Art forgery (Forensic Science)
The crime of art forgery is nearly as old as art. Archaeologists have unearthed objects with faked inscriptions from the ruins of ancient Babylon and Egypt. A passion for Greek statuary led the Romans to produce numerous works in the style of classical Greek artists. During the Middle Ages, artists embellished religious relics to reinforce the impression that the objects had biblical origins. The Renaissance produced another flurry of reproductions of Greek and Roman statuary. Commercial art forgery, however, really blossomed in the eighteenth century. With the rise of private collectors and public collections of works of art, demand for examples of choice antiquities and works by popular artists greatly exceeded supply, prices skyrocketed, and unknown artists discovered the monetary advantages of passing off copies of the works of the masters as the real thing.
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Scope and Limits of Art Forgery (Forensic Science)
In general, a reproduction or modern work in historic style is not considered to be a forgery unless it would deceive a knowledgeable buyer. A search of any flea market or low-end antique shop will turn up numerous small art objects, purportedly old, that bear obvious signs, through materials and workmanship, of their recent origin in Asian factories. Sometimes the deception is more elaborate, as in the case of one scheme in which an importer commissioned not only bronze “Tiffany” belt buckles but also a forged catalog, dated 1950, advising collectors of the scarcity and value of an item the Tiffany company never made.
Folk art is another gray area. An item newly handmade in a traditional manner assumes aspects of a forgery if it is deliberately altered to simulate age and traditional use. The countries or regions of origin of such items may also be misrepresented, as with “African” carvings from Indonesia or “Amish” quilts from India. The inauthenticity of fake antiques and folk art can usually be detected readily through analysis of materials (such as wood species) and telltale traces of artificial aging.
Some forgeries involve overzealous restoration of or addition of spurious elements to otherwise authentic pieces. A fad for collecting fifteenth and sixteenth century majolica ware during the late nineteenth century spawned a whole industry, first of re-creating missing parts for damaged...
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Detecting Art Forgery (Forensic Science)
The question of forgery usually arises when works of art are sold or transferred. Collectors and museums are understandably reluctant to amass evidence that tends to show that their existing holdings, especially showpiece items, are fakes. If they engage experts to examine controversial pieces, it is usually their hope that the findings will support the works’ authenticity.
To determine whether a work of art is genuine, the dealer or buyer first has it examined by an expert in the artist, the art form, or the period; the expert compares it with known authentic works and looks for telltale signs of the forger’s art, such as lines painted on canvas to simulate the cracking that occurs in old paintings. A labored and hesitant technique indicates a copy, but not necessarily a deliberate forgery. A specialist can detect anachronisms in the clothing and furnishings depicted in an artwork.
Judgments concerning conformity of a particular work to a known artist’s style are highly subjective. The same expert who praised the style and artistic quality of a piece while believing it to be genuine may as vociferously point to its artistic worthlessness when it is exposed as the work of an impostor. Experts who work for dealers may have a vested interest in overlooking subtle indications that something is not right, and a few are actually in league with forgers. Experts also examine ownership and sales records to...
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Art Forgery as a Criminal Defense (Forensic Science)
Art forgers themselves are rarely successfully prosecuted for creating fake art. Because the crime lies not in creating something indistinguishable from a valuable original but rather in marketing it as such, forgers can argue that buyers were deceived by the dealers who sold their works. Frank Kelley, a prolific forger of Impressionist paintings, protected himself by signing his forgeries in white lead, which was readily detectable in X rays. Because of the high level of skill required to forge fine art and a lack of public sympathy for wealthy collectors, successful art forgers may attain the status of public heroes.
Creating and marketing bogus art treasures is simple commercial fraud, typically a much less serious charge than theft, trafficking in stolen goods, conducting clandestine archaeological excavations, or smuggling. Consequently, art forgery operations may be exposed when a party accused on one of these crimes confesses that the goods are fake.
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Further Reading (Forensic Science)
Chervenka, Marc. Antique Trader Guide to Fakes and Reproductions. 3d ed. Iola, Wis.: Krause, 2003. Contains much useful advice for the private collector on how to detect mass-produced copies of lower-end nineteenth and early twentieth century art objects.
