Investors must pay back Sotheby's over forged Frans Hals, court finds

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Investors must pay back Sotheby's over forged Frans Hals, court finds
“Portrait of a Man,” previously attributed to Frans Hals. Courtesy Sotheby's.

by Nina Siegal

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE ).- A British court ruled on Wednesday that an art investment firm, Fairlight Art Ventures, was liable for its role selling a painting attributed to the Dutch old master Frans Hals that was later deemed a forgery. The company must reimburse about $6 million to Sotheby’s, the auction house that brokered the sale, the court said.

“The nice thing is that court decided in Sotheby’s favor on every single point,” a Sotheby’s lawyer, Paul Lomas, said in a telephone interview. “It was, in that sense, a very strong result.”

Fairlight did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

David Kowitz, the founder of Fairlight, and Mark Weiss, a London art dealer, bought the painting as a Frans Hals in 2010, and asked Sotheby’s to broker a private sale of the work. The auction house sold it for $10.75 million to American art collector Richard Hedreen. Fairlight and Weiss shared the $10.75 million in revenues, and Sotheby’s earned an additional commission as the broker of the deal.

In 2016, after rumors of other potential forgeries in the world of European old master paintings circulated in the art world, the buyer asked Sotheby’s to seek an independent assessment of the painting. A study conducted by Orion Analytical, a scientific analysis firm (later acquired by Sotheby’s), found that the painting was “undoubtedly a forgery.”

Sotheby’s reimbursed Hedreen the $10.75 million sale price, but Fairlight and Weiss did not pay Sotheby’s back their earnings from the sale, arguing that the painting was genuine.

In a statement Weiss sent to The New York Times on Wednesday, he said he was sure the painting was not a forgery. “I have always believed and maintained that the painting was by Frans Hals,” he wrote. “The painting was bought and sold in good faith.”

Lomas said Sotheby’s and Weiss came to an independent settlement a few weeks before the trial began earlier this year. Weiss will pay Sotheby’s “several million dollars,” he said, although he did not say the exact amount. Fairlight argued that it was not an official partner in the sale, and continued to fight the case independently in court.

In the verdict on Wednesday, the court did not weigh in on the question of the painting’s authenticity. “This judgment does not determine whether the painting is by Frans Hals,” the verdict states. “Whether by Frans Hals or not, it is to be hoped that its intrinsic qualities will not be ignored, and that it might be enjoyed for what it is, which is a fine painting.”

© 2019 The New York Times Company

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