A Brief History of Art Forgery.
From Michelangelo to Knoedler & Company
Brought down by accusations that it was selling forgeries, the Knoedler & Company gallery in New York was shuttered in 2011, stunning the art world. The once-esteemed American gallery, founded in 1846, sold approximately 40 forged paintings supplied by art dealer Glafira Rosales, who claimed to have access to never-before-seen works owned by an anonymous collector.
Han van Meegeren
Elmyr de Hory
Living forger Ken Perenyi has recently attracted attention, following the 2013 publication of his memoir, Caveat Emptor. Perenyi is regard as one of the most skillful forgers of 18th- and 19th-century British and American paintings. And, like other criminals, he grew dependent on the illegal revenue. Eventually the FBI began investigating his work, going so far as to perform chemical analysis on pieces he sold through auction houses. However, the agency mysteriously closed the investigation five years later. Perenyi started a “new business model” in which he openly sold fake paintings as reproductions. Perenyi now has a successful business selling these copies (though he must clearly advise customers that they are purchasing reproductions). Similar to Beltracchi, Perenyi posits that he is fulfilling the wishes of the artists, having boasted, “I’m convinced that if these artists were alive today, they would thank me. I’m somebody that understands and appreciates their work.”
The idea that skilled art forgers are continuing the legacy of past masters is problematic. Artistic geniuses are venerated for their innovation and power to present the visual world in a different way, not their ability to mimic—forgers do not offer innovation and originality to the art world. In addition, art forgery not only defrauds buyers and leads to financial losses for both individuals and institutions, but it also damages our understanding of art history by misattributing works to well-known artists. Fakes and forgeries deceive art scholarship and dilute an artist’s body of work. And although their lives may be fascinating, art forgers are not white knights gallantly providing us with lost masterpieces.
Special thanks to Leila Amineddoleh