The Art of Collecting Genuine Art


the art of collecting genuine art fake or forged 

If you say it's art, it's art, but is it real?

Is the art world a little bit stuffy at times? There’s a question I hear a lot. I am never too sure how to answer it because in all of the time I have been involved in the arts I have managed to only come across nice people. Ok, maybe one or two not so nice people, but generally just like with any business, there are really nice people, and not so nice people.

There are so many myths and misconceptions around the arts. I’ve heard everything from aren’t artists a little emotionally detached, (have you ever met a Wall Street banker?), to digital art is killing traditional art, no it’s not; go look at the sales figures for Christies. Digital is just another type of canvas.

Oh life then there are those conversations where one person says something like “anyone could have painted that”. Except they didn’t did they? Many might have replicated it since but that one is the original.

Elitism. Yup, I hear that too. But I once played golf (not very well), and if you hadn’t got the latest clubs and a pink Pringle sweater you were pretty much never going to get invited to the annual golf [sic] ball. Didn’t stop me knocking a ball or two about though with my £99 set of bats or clubs or whatever they call them.

There are so many myths surrounding the arts it would be impossible to write all of them in a single post, but if there is something stopping you from becoming involved in the arts or starting to collect art, it is only you.

It doesn’t matter how you engage in the arts.

If you want to collect prints from IKEA that’s absolutely fine, if you want to collect originals from Christies, that’s good too. Art is about bringing joy and emotion, and art is a diverse range of human activities in creating visual, auditory or performing artefacts (artworks), expressing the author's imaginative or technical skill, intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power. For others, art just looks nice in the lounge. It’s all art.

I totally get that some people don’t particularly like certain types of art, dead cows, abstracts, digital, cubism, but they like the works of the old masters, a few people like what I create too. Everyone in the art world has their own preferences and we don’t have to understand everything, but it doesn’t mean that some art is more art than other art. Some people like reality TV, I prefer a documentary or a good film.

I think we can look at how we judge the value of some artworks compared to other artworks and we can probably distinguish between good and bad art, but even then what I think is bad might be perfect to someone else and our tastes change the more we open our eyes.

One painting I own I once loved, now it’s stored away as an investment opportunity because over the years my tastes have changed. I once liked whiskey but now I can’t even sniff it without getting drunk and having a hangover for a year.

But when it comes to buying art for its investment potential things start to become more challenging.  It is no longer just about whats good or bad, or the people. Investing in art to see a return on the outlay brings with it challenges much deeper than whether or not the art world is stuffy, uninviting, or anything else, forget all that because the moment you invest big money, you need to worry about something much more sinister. 

When you look at a piece of work hanging in a reputable gallery there is a high probability that it’s not a fake or a forgery and there is a distinct difference between fake and forgery. When it comes to buying work online or from a character you met in a local pub, there’s a higher probability that the work you are buying might just not be the real thing.

First let us distinguish the differences between a fake and a forgery. A fake is an object or in this case an artwork that has been tampered with for the purposes of committing fraud. This might be the addition of a signature, or by creating false provenance.

An example might be that a painting in the style of one of the great masters was never actually created by one of the great masters. A signature of the chosen great master is added and it is then passed off as being one of that particular great masters works.

The provenance with this particular piece might indicate that it was held in a private collection for a while before becoming lost during whatever world event, and essentially a back story is created to reinforce that what you are seeing is undoubtedly the real thing. In short, false provenance is created. The art world relies heavily on provenance, and for some reason, occasionally it relies too heavily on this and not so much on forensic analysis.

A forgery on the other hand is slightly different. In this case the artwork is created in direct imitation of the original and then passed off as an original artwork by artist X.

There may be a little fake in the mix with forgeries. Once a work has been expertly recreated, very often the documentation is also reproduced, or the perpetrator might just hope that the forgery never gets picked up. Believe me when I say that even the very best assessors, appraisers, and curators in history have battled with this problem for hundreds of years.

