The 5 Biggest Art Frauds in Art History

There’s a huge misconception about the art market. The way we think art establishments are the ultimate form of art authentication, certification and verification, is an absolute illusion. Most of the times, not even top experts can identify fakes, and this is something to have in mind: If people weren’t around to witness artists creating every artwork, study or a simple sketch, how can anyone be sure if this artist was the real author behind said masterpiece?

The opaque and rather unregulated art market is actually, pretty vulnerable to forgeries, tax fraud, and money laundering – just to name a few. Therefore, when a new suspicious and polemic art fraud case comes up, everybody acts surprised.

Thanks to Netflix, everybody is talking about the documentary “Made You Look – A Real Story About Fake Art”. Cases like this are a bit more common than one might think. In the end, the art market is an unregulated market for some reason, right?

In this article, I will tell you about 5 of the biggest art market scandals that made a historic mark in the art world.

The Biggest Art fraud in the United States

For almost 20 years, 60 fake artworks from Blue-Chip artists were sold for 80 million Us dollars in the high-end market. Paintings supposedly from Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell among others, were actually, original creations from the Chinese artist Pei-Shen Qian. But, due to this big scheme, the artworks were sold as originals from other artists by Knoedler gallery. At the time, Knoedler was one of the most reputable art galleries in New York, so, as one might expect, no one could ever suspect that such an established institution would be selling fakes.

It all started with a supposedly new and never seen Rothko in the market. Wannabe art dealer Glafira Rosales appeared at Knoedler Gallery – this major fine art dedicated art gallery at the time, under the direction of Ann Freedman, – to show a newly discovered artwork of Mark Rothko. Apparently, this unseen artwork was owned by a secret individual who went by “Mr.x” on official and reviewed documents that, very conveniently testified that this Mr X was inherited a bunch of famous artworks and wanted to sell it all at “cheap” prices. Glafira Rosales wasn’t an agent in the art market by any means, and, from the beginning, all works showed a big lack of proof, evidence and provenance on the history behind where the artwork came from.

From the start, any professional gallerist could see this as a massive red flag. However, not for Ann Freedman, who actively and (probably) knowingly sold 60 fake artworks, summing a total of 80M US Dollars, for 15 years to the biggest art collections and most famous museums. She even sold a fake Rothko to Domenico de Sole chairman of Sotheby’s. Either Freedman was really naïve and – I’m sorry dumb, or she had a big stomach in order to handle such fraud.

Up until today, Rosales is the only person convicted in the case and sentenced to three months in jail… She argued that she was coerced into the scam by an abusive boyfriend, Jose Carlos Bergantinos Diaz, who very conveniently after the scam came public ran away to Spain and God only knows how he managed to avoid extradition to the U.S. on a 12-count federal indictment alleging fraud, money laundering, conspiracy and false statements.

The Knoedler Gallery and its former director, Ann Freedman said they were duped along with everyone else – and have not been charged with any wrongdoings. But because of facing multiple customer lawsuits, the gallery closed in 2011 after 165 years in business.

Well, I guess that if we believe something to be true, no matter how much of a lie it’s proven to be, anything can eventually become true, at least for some time. 

I fully suggest to everybody who wants to know a bit more about the art market to watch the documentary on Netflix “ Made you Look – A True Story About Fake Art”. 

Mary Boone and Tax Fraud

Mary Boone is, without a doubt, one of the most important names of the Contemporary Art Market. Not only was she responsible for launching names as Basquiat and Julian Schnabel in the ’80s. If Vene Vini Vinci could have a physical representation, Mary Boone embodied it. Who would have guessed that a woman born and raised in a poor Egyptian household would make it to the big man’s game in the high-end art market in New York? Even if arrested a few times, Boone deserves at least, a ton of respect.

On September 5, 2018, the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York filed a suit against Boone for multiple false statements on her Income Tax Return for 2011. The extent of Boone’s false tax statements spanned both her gallery’s forms as well as her personal forms.

