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.
Recently an art dealer faced a claim that the provenance he provided with a painting was incomplete because it did not include all of the owners going back to the artist. According to the disgruntled buyer, this omission was material because the provenance included a gallery involved in a well-publicized forgery scandal and, therefore, the painting would be hard to re-sell at an appropriate price without a verifiable provenance going back to the artist. Significantly, the painting had been sold at auction a decade earlier and the dealer had provided the current buyer with exactly the same pre-auction provenance as the prominent auction house had provided at the time of the auction sale. The dealer did not think to second-guess or investigate the completeness of the provenance provided by the auction house and did not have the resources to do so. Previous owners of the work did not want their identities disclosed due to privacy concerns (which is not uncommon), so a more complete provenance was not even feasible. Nevertheless, the buyer claimed that he had been promised a “verifiable provenance” and sought to revoke the sale. The buyer did not contend that the work was not an authentic painting by the famous artist, but merely that it would be hard to re-sell without a complete and verifiable provenance going back to the artist. Although the dispute ultimately was resolved without litigation, this episode starkly highlights the potential risks a seller may be assuming by providing—without qualification—a provenance that he or she has no real reason to doubt.
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.
Money obtained illegally—from fraud, embezzlement, bribery, etc.—needs a hiding place. A huge deposit into a bank account, with no clear indication of where that money came from, is a red flag for the IRS. So instead of depositing dirty money, or holding onto it as cash, disreputable people will often turn the money into something else (cars, mansions) or filter it through a business so it comes out the other side looking like the profits of a legitimate enterprise.
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.
An essay by Alexander Nagel, a professor of Renaissance art at the Institute of Fine Arts in New York, argues that “forgery” is a concept that barely existed in Western art before around 1500, when the art market was invented and a new cast of players who came to be known as “dealers,” “collectors,” “connoisseurs” — and forgers — was born. Before that moment a copy could stand in perfectly well for an earlier work of art, so long as it transmitted the same “essential content,” as Mr. Nagel puts it, and could fill the same religious or commemorative functions. When a great Byzantine icon was copied, the new version was felt to have the same relationship to its divine subject as the older one, and so could do the same cultural work. What would it mean to “forge” a picture, in a world where originals and copies could be interchanged?
^ Tan, Yu Shyang; Ko, Ryan K.L.; Holmes, Geoff (November 2013). "Security and Data Accountability in Distributed Systems: A Provenance Survey". 2013 IEEE 10th International Conference on High Performance Computing and Communications & 2013 IEEE International Conference on Embedded and Ubiquitous Computing. IEEE: 1571–1578. doi:10.1109/hpcc.and.euc.2013.221. ISBN 9780769550886.
* 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.
The scientific examination of a forged document may demonstrate its spurious character by showing that the parchment, paper, or ink cannot belong to the period to which they pretend. A skillful forger takes care, however, to secure appropriate materials; and in any case, scientific examination will not avail against the contemporary forger, living in the same age as his victim. Accordingly, other tests must be employed.
There are several maintained and open-source provenance capture implementation at the operating system level such as CamFlow,, Progger for Linux and MS Windows, and SPADE for Linux, MS Windows, and MacOS. Other implementations exist for specific programming and scripting languages, such as RDataTracker for R, and NoWorkflow for Python.
It is important to note that objects identified as containing a Nazi-era provenance are not assumed to have been looted during the Nazi era or to have been acquired illegally. Rather, by making this information available to the public, the Nelson-Atkins provides an opportunity for additional information to be made available and fulfills its mission to steward responsibly the collections in its care.
Despite those advances, the detection of fraudulent art remains a complex undertaking. It is particularly difficult to weed out forgeries in the work of modern artists whose large numbers of works and superstar statuses make them especially attractive to those who commit fraud. Pablo Picasso, for example, was a prolific artist, creating a huge number of works on canvas and on paper as well as sculptures and ceramics. Considering his vast output and the varying styles and media in which he worked, scholars have had difficulty establishing a definitive corpus for him. The prestige associated with owning a Picasso and the difficulty of attribution, especially for a drawing, made and continues to make fraudulent representations of his work hard to police.