Delaware Public Media

Arts Playlist: Is it fake?

Apr 7, 2017

Forgeries are a part of the art world. For every classic master work, there’s money to be made and prestige to be had in passing a fake off as the real thing.

In our latest Arts Playlist, Mark Arehart talked with Curator Linda Eaton at Winterthur about the museum's newest exhibit that explores the world of forged art, Treasures on Trial: The Art and Science of Detecting Fakes.


A canvas well over six feet wide hangs in Winterthur’s gallery. It’s splattered with trails of different colored paint, just like the work of Jackson Pollock. The thing is though, this isn't a Pollock. It’s a fake. But how do you tell?

"What about that is not right? The type of brush strokes, the colors that are, the way they are being applied, whatever," Curator Linda Eaton said. 

Dozens of fakes are on the walls, some easily discernable, others baffling exact. It’s not just artwork by Wyeth, Picasso and Matisse either; the collection includes a Stradivarius violin, one of Babe Ruth’s gloves, and even a Hermes handbag, all forgeries.

A fake Picasso by art forger John Myatt on display at Winterthur.
Credit Courtesy Winterthur

According to Eaton, some works are so good they have fooled art historians.

"Art experts have been sued. People are very hesitant to give opinions. It’s also opening up a discussion about whether experts should be protected for giving their opinions."

In fact, the show starts with a forged Mark Rothko painting that was so good, the resulting legal trouble forced a prestigious New York art gallery to close.

Eaton said the exhibit showcases the science behind spotting a fake through the use of X-rays and detailed chemical analysis.

But she said sometimes all it takes is a good eye and just a shadow of a doubt.

Treasures on Trial is on display now and runs through January 7, 2018.