Hebborn, Eric. Drawn to Trouble: Confessions of a Master Forger. New York: Random House, 1991. An experienced forger offers an insider’s view, describing how the drawings of the old masters are forged and marketed. Compelling reading.
Hoving, Thomas. False Impressions: The Hunt for Big-Time Art Fakes. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996. A former director of New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art provides a work that is part history and part vivid firsthand account.
Jones, Mark, ed. Fake? The Art of Deception. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990. Published as a companion to an exhibit of notorious forged art pieces, this copiously illustrated volume examines forgeries and their unmasking on a case-by-case basis.
Spencer, Ronald D. The Expert Versus the Object: Judging Fakes and False Attributions in the Visual Arts. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Describes scientific methods for authentication of artworks and analyzes the psychological factors that facilitate successful art forgery.
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Art Forgery (World of Forensic Science)
The imitation of works of art, from paintings to sculpture, has been carried out for hundreds of years. Students and followers have always made copies of the works of master artists as part of their instruction. There are many artists, both amateur and professional, who like to paint or draw in the style of those they admire. There is nothing morally wrong or illegal with this kind of copying or imitation. Art forgery, however, is different. It involves passing a copy of the artist's work off as created by the original artist, usually for financial gain. Where fraud or deception is involved, establishing whether a work of art is a forgery becomes a forensic investigation.
Art forgery can be extremely difficult to detect and investigate. There may be many forged works of art in museums and galleries around the world, and in private collections. Experts may be unaware if the forgery is accomplished cleverly, of the existence of a
For instance, the Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali (1904989) gave away around 20,000 blank sheets of paper with his signature, triggering a flood of forged Dali prints. Dealers would pay $2,000 to $20,000 for these fake prints. The art world also abounds with fake Picasso, Chagall, and Miró printso the extent that some experts are now reluctant to authenticate prints from certain modern artists because of the sheer volume of work it involves.
Distinguishing an authentic work of art from a forgery requires a blend of technical expertise and a profound knowledge of art history and the work of individual artists. Forgers do, however, often give themselves away even before laboratory analysis of their work begins. They often add an element of their own natural style, or they may unknowingly include some contemporary period detail that the historian will notice immediately. Art experts also comment on a "lack of freedom" to many forgeries, as the forger sometimes uses more rigid brush strokes or lines to capture details of the original work. After all, the thought processes of a grand master creating a work of art is quite different from those of someone far less talented who is merely trying to imitate him or her. Often this difference will spill out into the work, although the forger may not be aware of it.
A full analysis of a possible forgery, however, must rely on more than the expert opinion of an art historian. A laboratory analysis of the materials used to create the work is required, using techniques such as X-radiography and infrared reflectography. Modern artistic materials, such as paper, inks, and paints are different in composition today from those used hundreds of years ago. It is true that old materials can be re-created and used today, so one could, theoretically, fake a Rembrandt in the twenty-first century using seventeenth century style materials. However, the presence of acrylic paints, which first became available in the 1930s, would readily give away a Rembrandt fake. Rembrandt remains one of the most imitated artists of all time. To complicate matters, his signature is often found on works done by lesser artists. Works of art also age from the moment they are created owing to exposure to the atmosphere, handling, and other factors. The expert forger may try to artificially age his or her work to make it look as if it was created long ago.
Although many types of artwork are forged, the examination of a typical oil painting illustrates many of the general principles of detecting a forgery. A painting is composed of four layers: support, ground layer, paint layer, and varnish. The support is often made of wood or canvas. The analysis of a wood support can be very informative because modern fakes are often painted on older wood panels to make them look authentic. Dendrochronology, the examination of growth ring patterns, can sometimes be used to age the wood itself. X rays will penetrate to the wood layer and reveal the construction of a panel, including features like saw marks. Manual saws were used to make artists' supports before the introduction of mechanical saws during the nineteenth century Industrial Revolution. Manual saws leave characteristic uneven marks. If the investigator finds regular saw marks on a painting claimed to be of seventeenth century origin, this will be a strong indication of a fake.
