08 October, 2016

A painting sold by Sotheby’s in 2011 has recently been discovered to be a fake, the work which was believed to have been by Dutch artist Frans Hals was subject to technical analysis which unearthed the presence of modern materials which would not have been available in the 17th century.

Astonishingly, the painting is not a copy but is actually an original that was created by the forger in the style of Hals, leading many in the art world to believe that this is the work of a master forger who may be responsible for numerous pieces.

In what has been dubbed as the “biggest art scandal of the century”, it is feared that as many as 25 other fakes could be in circulation amounting to a potentially staggering £200 million.

Suspicions first arose when a painting thought to be by German Renaissance master Lucas Cranach was seized by French authorities at an exhibition and links were made between this work and the painting sold at Sotheby’s in 2011.

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The painting were both supplied by Mark Weiss, a London based dealer, and this prompted the buyer, a collector from Seattle, to contact the auction house and their experts later confirmed his fears about the authenticity of the painting.

Sotheby’s have now reimbursed the collector and are in the process of pursuing legal action against Mr Weiss to attempt to recover at least some of their losses.

Scientific advancements have made testing for fakes much more effective, however, the work of this master forger has shown that it is possible for them to stay ahead of the game and painting can still slip through the net.

To reduce the chances of purchasing a fake, provenance is everything. Similar to purchasing a vehicle, paperwork can provide reassurances for buyers with details of past owners and the efforts that they have made to conserve the artwork.

Uncertainty is bad for business and with pieces going for millions and even tens of millions, gaps in the history of any piece should be investigated as a cause for concern and a potential window for a forger.

The fact that the BBC programme “Fake or Fortune” has ran for 5 seasons shows the volume of fake artwork in the market. You can get more information about the show as well as some helpful hints about the checks that you can make when identifying fakes through their website here.

Frans Hals