In seeking to revoke the sale based on an “incomplete” provenance, the buyer claimed that the provenance constituted a warranty under the Uniform Commercial Code (“UCC”) because it was part of the “basis of the bargain.” Under UCC § 2-313(1)(a), “[a]ny affirmation of fact or promise made by the seller to the buyer which relates to the goods and becomes part of the basis of the bargain creates an express warranty that the goods shall conform to the affirmation or promise.” Section 2-313(1)(b) provides that “[a]ny description of the goods which is made part of the basis of the bargain creates an express warranty that the goods shall conform to the description.” It is hard to argue that these sections are not worded broadly enough to encompass the provenance of art work, assuming that provenance was considered part of “the basis of the bargain” when the artwork was sold. The bad news for the seller is that determining whether the provenance was part of “the basis of the bargain” in a given transaction will likely be a question of fact for a jury to decide. That means that, absent precautionary measures such as an express disclaimer as to completeness and accuracy, the question of whether the provenance provided by the seller in an art sale constitutes a warranty will not be decided until after a good deal of expensive litigation. And it is certain that if the provenance is arguably misrepresented or incomplete, the buyer will be able to produce an “expert” to testify about the importance of provenance in the art world, all in support of the buyer’s argument that the given provenance was part of the basis of the bargain.
No forgery to attain recognition is better known than the “Thomas Rowley” poems of Thomas Chatterton (1752–70), which the youthful author attempted to pass off as the work of a medieval cleric. These poems, which caused a scholarly feud for many years, were influential in the Gothic revival. Chatterton, however, enjoys a place in English letters as a creative genius in his own right. The more conventional forger William Henry Ireland (1777–1835) cheerfully manufactured Shakespearean documents until his forged “lost” tragedy Vortigern and Rowena was laughed off the stage at the Drury Lane Theatre, London, in 1796. More fortunate was Charles Bertram, who produced an account of Roman Britain by “Richard of Westminster,” an imaginary monk. Bertram’s dupe, the eccentric antiquary Dr. William Stukeley, identified the monk with the chronicler Richard of Cirencester, known to have resided at Westminster in the 14th century. Bertram’s forgery (cunningly published in a volume containing the works of two genuine ancient authors, Gildas and Nennius) had an enormous influence upon historians of Roman Britain, lasting into the 20th century. Equally influential were the Ossianic poems of James Macpherson (1736–96), which influenced the early period of the Romantic movement. To what degree Macpherson’s poems are to be regarded as spurious is not certain. Denounced in his own day they were possibly, as he claimed, based upon a genuine oral tradition of Scottish Gaelic poetry; but there can be little doubt that they were carefully edited and interpolated by their collector.
A forgery ring busted in 2011 is still having repercussions across the Alberto Giacometti market. Dutch Giacometti forger Robert Driessen made €8 million ($8.9 million) selling forged sculptures, along with thousands of fake bronzes, before his misdeeds were discovered. In 2015, the case again made headlines when a German dealer was caught trying to sell one of the works still at large to an undercover agent.
In summer 2009, ARCA - the Association for Research into Crimes against Art - began offering the first postgraduate program dedicated to the study of art crime. The Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection includes coursework that discusses art fakes and forgery. Education on art crime also requires research efforts from the scholarly community through analysis on fake and forged artworks.
The potential role of high-end art and antiquities in money laundering schemes has attracted increasing attention over the last several years, particularly as the prices for such objects steadily rise and a tightening global enforcement and regulatory net has rendered other possible avenues for money laundering increasingly less attractive. The effort to subject U.S. dealers in art and antiquities to Anti-Money-Laundering (“AML”) obligations recently has gained new life. As we blogged, the House Financial Services Committee just released three proposed bills to codify many of the reform ideas that have been swirling around the Bank Secretary Act (“BSA”) and AML and Combating the Financing of Terrorism (“CFT”) laws. One of the bills — entitled as the “To make reforms to the Federal Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money laundering laws, and for other purposes” — catalogues various detailed provisions seeking to reform the BSA and AML laws. Nestled admist all of the other, generally higher-profile proposals (such as the creation of a BSA whistleblower program), one short section of this bill simply expands the list of defined “financial institutions” covered by the BSA to include “dealers in art or antiquities,” and then states that the Secretary of the Treasury shall issue implementing regulations within 180 days of the bill’s enactment.
In recent years, there has been an increased awareness of the issues surrounding works of art that were stolen, looted, displaced, or illegally exchanged during the Nazi era in Europe (1933-1945). After World War II, Allied Forces recovered thousands of artworks and returned them to the countries from which they were taken for restitution to the owners or their heirs. Nevertheless, many paintings, sculptures, and other objects entered the international art market during the Nazi era. Many of these were acquired in good faith by museums and collectors.
While the US art market remains relatively unregulated, organizations across the globe are taking steps to hold dealers accountable for reporting illegal activity. In February of 2013, the European Commission passed ordinances that require European galleries to report sales above 7,500 euros paid in cash, as well as file suspicious-transaction reports. And in the beginning of this year, a forum was held at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in which economist Nouriel Roubini, among others, spoke on the art market’s susceptibility to laundering and other economic crimes like tax avoidance and evasion. “Anybody can walk into a gallery and spend half a million dollars and nobody is going to ask any questions," said Roubini according to Swiss Info.