Boone, who was 66 at the time, admitted to filing income tax returns falsely, claiming approximately $1.6 million in personal expenses as tax-deductible business expenses in 2011, holding a 90 per cent partnership interest in the gallery she owned. According to the prosecutors, she directed her accountant to file fraudulent 2011 federal income tax returns for her gallery and her, individually. In 2011, the gallery reported a false business loss of approximately $52,521, even though the gallery actually made a profit of approximately $3.7 million in 2011.

Mary Boone was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for two counts of tax fraud. Currently, she is back home and we never know if she will be back in the game again. But if Ann Freedman has made it back into business, there is certainly enough room for Mary Boone to continue her business, too.

Sotheby’s and Christie’s Price-Fixing Scheme

Prior to 1995, Sotheby’s and Christie’s, the world’s largest auction houses, were in fierce competition for consignments from sellers. At times, they would drastically cut commission rates paid by sellers, make donations to sellers’ favourite charities, and even extend financial guarantees to sellers. In March of 1995, this competition abruptly ended. Christie’s announced that it would charge sellers a fixed, non-negotiable commission on the sales price, and, a month later Sotheby’s followed the same steps and announced the same policies. Detailed documents kept by Christopher Davidge, Christie’s former chief executive, show that the abrupt change was due to a price-fixing conspiracy. Christie’s cooperated with the US Department of Justice in their investigation, and Sotheby’s ultimately pleaded guilty to fixing sellers’ commissions.

Both auction houses Sotheby’s and Christie’s accepted each to pay $20 million to settle antitrust litigation related to a costly price-fixing scheme. After the scandal, the two houses agreed to jointly pay clients $512 million. Sotheby’s also paid $45 million in criminal fines in the United States and $70 million to shareholders.

European Union authorities fined Sotheby’s $20.1 million in October 2002 for operating a price-fixing cartel. However, London-based Christie’s managed to escape fines for being the first auction house to provide verified and regulated evidence to the government.

The auction process appears to have resulted in a resounding success for the class action participants as a group. The damages were estimated to total between $50 and $75 million for each plaintiff over the 5 years of the conspiracy. Even after tripling these damages, as the US statute requires, the plaintiffs were very well rewarded given that they did not even have to risk a trial.

Fake Picasso Sold at Sotheby’s

Divorces among billionaires are usually messy, but there was absolutely no need to be this messy if you ask the Wall Street Investor Bill Gross, who discovered that the Picasso he was selling at Sotheby’s was in fact, a fake. His ex-wife got the original painting and replaced it with a fake that she painted herself…

The painting in question, which Picasso created in 1932, features Marie-Thérèse Walter, a 17-year-old French model whom Picasso began a relationship with when he was 45 and still living with his first wife, Olga Khokhlova, and their five-year-old son. 

But the story behind how the painting made its way to Sotheby’s is just as juicy and interesting, as usual. Sue Gross was awarded the painting in August 2017, after she and Bill agreed to divvy up some of the marital assets by making alternate picks between each asset. In a coin toss, Sue got to pick first — and selected the Picasso. Bill Gross is a great investor, but I guess his memory isn’t functioning in full capacity… How can one miss that?

Yves Bouvier and His Billion Dollar Commissions

Yves Bouvier is probably one of the shadiest names in the art market. A man who made a billion out of one and only piece. That already sounds shady and unbelievable in itself.

Yves Bouvier has always been a businessman until the day he had the luck of being introduced to Dmitry Rybolovlev and becoming his private art advisor. For small art advisors like me, having a client like Dmitry is a dream that not many advisors will ever get. Seeing how much Dimitry was ripped off is an ethical and moral burial to everything I’ve ever learned about the art world…!

In court documents, the Russian collector said that Bouvier presented himself as an advisor and was paid a commensurate fee, but dramatically marked up the price of artworks before selling them.   

Rybolovlev first brought an action against Bouvier in 2015, accusing him of fraudulently marking up the price of a slew of artworks (which notably included Leonardo da Vinci’s now-infamous Salvator Mundi) that Bouvier was to broker for him for $1 billion over 12 years. Bouvier has always maintained his innocence, arguing that he was operating as a dealer, not a broker, and therefore, was within his rights to take this massive commission.

