Authenticity in a world of forgery

09 Nov 2016

The profession of art forgery spans well over 2000 years and a recent scandal at Sotheby’s serves only to remind us that it remains alive and well to this day. Frans Hals’s Portrait of An Unknown Man is the subject of the most recent scandal and has been attributed to the infamous and ever elusive ‘Moriarty of fakers’.

A coined ‘Old Master’, Portrait of An Unknown Man was sold by Sotheby’s in 2011 for £8.4 million. Following technical analysis earlier this year however, the paint was revealed to contain synthetic material dating from the 20th century and proved to be a forgery. While Sotheby’s has yet to release a full report, it has accepted the analysis and has rescinded the sale and refunded the purchaser the full cost. Sotheby’s could face a long and arduous battle with seller Mark Weiss, who is refusing to accept the technical findings or to reimburse the famous auction house for the cost of the sale. Other works sold by Weiss are now being called into question and may face similar technical analysis to determine authenticity.

So who is the real villain behind the paintbrush and how can we prevent these sacrifices on the altar of authenticity? The cloak of private sales, lost paperwork and secretive collectors can contribute to forgeries passing unnoticed into the art world. Bendor Grosvenor, an art historian and dealer specialising in Old Masters, stresses the value of provenance and states that while it cannot prove authorship absolutely, it can be pivotal in distinguishing genuine period pieces from modern forgeries.

If you have any questions about the above article or are concerned with a recent or future purchase, please do get in touch with one of our experienced team who will be happy to help you.

By Alicia Williams, Paralegal

Additional information