Counterfeit chest of drawers, probably made in Connecticut; 1890−1920, cherry, white pine.
Counterfeit chest of drawers, probably made in Connecticut; 1890−1920, cherry, white pine.

WINTERTHUR, Del. – A new exhibit at Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library offers visitors a Sherlock Holmes-style investigation of some of the most notorious fakes and forgeries of the art world, including furniture, musical instruments, and even baseball bats, as well as paintings and other art.

Open from April 1, 2017 through January 7, 2018, “Treasures on Trial: The Art and Science of Detecting Fakes,” offers 40 examples of fakes and forgeries associated with such masters as Henry Matisse, Coco Chanel, Paul Revere, Antonio Stradivari, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and even Joe DiMaggio.

“Treasures on Trial presents a broad range of works that provide a rather startling view of the scope and sophistication of the counterfeiting market, from fine art to sports memorabilia, couture clothing, wine, antique furniture, and more,” said Linda Eaton, John L. and Marjorie P. McGraw Director of Collections and Senior Curator of Textiles at Winterthur. “Visitors will be able to see a fake Mark Rothko painting that was part of the Knoedler Gallery scandal; sports memorabilia fraudulently associated with Babe Ruth; counterfeit fashion and accessories masquerading as Chanel, Hermès, and Dior; wine purported to have belonged to Thomas Jefferson, as featured in the book Billionaire’s Vinegar; and fake antiques associated with Paul Revere and George Washington, among other fascinating works.”

Eaton co-curated Treasures on Trial with Colette Loll, Founder and Director of Art Fraud Insights LLC, a Washington, D.C., based consultancy dedicated to issues of art fraud.

This 19th-century violin carried a fake Stradivarius label, but you can hear the difference in the Winterthur exhibit. (Image courtesy of Winterthur Museum.)

Some of the fakes and forgeries are shown alongside authentic objects and are accompanied by new and rarely seen scientific insights from Winterthur’s own Scientific Research and Analysis Lab. Winterthur’s conservators and scientists are leaders in the field of scientific analysis of fine art and antiques, with a curatorial team renowned for their expert knowledge and historical detective work. The exhibition shows how a combination of provenance, research, connoisseurship skills, and scientific analysis can expose a broad range of fakes and forgeries that have fooled collectors and experts alike and reveals fascinating stories about the forgers themselves.

“In my work with law enforcement nationally and internationally, the time-tested tools of meticulous investigative work together with scientific analyses and connoisseurship help solve even the toughest cases involving fakes and forgeries,” said Loll. “Treasures on Trial goes a step beyond traditional exhibits on this topic by uniquely presenting analyses performed at Winterthur’s and other leading labs.”

Eaton said the exhibition is designed to both inform and entertain visitors and even provides them with the opportunity to judge for themselves whether some objects are fake or genuine.

This Louisville Slugger wooden baseball pat was purportedly signed by Joe DiMaggio, but it was determined to be a forgery in an FBI investigation. (Image courtesy of Winterthur Museum)

“We’re particularly interested in showing the connection between art and science. Even though these disciplines are often considered separately, they’re both firmly at the center of all efforts to determine authenticity,” Eaton said.

Some highlights of the exhibit include:

  • Violin with a label claiming that it was made by Antonio Stradivari (1644-1738), whose instruments are considered to be the best ever made. Visitors can listen to recordings made by world-renowned Xiang Gao, the Trustees Distinguished Professor of Music at the University of Delaware and Founding Director of the Master Players Concert Series, to hear the difference between a fake and a genuine Strad.
  • Baseball memorabilia purported to have been autographed by sports legend Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle.
  • Windsor chair that was examined by three “experts” who provided differing opinions in court.
  • Materials analysis that proved that a painting could not have been done by Jackson Pollock, whose genuine work is highly valued and widely collected.

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