Growth of internet sales increases the possibility of art fraud!


We all love a bargain, and where better to find something at a discounted rate than the web, but when it comes to buying art online should consumers be far more cautious about the bargains on offer to them? The ‘New York Times’ recently pointed out the disproportionate amount of cheap originals from old masters such as Picasso and  Rembrandt, some selling for as little as $900 (that’s around £580 to us Brits). Those knowledgeable about the price such works usually sell for will immediately feel dubious and perhaps question the legitimacy of such works to great lengths before adding it to ones basket. However the number of consumers being duped into buying these bargain masters is on the rise and looks set to grow further unless something is done soon, either in policing these fraudulent sites or trying to educate those looking to buy art.

At the moment Policing online art markets is something of a problem area.  An online article by ’The Art Newspaper’ highlights perfectly some of the issues faced, particularly regarding whether or not sellers acted dishonestly when advertising art for sale:

‘Attempting to prove that the seller intended to deceive bidders is made more difficult by the fact that many online descriptions of works (including legitimate ones) are vague. More evidence would be needed in a situation where a piece was described as “signed by Picasso”, for example, rather than “by Picasso”

Such vague admissions allow a lot of scope for sellers to give true sounding accounts of pictures and prints for sale that may not ultimately meet consumer expectations.
A prime example of this would be a scam orchestrated by a pair on eBay who sold around £57,000 worth of Banksy prints that they purported to be legitimate. This is a particular interesting case as Banksy’s have been known to appear online and can be traded legitimately using ‘Pest Control’, a group that authenticate the sale of Banksy’s. In the past we have used ‘Pest Control’ when buying and selling works by the artist.

(If you are interested in buying a Banksy I can (and have) sourced signed limited editions for customers. Fully authenticated obviously…. Please contact the gallery for more information)

As with anything there will be winners and losses, the web has allowed plenty of young budding artists, small galleries and previously reluctant buyers the chance and opportunity to sell to and buy from a much broader range than was possible in the past. This boost to the industry should not be outweighed and forgotten by those wanting to taint the system.

For those who do buy online whether from eBay, a registered site or an online auction, just remember to do your homework, especially if they selling something as ‘original’. There would be nothing worse than buying something you think is unique, only to discover it’s been hanging in the British Museum for the past 60 years. Ask the sellers for provenance, such as a certificate of authenticity, but even then don’t fall complacent, these to can be forged. Lastly remember that although the web can from time to time offer us a bargain, just keep in mind that if something seems to good to be true, then the likelihood (especially when it comes to the old masters) is that it probably is.

If you have any questions or queries please feel free to contact the gallery and I will be happy to help.