Last week, the provenance of a $13 million royal Rubens was called into question, and The New Yorker exposed a suspected fraud, but forgers have always had a place in the art world

Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

Dan Kitwood / Getty Images


Portrait of a Commander Being Dressed for Battle, a painting attributed to the 17th-century Flemish Baroque artist Sir Peter Paul Rubens and valued at over $13 million, was sold by Princess Diana’s family at a Christie’s auction house just last week. Art historians and critics, however, began to publicly question its authenticity. Brian Sewell, an art historian and the London Evening Standard’s art critic, told The Independent it’s “an uncomfortable Rubens. It’s one of those pictures that doesn’t quite ring true.” A spokesman for Christie’s claims the work is real. The art house conducted rigorous research, the spokesman said, and an academic panel vouched for it. The painting’s provenance, though, has never been agreed upon: Prior to World War II, the painting had been considered a work by Pourbus, a contemporary of Rubens, but since then, it’s been considered a true Rubens. Experts believe it will take years, if ever, to come to a definitive conclusion. In the meantime, the anonymous buyer should consider it a bargain: according to Sewell, “I think anything under 20 million is cheap for a Rubens."

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Skilled-but-struggling Dutch artist Han van Meegeren started doing forgeries as a way to prove himself to the art world. He experimented with a few masters and styles, before painting what is considered to be the best of all his imitations, Christ and the Disciples at Emmaus. To be truly successful was to fool everyone into thinking it was a Vermeer, which is what van Meegeren hoped, and, in fact, was what happened. When the painting sold (as a Vermeer) for what would be the equivalent of a few million dollars today, he decided to keep the truth secret. In 1942, a van Meegeren knockoff was one of the most expensive paintings ever sold at the time, for 1.6 million Dutch guilders (about $9 million adjusted for inflation). Van Meegeren went on to sell a fake Vermeer that ended up in the hands of Hermann Goering, a fact that almost made him a war criminal in the eyes of the Dutch. In order to deny he was a traitor, van Meegeren had to confess he had forged the painting and tricked Goering, but then he was charged as a forger.

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Los Angeles gallery owner Tatiana Khan is being sued over claims that she not only knew a painting she sold as a Picasso, La Femme Au Chapeau Bleu (The Woman in the Blue Hat), was a fake, but that she actually hired an artist to paint the mockery. Khan allegedly paid painter Maria Apelo Cruz $1,000, telling Cruz that the real Picasso had been stolen, and that they needed a copy in order to catch the thief. A few days later, Khan sold the copy for $2 million. Cruz, suspicious and perhaps insulted by the price difference, clued in the authorities.


The Brooklyn Museum is renowned for its collection of Egyptian art, some of which it acquired during the '60s and '70s. Though critics over the years speculated that many of the Christian Coptic pieces were fakes, the Brooklyn Museum did not go public with admission of a mistake until 2008. And when they let the cat out of the bag, they did it with flair, tongues firmly in cheek, in an exhibit called “ Curators Can Be Duped." The curators posed the real works next to their bogus counterparts—the show must go on!


Elmyr de Hory painted and sold forgeries of Picasso, Chagall, Toulouse-Lautrec, Dufy, Derain, Matisse, Degas, Bonnard, and Modigliani, across North and South America, Europe, and Japan, making him one of the most prolific forgers of all time. At the time of his arrest in 1968, de Hory estimated he’d successfully passed off 1,000 drawings and paintings. So well-regarded was his fakery, that after 1968 he continued to paint and sell “forgeries,” signed with his own name. In true art-meta, there are even forgeries of de Hory’s forgeries in circulation. Remarkably, much of what’s known of de Hory’s life is what he told his biographer, Clifford Irving--who was convicted of fraud after faking an autobiography of Howard Hughes, which reads like a fairy tale.

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In 2008 law enforcement officials in the U.S. and Spain indicted seven people from the U.S., Spain, and Italy for counterfeiting and selling pieces by Picasso, Chagall, Miro, and Dali. Not only was the fraud ring international, but, thanks to eBay, so were the victims. The forgers sold thousands of prints in the United States, Canada, Australia, Europe, and Japan, garnering a total profit of $5 million. At one point, the group was producing so many prints that, according to U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, they were warned by dealers not to try to sell too many at once lest they flood the market. "Con artists should not be confused with master artists," said Fitzgerald, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.


Pieter Bruegel the Elder, born in 1525, was a Renaissance painter renowned for his landscapes and peasant scenes. Only 45 of his authenticated works still exist today. The questions of authenticity arise with Bruegel the Elder’s son, Pieter Brueghel the Younger (he added an “h” to the family name), also a painter, who devoted his life to copying the work of his father. He made more than 20 duplicates of the “Netherlandish Proverbs” painting, pictured. While art scholars have rarely, if ever, confused Brueghel the Younger’s remakes from his father’s work, the similarities are uncanny. “Generally speaking, Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s copies are extremely good,” Benjamin Genocchio, an art critic, wrote in The New York Times. “[They] show the same sort of minute detail that distinguishes his father’s work. They also have the same variety and glorious transparency of color, achieved through the application of fine layers of paint.”