Kraemer brothers among six charged over allegedly fake Louis XIV furniture


Kraemer brothers among six charged over allegedly fake Louis XIV furniture

Laurent and Olivier Kraemer charged with organized fraud and money laundering in an ongoing investigation over so-called “fake Boulles”

VINCENT NOCE – May 21, 2018


Olivier (left) and Laurent Kraemer have been charged in an ongoing investigation into allegedly fake Louis XIV furniture Jean-Daniel Lorieux/Kraemer Gallery

Laurent and Olivier Kraemer, of Paris’s venerable Kraemer Gallery, are among a group of six dealers, experts and cabinet makers that have been charged with organized fraud and money laundering in a French court. The indictments—announced in January but only recently reported—mark the culmination of a multi-year investigation into allegedly fake Louis XIV furniture.

Others charged include Jacques Poisson a retired cabinetmaker, and his wife Colette; Michel Rocaboy, a cabinetmaker who was the Poissons’ sub-contractor, and Roland de l’Espée, a dealer and the former president of the French Friends of Versailles Society. All proclaim their innocence.

In 2016, the French art crime unit (OCBC) started an investigation into a rash of scandals that have rocked the antiques trade. The same year, Laurent Kraemer was charged in a separate criminal investigation regarding a series of fake chairs, most of which were sold to Versailles. Bill Pallot, a specialist in seated furniture at Didier Aaron & Cie (now run by Hervé Aaron), admitted fabricating around ten of them with Bruno Desnoues, a cabinetmaker employed by the château. Both spent four months in jail awaiting trial— a date has still not been fixed. In 2016, Aaron’s gallery was expelled from the Biennale des Antiquaires, and the Kraemers withdrew.

The new criminal proceedings involving the Poissons’ workshop centers on around 20 suspect pieces offered for sale or sold to collectors in London, Monaco, and New York. One of the civil parties, a Monaco-based Italian collector, has also begun a civil court action against the Kraemer Gallery over 13 pieces of Louis XIV and Louis XV furniture and objets d’art, purchased for €13.5m.

On 9 January, the Kraemer brothers were taken into police custody for two days, then charged by the judge overseeing the criminal investigation. They were later released on a bail of €4.5m and €1m respectively.

On 24 January, Roland de l’Espée was indicted for attempting to sell, for around €10m, a commode attributed to Alexandre Jean Oppenordt, and supposedly commissioned by the brother of Colbert, Louis XIV’s prime minister. The criminal investigation opened on 19 December 2016 and led to the discovery of more suspect pieces, including a pair of Boulle cabinets, sold by the Kraemer Gallery in 1999 to Axa for an estimated €6m.

Jacques Poisson’s daughter, Marie-Helene, denies any involvement by her family and says they “had never sold furniture” and “never had the means” to make such pieces. She says her father is not well enough to answer any questions.

Laurent Kraemer denounces “a judicial and media storm in a teacup, based on only one analysis”, which he contests. “There has been no judicial expertise for this investigation”, he says. The gallery says the case is a “settling of accounts” among dealers and suggests that the criminal procedure is essentially a financial matter. Payments of millions of euros led police to bank accounts in Switzerland and Singapore and off-shore companies. Also dismissing the suspicions of money laundering, the family claims to be the victim of a campaign aimed at undermining its reputation.

A Divorced Billionaire Just Realized the Picasso Painting His Wife Left Him Is Fake

W magazine

A Divorced Billionaire Just Realized the Picasso Painting His Wife Left Him Is Fake

Pablo Picasso, Le Repos, 1932, a highlight of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art evening sale.
Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Divorce has a way of getting messy—especially for Wall Street billionaires so blasé about their multimillion-dollar assets that they can divide them up by simply flipping a coin. That was the tactic Sue Gross and her Wall Street investor husband, Bill Gross, whom Forbes reports has a net worth of $2.5 billion, turned to last summer to decide who would get to hold on to a Picasso painting that had previously hung in their bedroom. Sue won the coin flip for Le Repos, as the work is titled, though it turns out she’d already gone ahead on her own and taken the painting. And, according to Page Six, she’d slyly replaced it with a fake she painted herself.

The painting, which Picasso made in 1932, features Marie-Thérèse Walter, a 17-year-old French model whom Picasso began a relationship with when he was 45 and still living with his first wife, Olga Khokhlova, and their five-year-old son. Picasso’s affair with Walter started in 1930. In 1935, when Khokhlova found out about the relationship, Walter was living in an apartment near the family. In 1936, Walter had a daughter with Picasso, whom she brought along when she moved into a 17th-century château in Normandy. (Oh, and she also reportedly fought the photographer Dora Maar, another of Picasso’s models whom he’d fallen in love with, in front of his famed painting Guernica.)

Of course, there’s more to Le Repos than its fitting backstory of marital turmoil; it comes from a period when Picasso was working with vivid color as well as eroticism. Le Repos features thick black lines outlining the profile and hands of Walter, whose skin is a ghostly mix of violets and white, against a green and red backdrop. Conveniently enough for Sue Gross, the swaths of bright color and bold outlines are far easier to copy than, say, painstaking chiaroscuro.

