This page considers forgery and fraud relating to the
It covers -
following pages consider forgery of antiques and contemporary
In introducing a 1999 Australian Institute of Criminology
conference on art crime AIC Director Adam Graycar commented
and distorted claims of fraud in the popular media have
threatened the major multi-million dollar art industry
in Australia. Art crime is often a hidden crime as many
public galleries do not report theft which would show
their security as being inadequate and private collections
may not wish to call attention to their collections.
The legitimate art market often unknowingly passes on
stolen art, and the criminal art market operates in
quite a different way to the general market for stolen
curator Theodore Rousseau offered a different view, commenting
should all realise that we can only talk about the bad
forgeries, the ones that have been detected; the good
ones are still hanging on the walls.
a forged work (or even an incorrect attribution) matter?
Those questions are considered in Sandor Radnsti's The
Fake: Forgery & Its Place In Art (Lanham: Rowman
& Littlefield 1999), Ian Haywood's Faking It:
Art & the Politics of Forgery (New York: St Martin's
Press 1987), Ken Polk's 1999 Who Wins and Who Loses
When Art is Stolen or Forged (PDF),
Bruno Frey's 1999 Art Fakes? What Fakes: An Economic
Why Fakes Matter: Essays on problems of authenticity
(London: British Museum Press 1992) edited by Mark Jones
and The Deceivers: Art Forgery And Identity in the
Nineteenth Century (Ithaca: Cornell Uni Press 2006)
by Aviva Briefel.
Fake?: The Art of Deception (Berkeley: Uni of
California Press 1990) is a splendid catalogue, edited
by Mark Jones, of the landmark British Museum 'fakes'
exhibition, complemented by Arnau's The Art of the
Faker and Exhibiting Authenticity (Manchester:
Manchester Uni Press 1997) by David Phillips.
A point of entry into the literature is Faking It:
An International Bibliography of Art & Literary Forgeries
1949–1986 (New York: SLA 1987) edited by James
A perspective is provided by Violin Fraud: Deception,
Forgery, Theft & Lawsuits in England and America
(Oxford: Clarendon Press 1997) by Brian Harvey & Carla
As with much fraud, art forgery is a function of the forger's
ingenuity or skill and what the market will accept.
Mechanisms for forgery include -
signatures - adding a recognised artist's signature
(often considered to be a valuable indicator of originality)
to an unsigned work not executed by that artist or by
deleting an existing signature in favour of one from
a more recognised artist
unfinished works - 'restoring' an incomplete work from
an earlier period (with the requisite signs of age),
particularly in a way that 'improves' it
- deliberately selling a retouched work by a master's
protege (or merely from the corresponding period) as
that of the particular master
- reproducing an original and selling that copy as the
- copying details from different work by a particular
artist for amalgamation as an unrecorded unique work
by that artist
- simulating drafts of a major work, such as an oil
painting or sculpture, by concocting sketches of figures.
In introducing this profile we suggested that in practice
there is an a price threshhold for collectibles - whether
the used socks of Australian cricketing greats or a Mantegna
canvas - beneath which there is little concern for provenance
or forensic analysis. In the world of fine arts there
is recurrent concern about the gatekeepers concerned with
forged works priced above that threshhold.
Perceived poor performance by gatekeepers such as leading
auction houses, curatorial institutions and authenticators
subjectivity in aesthetic judgements
absence or incompleteness of information regarding provenance
of interest among appraisers, with high profile examples
including connoisseur Bernard Berenson (1865-1959),
Ludwig Burchard (1886-1960) and Anthony Blunt
reticence of curatorial institutions to admit mistakes
or embarrass donors
one critic characterised as 'auction house ethics',
with leading outlets recurrently alleged to have misled
customers, actively breached regulations regarding fair
trading and imports/exports or failed to meet claims
Henrik Bering claimed that
makes the swindles of the art world so unpleasant is
that while you would expect this kind of behavior from
a used-car salesman, you do not expect it from people
who kiss you on both cheeks and play Mozart in the background.
Thompson commented in 2004 that in the art world, crying
'fake' is surprisingly difficult -
when a dealer spots a clear forgery, few people are
willing to burn bridges by speaking out. One might imagine
that dealers are manic about authenticity and would
be quick to publicize any possible chicanery. But when
million-dollar reputations are on the line, openly claiming
that someone else has been suckered - or complaining
that you have been - can get you slapped with a libel
suit. Even when a dealer spots a clear forgery, few
people are willing to burn bridges by speaking out.
