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.
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).
Even as far back as ancient Rome, Mr. Nagel shows, it was considered utterly normal to copy the Greek statues of Praxiteles or Polyclitus, even while altering them. Patrons wanted access to the larger aesthetic ideas and ideals of their artistic geniuses; they didn’t think of works of art “as singularities, as unrepeatable performances by an author,” as Mr. Nagel puts it.
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.
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.
The Art Loss Register (ALR), founded in 1991, grew out of the International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR: founded 1969), a not-for-profit organization that initiated and maintained (until 1997) an international database of stolen works of art, antiques, and collectables. After 1998 ALR assumed maintenance, although IFAR retains ownership, and the two organizations work closely together.
* Provenance must specifically describe the piece of art that's being offered for sale in order to be valid. It should contain important information including dimensions, medium, date of creation (if known), title (if known), and other relevant details. Documents that do not specifically describe the work of art in question do not constitute valid provenance.
Despite being perfectly legal and of exceptionally high quality, art reproductions do carry a stigma. The owner of one faux Picasso recounted the story of how his grandparents, after selling their entire collection, commissioned a major auction house to duplicate each piece as gifts for their grandchildren. He declined to be named. Two sources from Christie’s, who spoke on background, have confirmed that reproduction is a common practice there. And as of press time, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has not returned our request for comment.
Sometimes provenance can be as simple as a photograph of the item with its original owner. Simple yet definitive documentation such as that can increase its value by an order of magnitude, but only if the owner was of high renown. Many items that were sold at auction have gone far past their estimates because of a photograph showing that item with a famous person. Some examples include antiques owned by politicians, musicians, artists, actors, etc.
Nearly 40 paintings, supposedly created by some of the most important artists of the 20th century, were all fakes, painted by a struggling artist in his garage in Queens. The fraud might still be going on if it weren't for an art historian Jack Flam -- who was the first person to uncover the scheme and blow the whistle to the government, putting the brakes on an $80 million con -- the most audacious and lucrative art fraud in U.S. history.
A newly discovered type of art inevitably brings on a flood of forgeries. At the end of the 19th century, when the first small, attractive Tanagra figurines were found in Greece, the market very shortly was flooded with a myriad of fraudulent Tanagra terra-cotta statuettes. In the mid-20th century, African primitive art became very popular, and woodcarvers from Italy to Scandinavia responded to supply the demand. Later, a very early civilization was discovered in Turkey, and the few genuine Anatolian ceramic pieces that appeared on the market were followed immediately by very competent forgeries apparently made in the same location as the ancient pieces. The lack of knowledge about genuine pieces made detection extremely difficult.
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.
The principles of archival provenance were developed in the 19th century by both French and Prussian archivists, and gained widespread acceptance on the basis of their formulation in the Manual for the Arrangement and Description of Archives by Dutch state archivists Samuel Muller, J. A. Feith, and R. Fruin, published in the Netherlands in 1898 (often referred to as the "Dutch Manual").
The 20th-century art market has favored artists such as Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso, Klee and Matisse and works by these artists have commonly been targets of forgery. These forgeries are typically sold to art galleries and auction houses who cater to the tastes of art and antiquities collectors; at time of the occupation of France by German forces during World War II, the painting which fetched the highest price at Drouot, the main French auction house, was a fake Cézanne.
"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.
The Rothko even came with a romantic back story. As explained to the De Soles by Ann Freedman, then the highly regarded president of Knoedler & Co. — founded in 1846 and Manhattan’s oldest art gallery — it emerged from the collection of a mysterious Swiss heir. The man’s business-traveling father bought paintings directly from rising art stars of the 1950s. Freedman added that the piece, depicting Mark Rothko’s signature-style rectangles, had gone largely unseen by art-world cognoscenti.