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Top Ten Art Forgery Facts

Top Ten Art Forgery Facts

From Venable Art Law co-chair, Joshua Kaufman’s lecture,

“The Art of Deception: Art Fakes & Forgeries”

held at Christie’s Beverly Hills 

#1 Art Forgery VS. Collaborating with the Enemy

imagesProfessor Kaufmann commenced his lecture with the case of notorious Dutch painter Han Van Meegeren, one of the most talented forgers of the twentieth century who was obsessed with the work of Vermeer.

After World War II, Van Meegeren was arrested and accused of collaborating with the enemy because he had ostensibly sold Dutch cultural property, a Vermeer painting, to Nazi leader Hermann Göring. This crime carried the ultimate punishment, the death penalty. Van Meegeren confessed that he had, in fact, forged the painting, which carried with it the much lesser charge of one year in prison. According to Kaufman, a dubious judge responded, “Prove it to me. Paint me a Vermeer.” Under the watchful eyes of the police Van Meegeren created his masterpiece. The work was brought into the courtroom, and Van Meegeren was acquitted of collaboration charge. He was subsequently charged and arrested for forgery despite the fact that many supposed art experts insisted that the work in question was an authentic Vermeer. Kaufman’s lecture depicted Van Meegeren’s zealous dedication to creating the perfect forgery. Van Meegeren concocted his own paints (contemporary paints would have been a dead giveaway) and even devised a badger hair paintbrush to mimic Vermeer’s style. He then donned his metaphorical chef hat and baked the painting in the oven in an attempt to age the canvas with cracks. Noteworthy in his modus operandi: Van Meegeren never copied an existing Vermeer painting, he only created works “in the style of Vermeer.” Spurious, but clever.

 # 2) Fakes have always been with us


To illustrate this point, Kaufman discussed the Romulus and Remus sculpture from Rome’s Capitoline Hill. This work, depicting the mythological founders of Rome, was thought to be a sculpture from the 5th century. The sculpture’s ancient authenticity was debunked by radiocarbon testing in 2007 which proved that it was actually created between the 11th and 12th century.



 #3)  Albrecht Dürer’s warning to forgers


In 1511 Albrecht Dürer warned, “Beware, all thieves and imitators of other people’s labour and talents, laying your audacious hands upon our work.”

Despite Dürer’s outraged warning, Professor Kaufman revealed that his work was constantly copied.

In fact, in the “The Art of the Forgery” (Phaidon Press) Noah Charney notes that Dürer brought the first artistic intellectual property lawsuit in Venice. What is exceptional in that case was that Dürer took an artist to court (Marcantonio Raimondi) who had not only copied one of his prints, but was brazen enough to also forge the artist’s trademark, the letters AD which Charney described be first artistic trademark! Collectors often purchased Dürer’s work on the strength of this trademark. So, talented artists have to be on the lookout not only for those who forge their works, but their trademarks as well! 


#3)         Fakes and Looted Art


3/4′s of the the looted art from Syria turned out to be fake, according to Professor Kaufman.

He revealed that this transpires when there there is neither a government nor a legitimate market to regulate the art.






camille-corot.jpg!Portrait#4) The most forged artist is Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot

 Professor Kaufman made the tongue-in-cheek jab, “Corot painted about 800 paintings in his lifetime, of which 8,000 ended up in private collections.”




# 5)  Salvador Dalí was part of the problem

Kaufman noted that Salvador Dalí signed 15,000 blank sheets. Perhaps Mr. Dalí’s intention was not nefarious, as he may have intended to use them for future authorized lithography. However, many of his artistic associates, and possibly even his wife Gala signed deals which resulted in unregulated publication of his works; it was this step that opened the door to the unfortunate mass forgery that resulted from this practice. Sadly, the market was flooded with Dalí fakes. 



# 6)   The Tate was involved in a Bizarre Art Forgery (love) Triangle

The first triangle involved Con Man John Drewe, art forger John Myatt, and the prestigious Tate Gallery. Drewe hired art forger Myatt to make paintings for him. As part of Drewe’s shady scheme to give an air of legitimacy to the fabricated works, he made a donation to the Tate, and the gallery opened its archives to him. He then inserted Drewe’s forgeries into the archives so that the paintings would be authenticated.

How did this spurious art forgery triangle get disrupted?

By an actual love triangle.

Drewe’s wife discovered that he was cheating on her. She found letters about forgery incriminating her roguish husband and called the police and the Tate Gallery.

The museum said it would take years to expunge their records of the false information. 

# 8) Crime sometimes pays if you are an art forger

Professor Kaufman joked, “Crime pays if you are an art forger.” He revealed that art dealer Glafira Rosales, the perpetrator of the Knoedler and Company forgery scandal was embroiled in 81 million dollars in crimes and yet, initially, only received three years probation.

# 9) Legal Issues in Forgery

 Professor Kaufman explained, “What is illegal is not replicating the work of an artist; the crime occurs if one takes credit for the work.”


# 10)  Queen Isabella of Spain and fakes

Queen Isabella of Spain, according to Professor Kaufman, once sent the Pope a fake painting.

Should she have gone confession?

Better than facing the Inquisition, I suppose.



Posted by on April 21st, 2019

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