In some cases the real painting is stolen or borrowed, a replica is made, and when the item is returned, it is the forged painting which goes back and the original is kept.

spotting fakes and forgeries in the art world 

Unfortunately spotting a fake or a forgery isn’t easy all of the time.  I think the only time it is, is when the paint is still wet on a painting that was painted three hundred years ago. 

Fakers and forgers go to extreme lengths to pull off these crimes, but sometimes it can also just be a case of mistaken identity and the work was never created for the purpose of being passed on as an original. It just ended up being labelled as an original.

There have been times when even museums have had a fake hanging on their walls without anyone really noticing until the moment they did, and there are stories of galleries who have sold fakes either knowingly or unknowingly.

At the National Gallery a work said to be by Botticelli, one of a pair purchased in the third quarter of the 19th century, was later discovered to be the work of a pasticheur, an artist who imitates the style of another, and in this example the pasticheur painted in the style of Botticelli.

Occasionally there are stories about artwork thought to have been produced by a particular artist and only many years later was it discovered that in fact it was created by a friend of the artist, the artist’s assistant or a forger who lived hundreds of years after the original artwork had been produced.

But does it really hurt to own a fake or a forgery? The art looks like the original and the original artist has long left their earthly shell, so why do we worry so much about the odd forgery turning up?

Well in the case of a painting newly re-attributed to Michelangelo at the National Gallery in Washington, Saint John the Baptist Bearing Witness; the difference between the work being attributed to Michelangelo or attributed to his older friend Francesco Granacci, either places the value at £150 million, or £400,000, so it definitely matters to the owner.

I dare say that in a hundred or so years from now, a few paintings either on the walls of museums today or sat within their vaults won’t necessarily be attributed to the painter it is attributed to today.

Art restoration has made a huge difference over the years to being able to correctly attribute works. Professional restoration of artwork isn’t cheap, so maybe in the future we will see works held by the less financially well-off museums being the most valuable and attributable to the original artists.  

If a piece hasn’t been restored it becomes much more difficult to recreate or fake, and those untouched artworks through a lack of a museum or galleries restoration fund may become the most authentic artworks we have left to see. 

There is a little irony in Michelangelo’s works as Michelangelo himself began his career forging ancient Roman sculpture.  He would create it, break it, and age it, before declaring it as an ancient Roman antiquity. You kind of have to respect the guy for doing that, it got him noticed; but maybe not the greatest idea today. 

During my years of being obsessed with art I have been lucky enough to see some of the greatest works ever created, and I have seen a mountain of forgeries and fakes and in some cases even side by side.

On one hand I have this repulsion that the work of one of the masters could be sold and passed off as an original, but on the other hand I have a fascination and a kind of respect for the artists who recreated the works, or rather I have a respect for their skills. 

I have seen works which would have and for a while did indeed fool the experts into believing the work was the real thing, and even when compared side by side the differences aren’t always obvious.

There are some exceptionally talented artists who specialise in this area. They know exactly what type of support to use, they know exactly the type and age of wood used in the supports, they know where the imperfections are on the original, and they know how to use the right types of pigment and all about the ageing process. These are people who could spot a fake from a hundred paces. 

I would say it’s much more difficult to be a master forger than to just apply original creativity to your own work, whilst the results might represent the original, they won't represent you as an artist in your own right. It sounds like I am inviting you to go and learn how to forge an historic piece and earn millions from a single sale, I’m not. The risks are high, and it’s not a great business to be in when it all comes crashing down and you get caught. 

But I do have a sort of respect for the skills demonstrated by the artists whose forgeries and fake works I have seen close up.

I occasionally create documents for use on TV and film sets and whenever I am asked to recreate an historic piece that will be used in a close up shot, I know just how difficult it can be to achieve the desired result, and documentation is easier to create than say a Matisse. You still have to know what you are doing, or supposed to be creating though. 

