Last year, there was some news that shocked many people in Korea and in other countries. It was news about a famous artist’s painting called Mi-In-Do; there was controversy that this painting was painted by someone other than the painter Chon Kyung Ja. The controversy started when the Seoul National Museum displayed the painting on posters for an exhibition in 1991. It became an issue at that time but, as the painter died, it became forgotten. Last year, the artist’s family accused the museum of displaying a forgery and so this issue rose again to the surface. The Korean prosecutor’s office claims that it is real while French authorities dispute this. And this got my attention. I wanted to know about how the authorities know whether a painting is real or not.
There are many different ways to judge an artifact, but the most commonly used technique is just by looking at it. Of course, not anyone can judge a painting just by looking at it. Specialists train for years by looking at a great many paintings of the same artist, so they become familiar with the skills and techniques that the particular painter uses. Over time, they can tell whether something is real or not. But this kind of skill is not foolproof because specialists can have different opinions about a painting. Recently, most of those specialists’ jobs have gone over to the auctioneer, and most auctioneers also get trained so they can judge and carry out the auction themselves.
Technology has developed tremendously, so these days science is a frequently used method to determine the authenticity of an artifact such as a painting. The most commonly used piece of scientific equipment is the x-ray. This technique isn’t expensive and causes minimal damage to the painting. It is even commonly used in hospitals to see the bones and organs inside people, so it is known to be relatively safe. To determine whether a painting is real, this equipment is used to see the sketching done underneath the actual painting, as most painters have their own type of sketch that they do before they actually begin painting. And sometimes they use different materials in their sketches. By taking an x-ray of the painting, we can see whether this sketch was done by the painter or another person. This technology is cheap, safe, and easy to use, so most museums use this technology.
The last type of technique is employed by only one known place, which is famous for having the Mona Lisa. As you have probably guessed, France is the place where this last technology is used. This technology is still developing but it is very accurate. This skill called is called “multispectral digitization” and relies on a lot of science. It is similar to the x-ray, but the difference is that while the x-ray just takes a photo from the top, multispectral digitization takes pictures from many angles. It can also separate and take pictures of up to 1,650 brush stroke layers. It takes 13 measurements from ultra-violets to infra-reds and reconstructs it at 240 million pixels. Through this technology, we can see the strokes of the brush and the way the sketch was done. The technique takes similar parts from the same painters paintings, such as the eye region or the same design of a flower, and compares those regions because, usually, the painter uses the same skills, brush strokes and sketches to paint similar things. This technique is so sensitive that it can also see a sketch that was drawn and then erased.
All of these techniques can help many people from losing money. Also, these technologies can help museums to preserve old paintings and recover them or help them to make the paintings more clear so people can see the way the painting was when it was first painted by the painter. I wanted to show the three most popular techniques used. Of course the only person who knows for sure whether a painting is real or not is the painter herself (or himself). Even if a different painter made a copy using the same paper, skill, and other instruments, it can never be the same as the real painter’s paintings. The technology in art has come a long way from humans’ eyes to the computer. And now fewer people get in trouble with fake paintings. Until this incident with Mi-In-Do not many people had any interest in this side of art. But with this news I became interested in this side of the art world. I hope people keep inventing new skills in uncovering art forgeries so the actual artists will be better protected.