Art forgery is in the news again, this time with the trial in Germany of Wolfgang and Helene Beltracchi who were found guilty of forging and selling approximately 47 paintings by masters such as Max Ernst, Max Pechstein and Heinrich Campendonk.
The Beltraccis’ “Red Picture with Horses” by Heinrich Campendonk failed a scientific authenticity test after it was sold at auction for €2.9 million ($3.7 million).
Thanks to certificates of authenticity that were apparently far too gullibly issued by Max Ernst expert Werner Spies, and which transformed forgeries into originals, Beltracchi and his accomplices were able to internationally place at least five paintings supposedly by Ernst.
According to Wolfgang’s testimony, “money alone didn’t really interest me,” Die Welt reports. Instead, it was “really fun” to forge paintings, he said. “I didn’t especially like the art market and art dealers,” “You have to know how the art market works. Where is the greatest greed?”
Painter Wolfgang Beltracchi (60) was sentenced to six years, his wife Helene (53) to four years, and accomplice Otto Schulte-Kellinghaus to five years. A fourth defendant, Helene’s sister,Jeannette Spurzem, received one year and nine months parole.
The sentencing proved relatively mild due to a deal the defendants struck with the state for their confessions, helping them avoid the maximum nine-year sentence.
The fraudulent but convincing and carefully researched works were verified as authentic by experts unaffiliated with the four forgers, allowing the paintings to slip into the international art market.
My questions are:
Six years in prison? For what exactly? For defrauding the gullible fools who buy paintings, not for their aesthetic value, but their anticipated resale value.
As Beltracchi said –
……..his father, an art restorer, showed him how to copy works by Rembrandt and other Old Masters. In court, he said that he made all the forgeries alone and boasted of his artistic skill. “In my thoughts, I created an original work, an unpainted painting by the artists of the past,” Beltracchi testified, according to Die Welt. “I painted works that really should have been in the artist’s oeuvre.” He added that he wanted to make his forgeries “even a little better” than original works by Ernst or Pechstein, and that the results were sometimes “too good.
And why is Spies not in jail also? He validated the works and is therefore part of the fraud, albeit unwittingly.
It also demonstrates the point that it does not matter whose signature is on the canvas, the value is in the picture itself.
As Frank Stella said “What you see is what you see.”
To which I would add. you must make your own judgement; do not rely on experts. And don’t buy it hoping to make a profit when you sell it; if that is the only thing that interests you then you deserve to lose money, whether fraudulently or otherwise.