May 6, 2024

Revolutionising Art Authentication - Hephaestus Analytical, trailblazer rising

Hephaestus has pioneered the highest evidentiary standard in art authentication.

Revolutionising Art Authentication - Hephaestus Analytical, trailblazer rising

Art transactions continue to be plagued by forgeries, and trust alone among the various players is not sufficient to prevent damage to the market. Art authentication has always been a critical aspect of the art world, but it can often be unclear and confusing, as determining provenance and legitimacy are constant concerns. Recently, we had the pleasure of attending a talk by Denis Moiseev, founder of Hephaestus Analytical at an art law seminar.

Hephaestus Analytical is a pioneering business that is revolutionising the authentication process.

Recently, we visited Denis again at his office in Battersea Power Station where we had the opportunity to discuss Hephaestus Analytical in more detail, and we are excited to share what we learned:

How did the idea of Hephaestus Analytical first come about? What inspired it besides the obvious desire to help eliminate forgeries from the art market?

During my History of Art MA, I became fascinated by the material possibility of creating a ‘perfect’ forgery. It quickly became evident that the art market’s due diligence practices in authentication and attribution were lacking. Skilled forgers could reverse-engineer scientific tests used as evidence to substantiate authenticity, and instances of science applied unscientifically created a pervasive notion that methods were inconclusive and inaccurate.

Surprisingly, genuine authenticity guarantees do not exist in the art market. More concerning yet, scientific testing to guarantee authenticity was described by one prominent art market company as being a ‘first-mover disadvantage’.

Hephaestus was founded in 2018 to finally rectify this glaring issue undermining confidence across the industry. We provide solutions that give collectors, museums, dealers, and advisors peace of mind about the authenticity of artworks.

Ultimately, our mission is to catalyse an art market underpinned by guaranteed authenticity, spurring improved confidence in the market and unlocking greater access to liquidity.

Please tell us about the key differentiating factors and the innovations of your authentication protocols versus what is currently being offered as an authentication service in the market?

Hephaestus has pioneered the highest evidentiary standard in authentication and has collaborated with a major insurer to develop an authenticity insurance product – the first-ever third-party guarantee of authenticity available in the market.

Authentication has traditionally depended on isolated expert opinions, and there has never been a standardised benchmark for scientific or academic expertise. This lack of methodological rigour enabled the circulation of subpar, ‘junk reports’ while allowing conflicts of interest to affect expert attributions.

We are disrupting the status quo. Leveraging partnerships with world-leading specialists, Hephaestus’ multimodal authentication protocol brings together the elements of authentication: scientific analysis, connoisseurship, provenance research and Pictology (AI analysis) under one roof. By doing this, we are able to provide our clients with an unprecedented and conclusive authentication service.

In addition, our insurance partners back the integrity of our attribution evaluations with financial guarantees. We understand the opaque complexity that collectors face in navigating the authentication landscape. Hephaestus finally provides the trusted confidence and security they deserve when acquiring artworks.

Your report provides a clear diagnosis of whether the painting is a forgery or not. This is different from other reports in the market that only give an indicative assessment rather than a conclusive diagnosis. What makes your diagnoses conclusive?

At Hephaestus, we believe openly addressing the uncomfortable realities of the art world is the only path to growth. It is impossible to solve a problem that cannot be named, yet market participants have long skirted around words like ‘forgery’ and have not addressed issues with methodologies that mistakenly rubberstamp works as genuine.

Let’s consider an example: if an X-ray reveals a hidden sketch aligning with the artist’s known preparatory drawings, does this irrefutably confirm authenticity? Not necessarily. A skilled forger briefed on the artist’s exact materials and methods could easily plant deceiving ‘evidence’ tailored to forensic tests.

Our multimodal protocol was designed holistically, assessing scientific data alongside the indispensable perspectives of connoisseurs and provenance researchers. By consolidating the complex puzzle pieces that underpin attribution evaluations, we are able to provide clarity to our clients.

Where are you hoping to take Hephaestus Analytical in terms of progress in the next five years?

As Hephaestus continues to expand its number of private and institutional clients, we will establish a benchmark in due diligence standards in the art market.

Hephaestus will continue to expand its authentication services by engineering new technologies, reducing costs and accelerating turnaround times. In parallel, we are developing ancillary financial products that will act as incentives for authentication: for example, authenticated artworks will unlock access to preferential loan terms, courtesy of collateralisation capacities only Hephaestus can securely enable.

Ultimately, Hephaestus’ mission will remain the same: eliminate forgery from the market.

Who are your target clients, and what other market participants do you hope to attract as the business develops?

Hephaestus can be viewed as a bolt-on research and finance department for collectors, dealers and advisors.

Please tell us a little about the logistics of your services: (i) is there any restriction on what kind of artwork you can assess, (ii) what are the relative timings to carry out a full due diligence protocol, and (iii) what does the service cost?

The full authentication of an artwork costs £8,500 (+ VAT) and, currently, Hephaestus can only authenticate paintings from any period. This was the focus of our technical research and development and is the specialism of our scientific partners. Authentication takes between 4 and 6 weeks and this will continue to decrease as our volume continues to increase.

Lastly, a question that is on everyone’s mind, what is your view on AI use in the art due diligence/authentication process? Could it ever completely replace human involvement?

We recently published an article on our website that addressed this question of whether AI posed a threat to connoisseurship.

Ultimately, AI looks at pictures in a way that is completely different to a connoisseur, recognising statistical patterns invisible to the human eye. While scientific analysis can identify the date of an artwork, it cannot identify the author. We use Pictology (Hephaestus’ stylometric AI algorithms) to identify patterns in mechanical production that are extremely useful in determining the hand of an artist that produced a given painting.

AI cannot replace connoisseurship not only because it does not offer enough evidence to sway the market but also because AI and connoisseurs do very different things. A connoisseur would not exclusively analyse the mechanics of brushwork and composition of a painting in a way that

AI does. AI, in this way, is a supplementary tool to connoisseurship in Hephaestus’ authentication protocol, a protocol that also includes connoisseurship, provenance research and scientific analysis.

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