It has been said that owning an art collection is individual wealth, but sharing art is wealth to society. The increased adoption of this attitude is evident in society, as more and more people have begun to see the value in collecting art as an asset class. This has resulted in the art industry becoming more lucrative, and as with any other industry, a number of con artists have emerged, who attempt to trick the potential investors in order to make quick money.
In the art industry these con artists include people who forge pieces, taking it as far as recreating classic works of art and getting them endorsed by the experts as authentic pieces. One example of these forgers is Han van Meegeren, a prolific forger during the 20th century. Van Meegran made close to $30 million forging the works of famous Dutch artists such as Vermeer. Van Meegeren’s forgery was not exclusive to only copying the painting style of these artists, but he also actively attempted to copy the materials they would use to create their masterpieces. The only limitation to the quality of his forgery came through having to compromise the make-up of the paints he would use. He had to use bakelite, an early plastic, in order to accelerate the drying process of the paints, as the ones used by the original artists would take up to fifty years to dry.
Van Meegeran is just one example of these famous forgers but there are many, some unknown. The existence of people like the van Meegerans and the vast sums of money involved in fine art has lead the art industry to turn to analytical chemistry as a means to fight back. This need to fight back has resulted in the growth of spectroscopy and chromatography being used by experts in the art industry to now detect forgeries. Gas chromatography, in fact, was the method used to uncover van Meegeran’s secret of quick drying paint, but this unfortunately happened many years after his death.
Authenticating art is not only an art nowadays, but it is a science and one must commend the role spectroscopy and chromatography have played in combatting forgery but as with any other industry where one stands to gain a lot from breaking the law, forgers are attempting to find ways to beat analytical chemistry and as they do this, the art experts also continue to explore new ways to beat them. An interesting technology to protect the industry from forgeries currently being looked at is the technology used to keep Bitcoin transactions safe – namely Blockchain. This can be used to keep original digital art safe and synthetic DNA can now be embedded in the work in order to protect against forgeries. The next couple of years will prove to be interesting to watch as we witness the convergence of the world of technology and that of art.