In 2010, shortly after his release from prison, Shaun Greenhalgh walked into his parents’ house in Bromley Cross to find yet another fat package waiting for him on the dresser. Unsolicited parcels arrived often. They always bore a London postmark, but never a sender’s name; they always contained an art book.
On this occasion, Greenhalgh recognised the cover, a Renaissance-style painting of a girl, seen in profile. Snub-nosed, proud-eyed and with the hint of a double chin, she was not a handsome princess, as the book’s title, La Bella Principessa, suggested. Greenhalgh thought he knew her as an old acquaintance: Sally, a girl with whom he had worked in the late 70s at the Co-op butchery. The book, by the respected art historian Martin Kemp, argued that the painting was a lost work by Leonardo da Vinci. But Greenhalgh believed it to be one of his own: painted when he was 18 on to a piece of 16th-century vellum; he remembered buying the vellum from an antique shop close to his family’s council house in Bolton.
Greenhalgh, who is now 56, tells me he remembers the process clearly. After practising the drawing on cartridge paper, he had mounted the vellum on an oak board from an old Victorian school desk lid, pilfered from the storeroom of Bolton Industrial Tech, where his father, George, worked as a cleaner. He had used just three colours, black, white and red, gum arabic earth pigments that he then went over in oak gall ink. Leonardo was left-handed. Fearing a betrayal by his own dominant right hand, Greenhalgh had turned the painting clockwise, and hatched strokes from the profile outwards, suggesting the work of a left-handed artist.
When it was finished, Greenhalgh tells me, he took the picture to an art dealer in Harrogate, where he offered it for sale – not as a forgery, but as a homage. The dealer disparaged its quality and paid just £80, an amount that barely covered the materials, let alone the labour. Still, Greenhalgh took the money. Two decades later, at a New York auction, the same painting sold for $21,850.
In 2007, while Greenhalgh was serving the first stretch of a four-year-and-eight-month prison sentence for art forgery, the painting changed hands again for a similar amount, this time attracting the attention of a number of art historians, who suspected that the painting could, in fact, be the work of a master. Among them was Kemp, who in 2010 wrote that he had not “the slightest doubt” that the painting was “the rarest of rare things… a major new work by Leonardo”. Subsequent carbon dating of the vellum, and evidence of the hint of a fingerprint that appeared to match Leonardo’s, provided the almost-clinchers.
Kemp was not alone in his belief. “Who else in late-15th-century Milan drew so beautifully with his left hand?” wrote the art critic Martin Gayford. One New York dealer estimated the painting to be worth $150m.
Looking at the cover of Kemp’s book, Greenhalgh couldn’t be certain La Bella Principessa was his. Five years later, in 2015, he spied a chance: an exhibition in Milan, where the painting was due to be exhibited at the Villa Reale di Monza. Greenhalgh travelled to Italy. Up close, he could see that someone with “a better hand than mine” had gone over the painting’s lines; but he was in no doubt that the piece was his. The butterfly braces on the rear, which he’d put there not to fix a crack in the panel but simply to make the work appear older, were the giveaway. “There’s no need for them,” he told me. “They’re purely cosmetic. And they’re mine.”
On a warm May afternoon, Greenhalgh fiddles with the lock on his new 500 sq ft workshop in an industrial estate just north of Bolton. The shed at the bottom of his late parents’ garden, where Greenhalgh made most of his forgeries between 1978 and 2006 (the “northern annexe of the British Museum”, as a police officer once put it, drolly), was demolished after his arrest, on 15 March 2006. For two years following his release from prison, Greenhalgh made nothing, afraid a return to art might inexorably lead to a return to criminality. Finally, he was persuaded to make a copy of an Anglo-Saxon brooch for a TV documentary, by the Sunday Times art critic Waldemar Januszczak. (In 2002, Greenhalgh had fooled him with a sculpture of a faun attributed to Gauguin, which sold at auction for a reputed $125,000. The pair subsequently struck up an unlikely friendship.) Other commissions soon followed and the BBC have part-funded Greenhalgh’s new workshop. In February he sold three paintings in the style of LS Lowry for £15,800 at auction.
“It’s not finished yet,” he says, apologetically, as he shows me around the tidy workshop. In one corner is a tray filled with sand for metalwork. In another, a portable kiln for firing pottery. An easel stands in front of an area the size of a confessional booth, cordoned off with a heavy curtain to catch sawdust. “The only thing I can’t do here is sculpt stone. It’s the noise. It’s very monotonous. Like Chinese water torture for the neighbours.”
Between 1978 and 2006, this softly-spoken artist created several hundred exquisite forgeries. Some sold to English royalty (he claims a silver gilt Christ in the 12th-century English style is still part of the Royal Collection), others to presidents (a terracotta bust of Thomas Jefferson, owned by Bill Clinton) and many more to museums. Greenhalgh’s talent was broad: one month he was an Egyptian granite carver, the next an impressionistic sculptor, the next an American watercolourist. Januszczak once described his trickster friend as a one-man Renaissance. But Greenhalgh shrugs off the compliment: “I don’t have delusions of grandeur.” He says his versatility is a function of what he describes as his low threshold for boredom. Tonight he will do his night shift at a local bakery, one of the few places he has been able to find work, thanks to his criminal record. “I view my life as a failure. I went the wrong way. I could have done something useful. If I could have my time again, I’d like to be a teacher at an art college.”
At school, though, Greenhalgh had little interest in pursuing art qualifications, perhaps because, by 13, he was already earning a substantial living selling reproduction pot lids and miniature clay pipe busts, fired in the school kiln, at local junk shops and fairs, pretending he’d dug them up from disused Victorian tips. His father liked to sketch birds, but Greenhalgh describes his family (he is the youngest of five boys and has two sisters) as handy rather than arty. He was an anomaly: “Even as a child, I drew like an adult.”
His only artistic tuition was two years of art classes at Turton comprehensive, which he quit because, “I thought I could do better on my own.” Greenhalgh thought art school was just for learning how to draw and paint. “I didn’t understand that it’s really about the contacts you make.”
Outside school, he continued to develop his technique, spurred on by a family holiday to Rome where he spent hours gazing at the frescoes of Botticelli, Perugino, Signorelli and, in particular, Raphael’s Stanzas, work that triggered in him both a sense of inadequacy and a realisation of what, with effort, could be achieved. “I felt so insignificant,” he says. Still, his passion was kindled. In 1976, the year he left school, Greenhalgh entered a few paintings under his own name into an art exhibition held at Bolton’s Octagon theatre. The former mayor of Bolton, Charles Lucas, an art collector, bought one of the watercolours for £20. It was a small victory, but not enough to promise a living, especially for a teenager who’d had a taste of self-made wealth.
Shortly after the sale, Lucas got in touch and offered Greenhalgh £400 to create copies of some John Ruskin paintings he owned: he needed to put the originals into safekeeping, but wanted reproductions to hang on the wall. “It was a perfect fit,” Greenhalgh says. “My natural style of painting is, like Ruskin, Turner-esque. Luminous. You could hardly tell them from the originals.”
Inspired by this success, Greenhalgh decided to see how far he might be able to push a true forgery. He claims to have drawn six sketches in the style of Degas, picked the most convincing, signed it in the artist’s hand, photographed it and sent a letter of inquiry to Christie’s in London. A few weeks later, a letter arrived requesting that Greenhalgh, then 17, take the sketch to the auction house’s north-west office. He packed it in a black bin liner and travelled to Chester the following day. His naive plan, he says, was to see how much one of his sketches might be worth if he had the benefit of a famous name.
At the auction house, the appraiser surveyed the sketch in silence, while Greenhalgh considered his escape options should the police be called. “I was dead nervous,” he recalls. “I’d never been anywhere like that.” When asked where he had found the picture, he fabricated a story on the spot about a house clearance in Manchester. After removing the picture from its frame to check the rear, which Greenhalgh had fixed with a seal in imitation of the atelier stamps found on genuine works, the appraiser asked if he could send the picture to London for further investigation. “I figured I had no chance then, among all those great experts in London.”
He was wrong: at auction, Greenhalgh’s Degas fetched more than £10,000. It was a life-changing sum of money for a teenager, but any sense of elation was tempered by remorse. “I wasn’t cock-a-hoop that I’d fooled them,” he says. “I’ve always had a tinge of guilt – I probably get that from my mother. Something within me knew it wasn’t right.”
For a moment, Greenhalgh hesitated to enter the world of forgery. While reading art history books at the John Rylands Library at Manchester University, he struck up a friendship with an undergraduate library assistant, Janey. The two began dating and he spent his “happiest year” with her, travelling using proceeds from the Degas sale. They visited Florence, San Lorenzo and Carrara, stopping at the house where Donatello is said to have chosen the stone for his sculptures. But soon after they returned home, Janey began having fits and was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour. A few months later, she died.
The trauma is old, but Greenhalgh falters when talking about Janey. He cannot bring himself to say her name (“Mad, isn’t it?”). We sit in silence for a moment. Finally he says, “I’m absolutely sure that had she lived, I would have taken a different path.”
After a two-year depression, during which Greenhalgh spent the remainder of his money travelling to the places he and Janey had dreamed of visiting together – Egypt, Greece, Spain and no fewer than seven trips to Rome – he took a job working for an antique restorer. The restorer gave Greenhalgh a key to the yard that allowed him to work on personal projects at the weekend. There, on the cobbled quadrangle, he carved a limestone Egyptian scribe. A visiting West End art dealer saw the piece and offered £200 for it on the spot. Two years later, Greenhalgh discovered that the dealer had sold it on as a genuine artefact.
The dealer invited Greenhalgh to London and shortly afterwards began commissioning copies. The man, whom Greenhalgh refers to only as Tom, became a Fagin-like character in his life. While Greenhalgh created works to order, Tom produced fake provenance from “a laboratory” above a West End shop. The lab was well known to the London museums, who would hire it to restore acquisitions. “As a result, we knew what the experts looked for. It was there until at least the late 1980s.”
Throughout that decade, Greenhalgh produced scores of forgeries for Tom and his cohorts, until the pair fell out over two carved tusks the dealer claimed had been stolen during a break-in. Greenhalgh suspected the work had been sold on privately. It was a dispute that fuelled his growing sense of resentment at seeing work he produced for a relative pittance sold on for a tremendous mark-up. “After that, I didn’t speak to any of them again.” The dealer, as far as he knows, retired, emigrated to Portugal and died in 1993.
After years of being, as Greenhalgh saw it, exploited, he struck out on his own. “I thought, I’ve been selling stuff for living prices, but not proper money. They are all doing it. I have the ability, they don’t. They profit. I don’t. I was bitter. And now I knew how to do the provenances.”
One of his first independent works was an oil canvas painting in the style of Peploe, a Scottish colourist whose paintings commanded high prices at the time. Greenhalgh “cobbled together” a provenance story about how the piece had come to the family through an aunt who was an art dealer in Edinburgh and, with his father in tow, travelled to London to present it to a number of art dealers. By now, his pangs of guilt had largely subsided. “I never actually told dealers, ‘This is a painting by so-and-so and I want this much for it,’” he tells me. “I’d always ask: ‘What is this and do you want to buy it?’” Implying ignorance may have lowered the offers that dealers would make; but the sense of romance around the discovery of a lost treasure brought in by a pair of seemingly clueless northerners may also have had a guard-lowering effect. “It’s skating on a fine line, but the people I was dealing with should have known more than I did. I’m not trying to vindicate myself. But that’s how I saw it at the time. If they gave the nod, that’s on them.”
Greenhalgh says he’d always put a “tell” in his forgeries, a fault that should, to a trained eye, give the game away. “The police said I was taking the piss, but that wasn’t my intention. I was testing them, I suppose. I started putting more and more faults in. But no matter how many mistakes, they were always blown away by the provenance. Often they hardly looked at the work.”
The dealer at the first shop Greenhalgh and his father visited, in 1989, dilly-dallied over the Peploe, so they went to another outlet near Fortnum & Mason. “My dad asked if he could take it in,” Greenhalgh recalls. “I think he liked the excitement. He was bored with retirement. He came out with a cheque for £20,000 – peanuts for a Peploe.”
Greenhalgh’s father’s role in the forgery operation was, police claim, to handle the money side of things. He brokered many of the deals. Brian McKenna, who defended Greenhalgh’s mother, Olive, said at trial that her involvement extended only to making phone calls on behalf of her son, because he was shy. “She was on the periphery, but it would be wrong of me to suggest that she did not know what was going on,” McKenna said. Only Greenhalgh went to prison; his parents’ shorter sentences, for aiding with the sale of the forgeries, were suspended. His father died in 2014; his mother last May.
In 1989, the day after the Peploe sale, Greenhalgh received a call from Scotland Yard’s art squad. The dealer who bought the painting had taken it to an expert who had identified it as a fake. He waited for the knock on the door but, overwhelmed with cases and understaffed, the police never followed up.
Emboldened by his escape, Greenhalgh became more prolific. In 1995, the British Museum contacted police after a member of staff, Leslie Webster, noticed that a collection of items scattered across the museum’s various departments had been bought from the Greenhalgh family, a coincidence that, for the first time, aroused suspicion. Dick Ellis, the police officer who led the art squad between 1989 and 1999, later said that twice the officer in charge of the case was on the verge of making an arrest, only to be called away by a more pressing issue.
Greenhalgh’s success in fooling experts was matched by financial rewards. In 1999, in the garden shed, he crafted an alabaster torso of an Egyptian princess in the short-lived, experimental Amarna period style, inspired by a red sandstone version held in the Louvre. He finished the piece using “a B&Q woodsaw and some elbow grease”, then took the figure to the Stockport offices of a London auctioneer, which offered him £500. Greenhalgh declined. The offer rose to £1,500. He declined again and asked for the statuette to be returned. It then sat in a cupboard for two years until his father showed it to an expert from the Bolton Museum. She immediately suggested it could be worth as much as half a million dollars.
A British Museum report authenticating the figurine as 3,300 years old stated that the “size and quality” of the statuette made it “one of the most important Egyptian antiquities to come to light for many years”. Bolton council bought the piece for £440,000 (a reported £370,000 of which was public money drawn from the heritage memorial fund). “What you have to appreciate about this piece is the quality of carving and perhaps try to understand that it is a masterpiece,” said Angela Thomas, the museum’s Egyptian curator in 2003.
It was a success that weighed heavily on Greenhalgh’s conscience (most of the money was left untouched and eventually returned following his conviction). “I’ve always loved that museum,” he says. “Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been fascinated by the Egyptian room. After it sold, I didn’t make anything for a couple of years.”
For all the money he made from his forgeries, Greenhalgh claims he led a modest lifestyle. “I ate well. I had good clothes. Most of it went on travel. I’ve been to most places. But flash houses and cars never appealed. We loved my parents’ house. My mum and dad didn’t want to leave.”
Greenhalgh’s next project, a trio of Assyrian reliefs offered to the British Museum, was the work that finally gave him away. He claimed the artefacts had been bought by his grandfather at auction in 1892. It is work he now eagerly pours scorn on, criticising the proportions, style and finish. These errors were not unintentional. “I wonder if something subconsciously wanted me to be caught, to put an end to it. I was sick of it all. But I knew that I couldn’t end it myself.”
When the knock on the door finally came, any sense of relief was overwhelmed by anger at the manner in which the police acted, which Greenhalgh still believes was disproportionate. “If they had just come for a chat, like we’re doing now, I’d have told them everything they wanted, maybe even dropped a few names to them, but the scale of the sting… I could have expected it if there were bodies in the garden. It was absolutely over the top.” When the officers found a deactivated revolver and a toy rifle left at the house by his six-year-old nephew, the firearms unit, “all blue lights and wire grills”, was called.
“I responded badly,” Greenhalgh says. He held out for more than 30 hours of interrogation before, finally, he cooled enough to admit wrongdoing. He cooperated with the police, answering all the charges put before him, though he did not tell them about other artworks that might be in the market. Only with the publication of his autobiography, A Forger’s Tale, is he revealing the extent of his handiwork. La Bella Principessa remains a contested work: a few art historians maintain their belief it is Leonardo’s, others, including the Guardian’s Jonathan Jones, have declared it an “obvious fake” (but too old to be Greenhalgh’s).
Greenhalgh wrote the book in prison, as a way to avoid having to draw pictures of other inmates’ wives and children (“I thought, if I start that, I’ll be absolutely snowed under”). It was not intended for publication, merely as a way to set the record straight, undoing the lies of those “shite-hawk” journalists who claimed he had never had a job, that the family lived in abject poverty and, most woundingly, that his father had been a deserter in the second world war. (In fact George lived on a war pension for most of his life, having been shot in Italy at the end of the conflict.)
