Provenance can be difficult to determine. The information presented here is intended to be a teaching tool for those interested in provenance research, specifically how to read it and what to look out for in terms of periods and areas of added scrutiny. Beyond introducing readers to the subject, the page also aims to be the new home for information about the Toledo Museum of Art’s recently acquired works of art, especially those that require additional provenance research. The Museum welcomes any information from the public that may help close gaps or provide further information into the history of an object’s ownership.
Forgers also remind us that great art depends on the ideas of artists, not necessarily on their actual hands. Many wonderful works of art by figures such as Titian, Rembrandt and Rubens were executed partly or even mostly by their studio assistants, which doesn’t make them any less expressive of Titian or Rembrandt’s innovations. For nearly two decades, our forger in Queens managed to fool both the dealers at Knoedler and their art-savvy clients, and the only reason his fakes could exist and succeed is because the true achievement of Pollock and Rothko was to come up with a set of ideas and procedures for making art. The faker could be considered a faithful assistant of theirs who happened to arrive after they’d died; ditto the hundreds of forgers of Qi Baishi.
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).
At Lowy, collectors interested in hiding their originals in the vault, whether for security purposes, to protect delicate works, or to lower the cost to insure them, can reproduce works without the help of a museum. The company employs both specially trained restoration artists and independent artists in need of a day job to conserve and replicate artworks. The process starts with an extremely high-quality print of a digital image, and then the painstaking application of clear conservators’ gel to simulate brushstrokes. Prices start at about $2,000, while frames tend to quadruple the amount.
The Responsible Art Market, or RAM, is an industry-supported not-for-profit organization which describes itself as ‘”[r]aising awareness of risks faced by the art industry and providing practical guidance on establishing and implementing responsible practices to address those risks.” On its website, RAM provides both an Art Transaction Due Diligence Toolkit, as well as Guidelines on Combatting Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing (“AML Guidelines”). The AML Guidelines are similar to the protocols set forth by the Basel Institute, but provide slightly more concrete detail. They set forth eight basic principles:
In the United States federal money laundering statutes apply to nearly every major transaction through which illegal profits are disguised to look legal. Typically, dirty money is laundered through the purchase of, say, a penthouse apartment, or mixed in with the earnings of a legitimate business like a restaurant. When gambling winnings or drug proceeds come out the other end, they appear as a real estate asset or business profit. They look clean.
“There are museums in the past who have wanted to take something of high value down and replace it with a replica, but that’s a behind-the-curtain thing,” says Timothy Carpenter, a supervisor and special agent in the FBI’s art theft program who frequently lectures collectors to do the same. “If you’ve got this $10 million painting that you’re concerned about, you can probably afford to make a $5,000 copy made and hang it. It’s the only guarantee to keep their painting safe if they don’t have security on their residence.”
They invented a story that fooled them all. Helene said her grandfather hid his art collection at his country estate in Germany before the war to protect it from the Nazis. When he died, she said, she inherited it. But there was nothing to inherit, because there had never been a collection. Every one of the works had been painted by Wolfgang Beltracchi.
A common narrative used by art scammers is to say their wife has been looking at your work and really enjoys it. Or, they have a new home and are looking for pieces to decorate it. At first glance, it may seem like a plausible story, but something about it seems abrupt or stunted. If they don’t use your name or any details about the works they are looking at, it is probably not legitimate.
Recently, some countries in Europe, including Luxembourg and Switzerland, have passed laws to clamp down on money laundering in the art market. Starting in 2016, Switzerland will cap cash transactions at 100,000 Swiss francs ($135,000). Payments above that cash limit will have to be made by credit card, creating a paper trail, or the seller will have to carry out due diligence to ensure the legal origins of the funds.
In the end, maybe this guide was never intended for amoral businessmen in the first place (unless we’ve sorely misjudged our readership!) Maybe this it's more useful to the emerging artists who look for validation (read: dollar signs) in a competitive market. Maybe the artist’s secret to success is appealing to the corrupt and becoming an accomplice to white collar crime (but hopefully not). Are economic criminals the driving force of the art economy? Probably not, but what we do know for certain is that art isn’t only valuable as the evidence of creative genius. It is, to many, a vault.
Provenance (from the French provenir, 'to come from/forth') is the chronology of the ownership, custody or location of a historical object. The term was originally mostly used in relation to works of art but is now used in similar senses in a wide range of fields, including archaeology, paleontology, archives, manuscripts, printed books and science and computing.
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.
Eli Sakhia was a respectable art gallery owner in business for 15 years in Manhattan. He sold privately and to auction houses in the United States and abroad. What he failed to tell his private buyers was that they were buying the forgeries and the auction houses were getting the real works. His modus operandi was to purchase originals, sell them to auction houses, and hire artists in the interim to reproduce fakes for sale to his clients. His problems started when a past buyer of a fake tried to sell his forged piece while Sakhia attempted to sell the original to another auction house. The houses brought in an expert who stated that the past buyer's work was a fake. Sakhia was arrested and convicted; he's expected to serve three to four years in prison (Campanile, 2004).
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.