A court in Monaco dismissed a similar criminal case Rybolovlev filed against. Meanwhile, Rybolovlev himself has been charged in connection with a corruption probe in the city-state. 


  • If an almost impossible art piece ever comes your way, just be cautious. Don’t be dumb and don’t get fooled: if the evidence is unclear of where this masterpiece comes from, be hesitant. Most likely this million-dollar money maker is probably fake and it will cost you a couple of years of your life if you get caught in a foolish mistake.
  • If you’re ever considering doing tax fraud with the artworks that you’re selling and buying – just don’t. Yes, well planned, you might get away with it for a few years but being caught is inevitable.
  • Always verify an exceptional artwork with more than a couple of experts. If you’re unsure of where it comes from, always get a third or fourth opinion about its provenance.
  • And yes, although auction houses are probably the safest way to purchase valuable artworks, always try and double-check with experts, historians and art forensics. Always demand the right paperwork and documentation about the piece’s whereabouts and history. It’s easy to be fooled, so make the right and correct steps when purchasing something that can be valued at millions or just even thousands.

Why Do Artists Make Self-Portraits (and what we learn from them)

Self-portraits aren’t new in the art world, actually it is thanks to the self-portrait ‘culture’ that the selfie exists. In a way, self-portraits are actually the oldest version of the selfie.But, why do artists make self-portraits? What is actually self-portrait? What can we learn from artists?

A self-portrait is a representation of an artist created by that artist. Thought history self-portraits have been made in every medium imaginable – photographs, paintings, drawings, sculptures etc. Therefore, while with painting the artist is free to represent anything his or her mind can imagine, with photography artists need to be more ‘realistic’.

Once a self-portrait is more complex than it looks, we’re going to explain it deeper. From history to what we can learn from artists about self-portraits, we will cover the best topics of this area.

What’s the difference between an portrait and a self-portrait?


Portraiture is a very old art form born on ancient Egypt, where it flourished from about 5,000 years ago. During that times, before the invention of photography, the only way to record the appearance of someone was through painting, sculpture or drawing. Portrait was created in order to represent a person/ someone, in which the face and its expression is predominant.


Artists’ self-portraits are an interesting sub-group of portraits. Although self-portraits have been made since the earliest times, it is not until the Early Renaissance ( mid-15th century ) that artists can be frequently identified depicting themselves as either the main subject, or as important characters in their work. A self-portrait is basically a representation of an artist about himself that does not necessarily needs to be representational. The artist his free to draw himself in any style, in order to represent his psychological/emotional features, in the piece.

Rembrandt self-portraits are particularly famous.

Rembrandt van Rijn
Self-Portrait, 1636.
Rembrandt van Rijn
Self-Portrait, 1636. Oil on panel (1606-1669) Norton Simon Museum Picture by: rocor

In conclusion, while a portrait refers to any painting that represents a human figure, a self-portrait refers to a painting that represents the artist that produced it, with his own ‘style’.

The 3 main ways to tell the difference between a self-portrait and a portrait

Title Artists will often identify their self-portraits as such
Action A self-portrait will often depict the artist at work in the process of painting his or her own image
Context The artist’s subject matter may cue the viewer to the identity and character of his or her self-image.   

Self-Portrait vs Selfie

Selfies and painted self-portraits share many similarities. Both selfies and self-portraits are forms of self-representation using different technology. While smartphones and cameras are types of technology, mirrors and painting are other types. Nowadays, everybody takes selfies, maybe we don’t think about but they represent our personal sense or self in that moment.

So what is the difference?

While Self-portraits are created to be read as art, selfies are born of photography practices. It is dangerous to read selfies in the same way as art, to ignore the context of their social interaction and the intent of the selfie-taker. In a contemporary perspective the selfie can be considered the evolution of the self portrait. Therefore, majority of people in the indrustry doesn’t have a consensus about it.

