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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 November 2006, 01:36 GMT
Fighting forgery in the art world
By Clare Babbidge
BBC News

Experts from the art world are attending a police exhibition of fake and forged art works as part of moves to fight a crime believed to be becoming increasingly prolific.

A forged painting called Going to the Masked Ball, in the style of John Anster Fitzgerald,
Works by jailed forger Robert Thwaites were displayed

Amid the sea of historic artefacts, sculptures and magnificent paintings at London's beautiful Victoria and Albert Museum, one small room contains some duds from the art market.

Many pieces in the Metropolitan Police's first exhibition of fake art work have fooled art experts and institutions. If genuine, the work in the display would be worth around 10m.

Hoping to raise awareness of a crime they say is increasing and becoming more sophisticated, police have invited industry experts to their Investigation of Fakes and Forgeries show.

It may open to the public next year.

Police want to show the lengths forgers will go to pass off work as legitimate.

Detective Sergeant Vernon Rapley, of the Met's Arts and Antiques Unit, said: "We don't have exact information, but know art crime is extensive and becoming more and more prolific."

He wants people from the industry to work with police as well as each other to combat the crime.

Forged painting of Boy with Greyhounds in the style of Agasse
Many forgeries are created with meticulous detail

"There is a culture out there - in certain parts of the art market - that if they think something is fake they will say 'I'm not happy with that' and not buy it, but they won't do anything about it.

"Then the item will be offered elsewhere. We're trying to raise awareness with museums and other institutions, as there's often no communication between them."

Police say the money used from the sale of forgeries is funding serious crimes around the world.

Det Sgt Rapley said: "The money is being used to fund drugs, firearms and other offences - although it's criminals scamming criminals, we're concerned as the money is being used to fund other areas of crimes."

Among exhibits on display are fake paintings purporting to be by Picasso, Ben Nicholson and Nicholas De Stael.

Det Sgt Rapley said depicting works by more modern artists, especially Picasso, was popular with fraudsters.

"It's easier to get hold of materials and very easy to pass off - usually requiring less expertise as some other artists, and not requiring the same pigments as more historical paintings."

He said where criminals conned other criminals the forgeries did not have to be "particularly good" as criminals were unlikely to go to an art dealer to confirm a work's authenticity.

Detective Sergeant Vernon Rapley
My advice is to presume that something is wrong
Det Sgt Vernon Rapley
The exhibition also includes evidence from the "Dr Drewe and John Myatt" case, which helped lead to the pair's conviction in 1999.

Katya Lubina, an historical claims researcher with the Art Loss Register, said this case was an example of why forgery was so difficult to prove.

While John Myatt painted in the style of masters such as Matisse and Roger Bissiere, John Drewe forged provenance documents, used to prove a works' authenticity by tracing aspects such as its sale history.

"Drewe would forge details and slip these into documents at research libraries, and, using an old typewriter, he managed to pass off the fake as genuine," she said.

Drewe was able to sell Myatt's work to auction houses, including Christie's and Sotheby's, as well as to art dealers.

Several paintings by Robert Thwaites, who tricked Antiques Roadshow art expert Rupert Mass into paying for one of his pieces, were also displayed.

Thwaites, who was jailed in September, claimed the forgery entitled The Miser was by Victorian artist John Anster Fitzgerald. Thwaites' attention to detail included using genuine Victorian newspapers as backing for the paintings.

Paints on display at the exhibition
The exhibition includes materials

A scheme called ArtBeat will encourage police and art experts to work together to help detect art crime.

It will include people from the industry, including from museums and galleries, training as special constables and working alongside police.

Art trade manager Antonia Kimbell is due to be among them.

"I'm expecting to be involved in cases they are working on and doing things like going to markets in the middle of the night to see what's due to be sold," she said.

The art historian believes her 10 years' experience in the art market means she will have a "good idea" if an item looks fake.

Det Sgt Rapley added the public ought to be able to buy art without such concerns.

"People should be able to invest in art for their pensions without finding out in 30 years' time that it was a fake," he said.

However, he also urged caution.

"My advice is to presume that something is wrong, because there are so many objects likely to be fake, and then to prove it is genuine - rather than the other way round."

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