Monday, October 15, 2012

When art and crime meet

Vanity Fair has just published an astonishing article that it titles 'The Greatest Fake-Art Scam in History?'  It's not joking.  Here's how it sets the scene.

[Wolfgang] Beltracchi ... masterminded one of the most audacious and lucrative art frauds in postwar European history. For decades, this self-taught painter, who had once scratched out a living in Amsterdam, Morocco, and other spots along the hippie trail, had passed off his own paintings as newly discovered masterpieces by Max Ernst, André Derain, Max Pechstein, Georges Braque, and other Expressionists and Surrealists from the early 20th century. Helene Beltracchi, along with two accomplices — including her sister — had sold the paintings for six and seven figures through auction houses in Germany and France, including Sotheby’s and Christie’s. One phony Max Ernst had hung for months in a retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Steve Martin purchased a fake Heinrich Campendonk through the Paris gallery Cazeau-Béraudière for $860,000 in 2004; the French magazine-publishing mogul Daniel Filipacchi paid $7 million for a phony Max Ernst, titled The Forest (2), in 2006. For the 14 fakes that the Beltracchis were eventually charged with selling, their estimated take was around €16 million, or $22 million. Their total haul over the years must have been far more.

There's much more at the link.  Talk about criminal chutzpah!  What astonishes me is how the couple were able to fool the entire art 'establishment' - so much so that many of their forgeries were 'authenticated' by so-called 'experts', permitting them to be sold at outrageous prices.  I'm torn between amusement at how easily the experts were hoodwinked, and outrage that they got away with such fraud for so long!

Entertaining and recommended reading.


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