What brought this particularly entertaining bit of Gross divorce sabotage to light is that Le Repos will be a highlight of Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern evening sale in New York on Monday, where it’s reportedly expected to sell for as much as $35 million. Somehow, the original has managed to make its way to the storied auction house after all the drama last year, which began when Bill tried to transfer the work to Sue from his home in Laguna Beach, and she told him it was “unnecessary.” Once it was learned that, as a source put it, “she stole the damn thing,” things then unsurprisingly took a legal turn.

Sue Gross’s admission during a testimony in November is a bit less brazen when you consider that she also presented an email from Bill that instructed her to “take all the furniture and art you’d like.” Still, his lawyers weren’t about to let her off the hook that easily: After clarifying with her that she hadn’t simply left an empty spot on the wall, they asked if she installed a fake, to which she responded, “Well, it was a painting I painted.” She has since agreed with his team that it was a “replication” of the Picasso, though she couldn’t recall if she’d left Picasso’s signature on it or her own.

“Bill will remember because I painted it at home years ago,” she continued, adding that she and Bill “didn’t speak for a year and a half” when his lawyers asked if she told him that she took the Picasso.

Really, the “replication” of the Picasso certainly shouldn’t have come as a surprise to Bill Gross. In fact, back in 2015, he’d told an investor that his wife, aka “the artist in the family,” “likes to paint replicas of some of the famous pieces, using an overhead projector to copy the outlines and then just sort of fill in the spaces.” Indeed, even when they were together, there was already a Picasso replica of Sue’s doing in their bedroom that Bill was well aware of, and apparently even proud of—they even hung the canvas above their bedroom’s fireplace. (According to Bill, Sue had said, “Why spend $20 million? I can paint that one for $75.”)

Meanwhile, the Picasso block might be perking up at Sotheby’s, but over at Christie’s, things are trending downward in that regard. After accidentally putting his elbow through his own $139 million Picasso painting in 2006, the businessman and art collector Steve Wynn damaged another of his Picassos, a 1943 self-portrait that was set to sell for an estimated $70 million this week but ended up being pulled from the block after sustaining damage “during the final stages of preparation.”

Already One of the Most Forged Artists, the Modigliani Problem Is About to Get Worse

Already One of the Most Forged Artists, the Modigliani Problem Is About to Get Worse


Already One of the Most Forged Artists, the Modigliani Problem Is About to Get Worse

David D’Arcy –  May 11, 2018

Modigliani’s Nu couche Sotheby’s

Next week Sotheby’s will auction Amedeo Modigliani’s 1917 Nu Couché (sur le côté gauche) or Reclining Nude, the largest painting that the artist ever made. The auction house predicts that the picture, consigned by the Irish horse breeder John Magnier, will sell for at least $150 million. Add in Sotheby’s confidence in international demand for the picture (and in its authenticity) and Reclining Nude could bring a much higher price.

Modigliani (1884-1920) is spiraling upward in value. The same nude that’s on the block Tuesday night sold at Christie’s in 2003 for $26.9 million when the gambling tycoon Steve Wynn put it up for sale.

A comparable (although smaller) Modigliani nude set the current auction record, also at Christie’s, when a Chinese buyer paid $170.4 million in 2015, and the market has risen since then. Unless Reclining Nude is shown to be something other than a work by Modigliani, $150 million seems reachable.

Given this much flesh, the future still isn’t all rosy. The problem is fakes. Reclining Nude at Sotheby’s is not a forgery, yet numerous Modigliani fakes have surfaced in recent years. He’s among the most forged artists in the entire world, by current estimates. And the number of fakes that have appeared recently has been described as an “epidemic.”

You could sum up the problem as follows. With the rise in the price of works by Modigliani, more scrutiny than ever is given to their authenticity. But with prices like a minimum of $150 million for the upcoming sale, forgers of works by Modigliani have more incentive than ever.

Marc Restillini, a French expert on Modigliani and a foe of forgers, had some choice reflections after speaking with other Modigliani experts on a panel organized by the International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR) on April 24, the day that Sotheby’s announced the consignment of Reclining Nude.

Restellini has completed an updated catalogue raisonne, listing all the known and authenticated paintings by Modigliani. He expects to publish it in a year. Kenneth Wayne, an American Modigliani specialist, is working on his own catalogue raisonne, too, even though he describes the situation surrounding the artist as “a mess.”

It was Restellini who helped expose an exhibition at the Palazzo Ducale in Genoa in 2016, in which eight oil paintings and seven drawings by Modigliani were found to be forgeries. At the time, Restellini told the Telegraph of London that there were “at least 1,000 Modigliani fakes in the world.” He has said that his alerts about fakes have brought death threats.

genova-palazzo-ducale (1)
Installation view of Genova Palazzo Ducale’s Modigliani exhibition, which closed early due to the number of forgeries found to be exhibited within. Genova Palazzo Ducale

And why not? Exposing fakes shrinks a lucrative market. In the most widely accepted catalogue raisonne of Modigliani, there are 337 authenticated paintings—338 if you count a work that’s painted on both sides. That means, by Restellini’s estimate, that more than half of those circulating are imposters.

In an interview with Observer last week, Restellini said that, for Modigliani, “the problem is not growing, but it is being transformed.”

