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.

Following these professional museum standards, TMA periodically reviews its holdings and occasionally deaccessions a select few works of art, based on what will enhance the entire Museum collection. The funds realized from deaccessioning are used solely to improve TMA’s collection through the purchase of new art, in compliance with the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) Professional Practices in Art Museums (see here), the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) Code of Ethics (see the most recent update to AAM’s guidelines here) and the International Council of Museums (ICOM) Code of Ethics (see here).


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.

All the paintings appear to have originated with one man, an obscure French collector-turned-dealer named Giulano Ruffini. The works appear to have had next-to-no provenance, save that they came from the collection of French civil engineer André Borie. Ruffini insists he never suggested they were the real deal, and that eager dealers were the ones to declare his paintings Old Master originals.
* An illustration of the art taken from an old auction catalog without the accompanying description does not constitute valid provenance unless the auction house is or was able to demonstrate beyond doubt that the art was by the artist in question. For example, the auction house may have sold it as "attributed" to the artist. Again, get a copy of the actual auction catalog or read the full listing online to see how the art was described and represented.

A peculiar case was that of the artist Han van Meegeren who became famous by creating "the finest Vermeer ever"[7] and exposing that feat eight years later in 1945. His own work became valuable as well, which in turn attracted other forgers. One of these forgers was his son Jacques van Meegeren who was in the unique position to write certificates stating that a particular piece of art that he was offering "was created by his father, Han van Meegeren".[8]
Forgery, in art, a work of literature, painting, sculpture, or objet d’art that purports to be the work of someone other than its true maker. The range of forgeries extends from misrepresentation of a genuine work of art to the outright counterfeiting of a work or style of an artist. Forgery must be distinguished from copies produced with no intent to deceive.
One of the more-complicated examples is that of the Getty kouros, an allegedly 6th-century-bce male sculpted figure owned by the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles that has long been suspected of being a modern forgery. The Getty paid a very high price for what it believed may have been the last remaining such figure on the art market only to find that the sculpture had stylistic irregularities that suggested that it could not be authentic. At the same time, scientific tests have not demonstrated that it is of modern origin, and some scholars have argued that stylistic anomalies do not prove that it is a fake. The Getty Villa exhibited the work in its galleries with a label that read: “about 530 bc or modern forgery.” However, the kouros was removed from view when the museum completed a yearlong renovation in 2018, with the director stating that the sculpture was fake.
Sometimes, they give us works that great artists simply didn’t get around to making. If a fake is good enough to fool experts, then it’s good enough to give the rest of us pleasure, even insight. The late Swiss collector Ernst Beyeler called a fake Rothko from Queens a “sublime unknown masterwork” in 2005 and hung it in his namesake museum. Why not think of that picture as the sublime masterwork that Rothko happened not to have got around to? Is it a bad thing if thousands more people in China get to own works by the great modern master Qi Baishi — even if the works they own aren’t actually by him? In some ways, they are by him, in the profound sense that they almost perfectly capture his unique contribution to art. If they didn’t, no one would imagine he’d made them.
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.
The following year, in 2013, an even more high-profile laundering case surfaced when a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting worth $8 million was found in a crate at Kennedy Airport on its way from London. The crate went through customs with a valuation of $100, though it contained Basquiat’s 1982 painting Hannibal (commodities valued under $200 aren’t required to be declared at customs.) The painting had been bought and shipped by Brazilian Banker Edemar cid Ferreira in an elaborate scheme to launder over $50 million that was illegally obtained when Ferreira’s bank, Banco Santos, went bankrupt. In 2004, Ferreira went $1 billion in debt after his financial empire, much of which was built on embezzled funds, collapsed. During his reign over Banco Santos, he had bought 12,000 pieces of art. In 2006, Ferreira was sentenced to 21 years in prison for bank fraud, tax evasion, and money laundering. But before his arrest, $30 million of his art collection was smuggled out of Brazil. The scheme was uncovered when Hannibal was found at JFK. According to court papers, the painting was originally bought for $1 million in 2004 by a Panamanian company called Broadening-Info Enterprises, which was later discovered to be owned by Ferreira’s wife, Márcia.