Mason more succinctly described one villain within a leading
auction house as "slippery as a jellied eel in a
bucket of snot".
Others have suggested that crying fake - or criticizing
a dead colleague, particularly a dead colleague - is too
easy. 2006 saw claims that Ludwig Burchard, one of the
most respected art scholars of the 20th century and animator
of the Corpus Rubenianum, provided certificates of authenticity
for commercial gain. In 1950 he reportedly characterised
Rubens' Gideon Overcoming the Midianites as "a
compilation by a contemporary of Rubens", missing
the expected "transparency of shadows". Four
years later - whether he had changed his mind or been
persuaded by a certification fee, he advised a London
dealer of its authenticity, proclaiming "the vigour
of the design, the brilliance of the vivid colours, the
concentration of movement".
Questions of attribution are explored in Ronald Spencer's
The Expert Versus the Object: Judging Fakes and False
Attributions in the Visual Arts (New York: Oxford
Uni Press 2004). Beth Houghton's Art libraries as
a source of false provenance (PDF)
highlights aspects of manufacturing documentation to substantiate
For the trade in 'old masters' on which the paint is still
wet see in particular Sotheby's: The Inside Story
(New York: Random House 1997) by Peter Watson, Sothebys:
Bidding for Class (London: Little Brown 1998) by
Robert Lacey and more perceptive The Art of the Steal:
Inside the Sotheby's-Christie's Auction House Scandal
(New York: Putnam 2004) by Christopher Mason. From
Monet To Manhattan: The Rise of the Modern Art Market
(New York: Random House 1992) is an excellent overview
by Peter Watson.
Misbehaviour regarding modern masters is highlighted in
The Legacy of Mark Rothko (New York: Da Capo
1996) by Lee Seldes and in Tod Volpe's confusing Framed:
Tales of the Art Underworld (Edinburgh: Cutting Edge
For Berenson and colleagues see Ernest Samuels' two volume
Bernard Berenson (Cambridge: Harvard Uni Press 1979, 1987),
Colin Simpson's expose Artful Partners: Bernard Berenson
& Joseph Duveen (London: Macmillan 1986), Duveen
- A Life in Art (New York: Knopf) by Meryle Secrest
and Bernard Berenson & the Twentieth Century
(Philadelphia: Temple Uni Press 1994) by Mary Ann Calo.
Han van Meegeren (1889-1947) concentrated on forgery of
Vermeer, with his Christ at Emmaus being acclaimed
as authentic by art historian Abraham Bredius in 1937
and then sold for the equivalent of US$6 million. Bredius
is a wonderful moment in the life of a lover of art
when he finds himself suddenly confronted with a hitherto
unknown painting by a great master, untouched, on the
original canvas, and without any restoration, just as
it left the painter's studio! And what a picture! ...
what we have here is a - I am inclined to say - the
masterpiece of Johannes Vermeer of Delft
Meegeren had earlier been dismissed as
gifted technician who has made a sort of composite facsimile
of the Renaissance school, he has every virtue except
was exposed after his arrest for selling a 'Vermeer' to
Hermann Göring, defending himself by painting another
'Vermeer' in his prison cell - thereby escaping a conviction
for collaboration but gaining a sentence for forgery and
confiscation of proceeds equivalent to US$40 million.
He had happily spent another US$20 million on champagne,
morphine, fast cars and accommodation. Göring was
apocryphally told that his painting was a forgery while
awaiting execution, with a contemporary remarking that
he "looked as if for the first time he had discovered
there was evil in the world".
Contemporary Joseph van der Veken (1872-1964) - best known
for his The Just Judges, a commissioned copy
replacing the stolen panel from Van Eyck's Adoration
of the Mystic Lamb in Ghent Cathedral - is now associated
with a fake Memling Mary Magdalene and other
Icilio Federico Joni
(1866-1946), the D'Annunzio of forgers and author of the
self-promoting 1932 Le memorie di un pittore di quadri
antichi, was responsible for a Madonna
and Child with Angels by Sano di Pietro in the Cleveland
Museum of Art collection (exposed in 1948), a Triptych
in the Courtauld Institute Gallery and a Madonna &
Child, Saint Maria Maddalena and Saint Sebastiano
in the style of Neroccio di Bartolomeo Landi in the Lehman
Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Umberto Giunti (1886-1970) was more reticent as he moved
from Siennese fresco forger to discoverer of lost Botticellis.
