19 March, 2019

Sotheby's Landmark Art Cause

Sotheby's is one step closer to ending a legal dispute after Mark Weiss LTD agreed to pay $4.2m, “without any admission of liability”, to settle a case which involves a 'modern fake'.

The painting in question is 'Portrait of a Gentleman' that was attributed to Dutch Golden Age painter, Frans Hals (1582-1666).

According to papers submitted by Sotheby's, Mark Weiss LTD and Fairlight Art Ventures LLP paid $3.4m (€3m) for the painting in 2010.

In a private sale facilitated by Sotheby's, who was acting on behalf of Mark Weiss LTD, they sold the painting to U.S real estate investor Richard Hedreen for $10.8m in 2011.

However, in 2016, Sotheby's technicians identified pigments within the paint which could have only of been used 4 centuries after Hals had died.

Sotheby's reimbursed Hedreen and took Weiss LTD and Fairlight to court to reclaim their losses. Sotheby's were also granted permission to ask Christie's to provide evidence in France. But why Christie's? Why France?

Christie's Involvent With Artwork

Christie's history with this artwork predates the current dispute. It also involves a French art collector called Giuliano Ruffini who had paintings seized by French police in 2016.

Christie's will provide evidence to a French court to explain how their initial research into the painting doubted its authenticity. This evidence will then be used in the UK High Court as Sotheby's and Fairlight's cases will be heard there.

If you're wondering why France? Well, Ruffin bought the painting from a Spanish dealer who told Ruffini it might not be by Hals. So, in 2008, Ruffin brought the painting to Christie's French subsidiary and asked them to investigate.

Christie's initially said it was real, so French authorities turned their attention to other artworks which they believe are fake and still in circulation. These artworks are thought to be hanging on the walls of royalty.

How prevalent is art fraud?

The Fight Against Art Forgery

The size of the art market in 2017 was $63.7bn. However, inside that vast market are fake artworks.

With modern technology, artworks previously thought to be original have been discovered to be fake. It's not the just paintings that sell for millions but also the paintings at the lower end of the market.

This presents huge problems for sellers such as auction houses because reputation is everything.

Final Words

The case is gearing up to be one of the biggest art fraud cases in recent history. 

Fairlight is claiming that Sotheby's had no obligation to refund the buyer if the artwork has not been proven to be genuine or fake. In addition, the refund was made without evidence. Finally, they were not a part of the sale and should not have to pay anything to Sotheby's.

Sotheby's will be awaiting the evidence from Christie's as they look to strengthen their case. By combining their research, it will mark a rare time that a co-operation like this is publicly stated.

If you want to see some tips for spotting fake art then check out our guide here: 5 Top Tips for Spotting Fake Art - 2018.

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Landmark Fraudulent Art Case is Settled