eBay Art Fraud

eBay may be a great tool for contemporary painters to sell their work online as the paintings usually only sell for hundreds or perhaps a few thousand at most. So investors can afford to take a risk on the work.

But when paintings start selling for very large sums, art collectors seem reluctant to gamble online. One high profile case of art fraud that didn’t help the cause was back in 2000 when a Californian lawyer by the name of Kenneth Walton sold a fake Richard Diebenkorn painting for $135,805.

Basically, he played dumb and pretended that he found the work at a garage sale and helped the eBay auction along by getting his business partner to keep bidding on the work. It was eventually found to be a forgery signed by Walton, which got him plenty of media coverage and the attention of the FBI.

Anyway, now he has written a book (Fake: Forgery, Lies, & eBay) about it and seems to be cashing in on the whole eBay art auction scam. It’s sad that a fraud can profit from his crime by writing a book about it, but such is life.
Here’s some quotes by Kenneth Walton from an interview with the Wired magazine..

  • My description of the Diebenkorn painting was just a complete fable to make me look like a hapless everyman rube who found this painting in his garage, didn’t know it’s by Diebenkorn and puts it up and there’s these letters in the corner but he doesn’t know to mention and they just happen to appear in the corner of one of the photographs.
  • I was forced to quit selling on eBay and eBay banned me for life and I had to give up my law license, so I really didn’t know what to do for my career.
  • I don’t know if I could necessarily call it redemptive. It was very cathartic, and it was a way for me personally to come to terms with what had happened. Even if no one buys it, it was great for me to go through the process of writing.

He also seems to be doing quite well according to his website over at kennethwalton.com (I couldn’t bring myself to make the link live to his homepage as it felt like I was supporting an art fraud).

About Dion

Australian artist and observer of things.. all kinds of things. I like a wide variety of art, from the weird and wonderful to the bold and beautiful.. and everything in between.


  1. Interesting blog about fake art on ebay:


  2. Damn, I didn’t know there would be a need for such a blog!
    But obviously there is. I can’t believe people can get away with this stuff, or that people would be foolish enough to bid on them.

  3. I find this fraud story quite neat. If it lead to a book (and if the book is any good), then all the better. Think of all the fraud that we don’t consider fraud. Did Picasso make “fake” Picassos and sell them? In a technical sense, this is impossible. It is even difficult to ask ourselves the question. But it seems to me that there are painters who commit the legal fraud of signing their own names to work which is not the best they can do. This relates to your previous post: Rich artists, bad art?.

    As for eBay, I don’t think it will hurt them a bit. I had no idea that art was selling for that much money on-line, even if it was “fake”.

    Proposal: there is no such thing as “fake art”, or alternatively, all art is “fake”. Given this, buy what you like and don’t obsess about names so much.

  4. Karl,
    I find this an interesting comment and very attractive in the sense that we should love or hate art for what it conveys….not for the little name scrawled in the corner.

    On the other hand, for better or worse, there is great value both emotional and physical based on an artist’s signiture. The idea that the art came directly from the artists hands (or their understudies…see Lisa’s blog) is important to your average collector. People often buy art, from an artist they love, that they have less of an emotional attachment to.. because of availability or cost. And I would argue that often they derive just as much pleasure from owning it.

    (Art News Blog and Karl…hope you don’t mind I swiped soe of this conversation for my own blog! Thanks)

  5. You’re making my head hurt Karl!
    The art world makes more sense if we don’t think about it too much. We have to accept that it’s floored and often irrational, but that’s just how it is.

    Names will remain important for as long as ticker symbols will remain important on the stock exchange.

    I would love to see Damien Hirst charged for producing
    ! That would be too funny.

    He gives legitimacy to the term “all art is fake”.

  6. Anonymous says:

    There is an ongoing investigation into the fake art prints after Picasso, Dali, Chagall and more. It is said that a new “great dali fraud” book will be coming out once the investigation is over. I believe the investigation has lasted 6 years now and there are many more that will get popped soon. There is a site that would interest you about this at http://www.art-fraud.org

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