Louis Marcy (aka Luigi Parmeggiani, 1860-1932) faked medieval
and Renaissance caskets, jewelry and reliquaries when
not penning articles for anarchist magazines reviled the
propertied classes. He was rivalled by Giovanni Bastianini
Otto Wacker (1905-1976), a Berlin cabaret performer turned
art dealer, unloaded some 33 previously unknown 'Van Gogh'
canvases - supposedly painted 35 years before - from 1925
onwards, convincing authorities such as Julius Meier-Graefe
and Jacob Baart de la Faille, author of the Van Gogh catalogue
Elmyr de Hory (1905-1976?), subject of a biography by
Clifford Irving (the basis for Orson Welles' 1975 film
F is for Fake), claimed that he had successfully
forged almost a thousand paintings by contemporaries such
as Chagall, Matisse, Modigliani and Picasso.
English artist Tom Keating (1917-1984) is reported to
forged over 2,000 paintings by around 100 artists, starring
in a television program after confessing in 1976. Eric
(1934-1996), sometime protege of brilliant scholar and
KGB agent Anthony Blunt, admitted to forging over a thousand
Old Master drawings attributed to Poussin, Bruegel, Rubens,
Van Dyck, Pontormo, Castiglione, Mantegna and Tiepolo.
More recently UK artist John Myatt (1945- ) created works
attributed by associate John Drewe to Chagall, Giacometti
and Ben Nicholson.
In the 1994 'Canyon Suite' case
28 'undiscovered' Georgia O'Keeffe watercolors were sold
for US$5 million after reported endorsement by the O'Keeffe
Foundation and National Gallery of Art in Washington.
They were dropped from the canon in 1999.
In 2004 the Guardian revealed that Sothebys had
catalogued a landscape by Marinus Koekkoek (estimated
value £5,000) as a work by 19th century Russian
realist Ivan Shishkin with a tag of £700,000. Euphrosyne
Doxiades has controversially claimed
that the UK National Gallery's Samson & Delilah
(acquired for several million in 1990) is incorrectly
attributed to Peter Paul Rubens and indeed may not be
from his era. The Cleveland Museum of Art' paid US$1 million
1974 purchase for a St Catherine supposedly painted
by Matthias Grünewald. The work was subsequently
attributed to restorer Christian Goller.
In May 2000 Sothebys and Christies embarrassingly realised
that they were both offering the one and only Vase
de Fleurs by Gauguin, with the FBI
tracing the forgery to dealer Ely Sakhai (PDF).
had supposedly bought authenticated minor works by figures
such as Chagall, Renoir, Gauguin, Monet and Klee. He allegedly
sold copies of those works to buyers in Asia, accompanied
by genuine or forged certificates of authenticity, and
subsequently sold the originals in different markets.
Bronzes, typically issued in small editions rather than
as unique items, pose particular difficulties with illicit
castings from legitimate moulds competing with works that
are copied from originals or merely in the style of a
master. Apart from greats such as Rodin and Brancusi,
ersatz versions exist of works by/after Degas, Bugatti,
Barbedienne, Remington, Fremiet, Arp and Barye. French
dealer Guy Hain was imprisoned in 2001 for faking sculpture
by Giacometti, Carpeaux, Barye, Brancusi and Arp - an
estimated 4,000 pieces for revenue of over US$60 million.
It has been claimed that many signed prints by US photographer
Lewis Hine (1874-1940) were in fact created after his
death by or for trustees Walter and Naomi Rosenblum. German
collecter Werner Bokelberg exposed forgery of Man Ray's
most famous images from the 1920s and '30s, such as La
Marquise Casati and Noire et blanche. His
investigation began when he became suspicious at the increasing
availability of an unusually large selection of rare Man
was too good to be true. I could have any picture I
a reminder of the principle that if it seems too good
to be true it probably is.
