How Do You Identify an Art Forgery?

Did you fall in love with its beauty, its emotion? …. Or its value? In the last decade frauds, deceptions, and scandals have left a stain on the art industry. Art forgeries have made headlines worldwide and even a Netflix special documentary, Made You Look, covers the largest and most famous art forgery scandal in US history. The industry of forgeries can be extremely lucrative, especially with many people questioning is art a good investment. Over the years new machinery and techniques have made the identification of forged artwork much more simple. So how do you know what you’re purchasing is the real deal?

What is Art Forgery?

Art forgery is the imitation of the work or style of another, usually well-known, artist. Some art forgeries are outright copies, while others are simply done in the style of another artist, with the intent to pass off the work as authentic.

The history of art forgery is almost as old as art itself. Whereas 2000 years ago the identity of the artist was not as important, in this age the artists' name and status are what adds the most value to any given work. It wasn’t until the 15th century that forgeries started to become a known scam, and by the 20th century almost every big name in the art world from Salvador Dali to Matisse had their works copied by a professional forger and sold often to art galleries and auction houses under the names of the more famous artists.

Famous Examples of Art Forgery

Although very frequent throughout art history, there are two art forgery incidents in particular that are worth noting. A 165-year-old highly esteemed art institution in New York City sold $80 million worth of forged Pollock, de Kooning, Motherwell, and Rothko paintings. Knoedler Gallery was behind the fraud, buying previously unseen and unknown artworks from art dealer Glafira Rosales. With absolutely no reason to trust this art dealer, and no traceable history of ownership multiple art institutes still vetted the works as authentic. For twenty years the gallery bought and sold these forged works until one unlucky moment where a single painting was found to be faked and this launched an FBI investigation unraveling the entire enterprise revealing that every work from Rosales was actually painted by a 75-year-old Chinese math teacher, Pei-Shen Qian.

Did you know that Michelangelo, who went on to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, began his career as a forger? At the time, Roman statues were popular among collectors, so young Michelangelo carved the Sleeping Eros, aging the marble by burying it in his vineyard. Although the collector who bought the statue eventually discovered that it was a fake, he was so impressed by Michelangelo’s skill that he commissioned two more works.

So what do you do if you already own artwork that you suspect may be a forgery?

How to Detect a Forgery

If you suspect that your artwork may be fake it is best to have a thorough examination done by a professional. An expert with a trained eye can check for tell-tale signs or engage in forensic authentication techniques such as:

  • Detecting if modern tools were used in carving a sculpture
  • Carbon dating to see how old the work is
  • X-ray diffraction to analyze the components that make up the paint or X-ray fluorescence which can show how pure or new the pigments are.
  • Signs that you can see for yourself that may be suspect:
  • The work is unsigned
  • The signature doesn’t match up with the work itself. It might be darker or fresher than the original painting.
  • An altered frame
  • New stretch bars

The most obvious forgeries are clumsy, but if you believe your work may be a forgery it is always best to contact a professional in the field.

How to Authenticate Art


So you bought a work of art and now you want to verify its value. Usually, when purchasing a work of art on the primary market you are purchasing from the artist him/herself or from an art gallery. In both of these cases, you should be offered a Certificate of Authenticity (COA). In a world full of reproductions a COA is the only way to establish the works' unique aesthetic authority. Occasionally newer COAs will have holograms that will match one placed on the work itself. This is of course the most credible form of authentication, but not yet very common. The majority of major auction houses will also provide one, although these COAs may be decades old and will usually provide a history of sales as well. These are also the COAs with the most risk of being falsified.

Although a COA is perhaps one of the easiest ways to authenticate your work, many artists’ foundations in the US have ceased issuing them entirely. After massive scandals in the early 2000s when a large number of valuable works with COAs were taken into question art collectors sued the authoritative offices that deemed their works to be inauthentic.

Is it Difficult to Authenticate Art?

The short answer is if the artist is dead, then yes. In these cases, if it is a work of high value, it is in your best interest to have a professional authenticate the work. However, with living artists who sell through galleries, the process is must easier and safer. For example, David Kracov sells exclusively through Eden Gallery and associate galleries across the world. Every work bought via the gallery comes with a signed COA that is authoritative in the art world. Knowing that you are buying from the artists’ exclusive dealer makes the purchase extremely safe. If you were to buy a Kracov work on the secondary market it would be more difficult to prove the credibility of such work.

Street artists and graffiti artists often fall into a category of their own. Eduardo Kobra paints on canvases that sell internationally through Eden Gallery, but he also paints on walls across the world. Kobra's works are highly recognizable for their bright colors, bold lines, and hyperrealism while maintaining a kaleidoscope theme. Since his big break in 2016, his works have been easy to trace and recognize. However, Kobra truly began his career in the 90s with graffiti and poster making. Although it would be a great and exciting find to collect a Kobra poster from the 90s it would be nearly impossible to determine its authenticity.

Artists like Alec Monopoly sell via art galleries, but also paint walls, shoes, and purses. In the case of Monopoly, any gallery-bought work on the primary market would be a safe and valuable purchase. That being said, if you were to find an article of clothing online painted by the artist this is a much riskier buy. The vast majority of works found online are printed, sometimes even with his signature, from images of original artworks onto the clothing items, then sold at a much cheaper price. These are works to be highly wary of and most often do not come with COAs. If you are thinking of a purchase like this it would be best to check the Eden Gallery who sells original Monopoly artworks and even show said work to an art advisor. If this work does not come with a COA, or comes with a fake one, and does not match up with his other works in textural detail or any other way an art advisor would know right away. You can explore Monopoly’s full collection of original works here.

The creating and selling of works of art that are falsely accredited to others can be extremely profitable, but can always be found out. That is why it is advisable to proceed with caution for every purchase you make. Purchasing an original work firsthand from a reputable gallery is always the safest bet. Explore Eden Gallery’s full collection of original, authenticated works here.
 

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Contact for More Information Availability and Price

We Provide

Certificate of Authenticity

Worldwide Shiping

On-site Consultation

Appraisal from The gallery