregulated, organizations across the globe are taking steps to hold dealers accountable for reporting illegal activity. In February of 2013, the European Commission passed ordinances that require European galleries to report sales above 7,500 euros paid in cash, as well as file suspicious-transaction reports. And in the beginning of this year, a forum was held at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in which economist Nouriel Roubini, among others, spoke on the art market’s susceptibility to laundering and other economic crimes like tax avoidance and evasion. “Anybody can walk into a gallery and spend half a million dollars and nobody is going to ask any questions," said Roubini according to Swiss Info.

In the end, maybe this guide was never intended for amoral businessmen in the first place (unless we’ve sorely misjudged our readership!) Maybe this it's more useful to the emerging artists who look for validation (read: dollar signs) in a competitive market. Maybe the artist’s secret to success is appealing to the corrupt and becoming an accomplice to white collar crime (but hopefully not). Are economic criminals the driving force of the art economy? Probably not, but what we do know for certain is that art isn’t only valuable as the evidence of creative genius. It is, to many, a vault.
During the 16th century, imitators of Albrecht Dürer's style of printmaking added signatures to them to increase the value of their prints. In his engraving of the Virgin, Dürer added the inscription "Be cursed, plunderers and imitators of the work and talent of others".[1] Even extremely famous artists created forgeries. In 1496, Michelangelo created a sleeping Cupid figure and treated it with acidic earth to cause it to appear ancient. He then sold it to a dealer, Baldassare del Milanese, who in turn sold it to Cardinal Riario of San Giorgio who later learned of the fraud and demanded his money back. However, Michelangelo was permitted to keep his share of the money.[2][3]
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.
The objective of provenance research is to produce a complete list of owners (together, where possible, with the supporting documentary proof) from when the painting was commissioned or in the artist's studio through to the present time. In practice, there are likely to be gaps in the list and documents that are missing or lost. The documented provenance should also list when the painting has been part of an exhibition and a bibliography of when it has been discussed (or illustrated) in print.
If a painting has been in private hands for an extended period and on display in a stately home, it may be recorded in an inventory – for example, the Lumley inventory.[14] The painting may also have been noticed by a visitor who subsequently wrote about it. It may have been mentioned in a will or a diary. Where the painting has been bought from a dealer, or changed hands in a private transaction, there may be a bill of sale or sales receipt that provides evidence of provenance. Where the artist is known, there may be a catalogue raisonné listing all the artist's known works and their location at the time of writing. A database of catalogues raisonnés is available at the International Foundation for Art Research. Historic photos of the painting may be discussed and illustrated in a more general work on the artist, period or genre. Similarly, a photograph of a painting may show inscriptions (or a signature) that subsequently became lost as a result of overzealous restoration. Conversely, a photograph may show that an inscription was not visible at an earlier date. One of the disputed aspects of the "Rice" portrait of Jane Austen concerns apparent inscriptions identifying artist and sitter.[15]
The problem isn’t their argument that seller’s should reveal themselves. It’s the slapdash evidence and flawed logic they use. The story’s biggest problem begins with the lede where it is argued that real estate sellers are transparent. Several graphs deeper in the story it is revealed that real estate transactions that are on a par with major art transactions are, in fact, not transparent. How do we know that? Because the Times tells us about a pilot program that requires transparency. Here’s the opening graph:

In archaeology and paleontology, the derived term provenience is used with a related but very particular meaning, to refer to the location (in modern research, recorded precisely in three dimensions) where an artifact or other ancient item was found.[3] Provenance covers an object's complete documented history. An artifact may thus have both a provenience and a provenance.
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.
   Redistribution of the world’s wealth after the Renaissance created an explosive demand for art by a newly educated and prosperous mercantile middle class. Guilds of Master artists and students became virtual factories for art that was produced to fill this demand. The sale of State and Ecclesiastical art collections created new secondary markets in the form of dealers, galleries and auction houses. For the first time in history, art became a commercial commodity.

Further, and as noted, other traditional vehicles for laundering money have become less attractive, thereby driving those who need a mechanism to launder large sums into the arms of the art world.  As we repeatedly have blogged, one of the most time-honored and relatively convenient vehicles for laundering — real estate — is under intense scrutiny and now is subject in the U.S. to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”)’s ongoing Geographic Targeting Orders (these require U.S. title insurance companies in many parts of the U.S. to identify the natural persons behind legal entities used in purchases of residential real estate involving $300,000 or more and performed without a bank loan or similar form of external financing).

As previously noted in this Journal, the legal structure we call art law (an amalgam of personal property law, contract, estate, tax, and intellectual property law) supporting the acquisition, retention, and disposition of Fine Art, often fits uneasily with art market custom and practice. The result is that 21st-century art market participants are frequently unsure of their legal rights and obligations.


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.


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.
* 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.
Ken Dreifach, head of the Internet Bureau at the New York State Attorney General's office, reported the reoccurring sales of a forged painting. An individual purchased a painting from the Art and Design Center of New York City and brought it to an art expert for appraisal who determined the work was a forgery. The Art and Design Center refunded the money to the purchaser but then sold it to another individual. That person also had it evaluated by an expert who said it was a fake. The Center refunded the money to the second purchaser. Then an undercover investigator from the attorney general's office bought the same painting and the jig was up. The attorney general filed charges and the case was settled against the Center for various monetary charges (Department of Law, 2001).

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Interpol also tracks art smuggling. City police forces may have units that investigate cases of art fraud on the local level. But the first, and in many cases only, line of defense against art fraud is the dealers who offer the works for sale and the museums and collectors who must make every effort to determine the authenticity and legality of the works before purchase.
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