A good forger will know the importance of provenance, so the veracity of the documents themselves also needs to be checked against the artist’s catalogue raisonné: the official and comprehensive record of all the works of a single artist, often compiled by the artist’s estate. As for the authentication documents, those could also be forged—which turned out to be the case with the Las Vegas warehouse trove von Habsburg examined, with the names of actual experts appearing in documents that the experts themselves said they’d never signed.
In examining a work’s documentation, there’s some sleuthing you can do on your own. The Wildenstein Plattner Institute
, for example, is a great resource for digital catalogues raisonnés. But an experienced researcher or appraiser could also be very helpful. However, an appraiser won’t be able to authenticate a work; only an authenticator—someone very closely associated with the artist in question, like the estate or a dealer the artist worked with for an extended period—can do that.
While experts can help track down the provenance and take a very close look at the work for signs of the artist’s hand, they might not be willing to say anything definitive about an object for fear of being sued should they turn out to be wrong. Such concerns were the reason the Warhol Authentication Association Board disbanded in 2012—it was spending too much money on lawsuits over authenticity disputes. However, an appraiser will know what gaps to look for, like a lack of recent certification, exhibition history, or literature citations; a highly inflated value; or a discrepancy in the work’s title. (Don’t forget to vet your appraiser as well; affiliation with or certification from a professional association is always a good sign.) Keep in mind, though, that documentation of genuine works also often has gaps; the key is in figuring out which are plausible and which are not.
As appraiser Louky Keijsers Koning pointed out, there are cases where the catalogue raisonné is incorrect, or the artist changed the work’s title at some point. A lot of paperwork also gets lost over the years. In the most obvious forgeries, there are multiple suspicious or missing documents. “Finding a lost work is very rare,” Keijsers Koning said. “That’s why provenance is very, very important.”
A good forger is not only a good artist, but also a cunning researcher and savvy businessperson. They look for reasonable gaps to dive into, copying works by artists that lack or have incomplete catalogues raisonnés (like
), no authenticating body (as with
), or rising market prices combined with little comprehensive scholarship (such as