Jack Flam took his information to the FBI's Art Crimes unit, which launched an investigation. In 2013, Glafira Rosales confessed to playing a key role in the multimillion dollar fraud. She is now awaiting sentencing, and told the FBI the forgeries were the handiwork of this man: Pei-Shen Qian, an artist who lived in Queens and painted the works in his garage.
We’ll likely never know the provenance of the president’s purported Renoir, but Bloch’s is an example of the seldom-spoken yet widespread practice among institutions to forge famous pieces for collectors who’ve either donated or loaned the original works. In 2010, Henry and late wife Marion Bloch promised the Nelson-Atkins Museum their two-decade-old collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist art. In 2015, two years before the Bloch Collection was slated to debut, the museum began duplicating the works, some in-house, some with external help.
Technical analysis, an objective approach, rests on an arsenal of equipment and tests. The fundamental principle is the comparison of a suspected work with a genuine work of the same artist or period. The suspected piece must show the same pigments or materials used and comparable age deterioration. Inconsistencies automatically cause the piece to be suspect. Oil paintings dry out and develop a crackle, bronzes oxidize, and ancient glass buried in the ground develops iridescent layers. The microscope is the most useful basic tool: a close examination of the physical condition often will show if the aging is genuine or has been artificially induced. The type of tools used by the artist can be detected from an examination of their telltale traces.
* Get full names and contact information for all private parties who the seller claims previously owned the art, or other forms of proof that they indeed owned it. Confirm that these people actually exist (or existed) and, when possible, contact them or their descendants directly to confirm all claims. Or have the seller do it for you. Simply being given a list of names with no other accompanying or verifiable information is not enough.
The art world was quick to fall in line, with London’s National Gallery displaying the Gentileschi and the Pamigianino popping up at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. At one point, the Louvre in Paris launched a fundraising campaign to buy the Hals, dubbing it a “national treasure” after it was authenticated by France’s Center for Research and Restoration.
The second essay (Purchase Price Paid Over Time: “Title Does Not Pass Until Payment in Full”) addresses a very common provision in contracts for the sale of art with installment payments. But, surprising to many art sellers, the Uniform Commercial Code probably makes this provision unenforceable, with consequences for the seller getting his art back.
Statistical analysis of digital images of paintings is a new method that has recently been used to detect forgeries. Using a technique called wavelet decomposition, a picture is broken down into a collection of more basic images called sub-bands. These sub-bands are analyzed to determine textures, assigning a frequency to each sub-band. The broad strokes of a surface such as a blue sky would show up as mostly low frequency sub-bands whereas the fine strokes in blades of grass would produce high-frequency sub-bands. A group of 13 drawings attributed to Pieter Brueghel the Elder was tested using the wavelet decomposition method. Five of the drawings were known to be imitations. The analysis was able to correctly identify the five forged paintings. The method was also used on the painting Virgin and Child with Saints, created in the studios of Pietro Perugino. Historians have long suspected that Perugino painted only a portion of the work. The wavelet decomposition method indicated that at least four different artists had worked on the painting.
Prosecution is also possible under state criminal laws, such as prohibitions against criminal fraud, or against the simulation of personal signatures. However, in order to trigger criminal liability under states' laws, the government must prove that the defendant had intent to defraud. The evidentiary burden, as in all criminal prosecutions, is high; proof "beyond a reasonable doubt" is required.
Before addressing those questions, it is useful to consider how provenance is relevant to sales of art. Art litigation generally falls within one of three categories: disputes concerning ownership, disputes concerning authenticity, and, to a lesser extent, disputes concerning value. The provenance of a work may bear on each of those potential areas of dispute. Obviously, to the extent provenance represents a chain of title, it may bear quite directly on a dispute concerning ownership. (If “H.W. Göring, Berlin” is listed in the provenance, that is probably a red flag).3
Portrait of a Woman, attributed to Goya (1746-1828). X-ray images taken of this painting in 1954 revealed a portrait of another woman, circa 1790, beneath the surface. X-ray diffraction analysis revealed the presence of zinc white paint, invented after Goya's death. Further analysis revealed that the surface paint was modern and had been applied so as not to obscure the craquelure of the original. After analysis, the conservators left the work as you see it above, with portions of old and new visible, to illustrate the intricacies of art forgery, and the inherent difficulty of detecting it.
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.