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Violinist and Young Woman Edgar Degas
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Violinist and Young Woman (70.167) — Edgar Degas

Fakes, Forgeries and Mysteries

Sunday, November 21, 2010 – Sunday, April 10, 2011

Discover how museum experts work behind the scenes—using science, technology and art historical research—to reveal the DIA's greatest art mysteries.

Image: Head of a King, about 1925, granite. Formerly by unknown artist, Egyptian, either Saite period, 664–525 B.C.E., or New Kingdom, 1570–1085 B.C.E. Currently by Oxan Aslanian “The Master of Berlin” (German, 1887–1968). Collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts

This exhibition has been organized by the Detroit Institute of Arts. Generous support has been provided by Chase. Additional support has been provided by the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, National Endowment for the Arts, and the City of Detroit.


Fakes, Forgeries and Mysteries highlights some of the mistakes and other discoveries made through the years regarding artist attribution, authenticity and value of works in the DIA’s collection. The exhibition illustrates how the DIA constantly re-assesses artworks through research, science, and technology, revealing an aspect of the museum’s work rarely seen by the public.

The show includes 60 paintings, sculptures, photographs, prints, drawings and decorative arts from diverse cultures—European, African, American, Asian, Islamic and Ancient Near Eastern. This diversity of objects provides opportunities to explore issues such as who really created a particular work of art, when it was made, if it is real or fake and other research mysteries at the DIA.

The exhibition begins with a focus on works for which the artist attribution has changed. These came into the collection as being by a recognized artist or culture, but were later determined to be either in the style of a major artist, an exact copy, or by an anonymous artist.

The next section displays known forgeries, with explanations on how the museum came to that conclusion. In some cases, they will be displayed next to authentic works so visitors can see for themselves the different characteristics and clues that led the DIA to determine they were fakes.

The last section contains ongoing "mysteries," for which the jury is still out. For example, the museum is currently examining works by Monet and Van Gogh to determine if they are by the artists, or are forgeries.

Visitors will be able to get a peek into the research that occurs behind the scenes through interactive activities and opportunities for discovery. For example, they will be able to undertake their own artwork investigations at a hands-on lab in the exhibition, which will bring the connection between art and science to life.

Tickets are $12 for adults, $6 for ages 6-17, and free for DIA members. Tickets include museum admission and a cell-phone tour.

Bring your cell phone to access Director Graham Beal's audio commentary on the exhibition. Reception has been improved over the last such tour. Using the system is as easy as dialing a telephone number and then entering the item number that corresponds to a particular image. More than one image may be viewed per phone call. The cell phone gallery guide is provided free of charge; however, you will use your cell phone minutes while connected, regardless of your carrier. A printed copy of the tour is also available.

Click here to purchase tickets.

Private Tours

Click here to learn more about private tours of the exhibition with curator Salvador Salort-Pons.

Student Tours

Tickets for Fakes, Forgeries and Mysteries are $6 per student and include general admission to the DIA. To schedule your visit, call our Group Sales Department at 313.833.1292 or e-mail grouprequest@dia.org.

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A painting of flowers continues to puzzle museum researchers. Is it an original Van Gogh or not? Visitors to the exhibition get to weigh in on this mystery as part of the cell phone tour.


Here's what visitors who went to the exhibition are saying:

It's a Van Gogh!
No way, no how.
Hmmmm…I'm not sure




It's a Van Gogh!

"I think it's original. But, why doesn't it have a signature like the original does?"

"I think it could be Van Gogh in his early years when he was living in Paris."

"It looks like an original to me."

"Not being an expert, I'd say that it is a Van Gogh."

"Yes, I do believe it's a Van Gogh. It has such depth and an incredible, incredible brushstroke to it."

"I think it could be an original. The colors are different, but the flowers are different. The brushstrokes are similar but different. Doesn't every artist want to change and get better? Maybe they get in a rut and want to do something different...This is cool, thanks."

"I think that it is a Van Gogh. It's just when he was starting because the left-hand painting has more unity, the colors are beautiful, it's luminescent. The one on the right, it's like a black pigment instead of a mixed pigment. If it was his, he certainly was just starting to experiment with mixing colors."

"I think that the Van Gogh painting that is up for debate actually is a Van Gogh. It may be earlier than the painting on loan from the National Gallery of Canada. But it definitely has a lot of the characteristics, and the dating still matches up with the cross-section. I do think it's one of his earlier, earlier works, but I believe it's a Van Gogh. Thank you for this great exhibit."

"I'm convinced it's a real Van Gogh. I appreciate the in-depth explanation. Thank you."

"I am in the exhibit, and I believe the one on the right to be a Van Gogh. I would suggest that the colors are maybe slightly muted, but not significantly so with the historical background you gave concerning the studies in color that Van Gogh was interested in at the time. This could have been one of his experimental works, never intending to see the light of day. Thank you."

