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How to Tell a Fake Painting From an Original

By Todd Campitelli ; Updated September 26, 2017
Art forgery is a multi-million dollar business.

Buying a piece of artwork is an investment. To protect the value of your investment, you need to ensure that the artwork you purchase is an original creation of the artist in question. Unfortunately, many pieces of art sold on the market are forgeries, and even with the help of highly trained scholars, forgeries still make their way into auction houses and galleries. Considering the glamour of art forgery and the massive price tags some pieces sell for, it's up to you to make sure the art you buy is legitimate.

When looking for a piece of art, deal only with reputable dealers. While even high-end auction houses and galleries have had instances where fakes have passed through their halls, you still limit your chances of getting a fake by dealing with highly reputable galleries and dealers.

Look for a certificate of authentication. Many reputable dealers go through great trouble to make sure the art they sell is original. Ask to see a certificate of authentication, and if one isn’t available, have your own experts investigate the artwork or pass on it entirely.

Learn about the artist you are looking to invest in. If you are looking to purchase a particular artist’s work, learn everything you can about them. Learn about their techniques, the paints they used, the ways they mounted and presented their artwork. Learn about how they sign their art and what canvases they used.

Visit museums and other places where the artist’s work is displayed. Here, you get to see work that is certified original and look for clues in composition and technique to compare against the work you are looking to buy.

Get up close. Look at the painting from all angles. Check the back of the painting. If the canvas was fastened to the frame by staples, and it supposedly originated from the 18th century, then you’re most certainly looking at a forgery.

Smell the painting. Oil paintings will have an oily smell for many years until the oil fully dries. If you are looking at investing in an oil painting that is more than a few years old, it should not have this smell.

Look out for the price tag. Know the market for similar pieces of art. If the price seems too high or too low, it might raise an alarm.

Hire an independent expert. Ask scholars who are trained in your artist or period to conduct an investigation. Many art investigators use sophisticated tools to appraise a piece of art, including X-rays and computer programs that will take statistical samples of both the paint strokes and the thread count of the canvas.

Tip

In older paintings, there will often be signs of aging, such as cracks in the painting or weathering around the edges.

Modern technology can test the composition of paint pigments to see if they are truly reflective of the actual painting's period without damaging it.

Thread patterns are often used by museums to spot fakes since such patterns can be as unique as human fingerprints.

Warning

Art forgery is a sophisticated trade; even experts are frequently duped on the originality of a painting.

If you are looking to invest serious money in a piece of art, always conduct your own investigation.

About the Author

Todd Campitelli has been a writer for over 11 years and has been writing on all topics from health care to education for websites all across the World Wide Web. He earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts in film and television production from New York University and is currently working on a master's degree in entertainment business.