The Museé Terrus in Elne, France, recently cut its collection by more than half when it was revealed that 82 of the museum’s 142 works were fakes or forgeries.
The museum relied on its founder to acquire works by Terrus, and the museum spent over $190,000 on these fakes and forgeries over two decades.
In this case a guest curator, Eric Forcada, discovered discrepencies and started investing further. He noticed many details the untrained eye might not, such as featured landmarks, like castles, that were built after Terrus had passed away.
Some of the painting were misidentified and instead painted by Terrus’ contemporaries like Pierre Brune, Balbino Giner, and Augustin Hanicotte.
Sometimes the opposite happens, when a piece of “unexceptional” art is discovered to be done by a notable artist and can be authenticated. Last year in Madison, NJ, a sculpture that had been boxed up and stored for years, and then positioned in a corner of the Hartley Dodge Foundation (it doubles as the town hall) was investigated further by a temporary archivist.
At the time of the discovery, they had no idea how the piece even came into the possession of the Foundation. Scholars were able to uncover the statue’s history and verify that this sculpture was not only done by the legendary Auguste Rodin, but that it was also the only known political or military figure sculpted by Rodin. It now has an estimated value of $4 million.
Where there is wealth transfer, there is the IRS, and they need a representation of value so that they can impose taxes. If one needs to be certain of the value of a piece of art, they can request a direct IRS statement of value of art appraised on $50,000 or more (plus a $2,500 filing fee).
If the taxpayer has his or her own appraisal done, there may be an audit on the items worth $20,000 or more by the Commissioner’s Art Advisory Panel. This panel is made up of 25 non-compensated art experts who do not know the tax consequences of the valuation (higher is better for charitable contributions, and lower is better for estates keeping the art in the family).
The IRS panel may not agree with the appraisal for a number of reasons. The marketplace may have shifted and the value of all sales of that style of art may have increase/decreased. The authenticity of the art could was not determined well enough by scholars, museum curators, dealers, auction houses, or others. The provenance and title isn’t well enough documented.
There is a standard for professional art appraisals: Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP), which the IRS requires to be used.