Fakes, Forgeries and Frauds in Art History

How do experts tell the difference between authentic art and fakes? A closer look at famous forgeries purchased by museums reveals just how complicated uncovering frauds can be.

In this interactive course, we will visit the grittier side of the art market, meeting some famous forgers and learning how they managed to convince art experts that their fakes were real. We’ll explore how forgeries are made and passed off to the buying public, and we’ll also learn about the genuine objects. In the hands-on portion of the class, we’ll play detective with some actual art objects, learning simple techniques for creating fakes. By the end of the course, you will be able to identify major art periods and the strategies that forgers use to fool the experts.

A $62 discount will be applied automatically for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

What will I learn?

Week 1: What is a forgery?

We explore the idea of authenticity and discuss what a forgery is. Looking specifically at the famous 20th-century art forger Han van Meegeren, we uncover the ways in which people were misled into believing his 16th-century fakes were authentic. The hands-on part of the class examines the ground upon which paintings are created.

Week 2: Techniques used in making forgeries

We examine how forgers operate and the various techniques at their disposal from simple to complex and downright ingenious. The forger Wolfgang Beltracchi’s art that mimics modern 20th-century painters is examined with an eye towards the brushstoke. The hands-on part of the class looks at what different types of brushes can do in order to learn how forgers chose the appropriate tool.

Week 3: How to spot forgeries

Developing an eye for art means learning to look in detail. We compare some of the modern radiographic equipment used to authenticate artwork, to the way the human eye operates. The hands-on portion of the class involves examining how comparing real and fake objects.

Week 4: Forgery and the art market

Provenance is a critical part of the art market when it works properly. We discuss what provenance means and how forgers circumvent that process to sell fakes on the market. The hands-on portion of the class involves examining sculpture.

Week 5: Major forged art controversies

We discuss how forgery creates controversies and disruptions in the art world using the specific case of one of the most famous art forgeries in the world that few people have ever heard of, The Riverbank painting currently held in New York’s Metropolitan museum. The hands-on portion of the class involves comparing colour.

Week 6: The conservator’s role

In our final class, how art conservation plays a role in forgery is discussed. The hands-on portion of the class involves mixing and applying an egg-oil emulsion on a mini-canvas to take home with you.

How will I learn?

  • Lectures
  • Discussion (may vary from class to class)
  • Hands-on exercises
  • Papers (applicable only to certificate students)

How will I be evaluated?

For certificate students only:

Your instructor will evaluate you based on an essay, which you will complete at the end of the course. You will receive a grade of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”

Textbooks and learning materials

Reading material and art supplies will be available in class. Some course materials may be available online.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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