An analysis of the Art Forgery Market

The history of art has been punctuated by stories of sales of forged works of art, signed under the names of artists who did not produce them. Art forgery is the fraudulent imitation or substitution of an artist's signature or distinctive sign on an artwork.

There are basically 3 methods of producing a forgery: by an exact copy, by a composite of parts, and by a work done in the style of an artist or period and given a deliberately false attribution. Counterfeiting is any act that infringes an author's intellectual property rights. In the majority of Western jurisdictions, the act of producing fake art is not a crime in itself, but to pass forged artworks as authentic with the intention of financial gain is the actual offense.


Art forgery has always existed but has developed massively over the last century. Gilles Perrault, a judicial expert at the Cour de Cassation (French Supreme Court), explains:

“In Antiquity, the Romans copied Greek sculptures and sold them as authentic, because it earns them more than 20 times than a copy”. The first recorded art forgery was in the Italian Renaissance. During this period, painters generally trained apprentices who studied painting techniques by copying their works and styles. It was common practice for the master used to sell these works as payment for the training. It was not really considered as forgery, but rather as a form of homage, although some of these copies were later wrongly attributed to the master. Also, Michelangelo is known for having sold one of his paintings, Sleeping Eros, passing it off as an ancient work to Cardinal Riario. On the other hand, during the 16th century, imitators of Albrecht Dürer‘s engraving style added signatures to increase the value of their works.

Michelangelo’s Sleeping Eros

Kilian Anheuser, Scientific Director of Geneva Fine Art Analysis, a private laboratory for the scientific analysis of works of art, explained that “the percentage of forgeries varies between different sectors of the market. Certain periods and movements, such as Russian paintings from the early 20th century, the Impressionists and works on paper by Salvador Dalí, who signed a large number of blank sheets at the end of his life, presumably to mock the art market, are more affected than others.”

Art historian Thierry Lenain explains that the structure of the marketing of fake works of art requires two distinct groups, that of the “forger”, which generally includes the initiator of the project, the pilot, the presenter and the maker of the artwork, as opposed to that of the “dupe-group”, with the expert and the buyer.


Han van Meegeren’s Fake Vermeers

Han van Meegeren (1889 – 1947) was a Dutch painter, best known as one of the greatest forgers of all time.

The forger Hans Van Meegeren and his fake Vermeer, Jesus among the doctors, 1945.

Shortly after the end of the Second World War, Van Meegeren was arrested for selling a priceless Vermeer to the Nazi leader Hermann Goering. He confessed to forging the Vermeer in question, Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery, as well as other paintings. Believing that his own talents had been neglected, van Meegeren initially intended to reveal that he was the author of the forgeries after the paintings had received critical acclaim. To prove his claim, he painted another “Vermeer” under the supervision of the authorities, using the same materials and techniques. Of van Meegeren’s 14 known forgeries of works by Vermeer andPieter de Hooch, 9 had been sold before the war at a huge profit, including the painting The Last Supper at Emmaus, which experts had proclaimed to be a masterpiece by Vermeer. This painting was bought by the Rembrandt Society in 1937 for 520.000 florins (about €4.7 Million today) and donated to the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam. The forger had therefore invented new works by ancient artists, by obtaining canvases and equipment from the period.

Han van Meegeren, Last Supper at Emmaus, 1937

Elmyr de Hory

Throughout his 30-year career, Elmyr de Hory inserted more than 1.000 forgeries into the art market. Elmyr de Hory borned in 1906 in Hungaria. He studied art in Munich and then in Paris. Within a year, he was imprisoned in a German concentration camp for being a Jew. 

Elmyr de Hory

At the end of ther war he moved to Paris, but he had some difficulty to make money as an artist. In 1946, he sold a drawing for an original work by Picasso. He sold other forgerie all around Europe, with the art dealer Jacques Chamberlin. He moved to Rio de Janeiro and then in New York, in 1947, were he forged his first Modigliani painting and sold it to the Niveau Gallery in New York. To avoid suspicion, he had begun selling the works under differents pseudonyms.

