Forged Signatures

Dear Kobi, While doing research on fine art prints I came across your site and rather enjoyed your forum on Picasso prints. The reason for the research and even more concern after reading your forum is contained below.

I recently purchased a hand signed Matisse print online from a Canadian dealer. Upon receiving it the certificate of authenticity was suspect. I asked for details or credentials, such as your association with ifaa, and was not given any. The print is from the cover of the Verve 13 publication and I am fairly sure of its authenticity. However, I am concerned with the signature. There is a complete guarantee with the print but I would feel better giving it as a gift knowing the signature wasn’t forged. Do you authenticate or can you recommend someone who could authenticate this print, in particular the signature? Any help in this matter is greatly appreciated. – Robert D.

4 thoughts on “Forged Signatures”

  1. Dear Robert, I don’t specialize in Matisse prints. That said, however, there are certain principles that comprise a common denominator in modern print collecting, and these should apply equally to Matisse as to Picasso. For starters, the main thing, of course, is the authenticity of the print, and I’m glad to hear that you’re relatively confident of that.

    Bear in mind that it’s much easier to forge a signature well than to forge a print well. The dirty little secret is that, with Picassos anyway, it is presumed that a good number of the signatures are forged, at least of certain print editions, such as some in the Vollard series, or in editions that are known to be unsigned. These forged signatures are often indistinguishable from real ones in and of themselves. (Thankfully, the opposite is the case among forged prints, which are generally readily discernable to the trained eye.) Paradoxically, that’s more good than bad, to my mind anyway, because it protects the buyer. Not that I’m advocating or condoning forgery. But if you’ve plunked down twice the money for a “signed” print, it’s nice to know that your investment is safe, because the authenticity of the signature will likely be unassailable.

    Fortunately, some catalogues raisonée of Picasso prints are helpful in describing how many prints in each edition were signed and in which medium (pencil, red pencil, ink, etc.). This provides useful, if limited, information when evaluating the authenticity of a signature. It is also helpful that Picasso’s signature changed over the years, and that some reference books demonstrate representative signatures from various periods. There presumably is, however, the occasional “late” signature.

    As for certificates of authenticity, don’t get me started! These days it seems that just about every alleged work of art is adorned with one. Forget the COA’s, unless they unquestionably derive from an unquestionable source. They’re much easier to forge than a print, or even a convincing signature.

    I am less disturbed by your dealer’s absence of credentials, since maybe he simply isn’t a member of one of the several professional societies, than by his (apparent) unwillingness to furnish the details you’ve requested. Bear in mind that mere membership in these societies does not guarantee honesty. Personally, if the dealer is cagey, I would suspect the worst, i.e., the authenticity of the print should be called into question, unless it really looks good to you and you have the expertise to judge. How did you come across the dealer? Do you have trusted friends who have bought from him in the past? What is the dealer’s return policy? I find that to be generally telling, especially if there is no satisfactory return policy.

    As for your particular print, I won’t be of much use to you with regard to Matisse signatures. If my general answers haven’t satisfied your particular questions, let me know, and I’ll be happy to forward them to a trusted colleague with greater expertise in Matisse. -Kobi

  2. Dear Kobi, I did read your Picasso vs. Matisse assessment and found all but the last sentence objective and have no real argument with it. It’s not quite religion or politics where your freedom or salvation may hang in the balance so I thank you as a Matisse to a Picasso aficionado for your cordiality. Also, who better to ask, aside from a Dali collector, about fakes or forgery then someone with knowledge on the subject but no possible interest in whether my print’s signature is forged. Aside from the compulsory humanities classes in college and what I have picked up in my outside interest in art, I am quite a novice and have mostly purchased more contemporary works by living artist with signed numbered and authenticated editions. Most of my collection is not worth the time or effort to forge. However, I have a spot in my heart for certain mid-century design, music, architecture and art.

    Your paragraph below sums up my predicament and the dealer just puts the art out there since the “COA”is from them and really gives me absolutely no information or confidence. As you state below if the signature is a forgery it’s a very good one and may not be authenticable. Since you have little to no expertise in Matisse maybe I should ask you what you think of either of these items from the same dealer in determining my level of trust. -Robert [The URL’s to Robert’s two web pages have been intentionally omitted, but I refer to them as follows.]

  3. Dear Robert, The first print, a well-known poster of a goat, is not an original print. The original poster is four times its size. The second print is not an original print, but rather a photographic copy of a drawing. Note that there is no catalogue raisonée number, e.g. Bloch number, in either case. Picasso occasionally hand-signed photographic reproductions of his paintings and drawings. These have some market value, though not to me. In fact, if they’re studded with his real signature, some of them sell in the four and low five figures, though not to serious collectors. Picasso didn’t sign photoreproductions of his prints, so the goat is worthless. I don’t know about the other print or, of course, about your “Matisse”. I should add, however, that both Picasso signatures look quite forged, especially that of the second print. -Kobi

  4. Dear Kobi, Once again thank you for your time and the valuable lesson. I am currently making arrangements to return the print. I believe since they operate such a large site they will want to avoid involving the authorities. Although I wonder how many other people buy the stuff and never complain. I think the ratio must be low enough for them to continue with the operation. -Robert

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