“My worries aren’t about the number of fakes, which is going down, but about the type of forger that we’re dealing with,” he noted. In some ways, this is an even worse situation than if there were simply more Modigliani forgers coming on to the scene. “We have people who are more sophisticated than those of 15 or 20 years ago. Hence my sense of urgency, on the front lines of this battle today. I think that the scientific community [investigating art fakes] doesn’t realize this.” Restellini contends. And the art world is, in many ways, only adding to the problem. “Its response is naïve. Instead of taking necessary steps to fight forgeries, it’s taking steps that will encourage them.”

In fact, Restellini said, the Modigliani market is being cleaned up after a report on the Genoa exhibition was issued in Italy and scrutiny from law enforcement intensified. Yet that won’t stop some, and in many other fields, such as Russian avant-garde, he says, “the threat of fakes is monstrous.”

Why? Because forgers are getting better at it. And we’re providing the information they need to do so.

“Forgers are now setting up their own laboratories, and those laboratories are determining that fakes are authentic. It’s a bit like accounting. You can create an accounting report that says whatever you want it to. The same goes for scientific analysis,” he said.

Assuming that legitimate scientific analysis can reveal materials used in the most convincing forgeries, Restellini insists that those reports should be kept secret.

It’s the equivalent of not sharing recipes. “I think that it’s dangerous to publish those reports. You’re creating an instructional manual for forgeries,” he said.

Red-headed Woman wearing a Pendant by Amedeo Modigliani in the exhibition at the Palazzo Ducale. It was not one of the Modiglianis recently deemed a forgery. Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images)

He gave an example. “You have roughly ten Modigliani paintings that are now lost, that we only know from black and white photographs. Should we publish those pictures? No. If we publish those pictures, those paintings could miraculously resurface in five years.”

After all, he noted, “these studies are only interesting for a tiny group of people. If you publish an article saying that barium or some other material is in a painting, who is really interested? The only people whom you are serving by publishing that are forgers.”

Restellini goes even further. All forgeries, once discovered, should be destroyed, he believes. Other Modigliani experts argue that fakes should be preserved to be studied. “There’s so much to be learned from more scrutiny of these fakes,” said Dean Chapman, an independent researcher, who reflects the majority opinion among experts.

“I hear people say, ‘let’s make a museum of fakes’—that’s absurd,” said Restellini. “A fake is a criminal work, it brings nothing to art history. If you don’t destroy it, it will reappear. A fake is not a work of art.”

Strong views bring strong reactions. Restellini says the death threats keep coming. “Still today,” he noted. “I got an anonymous email four months ago, saying that I would be assassinated. It’s not normal. I’m an art historian, I’m not a policeman.”

With the upcoming Sotheby’s sale expected to break records (that is, more than it has already with its estimate), it seems clear that the messy state of the Modigliani market won’t be settling down any time soon.

An alleged art swindle involving two Warhols, 6,800 miles, and a guy from Lynn


An alleged art swindle involving two Warhols, 6,800 miles, and a guy from Lynn


A Lynn man was charged in federal court in Boston Wednesday with an international art swindle involving two Andy Warhol paintings and spanning more than 6,800 miles, according to the US Attorney’s Office.

Brian R. Walshe, 43, was arrested and charged in a criminal complaint with one count of wire fraud. He was detained pending a probable cause and detention hearing scheduled for Friday, prosecutors said in a statement.

Authorities said Walshe took two authentic Warhol paintings from a South Korean man he met while they were students at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh during the mid-1990s, then falsely offered those pieces on eBay.

When a Los Angeles art gallery owner who specializes in Warhol’s work agreed to buy the two pieces, Walshe delivered fake paintings, according to federal authorities.

Forget yesterday’s news. Get what you need today in this early-morning email.

The two pieces in question are from the pop artist’s “Shadows” series, which are a collection of untitled, abstract, acrylic-on-canvas paintings from 1978.

In November 2016, the Los Angeles gallery owner, who was not identified, noticed the two works for sale on eBay, according to federal court documents.

The original listing price for the two pieces was $100,000 and the seller included photographs of the paintings, a picture of an invoice that included authentication numbers and a purchase price of $240,000.

The gallery owner thought the art was authentic and agreed to buy the works for $80,000, according to the attorney’s office. The gallery owner’s assistant flew to Boston, met Walshe at the Four Seasons Hotel and gave him a cashier’s check for $80,000, which Walshe deposited that day, federal authorities said.

The assistant, who was not identified, flew back to Los Angeles with what she thought were the paintings, according to the attorney’s office.

Once there, however, the gallery owner removed the frames and found there were no authentication stamps and that the canvasses and staples looked new. The buyer compared the paintings to the photographs from the eBay listing. “[T]hey did not look identical,” according to an FBI affidavit. He concluded that the paintings he bought from Walshe were not authentic Warhols, according to federal authorities.

The buyer then tried to contact Walshe, who initially did not respond, then stalled and gave excuses for delaying a refund, according to federal authorities.

It was not the first time Walshe went mum when it came to his alleged art dealings, according to the attorney’s office.

Walshe had previously told the true owner of the authentic Warhol paintings while he was visiting him in South Korea that he could sell some of his art. The man, who was not identified in court papers, agreed and allowed Walshe to take the two Shadow paintings and other fine art pieces.