For example the paper strip used to wrap bank notes in the UK were all made from dyed paper until 2007, but the cost of dyed paper increased significantly and the Bank of England agreed that to reduce costs they would print colour on white paper for the strips from 2007 onwards. Its the little details like that which are important when recreating something that was used many years ago. People watching the shows and films pick up on even the most minor details.

Silvine exercise books were popular in UK schools during the 70s, having a red cover and logo that looked more like a family crest. Again the tiniest of details matter. It's about knowing what was used in what time period. The difference is that I get paid much less to do this kind of work than if I were to create them and pass them off as originals, and I have no interest in doing that before anyone asks!

A commission I'm working on for a current client requires documentation from the Cold War, so my current hobby seems to be researching Cold War era papers, inks, and translating the supplied text into Russian. The current estimated screen time is going to be around 3-seconds which is more than enough time apparently for Cold War buffs to spot anything that doesn't look authentic, and the pause button has made it harder than ever. 

Getting the paper right, the fading, the font of the typewriter of the day, the wear and tear, it can be a challenge and often involves weeks of research. My Cold War hobby as so far lasted seven weeks and I'm only just making a start on the paper, but to do this on a much larger scale and for it then to go in front of art experts when you know it's a fake, well that would take some skill and nerve.

tips to spot fake and forged artwork in the art world 


So what chance does any normal person have in detecting a fake when buying art?

Sometimes there are things that look out of place in an artwork and occasionally these aren’t just mistakes made by the forger, they can be intentional and are put in to add the forgers mark. Lothar Malskat forged medieval frescoes that he supposedly found during a church restoration.

Malskat made the bold move of suing himself in order to publicly announce he was the forger! No one believed him until he pointed out two anachronisms in his work, he had painted a turkey, and a portrait of Marlene Dietrich into the work. Neither of which were running around medieval Germany at the time the original was created.

Antique prints are perhaps the easiest of fakes to spot. Digitally printed copies of engravings are so much cleaner than the originals, and if you find a 19th Century engraving, chances are it is going to be real. They are commonly found so the market for 19th Century engravings doesn’t really bear any fruit for the forger and the originals are affordable.

Fake or forged steel engravings and intaglio, which is a copper plate etching or steel plate engravings can be spotted by the texture produced on the finished piece. The line work is raised on the original, sometimes only slightly but in other cases it can be quite evident.

Look at the paper it is printed on and you can often see a raised line above the surface of the paper, whereas if the work has been reproduced using digital or photochemical techniques, there is no raising of the line work and it is completely flat against the paper.

There are a myriad of other ways that you can avoid buying a forgery or a fake and there are lots of resources online, but here are a few tips.

1. Learn what you can about the artwork you are intending to buy before you buy it.

2. Only buy from reputable dealers, brokers, and sellers.


3. Make sure you ask plenty of questions about the artwork. The best sellers will be able to tell you everything you need to know about the art, and they will know its provenance.


4. Ask for signed documentation attesting to the age, vintage, and type of print, or original, and if it can’t be provided this should trigger an alarm sound in your head.


5. If something doesn’t feel quite right trust your gut instincts and move on.


6. Ask for a certificate of authenticity but be careful that it is actually worth the paper it is written on.


Unless the certificate comes from an absolute authority or the actual artist and is signed, or from the publisher of the art who may be selling limited editions, an agent of the artist or an official dealer, and not from any other third-party or reseller, don’t accept it.


A certificate worthy of being accepted will have details about the work, how it was produced, when it was produced, a list of the people or organisations involved in officially selling the print or artwork, the dimensions, details of the support used, paper types, title of the artwork, and any details of publications which have featured the work.


It should also state who signed the certificate and how they are qualified, so seeing a certificate signed by the actual artist will be the best qualification.


Remember though that not every original will have a certificate of authenticity. Receipts, quotations, and any documentation produced during the selling process can be presented as provenance.


