3 Ways Science Can Bust Art Forgeries

3 Ways Science Can Bust Art Forgeries


Art is a big business with people willing to spend thousands or millions of dollars on paintings by famous artists. They don’t always get what they pay for though. Instead of a genuine Rembrandt, there’s a chance that the new piece in their collection is a forgery. Forgeries can be copies of existing paintings, or new works that mimic the style of the famous painter So how do our experts find the fakes? We have three main lines of evidence: You can check the artist’s unique style and brush work, or look for records that show how the painting has changed hands over the years. But you could also bust forgeries with science. Scientific examination using things like microscopes, X-rays and chemical analysis can reveal even more than what expertly trained eyes can see. Let’s start at the surface, though. All paintings naturally develop networks of cracks, called “craquelure”, over time. These patterns reveal clues to the paintings’ origin and history. Oil paintings are made of colored pigments, oil and a solvent that makes the painting more fluid, but evaporates off Meanwhile, the oil hardens into a solid layer binding the colors together. But time takes it’s toll on paintings, and this solid layer starts to crack, thanks to changes in temperature and humidity, or just people handling the artwork. A craquelure’s patterns depends on the chemistry of the paint, and how the artwork was treated over time. crackle or some forgeries use solvent washes and gentle heat to make their paint dry faster and crack right away this artificial aging is more chaotic than the cracking patterns of real old art but it can be hard to tell with the Like microscopy, better image recognition software and a good understanding of craquelure, can help “crack the case” on forgeries, or speed up authentication. don’t fit typical patterns or are straight-up painted on the art might be a forgery the paintings may look flat but there’s usually a lot going on under the surface using infrared light and x-rays scientists can look at deeper layers of a painting generally called the underpainting that way they can look to c into the artist’s mind or rather their changes of mind some artists use a pencil or charcoal underdrawing to plan out a piece but then do something different when they actually paint maybe tweaking the subjects hands or changing the peace altogether infrared light can penetrate through paint layers to reach the canvas and detect underdrawing pale areas like canvas reflect infrared whereas black areas like charcoal absorb it so if an art examiner expect to find an underdrawing and it’s missing you may have a forgery on your hands so these techniques have confirmed genuine paintings to still life with meadow flowers and roses was loosely attributed to vincent van gogh but art historians weren’t convinced the piece was unusually large for a van Gogh the signature was in a weird place and he didn’t normally paint so many flowers at once in 2012 scientists used x-ray fluorescence to analyze the underpainting high-energy x-rays can penetrate through the paint layers and knock electrons off adams in the paint as other electrons in the atom drop in energy levels to fill the vacancy they admit their own x-rays at specific wavelengths which vary from element to element with x-ray fluorescence brushstroke patterns from different kinds of paints can be revealed beneath the surface of a painting and beneath those pretty flowers was an entirely different scene two topless men sparring this lineup with a letter van Gogh wrote to his brother this week i painted a large thing with two new torsos two wrestlers a painting that was never found until that moment because van Gogh was also known for going over old canvases this unusual still life seemed a lot more genuine some of the materials that go into making paintings the pigments and canvas are also prime targets for scientists saints are mixtures of chemicals and what chemicals were used changed over time including which organic or synthetic pigments were used because different artists used two different kinds of paints you can see if the artwork is a good match by doing chemical analysis for instance the molecular components of paint can be broken up into smaller components and separated by mass and analyzed using a technique called mass spectrometry mass spectrometry can also be used to detect differences and individual atoms like the different forms of carbon the heavier radioactive carbon 14 and the regular carbon-12 examining the ratio of those atoms and paintings can let scientists carbon date them all the nuclear testing in the late nineteen fifties caused a huge increase in carbon-14 levels worldwide something we call the bomb peak effect carbon-14 was incorporated into all living things and putting the cotton plants that would be turned into canvases and this was how forged painting attributed to the french artist Fernande Olivier was confirmed fake scientists extracted a microscopic unpainted fragment of canvas used a high-sensitivity technique called accelerated mass spectrometry and clearly found some carbon-14 visiting the canvas dated two 1959 after leashes death in 1955 so it could not have been his work with all these technologies at our disposal science is really important when it comes to studying art and scientists can work with historians to spot even the most careful forgeries thanks for watching this episode of scishow which was brought to you by our patrons on patreon if you want to help support this show you can go to patreon.com/scishow and don’t forget to go to youtube.com/scishow and subscribe really want to know what it looks like when something absorbs all light a new material called van to black is pretty close to complete and total darkness and this stuff is freaky looking

100 Replies to “3 Ways Science Can Bust Art Forgeries”

  1. The first couple of pages in the book 'Blink' explain how even with a lot of information and scientific backing, people who are just plain experts in the specific field were better at determining the authenticity of a piece. I jus felt as though this was relevant to share.

  2. So what if its a forgery. Its still a damn good piece of art. Obviously the original is more valuable but forgery is hard af and should be valued.

  3. So what if its a forgery. Its still a damn good piece of art. Obviously the original is more valuable but forgery is hard af and should be valued.

  4. could you analyze the DNA in a painting? i know there is some saliva in most of my paintings, sometimes hair too, although it's usually a cat hair.

  5. +SciShow I know I'm not a patreon supporter but I'd really like to see a video on the in development fusion reactors…

  6. who gives a shit if it is a forgery? People should like art because it looks cool and shows talent…who made it is irrelevant. If somebody else can duplicate the exact same thing then it is just as good.

