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.
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.)
Good solid provenance almost always increases the value and desirability of a work of art because, first and foremost, it authenticates the art. Good provenance also provides important information about and insight into a work of art's history. Unscrupulous sellers know the value of provenance and sometimes go to great lengths to manufacture or fabricate phony provenance for their art. The good news is that phony provenance is relatively easy to detect in most cases. The following guidelines will help protect you from buying art with fake or questionable provenance:
Excluded from the category of literary forgeries is the copy made in good faith for purposes of study. In the matter of autographs, manuscripts in the handwriting of their authors, forgeries must be distinguished from facsimiles, copies made by lithography or other reproductive processes. Some early editions of Lord Byron’s work, for example, contained a facsimile of an autograph letter of the poet. If such facsimiles are detached from the volumes that they were intended to illustrate, they may deceive the unwary.
Art frauds can also be difficult to prosecute because museum curators or collectors must admit to having been duped. Rarely do museums acknowledge that works of art they own may be inauthentic. When they do, it is often because they have no choice. The Boymans-van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam, Netherlands, was forced to acknowledge that its “Vermeer” Supper at Emmaus was actually a forgery painted in the 1930s by van Meegeren, but the museum admitted that only after the forger himself, in the context of another investigation, had revealed his involvement. The work’s original collector, D.G. van Beuningen, continued to believe (despite van Meegeren’s claim) that the work was by Vermeer.
Data provenance covers the provenance of computerized data. There are two main aspects of data provenance: ownership of the data and data usage. Ownership will tell the user who is responsible for the source of the data, ideally including information on the originator of the data. Data usage gives details regarding how the data has been used and modified and often includes information on how to cite the data source or sources. Data provenance is of particular concern with electronic data, as data sets are often modified and copied without proper citation or acknowledgement of the originating data set. Databases make it easy to select specific information from data sets and merge this data with other data sources without any documentation of how the data was obtained or how it was modified from the original data set or sets. The automated analysis of data provenance graphs has been described as a mean to verify compliance with regulations regarding data usage such as introduced by the EU GDPR.
Art forgery dates back more than two thousand years. Roman sculptors produced copies of Greek sculptures. Presumably[clarification needed] the contemporary buyers knew that they were not genuine. During the classical period art was generally created for historical reference, religious inspiration, or simply aesthetic enjoyment. The identity of the artist was often of little importance to the buyer.
Meeting with the undercover agent in May 2001, Katzen suggested exporting the Modigliani and Degas out of the U.S. for resale, which could take "six months to one year," the indictment says. Katzen proposed to the agent that they build up an inventory in Europe to be marketed "creatively" and that they establish a long-term relationship in moving "large amounts," the indictment says. To assure the would-be buyer, documents were sent to establish authenticity, the indictment says.
Scientific research is generally held to be of good provenance when it is documented in detail sufficient to allow reproducibility. Scientific workflow systems assist scientists and programmers with tracking their data through all transformations, analyses, and interpretations. Data sets are reliable when the process used to create them are reproducible and analyzable for defects. Current initiatives to effectively manage, share, and reuse ecological data are indicative of the increasing importance of data provenance. Examples of these initiatives are National Science Foundation Datanet projects, DataONE and Data Conservancy, as well as the U.S. Global Change Research Program. Some international academic consortia, such as the Research Data Alliance, have specific group to tackle issues of provenance. In that case it is the Research Data Provenance Interest Group.
“There are museums in the past who have wanted to take something of high value down and replace it with a replica, but that’s a behind-the-curtain thing,” says Timothy Carpenter, a supervisor and special agent in the FBI’s art theft program who frequently lectures collectors to do the same. “If you’ve got this $10 million painting that you’re concerned about, you can probably afford to make a $5,000 copy made and hang it. It’s the only guarantee to keep their painting safe if they don’t have security on their residence.”
Regardless of whether this provision ultimately is enacted, the underlying issue will persist. This post discusses some of the general concerns that the art and antiquities world can be misused as a conduit for dirty money. We then discuss the AML Standards for Art Market Operators proposed by the Basel Institute on Governance, and similar standards set forth by the Responsible Art Market, both of which attempt to set forth a framework for those in the business of trading art to mitigate their money laundering risks.
