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.
Another reason that art fraud is difficult to control is that the art market is enormous, unwieldy, and greatly varied, embracing items from Victorian buttons to 6th-century Greek vases and from medieval pilgrim badges to contemporary photographs. Business is often conducted under the veil of secrecy, with buyers wishing to remain anonymous to avoid the attention of burglars and other opportunists. It would be logistically impossible to monitor all of the transactions between dealers, private collectors, and museums that are in the business of acquiring art. Suspected art forgeries are generally considered on a case-by-case basis, because they can usually be identified only by an expert in the field. But it is not unusual for two experts to have wildly different opinions of the authenticity of the same object, based in each case on reputable evidence.

Sometimes provenance can be as simple as a photograph of the item with its original owner. Simple yet definitive documentation such as that can increase its value by an order of magnitude, but only if the owner was of high renown. Many items that were sold at auction have gone far past their estimates because of a photograph showing that item with a famous person. Some examples include antiques owned by politicians, musicians, artists, actors, etc.[6]
During the Renaissance, many painters took on apprentices who studied painting techniques by copying the works and style of the master. As a payment for the training, the master would then sell these works. This practice was generally considered a tribute, not forgery, although some of these copies have later erroneously been attributed to the master.
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In March 2001 in Boston, meeting with an undercover agent posing as a drug dealer who showed interest in buying the putative Raphael, Stewart said he could move cash, exchange cash for gems in addition to art, and handle the resale of the Raphael, the agent's affidavit says. Eventually, the deal shifted to the Modigliani and Degas, the affidavit says, and Stewart fell out of the transaction.

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


The most obvious forgeries are revealed as clumsy copies of previous art. A forger may try to create a "new" work by combining the elements of more than one work. The forger may omit details typical to the artist they are trying to imitate, or add anachronisms, in an attempt to claim that the forged work is a slightly different copy, or a previous version of a more famous work. To detect the work of a skilled forger, investigators must rely on other methods.
Any given antiquity may have both a provenience (where it was found) and a provenance (where it has been since it was found). A summary of the distinction is that "provenience is a fixed point, while provenance can be considered an itinerary that an object follows as it moves from hand to hand."[25] Another metaphor is that provenience is an artifact's "birthplace", while provenance is its "résumé",[26] though this is imprecise (many artifacts originated as trade goods created in one region but were used and finally deposited in another).

Collecting Collection (artwork) Collections care Collection catalog Collections maintenance Collections management (museum) Collection Management Policy Collections management system Cultural heritage management Cultural resources management Deaccessioning (museum) Digital repository audit method based on risk assessment Display case Documentation of cultural property Emergency response (museum) Exhibition of cultural heritage objects Found in collection Inherent vice Inventory (museum) Museum integrated pest management Preservation metadata Preservation Metadata: Implementation Strategies Preservation of meaning Preservation survey Provenance Repatriation Restoration (cultural heritage) Storage of cultural heritage objects
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.
While the detection of the careful forger may require an expert, forged literary autographs can often be detected by anyone taking the trouble to compare them with an authentic example. Many collectors have been deceived by their own credulity, because they wished to believe that they were getting a good bargain and subconsciously suppressed their critical faculty. A classic case is that of the French forger Vrain-Denis Lucas, who sold a collection of forgeries including a letter of St. Mary Magdalene, written in French on paper made in France.
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:
From 1994 until 2009, Knoedler & Co. admittedly — but, the claim goes, unknowingly — sold 31 other bogus paintings. Through those sales, the gallery raked in some $80 million. Luke Nikas, Freedman’s lawyer, says that she earned $10- to $12-million between 1994 and 2008. Moguls and megalevel tastemakers all thought they were buying works by such abstract expressionist blue-chippers as Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell and Willem de Kooning.

Even as far back as ancient Rome, Mr. Nagel shows, it was considered utterly normal to copy the Greek statues of Praxiteles or Polyclitus, even while altering them. Patrons wanted access to the larger aesthetic ideas and ideals of their artistic geniuses; they didn’t think of works of art “as singularities, as unrepeatable performances by an author,” as Mr. Nagel puts it.
* Get full names and contact information for all galleries or auction houses that the seller claims previously owned the art. If these galleries are still in business, contact them in order to confirm that the information provided by the seller is correct. If none of the galleries or auction houses are traceable, then this may be cause for concern.
The copy is the easiest forgery to make and is usually the easiest to detect. When a duplicate has appeared the problem is merely to determine which is the original and which is the copy. At least a dozen excellent replicas of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa exist, many of them by his students. Various owners of these copies have at various times claimed that they possess the original. The Louvre is satisfied that it owns the painting by Leonardo because close examination reveals slight changes in the composition underneath the outermost layer of paint, and because this painting has an unbroken record of ownership from the time that the artist painted it.