The investigator might focus on the edge of the painting, using a special magnifier or infrared light to detect the nature of the ground layer. Such testing is non-destructive to the painting. Sometimes an invasive test might be carried out. This is not quite a bad as it sounds; a tiny pinprick is made in the painting, perpendicular to its surface and the sample extracted. If the sample is taken at the edge of a painting, or at an area that is already damaged, the harm done to the work is minimal. This cross-sectional sample can then by studied by x-radiography or microscopy to reveal all four layers and their composition. These can be compared with cross sections of authenticated work from the artist to see if there is a resemblance.
A technical examination of the paint layer can help to confirm a work's age and authenticity. The investigator will look at the materials themselves and how they were handled, which may be characteristic of the individual artist. The pigments that give paints their color have evolved over time and this history is quite well known. Earth colors, derived from minerals such as iron oxide came first, followed by greens (malachite), blues (azurite), and black (charred animal bone). Animal and vegetable dyes such as indigo and saffron also have a long history. The nineteenth century saw the introduction of synthetic dyes such as the anilines. These were far more chemically and physically stable. Analysis by visible spectroscopy can reveal the chemical composition of an organic pigment and x-ray analysis might be used for inorganic pigments such as titanium dioxide. If the pigments prove too modern for its alleged date, then there are various possibilities. The work may be a forgery, a genuine painting which has been touched up, or the dating may be in error.
Examination and photography of the paint layer with a microscope or magnifying glass, perhaps using light directed at an angle, is important. Surface irregularities may be observed, as well as features such as tiny particles arising from the use of hand-mixed pigments. Ready-mixed pigments, which have a smoother appearance, are a more modern development. Examination of the paint layer in ultraviolet light can show re-painted areas as dark spots. A re-paint is not necessarily a sign of forgery; some artists re-painted as a matter of course. If a re-paint is found in the work said to be of an artist who did not alter their work, then it is cause for suspicion. This may be a sign of a forger trying to correct a mistake. Similarly, infrared reflectography can reveal underdrawings in a painting. The paint layer is transparent to infrared light that passes through, but is absorbed by drawing lines beneath and reflected by the rest of the ground layer. This creates an image of the underdrawings in infrared light that can be photographed. While some artists would begin their work with a sketch used as a basis for the painting, others never did. The investigator would be alerted if an underdrawing was revealed in work alleged to come from one of the latter. Conversely, the lack of an underdrawing might be indicative of forgery, if it was said to come from an artist who never did them.
The aging of paint shows itself by a characteristic cracking pattern known as craquelure. Examination of the surface of the paint with a magnifying glass will reveal whether the extent of the craquelure matches the alleged age of the painting. Many paintings are varnished to protect them and enhance their appearance. Like paint, different varnishes have evolved over time. Ultra-violet light can distinguish between varnishes. Synthetic varnish gives a clear or lavender fluorescence (emission of light), while shellac fluoresces orange. Varnish discolors with time and this can also help date a painting.
Besides examining the four layers of a painting, the investigator will also look out for other significant signs of authenticity. Some manufacturers of artists' material marked their products with a stamp and there are databases giving information, including dates, of these stamps. The presence of collectors' marks or other signs that a painting has been owned, sold, exhibited, or framed can help establish the history of a work of art. Some artists signed their work and the forger may attempt to forge their signature. Strange as it may sound, a forger may create a copied artwork, complete with the artist's signature, quite legitimately. It is only when they offer this work for sale at an inflated price and attempt to represent the work as an original, that they enter the realms of forgery. The law on selling, buying, and owning forged works of art varies from country to country. Therefore, the amount of criminal investigation that will be carried out into a particular work depends upon context and circumstances. However, the forging of a certificate of authenticity to accompany the work of art is always considered a criminal offense, and can also be investigated by a forensic document examiner.
SEE ALSO Art identification; Document forgery; Paint analysis.