The victims of art fraud are the artists who own the works, collectors who are defrauded through purchase of forged works, and museums that may use public or donated money to buy fraudulent works of art or works with a falsified provenance. Countries that lose valuable works of art to the international art market under false pretenses are also subject to art fraud.
Recently, photographs have become the target of forgers, and as the market value of these works increase, so will forgery continue. Following their deaths, works by Man Ray and Ansel Adams became frequent targets of forgery. The detection of forged photography is particularly difficult, as experts must be able to tell the difference between originals and reprints.
Many forgeries still escape detection; Han van Meegeren, possibly the most famous forger of the 20th century, used historical canvasses for his Vermeer forgeries and created his own pigments to ensure that they were authentic. He confessed to creating the forgeries only after he was charged with treason, an offense which carried the death penalty. So masterful were his forgeries that van Meegeren was forced to create another "Vermeer" while under police guard, to prove himself innocent of the treason charges.
An art forger must be at least somewhat proficient in the type of art he is trying to imitate. Many forgers were once fledgling artists who tried, unsuccessfully, to break into the market, eventually resorting to forgery. Sometimes, an original item is borrowed or stolen from the owner in order to create a copy. Forgers will then return the copy to the owner, keeping the original for himself. In 1799, a self-portrait by Albrecht Dürer which had hung in the Nuremberg Town Hall since the 16th century, was loaned to Abraham Wolfgang Küfner [de]. The painter made a copy of the original and returned the copy in place of the original. The forgery was discovered in 1805, when the original came up for auction and was purchased for the royal collection.

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,[3] 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.


Fakes and forgeries in the art world are the stuff of legend, the subject of books, films, and television series the world over. In real life, they land people behind bars. 2016 brought us many unwanted things, but it also appears to have been a year when a huge amount of authenticity disputes took place. The spats took shape from contested provenance, to painters faking their own work, to a multimillion dollar Old Masters scandal. From farce to tragedy, we’ve compiled the highlights of this year’s biggest art forgery scandals below.
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.
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.
Provenance trials, where material of different provenances are planted in a single place or at different locations spanning a range of environmental conditions, is a way to reveal genetic variation among provenances. It also contributes to an understanding of how different provenances respond to various climatic and environmental conditions and can as such contribute with knowledge on how to strategically select provenances for climate change adaptation.[68]
Some of the 20th century’s most important creators set out to undermine ideas of unique, authentic, hand-touched works of art. Precisely 100 years ago, when Marcel Duchamp began presenting store-bought bicycle wheels, urinals and bottle racks as ready-made sculptures, he was also inviting others to buy and show similar masterworks. A half-century later, Andy Warhol was famously freewheeling when it came to notions of authenticity: You could never tell, and weren’t supposed to know, how much if any of a Warhol painting had actually been made by him versus by some acolyte in his art Factory. (In interviews, Warhol would sometimes attribute his works to others even when he’d executed them himself.) The art market can’t stand the slippages such ideas introduce, and insists on selling Warhols and Duchamps the way you’d sell a Lincoln autograph. Forgers, on the other hand, help preserve modern art’s productive uncertainty.
The objective of provenance research is to produce a complete list of owners (together, where possible, with the supporting documentary proof) from when the painting was commissioned or in the artist's studio through to the present time. In practice, there are likely to be gaps in the list and documents that are missing or lost. The documented provenance should also list when the painting has been part of an exhibition and a bibliography of when it has been discussed (or illustrated) in print.
The pure fabrication is a kind of forgery that defies classification, often because there is no false attribution and the motives are difficult to ascertain. An example of this is the Historia regum Britanniae (1135–38) of Geoffrey of Monmouth (died 1155), a pseudo-historian who compounded stories from Celtic mythology and classical and biblical sources into a fictitious history of ancient Britain. The book became one of the most popular of the Middle Ages and was the basis for some Arthurian legends recounted in medieval romance and epic.
A peculiar case was that of the artist Han van Meegeren who became famous by creating "the finest Vermeer ever"[7] 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".[8]
The primary purpose of tracing the provenance of an object or entity is normally to provide contextual and circumstantial evidence for its original production or discovery, by establishing, as far as practicable, its later history, especially the sequences of its formal ownership, custody and places of storage. The practice has a particular value in helping authenticate objects. Comparative techniques, expert opinions and the results of scientific tests may also be used to these ends, but establishing provenance is essentially a matter of documentation. The term dates to the 1780s in English. Provenance is conceptually comparable to the legal term chain of custody.
Despite all the studies and technical tests available, forgeries will still be made. The 20th-century art forger is far better equipped and much more knowledgeable than his predecessor. The demand for rare works of art has increased, and he will attempt to supply them. In collecting, whether by the private collector or by a museum, there comes a point when, after all the studies and all the tests are conducted, a decision has to be made as to whether or not to purchase a piece in question. The element of risk can be minimized but not eliminated. At this point, the collector should be ready to back his opinion with the purchase price. In order to acquire great pieces, particularly from newly discovered and relatively unknown cultures, it is necessary to take a calculated chance. The collector who has never bought a forgery probably has never bought a great piece of art.
Rapid and dramatic rises—and collapses—in price are bad things for money laundering whose sole purpose is to find a relatively stable vehicle to mask the source of funds. Money launderers are not looking to make a profit on their purchases let alone a killing. In fact, a money launderer is willing to take a loss on the vehicle that hides the illicit source of the funds because that is the price of washing the money. If a money launderer buys something with dirty money that has the potential to be unsalable for clean money, it doesn’t work. Art, even some of the world’s best art, is often temporarily unsalable for a variety of real and legitimate reasons.

