'Now, lot 32 - the really rubbish fake. Do I hear â‚¬500k?'
June 1 2011
Picture: Der Spiegel
German police have smashed a highly succesful forgery racket. Believed to be Germany's largest ever forgery scandal, the victims included Hollywood actor Steve Martin, and Christie's.
The above painting, 'Landscape with Horses', was sold as a genuine work by Heinrich Campendonk at Christie's in 2006 for €500,000. (I would link to it on their website, but, mysteriously, the lot has been removed). It had in fact been knocked up by Wolfgang Beltracchi, and his accomplice Otto Schulte-Kellinghaus. They had been producing high-quality fake modern and contemporary art since 2001, and possibly earlier. From Der Spiegel:
The accused allegedly attributed almost all of the forged works to artists from the first half of the 20th century, including Campendonk, Max Pechstein, Fernand Léger, Max Ernst and others. Most of the works were sold with now 60-year-old Beltracchi's story that they were part of the art collection of Cologne businessman Werner Jägers, who was the grandfather of the two female suspects in the case. Jägers was said to have bought the works from the renowned art dealer Alfred Flechtheim and hidden them on his estate in the Eifel Mountains of western Germany during the Nazi years. Schulte-Kellinghaus allegedly used a similar ruse, claiming the paintings, which were supposedly lost, originated from the collection of his grandfather, the master tailor Knops from Krefeld.
I've often heard it said that buying modern and contemporary art is a safer investment than old masters, because there are never any doubts over authenticity. But, alas, that's a load of old phooey. And it's practically impossible to fake an old master.