An FBI affidavit suggests that the victim and Walshe were friends at one time; it mentions that Walshe often visited the victim in South Korea, staying for weeks at a time and that Walshe attended his wedding.

But after Walshe was allowed to take some of the man’s art, including the pair of Warhol paintings, two Keith Haring prints, a Warhol “Dollar Sign” print, and a porcelain statue from the Tang Dynasty, Walshe went silent and the South Korean man was unable to contact him, according to federal authorities.

Eventually, the victim contacted a friend who met with Walshe in Boston and retrieved some of the art, but not the two Warhol paintings.

Federal prosecutors said Walshe tried to consign the two Warhols to a gallery in New York City in 2011, but the gallery declined because he did not have a bill of sale.

“It is alleged that Walshe took the art from the victim, and falsely offered the authentic Warhol paintings for sale on eBay, but delivered fake paintings to the buyer,” said the attorney’s office in a statement.

Walshe made an initial appearance in federal court in Boston Wednesday, and prosecutors said he was detained pending a probable cause and detention hearing scheduled for Friday.

If found guilty of wire fraud, Walshe could face up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine up to $250,000, federal prosecutors said.

The investigation is ongoing, according to the attorney’s office.

Étienne Terrus museum in Elne uncovers fake art in collection

Étienne Terrus museum in Elne uncovers fake art in collection

BBC News

28 April 2018

_101082527_mediaitem101082526Image copyright MUSÉE TERRUS – More than 80 paintings said to be by Étienne Terrus were fake (this one, of Collioure in the Pyrenees, is real and is now on display)

A French museum dedicated to painter Étienne Terrus has discovered paintings it thought were by him were fakes.

The Terrus museum in Elne in the south of France discovered 82 works originally attributed to the artist were not painted by him.

More than half the collection is thought to be fake. The paintings cost about €160,000 (£140,000).

Staff at the museum were not aware of the forgeries until a visiting art historian alerted them.

The council in Elne bought the paintings, drawings, and watercolors for the museum over a 20-year period.

Eric Forcada, an art historian, contacted the museum in the town near Perpignan several months ago to express his doubts about the authenticity of the paintings.

The museum assembled a committee of experts from the cultural world, who inspected the works and concluded that 82 of them had not been painted by the Elne-born artist.

The news was announced on Friday as the museum opened after a renovation.

In interviews on Friday, the mayor of the Pyrenees town, Yves Barniol, said the situation was “a disaster” and apologized to those who had visited the museum in good faith.

Terrus was born in 1857 and died in 1922 in Elne, although he lived most of his life in Roussillon, also in the Pyrenees. He was a close friend of painter Henri Matisse.

_101082530_2c5872d7-f9fd-4c09-b1c8-e863991a9693Image copyright MUSÉE TERRUS – The authentic Vue Cathédrale remains on display

Some of the paintings show buildings that were built after Terrus’ death, France 3 said.

The town hall has filed a complaint against those who ordered, painted, or sold the fake paintings.

Local police are investigating the case, which they say could affect other regional artists too.


How allegations of a forgery ring are threatening Norval Morrisseau’s legacy


How allegations of a forgery ring are threatening Norval Morrisseau’s legacy

A trial revealed an alleged wellspring of hundreds of fake paintings purported to be the work of the famed Anishinaabe artist

Joe Castaldo – Apr 15, 2018


Norval Morrisseau. (Graham Bezant/Toronto Star/Getty Images)

At first, nothing seemed amiss. Donald Robinson, a Toronto gallery owner, had heard about a country auction east of the city building a reputation among dealers as a cheap and plentiful source of paintings by famed Anishinaabe artist Norval Morrisseau. Over at least a couple of visits, Robinson scooped up more than two dozen paintings. He considered himself an astute judge of the artist’s work since he served as Morrisseau’s primary dealer.

Soon, though, he felt a creeping doubt. How could this obscure auction, filled with dusty antiques and furniture, get so many paintings from such a prominent artist? Morrisseau was remarkably prolific (5,000 works is a conservative estimate), and it was said that practically everyone in northern Ontario, where he lived for much of his life, had one stashed away. Even so, many of the paintings at this auction were dated in the 1970s, a coveted period for Morrisseau’s work. Robinson found some of the details of the paintings unusual, even unsettling. Animals depicted on the canvases had sharp, menacing teeth. He took a few photographs and sent them to Morrisseau, then living in B.C., who returned a typed letter. “I did not paint the attached 23 acrylics on canvas,” it read, with a scrawled signature at the bottom.

That letter was sent in 2001. Since then, some of Morrisseau’s closest associates have warned about scores of forgeries contaminating the market, tainting the legacy of one of the country’s most important and influential artists. Morrisseau was a rare talent, one who is credited with an entirely new style and who pushed the rest of Canada to recognize the value of Indigenous art. He signed the name Copper Thunderbird, given to him in a healing ceremony, in Cree syllabics on the front of his canvases. There are paintings that also bear a faded signature in English, along with a title and a date, rendered in black paint on the reverse side. (They’re referred to as “black dry brush” paintings, owing to the signature style.) Some say Morrisseau never signed that way, and that it’s likely the hallmark of a forger.

