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At first glance, the word forgery seems unnecessary for a specialised glossary; it’s a common word, readily understood. The briefest definition I found was: (n.) the action of forging or producing a copy of a document, signature, banknote, or work of art. But as a strict definition, couldn’t that apply to a museum gift shop print? The next dictionary was clearer: (n.) 1) The act of forging, especially the illegal production of something counterfeit. 2) Something counterfeit, forged, or fraudulent. So it is not enough that something be a copy, it must be a copy intended to deceive. But how does one determine intent when looking at an object? The definition of forgery may be simple on its face, but in the context of art, its meaning is complex.

The most glamourous forgeries are of course the works by famous artists, hanging in illustrious museums, that are later declared fakes, and the scandal excites the media. But occasionally forgery is done as a hoax, for a craftsman’s amusement— does it only count as forgery if it is believed? And what about reproductions? Copying great works has been the premiere classical technique in art instruction for literally millennia; most marble “Greek” statues in museums are actually later copies from the Romans, who admired Greek art as much as modern viewers. The intent of copying, for an art student, is to learn by doing, by recreating a great work as faithfully as possible, to discover how past artists solved visual problems, and developed their voices and techniques. But if a viewer doesn’t know that, and mistakes a copy for an original, is the viewer deceived? On learning that the piece is a copy, should it be rejected as imitation, without interest?

I don’t know of any cases where something was believed a forgery and then determined to be a purposeful copy, but the concept of student copies has been understood for centuries, so it isn’t strictly this example that is of interest in art crime. Perhaps what is most important is the deeper question it raises— in art, caught between creation, imitation, and forgery, what is authenticity?