The largest scandal involving an artwork forgery ring in Germany just broke and has made front-page news in German media for the past few weeks. Forgers belonging to the same family managed to sell over 20 forged artworks from the so-called Jägers Collection, which probably never existed, for a total sum estimated between 30 and 80 million Euros. They have been jailed since 27 August 2010 in Germany . The effort was spearheaded by the Swiss-based Artveras Gallery
and the law firm K&L Gates in Berlin , hired in 2006 to represent one of the gallerys clients who had been cheated in buying a fake Campendonk at an auction. Thanks to evidence produced by Artveras, in collaboration with respected experts such as Aya Soika (expert and author of the annotated Pechstein catalogue) and Ralph Jentsch (an expert on George Grosz and on the Alfred Flechtheim Gallery), and thanks to lawsuits filed by the large K&L Gates law firm in Berlin, the public prosecutor opened a criminal investigation that led to the arrest of the three forgers.
Rotes Bild mit Pferden: forged Campendonk, sold in 2006 for a record 2.88 million Euros
Back in 2006, the firm Trasteco Ltd, a major client of Artveras gallery in Geneva , bought the artwork Rotes Bild mit Pferden by Heinrich Campendonk from the Cologne-based auction house Lempertz for 2.88 million Euros (the final sale price was 2.4 million). The work was sold without the necessary certificate of authenticity issued by the author of the catalogue raisonné, Andrea Firmenich. Since any serious auction house should provide such guarantee, Artveras gallery advised its client to request it quite naturally from Lempertz. The auction house promised to produce the certificate, but expert Andrea Firmenich refused to issue it without a chemical analysis of the artwork. The Doerner Institute in Munich conducted the first analysis, and concluded that the painting was a forgery; the result was confirmed by the second analysis conducted by Dr Nicholas Eastaugh, from London/Oxford, in August 2008. All analyses were performed at the expense of the buyer.
Trasteco Ltd filed a civil lawsuit against the auction house in September 2008 in order to be reimbursed of its 2.88 million Euros. During the proceeding, Artveras contacted various experts and helped unmask the Jägers Collection forgery scandal in a decisive way. To this day, Artveras client has not been reimbursed, contrary to allegations published in the German press, and despite the arrest of the criminals and the formal statement by experts about the forgery.*
Provenance, a crucial element in art authentication
Contrary to allegations made by the Lempertz auction house, it never took the initiative for the paintings of the so-called Jägers Collection to be examines and authenticated by experts or estate executors of the artists in question. Rotes Bild mit Pferden, attributed to Campendonk and sold to Trasteco Ltd is not an isolated case in the dealings of Lempertz. In fact, five other paintings from the notorious Jägers Collection were sold as authentic artworks by the same auction housetwo forged Pechstein, Seine mit Brücke und Frachtkähnen and Nu couché avec chat. Contrary to allegations made by Lempertz, these artworks were not professionally authenticated by the son of Max K. Pechstein.
In 1995, the forgers tried to sell their first painting to Lempertz; it was immediately identified as a forgery, thanks to the archive of artist Hans Purrmann. This episode should have raised red flags with Lempertz and encouraged extreme caution, if not increased vigilance regarding works coming from this source. Nevertheless, Lemperta continued for many years to sell the paintings brought in by the same people.
It seems that the German forgers may have sold over twenty forgeries from the so-called Jägers Collection, signed by the most famous painters (especially German expressionists such as Campendonk and Pechstein, but Léger and Metzinger as well) for a total sum estimated between 30 and 80 million Euros.
The victims of this skilled forgery ring are numerousexperts, well-established art galleries, and prestigious auction houses. While Lempertz continues to deny any wrongdoings and refuses to compensate the victims, other well-known auction houses work actively with clients who were duped, and try to find fair solutions to compensate them.
Had the provenance and the past sellers and buyers been analyzed, this scandal would have been avoided, since provenance plays a crucial role in the art market.
*··········Three analyses, including two scientific ones, have so far concluded that the painting is notauthentic. The Doerner Institute, specializing in the physical and chemical analysis of artworks, showed evidence in March 2008 that the artwork contained particles of a colour pigment, called titanium white, which had not been identifiedlet alone produced industriallyat the time of the alleged creation of the work. This fact was confirmed by a second analysis performed in August and September 2008 by Dr. Nicholas Eastaugh, renowned British physicist and art historian, who took a sample of the problematic colour pigments on the painting. The Flechtheim expert Ralph Jentsch conducted a third analysis, and concluded that the labels of the Flechtheim Gallery found on the back of the canvas were forged.