* An appraisal for the art does not constitute valid provenance unless it has been performed by a respected expert or authority on the artist, and states that the art is absolutely by the artist. If you have any questions about an appraisal, contact the appraiser directly before bidding on the art and verify their qualifications to make any statements of authenticity contained within the appraisal. Any appraiser making statements of authenticity would also have to be a nationally or internationally respected authority on the artist in question. When you can't verify the appraiser's credentials, contact the appraiser, the appraisal does not include adequate contact information for the appraiser, or you can't make out the signature, be very careful. Best procedure would be not to bid on or buy the art. (FYI, an appraisal may assume the art is genuine and have statements or disclaimers to that effect, but is not in and of itself an authentication of the art. MAKE SURE YOU READ THE ENTIRE APPRAISAL INCLUDING ANY DISCLAIMERS CAREFULLY. In other words, you may need a separate authentication or provenance to go along with such an appraisal.)
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?)
Founded in 1901, the Toledo Museum of Art holds a collection of extraordinary artworks. We are a free museum that had nearly half-a-million visitors last year and is nationally renowned for its focus on art education. Even with those distinctions, the Museum is most notable for the quality of its collection. Aside from its comprehensive collection of glass—Toledo is known in America as the Glass City—TMA has never sought to be comprehensive in its approach to collecting—the institution’s focus has been and remains on singular artworks by singular artists. Quality has always been the outstanding attribute of our collection, and the objects being sold are not of the quality of our permanent display collection; have been on display rarely; have not been sought out by scholars; or have not been published in recent decades. In short, these objects were not working to fulfill our mission.
It plainly makes sense for sellers and buyers to get ahead of the curve and finally reach a clear understanding about what is at stake when provenance or related information such as exhibition history is provided. Is the provenance really intended to be a complete chain of title and possession, given that there is no title registry for personal property such as works of art? Is that even possible, given the penchant for anonymity among many wealthy collectors, not to mention the confidentiality of private sales? Further complicating research into ownership is the fact that many art transactions are documented with simple invoices, rather than detailed contracts; often it is unclear from the face of the documents, particularly in multi-party back to back transactions, whether a dealer is acting as a principal or as agent for one of the parties.
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).
There are several maintained and open-source provenance capture implementation at the operating system level such as CamFlow,, Progger for Linux and MS Windows, and SPADE for Linux, MS Windows, and MacOS. Other implementations exist for specific programming and scripting languages, such as RDataTracker for R, and NoWorkflow for Python.
In March 2001 in Boston, meeting with an undercover agent posing as a drug dealer who showed interest in buying the putative Raphael, Stewart said he could move cash, exchange cash for gems in addition to art, and handle the resale of the Raphael, the agent's affidavit says. Eventually, the deal shifted to the Modigliani and Degas, the affidavit says, and Stewart fell out of the transaction.
However, federal criminal prosecutions against art forgers are seldom brought due in part to high evidentiary burdens and competing law enforcement priorities. For example, internet art frauds now appear in the federal courts' rulings that one may study in the PACER court records. Some frauds are done on the internet on a popular auction websites. Traces are readily available to see the full extent of the frauds from a forensic standpoint or even basic due diligence of professionals who may research matters including sources of PACER / enforcing authority records and on the internet.
The Internet has put a new spin on the old crime. The rise of online banking institutions, anonymous online payment services and peer-to-peer (P2P) transfers with mobile phones have made detecting the illegal transfer of money even more difficult. Moreover, the use of proxy servers and anonymizing software makes the third component of money laundering, integration, almost impossible to detect—money can be transferred or withdrawn leaving little or no trace of an IP address.
A peculiar case was that of the artist Han van Meegeren who became famous by creating "the finest Vermeer ever" and exposing that feat eight years later in 1945. His own work became valuable as well, which in turn attracted other forgers. One of these forgers was his son Jacques van Meegeren who was in the unique position to write certificates stating that a particular piece of art that he was offering "was created by his father, Han van Meegeren".
Jack Flam took his information to the FBI's Art Crimes unit, which launched an investigation. In 2013, Glafira Rosales confessed to playing a key role in the multimillion dollar fraud. She is now awaiting sentencing, and told the FBI the forgeries were the handiwork of this man: Pei-Shen Qian, an artist who lived in Queens and painted the works in his garage.
For example, federal prosecutions have been successful using generalized criminal statutes, including the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO"). A successful RICO charge was brought against a family which had sold counterfeit prints purportedly by Chagall, Miró, and Dalí. The defendants were also found guilty of other federal crimes including conspiracy to defraud, money laundering, and postal fraud. Federal prosecutors are also able to prosecute forgers using the federal wire fraud or mail fraud statutes where the defendants used such communications.
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 provenance of works of fine art, antiques and antiquities is of great importance, especially to their owner. There are a number of reasons why painting provenance is important, which mostly also apply to other types of fine art. A good provenance increases the value of a painting, and establishing provenance may help confirm the date, artist and, especially for portraits, the subject of a painting. It may confirm whether a painting is genuinely of the period it seems to date from. The provenance of paintings can help resolve ownership disputes. For example, provenance between 1933 and 1945 can determine whether a painting was looted by the Nazis. Many galleries are putting a great deal of effort into researching the provenance of paintings in their collections for which there is no firm provenance during that period. Documented evidence of provenance for an object can help to establish that it has not been altered and is not a forgery, a reproduction, stolen or looted art. Provenance helps assign the work to a known artist, and a documented history can be of use in helping to prove ownership. An example of a detailed provenance is given in the Arnolfini portrait.
When addressing the efforts to establish an artwork’s provenance history and authenticity under Guideline 4, the AML Guidelines provide that “[i]t is important to obtain and publish in any catalogue or sales document as much information as possible about the artwork, including any known provenance,” and to “check major databases of stolen and looted art and obtain any relevant and available legal documents, witness declarations, [and] expert opinions[.]” In addition to a physical examination of the artwork and a technical analysis and dating of the materials used, “[d]ocuments helpful in establishing ownership and provenance include invoices, receipts, dated photographs, insurance records, valuations, official records, exhibition catalogues, invoices for restoration work, diaries, dated newspaper articles, original signed and dated letters.”
The guidelines of AAMD state that: “Deaccessioning is a legitimate part of the formation and care of collections and, if practiced, should be done in order to refine and improve the quality and appropriateness of the collection, the better to serve the museum’s mission.” The American Alliance of Museums is even more explicit: “For this [use of institutional resources] and other reasons (e.g., when items are considered redundant, are damaged beyond repair or are of poor quality), deaccessioning is both a logical and responsible collections management policy.” We uphold these professional standards and do so in the service of creating an ever-better museum experience for our public and scholars alike.
More typically, provenance will be scrutinized where questions of authenticity arise. A few years back, an issue arose concerning the authenticity of a century-old sculpture attributed to a 20th-century artist of iconic stature. The work was sold to a prominent collector through an auction house with a certificate of authenticity from a qualified and appropriately-credentialed scholar of the artist’s work. According to the provenance provided at the time of sale, the work had been acquired in Paris after World War II by an art history professor from an Ivy League university. When questions of authenticity arose several years later, an Internet search and a few telephone calls to the university revealed that no such art history professor ever existed. Also left off the provenance was the fact that just months prior to the multi-million dollar sale to the prominent collector, the work had been purchased from an obscure antique store owned and operated by someone who had served jail time for art insurance fraud. Had these “errors and omissions” in the provenance been discovered at the time of the sale, the sale itself and several years of costly litigation would have been avoided.
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.