The idea that his book could be seen as an extended justification for what he did is anathema to Greenhalgh, who says he declined early release in order to serve his full term (“I’ve done the crime, I’ll do the time”). He also resists my suggestion that, in showing off his arcane knowledge of artistic technique and skill, he is giving us a glimpse of what might have been, had he pursued the artist’s life. “The problem is that I can’t find my own style,” he says. “Whenever I think of an idea for a piece, I know who it’s copying. I always see something of someone else in everything I do. I don’t have an original style.”
Isn’t that the way of all artistry: to replicate what came before, then add a spattering of individuality? “Absolutely,” he says. “But I can’t even seem to do that. I don’t seem to have anything inside me that is my own.”
• A Forger’s Tale is published next week by Allen & Unwin at £16.99. To order a copy for £14.44, go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846.
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Spoutz’s scam was straightforward but well executed. He contacted art galleries or auction houses and offered for sale previously unknown works by artists such as American abstract impressionists Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Joan Mitchell. The art did not appear in any catalogs or collections of the artists’ known works, said Special Agent Christopher McKeogh from the FBI’s Art Crime Team in our New York Field Office.
“He was selling lower-level works by known artists,” explained McKeoogh, who worked the case for more than three years with fellow agent Meridith Savona and forensic accountant Maria Font. “If it’s a direct copy of a real one, the real one is going to be out there and the fraud would be discovered.”
Before paying thousands of dollars for works of art, collectors and brokers want assurance the work is real—especially if the work is previously unknown, McKeogh said. Among other things, they look at the provenance—the paper history of an item that traces its ownership back to the original artist—for proof.
Spoutz, who also owned a legitimate art gallery, understood the value of provenance. He forged receipts, bills of sale, letters from dead attorneys, and other documents. Some of the letters dated back decades and looked authentic, referencing real people who worked at real galleries or law firms. Spoutz also used a vintage typewriter and old paper for his documentation.
The old typewriter turned out to be the smoking gun in the case. “We could tell all of these letters had been typed on the same typewriter,” McKeogh said. The type of a letter allegedly sent from a business in the 1950s matched the type in a letter allegedly sent by a firm in a different state three decades later. Spoutz also mistakenly added a ZIP Code to the letterhead of a firm on a letter dated four years before ZIP Codes were created.
Another red flag was that many of the people referenced in the letters were dead. And some of the addresses were in the middle of an intersection, or didn’t exist at all. “All these dead ends helped prove a fraud was being committed,” McKeogh said.
When marketing his fakes, Spoutz stopped just short of saying the works were authentic. “He tried to give himself an out and said they were ‘attributed to’ an artist,” McKeogh said.
Spoutz used sellers all over the country to move his forgeries, some of them fetching more than $30,000. “He looked for people that were not as familiar with a particular artist. Spoutz came across as very scholarly and knowledgeable,” McKeogh said.
He also used a number of aliases in the roughly 10 years he ran his scam, and he moved around, from Michigan to Florida to California. He changed the scam over time, selling the works of one artist, then switching to a different artist using a different alias. He was arrested in Los Angeles and charged in February 2016, and pleaded guilty to a single charge of wire fraud in June.
Spoutz produced the fake provenance, but not the fake art. “Spoutz was not known as an artist. He had a source he kept going back to,” McKeogh said. The FBI used experts in the field and artist foundations to determine the works Spoutz sold were forgeries.
Many of the fakes passed through auction houses in New York City, McKeogh said, and a suspicious victim eventually contacted the FBI. McKeogh inherited the case about three years ago, when another agent retired.
Although Spoutz has been sentenced, McKeogh and Savona do not believe they have seen the last of the fakes he peddled. The FBI recovered about 40 forgeries; there could be hundreds more that were sold to unsuspecting victims. “This is a case we’re going to be dealing with for years. Spoutz was a mill,” McKeogh said.
Protecting the integrity of America’s art—in all its forms—is a special priority for the FBI and our dedicated Art Crime Team. “It’s our heritage; it’s who we are. We have to protect it,” McKeogh says. “Fake art and fraud schemes like this damage that heritage.”
The artist jailed for Britain’s most audacious art fraud has sneaked into top art galleries to hang his fakes next to real masterpieces. Don’t worry, John Myatt tells Event , I’ve done my time and it’s all perfectly legal…
John Myatt has a Van Gogh in the kitchen, a Monet in the sitting room and a Matisse on the stairs. His sprawling farmhouse, just north of Stafford, would be among the great galleries of the world except for one thing – the man who painted all those masterpieces is, in fact, Myatt himself.
John Myatt has a Van Gogh in the kitchen, a Monet in the sitting room and a Matisse on the stairs. The man who painted all those masterpieces is, in fact, Myatt himself
Myatt with Stephen Fry and his portrait of Fry as Pope Innocent X by Diego Velasquez;
He was once a criminal faker, and in 1999 was convicted for taking part in what was called ‘the biggest art fraud of the 20th century’. Using a mixture of emulsion paint and K-Y Jelly, Myatt faked dozens of paintings by artists including Matisse, Giacometti and Ben Nicholson. Dealers in London and New York were fooled by his fakes, as were Sotheby’s and Christie’s. A receipt for £140,000 for a fake Ben Nicholson from Christie’s still hangs in Myatt’s loo.
His criminal period began in 1985, when his first wife left him. Formerly a supply teacher, he had to work from home to look after his two young children. Always keen on painting in the style of Dufy and Monet, he started selling copies, putting an advert for ‘genuine fakes’ in Private Eye. That was when his partner in crime, John Drewe, walked into his life. Drewe, a regular customer of Myatt, told him Christie’s had paid £25,000 for Myatt’s copy of an Albert Gleizes, a French Cubist.
Myatt’s harlequin with a rose, in the style of Picasso
‘He said, “How would I like £12,500 in a brown envelope?”, and I said yes.’
Myatt started churning out Chagalls, Mattises and Giacomettis, and Drewe sold them for a fortune to dealers and auction houses. In 1995, they were rumbled when Drewe’s ex-girlfriend, angry at being abandoned, spilled the beans. Myatt pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year’s imprisonment. Drewe got six years. ‘You can’t excuse it,’ says Myatt. ‘I don’t think of myself as dishonest, but I was dishonest.’
To begin with, prison was an overwhelming experience for Myatt. ‘It’s frightening when you go in,’ he says, ‘It’s noisy, there’s quite a lot of unpleasant people there. You can’t sharpen pencils. You have to go cap in hand to the screws’ office – they had a sharpening machine there. You couldn’t get hold of paint; you could only draw.’
Myatt wasn’t allowed to draw pictures that might threaten security, but he managed to smuggle out one drawing of the prison wall, done in E Wing.
He has nothing but praise for the ‘superb’ police. In fact, it was a policeman who persuaded him to return to painting after he was released from jail. Myatt had been planning to give it all up. ‘The police sent art materials into Brixton for me,’ says Myatt. ‘One policeman commissioned a picture of his family, and the barristers in the case wanted a memento, too.’
These days, Myatt makes a living as a professional, self-confessed faker, and stamps the back of his copied paintings with the words ‘Genuine Fakes’. He launched his career as a legitimate faker, appearing on the Sky Arts show, Fame In The Frame, painting Stephen Fry in the style of Velazquez, and later this month he will appear on Fake! The Great Masterpiece Challenge, presented by Giles Coren and art historian Rose Balston. In the eight-part series, fakes painted by Myatt are smuggled onto the walls of art galleries in place of genuine masterpieces by British painters. Ten finalists compete to spot the imposters, to win their own faked masterpiece.
For the programme, Myatt, 71, set about faking a Gainsborough.
‘He underpainted in grey,’ he says, ‘He established the whole painting, almost in black and white, and went on to tint it.
‘He was a much better technician than [his rival] Reynolds. His work is beautifully done, with a feathered, soft edge. Reynolds’ big problem was that he was very impatient. He wanted his painting to dry as quickly as possible. He used honey as a binder [the material used to hold the paint in place]. Even within his lifetime, customers came back, saying, “It’s all very well, but my nose has fallen off.”’ That’s why Myatt uses acrylic paint and emulsion – ‘acrylics will dry while you’re drinking your tea’ – and K-Y Jelly as a thin wash over colours. ‘K-Y Jelly gives you, say, a deeper blue and you get a smoother finish.’
Any scientist analysing these paintings would spot that they’re made with modern materials. But the point of a good fake is that it’s so convincing no one will think to analyse it. ‘A Gainsborough is covered with several coats of varnish,’ he says, ‘if you can fake the smoothness of the surface texture, then bury it under varnish, it’s hard for anyone to spot a fake, unless you’re a Gainsborough expert.’
He says the more recent the artist the easier to fake. ‘In the first half of the 20th century, painters didn’t go through all this technical stuff. That was all old hat. What you wanted was an immediacy in the way you painted. The same goes for Van Gogh, who was doing two paintings a day in a frenzy.’
If a painting was originally done quickly, it’s that much easier to fake it. Van Gogh is a particular favourite of Myatt. In his studio, he has three van Goghs on the go – a self-portrait, a church and a street scene in Arles.
For a good fake, it’s not enough just to paint a good copy. Everything that goes with an old painting must match up, too.
‘If you gave me a year, I could do a very good fake of a 1920 Modigliani,’ Myatt says. ‘First, I’d get a cheap Twenties painting, scrape it down and find primer [undercoat] from the same period. I’d pretend I was an art restorer and get a paint with the same constituents from a vintage paint supplier.’
To ‘age’ old paintings, Myatt uses strong coffee or brown umber, a natural earth pigment. He is currently working on a 17th-century Dutch painting of a young woman.
To give the impression of craquelure – a fine web of cracks in old paint – Myatt puts down a layer of slow-drying varnish beneath a layer of quick-drying varnish. The combination produces an ultra-quick cracking pattern.
Whenever Myatt’s second wife, Rosemary, wants a new masterpiece, he simply rustles one up. Sometimes, they’re direct copies; sometimes, he adapts the style of famous artists. In the sitting room, he’s got a Majorca seaside view, where he and his wife went on holiday. Two men are dragging a boat from the water.
HOW TO MAKE A FAKE
Vincent Van Gogh – The Starry Night
‘A clever forger would replicate the surface painting. He would look at the thickness of the paint and make sure that was the same.
‘What is difficult is to get the same paint. Van Gogh used Sennelier paint, with a binder of linseed oil, which had a particular, fluorescent look.’
Vincent Van Gogh – The Starry Night (left). John Myatt’s copy of Van Gogh (right)
Claude Monet – The Houses Of Parliament
‘The problem with Monet’s series of paintings of Parliament was that he later worked on them for about a year or more back in his studio in Giverny. The difficulty is getting the paint’s consistency right, because he kept on adding to the pictures, producing such a complicated layering of paint.’
Claude Monet – The Houses Of Parliament (left). John Myatt’s fake Monet (right)
‘I nicked this idea from Monet,’ says Myatt, ‘He had one guy; I had two. It’s in the style of Monet – his brushwork, his immediacy.’
On the staircase, there’s a Matisse portrait of a woman’s head. ‘He’s actually quite hard to do,’ says Myatt, ‘If one of those lines goes wrong, you’re finished. You have to have a properly loaded brush to get it to work.’
Myatt is relieved to finally be able to make a living out of these legitimate pictures, and he now advises the police on catching fakers.
‘Last January, I gave a talk in Whitehall to the Hong Kong Police and Interpol,’ he says, ‘They think they’re getting closer, through scientific analysis, to tracking down fakes. Still today, between 20 and 30 per cent of what goes to auction is fake.’
Myatt may have gone straight. But there are still plenty of crooked artists out there.
‘Fake! The Great Masterpiece Challenge’ is on Sky Arts from March 28
The Rise Of Fake And Forged Works Of Egyptian Modern Art
The discovery of fake and forged works has been something that has plagued the art market for centuries. There have been a number of famous cases, including the fake Frans Hals that Sotheby’s recently sold for ten million dollars, only to have to revoke the sale after the work was revealed as a forgery. On the contrary, there is very little written on the rise of forgery in non-Western artistic tradition. I have recently become incredibly fascinated by the rise of fake and forged works in Egyptian modernist art, which was sparked by the incredible story of my friend Ahmed Khedr’s family.
I am very lucky to have access to such a personal account of forgery and the Khedrs very graciously provided me with a firsthand explanation of their case. The Khedrs were the first individuals to ever bring to court the issue of fake and forged works in Egypt. The family’s story, as well as the general rise of forged works in Egypt’s art market, bring up a multitude of the issues surrounding copies and fakes in the better known cases. In my interviews with both Ahmed and his mother, May Zeid, we examined the complex psychology behind the forgery and the many motivations behind forging and faking famous works of art. Their story is also an example of a forger who took advantage of the ideal situation and time to create these forged works, in this case a rise in market value and a desire to celebrate Egyptian culture and art. Lastly, Egypt is a country in which laws protecting collectors against frauds barely exist. This, along with a general lack of knowledge of Egyptian modern painting, makes Egypt a unique example in terms of contemplating innovative solutions to thwart the production of fake and forged works.
The main artist that Ayoub and Hassan forged was a painter named Abdel Hadi El-Gazzar
In 2005, Adel Youssry Khedr and May Zeid charged Ayda Ayoub and Youssry Hassan with forgery in the first legal case against the production and sale of forged works in Egypt. Ayoub and Hassan, through the course of two years, sold Zeid and Khedr eighteen forged works. As Zeid said herself, “It was a con played to perfection by the very people who introduced us to collecting”.1 Ayoub was a well-respected figure in the arts who dealt works and served on the board of both the Ministry of Culture and the Mahmoud Khali Museum and Hassan was a lesser-known painter. Ayoub was the mastermind behind the forgeries and Hassan carried out the deeds with his hand. Ayoub used her strong reputation and connections in the arts to gain the trust of her victims. As an adviser for the Ministry of Culture, she was even hired to authenticate works, and her opinions were unquestionably trusted. Hassan had the right amount of skill and loyalty towards Ayoub to make him the perfect accomplice.
The main artist that Ayoub and Hassan forged was a painter named Abdel Hadi El-Gazzar, although they also forged works by Mahmoud Said, Hamed Nada, Tahia Halim, and Hassan Soliman. Ayoub was able to get her hands on a large sum of El-Gazzar works after his death by promising his family to promote and exhibit him. El-Gazzar is now one of Egypt’s most celebrated artists and because he painted relatively few works during his lifetime, his work has been victim to a number of forgeries.
May Zeid met Ayda Ayoub at her daughter’s dance class, and the two quickly became close friends. Around this time same, Hassan befriended Zeid’s husband Adel Youssry Khedr. Zeid and Khedr were encouraged to buy Hassan’s work, but they were additionally offered many works by Egypt’s most impressive modernist painters. Every single work offered and sold to Zeid and Khedr were later to be deemed fake. Ayoub and Hassan would dissuade Zeid and Khedr from purchasing works from other dealers or galleries by insisting that it was disloyal. In reality, Ayoub and Hassan wanted to both keep selling Zeid and Khedr as many forged works as they could as well as keep them in the dark about their shady business. At one point Zeid and Khedr purchased two Effat Nagui works from a different dealer and Hassan and Ayoub quickly offered to repair the works. Instead of repairing, Hassan made copies of the works and swapped the originals with fakes. There were also instances in which other dealers warned Zeid and Khedr that Ayoub and Hassan were known to forge paintings. Because of their unquestionable loyalty, Zeid and Khedr always interpreted this as dealers attempting to steal them as clients.
Fake El Gazzar Painting
Fake El Gazzar Painting
The forgeries came to light with the opening of an exhibition of Samir Rafi, an important artist that Zeid and Khedr had been interested in. Ayoub and Hassan previously tried to sell to them works by Rafi but Zeid and Khedr had never been interested in those specific works, which is fortunate for Zeid and Khedr as they were undoubtedly fake. Zeid and Khedr brought Hassan with them to the exhibition as an adviser and decided to purchase a couple works from the show. The dealer came to Zeid and Khedr’s house to finalize the payment and see their collection. At the time, Darwish did not make any comments on their collection, which Zeid and Khedr thought to be very odd. Shortly after the payments were completed, Darwish sent Zeid and Khedr a book on Abdel Hadi El-Gazzar and Said El Farsi’s collection, which were both not available for purchase. When Zeid and Khedr opened the catalogues, they were shocked to find the same paintings hanging on their walls, with slight variations. In El-Gazzar’s catalogue, they saw parts of separate paintings all combined in one of the works they owned. At the sight of this, Zeid and Khedr invited a different dealer over, who notified them that three-quarters of their collection was likely to be inauthentic. Zeid set up a meeting with El-Gazzar’s wife and brought the El-Gazzar works Ayoub had sold her. El-Gazzar’s wife knew immediately that the works were not only fake, but the products of Ayoub and Hassan. She told Zeid that Ayoub and Hassan had been forging El- Gazzar’s work for a long time and she had tried to get them arrested on several occasions but was never successful. El-Gazzar’s wife had seen many of the same works circulate throughout the years and had spoken to many of the victims of Ayoub’s con. Unfortunately, prior to Zeid and Khedr, these victims would make deals with Ayoub, who would return their money in exchange for the fake paintings, which she’d quickly resell to others.
