October 19, 2017

You dug through your attic and found what looks like a Picasso painting that has you breathing fast and wondering where you should vacation thanks to this newfound treasure. 

Be still your beating heart. That masterpiece painting may be a forgery. Just like if you were looking to sell your gold or silver in Toronto, when you are selling art, you need to confirm it's authenticity and value. In this week's blog post we'll divulge what the experts know about art fraud and how you can spot a fake.

We used the Picasso example by choice, not randomly, because we learned from Noah Charney, author of The Art of Forgery, that Picasso was the most stolen and most forged artist. "In the pre-modern period, the most frequently forged was Dürer," Charney tells us, referring to German painter and printmaker Albrecht Dürer.

In an interview with NPR, Charney says collectors should look for one main thing to determine if a piece is fake: Craquelure is the web of cracks that appear naturally in oil paint over time as it expands and contracts. "It literally looks like little webbing on the surface and you can study that and you can determine whether it was artificially induced to make it look old quickly or whether it appeared naturally," he notes.

He also offers this tip in an article he wrote for Salon: "Look at the backs of paintings. There is often a wealth of information there, like old auction labels or owner stamps. Lazy forgers make the front of works look good, but might not bother with the parts that are not on view, so you may be able to identify something fishy going on by looking where the forger hopes you won’t."

In our interview with Charney, he said the main trick to know is that almost no forgeries are particularly convincing if looked at in a vacuum. "What passes them off is the story behind the object, which psychologically primes the viewer—even experts—and makes them think that they are looking at a lost treasure," he adds. So when someone is trying to convince you about a painting's history and background, you might be so excited about the story you forget about the crucial factor of the work's authenticity.

He recommends that if the casual art lover is unsure about the nature of their items, "bring it to a local specialist at a museum or an auction house. You don’t need to sell it, but if you tell the auction house you’re thinking of selling it with them, but need to know more about what it is and how much it’s worth, they’ll do the research for you."

You can also contact Muzeum for a free appraisal.

We also learned from Jennifer Grausman, a documentary filmmaker in New York who tackled art fraud in her 2014 film Art & Craft, profiling pro art forger Mark Landis. More than 45 museums could not spot the difference between Landis' copies and original works, from his sketches of academic nudes to his Charles Schulz characters from Peanuts,according to media reports. Not only were his fakes convincing, but he also was adept at talking up museum officials to display his expertise.

Grausman says identifying fake art can be "tricky with certain artists that are copied more than others. If you’re looking for an investment you have to be careful and if you do it because you love the art, maybe it doesn't matter about the true value of those pieces."

In her research, she learned how the Metropolitan Museum of Art has a large assortment of fake art and "some of that can be attributed to the school of 15th-century Italian artists who had a history of fakes and copying the masters."

The future of art forgery could get a helping hand from new advances in technology. As the Guardian explains, 3D printing could may soon be able to reproduce the thickly ridged surfaces of oil paintings. "The massive amounts of close-up scientific information provided by institutions like the Van Gogh Museum may then allow a forger to make a three-dimensional rather than two-dimensional fake of Van Gogh's impassioned oils," the report concludes.


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