There's a lot of risk involved in passing off a fake or a forgery. If you're found out, your reputation can be irreparably damaged, or you could face prison. But people engage in the enterprise nonetheless, for artistic acceptance, ego gratification or for pure profit.
The terms "fake" and "forgery" are sometimes thought to mean the same thing, but there's a difference. A fake is an existing object that's been tampered with to create the illusion of greater value, and a forgery is an object fabricated in a familiar style to give the illusion of authenticity. But if you've paid a lot of money for something that's not what you thought it was, what's the difference?
Here is CNBC.com's list of fakes and forgeries that fooled the experts.
'Christ and the Disciples at Emmaus'
Han van Meegeren was a Dutch artist who forged a painting by Johannes Vermeer. He created a piece called "Christ and the Disciples at Emmaus," which was authenticated as a Vermeer by art historian Abraham Bredius and purchased by Rotterdam's Boijmans Gallery for $6 million.
After World War II, the painting was found in the collection of Nazi Reichsmarshall Hermann Goering.
In order to avoid a lengthy prison sentence for colluding with the enemy, Van Meegeren was forced to confess to forgery. He was sentenced to a year imprisonment, but died of angina before he could begin his sentence.
'Landscape with Horses'
Actor and comedian Steve Martin is an avid art collector. In 2004, he bought a 1915 painting by Dutch artist Heinrich Campendonk called "Landscape with Horses."
Its authenticity had been confirmed by "a Campendonk expert," according to Der Spiegel, and Martin paid over $900,000 for it.
When he resold the work at Christie's in 2006, it fetched only $655,000. It was revealed to be a forgery by German painter Wolfgang Beltracchi, who admitted to forging the works of more than 50 artists. He was sentenced to a six-year prison term in 2011.
The Coptic Collection at the Brooklyn Museum
The Brooklyn Museum is home to a large collection of Egyptian antiquities. It became the subject of controversy in 2008, when it was revealed that 10 of its 30 Coptic sculptures were 20th-century fakes manipulated to look authentic.
Byzantine scholar Gary Vikan told The Art Newspaper that the fakes originated from a village south of Cairo and have made their way to museums all over the world.
According to The Art Newspaper, this situation has arisen at other museums and was addressed by quietly removing the fakes and hoping no one would notice. The Brooklyn Museum, however, took the full disclosure route with its 2009 Coptic Sculpture Exhibit and explained the history of the collection on its website, describing the fakes as "modern impostors." The perpetrator has not been found.
'Madonna of the Veil'
More than four centuries after Sandro Botticelli's death, "Madonna of the Veil" surfaced and was attributed to the 15th- century Italian painter whose most famous work was "The Birth of Venus." It was lauded by the Medici Society and displayed by London's Courtauld Gallery in 1947, according to the National Gallery in London.
Former National Gallery director Kenneth Clark was skeptical of its origin, and further inspection revealed that elements used in the painting were not invented until hundreds of years after Botticelli's death. The painting is now accepted as a forgery by perpetrated by the late Umberto Giunti. It was displayed at the National Gallery in a 2010 exhibit called "Close Examination: Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries."
The Amarna Princess was a statue created by British forger Shaun Greenhalgh in the style of ancient Egyptian art. It sold for $661,000 to the Bolton Museum in Northern England in 2003.
The statue was verified as a genuine, 3,300-year-old piece by both Christie's auction house and by the British Museum, according to BBC News.
The artist was investigated by Scotland Yard's Arts and Antiquities Unit, who found that he had been making forgeries for years, and using his kindly octogenarian parents to sell them. He admitted to money laundering and to selling faked and forged objects, and was sentenced to almost five years in prison.
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