Christie's lose fakeski case

July 30 2012

Image of Christie's lose fakeski case

Picture: Christie's

A High Court judge in London has ruled that Christie's must reimburse a Russian collector £1.7m, after deciding that a painting signed 'Kustodiev' is a fake. From The Telegraph:

Following a 20-day hearing, Mr Justice Newey dismissed allegations that Christie’s was negligent or that it misrepresented the painting.

However, he ruled: “I do not think certainty on the point is possible but my task is to determine authenticity on the balance of probabilities and the likelihood, in my view, is that Odalisque is the work of someone other than Kustodiev. “It follows that Aurora is entitled to cancel its purchase and to recover the money paid for it.”

Christie’s said they were “surprised and disappointed” by the ruling. A spokesman said: “We welcome the judge’s findings that Christie’s was not negligent. We are surprised and disappointed by his view of the painting’s attribution. We maintain our belief in the attribution to Kustodiev and are considering our options.”

Christie's must also pay £1m in costs. Much of the case came down to a pigment used to paint the signature, an aluminium based paint. The owner said it was only invented after Kustodiev's death. Christie's said that it was available at the time, just not widely used. I'm no Kustodiev expert so couldn't begin to say whether the painting is legitimate or not. But, as I said before, the case is a curious one given that the picture sold as a legitimate Kustodiev in 1989 for just £19,000, long before the market for Russian fakes (which is enormous) really got going. It's also worth noting that in Russia the 'expertise' for deciding what is fake and what is genuine can be hopelessly corrupt. 

One thing is probably certain, however. The huge problem of forgeries and the fall in the market for 20th C Russian art means that the owner of the 'Kustodiev' made a better investment by buying a fake - and winning the case - than if he had bought a genuine work.

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