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:
   Artists have been copying the images and the styles of other artists for thousands of years. Up until around the 16th Century this was a common practice, used to pass down historical, religious and artistic tradition for future generations. Copying the work of others, and particularly the Masters, was a normal part of any artist's academic training. It still is, in major art schools, a normal and required part of an art student's cirriculum.
Stories of art and money laundering tend to be media friendly, and often involve the wealthy behaving poorly.  In one notorious case, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) seized, via a civil forfeiture action, Jean Michel Basquiat’s 1981 painting, Hannibal. This work — later returned to Brazil by the DOJ — had been smuggled into the U.S. by Edemar Cid Ferreira, a former Brazilian banker who was convicted of money laundering and other offenses, and who allegedly converted some of his laundered proceeds into a significant art collection.  According to the DOJ, although Hannibal had been appraised at a value of $8 million, it had been smuggled by Ferreira into the U.S. from Brazil, via the Netherlands, with false shipping invoices stating that the contents of the shipment were worth $100.  Other stories provide less genteel tales of drug cartels, terrorist organizations and other criminal syndicates financing themselves through systemic looting and the illicit antiquities trade.
An expert certification can mean the difference between an object having no value and being worth a fortune. Certifications themselves may be open to question. Jacques van Meegeren forged the work of his father Han van Meegeren (who in his turn had forged the work of Vermeer). Jacques sometimes produced a certificate with his forgeries stating that a work was created by his father.
When one of the oldest and most respected art galleries in America, the Knoedler Gallery in New York, closed its doors abruptly in 2011, the art world was stunned. Not because the gallery closed, but by the discovery that over the course of 15 years, the gallery and its president, Ann Freedman, had sold millions of dollars in forgeries to wealthy collectors.
One may logically question the real meaning of the difference between a genuine and a spurious work of art when in many cases it requires such expert study to detect the difference between the two. Or to phrase it another way, what is the difference in value of a work of art that has been on view in a museum for 40 years, after it has been proved to be false? This is a somewhat philosophical point in that the object itself has not changed, only our opinion of it. Its monetary value has been reduced from that of a rare, expensive, original piece to that of an attractive but spurious imitation. Its aesthetic quality has become a real danger, as it is a perversion of the truth. The forgery presents a false understanding of the work of an artist or an ancient culture, one which has been perverted in its modern translation. To appreciate the work of ancient artists their work must be studied alone and not be diverted by forgeries, or one will be inexorably misguided.
Any art object—paintings, sculpture, jewelry, ceramics, fine furniture, and decorative pieces of all kinds—can be forged. The difficulty of forging, however, is as important as market price in determining what is forged. Probably fewer than 1 percent of stone sculptures are false because they require so much labour to make and their market is limited, but as many as 10 percent of modern French paintings on the market may be forgeries. The technical difficulties in making a convincing imitation of an ancient Greek vase are so great that forgeries are almost nonexistent. In contrast the forgery level of tiny archaic Greek and Cretan bronze statuettes, which are simple to cast, is possibly as high as 50 percent. A forger is most likely to succeed with a mediocre piece in the middle price range because such a piece probably will never be subjected to definitive examination. Although the price should be low enough to allay suspicion, the object can still yield a fair return for the effort expended by the forger.
There is no comparable entity in the art market. But were the same type of program instituted in the art market, it would only require that the auction house, dealer or lawyer know the beneficial owner and be able to reveal that information to federal authorities. It would not require the other side of the transaction to learn the seller (or buyer’s) identity.
Forgers of older artworks sometimes attempt to override forensic methods by using or plausibly imitating authentic materials. One of the best-known cases is that of forger Han van Meegeren, who used a modern paint mixture but mimicked an older technique to a sufficient degree that his paintings were certified, as he intended, as originals by the 17th-century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer. Even though further testing can reveal that a paint’s age has been masked, museums and collectors often simply accept initial results.
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