Keeping up with what’s authentic and what’s not when it comes to fine art is an important factor in the business of art sales. A fine art collection is one of the major financial investments that a person can make because they can usually count on a good return over time. The profit usually comes to those who are able to purchase “an original”, but as time goes by finding an original artwork by a past master artist becomes harder - and its authenticity gets more difficult to prove.
Just recently an almost thousand year old scroll titled Gong Fu Tie, believed to be an original work of art by a poet named Su Shi, had doubts cast on its authenticity. The art of calligraphy has ancient roots in China, and these aesthetic paper and silk artworks have always been treasured collectibles. The traditional artwork by Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese artists over the centuries is revered throughout East Asia, and China has placed strict rules on the sales of calligraphic art to prevent frauds and fakes.
In September 2012, Sotheby’s New York had an auction in which the scroll was estimated to sell for as much as a half million USD, and instead the hammer fell when the bidding reached an unexpected high of 8.2 million USD! But Sotheby’s worldwide reputation for authenticity is on the line now, because three art historians at the Shanghai Museum have declared the scroll a reproduction from the 1800's. Of course, the new owner of the scroll, Liu Yiqian, is waiting to see what happens, while Sotheby’s and the Shanghai Museum’s art historians try to verify the scroll’s true age and creator. If looking back he feels that he made a mistake by paying sixteen times as much as the estimated high, Yiqian might be happy that a refund could be coming his way. On the other hand, since he’d planned to display the prized scroll in his private museum located in Shanghai, he may be very disappointed on that account.
The practice of making reproductions and copies is very common these days, and for centuries it has been considered a necessary step to preserving the history in deteriorating paper and silk artworks. It was also the best way to educate young and aspiring calligraphers in the art. Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) most likely learned in the same method, and he wrote on many of his pieces. His Poetess Ononokomatschi and Mountain Landscape with a Bridge are two examples of his style of calligraphy which is placed directly into the scene.
Original artworks have much to be said for them, but the copies and legitimate reproductions that have made it into public and private collections should be no less appreciated for their beauty and style. It’s time we should all get back to rediscovering the basic element of art appreciation. In other words, try to remember that it's not necessarily the price tag, but the way an artwork makes you feel which is the important thing. The next time that you shop for art, you should shop with your heart.