A History of Art Forgery

It often takes very close scrutiny by experts to determine the authenticity of a work of art. In this case, it was necessary to go beyond superficial examination to determine the true origins of this triptych, which was purported to be from the 13th century.

Madonna and Child, triptych of the 13th century French school (left, closed; right, open). The Louvre experts were able to identify this as a 19th century forgery. The hinges appear to be from the 13th century, but closer examination revealed that the holes that were drilled for them had been made by machine.

Arnau, Frank. The Art of The Faker – 3,000 years of Deception. Boston, Little Brown & Company, 1959. LCCN: 61-5317.

Details in a picture often can mark it as a forgery if it can be determined that they originated some years (or in some cases even centuries) later than when the artwork was supposed to have been created.

Ornament and decorative elements in a painting -- clothing, furniture, accessories, carpeting and other parts of a finished work -- are all clues that can be used to verify authorship. If any detail in a portion of a painting is found to be inconsistent with the style employed in the time period in which the work is supposed to have been created, further investigation may prove the work to be a forgery.

Ornamental border from a genuine fifteenth-century manuscript.

Modern ornamental border in fifteenth-century style.
Kurz, Otto. Fakes – A Handbook for Collectors and Students. New Haven; Yale University Press 1948

Experts in specific historical periods of art often spot a forgery because of inconsistencies in the pictorial elements contained in the painting. The panel painting on the left, St. Martha Taming the Tarasque, purports to be from the Middle Ages. It actually was painted by an unknown artist who has become known as The Spanish Forger.

His forgery here is revealed by his use of a drawing (above) from a book containing mythological dragonesque figures, which was written on the subject of the Middle Ages, but which was published in 1877 by Paul Lacroix centuries after the date the painting presumably was created. Since the discovery of his first forgery in 1929 by a director of the Morgan Library, some forty-six fakes of Medieval art from museums and important collections have been uncovered and attributed to this mysterious artist.

Kurz, Otto. Fakes – A Handbook for Collectors and
New Haven; Yale University Press 1948.

Intro  (1)  (2)  (3)  (4)  (5)  (6)  (7)  (8)  (9)
(10)  (11)  (12)  (13)  (14)  (15)  (16)  (17)
 (18)  (19)  (20)

Look for updates to this exhibit every week.

Also visit the companion to this exhibit: FABULOUS FAKES

Special thanks to people without whom this exhibition would not have been possible: Thea Eichler, NRCA; Billie Tucker, New Rochelle Library; Ivar Hyden, Backstreet Gallery and all the contributing artists.

Additional information about the availability of Fabulous Fakes, the History of Art Forgery or any of the works in the exhibition may be obtained by contacting The New Rochelle Council on The Arts by email or by calling 212-529-2025. More information on the NRCA can be found by connecting to the internet and clicking here.


Fabulous Fakes and A History of Art Forgery © J. L. Dolice, 2001, 2003.

All images in this presentation may not be copied, stored in any electronic retrieval device or used in any way without permission in writing. ISBN 0-935901-51-5.

Art Forgery Art Haus