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How to Spot a Fake Artist

The world is full of fakes and fakers, and thus it has ever been. Art forgery dates back more than two thousand years. Roman sculptors produced copies of  Greek sculptures. During the C16th Printmaker, Albrecht Durer’s prints were ripped off, which was why he produced his own logo.

Durer’s logo

For good measure, he added a curse to his engraving of the Virgin Mary “Be cursed, plunderers and imitators of the work and talent of others”.

Art forgery can be extremely lucrative, but modern dating and analysis techniques have made the identification of forged artwork much simpler. However, it is not this sort of the creators of fake art I want to discuss here. The fake artists I am concerned about are not the ones that try and pass off their work as that of famous artists.

These “artists” are passing themselves off as creative individuals when in fact they sweated labourers in a factory somewhere in China. There have been several articles in the international press about (Huffington Post, Daily Mail and Der Spiegel) about art “villages” that mass produce art. The conditions in the factories look to be very basic although the skill of the artists, as copyists, is pretty impressive. That’s what these trained artists do, produce dozens of replicas of iconic paintings daily to make ends meet. Incredibly, these factories produce roughly 60% of the world’s oil paintings. The majority of these paintings are meant for WalMart shoppers. You can even buy your cheap Chinese oil painting direct on  for an average price of about $60 (£40).

Buy Direct from the Wholesalers

However, it seems that these factories (or possibly middlemen) have worked out that their paintings can be sold more if they can pass as legitimately original art produced by a genuine artist.  I have come across the story of a dodgy salesman who bought Chinese painting at wholesale prices and passed them off as his own to tourists in Italy. So it seems that people are buying up these pastiches of Western art and created artists’ persona with a vague backstory to give the work more kudos. Their paintings are large, cheap and often come with free shipping.

They know that many people who buy online don’t always know a lot about art and cannot tell the difference between a real art and generic Walmart/Ikea fodder. They are exploiting this and it threatens to discredit the online art business.  It is the job of the online galleries that purport to sell “original art” to act as gatekeepers for the customers, so they are not fooled by these mass produced fakes. Trust is paramount. Some online galleries do this well and have a rigorous selection process.  Others, particularly those with thousands of artists, are less assiduous in how they vet their artists and this is worrying to independent artists like myself.

So, here’s what to look for:-

  1. A photograph of the artist. Unless you are a street artist like Banksy there better be a good reason why there isn’t a photo of the artist. Even better if the artist is photographed in the act of drawing, painting or standing in front of her paintings at an exhibition. That way you know the photo hasn’t been lifted from facebook.
  2. A surname, not just “Rosa” or “Luigi”.
  3. A detailed backstory, preferably with details of education and exhibitions.
  4. A website, facebook page, a blog, an Instagram page with a back story of paintings this will help prove that this a real artist and not the product of a factory.
  5. Subject matter – are they generic Tuscan villages/mountains/seascapes/lakes or are they of particular locations that are named?

If you buy a cheap Gucci bag on your holidays you know its a most likely to be a fake. Art is an investment. Make sure you are getting the real deal.

(these paintings may have been painted in Italy or China, I have no way of knowing for sure).

6 thoughts on “How to Spot a Fake Artist

  1. I always love it when the Chinese painters sign the picture with a British-sounding name to make it seem more classically “authentic”. I also read somewhere a long while back that these paintings are done assembly-line fashion, with one artist doing,say, the sky then it moves down the line to somebody specializing in mountains, then maybe to another specializing in trees, etc. In the USA a lot of this work used to be advertised as a big sale at a venue such as a hotel or convention center. We jokingly labeled it “hotel art”.

    1. “Hotel Art!” Fantastic. I think we have had this sort of thing in the UK for ages. There used to be stall in the market in my town that sold these sorts of paintings. That’s fine. What alarms me is that someone is passing them off as works by individual artists and the online galleries are too lazy/or greedy to pick up on the fakery. Thank you for your comment, Alli.

  2. It is always an interesting point when the copyist is genuinely talented. Not everyone can paint well enough to carry off an attractive copy. I have no problem of course with artists who specialize in hand painted copies of famous things, only of course as you say, when the painting is represented as being a valid creative original of a valid working artist.

    Personally I’d rather an original work of art produced by a wonderful working artist of our time even though I love many older works enough to enjoy a copy probably.

    Good article.

  3. Thank you, Judy – some of the copies you can see for sale in China are pretty amazing. The point of the article was the misrepresentation of the art/artist. Its pretty hard to tell “real” from “fake” in so many aspects of life!

  4. Dat heb je hier heel goed uitgelegd

    1. Thank you!

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