* If the seller states that the work of art sold at an auction house, have them provide the name and contact information for the auction house as well as the date of the sale and lot number of the art in that sale. Just because an auction house sells a work of art does not automatically make that work of art genuine. Best procedure here is to get a copy of the auction catalog and carefully read the listing for the art.
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The most common type of fraudulence in art is forgery—making a work or offering one for sale with the intent to defraud, usually by falsely attributing it to an artist whose works command high prices. Other fraudulent practices include plagiarism, the false presentation of another’s work as one’s own, and piracy, the unauthorized use of someone else’s work, such as the publication of a book without permission of the author; both practices are generally in violation of copyright laws.
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.
Our current market, geared toward the ultra-wealthy, is helping few and hurting many. It stomps down all the emerging and midlevel dealers, artists, curators and even collectors who can’t play in the big-money game. It’s also hurting all the art lovers, current and future, who deserve work that’s conceived to address artistic issues, not to sell well to robber barons. If forgers can help burst our art bubble, blessings be upon them.
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. In that case, the defendant had collected millions of dollars from his sale of forged prints.
In the composite fraud, or pastiche, the forger combines copies of various parts of another artist’s work to form a new composition and adds a few connecting elements of his own to make it a convincing presentation. This type of forgery is more difficult to detect than the copy. Such a combining of various elements from different pieces can be very deceptive, because a creative artist often borrows from his own work. In fact, the similarity of a figure or an object in a forgery to that in a well-known work of art often adds to the believability of the new creation.
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.
For museums and the art trade provenance has increasingly important, not just in the older way where establishing the authorship and authenticity of an object was the main concern, but in establishing the moral and legal validity of its chain of custody, given the increasing amount of looted art. This first became a major concern regarding works that had changed hands in Nazi-controlled areas in Europe before and during World War II. Many museums began compiling pre-active registers of such works and their history. Recently the same concerns have come to prominence for works of African art, often exported illegally, and antiquities from many parts of the world, but currently especially in Iraq, and then Syria.
Forgery most often occurs with works of painting, sculpture, decorative art, and literature; less often with music. Plagiarism is more difficult to prove as fraud, since the possibility of coincidence must be weighed against evidence of stealing. Piracy is more often a business than an artistic fraud; it frequently occurs in the publication of editions of foreign books in countries that have no copyright agreement with the nation in which the work was copyrighted. A stage production, the reproduction of a painting, the performance of a musical composition, and analogous practices of other kinds of works without authorization and royalty payments also fall into this category.
Other paintings are now also implicated, including a Lucas Cranach the Elder, from the collection of the Prince of Liechtenstein, that was seized by French authorities from the Caumont Centre d’Art in Aix in March. An Orazio Gentileschi painting on lapis lazuli, also sold by Weiss, and a purported Parmigianino have been identified as suspect as well. Rumor has it that works by up to 25 different Old Master paintings may be involved. (For a break-down on what we know so far, read “The Frans Hals Forgery Scandal, Explained.”)
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In this context, the provenance can occasionally be the detailed history of where an object has been since its creation, 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.
The quality of provenance of an important work of art can make a considerable difference to its selling price in the market; this is affected by the degree of certainty of the provenance, the status of past owners as collectors, and in many cases by the strength of evidence that an object has not been illegally excavated or exported from another country. The provenance of a work of art may vary greatly in length, depending on context or the amount that is known, from a single name to an entry in a scholarly catalogue some thousands of words long.
Tom Ripley is involved in an artwork forgery scheme in several of Patricia Highsmith's crime novels, most notably Ripley Under Ground (1970), in which he is confronted by a collector who correctly suspects that the paintings sold by Tom are forgeries. The novel was adapted to film in 2005, and the 1977 film The American Friend is also partially based on the novel.
At $8.3 million, it was the most expensive painting that the De Soles — the chairman of Tom Ford International and his socialite wife — had ever purchased, but they were getting what one source calls “a pretty sweet deal.” Weeks before the sale closed, a work by Rothko sold for $17,368,000 at Sotheby’s. Knoedler drew up a warranty of “authenticity and good value,” and the De Soles proudly hung Rothko’s “Untitled 1956” inside their luxurious Hilton Head, SC, home.