The Tale of “Fine Art Treasures”
Kristine Eubanks and her husband, Gerald Sullivan, did not have pristine reputations in the art community when they were charged with art fraud. But few would have suspected them capable of selling $20 million in phony art to thousands of would-be art collectors between 2002 and 2006. Eubanks and Sullivan were able to reach such a considerable audience through their television show, called Fine Art Treasures Gallery, which ran twice weekly on DirecTV.
The pair, who was sentenced to seven years in federal prison in 2010, told their many eager customers that they had acquired their art at estate sales. They claimed to be in possession of works by Picasso, Chagall and Dali. They added forged signatures to each of the works they sold.
Eubanks and Sullivan were able to scam so many people for so long by exploiting the best art reproduction technology available, Giclee printing technology.
Originating in the 1980s, Giclee prints are manufactured using high-resolution digital scans, which are printed using archival quality inks. The Giclee printing process results in greater color accuracy than any other reproduction method.
Giclee prints offer both artists and collectors a number of benefits. Artists looking to make their work available to a larger audience can produce prints whose quality rivals that of traditional silver-halide and gelatin printing processes. At the end of a run, they can destroy the file used to create the prints. By doing this, they can be sure that their work will remain valuable. Signed, numbered, limited edition Giclee prints often enable artists to live off of their work.
For collectors, the main benefit of purchasing a Giclee is more obvious: they can have a reproduction of a painting or photograph that wouldn’t look out-of-place in a museum, art gallery or auction house. In addition, Giclee art prints can be customized to fit the space being decorated. A large Giclee will have the same resolution as a smaller one.
Giclee prints can be almost indistinguishable from an original work; they democratize great art and make it accessible to a larger community of aspiring collectors.
Giclees are more expensive to reproduce than the bulk prints made using traditional lithography and they are priced accordingly, but, it goes without saying, that they aren’t as valuable as original works. Since they can be indistinguishable from originals, however, they are sometimes passed off as original works. When you are buying art—whether it is online or through an auction house (even these august institutions have been fooled into thinking Giclee prints are originals)—you need to be able to identify Giclee prints.
How to Spot a Giclee
The Giclee printing process has become so refined that, from a distance, a Giclee will appear indistinguishable from an original piece. There are, however, ways to identify a Giclee.
Giclees can be printed on a variety of surfaces, including canvas and paper. They are most commonly used to reproduce paintings on canvas. When examining a painting, run your hand along its surface. If the paint looks like it has seeped into the canvas, it is likely a Giclee. If, in contrast, the paint is resting atop the canvas – as if it has been applied and layered – it is likely to be an original.
That said, the Giclee process can approximate the colors and characteristics of a painting with exceptional accuracy. Giclee prints are, after all, essentially pictures of paintings. One easy way to identify a Giclee is to look if it is on paper. If it still appears to have the characteristics one would expect to find of a work on canvas –including brushstrokes, or marks from a palette knife—it is a Giclee print.
The presence of surface texture, in itself, does not ensure that a work is an original. Texture can be added to Giclee prints by hand; cunning fraudsters have fooled sharp-eyed auctioneers and gallery owners using this method. Usually, however, they will not apply the same amount of texture one would be likely to see in an original. If you see scattered textural characteristics, you could be looking at a Giclee.
There is a final way to determine if a painting is a Giclee. If the work is in a frame, you should remove it from the frame and should examine the sides of the canvas. The edge of an original canvas will often have rough and uneven paint edges. These are the result of an artist laying down the base washes and layers of paint. A Giclee will lack these assorted splotches, stains, and smudges. Its edge will correspond perfectly to the edge of the finished canvas, as if the painting had been cut and pasted onto the canvas’s surface.
While the following tip cannot help you determine if a work is a Giclee, it can help you determine if you are examining a mechanical reproduction. When purchasing any painting, you should examine its surface carefully with a magnifying glass. Look to see if the colors are composed of multitudes of small dots or if the image fragments under close scrutiny. The presence of these kinds of dots does not qualify a painting as a Giclee, but it should immediately suggest that the work is an offset or other kind of mechanical print. A Giclee is characterized by smooth, gradual changes in tone and color. This is because, in Giclee printing, ink is applied in microscopic droplets.