Fraudulent misrepresentations are one thing, but do sellers who proudly “stand behind the works they sell” really intend to be strictly liable (i.e., without fault) for any error or omission in the provenance or exhibition history? Do sellers undertake to do independent investigations of the provenance, or do they just pass along the same information they received when the work was acquired? In practice, more sophisticated art market participants, such as the major auction houses, include disclaimers (in fine print) in their terms and conditions of sale, but when smaller galleries and dealers sell art they rarely incorporate such protections against liability for faulty or inaccurate information.
Some of the 20th century’s most important creators set out to undermine ideas of unique, authentic, hand-touched works of art. Precisely 100 years ago, when Marcel Duchamp began presenting store-bought bicycle wheels, urinals and bottle racks as ready-made sculptures, he was also inviting others to buy and show similar masterworks. A half-century later, Andy Warhol was famously freewheeling when it came to notions of authenticity: You could never tell, and weren’t supposed to know, how much if any of a Warhol painting had actually been made by him versus by some acolyte in his art Factory. (In interviews, Warhol would sometimes attribute his works to others even when he’d executed them himself.) The art market can’t stand the slippages such ideas introduce, and insists on selling Warhols and Duchamps the way you’d sell a Lincoln autograph. Forgers, on the other hand, help preserve modern art’s productive uncertainty.
A monumental sculptural forgery was a copy based on a Greek bronze statuette of a warrior of 470 bc, only five inches high and located in the Antikenabteilung, Berlin. The forgers made an eight-foot-high reproduction of it in terra-cotta and offered it as an Etruscan masterpiece. The resemblance was noted by the experts, who thought it to be an example of an Etruscan artist borrowing a Greek design motif. In 1961, after it had been in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for 40 years, an analysis was made of the black glaze that covered the figure. It was found that the glaze contained as a colouring agent manganese, which never was used for this purpose in ancient times. Finally, Alfredo Adolfo Fioravanti confessed that he was the sole survivor of the three forgers.
Wolfgang Beltracchi is a name you may never have heard before. Very few people have. But his paintings have brought him millions and millions of dollars in a career that spanned nearly 40 years. They have made their way into museums, galleries, and private collections all over the world. What makes him a story for us is that all his paintings are fakes. And what makes him an unusual forger is that he didn’t copy the paintings of great artists, but created new works which he imagined the artist might have painted or which might have gotten lost. Connoisseurs and dealers acknowledge that Beltracchi is the most successful art forger of our time -- perhaps of all time. Brilliant not only as a painter, but as a conman of epic proportions.
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)
In June, antiques dealers Laurent Kraemer, head of Paris’s venerable Kraemer Gallery, and chair specialist Bill Pallot, were arrested on suspicion of selling the Palace of Versailles four counterfeit medallion back chairs for €1.7 million ($1.9 million). Counted as “National Treasures,” the chairs were thought to be among a group of 13 created by Louis Delanois for the Palace living room in 1769, where they belonged to Louis XV’s last mistress, the countess du Barry.
Recently, photographs have become the target of forgers, and as the market value of these works increase, so will forgery continue. Following their deaths, works by Man Ray and Ansel Adams became frequent targets of forgery. The detection of forged photography is particularly difficult, as experts must be able to tell the difference between originals and reprints.
Any given antiquity may have both a provenience (where it was found) and a provenance (where it has been since it was found). A summary of the distinction is that "provenience is a fixed point, while provenance can be considered an itinerary that an object follows as it moves from hand to hand." Another metaphor is that provenience is an artifact's "birthplace", while provenance is its "résumé", though this is imprecise (many artifacts originated as trade goods created in one region but were used and finally deposited in another).
Among the forgers who have tried to make the experts look foolish is George Psalmanazar (1679?–1763). A Frenchman, he went to England where he pretended, with great success, to be a native of Formosa (Taiwan), and published a book about that island, which he had never visited. Another is William Lauder, who attempted to prove John Milton guilty of plagiarism by quoting 17th-century poets who wrote in Latin, into whose works he had interpolated Latin translations from Paradise Lost. A forgery made as a joke but taken seriously was the “Ern Malley” poems, offered to an Australian magazine in 1944 as the work of a recently dead poet. Actually it was composed by two young soldiers who wished to ridicule certain aspects of contemporary poetry.
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.
* 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.
The Wolf of Wall Street was a hit when it was released in 2013. Moviegoers all over the world loved the story of excessive wealth and greed. But most people didn’t know that the movie was partially funded by a money-laundering scheme involving famous works of art. Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak, had siphoned part of a $1 billion fortune from the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund into American assets, such as real estate and paintings by Basquiat, Rothko, and Van Gogh.
“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.”