German Art Fraud Ring Sentanced to Jail

Bloomberg has a good article on a group of four art forgers who have received a total of 15 years of jail time for involvement in copying and selling fraudulent artwork.  The total take of the group is believed to be $14 million, in selling forged oil paintings by German artists such as Max Ernst, Max Pechstein, Heinrich Campendonk, Andre Derain, Fernand Leger and Kees van Dongen . 

The group is supposed to have sold 14 pieces, including a painting bought by comedian Steve Martin. The forged artwork have fooled many experts and have been shown in museums.  Experts in German art claim the forgeries, which included fake provenance, have shaken the confidence of the art sector.

The article is an interesting read for dealers, collectors and appraisers.

Bloomberg reports on the forgeries
The Cologne auction house Kunsthaus Lempertz said in January that it had sold five of the forgers’ works. The authenticity of all of them “was confirmed by leading experts and some of them were subsequently shown in a number of museums.”

“My colleagues and I, like the whole art market, were deceived by the highly skilled and professional operations of the forgers,” Lempertz chief executive Henrik Hanstein wrote in a letter to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in July.

The group not only produced and sold the paintings, it also invented an entire provenance for them, claiming the art came from either the “Jaegers Collection” or the “Wilhelm Knops Collection,” according to the Cologne court.

They said Werner Jaegers was Helene Beltracchi’s grandfather, while Knops was Schulte-Kellinghaus’s grandfather. The Beltracchi couple produced fake gallery and collectors’ labels to stick on the back of the canvases.

They even forged family photographs from the 1930s, showing paintings hanging in the background, with Helene Beltracchi posing as her grandmother, to convince potential buyers that the provenance was authentic. In fact, neither Jaegers nor Knops collected art, Kremer told the court.

Court Deal

In return for the confessions, prosecutors had agreed to request milder prison sentences. The Beltracchi couple agreed to pay 980,000 Swiss francs ($1.12 million) to the court. During the court negotiations, the total sum of damages caused by the forgers was reduced to 10 million euros from an initial figure of 16 million euros.

“The confessions helped to save us a long trial and appearances that could have been very embarrassing for some witnesses,” Kremer said.

Beltracchi, who was wearing a lilac pullover and jeans with a sports jacket, hugged his wife at the end of the trial. Helene Beltracchi’s dark blond, waist-length hair floated loose over a black sweater dress.

Christian Rode, Beltracchi’s lawyer, said in a final statement that his client wasn’t motivated by profit alone. The master forger, who has unruly, gray-blond, shoulder-length locks and once lived in a houseboat, took great pride in his work, he said.
To read the full Bloomberg article, click HERE.

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