Because of this, Ayoub’s con business was kept relatively under wraps and she was never faced with legal repercussions. As Zeid said herself, “It was a structured plan where they would keep selling fake paintings, make a large profit and if they were ever caught, they would silently return all the money, regain back the forgeries and move on to the next victim”.2 Zeid and Khedr were the first to ever challenge this. When Zeid and Khedr first approached Ayoub and Hassan about the forgeries, they offered to not press legal charges if their money was returned and the forged works were destroyed in front of them. They made it clear that they would not accept any deal that did not include the destruction of the fakes. Not only did Ayoub and Hassan decline this offer, they began to spread rumors that Zeid and Khedr were actually the ones who were forging works.
At this offense, Zeid and Khedr decided to take the forged works to the police. No member of the police department had any knowledge of the art market and was in fact shocked at the amount of money that these works sold for. Because many of the transactions were without invoices and receipts, Zeid and Khedr’s only evidence were the paintings themselves and the witnesses they were able to collect to testify. Fortunately, they managed to bring together an impressive number of individuals that were willing to testify on their behalf in court. On top of this, they embarked on collecting documentation and reports signed by experts in the art world that would attest to the works being fake. Their witnesses included members of the Conservation Department at the Egyptian Museum of Modern art, other collectors who had been victim to Ayoub’s con, the artists’ relatives, and one living artist that Ayoub had forged named Hassan Soliman. Soliman recalled Ayoub and Hassan meeting at his studio several decades back. He also testified that at this same time, Hassan, who was hired to clean his studio, must have started collecting unfinished works that Soliman would toss aside. Hassan finished these
works and later on, with Ayoub’s direction, sold them as original works. On the defense, Hassan claimed that the works were indeed real and that he had only sold Zeid and Khedr three out of the eighteen works on trial. Ayoub denied involvement altogether and maintained the argument that Zeid and Khedr had forged the works themselves. The premise of her argument was that Zeid’s aunt was a painter and had painted Zeid a fake Monet, which Zeid had hanging on her wall. Although Zeid’s aunt signed her own name and was quite obviously not attempting to trick or con anyone, Ayoub argued that Zeid’s aunt had forged the eighteen works.
Fake Mahmoud Said Watercolour
Fake Mahmoud Said Watercolour
After the testimonies, the court called upon a committee of experts to examine the paintings, who gave a unanimous decision that the works were fake. The court declared Ayoub guilty as the main offender and Hassan as her accomplice. Because the court has no specific laws against art forgery, Ayoub and Hassan were charged more generally with embezzlement and fraud. She was sentenced to a year in prison and Hassan was sentenced to three. Ayoub and Hassan appealed the court’s decision and a new panel of judges were appointed to look over the case. After the surprising new decision that Ayoub and Hassan were innocent, it came out that Ayoub had bribed one of the judges to produce a verdict in her favor. Zeid and Khedr rightfully appealed and the case was taken to the Supreme Court. Ayoub was charged with a year in prison in May of 2006 and passed away in December 2006 from heart failure, before her sentenced started. Although she did not live to serve her sentence, the last couple months of Ayoub’s life were filled with shame and her reputation, both professional and personal, was completely destroyed. Hassan also passed away before his sentence of three years began. Zeid and Khedr, although not fully satisfied with the country’s lack of legal protection against art forgery, raised significant public awareness on the issue of forgery and were able to stop Ayoub from selling another fake work ever again. They continued to collect Egyptian art and have since built one of the most impressive collections in the country. Furthermore, they are very proud to have taken the moral route, even though the legal system, among other issues, seemed to be against them.
Forged works by Ayoub and Hassan circulated the art market in Egypt for thirty years. Ayoub took advantage of the country’s lack of knowledge on Egyptian modernist painters as well as the the absence of laws to protect against the purchase of forged works. She struck at the ideal time, as many forgers do, when demand for Egyptian modernist works was high. Ayoub, who was also an aspiring painter herself, shared with Hassan a sense of satisfaction each time they got away with their con. She would frequently tell Zeid that she longed to be “a famous artist one day, even if it ends up being the death of me”.3 The fact that people paid high sums of money and believed their creations to be real boosted their egos and justified their own belief in their artistic skills. Each time they would sell a work, they were able to internally prove themselves as equals to some of the biggest Egyptian artists in the 20th century. Ayoub enjoyed in particular that she was able to con and make fools of some of the most intelligent and cultured people in Egypt. It seems evident that for Ayoub her success was not only in terms of monetary value, but served a psychological purpose, as is the case with many other studied forgers.
Mercenaries IV, a painting by artist Leon Golub from 1980.
Credit Jennifer Mei/Creative Commons
Between 2009 and 2011, a local art history professor sold two dozen paintings from her personal collection. The works were all by a major American artist she claimed to know personally. The purchaser was a wealthy Wall Street commodities trader.
Now, it appears these paintings–valued at nearly $700,000–may have been forgeries.
The courts are involved, the buyer isn’t commenting, and the seller, whose whereabouts were a mystery for months, has surfaced in Keene, New Hampshire.
The artist at the center of this case is Leon Golub, a New York-based painter who died in 2004. Golub’s works, some small, others massive wall-sized canvasses, aren’t always easy to look at. They deal with violence and power, including roughly sketched images of prisoners being tortured, of police brutality and dictators.
Golub may not be a household name, but his works are in the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Whitney Museum.
“I once described myself as a machine for producing monsters, and I keep producing them,” Golub told an interviewer for a documentary. “But my production of monsters is really miniscule, compared to the real production of monsters.”
British-born Andrew Hall is a fan of Leon Golub. He’s also well-known on Wall Street as an oil trader, notorious for garnering a $100 million bonus at the height of the Great Recession.
“Whoever you are, you are operating essentially within a budget,” Hall told a Florida PBS station during a roundtable on art collecting. “And that budget, I think, can go much farther when you seek out overlooked corners of the art world.”
According to court filings, in 2009, Hall bid $47,500 at a Christie’s auction, taking home an untitled Golub painting. Hall would later come to believe that the painting had been consigned to the auction house by a New Hampshire woman, Lorettann Gascard, and her son, Nikolas Gascard.
‘These works were not painted by Golub. They are clever forgeries.’
The Gascards allegedly told Christie’s that they acquired the Golub painting directly from the artist, who had been a teacher of Lorettann’s in college in the late 1960s.
Hall was interested in purchasing more works, and eventually reached out to the Gascards directly. By the end of 2011, Hall owned 24 Golub paintings acquired through the Gascard family.
Then, in 2015, Hall and staff members at his foundation planned a major exhibit of more than 60 Golub works. In preparation, the Hall Art Foundation contacted the estate of Leon Golub to check details of the art works, including the exact titles and the dates.
The Golub estate wrote back to the Foundation confirming many of the works, but the artist’s family also raised a red flag.
Dr. Lorettann Gascard, in Germany, in a photo from 1994.
Credit Mario Justel/Berlin Observer
While they maintained an extensive inventory of nearly everything Golub had painted, there were no records for the 24 paintings Hall had acquired from the Gascards. They said there were “unusual formal characteristics” in these works, and that members of the Golub family had never heard Leon mention a friendship with Lorettann.
They concluded that the works were “likely forgeries.”
A Shock, But Not Shocking
It’s not often that Rindge, N.H., finds itself in the spotlight of the international art world. But neighbors of the Gascards, who lived in this small community until recently, say the case of alleged forgery is odd, but not exactly shocking.
“When I read the account of that, I was not surprised at all,” says a neighbor who asked to remain anonymous. “I liked her personally when I met her. I talked to her, her son. But I was absolutely not surprised at all when this happened.”
The neighbor described her as friendly, deeply intelligent, but also secretive and, at times, peculiar.
A full time professor at nearby Franklin Pierce University, Gascard, 68, was born in New York City. According to an online biography, she earned a Ph. D. in Germany, and lived and worked in Bangladesh, Austria and several African countries.
She began teaching art history at the school in 1997. Students described her as a striking figure, often dressed in all-black. Like any professor, she had her fans and her detractors.
‘Since the litigation is ongoing we are only at liberty to state that we intend to address these false allegations vigorously.’
“I did learn a lot about art history,” says Cathyrn Michaud, a 2009 graduate of Franklin Pierce who took Gascard’s class as a freshman. “I think she knows her stuff. But as far as person-to-person, she was not an easy person to be around, by any means.”
Gascard left Franklin Pierce in 2015 after settling an age discrimination suit with the school. Court documents in that case describe a contentious work environment, a feeling that was confirmed by several faculty members.
Gascard now finds herself back in the legal system. After learning of the alleged Golub forgeries, Andrew Hall filed a complaint in New Hampshire’s federal court last September against both Gascard and her son seeking damages of nearly $700,000.
For months, the whereabouts of the Gascards were unclear. Neither responded to a court summons, they moved out of their apartment in Rindge, and a private investigator hired by Hall couldn’t find them.
Last week, however, the Gascards re-emerged in nearby Keene, living in another modest white apartment. While they declined an interview request, emails from both Lorettann and Nikolas to NHPR say they will fight the “false allegations vigorously.”
But they haven’t yet filed a formal response in court, or provided any further explanation for how exactly they came into possession of what appear to be 24 forged Leon Golub paintings.
Vincent Van Gogh is one of the most celebrated artists of the past two hundred years. It comes down to his uniquely known style. The way the paint builds on his canvasses to illuminates a body of water. Or the wicked curves of a cypress tree juxtaposed to the rigid lines of a church. And there’s something especially transfixing about the way Van Gogh rendered the human face, seeing some compelling thing no one else had captured before. So finding a notebook of 65 previously undiscovered sketches completed while the legendary artist was in an asylum could be a momentous occasion for the art world. Unless, of course, they are forgeries.
Two scholars recently brought to light such a discovery. Bogomila Welsh-Ovarchov and Ronald Pickvance verified the sketches as authentic before collecting them into a new book, Vincent Van Gogh: The Lost Arles Sketchbook. The book suggests that the 65 drawings found in an account ledger date from spring 1888 to 1890, during Van Gogh’s documented time in Arles and Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Welsh-Ovarchov and Pickvance are celebrated Van Gogh scholars who have long worked in concert with some of the most respected museums on major exhibitions, so it came as a surprise when the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam issued a formal statement insisting the Arles sketches are, in fact, fake.
The assertion of the museum is that not only is the provenance of the sketchbook questionable, but the style, technique, materials and iconography of the drawings are merely rote imitations of Van Gogh’s work. The most damning piece of evidence is the color of the ink used to create the landscapes, still lifes, and portraits within the ledger; none are typical of the artist’s authenticated works. Van Gogh preferred black or purple inks which turn brown over time from exposure to light. The Arles sketches were drawn solely in Sepia. This mimics the aged inks in color, certainly. But a notebook hidden away for over a century wouldn’t have been exposed to light. The original ink color should be unchanged. The Van Gogh Museum explains:
It is claimed in The Lost Arles Sketchbook that the ink of the drawings in the sketchbook has undergone the same discolouration; according to this reasoning, it must have originally been black. But that is impossible; the sepia shellac ink used for the drawings is inherently brown and was never black; it therefore has not discoloured. The paper is greenish-blue in colour and approximately 200 years old, and paper of that colour and age loses its original hue when exposed to light. Yet the paper is not discoloured either. This is because the sketchbook is an album and has therefore not been exposed to light. But considering that the ink and paper have not discoloured, the maker of the drawings in the sketchbook must have been deliberately striving for brownish effects.
Controversies between academics and institutions are not unusual in the authentication business: a recent Beethoven score proved to be unsalable at a Sotheby’s auction after being declared a fake. It was discovered that one of the two scholars who refused to authenticate the questionable Allegretto in B Minor later tried to persuade the owner to part with it for less than one percent of the Sotheby’s determined value. Welsh-Ovarchov and Pickvance knew of the Van Gogh Museum’s position on the authenticity of the journals yet The Lost Arles Sketchbook contains no mention of the museum’s doubts. The scholars should have included this information and refuted it.
There is a chance that the pieces might some day be authenticated after further analysis. New scientific developments in forgery identification allow some previously disputed works to be confirmed as fakes – or as the real deal. The Van Gogh Museum authenticated a painting by the troubled Dutch master in 2013; it was the first time a work was added to Van Gogh’s oeuvre since 1928. Axel Rüger, the museum’s director, called the large work “the culmination of his artistic achievement, his period in Arles in the south of France.” Rüger’s museum had declared the painting a fake two decades earlier.
I furti d’arte, ancora oggi dilaganti e dalle conseguenze incalcolabili sulla conservazione del patrimonio storico-artistico del Bel Paese, hanno radici molto profonde.
I primi tentativi di regolamentazione del fenomeno risalgono al 1624, ed in particolare si debbono allo Stato della Chiesa. Nonostante la diffusa arretratezza sociale ed economica causata dall’asfissiante autorità temporale, lo Stato del Vaticano si pone all’avanguardia nella prassi tutoria, come modello ed esempio per tutti gli altri coevi Stati italiani. Ciò si deve principalmente alla sensibilità dei pontefici e della curia romana, grandi mecenati e promotori dell’arte e dell’architettura sacra, ispiratori di un’ininterrotta serie di bolle papali e di editti cardinalizi: emanati tra il Quattrocento e l’Ottocento, questi provvedimenti hanno garantito la conservazione ed il decoro dei beni architettonici, delle cose d’interesse storico-artistico e dell’urbanistica nei territori romani.
Oggi, a presidio della nostra ricchezza artistica, archeologica ed architettonica opera il Comando Carabinieri “Tutela Patrimonio Culturale” (T.P.C.), reparto specializzato dell’Arma fortemente impegnato a salvaguardare le opere d’arte italiane dal pericolo di azioni criminali riguardanti furti, scavi clandestini e contraffazione. Dai dati statistici presentati (fonte: Banca Dati Carabinieri T.P.C.) relativi all’attività operativa del 2015, è confermata la flessione del trafugamento di opere d’arte (un trend già in atto dal 2011), nello specifico una diminuzione generale dei furti (-26,1%) e dei beni (-42,5%). Significativo rilevare che i beni maggiormente trafugati (che vanno ad alimentare il mercato antiquario clandestino) sono i libri e i documenti d’archivio conservati presso gli istituti religiosi.
Altrettanto “appetibili” per la criminalità sono le opere pittoriche e scultoree. Si riscontra, inoltre, una riduzione dei furti nelle istituzioni museali (-39%); una diminuzione dei furti nelle chiese e negli istituti religiosi (-39%), ed anche una flessione dei furti presso i privati (-41,3%). In generale, a fronte di un rilevante aumento degli arresti (+360%), si registra dai dati una diminuzione dei furti (-26,1%) ed una flessione degli scavi clandestini (-64,4%). Tale fenomeno, presente soprattutto in Campania e Sicilia, alimenta il mercato illegale interno di reperti archeologici di minor valore, ed al contempo il traffico internazionale (su richiesta di numerosi collezionisti); in tale ambito uno dei settori più sensibili risulta essere quello della numismatica archeologica.
Riguardo la contraffazione di opere d’arte, si rileva un ampliamento di tale fenomeno, dovuto allo sviluppo delle tecniche di falsificazione e ad un aumento della domanda da parte del mercato illegale: a fronte di una generale diminuzione dei sequestri (1.601), si registra un rilevante incremento dei falsi archeologici sequestrati (+3.613%).
Altrettanto intensa attività repressiva è stata indirizzata sul versante dei reati ambientali, nello specifico violazioni paesaggistiche in aree sottoposta a tutela, provocate dalla speculazione edilizia. Sono stati accertati 483 reati in danno del paesaggio, 23 aree poste sotto sequestro e 23 immobili sottoposti a tutela: pari ad un valore di 16 milioni di euro.