Newsweek famously quipped in 1940 that of the 2,500
paintings Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875) created
during his lifetime, 7,800 were to be found in the US
- an echo of the barrel load of holy nails, spears and
other 'unique' items highlighted earlier
in this profile.
That quip has been almost as popular as Corot. ARTnews
thus noted in 2005 that
in 1940 Newsweek reported that out of 2,500
paintings produced by Corot, 7,800 were in the United
States. In 1953 ARTnews stated that there was
a "saying in France that Corot painted 2,000 canvases,
5,000 of which are in America". In 1957 the Guardian
in London noted that Corot painted 5,000 works, of which
10,000 were in the United States. And in 1990 Time
magazine let it be known that "it used to be said"
that Corot painted 800 pictures in his lifetime, of
which 4,000 ended up in U.S. collections.
The aging - and profoundly greedy Salvador Dali (1904-1989)
- merrily signed his name to reams of blank paper which
associates then turned into lithographs. Others simply
copied fake or real Dali prints (and associated authenticity
certificates) on a large scale. 2007 saw a repeat of the
Dali lithograph scam, with unauthorised prints by anonymous
graffiti artist Banksy being illicitly sold on eBay by
employees of his printer as limited edition signed works,
complete with a forged signature and fake authenticity
stamp. Prices for the prints were artificially boosted
raised by shill bidding before the scam was exposed by
Perhaps it is easier to create an artist? Skeptics have
questioned the very existence of Pietro Psaier,
supposed collaborator of Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat,
friend of Francis Bacon and artist whose paintings, prints
and autographs enjoyed a commercial vogue from the late
memoirs and scams
Insider accounts are provided by Eric Hebborn's The
Art Forger's Handbook (New York: Overlook Press 1997)
and Drawn to Trouble: Confessions of a Master Forger
(New York: Random House 1993), criticised in Art
of the Forger (New York: Dodd Mead 1985) by Christopher
Wright. Tom Keating & Geraldine Norman collaborated
on The Fake's Progress (London: Hutchinson 1977).
For Vermeer and van Meegeren see Jonathan Lopez' persuasive
The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend
of Master Forger Han van Meegeren (New York: Harcourt
2008), Anthony Bailey's Vermeer: A View of Delft
(New York: Henry Holt 2001), John Godley's Van Meegeren,
Master Forger (New York: Scribner 1967), Frank Wynne's
I Was Vermeer: The Legend of the Forger Who Swindled
the Nazis (London: Bloomsbury 2006), Edward Dolnick's
The Forger's Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis
& the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century
(New York: HarperCollins 2008) and Hope Werness' 'Han
van Meegeren fecit' in The Forger's Art: Forgery and
the Philosophy of Art (Berkeley: Uni of California
Press 1983) edited by Denis Dutton.
For de Hory see Clifford Irving's gonzo-ish Fake:
the story of Elmyr, de Hory, the greatest art forger of
our time (New York: McGraw-Hill 1969) and Affairs
of a Painter (London: Faber 1936) by his predecessor
JF Joni. Dali's 'auto-forgery' is described in The
Shameful Life of Salvador Dali (London: Faber 1997)
by Ian Gibson and Lee Catterall's The Great Dali Art
Fraud & Other Deceptions (New York: Barricade
1992). In 2004 Finnish police announced that they were
investigating a fraud in which dozens of high-quality
photocopies of works by Dali were passed off as originals
and sold for up to €10,000 each. In 2008 attention
turned to lrge-scale production of 'Dali' sculptures.
There are accounts in The Modigliani Caper: Fraud,
Fun, Fiasco and Remorse in Modern Italy (San Francisco:
Austin & Winfield 1995) by Jon Bruce Kite and Fake,
Forgery, Lies & eBay: Confessions of an Internet Con
Artist (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2006) by
Kenneth Walton. Max Friedlaender's Genuine & Counterfeit:
Experiences of a Connoisseur (New York: 1930) offsets
Authenticity in the Art Market: A Comparative Study
of Swiss, French & English Contract Law (London:
Sweet & Maxwell 2006) by Carolyn Olsburgh offers a
point of entry to the literature.
Art forgery in Australia
Australian artists and the local market have not been
immune from forgery.