Last December, during a trial before the Superior Court of Ontario, an alleged wellspring of hundreds of fake Morrisseau paintings was finally brought to light. Kevin Hearn, best known as the keyboard player for the Barenaked Ladies, sued a gallery in 2012 that sold him a Morrisseau titled Spirit Energy of Mother Earth after he came to believe it was a forgery. The gallery owner died months before the trial, but Hearn pressed on. He’s spent much more on legal fees than the $20,000 he paid for the painting (Hearn is suing for $95,000 in total). More important to him is exposing what he alleges is the dark truth behind the painting—that it traces back to a fraud ring in Thunder Bay, Ont., masterminded by someone who knew the late artist and recruited members of Morrisseau’s family. “I learned things that were very disturbing,” Hearn said in court. “People who had been seriously hurt in this environment where these paintings were made.” He continued, “I saw things I couldn’t turn back from. As much as this is about one painting, I had to do the right thing.”


None of the allegations has been proven, and a ruling in the case is pending. If true, the story told by multiple witnesses in court could cast a shadow on scores of Morrisseau paintings hanging in homes and private collections.

Born in 1931 in the Sand Point reserve near Beardmore, Ont., Morrisseau was sent at the age of six to a residential school, where, like many of his generation, he suffered emotional and sexual abuse. Later, he was drawn to his elders, and turned their oral tales into art, setting on canvas aspects of Anishinaabe culture the residential school system attempted to erase from him. The themes he explored are broad, including race, gender, and colonialism.

He’s credited with establishing an entire movement, now called the Woodland School, characterized by thick black lines, vivid colors and spiritual themes. Morrisseau sometimes rendered people and animals as if captured by an X-ray machine—blown wide open, with nothing to hide. A tall, slender man with brooding eyes, Morrisseau was known to sell and trade his work door-to-door before a 1962 show in Toronto brought him national acclaim. Press coverage fixated on his personal life, particularly his alcoholism, much to his frustration. “They speak of this tortured man,” he once said. “I’m not tortured. I’ve had a marvelous time.” After a period of sobriety, Morrisseau started drinking and briefly lived on the streets of Vancouver in the 1980s.

One of his masterpieces is a sprawling 1983 work called Androgyny, offered as a gift to Canada in a letter to prime minister Pierre Trudeau. Some have interpreted the painting as a petition for the government to pursue reconciliation. It hung in the headquarters of what’s now Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, uncelebrated for years before it was featured in a 2006 retrospective at the National Gallery of Canada, the first for a contemporary Indigenous artist. Morrisseau attended in a wheelchair, having been diagnosed with Parkinson’s in the 1990s. As his body failed, he lost the ability to paint. He died in 2007.

The painting at the center of Hearn’s lawsuit, Spirit Energy of Mother Earth, is typical of Morrisseau in some ways. Birds, fish and other beings are set against a murky green backdrop, tethered to one another with heavy black lines. These lines are typical of Morrisseau, illustrating his belief that everything in nature is connected. In Spirit Energy, though, not everything joins together. Some lines wander off the canvas. On the back is Morrisseau’s signature in English, along with the title and the date, 1974.


If you talk to Randy Potter, there’s no mystery to the painting’s origins, since he remembers selling it. Potter ran the auction that raised Donald Robinson’s suspicions back in 2001. A former autoworker turned auctioneer, Potter mostly sold antiques until a man pulled up one day with eight Morrisseau paintings in the trunk of his car. “I didn’t know who Norval Morrisseau was,” Potter says in an interview, though he recalled hearing the name. The man introduced himself as David Voss and said the paintings came from a collector in northwestern Ontario, who had hundreds stored in a shed. Potter sold them, and Voss supplied many more over the years. By the time he shut down in 2009, he had sold up to 2,000 black dry brush paintings from Voss for anywhere between $800 to $35,000 each. He never asked too many questions. “I guess I never really cared,” he says, adding, “I’ve never sold a bogus painting in my life.”

At the time, Morrisseau was living in Nanaimo, B.C., in the care of Gabe Vadas. Morrisseau met Vadas in 1987, and Vadas became both an assistant and adopted son. “Norval was a father to me,” Vadas would say later in court. “I loved him more than anything in the world. And I still do.” In the final years of his life, Morrisseau signed a series of notarized declarations identifying fakes sold by a handful of galleries (including the one that sold Spirit Energy to Hearn) and Potter’s auction. Morrisseau, by then in a wheelchair, would carefully review dozens of images and only add a work to a declaration if he was certain he did not paint it. He was deeply upset by what he saw, according to Vadas, and the process was painstaking. Morrisseau’s lawyer threatened to sue a few galleries, but never did, owing to the cost to Morrisseau and his declining health: the artist was having increasing trouble moving and speaking.

After Morrisseau died, the RCMP launched an investigation to probe allegations of forgeries but closed the file after two years in 2010. In an email obtained by Maclean’s, one officer wrote that “our investigation has uncovered evidence of fraud” and noted the RCMP sent a referral package to the Thunder Bay Police Service. No charges were laid.