In campo internazionale, l’attività investigativa del T.P.C. ha permesso il rientro in Italia di ben 741 beni illecitamente esportati (rintracciati in Svizzera, Germania, USA, San Marino e Svezia), grazie anche alle rogatorie internazionali ed all’azione diplomatica del Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali; il valore stimato dei beni recuperati è pari a 500 milioni di euro.
Un’opera altamente meritoria quella del Comando dei CC. per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale, di cui sicuramente il nostro Paese non può fare a meno.
Angkor replicated: How Cambodian workshops produce fake masterpieces, and get away with it
Martin Polkinghorne, The Conversation
As part of my work as an archaeologist, my team and I recently discovered an ancient artists’ studio in UNESCO-listed Angkor, an area in Cambodia that was home to numerous capitals of the Khmer Empire and is now one of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia.
The finest examples of Cambodian art produced at these sites during the Angkorian period (circa 800-1400CE) are recognised as among the greatest artistic masterpieces of the pre-modern world.
Sadly, the looting of such material has caused considerable problems in a world that is progressively becoming concerned about the integrity of both public and private collections.
Since 2014, art institutions and private collectors have returned 11 sculptures to Cambodia. All were looted, or illegally obtained or exported.
This represents a significant post-colonial correction in the ownership of cultural property. But for about the same amount of time that looted art has been traded between buyers and sellers, another issue has remained hidden.
Home to numerous capitals of the Khmer Empire, Angkor is now one of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia. arielski/Flickr, CC BY-ND
Home to numerous capitals of the Khmer Empire, Angkor is now one of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia. arielski/Flickr, CC BY-ND
Fakes have overrun the Cambodian antiquity market, their authenticity obscured by the skill of the artists who make them. Indeed, a significant proportion of the artists are so accomplished that the modern origins of their work will probably never be recognised.
A homage to Angkorian sculpture
The art of Angkor and mainland Southeast Asia is particularly vulnerable. In correspondence with me, Helen Jessup, an eminent art historian and the author of six books on Cambodian art, made the connection between war, looting, and fakes:
Civil disturbances roiling Cambodia for 30 years made access difficult and led to a thinning of the ranks of experts in the field, including within Cambodia itself. Political uncertainty enabled illicit access to ancient sites and looting was rampant. Thailand was the usual destination for the stolen objects, handled by networks of middlemen and dealers and serving as models for skilled craftsmen to replicate. Provenance issues in strife-torn regions were fudged and acquisitions increased with few questions asked.
While peace has thankfully returned to Cambodia, the lucrative production of fakes continues.
Few know more about the production of replicas than contemporary artist Jim Sanborn, who witnessed the skill of Cambodian fakers first-hand while researching an art project of his own.
He told me:
Over a four-year period I travelled back and forth to infiltrate the forgery trade in order to gain the knowledge that generations of forgers had used to age their pieces.
The result was Sanborn’s path-breaking work Without Provenance: The Making of Contemporary Antiquity. It presents sandstone sculptures made in Cambodia and falsely aged in his US studio.
Jim Sanborn is a celebrated artist with pieces in collections worldwide, but he is still seeking an exhibitor for this challenging work that exposes the faking of Khmer art. The subversion of Without Provenance is testament to the unease with which custodians of Southeast Asian art approach authenticity and provenance.
Makers and models
In 2012, I accompanied Sanborn to a workshop in rural Cambodia. Posing as an art collector, I was offered contemporary replicas as genuine Angkorian sculptures. Objects like the ones we examined are sold at international auctions for anywhere between ten to one hundred times the sale price in rural Cambodia.
Fake sculptures artificially ageing in bath of nitric acid. Jim Sanborn
Fake sculptures artificially ageing in bath of nitric acid. Jim Sanborn
We were shown numerous sculptures in various stages of production. Even with an expert’s eye, often the only clue to the sculptures’ contemporaneity was the fact that we saw them in a workshop.
The art works were created using techniques not employed to produce art for the tourist market. Polishing obscures the giveaway marks that modern tungsten-tipped chisels leave behind, for instance.
At two or three months, the carving process is relatively quick compared to the task of artificial ageing, which can take many years.
Identifying a fake sculpture is not an easy task. Artists work within a family tradition, with knowledge passed from master to apprentice. Certain practices of cultural and artistic reproduction might well be unbroken since the time of Angkor.
Master craftsmen do not copy known sculptures, but design original works in the style of a particular time period. Variations in decoration, iconography and quality are commonly used to mimic actual antiquities.
To make matters more difficult, identifying a genuine sculpture is not very simple either. Even the most accomplished connoisseur will question authentic sculptures that intentionally reference iconography and motifs from earlier periods. For example, a group of sculptures produced in the ninth century have only recently been identified as 12th century copies.
When I asked Helen Jessup about identifying fakes and their proliferation, she said:
It will probably never be certain which of the pieces acquired from as early as the 1980s are real and which are fakes, but it is fair to ask why nobody wondered why, after almost a century of diligent research and acquisition by the French, so many, and so many perfect sculptures were appearing.
An intentionally broken fake Angkorian sculpture being artificially aged. Jim Sanborn
An intentionally broken fake Angkorian sculpture being artificially aged. Jim Sanborn
Technical analyses are the best tests. Regrettably, these are not foolproof either. Contemporary artists use the same sources of stone as the ancients; and fakers can replace clay cores of contemporary sculptures with ancient ones to avoid detection by scientific dating techniques.
Assistant Professor Christian Fischer from the UCLA/Getty Conservation Program is an expert in the types of stone used by ancient Cambodian artists.
Fischer told me about the extent to which fakers are one step ahead of would-be experts:
Fakers are aware of the published research that can help them to improve their artificial ageing procedures. For example, from the late 1990s, the appearance of questionable sculptures showing a surface layer enriched in manganese might be related to equivalent descriptions of manganese in the academic literature. This feature is absent on notorious fakes made in the 1970s and 1980s.
We continuously change the way objects of the past are appreciated and represented in terms of the present. Angkorian sculptures have always been treasured for their aesthetic beauty and as we learn more about them, we begin to recognise their significance to those who produced and venerated them, and especially their value to Cambodians today.
The ancient sculptures of Southeast Asia embody impressive examples of human creativeness and increase cross-cultural knowledge. But how might we accept replica sculptures acquired from a market full of objects with insufficient provenance?
Fearing the potential reputational damage that will follow if they’re known to have fallen prey to fakers’ deception, some custodians of Cambodian and Southeast Asian sculptures do not seek clarity on authenticity.
Products of a faking workshop offered for sale at the site of their manufacture. Jim Sanborn
Products of a faking workshop offered for sale at the site of their manufacture. Jim Sanborn
But as problematic as they are, rigorous independent technical analyses can test the legitimacy of sculptures. In recognising fakes, custodians can come to terms with how past collecting encouraged the production of forgeries and the looting of sacred archaeological sites.
Whether real or replica, the sculptures are original works of art and worthy of celebration. They are produced by Cambodian artists with abilities equal to that of their Angkorian ancestors.
Still, custodians have a responsibility to follow a process of due diligence to ensure objects in their possession are authentic. Acknowledging the true character of the sculptures is the only way forward for caretakers who wish to address acquisition customs of the past.
Failure to do so will see both real and fake sculptures languish in storerooms, have fakes attain legitimacy as ancient, or ensure buyers are fooled again by the fakers’ skills.
Martin Polkinghorne, Research Fellow in Archaeology, Flinders University.
They are undoubtedly the work of a genius, art experts admit. But police are now investigating a spate of brilliant Old Masters forgeries which have fooled the world’s leading auction houses and museums.
The authorities are seeking to crack the ring, thought to be the work of a highly sophisticated modern forgery workshop, based in Italy.
Around 25 “fake” Old Masters, bought and sold for £200m after bypassing expert scrutiny, are believed to be in circulation.
“Whoever has been making them is an artist of extraordinary skill” Forgery expert Dr Bendor Grosvenor
The scandal threatens to undermine faith in the authentication process of those institutions which presented them as genuine works.
A painting of Saint Jerome, sold in 2012 for $842,500, attributed to the 16th-century artist Parmigianino, is the latest work to be sent for technical tests by Sotheby’s in New York, amid concerns that it is a modern forgery.
The painting was displayed by the Metropolitan Museum in New York in 2014.
Sotheby’s was previously forced to reimburse the buyer of an £8.4 million painting, An Unknown Man, supposedly by Dutch master Frans Hals, after forensics company Orion Analytical determined that it was a fake.
Traces of 20th century synthetic materials were discovered under the paint, leading Sotheby’s to conclude that the painting was “undoubtedly” forged.
The forger is suspected of responsibility for a painting thought to be by Italian master Orazio Gentileschi that was loaned by a private lender to the National Gallery.
Painted on the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli, David with the Head of Goliath, displayed from last April, supposedly dates from 1692.
Dr Bendor Grosvenor, the BBC Fake or Fortune art expert, concluded: “For what it’s worth, I believe it is a forgery. But it took me a long time, and a flight to Berlin to see an undisputed original Gentileschi for comparison, to figure it out.”
No reason to doubt says National Gallery
The National Gallery said it performed “due diligence research” on the work, which arrived with no published provenance after being bought by a London dealer, and had “no obvious reasons to doubt” that it was authentic.
The scandal broke when Venus, a painting by German Renaissance master Lucas Cranach and bought by the Prince of Liechtenstein for £6m was seized by authorities at an exhibition in the South of France, following a criminal investigation. It was sent to the Louvre for testing.
Italian dealer named as the link
The link between the paintings is that they have passed through the hands of a previously unknown Italian, French-based dealer, Giulano Ruffini, who appeared to have discovered a string of Old Masters. “I am a collector, not an expert,” claimed Ruffini, 71, who said it was other experts who deemed the paintings to be authentic.
Richard Feigen, a leading Old Master art dealer in New York, called the affair “one of the biggest scandals in my memory”, which should make institutions “very wary about things they are offered and the sources of those things.”
However Dr Grosvenor cannot disguise a sneaking admiration for the “Moriarty of the Old Master.” “Whoever has been making them is an artist of extraordinary skill,” he wrote.
“Equally skilful is the ability to age these modern creations in such a way as to make them look centuries old. Sadly, we don’t yet know who this genius is.”
The scandal was unearthed by an investigative art journalist, Vincent Noce.
Fake or fortune?
Orazio Gentileschi – David contemplating the Head of Goliath (1692)
The “rarest and most bizarre object” in the National Gallery’s Making Colour show, the painting on a panel of semi-precious blue lapis lazuli stone creates a spectacular sky behind David. The Gentileschi was “discovered” in 2012 and sold to a private collector, who loaned it to the National Gallery. It has been returned to its lender.
Authenticated by a senior curator at the Louvre, the newly-discovered painting was sold to London dealer Mark Weiss, who also handled the Gentileschi, and sold in good faith through Sotheby’s in New York for $10m in 2011.
“An in-depth technical analysis established that the work was undoubtedly a forgery,” concluded Sotheby’s which rescinded the sale and reimbursed the buyer.
Lucas Cranach – Venus with a Veil (1535)
Sold in 2013 to the Prince of Liechtenstein for £6m, Venus had been authenticated as a Cranach by scholars. Seized by French police, a new analysis suggests artificially-aged paint on a panel crated 200 years too late for the German Renaissance painter. A link to the Hals prompted Sotheby’s to investigate its own sale.
Nothing strikes fear into the heart of an art collector or museum like the possibility that a prized work of art might actually be a worthless forgery. And yet, despite the best efforts of experts to safeguard against such chicanery, fake works masquerading as priceless original continue to litter the market.
Art history is rife with high profile scams, such as that of Han van Meegeren, a disillusioned painter who developed a complicated system of baking his Old Master-style work to age it, and subsequently sold $60 million in fake Vermeers to world class museums and Nazi leader Hermann Göring during the late 1930s and early 1940s. (While current art historians are quick to slam his work as obviously inferior, Van Meegeren actually had to paint a “new” Vermeer at trial to prove he had not sold the Nazis a priceless original.)
In recent weeks, the art world has been rocked by perhaps the biggest forgery scandal to hit the art world since Van Meegeren’s unmasking. The extent of the Old Master forgery ring is as of yet unknown, but Sotheby’s has already issued a refund to the buyer of a $10 million Frans Hals portrait, sold in 2011 in a private sale through London dealer Mark Weiss. James Martin’s Orion Analytical, a Williamstown, Massachusetts-based company which investigates artworks, found modern-day materials in the canvas, proving it to be a forgery.
Franz Hals, Portrait of a Man, one of a series of Old Master works sold by a French dealer that authorities now believe may be forgeries.
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.
Lucas Cranach the Elder, Venus (1531). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
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 fact that so-called experts were fooled suggests that connoisseurship, long the gold standard of Old Master authentication—which does not rely on science but a less tangible ability to sense the presence of a great artist’s hand—can no longer be relied upon.
Orazio Gentileschi, David Contemplating the Head of Goliath. Courtesy of the Weiss Gallery.
As artnet News continues to follow this developing story, here are just a few of the most high-profile art forgery cases that have come to light in recent years.
James Martin’s expert report shows the signatures from four Knoedler paintings that were purported Jackson Pollocks. The top two signatures are quite similar. The bottom right signature shows signs that the name was first traced onto the canvas using a sharp tool, and is very similar to the signature on the bottom left, which is misspelled “Pollok.” Courtesy of James Martin.
Whether or not the gallery was in on the scheme (one of the many claims against Knoedler went to trial earlier this year but was settled before gallery president Ann Freedman could testify), they still sold the worthless works for $80 million, leaving a slew of lawsuits, some still unresolved, in their wake.
Uzbekistan’s State Art Museum, Tashkent. Courtesy of Abdullais4u via Wikimedia.
There are many forgeries of Alberto Giacometti’s Walking Man. Courtesy of Cornell University Museum.
3. Thousands of Fake Bronzes Sold for Millions
A forgery ring busted in 2011 is still having repercussions across the Alberto Giacometti market. Dutch Giacometti forger Robert Driessen made €8 million ($8.9 million) selling forged sculptures, along with thousands of fake bronzes, before his misdeeds were discovered. In 2015, the case again made headlines when a German dealer was caught trying to sell one of the works still at large to an undercover agent.
The State Art and Sculpture Museum in Ankara, Turkey. Courtesy of Husshho via Wikimedia Commons.
4. A $250 Million Heist in Turkey
Forgeries again came into play at Turkey’s State Art and Sculpture Museum in Ankara, where a group of museum officials and criminals are believed to have teamed up to steal some 302 works from the institution between 2005 and 2009. The crime was discovered in 2012, when the museum realized that 46 pieces in the collection had been replaced by copies. Another 30 works also raised suspicion.
The case was solved in late 2014 thanks to a tip from an anonymous caller.
Eric Ian Hornak Spoutz lecturing at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in 2013. Courtesy of Natasha M. Spoutz, via Wikimedia.
Two Civil Guard agents inspect one of the fake Joan Miró drawings. Courtesy of Guardia Civil.
6. A Covert Investigation Blows Open a Spanish Forgery Ring
A Spanish forgery ring dealing in fake Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse drawings was uncovered by Spain’s Civil Guard in January 2015 after a six-month investigation dubbed Operación Mirones (Operation Voyeurs). The authorities first spotted the fakes entering the country in July 2014, but opted to put the suspect under surveillance.
The investigation uncovered a Zaragoza-based art dealer’s scheme to sell the counterfeit works for hundreds of thousands of Euros, and nine fakes were recovered during a raid that put a stop to the illicit operation.
The artist Lee Ufan. Courtesy Studio Lee/Ufan Château Mouton Rothschild
7. Lee Ufan Authenticates Forgeries
In an unusual case, South Korean art star Lee Ufan claimed 13 suspected forgeries as his own original work, even after South Korean art dealer named Hyeon admitted they were counterfeits. Seoul police began investigating the case in February, and indicated that there were as many a 50 fake works at hand when Hyeon was indicted in June.
Nevertheless, Ufan was unswayed by the evidence, insisting that “an artist can recognize his own piece at a glance.”
Laurent Kraemer. Courtesy of photographer Jean-Daniel Lorieux/Kraemer Gallery.
8. Furniture can be forged too…
In June, antiques dealers Laurent Kraemer, head of Paris’s venerable Kraemer Gallery, and chair specialist Bill Pallot, were arrested on suspicion of selling the Palace of Versailles four counterfeit medallion back chairs for €1.7 million ($1.9 million). Counted as “National Treasures,” the chairs were thought to be among a group of 13 created by Louis Delanois for the Palace living room in 1769, where they belonged to Louis XV’s last mistress, the countess du Barry.
