Simple Science Could Have Caught Massive Forgery
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.