There have been recurrent exposures of works attributed
to Whiteley, Streeton, Dobell, Drysdale, Heysen, Nolan,
Lindsay and Conder. Artist Will Blundell gained attention
in 1998 for claims that his 'innuendos' (works in the
style of artists such as Streeton) had entered major collections,
with or without the addition by others of fake signatures.
Other embarrassments included the 1993 removal from auction
of a 'Russell Drysdale' Boy Feeding the Dogs
after Queensland Art Gallery staff questioned its authenticity,
removal of a 'Sidney Nolan' Siege at Glenrowan
from a Christies auction in 1993 and a 'Brett Whiteley'
Lavender Bay in 1988.
Dealer Lauraine Diggins expressed concern in 1999 about
the art trade's response to exposure of a 'Tom Roberts'
(a snap at $245,000') and 'Arthur Streeton' ($115,000),
not prepared to perpetuate this type of behaviour. I
will not do it, and I hope that the person who's responsible
for this will be stopped from continuing to pass forgeries
and I hope that the industry will change.
[the attitude from trade was] Not supportive at all.
Most people don't want to know that it exists, and pretend
it doesn't, and a lot of the time it's hushed up and
brushed under the carpet.
Ken Polk's 1999 AIC paper Who Wins & Who Loses
When Art is Stolen or Forged (PDF)
notes concerns about misattribution of Indigenous art,
with painter Clifford Possum for example controversially
claiming that particular works were not his. Pamela Liberto
and Ivan Liberto were jailed for nine months in 2007 after
forging works by Rover Thomas, four of which sold for
Other studies such as Christine Alder's Challenges
to authenticity in the Aboriginal art market (PDF),
Karen Dayman's Authentication: the role of the Aboriginal
art centres (PDF)
and the 2007 Senate Indigenous Art - Securing the
note instances where a major Indigenous artist has 'donated'
a signature to a work wholly prepared by other artists
or to works that were largely prepared by other artists.
Some works have never been near the particular artist
- or indeed any Indigenous person - with both the work
and the signature being forged.
The extent to which such problems would have been addressed
by the proposed authenticity label
Estimates on the number of forgeries in circulation and
their value are problematical. (The basis for claims that
over 15% of the paintings sold throughout the world are
forgeries is unclear.) In Australia there have been few
prosecutions and even fewer convictions.
Paul Baker's Policing Fakes (PDF)
notes that the major recent conviction for art forgery
was 1977, with a Melbourne art dealer convicted of five
counts of dishonestly obtaining money by selling Russell
Drysdale drawings he knew were fake. Drysdale was fortunately
available to testify that the drawings were not by him.
In a variation on 'hidden in plain sight' Baker notes
the defence counsel's argument that his client must have
been innocent because
displaying the drawings for the world to see were the
actions of an innocent man, not one who thought they
analysis of impediments to detection and successful prosecution,
consistent with other observers, features -
of complainants to initiate charges - law enforcement
agencies respond to complaints rather than independently
initiating investigations. Few dealers, sellers and
buyers have been enthusiastic about revealing their
gullibility or their association with a duff work.
reluctance of some dealers, including major houses,
to reveal the source of suspected/known forgeries, leading
to claims by some observers that some works are deliberately
put up for auction in order to gain the legitimacy of
a catalogue entry, are withdrawn and are then sold privately
priority - art fraud is perceived as less serious than
some other offences, such as the drug trade, and complainants
"will more than likely be referred to the relevant
Department of Fair Trading"
scarcity of experts able to identify counterfeits, with
a difficulty in identifying people who could corroborate
the allegations of forgery in court
reluctance of experts to give evidence
or unavailable provenance, with authentication often
being easier to manufacture than the actual work and
some artists (such as Whiteley) known to have secreted
or given away works
about appropriate jurisdiction and relevant legislation,
with Baker mordantly commenting that the NSW Crimes
Act specifies offences regarding stealing motor vehicles,
trees, cattle, dogs and even dead wood but is silent
on fraud relating to art forgery or distributing counterfeit
Perspectives on the Australian market and authentication
are provided by Annette Van den Bosch's The Australian
Art World: Aesthetics in a Global Market (St Leonards:
Allen & Unwin 2004) and Stephen Scheding's A Small
Unsigned Painting (Sydney: Vintage 1998) and The
National Picture (Sydney: Vintage 2002).
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