Price flexibility in the art world is just one of the many advantages for a certain subset of the criminals — money launderers. Other advantages include portability, lack of a paper trail, anonymity, and no regulations. Artwork is lightweight compared to other valuables, like gold and cash. Artwork is bought and sold with minimal paperwork, unlike real estate. Artwork purchases can be anonymous, unlike everything else.
Particularly notorious was the case of the Wise forgeries. Thomas James Wise (1859–1937) had the reputation of being one of the most distinguished private book collectors on either side of the Atlantic, and his Ashley Library in London became a place of pilgrimage for scholars from Europe and the United States. He constantly exposed piracies and forgeries and always denied that he was a dealer. The shock was accordingly the greater in 1934 when John W. Carter and Henry Graham Pollard published An Enquiry into the Nature of Certain Nineteenth Century Pamphlets, proving that about 40 or 50 of these, commanding high prices, were forgeries, and that all could be traced to Wise. Subsequent research confirmed the finding of Carter and Pollard and indicted Wise for other and more serious offenses, including the sophistication of many of his own copies of early printed books with leaves stolen from copies in the British Museum.
All the paintings appear to have originated with one man, an obscure French collector-turned-dealer named Giulano Ruffini. The works appear to have had next-to-no provenance, save that they came from the collection of French civil engineer André Borie. Ruffini insists he never suggested they were the real deal, and that eager dealers were the ones to declare his paintings Old Master originals.

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.
Art forgery may also be subject to civil sanctions. The Federal Trade Commission, for example, has used the FTC Act to combat an array of unfair trade practices in the art market. An FTC Act case was successfully brought against a purveyor of fake Dalí prints in FTC v. Magui Publishers, Inc., who was permanently enjoined from fraudulent activity and ordered to restore their illegal profits.[28][29] In that case, the defendant had collected millions of dollars from his sale of forged prints.

The primary purpose of tracing the provenance of an object or entity is normally to provide contextual and circumstantial evidence for its original production or discovery, by establishing, as far as practicable, its later history, especially the sequences of its formal ownership, custody and places of storage. The practice has a particular value in helping authenticate objects. Comparative techniques, expert opinions and the results of scientific tests may also be used to these ends, but establishing provenance is essentially a matter of documentation. The term dates to the 1780s in English. Provenance is conceptually comparable to the legal term chain of custody.
The potential role of high-end art and antiquities in money laundering schemes has attracted increasing attention over the last several years, particularly as the prices for such objects steadily rise and a tightening global enforcement and regulatory net has rendered other possible avenues for money laundering increasingly less attractive. The effort to subject U.S. dealers in art and antiquities to Anti-Money-Laundering (“AML”) obligations recently has gained new life.  As we blogged, the House Financial Services Committee just released three proposed bills to codify many of the reform ideas that have been swirling around the Bank Secretary Act (“BSA”) and AML and Combating the Financing of Terrorism (“CFT”) laws.  One of the bills — entitled as the “To make reforms to the Federal Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money laundering laws, and for other purposes” —  catalogues various detailed provisions seeking to reform the BSA and AML laws.  Nestled admist all of the other, generally higher-profile proposals (such as the creation of a BSA whistleblower program), one short section of this bill simply expands the list of defined “financial institutions” covered by the BSA to include “dealers in art or antiquities,” and then states that the Secretary of the Treasury shall issue implementing regulations within 180 days of the bill’s enactment.

The potential role of high-end art and antiquities in money laundering schemes has attracted increasing attention over the last several years, particularly as the prices for such objects steadily rise and a tightening global enforcement and regulatory net has rendered other possible avenues for money laundering increasingly less attractive. The effort to subject U.S. dealers in art and antiquities to Anti-Money-Laundering (“AML”) obligations recently has gained new life.  As we blogged, the House Financial Services Committee just released three proposed bills to codify many of the reform ideas that have been swirling around the Bank Secretary Act (“BSA”) and AML and Combating the Financing of Terrorism (“CFT”) laws.  One of the bills — entitled as the “To make reforms to the Federal Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money laundering laws, and for other purposes” —  catalogues various detailed provisions seeking to reform the BSA and AML laws.  Nestled admist all of the other, generally higher-profile proposals (such as the creation of a BSA whistleblower program), one short section of this bill simply expands the list of defined “financial institutions” covered by the BSA to include “dealers in art or antiquities,” and then states that the Secretary of the Treasury shall issue implementing regulations within 180 days of the bill’s enactment.


In the 18th and 19th centuries, the mania for classification and study of the past resulted in an upsurge in forgeries as the art market adjusted to accommodate the new interest in the artistic past. That interest in the classification of the past also led to the founding of academic disciplines such as the history of art. The study of art history and the creation of agreed-upon bodies of work for artists and eras, as well as advances in science, made possible in the 20th century the winnowing out of forgeries, fakes, and misattributions from authentic works. As art historians gained more knowledge about the past and the styles, materials, and working conditions of artists and historical epochs, inauthentic and fraudulent works were more readily exposed.
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