The problem is that there are now more than 12 chairs from the set floating around (the 13th, a larger version made specially for the King, is thought to be lost). The Kraemer Gallery maintained its innocence, but withdrew from the Biennale des Antiquaires, which was held in Paris in September.
Orlan. Photo courtesy Orlan.
9. But probably not facial modifications…
French artist Orlan sued American pop star Lady Gaga for forgery after the release of the 2011 hit video “Born This Way,” but ultimately lost her case. Orlan pointed out similarities to her piece Bumpload (1989), in which she added prosthetic ridges to her face, and Woman With Head (1996), which featured a decapitated head on a table. After losing her $31.7 million lawsuit, Orlan was ordered to pay the singer and her record label €20,000 ($22,000)
An Unknown Man was believed to have been by Frans Hals and was sold by Sotheby’s in 2011—the auction house has now cast serious doubt over its authenticity
In the latest development in a growing scandal over several Old Master paintings, the authenticity of which are in serious doubt, Sotheby’s New York provided new details on the rescinding of a 2011 sale to a US collector of a portrait sold in good faith as a Frans Hals. The auction house confirmed it reimbursed the buyer “in full” after discovering the painting was a forgery, which was first reported by our sister paper, the Journal des Arts, on 30 September.
The painting was sold in 2011 by Sotheby’s and the London dealer Mark Weiss to Seattle-based collector Richard Hedreen for $10m. It was purchased for €3m by Mark Weiss from Giulano Ruffini, whose estate near Parma was raided by French and Italian police last April. Before that, the Louvre had tried to buy the portrait, which was declared a “national treasure” in France.
Now, Sotheby’s indicates that “after receiving consent” from Weiss, it informed Hedreen of “a possible issue with the authenticity of the painting” and that a subsequent “in-depth technical analysis established that the work was a forgery.” Sotheby’s confirms it then “rescinded the sale and reimbursed the client in full”, adding that the company means to “keep its promises when problems arise”. Weiss, who has not paid back his 50% share of the sale by Sotheby’s, says further technical analysis is needed.
Sotheby’s acted “after the seizure by French police last March of a work attributed to Cranach”, which had been sold to the Prince of Liechtenstein by Colnaghi Gallery. As we revealed at the time, this painting also belonged to Ruffini.
Sotheby’s indicates that the study of the painting it believed was by Frans Hals was undertaken by “one of the leading experts on the field”, Orion Analytical, before being “peer reviewed by another leading conservation scientist”. The analyses “showed the presence of modern materials used in the painting”. Sotheby’s says in the statement that a cross-section of the painting revealed “trace evidence in ground and paint layers” containing “synthetic materials first produced in the 20th century”.
Ruffini told us he had sold dozens of paintings over the past few decades. But he never claimed any of them were by Old Masters. “I am not an expert, only a private collector,” he insisted. “If these paintings were later attributed to Correggio, Gentileschi or the Bruegels, or any other great artist, the experts, the dealers and the curators are responsible.” The dealers in question respond that these works have impressed the best experts, including the Louvre’s curators and laboratory.
“[Mark] Weiss, strongly believes, as do others in the museum and scientific world, that more forensic analysis needs to be done before making a final judgement on this painting,” says a spokeswoman for Weiss Gallery, referring to the painting attributed to Frans Hals.
Published: 21:06 GMT, 1 October 2016 | Updated: 07:30 GMT, 3 October 2016
The art world has been rocked by a haul of apparent forgeries by the ‘Moriarty of fakers’. Pictured, an Unknown Man said to be by Frans Hals
The art world has been rocked by a haul of apparent forgeries by the ‘Moriarty of fakers’ that could cost investors £200 million.
The suspect Old Masters – said to be by artists including Frans Hals and Lucas Cranach – have been described as the ‘biggest scandal in a century’.
In one case, Sotheby’s has been forced to take back an £8.4 million ‘Frans Hals’ and The Mail on Sunday understands the auction house is now pursuing the London dealer who supplied the painting.
Experts are particularly concerned because the alleged fakes are so difficult to spot from the real thing.
Earlier this year, the Prince of Liechtenstein had a painting seized by French authorities amid suspicion that it was a forgery. And it is feared that up to 25 more ‘Old Masters’ will be revealed as possible fakes in the coming weeks after a judge launched an investigation.
The paintings at risk could be worth up to £200 million.
Yesterday, internationally renowned art dealer Bob Haboldt said: ‘This is the biggest art scandal in a century. There has been nothing like this since the “early Vermeer” scandal of the 1940s [when doubt was cast on a number of pictures by the Dutch master].
‘It has put an entire generation of dealers on alert. The careful marketing of these highly sophisticated forgeries using primarily older materials has caught the market by surprise. The implications will be that buyers will insist on more guarantees, scientific and financial.’
The scandal is a matter of such embarrassment that few art figures are willing to speak openly, but one well-known dealer described the individual behind the copies as ‘the Moriarty of fakers’, because they are so brilliantly constructed.
The scandal began to take shape earlier this year when a painting by German Renaissance master Lucas Cranach and owned by the Prince of Liechtenstein was seized by authorities at an exhibition in the South of France.
Venus, dated 1531, had been sold by the Colnaghi Gallery in London in 2013 to the prince for £6 million but is now understood to be under examination by experts at the Louvre to assess its authenticity.
The suspect Old Masters have been described as the ‘biggest scandal in a century’. Pictured, David by ‘Gentileschi’ (left) and Venus by ‘Cranach’ (right)
The Cranach has been linked to a painting titled An Unknown Man, attributed to Dutch master Frans Hals, and a work called David With The Head Of Goliath, attributed to Italian master Orazio Gentileschi.
Both paintings were bought by London dealer Mark Weiss, with the Hals being sold on to a distinguished US collector. Sotheby’s took a cut for brokering the ‘private treaty’ sale.
However, when the collector, from Seattle, discovered the Hals painting was connected to the seized Cranach, he complained to Sotheby’s and their experts are understood to have subsequently decided it was a fake.
Sotheby’s were later forced to reimburse the collector and are said to be threatening legal action against Weiss to recover their losses.
Mr Haboldt said: ‘These three painters can be resold in the international market for millions and tens of millions. They are very hot names in the business and much sought-after.
‘The works are difficult to detect as forgeries but they lack any credible provenance and references in the numerous publications about these artists. The latter should have made the principal dealers suspicious.
Sotheby’s are said to be threatening legal action against Mark Weiss (pictured) to recover their losses
‘The willingness of Sotheby’s to accept the return of the portrait by Frans Hals and indemnify the buyer sets the stage for several more of these cases to come to light.
‘But first, the international art world will have to wait for the results of the French investigation. Whispers in the trade have revealed a list of some 25 Old Masters produced by this particular forger’s workshop. I understand this list will be revealed soon.’
The Gentileschi is said to have been sold to a young US collector based in the UK, for an undisclosed amount, and was displayed at the National Gallery in London until recently. Haboldt said it is believed a ring of Italian forgers are behind the Old Masters and some of them have already been questioned by French authorities.
The common thread to these paintings is they passed through the hands of unknown French dealer Giulano Ruffini, who claims he has discovered a string of Old Masters.
Ruffini, 71, however, insists that he never presented any of the paintings as Old Masters. He said: ‘I am a collector, not an expert.’
Neither Mark Weiss nor Sotheby’s would comment, while Mr Ruffini’s lawyers could not be reached. The National Gallery said: ‘Gentileschi’s David With The Head Of Goliath has until recently been on temporary loan to the National Gallery from a private lender.
‘It was part of a small display of works by the artist that came to an end last week and it has now been returned to the owner. The gallery always undertakes due diligence research on a work coming on loan as well as a technical examination.’
This year, Gabrielle Sullivan and her colleagues at the Indigenous Arts Code went to some of the most popular tourist destinations in the country for overseas visitors.
They visited Circular Quay in Sydney, the Queen Victoria Markets and Swanston Street in Melbourne, Darwin and Alice Springs, looking to buy arts and craft done in an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander style.
“We asked the vendors the same series of questions … we’d go and look at an item and we’d ask ‘Who was the artist?’, ‘Where’s the artist from?’, ‘What’s their language group?’,” Ms Sullivan said.
“[In] one blatant example of the fakes being out there, I went into one shop to purchase an artwork, and I was told straight out that it came from Bali when I asked.
“The guy in the shop then went on to say: ‘Most of the Aboriginal work that we sell isn’t from here. It’s from Indonesia, so it’s not Aboriginal artwork in the first place.'”
Art is an extension of its creator, and traditional cultural art from Indigenous Australians is a visual interpretation of the rich history of one of the oldest living cultures on Earth.
The visual interpretation transferred onto traditional artefacts is sacred knowledge, willingly shared in this day and age by Indigenous countrymen and women — though in modern society it can seem as if nothing is sacred, and exploitation of tradition is inevitable.
And although some say imitation is the highest form of flattery, the scale on which fakes are being produced is having an impact on Indigenous artists.
Artists encouraged to paint outside own culture
Leonard Andy — a Diru traditional owner of the Mission Beach area in Queensland, and a painter and maker of traditional objects — says he has been asked to asked to produce works that don’t belong to his culture.
“I’ve been asked in the past to paint didgeridoos, and I come from the rainforest,” he said.
“The people asking me to paint the didgeridoos weren’t Indigenous but they were tourist operators. I told them that I didn’t do it, and it wasn’t my culture in the rainforest.
“First they offered me $50. It went all the way up to $150 for each didgeridoo if I painted one. But I still said no … It’s Aboriginal, and I’m Australian, but it doesn’t come from our area in the rainforest.”
The problem goes beyond artefacts made in Bali for overseas tourists. It extends to forgeries, fraudulent activity, and exploitation of artists.
Laurie Nona, a lino cut artist from the Torres Strait island of Badu and the manager of the Badu Art Centre, said seeing fake art makes him weak.
“That’s disempowerment … these people don’t have a culture, all they’re looking at is dollars, and what they gain from producing,” he said.
“They don’t have no connection to it.”
Code relies on members doing the right thing
The Indigenous Art Code is just one organisation established to protect the rights of artists in Australia like Andy and Nona.
Ms Sullivan, the code’s chief executive, said it was set up after the 2007 Senate inquiry into misconduct in Australia’s Indigenous art trade.
“One of the recommendations was to establish the code,” she said.
“It’s not a mandatory code, it’s a voluntary code, so we rely on our members to do the right thing. Some do, some don’t.”
The legality of the trinkets and artefacts on sale in Australian airports and markets is dubious, but the devil is in the detail.
Can a work be legitimate if it’s in an Indigenous style, but not purporting to be Indigenous per se?
“The ACCC [Australian Competition and Consumer Commission] can look at things under misleading and deceptive conduct, but that needs to be brought to their attention,” Ms Sullivan said.
“Without bringing it to their attention, how are they going to know about it?
“From the code’s perspective, and we’re working on this with Arts Law and the Copyright Agency, it would just make a lot more sense for these products not to be there in the first place.”
Distorted market means no money going to communities
Derek Farrell, the ACCC’s regional director for the Northern Territory, said the body would investigate anyone breaking the law.
“People living on country are dependent on this industry as a very important income source,” he said.
“It is incredibly unscrupulous to undermine, to distort that market by producing fake artworks, which ostensibly are Indigenous work, but there is no money going back to those communities.”
One artist feeling the impact is Charmaine Green, a writer and visual artist belonging to the Badimaya/Wajarri language groups in Western Australia.
“We don’t have a lot of the opportunities that people do in the more urban areas,” she said.
“We have to rely on websites, and it is costly to get to Perth to have exhibitions and to have markets and those types of things.
“We really feel it when there’s any downturn anywhere else in the industry.”
Mr Farrell said breaches of consumer law can be penalised with fines of $1.1 million per offence.
“We’re also able to get orders that prevent this activity happening again, and in some circumstances, we can get orders for compensation,” he said.
Art forgery is big business. For forgers, the ability to recreate a classic work of art and get it accepted by the experts as an authentic work of art gives a forger great pleasure. But authenticating art is not only an art nowadays — but a science too. And new tools in the expert’s arsenal are making it ever harder to beat them.
Han van Meegeren — master forger
Han van Meegeren is considered the most prolific forger of the twentieth century. Van Meegeren made close to $30 million creating knock-off Dutch masters — notably Vermeer. He not only painted in the style of Vermeer — but actively tried to copy Vermeer in materials too.
To help add a touch of authenticity to his paintings, van Meegeren sought out seventeenth century canvases and frames for his paintings. He also tried to copy Vermeer’s brush strokes — one of the give-aways of a poor forgery — by using brushes and paints that Vermeer would have used when painting his originals.
One of the ways van Meegeren had to compromise though is in the make-up of his paints as he had to use Bakelite — an early plastic — to help his paints dry. The original paints used by Vermeer would have taken close to fifty years to completely dry, van Meegeren had to speed that process up.
Can the forgers beat chemistry?
With the vast sums of money involved in fine art, it wasn’t long before analytical chemistry was helping the experts fight back. Spectroscopy and chromatography have been routinely used by experts to help detect forgeries — in fact, it was gas chromatography in tandem with mass spectrometry which helped find the secret of van Meegeren’s quick drying paint — long after his death though.
High performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) was used by The National Gallery in the investigation into the painting The Virgin and Child with an Angel, a painting acknowledged as a fake in 1955. HPLC was used in 2009 in new analysis into the painting, particularly the binders in some red pigment. The analysis showed that the pigment was probably from the nineteenth century — pretty good for a painting thought to have been painted in the fifteenth century. HPLC is constantly advancing —to help stay up to date see the article, Recent Developments in Support Materials for use in High Performance Liquid Chromatography.
New advances in forgery detection
But the forgers have moved on to, and they are aware of the analytical chemistry techniques that the experts have brought to bear on their practices. To stay ahead, art experts are investing in new techniques.
The technology that keeps bitcoin transactions safe — blockchain — can now be used to keep original digital art safe and synthetic DNA can now be embedded in work of art to provide protection against forgeries. But as technology moves forward — you can be sure that the forgers are running to get ahead.
Syria’s antiquities and museums agency released photos of a number of fake mosaics that were circulating in 2013. The number has only gone up. Photo: DGAM
Maamoun Abdulkarim, Syria’s director general of antiquities and museums
Close to three-quarters of the artefacts seized in anti-smuggling operations in Syria and neighbouring Lebanon this year have proved to be fakes, Syria’s antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim tells The Art Newspaper. Speaking ahead of his visit to Edinburgh’s International Cultural Summit this week, the director general for antiquities and museums also gives a relatively optimistic view of restoration work in Palmyra, and shares his pressing concerns over the devastating crisis in Aleppo.
There have been growing questions over the extent of illicit digging and antiquities trafficking in Syria by militant groups including Isis. Abdulkarim says that while 7,000 objects have been seized by authorities in Syria since 2013, the proportion of fakes has risen from 30% to closer to 70%, both inside the country and in neighbouring Lebanon.
Objects seized by police in Damascus include 30 fake ancient Bibles, as well as Korans. Another haul was 450 gold Medieval coins, all discovered to be fake, along with scores of fake mosaic tableaus and statues. Some items were poorly made fakes that were quickly weeded out, but sometimes it was difficult to distinguish between the real artefacts and the copies. “I hope the originals are stopped and the fakes go to the market place,” Abdulkarim says.
From Lebanon, 89 big objects including 20 Palmyran statues, 18 mosaics, and Roman capitals and architectural pieces, were returned to Damascus in 2014 after they were examined by a Syrian delegation, he says. Lebanon is the only country that has worked with Syria during this time to investigate suspected looted objects, he adds, while Turkey and Jordan have refused any contact. “I don’t ask that they return all objects to Syria, because I know there will be a negative response,” Abdulkarim says, but he appealed to those countries to publically report what they had seized, and provide figures and details to Unesco and Interpol.
Turning to recovery efforts in Palmyra, Abdulkarim says that almost all of the ancient city’s artefacts have been secured since it was recaptured from Isil’s control in March, and most of the stones from damaged structures are reusable. “I can confirm that more than 90% of the collection in Palmyra is safe; 10% is damaged.” He says: “We didn’t lose Palmyra’s art.”
“We need about five years to finish our work,” Abdulkarim adds. Emergency repairs in Palmyra are now focussed on two temples blown up by Isil—the Temple of Baalshamin and most of the Temple of Bel—and the Triumphal Arch. In terms of artefacts, 38 gold coins from the Islamic, Byzantine and Roman periods were lost in the rushed evacuation. But the unique Zenobia Antonius bronze coin, bearing the image of the third-century Palmyrene Queen, was removed to Damascus and is safe.
