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Fakes, Forgeries, and Replicas

This article is designed as an introduction into the involved and complicated subject of fake, forgery, and replica identification. Future articles will discuss identification tactics for specific types of objects d'art.

The art world is replete with fakes and forgeries and for those interested in starting or expanding their collections, it is imperative that they take the necessary precautions.

Do Your Research

The absolute best way to avoid purchasing a fake, forgery or replica is to develop a connoisseur's eye. This involves becoming familiar with the type of object you are interested in collecting. If you've seen enough examples of the 'real thing' whether it be other paintings, furniture, or decorative by the artist/maker, you'll be more likely to know when something doesn't feel right. This gut reaction, is the best resource to have in your proverbial tool belt. 

If you are interested in purchasing an original work of art by a consequential artist, consider reading their catalogue raisonné, a comprehensive catalog of their known works, to determine the veracity of the seller's claims. Further, your research should reveal which artists are routinely faked/forged (i.e. Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, Albrecht Dürer) and what styles are often replicated (i.e. period furniture)

Age & Wear

 Painted, stenciled and stamp-decorated blanket chest , dated 1813

Painted, stenciled and stamp-decorated blanket chest , dated 1813

An object should reflect its age and intended use. For example, an eighteenth century painted blanket chest should have considerable condition issues. Losses of paint and wood should be evident, and these areas should be in the areas where damage is most likely to occur (i.e. wear to the top from items placed on top, losses of wood around the corners where the item was likely nicked or bumped, and wear around the lid where it was likely opened during its approximately 200 years of existence). If you find an antique, especially one which had a utilitarian use, in perfect condition, be cautious!

Provenance

Always ask for the object's provenance. Be wary of any high value items which have an unknown or dubious history. While many authentic works possess unclear histories, forgers often attempt to explain the object's sudden emergence on the market through far-flung tales of chance and circumstance. 

High value works produced by late artists, should be inspected by a specialist and should be subjected to scrutinity commensurate with the item's perceived value. 

Seller's reputation

In the art world, reputation is everything! If you plan on buying a high-value item, be wary of dealers and auction houses with dubious backgrounds or lack of experience in the desired area of specialization. Whether intentional or not, an institution may mislead a potential seller and buyer. 

Further, if you are planning on buying an artifact, be sure to do your due diligence and as to whether or not the selling institution has a reputation for unethical or questionable methods of acquisition.

Examine the overlooked spots

The proof is in the details! Always inspect the bottom, inside, and backs of objects to be sure that all aspects of the objects construction, age, and wear, are commensurate with the item's supposed identity. 

Here are a few examples of things to look for?

  • Are the joints and nails used in a piece of furniture of the period?
  • Is the manner in which the canvas is stretched of the period?
  • Is the wood which was used to stretch the canvas, accessible to the artist? Is the type of wood native to the region, or was it readily available at that time period?
  • Does the wood on the interior or underside of a piece of furniture appear different, is the oxidation or color of the wood inconsistent?
  • Do aspects of a piece show evidence of machine production when the piece should have been produced before the invention of said machine?