Of course, beyond AML-related process concerns, any art dealer — just like any business person — always must remember that just about any financial transaction that involves proceeds known to have originated from illegal activity represents a criminal money laundering offense.  Stated otherwise, even if the BSA is not expanded to include dealers in art and antiquities, those in the U.S. art industry still need to bear in mind, in extreme examples, the omnipresent federal criminal code.  Sometimes, the provenance of the funds can be more critical than the provenance of the art.
It is hard to imagine a business more custom-made for money laundering, with million-dollar sales conducted in secrecy and with virtually no oversight. What this means in practical terms is that “you can have a transaction where the seller is listed as ‘private collection’ and the buyer is listed as ‘private collection,’ ” said Sharon Cohen Levin, chief of the asset forfeiture unit of the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan. “In any other business, no one would be able to get away with this.”
Where the research is proceeding backwards, to discover the previous provenance of a painting whose current ownership and location is known, it is important to record the physical details of the painting – style, subject, signature, materials, dimensions, frame, etc.[7] The titles of paintings and the attribution to a particular artist may change over time. The size of the work and its description can be used to identify earlier references to the painting. The back of a painting can contain significant provenance information. There may be exhibition marks, dealer stamps, gallery labels and other indications of previous ownership. There may also be shipping labels. In the BBC TV programme Fake or Fortune? the provenance of the painting Bords de la Seine à Argenteuil was investigated using a gallery sticker and shipping label on the back. Early provenance can sometimes be indicated by a cartellino (a representation of an inscribed label) added to the front of a painting.[8] However, these can be forged, or can fade or be painted over.
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]

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.
In archaeology and paleontology, the derived term provenience is used with a related but very particular meaning, to refer to the location (in modern research, recorded precisely in three dimensions) where an artifact or other ancient item was found.[3] Provenance covers an object's complete documented history. An artifact may thus have both a provenience and a provenance.

American art forger Ken Perenyi published a memoir in 2012 in which he detailed decades of his activities creating thousands of authentic-looking replicas of masters such as James Buttersworth, Martin Johnson Heade, and Charles Bird King, and selling the forgeries to famous auction houses such as Christie's and Sotheby's and wealthy private collectors.[9]


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:
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Financial gain is the most common motive for literary forgery, the one responsible for the numerous forged autographs that appear on the market. The popularity of such authors as the Romantic poets Robert Burns, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Byron led to the fabrication of numerous forgeries of their autographs, some of which remain in circulation. These forgeries were usually made by men who had access to only one or two genuine specimens, which they began by tracing. Their forgeries are stiff, exaggeratedly uniform, and lacking in the fluency and spontaneity of genuine autographs.
For example, federal prosecutions have been successful using generalized criminal statutes, including the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO"). A successful RICO charge was brought against a family which had sold counterfeit prints purportedly by Chagall, Miró, and Dalí. The defendants were also found guilty of other federal crimes including conspiracy to defraud, money laundering, and postal fraud.[26] Federal prosecutors are also able to prosecute forgers using the federal wire fraud or mail fraud statutes where the defendants used such communications.
Stylistic analysis is subjective: it rests on the astute eye of the art historian. Each artist has a style, a flair, a verve unique to himself, and this can be recognized. His style will undergo change throughout his career, and this, too, can be stylistically analyzed and documented from his known works. When an unknown work purporting to be by a certain artist is discovered, the art historian attempts to fit it into the overall body of works by this artist. The subject matter, the brushwork, the choice of colours, and the type of composition are all consistent elements in a given artist’s production. Any variation immediately arouses suspicion. When the idiosyncrasies of an artist’s brushwork are studied, a fraud can sometimes be detected in much the same way a handwriting forgery is proven. In ancient works, particularly in antiquities, the scholar must examine the iconography of a piece. Forgers rarely have the scholarly background to combine iconographic elements correctly, and their errors often betray them.
Ken Dreifach, head of the Internet Bureau at the New York State Attorney General's office, reported the reoccurring sales of a forged painting. An individual purchased a painting from the Art and Design Center of New York City and brought it to an art expert for appraisal who determined the work was a forgery. The Art and Design Center refunded the money to the purchaser but then sold it to another individual. That person also had it evaluated by an expert who said it was a fake. The Center refunded the money to the second purchaser. Then an undercover investigator from the attorney general's office bought the same painting and the jig was up. The attorney general filed charges and the case was settled against the Center for various monetary charges (Department of Law, 2001).

Knoedler’s fantastic tale of fraud begins in the early 1990s on the streets of Manhattan. That’s where a former waiter from Spain, Jose Carlos Bergantiños Diaz, came upon a Chinese artist peddling canvases on the sidewalk. Bergantiños approached the man, Pei-Shen Qian, and said that he had friends who wanted works by esteemed artists but could not afford the real things. Could Pei-Shen duplicate paintings for them? Bergantiños reportedly offered $500 per copy.
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