Fabulous Fakes: New American Chemical Society video on uncovering potential art forgeries

WASHINGTON, May 5, 2011 — How scientists use chemistry to tell whether works of art are the valuable real thing or worthless forgeries is the topic of the latest episode in the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) award-winning Bytesize Science podcast series.

The high-definition video, “Is that ‘priceless’ painting the real deal or a cheap fake?” is available without charge at and on the Bytesize Science podcast on iTunes. It is based on an article in the latest issue of ChemMatters, ACS’ quarterly magazine for high school students.

This episode describes the “Wacker Case,” one of the most famous frauds in art history, to illustrate the amazing ability of forgers to fool experts, let alone the general public, about the authenticity of works of art. The case involved 33 works allegedly painted by Vincent van Gogh and helped foster the development of scientific techniques, many based on chemistry, to examine paintings at the molecular level and determine their authenticity.

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“We use the same techniques to find forgeries and to solve crimes,” James Martin says in the video. He is a scientist who has investigated forgeries for the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, museums and buyers. “You start by broadly examining the object to look for alterations and restoration, and then, you try to identify materials and compounds in the painting,” Martin adds.

ChemMatters has been connecting chemistry to our every day lives for the past 28 years. Published quarterly by the ACS Office of High School Chemistry, each issue contains articles about the chemistry of everyday life and is of interest to high school students and their teachers. To request a free copy of ChemMatters, go to

For additional entertaining video podcasts from ACS, go to

The Bytesize Science series is produced by the ACS Office of Public Affairs.


New American Chemical Society video features a
famous van Gogh forgery case and the chemical
detective who solved it.