Some buyers have taken their chances in civil court. Jonathan Sommer, a lawyer with no experience in art fraud at the time, was retained by a retired teacher to handle a small-claims suit against a Toronto gallery over a Morrisseau piece called Wheel of Life. The painting passed through Potter’s auction before the gallery sold it. Sommer produced Morrisseau’s sworn declarations, including one singling out Wheel of Life as fake. “There’s no reason not to believe it,” he says. “It’s coming from the artist himself.”

The defense lawyer zeroed in on Morrisseau’s mental competence when he signed the declarations, however, suggesting he was “very inconsistent in what he says is real and what he says is fake.” The gallery director claimed Morrisseau was manipulated by Vadas and Robinson to control the market for his work. (This was denied.) Morrisseau’s brother, Wolf, testified that the artist did sign his name on the back of his paintings. “In fact, I was the one who helped him to sign his English name on the back of his artwork,” Wolf said. He reasoned an English signature would make his brother’s work more recognizable around the world. Finally, a handwriting analyst determined the signature belonged to Morrisseau.

In the end, the judge called Wolf an “entirely credible witness,” found the signature analysis convincing and doubted the “reliability of Morrisseau.” The painting, the court ruled, was authentic. “It was just shocking to me,” Sommer says. He filed an unsuccessful appeal. By then, Sommer had Hearn as a client and was learning more details about an alleged forgery operation in Thunder Bay. This tale had circulated before. “No one has ever found this ring of painters up in Thunder Bay,” Potter says. “It’s just a myth.”

Dallas Thompson took the stand on the fourth day of Hearn’s trial in December 2017 and told the story of how he helped to sell fake paintings. Thompson, 32, grew up in Thunder Bay. When he was 16, he met an older man named Gary Lamont. Lamont was known as a drug dealer, and he and his common-law partner housed Indigenous students from northern reserves attending high school in the city. Lamont also kept a property north of Thunder Bay, where the house had bars on the windows and locks on the doors that required a key to open from the inside, according to court testimony.

Thompson lived there sporadically starting in 2003 and became an assistant of sorts to Lamont, who sold Morrisseau paintings. Thompson wrote emails to customers, packaged canvases, traveled with Lamont to other cities to hawk artworks and handled cash from sales, which ranged anywhere from $3,000 to $25,000 per piece. Lamont had known Morrisseau since at least the 1980s. His website featured photos of the two of them drinking tea or sprawled on their backs on top of paintings. Morrisseau, according to an archived version of the site, gave Lamont the name Spirit Chaser, an entity that can dispel evil.

Thompson wasn’t the only one living at Lamont’s property. Benjamin Morrisseau, a nephew of the famous artist, stayed there as well. He spent much of his time painting in the style of his uncle. When he finished a work, according to Thompson, Benjamin signed the back of the canvas as Norval Morrisseau in black paint and added a title and a date. Lamont’s customers never met him. “Benjamin was hush-hush,” Thompson said.

For years, Lamont paid Benjamin and Thompson for their services. For Thompson, that also meant picking up supplies so Thompson could use his First Nations status card to get a sales tax exemption. The co-owner of one art store they frequented combed through receipts and signed an affidavit stating Lamont spent enough money on canvases to produce approximately 900 paintings. Amanda Dalby, a niece of Lamont’s partner, testified that she too had seen Benjamin paint and sign works as Norval Morrisseau. She’d even seen sheets of paper he used to practice the signature, and recalled how Benjamin and another associate spent hours trying to replicate it. She added another allegation: Wolf Morrisseau, the artist’s brother, painted for Lamont, too.

The year before Morrisseau passed away was unusually busy. “It’s crazy,” Thompson recalled in court. “Every day, all day long, I’m running back and forth, grabbing paintings, looking for them, talking to potential customers.” By then, Benjamin had moved to another town and took a train to a rural outpost north of Thunder Bay roughly every other week to offload more paintings.

The pair soon fell out. “Gary stopped paying Benji, and Benji told him, ‘When the money stops, the brush stops,’ ” Thompson testified. Lamont found someone else. Sometime in 2006 or 2007, Lamont told Timothy Tait, an Indigenous painter in Thunder Bay, that he liked his work and offered to trade him cash and marijuana. Tait agreed, according to an affidavit entered during the trial. Lamont sometimes told him what to paint and which colors to use, and instructed him not to sign any of the works. A few months later, Tait was trying to sell some of his paintings downtown when he noticed a flyer featuring a photo of a work he’d done for Lamont. On the front was Morrisseau’s Cree syllabic signature. Tait suddenly felt used. His affidavit includes images of 27 paintings he says he made for Lamont, all of which bear Morrisseau’s Cree name, put there by someone else.

Thompson testified that in 2006 or 2007, three people flew in from Toronto and showed up at Lamont’s, saying they were from Randy Potter Auctions. They spent $126,000 for around 30 paintings. Thompson helped count each bill at the kitchen table before storing the cash in a safe hidden in the living room. Lamont talked about other customers, too, including Voss, who supplied Potter with nearly 2,000 paintings over the years.

Potter says he never bought paintings from Lamont, nor did he visit him in Thunder Bay; they spoke on the phone occasionally, but that was it. His paintings came from Voss, he tells Maclean’s, adding he’s frustrated that Voss won’t publicly vouch for the authenticity of the works. “He doesn’t want to get involved to help,” he says. Voss wasn’t exactly forthcoming when reached by phone. “You want a comment?” he said. “Go fuck yourself.” Then he hung up.