There are some 400 to 500 statues and tens of thousands of lesser objects now in Damascus awaiting restoration, Abdulkarim says. Three truckloads were evacuated just before Isil occupied Palmyra in June 2015 and many more pieces have been moved since. These include the 15-tonne remnants of the second-century Lion of al-Lat statue, which was blown up by the extremist group. While Isil beheaded many of the statues that could not be moved, “the majority were in a good situation,” Abdulkarim says, with heads left lying at the site.
Artefacts in the Palmyra Museum after the liberation from Isil, images taken by Maamoun Abdulkarim on his mobile phone
Artefacts in the Palmyra Museum after the liberation from Isil, images taken by Maamoun Abdulkarim on his mobile phone
Artefacts in the Palmyra Museum after the liberation from Isil, images taken by Maamoun Abdulkarim on his mobile phone
Artefacts in the Palmyra Museum after the liberation from Isil, images taken by Maamoun Abdulkarim on his mobile phone
Artefacts in the Palmyra Museum after the liberation from Isil, images taken by Maamoun Abdulkarim on his mobile phone
Artefacts in the Palmyra Museum after the liberation from Isil, images taken by Maamoun Abdulkarim on his mobile phone
Three Polish archaeologists have joined conservation and training efforts in Palmyra, while two broken pieces are to travel to Rome for an exhibition in October, to be repaired and returned by Italian experts as a symbol of solidarity. While Russian teams were among the first into Palmyra, Abdulkarim stressed that the historic ties in the field were widely with the West and appealed for archaeologists to rally to Syria.
“I appeal at all times for French archaeologists, British archaeologists, German archaeologists to come,” he says. “All the damage [that has been done] to cultural heritage will be for generation after generation. Just come to Damascus.”
Abdulkarim’s main concern now is Aleppo, Syria’s largest city before the civil war, which has suffered through continued fighting and is currently split between opposing forces. Thousands of civilians, including children, have been killed during the conflict, and more than 150 historic structures have been damaged, along with the city’s famous souk and hundreds of traditional houses—a destruction Abdulkarim compared to that of Warsaw by the Nazis in 1944.
The National Museum of Aleppo was severely damaged by mortar attacks this summer. Photo: DGAM
After recent mortar attacks at the National Museum of Aleppo, major pieces located outside the building that are too big to move have been sandbagged. In the event of any end to the fighting, Abdulkarim says he would expect to reach out to Germany’s international cooperation agency GIZ and the Aga Khan Foundation, which both have extensive archives and plans of historic Aleppo, to help with the reconstruction.
Abdulkarim’s goal of working to set politics aside and preserve a shared heritage has been well received by the international community. “I refuse to use our cultural interest for political agendas. It’s our common heritage, it’s our common identity,” Abdulkarim tells us. “The politics will change, but the heritage won’t change.”
A purported Jackson Pollock sold by the Knoedler Gallery to Jack Levy
Are collectors “stupid” to spend millions of dollars on a work of art without personally investigating its authenticity? This is what Robert Storr, the former dean of Yale University School of Art argues.
Storr was speaking at a panel hosted by Ifar (International Foundation for Art Research) in New York in July about the issues raised by the Knoedler fakes scandal, which resulted in the illustrious New York gallery’s closure. Knoedler and its former director claim they were duped by the forgeries of paintings by Rothko, Motherwell and Pollock, among others, as much as their customers were.
The question of who should investigate authenticity remains hotly contested. “If you’re dealing with a reputable dealer and getting… promises and information, you should be able to rely on that,” said John Cahill, who represented two Knoedler plaintiffs, at the event. Adam Sheffer, the president of the Art Dealers Association of America, believes that the buyers of the Knoedler fakes could have done more. “They could have worked with the gallery to ask questions… Everyone needs to take responsibility,” he said.
But Sharon Flescher, the executive director of Ifar, noted that “I’m not sure that all the expertise would be available to buyers”. Her comment raise a thorny question: if any responsibility rests on buyers, how can they learn whether specialists have already expressed doubts about the work in question? Most of the specialist opinions on the Knoedler fakes were only disclosed through litigation, years after the sales had taken place. For example, in 2003, Ifar concluded that a painting sold by Knoedler as a work by Jackson Pollock could not be attributed to the artist. Although Knoedler and the painting’s owner received copies of Ifar’s report, the findings only emerged publicly in lawsuits filed almost a decade later. Ifar publishes select cases in its journal, but not this one. Not knowing that the painting was one of many Knoedler had received from the same source, Flescher told The Art Newspaper: “We didn’t even think it was particularly interesting.”
For collectors seeking information on the authenticity of specific works of art, there is no repository of authenticators’ reports, and experts doubt the value of a database that buyers could consult the way they check for stolen art (for example, through the Art Loss Register or Art Recovery Group). For one thing, not all reports are reliable. “What are the qualifications of the person giving the opinion?” asks Flescher. Another concern raised by James Martin, who scientifically tested many Knoedler fakes, is that revealing too many details could become a textbook for criminals. Experts should be careful about how specific they are, “lest they draw a clear roadmap for producing sophisticated forgeries”.
Experts do not want to risk being sued for saying outright that a work of art is fake; their fear of lawsuits keeps fakes circulating, said the art consultant Martha Parrish, who testified at the Knoedler trial. “All the fakes are roaming around and coming to market again,” she says.
Jack Flam, the president and chief executive of the Dedalus Foundation, played a key role in exposing the Knoedler fakes when investigating two Robert Motherwells sold by the gallery. He learned from experts on other artists that they too suspected Knoedler was selling fakes. Pollock expert Eugene Thaw willingly came forward, Flam says, but “everyone else was hesitant”. He added: “We [experts] need adequate legal protection.”
Legislation to protect experts first proposed in New York three years ago still hasn’t been enacted. Some lawmakers fear “it’s a slippery slope— [because] medical experts also give opinions” without special protection, says the lawyer Dean Nicyper, who is spearheading the legislative effort. “But the medical world [is not in] crisis.”
For art buyers, the most practical lesson from the Knoedler case may be the advice given to a teenager heading to the prom: use protection. That means obtaining a contract that includes “protections at the outset that the seller isn’t aware of issues about authenticity”, says the lawyer Judd Grossman, who represented a Knoedler plaintiff. “Knoedler hasn’t changed the market, but buyers are more willing to get warranties.”
Titled as “Abstract,” this painting is found to be deceptively put under the name of late artist Ta Ty at the exhibition “Paintings returned from the Europe.” A living artist has claimed the work as his. Photo: Lucy Nguyen/Thanh Nien
The Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts Tuesday publicly apologized for failing to verify the authenticity of 17 paintings on display at an exhibition that have been confirmed as fake.
A panel of famous artists and experts and officials found 15 of the paintings, supposedly the works of legendary artists such as Nguyen Tu Nghiem and Bui Xuan Phai, were copies.
Two others were found to be works of other artists. At least one living artist, Thanh Chuong, has claimed one of the two paintings as his.
All the paintings at the show are owned by Vu Xuan Chung, who claimed to have acquired them from Jean-Francois Hubert, a known expert on Vietnamese art and a former senior consultant for giant auction houses Christie’s and Sotheby’s.
The “Paintings returned from the Europe” exhibition opened on July 10 and soon faced forgery accusations from local artists and experts. It was originally slated to end on July 21.
Trinh Xuan Yen, deputy director of the museum, said it would keep all the paintings and ask relevant authorities to step in.
Luong Xuan Doan, vice chairman of the Vietnam Fine Arts Association, called the scandal “an insult to Vietnam’s fine arts.”
“All local artists are outraged by the paintings which are bad and superficial copies. Anyone can see they are fake.”
The “Abstract” painting by painter Thanh Chuong. Photo: Lucy Nguyen/Thanh Nien
Chuong, who said his work had been stolen and displayed at the exhibition under another artist’s name, said the incident would at least help authorities crack down on the forgery of Vietnamese paintings that has been going on for many years.
Many people, including officials, have been aware of the problem but had no evidence until now, he said.
Speaking to Thanh Nien, Chung, the collector, said all the paintings’ authenticity was certified by Hubert and that he trusts the French expert. It is not known how much Chung paid for the collection.
Hubert also insisted on the paintings’ authenticity in an interview withThanh Nien.
Like method actors and bearded brewmasters, the best art forgers are obsessed with authenticity. But thanks to a handful of new authentication technologies, even history’s most painstaking efforts wouldn’t stump today’s art sleuths.
Take Han van Meegeren, the most successful knockoff artist of the pre-war period. Adjusted for inflation, he made $30 million selling ersatz Dutch masters. Curators weren’t fooled just because the paintings looked perfect. (In fact, his Vermeers looked decidedly imperfect.) They were fooled because the art passed a crude forensic sniff test: every detail was “period correct.” He tracked down 17th-century canvases and stretchers. He duplicated Vermeer’s badger-hair brushes. And, in a stroke of OCD genius, he hand-ground exotic raw pigments following archaic formulas—no skimping allowed. Because faking Vermeer’s gorgeous signature paint would feel like cheating.
The 8 Most Prolific Forgers in Art History (That We Know Of)
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Today’s art authenticators have enough weapons in their arsenal—infrared spectroscopy, radiometric dating, gas chromatography—to spot a van Meegeren long before it hits the auction block. Many of these lab tests, though, are decades old, ample time for forgers to study the science and incremental improvements, perfect new counter-measures, and game the system.
Here’s the good news: The balance of power in the forgery detection game is about to shift. The art world has been closely monitoring scientific breakthroughs in fields as diverse as A.I., bitcoin, and protein analysis, and the technologies born from this research have either been appropriated by authenticators or will be soon. With these extra layers of security added to the vetting process, the current generation of copycat artists will find it increasingly difficult to hoodwink museum directors and collectors. Listen carefully, art patrons: That’s the sound of badger-hair brushes being turned into kindling.
Tracking Digital Provenance with Blockchain
Digital art is increasingly gaining traction in the contemporary art world. Phillips’s last two “Paddles ON!” auctions, which showcased digital formats ranging from GIFs to video game screenshots, have been well received. Blue-chip galleries are on board too; Pace Art + Technology, a new 20,000-square-foot space in Silicon Valley, is dedicated solely to digital media. Digital art collectives—Japan’s teamLab being the most prominent—have also sprung up.
Most importantly, prices are rising. In 2003, Cory Arcangel’s Super Mario Clouds, a wall projection birthed from a hacked Nintendo chip, sold for $3,000. Last year, an edition of that same piece went for $630,000. Still, the question remains: How can a gallery sell digital content as investment-grade art when it already exists online and can be copied like a Google Doc? The answer is blockchain, the same computer technology that serves as the public ledger for bitcoin transactions around the globe. In the same way that you can verify and track the movement of any bitcoin ever mined, you can now verify and track the movement of any artwork ever created—online and in real time—provided that all the authorship and ownership records have been uploaded to a secure distributed database.
Every event in the lifespan of an artwork becomes a block that contains a timestamp and information linking it to the previous block, enabling prospective buyers to confirm that the artwork has been licensed. This tech is ideal for digital media, where copies may be passed off as originals, and the specifics regarding limited editions and artist’s proofs are frequently vague.
Several companies are peddling this service: Verisart in Los Angeles, Ascribe in Berlin, and Everledger in London. Deloitte also sees the opportunity, having unveiled its ArtTracktive service at the ICT Spring summit in Luxembourg. But the startup that’s become a buzzword in the art world is Monegraph. That’s because the founder is an artist. “Digital art has a problem: Bits are infinitely reproducible, and people want exclusivity and verifiability,” explains media artist and Monegraph founder Kevin McCoy. “Blockchain solves that problem by providing a clear and distinct provenance.”
Anti-Forgery through “Deep Learning”
Traditionally, authentication has relied on connoisseurs. After studying things like brushstroke, texture, composition, and color, they summon forth their vast wealth of knowledge and divine the truth. But as is the case with sports officiating, bad calls are part of the game. One of the most famous examples is Dr. Abraham Bredius. In the 1930s, he was recognized as the foremost authority on Dutch Old Masters. The ex-museum director was celebrated for his scholarship and unerring eye. Today, however, he’s remembered as the guy who mistook van Meegeren’s forgery, The Supper at Emmaus, for a national treasure. Bredius’s exuberant appraisal, published in The Burlington Magazine, included the fateful line “every inch [is] a Vermeer.”
It’s only a matter of time before a robot can tell the difference between a van Meegeren and a Vermeer. Much of the research into this technology is being conducted at the Rutgers Art and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, an offshoot of the university’s computer science department. A paper published last year by two of the lab’s scientists, Babak Saleh and Ahmed Elgammal, shows how an algorithm they developed is able to differentiate between Picasso and Matisse drawings with over 75-percent accuracy without analyzing composition or subject matter. Just by looking at individual strokes. In addition to automatically classifying images from a database of 80,000 individual works, the algorithm can also search for stylistic connections among them. In one example, the researchers chose a group of paintings and asked the program to identify the “closest match” among paintings in other genres. The results found extraordinary similarities between examples of Russian Romanticism and French Impressionism, and between works of Pop Art and the Northern Renaissance.
Like any other computer technology, over time, this algorithm will become more sophisticated and accuracy rates will spike. In the near future, a new anti-forgery algorithm based on this scientific research will be launched. Major museums, corporate art curators, and insurance companies will see to that. “The machine has an advantage over the human eye because it can analyze hundreds of thousands of individual strokes and statistically characterize them,” says Elgammal. “If we train the machine to identify styles based on characteristics that are less intentional and unconsciously rendered by the artist, we’ll be able to detect forgeries.” Think about that for a moment: an algorithm that can detect the artist’s subconscious in brushstrokes or pencil sketches. Good luck copying that, Mr. van Meegeren.
A More Sophisticated “Fingerprint”
The gold standard in early-20th-century authenticity cases has been an expert’s stamp of approval. Today, however, when forgery cases go to trial, provenance and connoisseurship are increasingly under scrutiny. Certificates of authenticity and bills of sale can be fabricated. In 2013, Modigliani Institute president Christian Parisot was arrested and charged with providing false certificates for almost $8.7 million worth of counterfeit—you guessed it—Modiglianis. Likewise, art historians and appraisers can be bribed, have conflicts of interest, or just screw up. This goes a long way toward explaining why the men in white lab coats wield so much clout in forgery cases.
There is no litmus test that can distinguish between art and artifice. But unlike the subjective eye, the latest spectra-matching science to hit the art forensics scene, peptide mass fingerprinting (better known as PMF), is hard to dismiss. Originally developed in 1993 and typically used in industries like biotech, PMF is a data-crunching tech that can analyze animal proteins on a molecular level. Until now, there was no scientific method to identify the type of animal tissue used in art materials like paint binders, adhesives, and coatings. A fancy machine called the Waters LDI-Time-of-Flight mass spectrometer has changed all that. After analyzing samples taken from an artwork, the LDI deconstructs the proteins and produces spectra containing markers that make up the sample’s “fingerprint.” These markers are then compared to those found in various animal tissues, like egg yolk, to find matches.
This technology, the latest toy for museum conservationists, will soon be added to the authenticator’s toolkit as well. Art conservation and art authentication are as closely aligned as the military and law enforcement. There’s a revolving door that links the two professions and it’s constantly spinning. Daniel Kirby, the scientist who pioneered art conservation PMF, is well aware of this nexus. “These are two sides of the same coin, the only difference is context,” says the former Harvard professor. “One guy’s job is preserving an artwork, the other guy’s job is determining if it’s real or fake. But they both look at the same things and use the same instruments.” Kirby is already fielding calls from insurance companies and art collectors willing to pay handsomely for his PMF magic.
Kirby’s projects have ranged from verifying that an antiquarian book was bound in human skin (affirmative) to determining the composition of Alaskan kayaks (hide: bearded seal; stitching: humpback whale sinew). He has also discovered that Mark Rothko used animal glue and egg on Panel 1 in his Harvard Murals cycle. PMF is so precise that it can even identify what kind of egg (duck, chicken, quail) and which part of the egg (yolk, white, or both) was used as a binder. For the record, Rothko used whole chicken egg to bind the paint and prime his Panel 1 canvas. With so many artworks containing animal proteins—medieval European artists favored fish glue, while Picasso prepped his canvasses with glue made from rabbit skin—insiders are studying Kirby’s research closely. Now the technology just needs to mature. “I’ve got 80 critters in the database,” says Kirby. “As that grows over time, I’ll start getting more matches.”