Noah Charney is a professor and an international author of fiction and non‐fiction, specializing in the fields of art history and art crime. He is the founder and president of ARCA, the Association for Research into Crimes against Art, a non‐profit research group on issues in art crime. His work in the field of art crime has been praised in such international forums as the New York Times Magazine, Time Magazine, BBC Radio, National Public Radio, El Pais, Vogue, Vanity Fair, Playboy, Elle and Tatler among many others. He has appeared on radio and television as an expert on art history and art crime, including BBC, ITV, CNBC and MSNBC. Charney is the author of numerous articles and a novel, The Art Thief (2007).

"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.

In the case of photographer Man Ray[25] print production was often poorly managed during his lifetime, and many of his negatives were stolen by people who had access to his studio. The possession of the photo-negatives would allow a forger to print an unlimited number of fake prints, which he could then pass off as original. Fake prints would be nearly indistinguishable from originals, if the same photographic paper was used. Since unused photographic paper has a short (2–5 years) useful life, and the composition of photographic paper was frequently changed, the fakes would have had to be produced not long after the originals.

"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.
Some forgers have created false paper trails relating to a piece, in order to make the work appear genuine. British art dealer John Drewe created false documents of provenance for works forged by his partner John Myatt, and even inserted pictures of forgeries into the archives of prominent art institutions.[11] In 2016, Eric Spoutz plead guilty to one count of wire fraud related to the sale of hundreds of falsely attributed artworks to American masters accompanied by forged provenance documents. Spoutz was sentenced to 41 months in federal prison and ordered to forfeit the $1.45 million he made from the scheme and pay $154,100 in restitution.[12]
Sack discussed transferring the proceeds from the resale to an offshore account, the agent's affidavit says, and the dealers explained that the buyer would see a net loss in funds. When the undercover agent mentioned normally paying "10% to 15%" to launder money, Katzen said the works could easily be sold at a 10% discount, the affidavit says. Katzen said he would move the money very, very slowly, the affidavit says, and told the agent he had a client in Europe who was ready to buy the Modigliani "under these circumstances."
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.
Despite having the means to own the original, one American multimillionaire has opted to hang a forged Renoir in his home while the real thing hangs prominently at a major museum. The man in question is not President Donald Trump, who recently made headlines with his claim of owning Renoir’s 1881 Two Sisters (On the Terrace), despite the painting being part of the Art Institute of Chicago’s permanent collection, but Henry Bloch, the Kansas City–based cofounder of tax preparation firm H&R Block.
According to former art consultant Beth Fiore, people don’t normally buy art with cash in the US; “Cash payments for art happen in Russia [and the] Middle East” more often. So if you’re keeping your fortune under your mattress and don’t live in either of those places, you’ll need to get your money into a bank account without alerting the authorities. One way to do that is by smurfing. Despite the mental image of a blue cartoon character riding a surfboard that you may have conjured, smurfing means depositing money into a bank account or several bank accounts by breaking it up in to many small amounts that are deposited at different times, by different people. US banks must report any deposits over $10,000 to the IRS, so in order to stay sneaky, you’ll need to make a series of deposits that are less than that amount. You can hire “smurfs” to help you, who are often ordinary people willing to make an extra buck by opening up a joint bank account in their name, that you or your company has access to, and depositing money into it every day.
Most of these industries have checks. Real estate titles and deeds at least require a name. Mortgage brokers, stockbrokers, casinos, banks and Western Union must report suspicious financial activity to the federal Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. Banks must report all transactions of $10,000 or more. Altogether, the network logs more than 15 million currency transactions each year that can be used to track dirty money, said Steve Hudak, a spokesman for the agency. The art market lacks these safeguards. Roll up a canvas and it is easy to stash or move between countries; prices can be raised or lowered by millions of dollars in a heartbeat; and the names of buyers and sellers tend to be guarded zealously, leaving law enforcement to guess who was involved, where the money came from and whether the price was suspicious.

The pure fabrication is a kind of forgery that defies classification, often because there is no false attribution and the motives are difficult to ascertain. An example of this is the Historia regum Britanniae (1135–38) of Geoffrey of Monmouth (died 1155), a pseudo-historian who compounded stories from Celtic mythology and classical and biblical sources into a fictitious history of ancient Britain. The book became one of the most popular of the Middle Ages and was the basis for some Arthurian legends recounted in medieval romance and epic.
“The biggest [problem] is that . . . Rosales kept walking in [to Knoedler] with unknown works that had no documentation. This should have signaled that the works were fake,” he tells The Post. “It was too good to be true — this heir selling 31 unseen masterpieces by the greatest artists for fractions of their market prices? It happens, but the idea of 31 works going — unnoticed — out of these artists’ studios to a collector is like winning the lottery 31 times.”
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