Wolf, now 64, laughs off the allegation that he was involved in a forgery ring. “It’s a falsehood, obviously,” he says when reached for comment. As for Benjamin, Wolf doubts he was forging paintings. “I’ve never seen him do my brother’s work,” he says. “If you look at his work, it’s different than my brother’s.” Benjamin himself couldn’t be found for comment. Wolf said he didn’t know how to reach him, and nearly a dozen other family members and associates reached by phone or through Facebook either didn’t respond or said they didn’t know where he is.

For Thompson, being around Lamont became a nightmare. In 2004, Thompson was raped by Lamont on more than one occasion, he said in court. He fled to Vancouver but came back to Thunder Bay. With no job, he drank heavily and drifted through the city. “I told nobody at that time what happened to me,” he said. “I was ashamed.” Lamont, he testified, had threatened to kill him.

One night, he found himself back at Lamont’s place, looking for drugs. He ended up moving back in. “I can’t really explain why,” he said. “I just had no place to go.” Lamont sexually assaulted him again, he told the court. In 2007, Thompson left for good. “I just couldn’t take it anymore. I felt like I was losing my mind,” he said.

Thompson only told his story years later to Mark Anthony Jacobson, a First Nations painter originally from northwestern Ontario who knew Morrisseau, and who encouraged Thompson to speak to police in 2010. Thompson told them everything about Lamont. Six to eight months passed before anyone from the Thunder Bay Police Service followed up with him. By that point, he didn’t want to talk further. “It took them so long to get back to me about anything, I just had no faith in them,” he said. It wasn’t until 2012 that Thompson spoke to police again. (Jacobson also connected him with Sommer.)

Lamont was arrested in December 2013 and was later charged with a range of offenses, including sexual assault and uttering threats. By the time of his preliminary inquiry in 2015, multiple complainants were alleging he violated them. Lamont took a plea deal the following year and was sentenced on five counts of sexual assault against five men, described by the judge as “young, vulnerable victims.” Lamont, then 54, received five years in prison. “I hope everybody, the victims, can move on from this,” he said at his sentencing hearing. (He declined interview requests sent through Correctional Service Canada.)

Thompson has spent years healing and is now raising a family in Thunder Bay. In court, Sommer asked him why he was willing to testify and implicate himself in a forgery operation. “I can’t stand what these paintings represent: all the rapes and sexual assaults that took place while these were being made in the house,” Thompson said. “He’s raping my culture for profit.”

The forgery trial began on Dec. 4, the 10th anniversary of Morrisseau’s death. Spirit Energy of Mother Earth was clamped gracelessly to an easel through much of it. There was no defendant. Joe McLeod, the gallery owner who sold the painting to Hearn, was well into his 80s and died months before the trial. McLeod’s lawyer filed a statement of defense previously that denied Hearn’s allegations. But the case would have proceeded undefended if not for a last-minute motion to intervene by an art dealer named Jim White. White had started collecting Morrisseau paintings in the 1990s when he heard it would be a good investment. He ended up with more than 200, mostly from Potter, but some directly from Lamont. He’s been involved in the Morrisseau forgery saga since the beginning (in a previous court case, he valued his collection at $2.5 million) and has spent more than $10,000 to have signatures analyzed. None has been found to be fake, he says.

After some legal wrangling, White gained standing to essentially mount a defense. Part of his motivation is financial. He still owns about 50 paintings and says a finding that Spirit Energy is fake would damage the black dry brush market. He also stepped in for McLeod, whom he knew, and, in a way, for Morrisseau. “You destroy that market, and you destroy the artist,” he said.

On the stand, Hearn recounted purchasing the painting from McLeod, who seemed to be an expert on Morrisseau. Hearn contributed Spirit Energy to the Art Gallery of Ontario as part of a special exhibition in 2010, but it was soon taken down when its authenticity was questioned. McLeod insisted it was real and refused to offer a refund, according to Hearn. McLeod was a regular at Potter’s auction and, according to Thompson, Lamont talked about him as a customer, too. The same year he sold the painting to Hearn, McLeod published a novel about a Toronto gallery owner used as a pawn in an art forgery scheme. (The protagonist, who bears some similarity to McLeod, outwits his tormentors in the end.)

Sommer, still stinging from the loss of the previous case, had spent years preparing for this trial. McLeod had provided a provenance showing the first owner of the painting was a collector in Thunder Bay, the one Voss sourced his paintings from. Sommer obtained a statement from the collector saying he had no record of Spirit Energy, and that it was completely unfamiliar to him. The painting, dated 1974, was created on canvas. At that time, Morrisseau was living in Red Lake, Ont., where he didn’t have easy access to a canvas, according to three witnesses who worked with the artist at the time. He mostly painted on kraft paper purchased from a mill in Kenora, Ont.

