Most people can’t, probably because art forgers can be damnably clever and bold. I’ve been reading The Forger’s Spell by Edward Dolnick, a book full of intrigue and intriguing personalities, over part of my vacation.
In addition to tales of Hitler and his second-in-command Hermann Goering’s race to collect a Vermeer while ravaging Europe, Dolnick includes the fascinating story of Abraham Kuffner. Kuffner was a painter in the early 19th C. who realized the importance of using old materials when creating a fake as well as maintaining a impressive provenance. In 1799, the city of Nuremberg graciously (foolishly…) agreed to lend him it’s prized Albrecht Durer self portrait for the artist to copy.
Kuffner did more than copy the work. This painting was done on a wood panel an inch thick, and the back of it was spangled with seals and marks of past owners. Kuffner simply sawed it into two halves; one half contains Durer’s self-portrait and the other half the seals. He produces his copy onto the original wood panel, and sends his fake back to the city on the original board it came. Nobody noticed the difference, and Kuffner had his very own Durer.
Nuremberg did eventually find out that it’s famous Durer was simultaneously on display in Munich–6 years later Kuffner had sold the real Durer.