Prints by Salvador Dali are typically met with skepticism, as his works are notoriously found to be inauthentic. In Albert Field’s official catalogue raisonné for Dali graphic art, an original print is considered “one for which Dali created all or part of the image on the plate or stone directly or by transfer.” In order to determine the authenticity of a Dali print, many factors must be considered and it is important to compare all qualities of the print with the catalogue raisonné. In the catalogue each print is detailed with a photograph, title, print medium, plate size, edition sizes, types of paper used, publisher/printer, and date. All of these details need to match up in order for a print to be considered authentic.
In order to determine that the print at hand has been printed properly, the blind stamp (an embossed seal) of the printer/publisher needs to be evaluated, as well as the watermark on the paper itself. It is also important that the edition number matches what is notated in the catalogue. Unfortunately, for some editions of a number of prints, unknown quantities of unnumbered AP and EA have been made in hundreds. Experts have questioned the amount of proofs that were actually signed by Dali. It is also important to note the manner in which a print has been signed. Some listings in the catalogue outline whether Dali signed in colored pencil or pencil, as well as the number of editions that he signed. On August 14, 1986, Dali signed a new statement, in English, that he had signed no editions during the entire year of 1980. Additionally, Dali’s genuine signatures on documents from 1980 and after are shaky and infirm, clearly made by a trembling hand due to severe nerve damage. Therefore, signatures on prints published after 1980 in a firm hand are not by Dali and are forged. At times Dali left Paris for New York and would leave pre-signed blank sheets in advance of printing so that his printer could complete the edition. Whatever had not been used was returned to him and destroyed. All sheets were used for authentic editions. However, there are false reports that Dali had signed between 40,000 and 350,000 blank sheets for later printing. These claims are believed to have been spread intentionally by fraudulent publishers to cover up the fake signatures.
Also included in the catalogue is a guide to prints that have been excluded from the catalogue raisonné: those denounced by Dali, extended editions, restrikes, “afters”, pastiches, counterfeits, and facsimiles. Because there have been so many accounts of fraud, the Dali print market is often met with suspicion. Even printers that were trusted by Dali had taken advantage and created extra or new prints for their own benefit.
Center Art Galleries in Hawaii is one of the most notorious Salvador Dali art fraud cases. In 1984, The Washington Post published an article about a very prominent art gallery that was considered by many art dealers to be one of the nation’s biggest art galleries. The article described how the owner, Bill Mett, came to buy the gallery as a young lawyer with minimal knowledge of art, but worked hard to turn it into a worldwide business. Much of what they sold were prints, although they also carried original works. At the time of the article, the gallery had many critics in the art world who said Mett used elaborate marketing techniques in order to sell art at extremely high prices to tourists on vacation. The gallery would keep in touch with their clients, continuing to promote artworks and pushing their clients to purchase additional pieces once they had returned home, and many did.
Center Art Galleries was also considered to be one of the biggest dealers for works by Salvador Dali. While they sold many authentic Dali prints by other publishers, the gallery also counterfeited a number of prints. There is no evidence that Dali participated in any of these works, despite the gallery’s insistence that the works were authentic originals. Many of the reproductions were copied from originals that the gallery owned, and there is no proof that Dali approved or signed any of these works, making the signatures forgeries. Mett and his art curator, Marvin Wiseman, provided certificates of authenticity, as well as appraisals with all of their works, often sending updated appraisals periodically to their clients. The “Confidential Appraisal Certificate of Authenticity” continued to state that the works were originals, and reflected an increase in value of the works. These fraudulent prints were being created during a time when there was already much speculation about authenticity regarding works by Dali. Many major auction houses and art dealers wouldn’t even consider consigning works published after 1950, as there was a greater risk that they were not right, and that the signatures were forgeries.
In 1987, Center Art Galleries became one of the largest Dali forgery rings ever uncovered. Federal agents seized over 12,000 prints and sculptures from the gallery, and in 1990, Mett and Wisemen were convicted and sent to prison. They served thirty-six and thirty months, respectively. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service received court permission to auction off the seized artwork, in order to offset some of the lengthy trial costs. This sale took place in Belmont California in October of 1995, and was handled by Koll-Dove Global Disposition Services. In addition to the sale of the fraudulent works, some authentic pieces by other artists were sold as well. The pieces were represented appropriately and sold as fakes, but oftentimes were only stamped on the back of the framed works, which can easily be removed. This means that many of the works have come to market again, often sold as originals by owners, and purchased by unsuspecting buyers. As such, the gallery and a list of known forged prints, are included in Field’s catalogue raisonné. While these works can still be sold legally, they should be advertised as prints “after” Dali.
Field, Albert, The Official Catalog of the Graphic Works of Salvador Dali, authorized by Dali, Astoria: The Salvador Dali Archives, 1996.
Vise, David A. “Chain Carves Prominent Place In Art World,” The Washington Post, October 7, 1984.
Examiner Staff Report, “Auction to feature fake Dali prints from art fraud case,” SFGate, October 20, 1995.