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.
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:
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.
Archaeological sites Ancient Greek pottery Automobiles Bone, horn, and antler objects Books, manuscripts, documents and ephemera Ceramic objects Clocks Copper-based objects Feathers Film Flags and banners Frescos Fur objects Glass objects Herbaria Historic gardens Human remains Illuminated manuscripts Insect specimens Iron and steel objects Ivory objects Judaica Lacquerware Leather objects Lighthouses Metals Musical instruments Neon objects New media art Outdoor artworks Outdoor bronze objects Outdoor murals Paintings Painting frames Panel paintings Papyrus Parchment Performance art Photographs Photographic plates Plastic objects Pompeian frescoes Shipwreck artifacts Silver objects South Asian household shrines Stained glass Taxidermy Textiles Tibetan thangkas Time-based media art Totem poles Vehicles Vinyl discs Woodblock prints Wooden artifacts Wooden furniture
A notable forger of the late 20th century was Shaun Greenhalgh, who created several works of art in a variety of styles and, after carefully constructing a credible provenance for each, sold them over the course of roughly two decades with the help of his parents, George and Olive Greenhalgh. One of his notable forgeries was a stoneware sculpture, The Faun, thought to be a rare unglazed ceramic sculpture by Paul Gauguin, another was the Amarna Princess believed to date from 1350 bc.
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?)
Another area of art fraud motivated by the demands of the art market involves the smuggling of works of art out of countries, especially from developing countries, where the value of the work may be poorly understood. Though smuggling is in itself a crime, art fraud may also occur when the smugglers minimize the value of the art to guardians of cultural patrimony or to customs officials. Goods thus transported are often offered elsewhere for high prices. There are sanctions against museums that buy artworks obtained in that manner, but governments of the originating country have little recourse when the objects disappear into private collections.