The art behind a forgery is not unlike the art behind an original. It takes skill, technique and a masterful hand to recreate a masterpiece. So why do skilled artists try to pull the wool over unsuspecting collectors eyes? It is for the same reason that an armed robber breaks into a museum and steals the paintings right off of the walls. It is to steal someone’s work, lifelong dream and legacy all for profit. It’s all about the money.
Art forensics is a field of study that has risen to a level of importance in the past years more than any other time in our history. This is primarily because of the sophistication of thieves and forgers. No other time in our existence have art thieves had the tools to commit such elaborate crimes with such credibility thanks to technology and the amount of knowledge at their fingertips.
Forensics is the investigation of a possible crime using an applied field of study. Art forensics attempts to detect forgeries, deception and stolen property all with the intent to satisfy the owner, buyer, auction house, collector and insurance companies. It is estimated that more than 20 percent of the art produced and sold is forged. Given this statistic, art forensics is vital to the industry.
One of the most famous artist ever known got his start by forgery. Michelangelo carved a statue and posed it to be an ancient Roman statue. When he was found to be a liar and the true age of the statue revealed, he was respected for his technique! Attitudes have certainly changed in respect to the authenticity of art.
There is a fine line between forgery and fraud. Forgery during the Renaissance was commonplace, as it was how young apprentices learned their craft from their master painters. They mimicked the masterpiece until perfect. Only then could they progress into their own right and style of painting. Salvador Dali, the second most forged artist next to Picasso was known for signing blank canvases later to be painted by other artists.
It is known in the art world that Dali’s lithographs have been forged thousands of times and rumored that he allowed it for a share of the profits. Forgery in modern times is a completely different animal. Let’s just say it carries with it the connotation of a crime.
The art behind a con artist is similar to the science behind art forensics. It deals with the same materials, artistic style, subject and form. It is only when this varies from the original that a crime is detected. For instance, in some fraudulent works of art, extremely powerful microscopes are able to be used to detect paint that may have not even been available at the time of the original piece.
Sometimes a synthetic fiber is found in the artwork, revealing a clue that it was produced recently. Contemporary materials found in a painting or sculpture are always a clue to fraud when the painting was from a different era. Sometimes an art forensic consultant will find a paint pigment or a particular chemical in the painting that would have never been used at the time of the original.
Whatever the case, be it fraud or an investigation into a total loss, the forensics of art is always an art unto itself. One has to be familiar with artist techniques and with criminal techniques. It is truly about detecting the art of the con.