Art forgery

From Academic Kids

Art forgery means creating and especially selling works of art that are falsely attributed to be work of other, usually more famous artists. Art forgery is extremely lucrative, but modern dating and analysis techniques make the identification of a piece of art much simpler.



Art forgery dates back more than two-thousand years. Roman sculptors produced copies of Greek sculptures. Presumably the contemporary buyers knew that they were not genuine.

Before the commercial art market, copying a work of a master was considered a tribute, not a forgery. In the previous centuries, many painters like Rembrandt had workshops with apprentices that studied painting techniques by copying the works and style of the master. As a payment for the training, the master had a right to sell these works for money. Some of these works have been later erroneously attributed to the masters.

The art forgery became more prominent in the Renaissance when the interest of antiquities increased their value. This soon extended to contemporary and recently deceased artists. In the 16th century imitators of Albrecht Dürer's style of printmaking added signatures to them and thus increased the value of their own prints. These are currently considered forgeries. Some now famous artists, like Michelangelo, also created forgeries for their own reasons.

The 20th century the art market has favored artists like Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso, Klee and Matisse and they have been common targets of art forgery. Usually the forgeries are sold to art galleries and auction houses who cater to the tastes of art and antiquities collectors.

Nature of the forgery

Copies, replicas, reproductions and pastiches are legitimate works. They become forgeries when someone intentionally tries to pass them off as genuine items even if they know better.

Sometimes a difference of a legitimate copy and deliberate forgery is blurred. Guy Hain used the original molds to create copies of Auguste Rodin's sculptures. What made them forgeries was that he signed them with the name of Rodin's original foundry.

Art forgers

Art forger must be at least somewhat proficient in the area he is trying to imitate. Many forgers have been fledgling artists that have tried to get a break into the art market and eventually resorted on forgery. Some forgers have borrowed the original items, copied it and given the copy to the original owners.

Although many art forgers are in he business solely for money, some have claimed that they have created forgeries to expose the credulity and snobbishness of the art world, essentially claiming that they have performed only hoaxes of exposure. These claims have usually surfaced after they have been caught.

Most forgers usually copy artists who are already dead, but the others may try to imitate still living artists. At May 2004, for example, Norwegian painter Kjell Nupen noticed that a Kristianstad gallery was selling unauthorized signed copies of his work.

If the dealer of the forged art is aware of the fraudulent nature of the item, they may end up exploiting the painter by threatening to expose them.

Some of the exposed forgers have later sold their work attributing them as honestly copies or selling them as their own work. Some forgers have actually gained enough notoriety to become famous for their own right. Forgeries painted by late Elmyr de Hory have become valuable collectibles in such an extent that now there are also forged de Horys.

Methods of detection

The most obvious forgeries are revealed because they are just clumsy copies of previous art. Forger may try to create a "new" work by combining elements of more than one work. They may omit details typical to the artist they are trying to imitate or add anachronisms. They may also try to claim that a slightly different copy is a previous version of the more famous work.

However, if the forger is skilled enough to create something new that is reminiscent of the style of a specific artist, investigators must rely on other methods.

Sometimes thorough investigation is enough. Sculpture may have been created with modern methods and tools and diluted in chemicals to "age" it. Some forgers have tried to imitate worm marks by drilling.

Art experts try to find out whether the work came out of nowhere and study catalogues of previous auctions to find out whether it has been for sale elsewhere. If the item has no paper trail, it is probably a forgery. Some forgers therefore try to produce proof. British art dealer John Drewe created false documents of provenance and even inserted pictures of forgeries into the archives of prominent art institutions.

Investigators may try to use carbon dating to find out the real age of the item but this is useful mainly in very old items. They may analyze used pigments to find out if the used paints are too modern. They can use infrared analysis or x-ray fluorescence to find whether a painting had been painted on old canvas or over some other painting (not a surefire method since genuine artist may have also reused old canvases if they could not afford new ones). X-ray fluorescence can also reveal if metals in metal sculpture or even in the pigments are too pure. Sometimes they may be able to check the artist's fingerprints left in the paint.

Some forgers are able to answer to that as well. Han van Meegeren used historical methods to create pigments for his paintings of Vermeer.

If the forger had been meticulous, there is still the analysis of style of how the original artist has created his art - characteristic brushwork and perspective, preferred themes and techniques. Some forgers study these as well in order to imitate them.

Statistical analysis of digital images of paintings is another method that is beginning to be used to detect forgeries. Using a technique called wavelet decomposition, a picture is broken down into a collection of more basic images called subbands. These subbands are analyzed to determine textures, assigning a frequency to each subband. The broad strokes of a surface such as a blue sky would show up as mostly low frequency subbands whereas the fine strokes in blades of grass would produce high frequency subbands.

The wavelet decomposition method was tested using a group of thirteen drawings attributed to Pieter Brueghel the Elder. Five of the drawings are known to be imitations. The analysis was able to correctly identify the five that were imitations. The method was also used on the painting Virgin and Child with Saints. This painting was created in the studios of Pietro Perugino. Historians have had the opinion that Perugino only painted a portion of the work. The wavelet decomposition method identified that four different artists had worked on the painting.

Another feature of genuine paintings sometimes used to detect forgery is craquelure.

Problems in verification

The fact that experts do not always agree on the authenticity of a particular item makes the matter of provenance more complex. Some of the artists have also sometimes accepted the copies of their work - Picasso is attributed to saying that he would sign a very good forgery. Jean Corot painted 700 works but also signed copies made by others in his name.

Sometimes art restoration is so extensive that the original is practically replaced when new materials are used to supplement older ones. Art restorer may also remove or add details to a genuine painting, trying to make the painting more saleable in the contemporary art market environment. This is not a modern phenomenon - historical painters who got hold of other artist's work might have "retouched" it to their liking by repainting background and details.

Currently there have been claims that art dealers and auction houses have been too eager to accept the forgeries as genuine so they could be sold quicker for profit. If the dealer finds out the work is a forgery, they may quietly withdraw it and return it to its previous owner - which gives a forger an opportunity to try to sell it elsewhere. Some of the potential buyers may not even care about the provenance of the item as long as it can pass for the real one in their social circles.

Some experts and institution may also be reluctant to admit their own fallibility. Estimates about the amount of forgeries in the art institute collections range from insignificant to Thomas Hoving's 60%.

It also sometimes happens that the work that has been declared a forgery is later accepted as genuine; Vermeer's Young Woman Seated at the Virginals had been treated as a forgery from 1947 but was declared genuine at March 2004.

Famous forgeries

Known art forgers and dealers of forged art

See also


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