Unfortunately there is also a market for forged and fake certificates of authenticity so it’s not just the art work you need to worry about.


7. Don’t rely on conditional statements either made by the seller or written on a certificate. Phrases like ‘in our considered opinion…’ or ‘we believe that…’ should also set the alarm bells off too.


8. If the artwork is going to cost a lot of money, consider getting it forensically checked. There are many companies around the world who specialise in this field and it needn’t cost the earth to do.


9. If you are buying a Lowry, his works were signed usually in biro or pencil and he signed his works with LSL. It’s one of the easiest to fake!


10. Don’t let your guard down. As humans we are naturally gullible and inclined to believe something is genuine, provided it is offered with sufficient conviction and authority.


11. If it is a bargain, be extra cautious.


12. Check provenance with galleries and museums and previous owners. 


13. Some art sales and auction catalogues are available online. Do your research. Anyone who ever watched the TV series White Collar will also know that sometimes they put up fake sites online. This happens in reality too. Do your own research and never be totally directed by the seller.


14. Trust the major auction houses. Their experts are always on the lookout for anything that is fake or forged and they are exceptionally skilled in this area.


15. If anyone becomes annoyed that you are asking so many questions it is also a giveaway. Anyone who seriously sells originals will welcome as many questions as you have.


16. It’s not just fakes and forgeries that will ruin your experience of buying original art, a lot of art goes up for sale when it has been previously looted or stolen too. 


17. In order to not become criminally liable when you have purchased stolen art, it is essential that you check stolen art databases. If you can’t find the work on a database of stolen art, it still doesn’t mean that it is not problematic, it may have been stolen centuries ago.


18. In order to not be criminally liable should you inadvertently purchase stolen artworks, you need to demonstrate that you undertook due diligence, and purchased it in good faith. In order to prove the latter you need to demonstrate that you had genuine reason to believe that the artwork or object was legitimate when you purchased it. Due diligence is about making sure you checked everywhere and everything with everyone you can. 


19. Whilst the tips listed in this post should help you, you should do everything you can to check out the validity of any artwork. If you are ever in doubt, refer it to a professional.


20. Remember that some art will be protected under certain laws in the country in which it was produced, or if it was produced during a specific time. It may not be possible to take the art out of a specific country for example.


21. Check that the art wasn’t exported from its country of origin in violation of that country’s export laws, country of creation, or country of modern discovery.


22. Remember the 1970 threshold. The 1970 threshold is a clear, pragmatic and practicable watershed that is already widely understood and supported. However, museums also need to be fully aware of the implications of any legislation, in the UK or the country of origin or an intermediate country, that might apply to the period before 1970


1970 is generally accepted as the key point for an ethical approach to museum acquisitions in this area because: in 1970 UNESCO adopted the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Cultural Property.


23. If you come across anything suspicious make sure you report it.


Whilst there’s no real way of combatting fraud and forgery in the art world, there are ways to make it more difficult. By being more stringent when buying art and carrying out due diligence you can at least do a little more to help prevent its spread.

Forgery and fakery is big money. You can either make money or lose it, or even worse end up behind bars. The problem is that many people remain unaware of the issues surrounding buying a fake or a forgery.

The best piece of advice I can offer is that if you are ever unsure, get in touch with a specialist. It may cost you a little upfront but it could save you lots of money and heartache in the long run. 

Think of it like you would when buying a new home. You check out the area, the seller, and the house as best as you can before you buy it, it’s just the same with art.


Mark A. Taylor is an artist with more than 30-years of experience. His work is sold all over the world, and you can buy it here. 

He specialises in abstract, landscape, and surrealist art and has been commissioned to create everything from corporate logos, to user interfaces, book covers, to portraits, and TV and film art props. He has an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of pillows, retro arcade games, and aircraft, and he is also a huge fan of Ron Swanson. 

You can follow Mark on Facebook at  and on Twitter @beechhouseart 





Popular Posts