No way, no how.

"I do not think this is a Van Gogh because the color combination is too conventional. I don't think he would make such closely related colors. And, the brushstrokes are not as thick. It's just too contained, too perfect. He was more...not so perfect."

"I don't think so. The composition isn't nearly as pleasing - that's number one. Second, the ferns aren't given the same skills, passion, or detail in the upper right hand corner. Third, the stalks on the left aren't nearly as skillfully done - the lines are way too straight and long. Plus, the overall color scheme isn't great. And, the vase itself has muddy colors in it, which doesn't seem like it rings true."

"I think the painting the DIA has is not Van Gogh because the paint in the background does not look thick enough. It's much thicker and more textured in the real Van Gogh."

"I don't think the painting on the right is a Van Gogh. There's just some inconsistencies in style. The colors could be attributed to his experiments. But, also the ferns - there's nothing in my knowledge of them. They just look out of place."

"I think the painting on the right is not consistent with Van Gogh. The background doesn't look like Van Gogh's style at all. The colors are quite different. There's not enough orange in the painting on the right."

"No. It is not a Van Gogh. It's way too imprecise, especially in the table area."

"I think that, unfortunately, it looks to me like a forgery. I'm just not convinced. The paint's not as thick. The brushstrokes are similar but they just don't seem to have the same hand in the brushstroke. I'm not convinced. I think it's a forgery."

"No. I do not believe this is a Van Gogh because I think the style is totally different than the other style. The paint strokes are different."

"It doesn't look like a Van Gogh to me. I'm no expert, but the floating parts don't work, and none of the brushstrokes speak of Van Gogh to me. And plus too, the way the fern greenery in the background is handled - Van Gogh never had that much blotty detail. It was much more loose and pristine."

"I'm looking at the Van Gogh painting, and I really don't think the brushstroke is the same. It doesn't look like it to me, in the colors particularly in the ferns and stems. It just doesn't look like Van Gogh."

"As I look at this Van Gogh piece on the left, it is not consistent with the one on the right. I think the one on the right is a forgery, or it could be an earlier work. But, from what I've seen of Van Gogh's work, the brushstrokes are not consistent with the one on the right."

"I do not think it's an actual Van Gogh. I think the DIA has a forgery."

"I think it's a forgery. The brushstrokes just look too wide."

"We think no, because there's no reflections of the vase on the table, the brushstrokes are way too inconsistent - they're all sporadic. That tells us it's not a Van Gogh."

"I don't think it's a Van Gogh. The painting on the left is more vivid - the colors are livelier. The painting on the right is not a Van Gogh. If it is, it's very early - maybe before he even went to Paris."

"I think that it's a fake because if you look at the bottom of the painting to your right you will see that the brushstrokes aren't as consistent and the painting isn't really blended in as much as the painting to the left."

"I think it's a fake because the definition that the speaker advised indicates that there are no clear cut aspects that this is a true Van Gogh. So, I believe that this is a forgery."

"I think it's not a Van Gogh because I see too many different colors and too many different types of brushstrokes in the bottom part under the vase. I'd like it to be a Van Gogh. It'd be great. But, I don't think that it is. It doesn't seem the same to me."

"I believe that the painting on the right is not Van Gogh. I believe that it lacks the delicacy and the definition that the Van Gogh painting has."

"I do not think the one on the right is a Van Gogh. Partly because of the colors, the difference in brushstroke… I never saw any of his other paintings of flowers that used ferns. And, perhaps most important, his paintings of flowers always included some that were about ready to bloom, some that were in bloom, and some that had died. There’s always petals that had fallen, as you see in the painting on the left. For him, philosophically, that was very important in terms of his own view of life. And you don’t see that in the painting on the right. And yet, obviously, it was part of his whole philosophical concern at the time…

Hmmm…I'm not sure.

"I guess I would assume that it looks pretty much like a Van Gogh. Even though it looks more realistic, the colors and the paint analysis seem to confirm that it could very possibly be a Van Gogh."

"I'm not sure I think it's authentic. As I look at the table, in particular, this looks a lot different than how I've seen other Van Gogh paintings look. But, it's very interesting to think about it. Thank you."

"The brushstrokes in the known Van Gogh seem to be much more pronounced than the questionable painting. That's what is jumping out at me."

"I think the flowers look like his, but I think that the plane that the vase is on does not look like his. Although in his description of the new paints he devised ways to use, mostly the mixing of those paints unless they are used singularly are going to result in the browns and tans that we see here. So, I'll have to lie in the middle of my comments."

"While the pigment is consistent with Van Gogh, the style just does not seem to be Van Gogh, especially the fern…or the leaves. Still not convinced.

"Well, until I heard all the background information I would've thought that the one on the right was a fake because it just doesn't seem as subtle as the one on the left. But, I'm a musician, so what do I know? It's a great exhibit. Thank you."

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