The Art of Authentication | Authentication in Focus

May 2021

Tracing the evolution of art authentication from traditional methods like connoisseurship and provenance to modern techniques including scientific analysis and machine learning.

The Tower of Babel, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, c. 1568

It didn't take long after the major commercialisation of the art market for forgery to emerge as a profitable enterprise, followed swiftly by the development of methods to identify such deceptions. Even in modern times, many authentication techniques originate from those early methodologies. Primarily reliant on connoisseurship, these methods hinge on the discerning expertise of a select group of specialists deeply immersed in the life and work of the artist in question. Their judgments are often informed by the catalogue raisonné, considered the authoritative compendium of an artist's body of work. Moreover, establishing provenance linking back to the artist's inner circle or prominent collectors facilitates comparisons between a piece's implicit history and related works.

Beyond human expertise, quantitative methods play a crucial role, enabling Hephaestus to provide world-leading conclusively in its authentications. X-ray analysis, for instance, can unveil underlying paintings, shedding light on their origins. Surface analysis of painting materials, famously utilized in the investigation of the notorious van Meerghen forgeries, offers another avenue, although scientific analysis, like provenance research, connoisseurship and Pictology (AI) analysis, it is not enough standalone to authenticate an artwork.

In the case of the Hans van Meerghen forgeries, the dating of paintings attributed to Johannes Vermeer was confirmed by analysing the proportion of  lead isotopes in the paint. By comparing the actual isotope content with the expected content from Vermeer's era, researchers used elementary differential equations which marked the first instance of mathematical applications in the context of art authentication.

As digital technology continues to advance, computational tools hold promise for revolutionizing the art authentication process. Fractal analysis, for example, has uncovered intriguing correlations between Jackson Pollock's artistic evolution and the fractal dimension of his work. Hephaestus' proprietary machine learning algorithms, powered by AI, undergo training using meticulously curated high-resolution datasets comprising genuine and authenticated artworks, enabling us to offer the most powerful and conclusive art authentication available.

Hephaestus' Certificate of Authenticity

Certificates of Authenticity, by definition, provide essential details about an artwork and are signed by the artist or their representative. In the context of the secondary art market, junk Certificates of Authenticity invariably circulate from unrepeatable individuals and organisations which, as we have seen, fail to secure a given artworks acceptability by the market. At Hephaestus, we want to change this, and this is why our authentications are, from early 2024, protected by authenticity insurance.

We have seen old reports be doctored to purport the authenticity of forgeries, which is a problem faced not just by us, but associated with paperwork more generally. We work with Artclear to tackle this problem, recording our authentications on the blockchain in order to ensure tamper-proof certificates of authenticity and provides transparent access to authentication history for all parties involved. This eliminates the risk of certificates of authenticity being altered or falsified, as blockchain records are resistant to tampering and unauthorized modifications. This enhances the trustworthiness of Hephaestus' art authentication process and provides assurance to buyers, sellers, and other stakeholders in the art market.

Hephaestus' certificate of authenticity and associated transferable insurance product, protects buyers, sellers and, for collectors, opens a world of affordable financial liquidity.

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