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.