  7. Buuuut, last I heard, the art world cares more about the rulings of "experts" and potentially questionable provenance more than science. Is this changing? Or was that all just misinformation? What about that one documentary about the lost Jackson Pollock that even has his fingerprint on it? What about all that stuff from Orson Wells in "F is for Fake"?

  8. I did a painting of a flower once that had 15 layers of transparent paint to give a feeling of depth. This painting took me a month to make. When I finished it, I gave it to a friend who was in the hospital. I doubt a counterfeiter would take the time to put 15 layers of paint on a canvas.

  9. It's interesting… I was watching a video about the discussion of what defines art. If forgeries are so similar that it takes complex molecular tests to tell them apart, shouldn't the forgeries also be considered master pieces and be as valuable? If the only difference is the artist's intent, then doesn't this show that what truly defines art is the intent behind creating it and nothing more? Interesting to think about!

  10. If even an expert can't tell the difference between the original and the forgery, in what meaningful way are they different?

  11. a video on the techniques of forgery would be pretty neat. there are some forgeries that are nearly impossible to detect

  12. Why does it matter if it looks exactly the same? Does it boost billionaire's ego if it was done by some famous historical figure, is that the purpose of it all?

  13. i read a story in the newspaper today about the first human head transplant being planned out by sergio canavero. id love to hear scishows take on that!

  14. Isn't it ironic that people who spend thousands on a painting don't do it because of what it portrays but because of who painted it?

  15. Now if only India would use the same technology to make Canada's bills they would make it extremely hard for counterfeiters to make fake money.

  16. I don't understand this to be a crime. Art is the expression of the mind and is therefor priceless or worthless, depending on your view. There for the price attributed to a piece is purely subjective.

    The first axiomatic question here is: Can you get ripped off financially, by a objectively unquantifiable item.

    Which leads to the second point, the assumption that certain art hold objective value over others. As explained in the large rose painting in the video, it would seem a rater mediocre art gained in value while nothing objective about the painting, the art itself changed, but was simply attributed a fancy name.

    So when forgers comes along and makes a objectively better painting, it is worthless? It is crime to imitate work no long being protected by copy right?

    If the value of art is subjective, then forgery being a crime is also subjective. How can you us a objectives system to punish a subjective crime?

  17. Re: carbon-14 One would expect to find some C14 in anything that once lived in the last 50 thousand years or more. The recent spike in C14 levels just made it a bit more obvious that the canvas was too new, but C14 would have been present, nukes or no nukes.

  18. Surely if you want a painting that's expensive, all you have to do is find a really good forgery then buy that for a cheaper price. Or would the fact that it's really good (eg: it looks the same to an art connoisseur), make it worth just as much?

  19. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone at SciShow! Lately there has been quite a bit of talk extolling the virtues of apple cider vinegar for the digestion and health. Are any of these claims true, and which are, as scientists would say, malarkey?

  20. But WHY would you even want to know if your painting is forged? If you like what it looks like and are privileged enough to pay ridiculous amounts because you believe some famous guy painted it instead of a random guy painting the exact same thing, just keep on believing that what you have is the original.

  21. They got the carbon 14 science wrong again. Carbon 14 also occurs naturally, that is why we can use it to date back many thousands of years

  22. The thing that I do not understand is; why pay a shit ton more for the original when you could be a "forged" reproduction for much cheaper?
    If you like the art and can't tell the difference, who cares who made it.

  23. Could you make a video about the color models? I would love to know more and i would love to have my question answered; what are the basecolors (for example in rgb) linked to? (like in wheight we had the "kilogram of the archives" to have something to refert to.) (example: which red is the red of the rgb model?) thx a lot!

  24. We need more art forgeries not less … so that these insane prices at auctions can come down to more reasonable levels.

  25. i dont understand why it matters other than what you paid not being what its worth why buy it if you dont like the art and the forgery has literally the same art

  26. Comparing 1955 to 1959 seems like it would be well within the margin of error. For that matter, carbon dating is not even sensible for such a recent object. C-14 dating is for a much longer time scale.

  27. watch "Who The [email protected]*#k is Jackson Pollock" Random lady buys a painting for 5 bucks, they eventually find a fingerprint that matched Pollocks and paint was matched to the paint from Pollocks his Long Island home.

  28. Van Gogh was a troubled poor man that didn't get to enjoy the fame that buzzes around his work. I think we can all agree on how sad that is. It also makes me want to buy art from living artist because I know they could use the financial and emotional boost.

  29. I learned the radiocarbon dating method differently, nothing about nuclear testing in the 50s, only natural cosmic radiation.

  30. I would like to thank you for using my book"The Scientist and the Forger" as a source for this you tube. More details of your presentation can be found in the book. The art world is indeed a turbulent world with a large number of forgeries flooding the art market. Jehane Ragai

  31. Imagine if someone could mimic a famous painter's work perfectly but all the technicalities like the ones in the video would give him away as a fake so he goes back in time to the painter's time and paints his paintings and plans to hide them somewhere secret so he can sell them as legit when he goes back to his time. But then once he goes back, he realizes that he was that famous painter in the first place! Someone call John Green! @vlogbrothers @scishow

  32. That bit about Van Gogh's letter to his brother clueing art experts into the fact that he was the artist who painted those flowers makes me think about writing about my own artwork more.

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