Giclee Prints: An Abused Medium
Giclee prints may be prints but they enable artists to disseminate their work to wider audiences, and they enable collectors to enjoy works that would typically be beyond their resources. They have a legitimate place in the art market. Unfortunately, a technology that should have simply made the art market more accessible has, in some instances, been used as a tool of fraud. Being able to identify Giclees can help you avoid falling prey to counterfeiters.
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Jean, thanks so much for the kind words! Glad you found the article useful!
Nice Article.. Very Informative.. Thanks for sharing….art prints.
I have an authentic signed Ivey Hayes Giclee. Can you tell me it’s value? 2003 edition number is “artist proof”
I’m sorry, but I cannot. A giclee is a copy. An “authentic giclee” is the same. It’s value is the joy it brings you, which should be true for art in general.
Most people do not realize that it is unlawful for dealers to discuss investment unless that person haS an SEC license.
I recently tried to purchase a work of art advertised as being a “one of a kind oil painting” from a website called Novica. I happened to do a search using the name of the painting and found that hundreds of paintings with the same name and identical image were being sold on a Chinese website similar to our Amazon or Ebay. I contacted Novica and asked them about it. They contacted the Chinese website and told them to stop selling the knock-offs paintings of the same image that their website was advertising as the original. The Chinese website complied; however I agreed to purchase the ‘original’ only if the Thai artist agreed to provide a signed letter on his personal letterhead that his painting was really a ‘one of a kind original’ as advertised. Novica supposedly contacted him and he agreed but was allegedly out of the country so I would have to wait a month. It’s been four months with no word or follow-up even though I contacted Novica back. My point is that I think the artist was very much in on this scam, perhaps even Novica may have been aware although I have no reason to believe that. They’re still selling other paintings from this artist despite the fact he hasn’t provided a letter as I requested. I don’t trust these foreign websites and I bet my ‘original’ was actually a giclee which is why the artist won’t send me a signed letter.
Often the arrangement includes the artist. Otherwise the artist could sue for copyright infringement.
I congratulate you on your diligence. Regardless what people tell you, always go with your instincts. Russell Tether
Thank you for explaining that in a very simple and informative method. As I’m just preparing myself to buy an Art piece.
Thank you for your information, big help in my Ameritech art collecting!
[…] There are many variables at work to determine the value of an original artwork. The same applies to a reproduction. In the instance of a reproduction, is it a quality fine art giclee reproduction, a ‘fake’ giclee, or a mass produced offset print poster? Russell Tether Fine Art writes an interesting article about how to avoid Giclee print scams. […]
Question: If the Iris print is signed and of a limited edition, does this make it an authentic print with value, or is it basically a poster? It is not made from a plate that is destroyed, so who is to say that it might have a rerun, say a limited second edition printing.
Karen, You bring up very good points and wise to be suspicious. Unfortunately the answer can be just as cloudy. I’ll address the 2 main aspects;
First, if the edition is very large, 250 or more, then the odds of the print gaining significant value are very low, even if its authentic. The artist will have to be a rock star in the art world for the print to appreciate significantly.
Next, there is nothing that prevents the artist from re-printing a series except his own integrity. There have already been instances of artists and photographers re-printing limited edition runs. The collectors of the original editions filed suit to prevent it because it would devalue their works.
I hope I’ve answered your question sufficiently. Russell
Thanks for your good information. I have a question. I price art for a non-profit resale shop. Some are very difficult to distinguish between giclee and original medium. I remember when decoupage was popular, you would brush Elmer’s glue on as a top coat. In doing so you would leave visible.brush marks. This is the same look I am seeing more frequently on consigned art work: obvious brush strokes in the topcoat which do not match brush strokes in the art work itself. Does this signify an item is a giclee?
Unfortunately the existence of brush strokes no long signifies an original. You are correct that companies are placing “brush strokes” over prints using a clear glaze. Also, many artists are highlighting their giclee’s with a few brush strokes of paint, then call them “original giclees” (original copy) and sell them for more money. The best thing is to take the work from the frame and check the edges. Reproductions have crisp, defined edges where the reproduction is mounted on the canvas.