Why do artists make self-portraits?

Throughout history, self-portraiture has remained a tried and true practice between artists. Historically, in fact, artists used self-portraits as a kind of calling card, attesting to their ability to capture a likeness and giving a sense of their capabilities. And, yes, self-portraits are convenient exercises because the model is always available and works for free. But a self-portrait can evoke and reveal much more when taken beyond the bounds of straightforward exercise.


Self portraits help artists practice. The more an artist can practice the best.  The human form is a pretty complex subject to tackle, so the more practice, the better.

A Convenient Model

It’s common for artists to draw from life, which means using models. Hired models can be pricy, and that expense can add up, so drawing from life by looking in a mirror is a lot cheaper. Also, making self portraits is really convenient – you can always pose for yourself whenever you want to, while hiring models or having someone pose for you means you’ll have to figure out scheduling.

To explore themes and ideas in their artwork

Self portraits can also be used for a series exploring various compositions with underlying meaning, such as the exploration of the artist’s self.

Record the artist’s self

Self portraits can also be used to record the way the artist looked at the time the portrait was made.

To Demand Their Place in Art History

Why Do Artists Make Self-Portraits
Adelaide Labille – Guiard Self-Portrait with two pupils, 1785 Pic by: Rodney

Probably you don’t know, but during renaissance era, being an artist wasn’t an option for a woman. This catchphrase demonstrates the popularity of self-portrait but, at the time reveals the inherent gender inequality. At the time, women couldn’t take life-drawing classes. As an way to suprass this problem woman started practicing on her friends or even themselves

What can we learn from them ?

As we can observe before, artists have experimented with painting themselves long long time ago. Therefore, it’s funny to see that even being in the smartphone era, with over 93 million selfies taken daily, self-portraits remain an important part of many artist’s creative process. Why never fell out of fashion, and what can we learn from this process?

Self-portraits can motivate testing and learning

Anyhow, self-portraiture provides a safe place to play and experiment with new techniques. When you’re alone, you have all the time in the world and can work without deadlines and without being judged. Early sketches and test shoots can be make privatly allowing artists to experimenting privatly and learning from that process.

Self-portraiture can unlock the imagination or provide an escape

Artists aren’t normal people (in the good sense), and obviously they have a better imagination that any other person that you will ever meet. Some artists like to represent themselves in different styles, color ranges, moods, as a way to scape ‘reality’ in order to expand their imagination and creativity.

Self-portraits can foster self-acceptance

It’s well know that when some people hear their voice recorded they feel like isn’t their real voice. That is because your sense of self is different from the others sense of self toward us. While self portraying ourselves can be scaring, can also help us to acept our imagine and to see our best features that probably we never realised before.

Self-portraits can remind us of our origins

If you, for example, are a foreigner in other country and have different features, drawing yourself over and over again will make you remind about your roots each time you draw. This way, you will be more connected with your roots and even use it as a strength among others.

Self-portraits can help us to connect with others

The way that artists portrait themselves can inspire others. Once artists use their imagination and ideas in order to create anything the connection process is always present. This way artists that take risks or are somehow more creatives can inspire and connect others.


As human beings we like to be remember, otherwise self-portraits wouldn’t be a thing since the Egyptians. Therefore, even with the human evolution self-portraits never went off fashion, and that means something. As an art advisor I’m always fascinated from the way that artists think. They always have different perspectives about the world, otherwise they wouldn’t be artists.

In conclusion we can learn that self-portraits are much more than self portraits for artists. Self portraits are like a seed that develops over time, in this case in a skill. A skill that can motivate, can foster self-esteem, can reminds us of our origins or even help us to connect with others.

Sources :

Artists Explain Why They Paint Self-Portraits

Why Female Artists Have Used the Self-Portrait to Demand Their Place in Art History

Universal Principles of Depicting Oneself across the Centuries: From Renaissance Self-Portraits to Selfie-Photographs

If you liked this article and want to know more check our previous article about prints :

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