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B is for Buttersworth F is for Forgery

B is for Buttersworth, F is for Forgery

Solve a Maritime Art Mystery

This exhibition is now closed.

The Mariners’ Museum is taking a stand against art crime with its latest exhibition, B is for Buttersworth, F is for Forgery: Solve a Maritime Art Mystery.

Hidden in plain sight among 35 paintings by 19th century maritime artist James Edward Buttersworth is a modern forgery. Museum visitors will become detectives as they examine the paintings for style and composition techniques, and see if they can detect the forgery from the authentic paintings.

With more than 30% of the art market made up of fakes and forgeries, this exhibition raises awareness of a serious crime in the art world. “This is a new way to get people to look carefully at the details in a work of art without needing a Ph.D. in art history. We wanted a clever way not only to encourage people to look at these paintings but also discuss the issue of art forgery,” Chief Curator Lyles Forbes said.

By taking this approach to interpreting its collection, The Mariners’ Museum will engage its visitors in an unconventional manner with maritime art, seeking to reach a broader audience than only maritime art connoisseurs. “This is an art exhibition for everyone,” Forbes said.

This exhibition was made possible in part thanks to a donation of sixteen Buttersworth’s paintings from Janet Schaefer, who held the collection along with her late husband, Rudolph Schaefer. The donation came to the Museum in December 2012.

A painting by James E. Buttersworth

The John J. McMullen
Maritime Arts Gallery

B is for Buttersworth, F is for Forgery: Solve a Maritime Art Mystery is the inaugural exhibition in the new John J. McMullen Maritime Arts Gallery, located in the space formerly known as The Daily Press Gallery.

It was Dr. McMullen’s Desire for the Museum to have a space to highlight its impressive maritime arts collection as well as traveling exhibitions.

Fake or Forgery?

A fake is an exact duplication of an original work of art.
A forgery is the creation and sale of a work of art in the style of, and falsely credited to, another artist.

Greed is often the leading factor in why fakes and forgeries are made. As prices in the art market continue to rise, the temptation to misrepresent art for profit becomes stronger than ever. Ingenious forgers have the ability to distort the art historical record, corrupt the body of work of well-known artists and alter our vision of the past. Some go to great lengths to fool the experts by using paints and materials typical of the period and replicating the aging process on the back and frame as well as the surface of the painting. Two artists represented in this exhibition attempted to fool the experts by mastering techniques of the artist they copied, and fraudulently signing Buttersworth’s name, to increase the stature and value of the painting.

Detecting a Forgery

The art world has yet to develop a foolproof system for authenticating works. The current system is based on a three-pillar approach which relies upon input from the following areas:

  • connoisseurship — a person with expert training in characteristic features of an artist’s style and technique gives their opinion as to whether the work appears to be “right”
  • provenance research — an evaluation of the history of an artwork’s origin, ownership, exhibit history and transactions, including a detailed examination of accompanying documentation
  • technical analysis — scrutiny with scientific equipment of a work’s material components to determine if they are consistent or inconsistent with a purported age or attribution of the work

Maintaining Collection Integrity

Museums exist to protect and display genuine works of art, with authenticity at the heart of a museum’s purpose. Presenting inauthentic artwork to the public gravely undermines the mission of a museum to preserve our cultural heritage. The weight and seriousness of the public trust demands that museums be vigilant of misrepresentation and conduct the necessary research and due diligence on new acquisitions and patron donations.

– Information from Colette Loll, Founder and Director of Art Fraud Insights

Save the Date!


Thursday, January 22 • 7 p.m.

“Fakes, Forgeries and the Art of Deception”
Presented by Colette Loll

Fakes and forgeries were once the dirty little secret of the art world, and no gallery, museum or auction house has ever been entirely free from the embarrassment of a costly error of misattribution or faulty provenance. Today, forgery scandals and the bungling of authentication are making big news, spurring a growing public interest in deciphering these costly mistakes. A recent flurry of books, conferences and exhibitions dedicated to fakes, forgeries, mistakes, and misattributions is evidence that the age-old art of forgery has never intrigued the public more than it does today.

 Read more or buy tickets


Thursday, March 26 • 7 p.m.

“Art Crime: Pursuing the Priceless”
Presented by Robert Wittman

The Wall Street Journal called him “a living legend.” The Times of London dubbed him “The most famous art detective in the world.” Rising from humble roots as the son of an antiques dealer, Wittman built a twenty-year law-enforcement career that was nothing short of extraordinary. He founded the FBI’s National Art Crime Team and served for 20 years as the FBI’s investigative expert in this field. Armed with a scholar’s passion, a con man’s smile, and a daredevil’s nerves, he worked undercover to catch art thieves, scammers, and black market traders in Paris and Philadelphia, Rio and Santa Fe, Miami and Madrid. By the FBI’s accounting, Wittman saved hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of art and antiquities. He says the statistic isn’t important. After all, who’s to say what is worth more—a Rembrandt self-portrait or an American flag carried into battle? They’re both priceless.

 Read more or buy tickets

Special Thanks to our Exhibition Sponsors:

Bank of America logo
Newport News Arts Commission logo

Special Thanks to our Community Partners:

WHRO Public Media logo