Fake Mona Lisa

‘Tis the season for cruising, and all that goes with it: relaxation, beautiful scenery, fruity drinks, abundant food, champagne, and… art auctions?? Most cruise lines contract with an independent company to offer an onboard “fine art” auction.

These are definitely a case of buyer, beware!  

Recently a client wanted to verify the value of two signed Salvador Dali prints he purchased on his Alaskan cruise vacation. After a great deal of research, we told him that the signature was questionable and that the prints were common “multiples” of visual art.

Then we learned the full story.  

The onboard auction process is almost the same for all ships: free champagne, bidding begins, the sales process takes several days, “private exclusive showings” for prospective buyers, and promises of great deals. In such an environment, our client purchased two Dali signed prints for $2,800 each, not including the added on fees such as buyer’s premium, appraisal fees, shipping and handling, frame costs, sales tax, and an “in-transit” handling fee, for a grand total of $7,447.51. It cost him $1,847.51 more than he thought, and it was too late to back out because he did not receive the final statement until he was home from the cruise. 

Unfortunately, our client’s Dali print was actually worth $375 and not the $2,800 he paid. 

Our client’s story is not unique. Recent lawsuits have resulted in improvements, but many problems persist. Here are a few tips in order to inform you and help you avoid costly missteps.   

Savvy buyers usually research the marketplace for a particular artist or artwork prior to purchase; however, internet access is often limited on ships, leaving the buyer at risk. 

“Paintings” sold at cruise auctions are usually prints or giclées, which are ink-jet print reproductions of original artwork. 

The piece you receive in the mail is almost always not the piece displayed on the ship! Your reproduction may have a few brushstroke embellishments or a signature added, making it “unique.” The visual quality of these works can be amazing, but the value will not be in any way commensurate with that of an original oil painting! 

The provenance (proof of authenticity) provided by the auction may be very official-looking, but is not a guarantee of any present or future value. A certified independent appraiser DOES NOT do the official appraisal. 

The art is owned by the seller, who has a financial interest in the piece and also “shills” (secretly raises) the price. 

To be a bidder, you must first fill out their credit card application, and the final bill goes to your home after the cruise.  

Our client received an expensive lesson, but you don’t have to. Preparing yourself with information beforehand can help avoid these pitfalls! 

Do you have a question? Send it to

editor@arcadianews.com. We look forward to hearing from you.