More fakes at auction?

March 21 2012

Image of More fakes at auction?

Picture: TAN

This time, Greek ones (allegedly). A leading Greek collector is suing Sotheby's over two alleged fakes. According to Riah Pryor in The Art Newspaper

The collector Diamantis Diamantides, who owns the shipping firm, Marmaras Navigation, is one of the biggest buyers of Greek art. He bought Still Life Before the Acropolis [by Constantin Parthenis] from Sotheby’s, London, in 2006 and set a record price for the artist when he paid £670,100 for The Virgin and Child in the same saleroom in 2007. Both works are believed to have been consigned by the same two people, although Sotheby’s declined to disclose who they were. 

Doubts were soon raised over the authenticity of the works. Diamantides eventually lodged a complaint against the auction house and Constantine Frangos, the London-based senior director of Greek art at Sotheby’s, in February 2010, saying that they fraudulently induced him to buy forgeries. A spokesman for Sotheby’s denies this vigorously, saying: “It stands to reason that an auction house that sells billions of dollars of art a year, and relies on its reputation to secure consignments and purchasers, would not put its business at risk by knowingly selling forged works.” The spokesman adds: “We are reviewing further evidence that has been submitted concerning the authenticity of the works.” A decision on the case is expected shortly.

That Sotheby's statement was looking really convincing until the word 'knowingly' creapt in there. I doubt anyone really thinks a major auction house like Sotheby's knowingly sells fakes. The question is, how rigorously are works checked before sale? As we know from the Beltracchi case, the answer is, sometimes, not very.

The illustration above is of one of the earliest suspected recent Greek fakes, Lady in White, meant to be by Dimitrios Galanis. From TAN:

Rumours of widespread forgery began in 2008 when Bonhams rejected a work, Lady in White, by Dimitrios Galanis (1880-1966) and said “further research” on the work was needed. The sheer volume of works coming on to the market also raised suspicions, especially as the country has relatively few well known modern artists.

A sharp-eyed reader has been in touch to say that it is a copy of a well known painting by Meredith Frampton in the Tate. He says:

One wonders at Bonhams having to do further research on the piece!

That, I suppose, is because the picture wasn't 'rejected' by Bonhams quite as The Art Newspaper suggests - it had in fact been included in a sale, with an estimate of £50-70,000, and had to be withdrawn. Whoops! Here's the original catalogue entry for the picture, which, in retrospect, is hilarious, and a contender for 'Guffwatch of the Decade':

Discovered in Germany by its present owner, this stunning portrait sheds new light on Galanis’ scarcely recorded German period, making it a rare piece, extremely valuable to scholarly research. In his seminal account on the painter - the first Greek to be accepted among the European avant-garde, art historian M. Mavrommatis holds that “we might never be able to reconstruct this period in his career, unless new evidence comes to light." [...]

A startling example of fine portraiture, the painting on offer is a penetrating study in formal balance, eventually unfolding into abstract rhythmic designs in which contours and colour harmonies are mutually interdependent. The pleated curtain on the upper left is ingeniously echoed in the lower right, its greenness repeated in the tablecloth and leafage, its columnar verticality surviving in the stripes of the vase and its sculptural presence resounding in the art-deco solidity of the flower motifs. Likewise, the warm red of the wall is picked up in the sitter’s shoes and lips, while the round form of the side table is supported by a series of curvilinear themes in both the sofa and the sitter’s body. These magnificent and well-thought harmonies provide the solid framework on which Galanis would mount the focal point of his composition: the striking antithesis of brooding black and brilliant white in the centre of the painting. 

The effect of the picture is heightened immeasurably by the sitter’s commanding presence, confident stare and aristocratic posture. Devoid of any jewellery and wearing a simple, virginal dress, the sitter becomes a symbol of nobility without the glitter of high society. In this picture Galanis’ achievement is one of utter elegance and majesty, phrased by an almost musically articulate series of formal elements that weld the image and its attendant attributes into a compelling entity of idealised, eternal beauty.

What is 'columnar verticality', by the way?

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