What is art forgery? For the most part art forgery is the creating and or selling of works of art that are falsely attributed to an artist that did not create the piece of art. This can involve replicating an existing or know piece of art and passing it off as the original or creating a new work of art in the style of another artist and claiming it as a new discovery of a piece discovered from that artist. Art forgery dates back thousands of years, in fact the Romans were know to copy Greek sculptures and sell them as authentic Greek art work over 2,000 years ago.
The driving force of art forgery is the fact that art work created by certain artists is worth more than art work created by others. If a work of art can be replicated perfectly by an art forger it is only worth less monetarily than the original because of who painted it not because the painting looks any differently than the original. The same theory applies to forgers who create new art pieces in the style of a master, if the forgery is believed to be genuine it will be deemed priceless but if it is found to be a fake it is deemed worthless, regardless of what the piece of art looks like.
Forensic investigators, along with art historians and appraisers, are often responsible for determining if a piece of art is a forgery or not. Historians often use stylistic analysis to determine if a work of art is genuine or not, possessing large amount of knowledge about the styles, tool, brushstrokes, techniques used by certain artists. There are a variety of methods used for forensic authentication of art work. Some of the technical methods for revealing fakes include X-rays, UV lights, and IR light, which can be used to see under layers of paint to see covered up works, determine time period or the actual artist of the painting if an original signature has been covered up. Chemical analysis and spectral comparisons can detect the components of paint to ensure that modern pigments were not used in supposedly old paintings. Examination of the craquelure, the network of cracks that appear on old paintings, can be analyzed to ensure that the cracks were not artificially made and that they follow the grain of the wood onto which they were painted.
Art forgery sounds like a thing of the past, but art dealers claim that about 15% of art sold at auctions are fake, which means hundreds of people getting conned out of thousands of dollars.
For more information on art crimes save the date, the Museum’s new art crimes temporary exhibit is coming on February 15th, 2010!