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Simple Science Could Have Caught Massive Forgery

Faking art: Almost the world's oldest profession. This painting was long attributed to Goya but turns out to have been faked by one of his wannabes, Eugenic Lucas. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Last Thursday September 1, Germany’s biggest art forgery case in recent history hit the courts.

Four people stand accused of making €16 million from 14 forgeries sold around the world as paintings by 20th century artists such as Max Ernst and Max Pechstein.

One of the defendants is the granddaughter of a Germany business tycoon by the name of Werner Jäger. He died in 1992, and by 2001 the foursome is accused of selling the fakes, apparently claiming they came from Jäger’s extensive art collection. One of the defendants is accused of painting the forgeries.

Every court case has at least one quirky fact up its sleeve, and here it’s that the actor Steve Martin bought one of the fakes (although he sold it again in 2006).

Chemistry World‘s Ned Stafford has just written a nice science take on the forgeries, explaining that if scientists had had a chance to scan the fakes, they could have easily kept buyers from being duped.

For example, straightforward analytical techniques would have revealed that “the Jäger forgeries contain titanium white, a titanium dioxide-based pigment, which was not in use in the 1920s, when the Jäger paintings were claimed to have been painted,” Stafford writes.

As the BBC notes, “The forgeries came to light in 2008 after a buyer purchased what was thought to be a Campendonk through a Cologne auction house for 2.5 million euro (£2.2m) and had the work scientifically tested.”

It boggles my mind that between 2001 and 2008 people were forking out millions of Euros on the artwork without springing for a little scientific testing first. I wonder if these millionaires also buy penthouses without first checking whether the roof leaks.

3 Comments

  • Sep 9th 201115:09
    by Nikki Everts-Hammond

    Reply

    Perhaps those millionaires were relying on the BLINK method of validating art (Malcolm Gladwell’s book on instant recognition – its successes and failures, subtitled “The Power of Thinking without Thinking”).

  • Art forgery is one of the most common forms of forgery. Many have been held responsible for this offense in various parts of the world. This case is an example of such. It is good to note that just sentencing is served to true offenders.

  • Oct 29th 201208:10
    by criminal attorney Houston

    Reply

    These artworks are one of man’s greatest treasures because it tells so much about a history of a specific period and it is really very unfortunate that people are taking advantage of these great pieces of arts. It is certainly good to note that the forgers are being served justice. However, buyers should be more careful because art forgery is still rampant nowadays.

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