Recently I did some research into the high number of fake Salvador Dalí prints in the world. In particular, I was trying to verify a print that was ostensibly part of his Don Quixote series. Over the years, a lot of supposed Dalí’s have been confirmed as forgeries and it was my job to investigate the issue. Saddled with several catalog raisonnés (complete and verified lists of all works in a particular artist’s oeuvre), I set to learning as much as possible about fakes versus legitimate Dalís.
During the 80s, the height of the forgeries, Dalí himself addressed the issue. In a formal letter published through his lawyer, Dalí denied a rumor that he had signed a vast quantity of blank paper, to be printed on at a later date. He said works made between the 70s and 80s, credited to himself, were to be looked at carefully before they were accepted as true Dalís. Despite his claims, historians have determined that Dalí did, in fact, sign blank sheets of paper, mostly to more easily facilitate his own art. Fortunately, these sheets have almost all been accounted for and are not part of the forgeries themselves. However, their existence made forgery much easier than it might otherwise have been.
Since the 80s, art historians and art appraisers have worked hard to distinguish the real from the fake and offer a number of tools to assist in the process. Most helpfully, the catalog raisonné includes a complete list of the many variations of Dalí’s signature, providing an initial point of comparison for any print in question. Although it is impossible to account for every possible variation of Dalí’s writing, this list offers a reasonable way of eliminating some works.
The catalog also addresses the primary groups of images which spawned forgeries. For example, 1981 was a particularly big year for Dalí forgeries. Some 300 copies on a variety of paper sizes were produced, marked by wide margins and forged signatures. The Don Quixote series is one of many which were copied at this time. A problem with identifying forgeries from this period is that Dalí was such a prolific artist and did produce many originals in 1981 using the same subject matter. It is this precise occurrence which has allowed the forgeries to go unnoticed for so long. It is very easy to assume that a new Don Quixote image is real because it is so difficult to account for all the true variations of Don Quixote.
Other ways to distinguish the forgeries include examination of the process used (etching, lithograph, etc.), the format of the image (the style of figures and how they are displayed), the colors of ink used, and the paper itself. None of these are particularly easy to achieve, requiring verified originals for comparison, but are enough to reveal the most obvious forgeries.
Numerous websites (daliarchives.com; chicagoappraisers.com) offer further help distinguishing the real from the fake. Dalí Archives mentions the Don Quixote series, along with Cervantes, El Cid, El Greco, and Velasquez, as popular sources for forgeries. They explain the various locations on prints that Dalí would sign (often inside the plate, rather than in the margin), offering a further way of weeding out the fakes. The Chicago Appraisers even offer a service to help those with questions about their prints determine their validity.
It is a sad thing that so many forgeries exist by Dalí, or by any artist for that matter. Marc Chagall is another artist whose work is frequently forged. The prevalence of so many forgeries lowers the value of the originals and casts their validity into question. At the same time, the mystery makes Dalí even more legendary, and in this art historian’s opinion, much more fascinating.