Art Crime / Art Law

Investigate the history of famous art crimes, including forgeries and thefts. Learn the basics of art law as well as a variety of scientific techniques to spot the difference between what is real and what is fake.


From the looting of antiquities to Nazi theft to the seizure of paintings right off museum walls, the world of international art crime is both fascinating and diverse. In a dynamic virtual learning environment that balances live sessions with different types of interactive activities, students will engage in an intensive study of this high-stakes arena, where millions of dollars as well as the reputations of premier art institutions and experts are on the line. Students will learn how fakes enter the market and what methods are used to determine whether a work of art is authentic or a forgery, as well as investigate how and when stolen works are restituted to their rightful owners. This course is ideal for students who love true crime and detective work, are inherently curious, and interested in law and ethics.


Using case studies of the most notable art crimes of the past three centuries, students will be introduced to basic legal and ethical issues specific to the art market, guided by an expert educator and an internationally renowned art law specialist. Students will discover how two unarmed men posing as police officers could steal 13 famous artworks valued at nearly $500 million right off the walls of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Students will also look at works of art stolen by the Nazi’s and then ultimately restituted to their rightful heirs, such as the captivating case of Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, which was profiled in the 2015 film The Woman in Gold. A virtual visit to the new Art Tribunal in the Netherlands will shed light on the complex procedures of international art law.


Virtual site visits may include:

  • Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I at The Neue Galerie in New York
  • The Old Masters collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, highlighting works whose authenticity has been questioned by experts
  • The Kiddell Collection of fakes, forgeries and reproductions at Sotheby’s Institute of Art-London
  • The new International Art Tribunal in the Netherlands


Guest speakers may include:

  • Art lawyers
  • Forensic scientists
  • Auction house experts
  • Art insurers & handlers
  • Speakers from the Art Crime Unit of the F.B.I.


Projects may include:

  • Taking on the role of an art crime professional, students will create their own written proposal to track down fascinating stolen objects and return looted objects to their rightful owners
  • Learning how to analyze the authenticity of artworks in major international museums
  • Exploring the London Stolen Arts Database


Tech Fee: $75


Please note: This information is subject to change at any time at the discretion of Sotheby’s Institute of Art.

Term Dates

Term dates and course availability depend heavily on instructors’ schedules.

  • Term 2 June 21 to July 2 Term Closed

All courses are open to rising 10th – 12th graders and graduating seniors. Explore the full online summer schedule.

View Summer Schedule

What is an Intensive?

Intensives immerse students in a single subject area for the entire two-week Institute term, with the goal of cultivating comprehensive knowledge of that discipline. This thorough approach to learning enables students to develop deeper insights about the field by closely investigating its inner workings.

Course Highlights

Summer Institute enables students to dive deep into a course of study, sharpening skills for their academic and professional careers. Each course is carefully designed to suit student interests and encourage intellectual curiosity.

  • 1

    Students will have virtual access to auction houses, galleries, and museums, especially those most recently affected by art crimes, such as the Neue Gallery and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. They will learn how museums handle suspected forgeries in their collections and will also hear from art restitution specialists. If an art crime case is open during this session, students will study and discuss the most recent developments in the case.

  • 2

    Students will interact online with guest speakers from the justice system who will discuss their personal experiences with some of the most infamous art crimes as well as the founding of a new art tribunal in The Hague.

  • 3

    Students will learn the basic methods of spotting fakes and forgeries, and they will delve into the fascinating histories of art crimes.

  • 4

    Students will go on a virtual behind-the-scenes virtual tour at a museum to discover some of the scientific techniques that forgers use and how to spot them.

Summer Institute Faculty

Our instructors are award-winning Sotheby's Institute faculty, recognized thought leaders and professional experts in the art world. Each faculty member structures their course around real-time conversations defining their professions and helps students master the unique forces at play in the art world.

Summer Institute Faculty

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