Carmen Robertson, a visual arts professor at the University of Regina with a specialty in Morrisseau, testified as an expert witness. Robertson kept the painting at her house for five months and produced a dense, 67-page report. Her testimony resembled a dissertation at times as she described how Morrisseau applied paint in thick layers straight from the tube to add depth. The paint on Spirit Energy is so thin the weave of the canvas can be seen. Robertson assembled a database of Morrisseau paintings from public institutions in Canada, and of 33 artworks from 1973 to 1975; only five had signatures on the back. These paintings had more in common with one another—and with Spirit Energy—than with other Morrisseau works. Robertson concluded Spirit Energy was not painted by Morrisseau.

White’s lawyer criticized Robertson’s sample size, arguing it’s just a sliver of Morrisseau’s body of work. White produced an expert of his own: Kenneth Davies, a handwriting and signature analyst from Calgary, who testified that he’s examined about 80 Morrisseaus over the years for clients. He compared high-definition photos of Spirit Energy to four other black dry brush paintings and concluded with a “reasonable degree of certainty” the signature is authentic.

Sommer countered that since Davies’s entire sample consisted of black dry brush paintings, his conclusion was unreliable. Davies scoffed: given the consistency he had seen across all of the Morrisseau signatures he’d analyzed over the years, it was inconceivable that someone else could have written them. “There are no forgers talented enough to produce that many forgeries,” he said in court. Eventually, the forger would introduce his or her own handwriting traits. “It can’t be done,” he insisted.

In all of the evidence presented at trial, there was no direct connection between Spirit Energy of Mother Earth and the forgery ring—the existence of which, it must be reiterated, no court has ruled on. Sommer knows the lines do not neatly join together. “We needed to prove our case through overwhelming circumstantial evidence to lend credence to the notion that this painting couldn’t have come from anywhere else other than the forgery ring,” he says in an interview.

In court, White’s lawyer waved off much of the testimony as hearsay, while White himself is unmoved. “We can talk about this forever, but there is no evidence,” he says in an interview. White has spent years buying and selling Morrisseau paintings, entangled in court cases about authenticity. He stood in Lamont’s house while Lamont showed off what he claimed was Morrisseau’s Order of Canada medal. Confronted with first-hand testimony of a prolific forgery ring, wouldn’t he want to at least dig further? “No,” he says.

There is a recurring element in Morrisseau’s work, seen in Spirit Energy, known as divided circles. They resemble primordial cells starting to cleave. “I divided them in half because there are two sides to everything,” Morrisseau told Maclean’s in 1979. “Good and bad, short and tall, love and hate, man and woman.” He may well have added truth and fiction. His paintings, though, had the power to illuminate the truth about ourselves, he believed. “My art reminds a lot of people of what they are,” he once said. And that is what will always underlie the judgment of any Morrisseau painting: who you are, what you know and what you’re willing to believe.

Belgian police examine claims Russian art show was full of fakes

The Guardian

Belgian police examine claims Russian art show was full of fakes

Homes raided after Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent cancel an exhibition of avant-garde works.

 in Brussels –

 A piece by Kazimir Malevich. The Russian artist’s work is among those claimed to have been forged. Photograph: Picasa 2.7/Handout

Homes across Belgium have been raided by police investigating allegations that counterfeit Russian avant garde works were exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent.

The display of 26 pieces, loaned by the Russian businessman Igor Toporovski, was terminated by the gallery in January after experts claimed it was full of fakes. The museum’s director, Catherine de Zegher, was suspended from her post earlier this month.

Experts claim Europe has become awash with counterfeit Russian works in recent years.

On Friday, Wiesbaden regional court in the western German state of Hesse sentenced two men to three years and 32 months in prison respectively for having knowingly sold forged pictures that had been presented as works by artists including El Lissitzky, Kazimir Malevich and Alexander Rodchenko.

The pair were ordered to pay back about €1m (£875,000) they had made through the sale of the pictures.

Ghent’s public prosecutor’s office and federal police in east Flanders carried out their searches on Monday after a formal civil complaint from a collective of four art dealers from London and New York, and a descendant of an artist whose work is said to have been counterfeited.

The prosecutor’s office declined to comment on the targets of its investigation.

Geert Lenssens, a lawyer representing the complainants, said: “They are suffering damage now that the art market, of which they are a part, and the museum world, with whom they work closely, are being damaged.”

Detectives sealed computers, requested documents and interviewed De Zegher, according to the Belgian newspaper De Standaard.

It is believed forgers have focused on Russian avant garde works due to a lack of experts in the genre.

The wave of modern art flourished in the early 20th century, after which socialist realism was decreed the sole sanctioned mode in the Soviet Union, and archives were often destroyed.

The collection under investigation, entitled Russian Modernism 1910–30, was on display for more than three months before being removed on 29 January.

An open letter signed by 10 experts also questioned the validity of the works purportedly by artists including Malevich, Rodchenko, Wassily Kandinsky and Vladimir Tatlin.

De Zegher told the city’s cultural committee on 5 March that her 35 years of curatorial experience qualified her to recognise fakes.

She claimed to have consulted two foreign experts, Noemi Smolik and Magdalena Dabrowski, on the authenticity of the collection. However, Smolik and Dabrowski refuted the claim in the Flemish press days later.

Eline Tritsmans, a lawyer acting for De Zegher, declined to comment “in the interests of the judicial investigation”.

Annelies Storms, the alderman for culture in Ghent, said: “We are always confronted with new issues. It is easy to say afterwards what someone has to do.”