Sotheby’s Acquires Forensic Lab in Bid to Fight Art Fraud

NEW YORK (AP) -

In a bid to fight art fraud, Sotheby’s announced Monday that it had purchased a forensics firm whose founder once helped the auction house belatedly identify a $10 million painting as a fake.

Sotheby’s said that Orion Analytical, based in Massachusetts, will be folded into the company and its founder, the artist, conservator and forensic scientist James Martin, will lead a new scientific research department charged with making sure its works are authentic.

The purchase comes amid a number of recent art forgeries in the art world, including a supposed Old Master painting that was sold by Sotheby’s to an art collector for $10 million in a private sale in 2011.

In March of this year, Sotheby’s declared Portrait of a Man by Frans Hals a fake after questions arose about its authenticity. An in-depth technical analysis by Orion confirmed the suspicion.

Sotheby’s said Monday that the acquisition of Orion and Martin’s appointment would add to collectors’ confidence in the auction house.

Martin, who founded Orion Analytical in 1990, has analyzed the chemical and structural composition of disputed artworks for clients around the world, including private collectors, museums, galleries and the FBI.

“Rather than being retained on a series of one-off assignments when issues arise, Jamie will be establishing a set of protocols to determine which works should be examined proactively, as well as training our specialist staff to identify potential issues, placing us in a position to provide even greater service to our clients,” in the areas of art, objects and wine, Sotheby’s said.

Among his nearly 2,000 investigations, Martin examined the paintings in a sensational art fraud case involving the once highly respected Knoedler & Company, a Manhattan gallery accused of selling forged fakes of modern masters like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko for millions of dollars.

Artworks have long been authenticated based on provenance, style, and paint pigments. But in a market where buyers think nothing of spending millions of dollars on one piece of art, scientific examination that uses state-of-the-art technical imaging, molecular analysis and magnified visual inspection adds another layer of assurance that a work is real.