Tips For Fine Art Collectors

Knowing the Difference Between Real and Counterfeit Art: The Challenge for Collectors

Real versus Fake?

I once had a really nice, large landscape painting by Edgar Payne come into the lab that the owner thought may be fake… or at least badly overpainted… because it “lit up like a Christmas tree” under the black light. He wanted everything that fluoresced taken off! With only a quick inspection it was obvious to me that the painting was in virgin condition and that the “weird look” under the UV lamp was just the way the original pigments fluoresced.

If this painting had been attacked by a unknowledgable restorer,a very expensive and very beautiful virgin Edgar Payne would have been ruined.

Distinguishing a genuine work of art from a counterfeit wannabe stands at the foundation of every collector’s turmoil. “Fakes” are not always someone’s effort to deceive.  However, most “fakes” are fraudulent. Here are a few different scenarios to consider as a collector:

  • An artist’s estate can morally add an artist’s signature to a piece post mortem in an effort to identify the estate and the artist on artwork that was unsigned originally.
  • An unscrupulous art dealer can add a fake signature to make the artwork more valuable.  Even the signature of an unknown name can make the artwork more valuable than an unsigned painting.
  • A “new” painting can be antiqued to look old and more valuable.
  • An old painting can be “doctored” so heavily to mask or disguise repairs that it changes the essence of the artwork and makes the artwork no longer “original.”
  • Old artwork, now dirty, can be mistaken for something it is not.  This can be an honest mistake by a collector or dealer.

Some of the “tools” and technology at an art conservator’s disposal include infrared reflectography, ultraviolet visible fluorescence, x-radiography, stereobinocular microscope. But these tools are not to be trusted blindly. In the hand of a person with an experienced eye,  connoisseurship adds a final ingredient that is all important.  FACL offers expertise and analysis to assist in your evaluation processes as a collector. Also, we work closely with a specialized appraiser who is very talented and qualified.

Here are two interesting examples that recently came into the lab:

  1. An art gallery bought a print that they believed was an original but dingy landscape painting. The surface of the print was textured and somewhat masked by the layer of discolored dirt, which gave the appearance of paint.  However the image was a serigraph applied through a screening process, which is a printing type common since the 1920’s. So, it is from the period, but not an original oil.
  2. An old painting, clearly from the 1920’s, arrived in our lab for examination. The signature in the lower left hand corner was quickly identified as  blatantly fraudulent.  Unfortunately, this California landscape had cost the client $35,000! Furthermore, there was no recourse for returning it.

This piece was printed in the 1920’s with a technique that results in paint texture  and was covered with grime.  An art dealer mistook this print as an original painting.

Because of the fraudulent signature, an antique dealer lost $35,000.

Tell your collector friends about this interesting blog and sign up for updates now! (upper right corner of side bar).

For more interesting information and related stories, visit the following sites!

You can also follow us on Facebook at:

“Fine Art Insurance Help”

“Fine Art Conservation”

“Save Your Stuff”

Comments (1)

Jim HellorMay 8th, 2016 at 7:41 am

I would imagine that it all comes down to doing your due diligence, right? If you are excited about a piece, you should be doing what you can to make sure that it is as authentic as possible.

Leave a comment

Your comment

Copyright © Tips For Fine Art Collectors 2010.