A new system for identifying fake Chinese artwork based on trace element analysis is currently under development.
Forensic experts at Cranfield University have collaborated with global auctioneer Bonhams, which will define the practical issues and provide access to core material data.
Colin Sheaf, a Chinese art specialist and chairman of Bonhams’ Asia said: ‘For decades we have sought a forensic technology that will easily and reliably address the authenticity problems generated by 30 years of relentless faking of expensive Chinese ceramics.’
Chinese art, and particularly imperial antique porcelain, has become one of the largest sectors of the global art market in recent years. While prices have soared, so have the ambitions of highly accomplished and technically astute fakers.
Methods do exist to distinguish the genuine antiques from the fakes, but the technology used by auction houses is more than 40 years’ old, invasive and no longer entirely trustworthy, according to Bonham.
Forensic scientists are often able to identify small differences in very rare elements in an object that can reveal information about an object’s place and sometimes date of origin, provided a good database already exists for similar objects. Indeed, trace element analysis is regularly used in many kinds of detective work, such as researching crime scene evidence.
However, it has never been practical in the past to use it systematically in the art market, because obtaining samples has often been unacceptably destructive and databases are neither detailed nor specific enough — a situation Bonhams and Cranfield aim to address.
Dr Andrew Shortland, director of the Centre for Archaeological and Forensic Analysis, said: ‘Cranfield has made significant investments in new laboratories and staff to extend our forensic analytical abilities. The analysis of a wide range of art and historical objects is one of the most exciting growth areas for us and I look forward to developing robust scientific techniques to help them in their identification of copies and fakes.’