How to Spot Fake Art: Tips from an Expert

How To Spot Fake Art

Forged art makes verifying art authenticity a primary concern for buyers and sellers. Art dealers have gone to jail for selling fake paintings for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The online world is infested with convincing copycats. Some fake art finds its way into auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s.


How can you ensure a painting is the real deal before buying?

  • Research The Artist
  • Verify Signatures
  • Identify Whether It’s A Print
  • Spot Clues About The Age
  • Look For Layering
  • Find Authenticity Documents
  • Get An Appraisal

Do A Deep Dive On The Artist

If you’ve never heard of the artist, or if you’ve never come across the painting itself, put on your detective hat. You may need to research the following to ensure the piece is legitimate.

  • Does it match their trademark style?
  • What is the story behind the painting?
  • Is it part of a longer series?
  • Was it commissioned by someone?
  • Did the subjects exist in real life?
  • How many paintings are cataloged in the world by this artist?

Some of the answers to these questions might be difficult to find on your own. The best advice for those situations is to trust your instinct. If you think it isn’t real, then it probably isn’t.

Check Out The Signature

The placement and positioning of the signature are just as important as the appearance of the signature itself. Good forgers can easily reproduce signatures but may overlook the standard placement used by the artists. Here are some other details to research:

  • The Date Listed On The Painting
  • Types Of Brush Strokes Used
  • Style Of Signature (Initials, Full Names, Upper & Lower Case Letters)
  • Matching Colors
  • Embellishments
  • Condition Of Signature
  • Misspellings

Identify If It’s A Print

Prints are not forgeries, but they are typically worth less. Hold the painting up to the light to view it from the back. Authentic pieces typically allow some light to come through the canvas, while prints often do not. Some prints, like the ones created by German artist Albrecht Dürer, have inherent value on their own.

Here are some other ways to tell the difference.

  • Print Numbers
  • Raised Brush Strokes
  • Visible Pencil Lines

Tried-&-True Age Tests

A famous painting alleged to be from Dutch painter Frans Hals was sold by Sotheby’s in 2011. It was found to be a fake because it used a type of synthetic paint not available to artists in the 17th century.

Other fakes have been found to use the following methods that might stick out.

  • Grids
  • Leftover Material From The Forger
  • Anachronistic Details
  • Modern Canvases

Look For Layering

Original art pieces will typically have several layers visible to the naked eye. Forgeries tend to lack depth, and it’s a good idea to know the types of paint used during the era of the piece in question, which can be a dead giveaway or help authenticate the piece.

Authenticity Certificate

A Certificate of Authenticity is a signed document that proves the work’s authenticity. It should also contain details about the work and artist. However, these can easily be reproduced, so contact the issuer to verify the certificate of authenticity itself.

Seek Out The Experts

When making a serious investment, you need to know what you are buying and how much it’s worth. Have an expert appraiser look at a piece or read any previous appraisals before buying.

If you doubt a work’s authenticity or value, contact our experts to look deeper for you.