Elmyr de Hory
Woman at Table,
in the style of Henri Matisse, ca. 1975
Oil on canvas

Elmyr de Hory
Portrait of a Woman, in the style of Amedeo Modigliani, ca. 1955
Oil on canvas
Collection of Scott Richter and Pamela Richter-Lenon

In 1959, de Hory entered into a business arrangement with two art dealers, Fernand Legros and Real Lessard. Together, they formed a partnership that gained momentum in Florida, where de Hory had intended to live and work. However, their illicit activities eventually caught up with them. Legros sold over 40 forgeries to Texas millionaire Algur Meadows, who later discovered the fraud and exposed de Hory as the artist behind the counterfeit works. This scandal led Legros to flee to Brazil, while de Hory sought refuge in Ibiza. Numerous forged artworks by Elmyr de Hory were sold by Legros in Brazil.

It is noteworthy that some art forgers are now being considered as part of Art History. An exhibition dedicated to de Hory, titled “The Secret World of Art Forger Elmyr de Hory: His Portraiture on Ibiza,” took place in 2020 at the Hillstrom Museum of Art in St. Peter, Minn.

An important collection of de Hory’s paintings ( Picasso, Dufy, Léger, Chagall, Van Dongen…) is scheduled to be auctioned in Rio de Janeiro, and SSAA will keep our subscribers informed about this news.

Fernand Legros

Guy Ribes

Considered one of France’s greatest forgers, Guy Ribes began this illegal business in the mid-1970s. He adopts the pictorial style of artists such as PicassoDaliLégerBraque, and Matisse to produce genuine new works. Once the works were finished, they were covered with dust taken from other paintings found at second-hand shops in order to fool analysis and sampling.

Guy Ribes

It is said that he was once hired by the official gallery owner of some of these artists, who could not handle the demand. As a result, some of these forgeries, with perfect provenance, were sold to renowned collectors and eventually included in the artist’s catalogue raisonné, and today no one can deny their authenticity…

The forger is said to have sold a thousand forgeries over more than 30 years. Denounced, he was arrested in 2005, tried for “counterfeiting in an organized gang” and sentenced to 3 years in prison.

The forger Hans Van Meegeren and his fake Vermeer, Jesus among the doctors, 1945

Éric Piedoie Le Tiec

Éric Piedoie Le Tiec, born in 1953, was a French forger known for imitating and selling the works of famous artists, in particular César.

Éric Piedoie Le Tiec

He began producing forgeries in the late 1990s. He has produced paintings, prints and sculptures by artists such as Raoul DufyPablo PicassoMarc ChagallYves Klein and Joan Miró, and César, hundreds of forgeries of whom he is said to have sold to galleries and collectors. He was arrested in 2006 by the French authorities for selling forgeries.

Eric Piedoie, in 2002 next to a forged statue of the artist César

The Beltracchi couple, the Bonnie and Clyde of art

For decades, Wolfgang Beltracchi painted masterpieces certified as authentic by the respective experts of each painter. Many of his works, celebrated by the critic for their exceptional pictorial quality, are sold for several million euros at international auctions. He was associated with his wife Hélène – the couple was called the Bonnie and Clyde of art, who was in charge of justifying the works authenticity, by inventing a provenance and a history for each painting.

Hélène and Wolfgang Beltracchi

In 2010, an analysis of the pigments in the 1914 painting Rotes Bild mit Pferden in the style of Heinrich Campendonk revealed titanium white, which was not used commercially until later.

Painting in the style of Heinrich Campendonk, Rotes bild mit Pferden, 1914
sold for €2.4 Million, Lempertz, Cologne, Nov. 29, 2006

They were arrested by the police and during the trial, the painter admitted forging 14 paintings: three by Heinrich Campendonk; two by André Derain; one by Kees van Dongen; five by Max Ernst; one by Fernand Léger; and two by Max Pechstein

In 2004, actor Steve Martin bought a painting by Heinrich CampendonkLandschaft mit Pferden for 700.000€ (about $850.000 at the time). But, after he sold the work at a Christie’s auction two years later, for 500.000€, investigators found out it was created by Wolfgang Beltracchi.

Wolfgang Beltracchi with a forged painting in the style of Max Ernst, titled La Horde (1927)
oil on linen
64 x 80 cm

Beltracchi confessed to having painted and sold 300 forgeries by 100 different painters, and that he had started his forgeries as a student. Most of these paintings have still not been discovered.