Embedding Synthetic DNA
In the mid-’90s, a sketch of Eric Fischl’s notorious painting Bad Boy hit the secondary market. The oil-on-paper work was so convincing it not only fooled a major auction house—it fooled Fischl. When friend Simon de Pury congratulated him on this large, monochromatic piece being included in an upcoming Sotheby’s auction, Fischl studied the photo of the imposter lot printed in the glossy catalog, and immediately recognized his handiwork. Dredging his memory, though, he couldn’t remember ever doing this sketch. “I thought I was losing my mind,” recalls Fischl. “Whoever painted it absolutely nailed my style at that time. The only way I knew it wasn’t mine was that I had never done any preparatory drawings of that painting.”
A Forger Confessed to Faking Millions in Lee Ufan Works—Now the Artist Says They’re Real
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Seeing a mediocre forgery of your work is one thing. Seeing your very soul in another artist’s brushstrokes is quite another. With that kind of backstory, it’s no wonder Fischl endorses synthetic DNA. He says that he’s “in line” to use this new anti-forgery tech, which allows artists to tag their works with tiny bits of synthetic DNA, when it launches: “Between the explosion of the art market, and countries like China that don’t recognize copyright laws and have highly skilled artisans who can knock off any artist’s style, forgeries have become common. The goal is to develop a tamper-proof coding system that will become the standard for authenticating art.”
The Global Center for Innovation at the State University of New York at Albany is experimenting with this ingenious ID science. The project was initially funded to the tune of $2 million by ARIS Title Insurance, a company that specializes in underwriting fine art. ARIS recently purchased the technology, and spun off a company called Provenire Authentication to market it. Like other players in the industry, ARIS wants to protect its slice of the $55 billion fine art market.
The idea is for artists to authenticate their work immediately upon completion—right after the paint on a canvas has dried or a sculpture has left the foundry—by attaching a DNA sample to it the size of a postage stamp. The recurring analogy is the car industry: Think of this as a VIN number for art. Rather than using the artist’s personal DNA, which might raise privacy issues and could conceivably be stolen and embedded in forgeries, synthetic DNA is made in a laboratory. Each artwork is inconspicuously tagged with a unique strand of bioengineered material that provides an encrypted link between the artwork and a secure database containing the definitive information about the artwork.
This DNA data, retrieved by a scanner, will be available to gallery dealers, museum employees, and anyone else who needs to verify the piece. The DNA meets archival standards. It doesn’t come in contact with the art and isn’t susceptible to environmental conditions or tampering. Moreover, deciphering and copying the DNA would be virtually impossible, even if you could find a rogue scientist in Shenzhen to do your bidding. Forget about removing the tag—you’d leave a trail of microscopic evidence all over the piece.
“Synthetic DNA will be admissible evidence in court,” says Provenire Authentication CEO Sam Salman. “Let’s hope that the technology of the good guys is always ahead of the bad guys.” The projected product price is $150. For those who can’t wait to mark their artistic territory with some synthetic DNA, Tagsmart, a British company offering a similar service, is already online. Founded by London framer Mark Darbyshire and software developer Steve Cooke, Tagsmart is a “three-way product” incorporating a synthetic DNA label, a certificate of authenticity, and a digital passport (provenance history). So sleep soundly, Mr. Fischl. At last, your artistic legacy and eight-figure estate is now suitably firewalled.
Police in Seoul believed they had their man. Following a nearly year-long investigation into the forgery of several works attributed to acclaimed South Korean artist Lee Ufan, a suspect was arrested in May after fleeing to Japan. The man charged—identified only by his surname of Hyeon—operated a gallery in Northeastern Seoul, from which he allegedly sold forged paintings purportedly by Lee. Hyeon allegedly raked in some $1.1 million in the process.
Hyeon was not the only one arrested as part of the investigation into the source of some 13 counterfeit works attributed to Ufan. But shortly after the police picked up Hyeon, the Korea Times ran a story under the headline “13 of Lee’s paintings confirmed to be forged.” According to appraisers and forensic experts, the works in question were not genuine. Even Hyeon admitted to forging the paintings, when questioned by police. Under normal circumstances, the weight of these opinions would sink any doubt that the works were not by Lee’s hand. But no one had asked the artist. And, as it turns out, he disagrees.
Best known as a pioneer of the Japanese Mono-ha style, Lee Ufan is among the most influential and expensive living Korean artists, with his work fetching millions of dollars at auction. Exemplary of the 80-year-old’s subtle and meditative practice isFrom Line, No. 760219 (1976), which sold for $2.16 million at Sotheby’s in 2014. A counterfeit of the “From Lines” series was among the 13 works police claim are forged. Hyeon has admitted to have forged 50 others, possibly in collaboration with an unnamed painter and dealer.
The twist came late last week, after authorities requested that Lee confirm that the works were indeed counterfeits. Following a two-day inspection of the works, during which the artist looked over the pieces with a magnifying glass and compared them to catalogue records, he declared that he “found nothing wrong in all the 13 pieces. The use of color, rhythm and breathing are all mine.”
Lee Ufan’s statement directly contradicts the evidence against Hyeon, a 66-year-old gallery owner who confessed to selling three of the 13 works in question. (Other dealers have also been arrested.) The artist didn’t comment on findings by the National Forensic Service and civilian experts, which the police had used to support their contention that all three works were forged. Rather, he invoked some forensic evidence of his own—albeit a less scientific kind. “Breath and rhythm are like fingerprints, which no one can copy. A third person, however talented the person might be, can’t do exactly like the artist does,” he told Yonhap News.
The artist went so far as to imply that the police had encouraged him to confirm their assessment. “On June 27, police asked me to acknowledge that the four pieces that Mr. Hyeon admitted to having forged were indeed fakes in an attempt to reach a compromise,” Lee told reporters, “but I refused.” He also voiced concerns about how the authorities handled the investigation, criticizing their decision to consult him so late into the authentication process. “An artist has a responsibility and the right to view his paintings first. But they left me out in the investigation and came to a conclusion without consulting me,” he said.
(inset) Alex Komolov and wife Svetlana Komolova Photo: Getty Images / Alex Komolov
Alex Komolov, the owner of the Alskom Gallery in Manhattan, is in the midst of a six-year legal battle against his former business colleagues for allegedly selling him more than $31 million worth of fake art. He’s seeking to recoup his money and restore his name.
In lawsuits obtained by Page Six, Komolov claims David Segal and Mohamed Serry tricked him into buying $30 million worth of fraudulent Monet, Vlaminck, Picasso and Manet paintings, among other antiques, between 2007 and 2009. Komolov purchased the works through his company High Value Trading and also claims Segal and Serry, owners of Artique Multinational, skipped out on paying $4.2 million for his New York City condo in 2007.
In a second suit, Komolov is targeting Universe Antiques owner Jack Shaoul for allegedly selling him a fraudulent Renoir painting in 2011 for $1.2 million.
At the time of sale, the men allegedly presented fraudulent certificates of authenticity to gain Komolov’s confidence. “Both paintings and certificates of authenticity are being forged with such technology that Picasso himself, if he could review his work, would not be able to tell the difference between real and fake,” Komolov’s attorney Phil Chronakis of law firm Budd Larner said. Once sold, Komolov had the works appraised by Art Experts Inc., a Florida-based company that specializes in appraisals, authentications and attributions. The company determined the pieces to be fake.
In total, close to 50 different works and other antique artifacts were sold to Komolov. And while the 72-year-old gallery owner may not be able to recover every penny he spent, his most pressing concern is restoring his reputation. He once gifted a Picasso painting to the president of Kazakhstan, his home country, only to learn it was a fake. He immediately told the president the painting was a forgery and apologized for the mishap.
“My client’s business has been damaged by going out of pocket $40 million to obtain items that are essentially worthless,” Chronakis added. “My client does a lot of business in Europe, specifically in Eastern Europe and now parts of Asia, he’s had a concern that this would affect his reputation, which is of course very valuable in business.”
Segal and Serry couldn’t be reached for comment and don’t have any criminal records. Shaoul, on the other hand, was convicted in 1993 on multiple counts of mail and wire fraud for filing bogus art insurance claims. He was sentenced to 40 months in prison.
When contacted by phone, Shaoul defended himself and blasted Komolov. “The guy is a crazy man,” Shaoul said. “He sued every antique dealer in the center, anybody he does business with, his partner. He’s a sue maniac. He’s been a dealer for 40 years. I’ve been a dealer for 40 years. He bought something from us. Three objects and one of them he wants to return, which we are willing to give him back his money. But he paid for the object $300,000, he says he paid $1.1 million and he made a fake bill, forged my signature, which is criminal. The guy doesn’t know what he’s doing.”
Komolov’s crisis manager Wendy Feldman vowed to do what she can to rescue her client’s image. “Alex is from the old school where your word was your bond,” Feldman said in a statement. “His image still remains very important to him and his gallery and will remain so. It is rare a person who would blow the whistle and spend millions more in legal fees to keep people out of business like David Segal and Mohamed Serry to protect the public. Jack Shaoul should have never been let back into the art world after serving time for a similar crime.”
The sale of forgeries is not uncommon in the art world, says Aviva Lehmann, Director of American Art, New York at Heritage Auctions. “It absolutely happens. You have to have eagle eyes, you have to really do your homework, do your due diligence,” Lehmann explained. “Inspect the work upside down, backwards, forwards, really talk to scholars in the field. It is very easy to have something dubious slip by.”
Though Lehmann says she hasn’t witnessed an uptick in the sale of fakes over the last 10 years, she’s aware of the active black market for such secret deals. “There is a black market for everything. I’ve seen it. There are black markets for artists that you have never even heard of that on a good day can sell for $50,000,” she said. “It’s extraordinary … I’ve seen fakes and forgeries of major masterworks in the eight-figure range. I’m not amazed by anything anymore.”
Komolov’s case against Shaoul heads to trial on Oct. 28 and papers are currently due to the appellate division in the case against Segal and Serry.
Published : 2016-06-21 17:59
Updated : 2016-06-21 17:59
Artist Lee U-fan will finally have a look at the paintings that the National Forensic Service confirmed as counterfeits of his works next Monday.
“We can’t conclude whether the paintings are forged or not since we haven’t seen them,” said Lee’s attorney Choi Soon-yong in a phone call with The Korea Herald.
Choi said Lee will then decide on when and how he will press charges against the art forgers — there are suspected to be several art forgers — and gallerists, who are accused of distributing the counterfeits.
One of the largest art forgery cases in Korea seems to be nearing its end as a 66-year-old art forger surnamed Hyun, who allegedly created fake works of Lee U-fan, was arrested in May and has been put on trial. All 13 works seized by police from galleries accused of distributing the counterfeits were confirmed to be fake.
Lee U-fan (Yonhap)
When Hyun was arrested, he admitted to having made some 50 replicas of paintings by Lee U-fan in 2012. Some of them were among the 13 seized paintings.
The biggest-ever art forgery case involving the acclaimed painter Lee prompted art experts and the Culture Ministry to discuss ways to solve the chronic problems that lead to continued art forgery.
“Art forgery scandals surface again and again because there’s no strict sentencing for art forgery,” said art appraiser Choi Myeong-yoon, at a seminar on measures to prevent art forgery held on June 9 in Seoul. The event was organized by the Culture Ministry.
The punishment for committing art forgery is relatively light compared to other crimes. But as the Korean art market expands and artworks by famous artists are treated as financial assets, there have been calls for stronger punishment for art forgers and those involved in distributing fake artworks.
“Since art forgers get light sentences, forgers make copies again once they are released and a new forgery scandal emerges,” said art critic Chung Joon-mo.
Hyun was convicted twice for copying artworks of Korean art masters in the past. He was accused of forging artist Chun Kyung-ja’s signature on a copied painting in 1991, and then of making counterfeits of traditional paintings in 1995.
Both times he was given suspended jail sentences on fraud charges.
“Measures that enhance policing of art forgery activities in the market are needed,” said Shin Eun-hyang, the director of the visual arts and design division of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.
Forged artworks seem to be on the rise in the last five years.
According to a figure from the Korean Art Appraisal Board, the percentage of fake works among the total artworks they were assigned to authenticate has increased from 34 percent in 2011 to 40 percent in 2015. There were 180 fake works among a total of 525 artworks appraised in 2011 and 236 fake works among 588 artworks appraised in 2015.
“From Point No. 780217” by Lee U-fan and its certificate of authenticity issued by the Galleries Association of Korea were confirmed to have been forged. (Yonhap)
Appraiser Choi Myeong-yoon said that the number of fake works that we know may be just a small part of what could be thousands of other fake artworks.
“I was assigned to authenticate some 3,000 artworks since 2005 until January this year by law enforcement agencies. All of them were fakes,” Choi said.
Unregulated art market
The sales of copied paintings of Lee U-fan started at a relatively unknown gallery in the art and tourist district of Insa-dong. The gallery owner was one of the many private art dealers who only trade artworks, not hold exhibitions. It is not listed with the Galleries Association of Korea, a group of 150 commercial galleries in Korea.
“The galleries which cause trouble are not members of the GAK. I believe we need a system that can enhance transparency of the art market,” said Park Woo-hong, the president of GAK and also president of Dong San Bang Gallery.
There are no special requirements that must be met to open an art gallery. Anyone who wants to open a gallery can start business after registering with the National Tax Service like any other businesses.
“Anyone can open their space for art trade under the name of gallery or auction. And art forgery persists and fakes are usually circulated by individual art dealers,” said Shin.
Art appraisal credibility
Artworks suspected as forged works are appraised at several private appraisal agencies and individual appraisers, including the Korean Art Appraisal Board, which handles the largest number of paintings. The credibility of art appraisal results are sometimes questioned as auction houses are involved in authenticating artworks consigned by their clients.
“Private art appraisal agencies currently enjoy autonomy in the appraisal process. It’s not known how many are in this business,” said Cho Hyun-seong of the visual arts and design division of the Culture Ministry.
Art experts discuss ways to improve transparency in the Korean art market and art appraisal credibility at a seminar organized by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism on June 9 in Seoul. (Yonhap)
The lack of reliability of the current art appraisal system has led to calls for a public art appraisal institution, or licensing of private art appraisers.
The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea appraised Chun Kyung-ja’s “Beautiful Women” painting as an original piece by the artist, but its authenticity is still being questioned by many people, including family members of Chun. The late artist, in her lifetime, insisted it was not her painting.
The Culture Ministry said it is in the process of gathering ideas from art experts before announcing in August actual measures aimed at preventing art forgery.
But some art experts voice concerns that measures to regulate the market will hinder the growth of the Korean art market.
“I don’t see any reason why the government should be in a hurry to come up with solutions. The Korean art market is still in its infancy with just 20 years of market activities. Regulations should take effect step by step,” said Seo Jin-su, an economics professor at Kangnam University, who studies art markets in Korea and Asia.
Police have confirmed that several of artist Lee U-fan’s works were forged.
The announcement on Thursday is based on the results of a National Forensic Service probe. Suspicions about the works arose in 2012.
Thirteen of Lee’s works _ four that were bought by private collectors, eight kept by distributors and sellers and one that was sold at a local auction _ have been confirmed as forgeries. The 13 pieces were compared with Lee’s six genuine works exhibited at local museums.
Lee is best known in Korea and overseas for his “dansaekhwa” series, or monochrome paintings. His works are also among the most expensive pieces by a Korean artist. His “From Line No. 760219” was sold for $2.16 million at a Sotheby’s auction in New York in 2014. Last month, one of his “Wind” series sold for $922,000 at an auction in Hong Kong.
Police started their investigation in June last year after allegations that some of Lee’s forged works were being sold and distributed. Forged paintings of Lee’s “From Point” and “From Line” series were claimed to have been sold for billions of won in several galleries in Insa-dong between 2012 and 2013.
Last month, police arrested and investigated a man suspected of directing the forgery of Lee’s works. Police are investigating another artist for allegedly forging several of Lee’s paintings.
Lee, who said he knew nothing about the forgeries of his paintings when the claims were first made, said in January through a legal representative that if there are forged works purported to be his being sold, then he is the biggest victim of the scandal and would cooperate fully with any police investigation.
Lee is in France preparing for an exhibition. His attorney, Choi Soon-yong, said it was difficult for Lee to return to Korea immediately due to the exhibition but hoped the investigation would end soon so there would be no further speculation about Lee’s works and no further damage would occur.
The forgery confirmation is likely to spur further investigations. Claims have long been made that forgeries of the work of other famous artists, such as Chung Kyung-ja and Park Soo-geun, are also being traded.
