The innocuous nature of these copies gets overshadowed by the explosive scandals that do rock the art world from time to time. Recent headlines include the Modigliani exhibition in Genoa, which was shut down this summer after 30 percent of the paintings were alleged to be forgeries, and the Sotheby’s $10.6 million sale of a fake Frans Hals a year ago. Legally, Lowy clients are formally required to acknowledge that the piece it is a copy and will not be used unlawfully, but just in case, the firm’s contract indemnifies the company against any potential wrongdoing. “There is certainly fraudulent behavior out there,” says co-owner Brad Shar. “We wanted to make sure that we were legally protected.”

A variation in composite forgery, quite common with inlaid French furniture, involves the use of parts from damaged but genuine pieces to create a single complete piece that may or may not resemble one of the pieces from which it has been made. These made-up pieces are still considered forgeries. In composites of archaeological material only one part may be ancient, the balance being made up to complete the object. The head of a small terra-cotta figure may be ancient, the body and limbs of modern workmanship. A single ancient element in a composite forgery will help to deceive the buyer.
I loved that I recognized many of the locations mentioned here, like The Back Bay, The South End, Newbury Street, The Mandarin Oriental Hotel, The Museum Of Modern Art, of course the Isabella Stewart-Gardner Museum. I have actually long held a little-known fascination with the Gardner heist, primarily because of the idea that her will induces the museum board to leave empty frames in their place, even decades after the only unsolved large-scale art heist. It is unsettling, moving, eye-opening, a ...more
Well, they are. In 2014, Texas business man Phillip Rivkin was charged with 68 counts of fraud after using millions of dollars worth of photographs to launder money. He had made over $78 million through fraudulent schemes involving his biodiesel production companies—which didn’t actually produce any biodiesel. Rivkin spent roughly $16 million dollars on 2,200 fine art photographs by artists like Edward Steichen, Alfred Stieglitz, and Edward Weston. Works included Edward Weston’s Dunes, Oceano, a gelatin silver print that Rivkin purchased from Sotheby’s for $134,500 and another vintage gelatin silver contact print by Alfred Stieglitz, From the Shelton, West. Rivkin wired Camera Lucida, the seller of the photograph, $150,000 to purchase it.
Art history is rife with high profile scams, such as that of Han van Meegeren, a disillusioned painter who developed a complicated system of baking his Old Master-style work to age it, and subsequently sold $60 million in fake Vermeers to world class museums and Nazi leader Hermann Göring during the late 1930s and early 1940s. (While current art historians are quick to slam his work as obviously inferior, Van Meegeren actually had to paint a “new” Vermeer at trial to prove he had not sold the Nazis a priceless original.)
In fact, we are not aware of any judicial decisions addressing whether an error or omission in the listed provenance or exhibition history,4 standing alone, gives rise to a breach of warranty claim under the Uniform Commercial Code. This absence of reported cases has likely given rise to a certain complacency in the art world concerning the legal significance of provenance in connection with art sales. Nevertheless, the art world is not getting less litigious as art values escalate, and it may not be long before the courts are called upon to address this issue.
French artist Orlan sued American pop star Lady Gaga for forgery after the release of the 2011 hit video “Born This Way,” but ultimately lost her case. Orlan pointed out similarities to her piece Bumpload (1989), in which she added prosthetic ridges to her face, and Woman With Head (1996), which featured a decapitated head on a table. After losing her $31.7 million lawsuit, Orlan was ordered to pay the singer and her record label €20,000 ($22,000)
Some exposed forgers have later sold their reproductions honestly, by attributing them as copies, and some have actually gained enough notoriety to become famous in their own right. Forgeries painted by the late Elmyr de Hory, featured in the film F for Fake directed by Orson Welles, have become so valuable that forged de Horys have appeared on the market.
Of the 10 civil lawsuits brought against Ann Freedman and Knoedler Gallery, six have been settled out of court for undisclosed sums, including Domenico de Sole's case, over that fake Mark Rothko. As for Ann Freedman, she is back in the art business. She has opened another gallery and is once again selling paintings just a few doors down from her old gallery in New York City.
"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.
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The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art uses a variation of the format suggested by The AAM Guide to Provenance Research (Washington, D.C., 2001). Provenance is listed in chronological order, beginning with the earliest known owner. Methods of transactions and relationships between owners, if known, are indicated at the beginning of each line. The term “With” precedes a dealer’s name to indicate their commercial status when the method of their acquisition is unknown. Life dates for private collectors are included in parentheses and dates of ownership, when known, are indicated at the end of each line. Uncertain information is preceded by the terms “possibly” or “probably.” Footnotes are used to document or clarify information.


Sometimes it is necessary to remove small bits of materials from a work and subject them to various analyses. Chemical analysis is particularly valuable in determining the pigment used because many of the paints available to the modern forger were unknown in earlier times. Today titanium, a 20th-century product, is used to make the white pigment in most oil paints, whereas white lead was the element used in the time of Rembrandt. Many ancient colours were manufactured by grinding natural minerals such as lapis lazuli for blue and malachite for green. Today cheaper synthetic chemicals are used. Some chemical tests, however, require the removal of more ancient material than is desirable. In that event a speck as small as the head of a pin can be analyzed spectrographically. From the burning of a minute sample a photographic record of the spectrum of the light emitted is analyzed to reveal the elements present and their relative percentages.
Among the forgers who have tried to make the experts look foolish is George Psalmanazar (1679?–1763). A Frenchman, he went to England where he pretended, with great success, to be a native of Formosa (Taiwan), and published a book about that island, which he had never visited. Another is William Lauder, who attempted to prove John Milton guilty of plagiarism by quoting 17th-century poets who wrote in Latin, into whose works he had interpolated Latin translations from Paradise Lost. A forgery made as a joke but taken seriously was the “Ern Malley” poems, offered to an Australian magazine in 1944 as the work of a recently dead poet. Actually it was composed by two young soldiers who wished to ridicule certain aspects of contemporary poetry.

As the trial nears, a few facts are certain. Rosales sold fraudulent art; after pleading guilty to nine counts that include wire fraud and money laundering, she agreed to cooperate in the investigation and is awaiting sentencing. Her boyfriend Bergantiños was arrested in Spain and remains there. Pei-Shen, who brilliantly forged work by the most lauded artists of the 20th century, is on the loose and untouchable somewhere in China.

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:
In another common form of money laundering, called smurfing (also known as "structuring"), the criminal breaks up large chunks of cash into multiple small deposits, often spreading them over many different accounts, to avoid detection. Money laundering can also be accomplished through the use of currency exchanges, wire transfers, and "mules"—cash smugglers, who sneak large amounts of cash across borders and deposit them in foreign accounts, where money-laundering enforcement is less strict.
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.
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