How do you know if an artwork is a fake?
Artworks being passed as original or authentic have plagued the art world for decades.
Just recently, a French art museum discovered that 82 pieces of art from local painter Etienne Terrus Museum (1857-1922) were fake. Described as a catastrophe by the local mayor, the museum held a dedicated showing for the famed artist with 140 pieces up for viewing. It was unveiled that almost 60% were indeed fakes.
“On one painting, the ink signature was wiped away when I passed my white glove over it.” - Eric Forcada, art historian
Identifying fakes can be difficult without training and sometimes, it can catch out the experts. In our article "£8.5 million fake in the art scandal of the century" which you can read here, we explored one of the biggest art scandals in recent times where an artwork was incorrectly sold as an original.
The painting, thought to be from the Dutch artist Frans Hals, was analysed and it was found that modern-day materials were used to create the painting and therefore, would not have existed in the 17th century.
How Much Fake Art is There?
There have been numerous reports regarding the true number of fake art in circulation around the world. The biggest reports go as far as 50%! This is clearly alarming but still unconfirmed. However, there is fake art out there.
William George & Co have created this guide containing some tell-tell signs you can use to spot fake art.
Top 5 Tips for Identifying Fake Art
Take a look at these top 5 tips which you can use to identify fake art and also enable you to buy or bid with more confidence.
1) Does it match the style of the painter?
The style of a painter is unique to them. It can range from the way they stroke their brush all the way to the canvas they use. These aspects are factored into the tests used by researchers to authenticate artworks.
Do you remember the time researchers uncovered a new painting "Sunset at Montmajour” thought to be from Van Gogh?
Through their analyses, they performed an X-ray on the canvas. The aim was to establish a connection with the canvases Van Gogh used at the time. In addition, they performed a chemical test to verify the paint used.
The painting passed these stringent tests and was authenticated as an artwork from Van Gogh.
2) Is the signature consistent?
A painter will often employ a subtle sign it's their work. For example, works done by Picasso would usually be signed in pencil. The reason for this is because it can difficult to reproduce. In addition, the letters in his name are angled and spaced out proportionately which also adds to the difficulties in reproducing his signature.
This distinct trait from Picasso can be one of the initial things looked for upon glancing over a painting.
By looking at the signature of the artist, you can compare it to other signed works from around the same time. Questions to ask yourself revolve around the level of consistency e.g. how are they usually signed? Full name? initials? Only their last name? Do they use a certain colour?
In addition, other artists may only sign the back of the painting so if you see one somewhere else, it can be a red flag.
You'll be surprised to hear that a gallery from New York sold forged art after the artwork in question had misspelt the surname of the author, Jackson Pollock. The signature was spelt Jackson 'Pollok' and was sold for $280,000.
3) Were the materials used available at the time?
This may be hard to believe but there are art mediums and materials which were only available at certain times in history.
For example, in our article "William George & Co. Art Series: Acrylic Paintings" which you can read here, we explained how the Acrylic medium is still quite young compared to older mediums such as Oil or Gouache. It was invented around the 1940's.
If there are paintings claimed to be in this medium and dated before that time, then it can be questioned.
There are methods used to determine the age of paintings. For example, the use of carbon dating can be used to uncover the true age of a painting.
4) Does it Show Signs of Age?
It's no secret that paintings patina over time.
A patina is a process where natural signs of age have appeared. This could be down to various factors such as the natural environment e.g. climate, exposure to chemicals and more.
The end result is a painting which looks different to what it did originally. Trying to recreate this effect can be extremely difficult. However, it has still been attempted.
Trivia - A popular method for creating an artificial patina is through the use of tea bags and even varnish.
A patina can change the look of the artwork and one thing which you can do is check the back of the artwork.
There have been cases where the forger has gone above and beyond to show a patina with techniques such as varnishing the back of the canvas to create a false patina. You can even look at the labels or tags to identify any fraudulent artworks as well.
5) Are There Any Previous Owners?
Before you decide to bid on or buy a painting, it's necessary to understand its history. Questions which you need to focus on are any gaps in its record of ownership which is also called provenance.
There have been questions raised about the authenticity of the "Salvator Mundi" which sold at auction in 2017 for £450m. There are 200 years of ownership which is not documented. You can read more about the questions raised from this artwork in our article "The Last Leonardo Da Vinci, or is it?" here.
If there are any gaps in the provenance of the artwork then ask. These gaps can inspire a wide variety of questions as to how it started somewhere and ended up somewhere else which can affect its authenticity.
Furthermore, any conflicting data such as the history of the work not matching with the catalogue then ask questions about that too.
What's a WG guide without one?
6) Too Good to be True? Usually is
The previous 5 tips tackle objective ways in which you can use to identify fakes but there is still an overriding opinion which can tip the scales - your own.
How many times have you done the research, asked people and looked at in a million different ways with no compelling evidence to buy the item but you still bought it anyway?
Even if you think you're on course for the deal of the century, it's necessary to look for the signs. The previous 5 tips can aid you greatly in making an informed decision but there is always that urge!
Trivia - If you don't have access to an x-ray or carbon dating machine then something you can bring is a colour chart.
Forgery in the art market is rife and these tips will help you to have a greater chance of spotting a fake. If you thought this guide was helpful then hit the share button.