Salvador Dalí

Salvador Dalí is reported to be the 2nd most frequently forged artist (after Pablo Picasso) and is known to have deliberately signed blank canvases intended to be filled in later by other artists. Author Lee Catterall explains that “it was claimed that Dalí could sign up to 1.800 sheets an hour for $72.000. This practice was a quick way of getting a hotel or restaurant bill paid”. Between 1976 and 1977, the artist is said to have signed 17.500 blank sheets. In 1985, John Peter Moore, Dalí’s manager, claimed that the artist signed 350.000 blank sheets of art paper over the course of his career.

Salvador Dalí

Dalí also authenticated forgeries made by other artists in his style (it seems he believed they were his), and may have endorsed forgeries of his own work in exchange for a share of the profits. In 2008, Stan Lauryssens published a memoir about his early career as a dealer in fake Dalí prints, in which he reveals that there were entire industries producing fraudulent works by the artist, whose lithographs, in particular, are, along with those by Picasso, Miró and Chagall, the most falsified works of art. Around 12.000 fake Dalí lithographs were seized in a single investigation in 1995. 

It should be noted that Dalí had a particular interest in ‘forgeries’ in general, and this was due to his personal history. His eldest brother, Salvador, who was born a few months before him, died when he was only a few months old. For his parents, as for the artist Salvador Dalí , he was just a new copy, a fake version of his deceased brother. Throughout his life, in his art collection at his castel in Pubol, he compiled forged artworks by Van GoghLeonardo da VinciPicassoCaspar David Friedrich


In 2002, the Museum of Contemporary Art of Caracas was contacted by a gallerist based in Miami, who said that someone had offered him the opportunity to acquire Henri Matisse‘s Odalisque in Red Trousers, which he knew was on display in the museum. Only then did the museum staff check the painting and discover that it had been stolen and replaced with a fake, and not a very good one at that.

Henri MatisseOdalisque in Red Trousers. Original (left) and fake (right).

In 2009, a thousand forged sculptures by Alberto Giacometti were seized by the German authorities. These sculptures had been exhibited in a number of museums, even though they were “poor quality copies”, in the words of Véronique Wiesinger, Director of the Alberto Giacometti Foundation.

Horst Haug of Baden Wuertremberg’s State Office of Criminal Investigation presenting counterfeit sculptures purportedly by Alberto Giacometti in Stuttgart, Germany, 19 August 2009

In 2010, Tatiana Khan, the owner of the Chateau Allegre gallery in West Hollywood, California, admitted to commissioning a forged version of Pablo Picasso‘s La Femme Au Chapeau Bleu, which was subsequently sold for $2 Million.

In 2013, at the “Haring Miami” exhibition, out of the 175 works on show, the Keith

Haring Foundation declared that only 10 of them were authentic.

In 2017, an exhibition of Modigliani, in Genoa (Italy) was closed prematurely after art critic and collector Carlo Pepi alerted the authorities that more than 20 works, supposedly by Amedeo Modigliani were probably fake.

As a reminder, the world’s most expensive painting, the Salvador Mundi, was long considered to be a copy, then a work by the Leonardeschi, artists who worked with or under the influence of Leonardo da Vinci

Also, Last year, an exhibition at the Orlando Museum of Art (OMA) on Jean-Michel Basquiat featured works by the artist that were in fact forgeries.

Fake works by Wolfgang Beltracchi are said to have appeared on the cover of Christie’s catalogs and to have been sold at leading auction houses such as Sotheby’s. 

Despite all the studies and technical tests available to analyze and verify the authenticity of the works, fakes will always be made and sold. Also, when a work, previously unknown, appears on the market, in addition to stylistic analysis, it is really the provenance that determines whether it is a forgery or an authentic work. The demand for rare works of art with an interesting provenance has increased. Collectors are therefore interested in recently discovered pieces. It should be noted that today’s forgers are much better equipped than those of the past and that in addition to the few forgers mentioned above, the best have never been discovered. Forgers are often not alone, and the sale of non-authentic works passes through a network involving other people, such as art dealers. According to Britannica10% of modern French paintings on the market may be forgeries. Thomas Hoving, the former director of New York’s Metropolitan Museum, claimed in his book claimed in his book False Impressions: The Hunt for Big-Time Art Fakesthat 40% of the works exhibited in his museum were forgeries.

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