The event, The Application of Forensic Science and Technology in the Art Trade, was organised by the Art Loss Register and more than 90 delegates discussed the pros and cons on a range of related topics.
The November 14 event at The Apothecaries’ Hall in London was chaired by Art Loss Register chairman Julian Radcliffe.
He proposed a way forward for those in the scientific and forensic communities to work together with the art and antiques trade to improve standards in relation to condition reports and verification of art and objects.
Issues were raised regarding the number of badly formed reports for artworks on the market.
Speaker Jennifer Mass, president of Scientific Analysis of Fine Art (SAFA) and a vetter at TEFAF New York, warned of the pitfalls of these unsuitable reports and recommended that a solution is for clients to “rely on a team of experts who have proper credentials in the relevant fields… accreditation helps…”
She added: “We need to educate the public about what quality science looks like… I would vote for an accreditation system.”
Speaking about the concern that some condition reports for items are not done correctly or fully and the fact some previous reports are not available to subsequent buyers of the artwork, Radcliffe argued: “The way forward is to move from the scenario of caveat emptor to the insurance way of working with full disclosure.
“If we move to that we will have a much healthier art trade. Dealers and auction houses should reveal everything they know.
“This is one of the many reasons why some people do not buy or collect. They do not collect as they don’t trust the art trade.”
Prof Andrew Shortland, director of Cranfield Forensic Institute, proposed the creation of a professional body of analysts and recommended ways it could be put together.
On the topic of verification of paintings and how fakes can be determined from the real thing, a number of technology firms spoke on the latest advancements in AI and computer techniques including Carina Popovici, CEO and co-founder of Art Recognition.
However, art dealer, historian and presenter Bendor Grosvenor spoke about his view that everybody from the expert, the connoisseur, the AI tool can, and do, make mistakes and that verifying who an artwork is attributed to is never straightforward.
He said: “There are biases wherever we look. I don’t think we should rely on anything as we all have weaknesses in the system. Can we establish authenticity? Not always, and not all the time. Sometimes we have to accept that ‘probably by Leonardo’ (when referring to the infamous Salvator Mundi) is the best we can do.”