Last October Richard Polsky, the San Francisco art dealer who wrote I Bought Andy Warhol (2003), started an authentication service for the artist’s works, driven by the dissolution of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts’ authentication committee four years earlier. Now, Polsky has announced that he is taking on authentication of works by Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
The Art Newspaper: There are some collecting fields, such as sports memorabilia, where fakes are said to outnumber the real thing. Can you give us a rough idea of what percentage of Warhols on the market are suspicious?
Richard Polsky: In terms of what I’m seeing for authentication, it’s probably 60/40 in favour of fakes. In terms of what you see at galleries, it’s probably more like 10% fakes. Warhol has never been bigger, and if you are a serious blue-chip collector, you need a Warhol. As the prices go up, more fakes appear.
What about Haring and Basquiat?
There’s a much higher percentage with Haring. I would say Haring is [number] one, Basquiat, two and Warhol three in terms of volume of fakes. Haring was extremely prolific—the subway drawings, for example—he said he did thousands over the course of three years. The other thing is that Haring could do a sketch of a barking dog or radiant baby in just a couple minutes—imagine how easy that is to fake.
Are there any particularly memorable fakes that you’ve seen so far?
A man from North Carolina called me and said he bought a wooden carving of a cat at a flea market, signed on the bottom “Andy Warhol.” I started laughing because Andy really didn’t do things like that. In that case, I didn’t even get involved.
How important are signatures with these artists?
I would say they are not crucial with any of them. With Warhol his assistants signed pieces, his mother signed pieces, Ivan Karp [a Pop art dealer] signed pieces. What is crucial is what the work looks like, what material was used and obviously the back story, which includes information about the artist’s intent. Is this a work that Warhol wanted to be public, or something a friend fished out of the trash?
What giveaways betray works as fake Harings or Basquiats?
With an authentic Haring what you’re looking for is an unbroken line. He was a savant of some sort: he could start a drawing on the left side of the canvas and keep going. If you see a “Haring” drawing where it looks like a line has been erased or reworked, it’s probably not a Haring. For Basquiat you can usually tell a forgery because it won’t have his spontaneity—the composition will look too perfect.
Given the current climate of fear over authentication, aren’t you afraid of being sued?
That was the first question from my colleagues: half of them thought I was a genius, the other half thought I was an idiot. The answer is no. If you go back to the Warhol authentication board, a collector had to give them permission to rubber stamp in ink the word “Denied” on the back of the artwork. If you got the stamp, you were screwed, and if you asked them why, they wouldn’t tell you.
I believe in being transparent. If I turn down your painting you get a two-page letter from me outlining why. You might be bummed out, but being treated fairly tends to reduce anger. Of course I also have a lawyer and a disclaimer. And there’s just not as much financial incentive to sue me. There’s a difference between suing an estate worth hundreds of millions and suing an individual.
I can’t imagine that your authentication carries as much weight as the estates did though?
Not yet, that’s correct. I tell potential clients since we’re relatively new, I think an authentication letter from me will be helpful in private transactions. Nobody has tested the auction waters yet, but I think this is coming.
Brett Whiteley fake art: Dealer and conservator guilty of Australia’s biggest art fraud
Mark RussellMay 12, 2016 – 5:06PM
Art dealer Peter Gant has been found guilty of selling fake Brett Whiteley paintings. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer
Two men have been found guilty of Australia’s biggest art fraud, where fake paintings by famous Australian artist Brett Whiteley were sold for $3.6 million.
Art dealer Peter Gant and art conservator Mohamed Aman Siddique had been accused of pursuing a joint criminal enterprise to create three paintings – Blue Lavender Bay, Orange Lavender Bay and Through the Window – in the style of Brett Whiteley, who died from a heroin overdose in 1992.
The Crown claimed Mr Siddique painted the artworks in his Easy Street, Collingwood studio from 2007, and Mr Gant then passed them off to unsuspecting buyers as original 1988 Brett Whiteley paintings.
Blue Lavender Bay, one of the paintings presented as evidence in court. Photo: Jason South
The Blue Lavender Bay painting was sold for $2.5 million to Sydney Swans chairman Andrew Pridham in 2007 and the Orange Lavender Bay sold for $1.1 million to Sydney luxury car dealer Steven Nasteski in 2009.
The Crown claimed a third fake painting, Through the Window, was offered for sale by Mr Gant for $950,000.
The men’s defence barristers argued copies of Whiteley paintings were made in a locked storeroom but the sold paintings were Whiteley originals bought from the artist’s manager by Mr Gant and kept in storage for nearly 20 years.
No explanation was given as to what happened to the copies Mr Siddique admitted to painting in his studio.
It was claimed the authentic paintings were not Whiteley’s best work as he had been a heroin addict past his prime in 1988, creating ‘inconsistent’ art and selling it out the back door to support his drug habit or avoid tax.
A Supreme Court jury on Thursday found Mr Gant, 60, guilty of two counts of obtaining a financial advantage by deception and one of attempting to obtain a financial advantage by deception involving the three artworks.
Muhammad Aman Siddique Photo: Ken Irwin
Mr Siddique, 67, was found guilty of two counts of obtaining a financial advantage by deception and one count of attempting to obtain a financial advantage by deception.
In her closing address to the jury, Crown prosecutor Susan Borg said the art fraud had its origins after Mr Gant bought an authentic Whiteley painting, View From The Sitting Room Window, Lavender Bay, at auction for $1,650,000 in March 2007.
Ms Borg said this painting was then sent to Mr Siddique’s Collingwood studio a short time later and Mr Gant used it as a blueprint to create fake paintings.
The prosecutor said much had been made during the trial of how art dealers from esteemed auction houses were convinced the three paintings were real.
“Auction houses that work on a commission basis, on the sale of such work, you might think they might have a vested interest in saying how terrific something is …” she said.
Wendy Whiteley, widow of Australian artist Brett Whiteley. Photo: Jesse Marlow
Ms Borg said none of the art dealers had the same intimate knowledge of Brett Whiteley’s work as his widow, Wendy, who was adamant the paintings were fakes.
What the jury was not told during the trial was how police suspected more forgeries had been created in Siddique’s Collingwood studio and sold but there was simply not enough evidence to prove it.
The Crown was also not allowed to introduce evidence from Richard Simon over a conversation he claimed to have had with Mr Siddique when delivering a number of doors to his Collingwood studio. The eccentric Whiteley was known to paint many artworks on doors.
Mr Simon claimed he argued with Mr Siddique over the quality of the door frames in November in front of Mr Gant.
“I said to him (Mr Siddique) that he knew what he was getting, that he was getting oversized doors,” Mr Simon told police.
“He (Mr Siddique) then said, ‘The artwork to be painted on these doors is worth over a million dollars, I can’t have joins’.”
Ms Borg argued Mr Simon’s evidence was fundamental to the Crown case as it allegedly showed how Mr Gant and Mr Siddique were involved in a joint criminal conspiracy.
Ms Borg said if Mr Simon’s evidence was excluded, the Crown case against the two men would be considerably weakened.
Both Mr Siddique and Mr Gant denied the conversation ever took place and their lawyers argued it would be extremely prejudicial if Mr Simon was allowed to tell the jury what he claimed to have heard.
Ruling the evidence inadmissable, Justice Michael Croucher questioned why anyone who was part of an agreement to create paintings in the style of Brett Whiteley would then tell someone that these things might be worth a million dollars?
Ms Borg wanted Gant and Siddique remanded in custody but Justice Croucher agreed to extend their bail until next Tuesday when the case would return to court for a mention.
The pre-sentence hearing for the two men is not expected to be held until June.
These masterpieces should be worth in the region of a half a billion pounds. Except they are fakes produced by David Henty, a convicted forger who produced them in the living room of his house by the seaside Brighton.
But proving there’s no such thing as bad publicity, Mr Henty has turned the notoriety to his advantage.
“Since you did those stories, I have had quite a few commissions. I can’t thank The Telegraph enough.”David Henty, master forger on going straight
The Telegraph investigation, which prompted interest from newspapers and television stations around the world, has led to Mr Henty going straight.
At the end of the month, an art gallery will stage an exhibition of his copies of masterpieces by the likes of van Gogh, Picasso and Modigliani.
With paintings priced at up to £5,000 a time, Mr Henty is expecting to do decent business.
“Since you did those stories, I have had quite a few commissions,” Mr Henty said. “People read about me in The Telegraph and elsewhere and sent me letters requesting I do copies for them of masterpieces.
“As a result, I decided to go straight and business is brilliant. I can’t thank The Telegraph enough.”
At the age of 58, and after a career in crime, the admission from Mr Henty is a bold one.
He was jailed for five years in the mid 1990s for forging thousands of fake British passports which he planned to sell to anxious Hong Kong citizens ahead of the handover to China.
The scam would have earned him a £1 million and might have worked, not least if he hadn’t mis-spelt the words ‘Britanic’ and ‘Magesty’. He went to jail a second time in Spain for selling stolen cars.
In fact, Mr Henty knew the artwork couldn’t be genuine because he was churning the paintings out in his living room, as he later confessed when confronted by The Telegraph.
It was hard for him to conceal he was the artist behind the fakes, not least because he drives around in a car with the personalised number plate “V9OGH” in self-recognition of his skills as a counterfeiter of van Gogh’s work.
“I think eBay has had its day for fake art,” he said, “For the last few months I have been concentrating on these masterpiece copies. I have done a lot of research. I have been to the galleries and studied them in the flesh. The paintings are all the exact size of the originals.
“I have got 30 or 40 paintings for the exhibition. I have just done a 6ft Francis bacon that I am really pleased with. I have tried to get them as accurate as possible.”
The exhibition at the No Walls Gallery in Brighton will be his first as a legitimate copier. The opening night will be attended by Peter James, the best-selling author of crime fiction who has just completed a book about real life criminals in Brighton written in conjunction with Graham Bartlett, the city’s former chief superintendent, who arrested Mr Henty for the passport scam.
The pair – detective and villain – have struck up an unlikely friendship in recent months. Mr Henty’s passport scam is a chapter in the book, entitled ‘Death Comes Knocking’ and which is published in the summer.
The endorsement of Mr Henty’s art by Mr James, who has sold 17 million books worldwide, will further boost his chances of artistic success.
A satellite television channel is also planning to make a programme around Mr Henty in which one of his fakes will hang with genuine masterpieces in a gallery.
Contestants have to spot the forgery. Whether they succeed or not will be testament to Mr Henty’s skills as a master forger.
Two Brett Whiteley paintings that sold for more than $3 million were created in a Melbourne store room 15 years after the famous artist’s death, a court has heard.
Blue Lavender Bay, purchased for $2.5 million by Sydney Swans chairman Andrew Pridham, and Orange Lavender Bay, bought for $1.1 million, are the work of art restorer Mohamed Siddique, Crown prosecutors allege.
Siddique and art dealer Peter Gant have pleaded not guilty to charges of obtaining financial advantage by deception and attempting to obtain financial advantage by deception in relation to the sale of the paintings.
They are on trial in the Victorian Supreme Court where it is alleged they hatched a plan to use their skills and expertise in the art world to profit from the sale of fraudulent Whiteley paintings.
Whiteley twice won the Archibald prize and was appointed an officer of the Order of Australia before his death in 1992.
Prosecutor Susan Borg said the agreement was made around the time Gant purchased an authentic Whiteley painting, entitled View from Sitting Room Window Lavender Bay, in March 2007.
The two men used the original work as a template that would help them create paintings to pass-off as authentic Whiteley’s, thus inflating their sale price, Ms Borg said.
“They agreed that Mr Siddique would use his knowledge and expertise as a conservator and restorer of art to produce the paintings, and Mr Gant would use his expertise as an art dealer to approach (buyers) and sell paintings as authentic Whiteley paintings,” she said.
Ms Borg said the jury would be shown photographs of the paintings, along with a third painting entitled Through the Window, being created in a secure storage area of Siddique’s Easey Street studio and office space.
Book binder Guy Morel took photographs that capture the paintings at various stages of completion, the court heard.
Evidence will also be given by experts who assessed the authenticity of Blue Lavender Bay and Orange Lavender Bay and found inconsistencies between the paintings and Whiteley’s work, the court heard.
Infrared scans of Blue Lavender Bay reveal grey “underdrawings” that are the same as the underdrawings Mr Morel photographed in the Easey Street storage unit, Ms Borg said.
Gant’s defence barrister Trevor Wraight said the photographs taken by Mr Morel captured the creation of copies of original works – which was not illegal.
“The three paintings that were arranged to be sold by Peter Gant were not fraudulent,” he told the court.
“What happened at Easey Street and the sale of these paintings are completely different stories.”
John Ribbands, for Siddique, said his client created copies of Whiteley paintings, which was different from creating a fake.
“We say he painted a copy of what was an original Brett Whiteley,” he said.
“Once they left his premises he had nothing further to do with them.”
The trial continues before Justice Michael Croucher.
There has been a bizarre new twist in the case of the Prince of Liechtenstein’s painting of Venus, attributed to Cranach, which was seized on 1 March by a French judge. The Art Newspaper has learned that the painting is the subject of a lawsuit that has been ongoing since May 2014. The case was launched in Paris by an art dealer against two middlemen. The French dealer, who cannot currently be named, says he was the owner of the painting and was cheated of the true value of the work after agreeing to a contract of sale in November 2012.
The middlemen in turn claim the French dealer sold the panel to them in January 2013, for €510,000, as a work by an anonymous artist, which was only later authenticated as a Cranach by two scholars. The middlemen claim that disputes arose when they wanted to check the work’s provenance, in case it had been looted during the Second World War, but also after the French dealer learned of the huge sale prices obtained in a matter of months. The French dealer is suing for breach of trust.
In March 2013, the work was bought in Brussels by Konrad Bernheimer for €3.2m, fr om a German financier based in Paris. In July, Bernheimer’s London gallery, Colnaghi, sold it to the Prince of Liechtenstein for €7m.
The work was seized by judge Aude Buresi from an exhibition at the Caumont Centre d’Art in Aix-en-Provence, in the South of France. According to the French dealer’s attorney, Philippe Scarzella, the investigation also includes half-a-dozen other works, including a portrait of a man attributed to Frans Hals, a David with the head of Goliath, painted on lapis lazuli and attributed to Orazio Gentileschi, and a portrait of cardinal Borgia after Velázquez. Two of the works, he says, were sold to the London dealer Mark Weiss.
The French dealer says he was the source for all these works, claiming he got most of them from the collection of a French businessman, André Borie. His lawyer insists that, even if there is any doubt about their provenance, it does not mean the works are forgeries (and indeed, French law allows for the seizure of works that are suspected forgeries for investigation without a court judgement). He considers the allegations — which led to this criminal investigation — a result of the feud and an attempt to smear his client.
The German financier, who sold the disputed Cranach to Konrad Bernheimer, told The Art Newspaper that he had “nothing to do with the criminal investigation”. He believes “the Cranach is authentic” and denies any wrongdoing in his business relations.
The idea that the works could be forgeries is dismissed by the dealers involved. “The painting is correct and we have no other comment,” Konrad Bernheimer told us at the opening of Tefaf in Maastricht, explaining he was “not aware” that an analysis commissioned by Christie’s, at the end of 2012, raised doubts about the panel.
Mark Weiss says the whole affair is “insane”, noting that the painting on lapis “was shown at the Maillol museum in Paris before being recently exhibited by the National Gallery in London”. (The National Gallery returned it to its owner a couple of days after the Venus was seized because “the display just went to its end”, according to the press office.)
Meanwhile the Louvre had tried to buy the portrait attributed to Hals, launching a fundraising campaign (it failed to make the €5m price tag). Presented as a “major discovery, masterly executed, in excellent state of conservation”, it was classified as a “national treasure” in 2008, after a study by the National French Museums’ laboratory. This is the same lab wh ere the Venus has now been sent for a complete set of examinations at the request of the judge.
Real artifacts stolen, replaced with fake ones at Peshawar museum
Last Updated On 26 March,2016 08:09 pm
Anti-corruption department seals all records of Peshawar museum after the incident
PESHAWAR (Dunya News) – A one of a kind theft was carried out in Peshawar where the original artifacts of the Peshawar museum after being stolen by some clever thieves were replaces by their replicas, reported Dunya News.
This incident was brought to light by the investigative team of the Provincial Anti-corruption department. Sources stated that the burglars placed the replicas of the artifacts and the Islamic coins in the scientific manner.
The Provincial Anti-corruption department sealed all records of the museum whereas a committee has been formed by theDirector General who will present a report after examining all artifacts of the Peshawar museum.