Who was André Borie? (ctd.)

April 20 2016

Image of Who was André Borie? (ctd.)

Picture: Journal des Arts

The seller of the cache of Old Master paintings caught up at the centre of potential faking scandal has broken cover. He is Giulano Ruffini, and is shown in the photo above with Andrée Borie, the daughter of Andre Borie the French industrialist who died in 1971. It is from Borie's collection that, we were told, the Old Masters came from. Ruffini is in his 70s, and lives in Malta.

Ruffini has given two interviews. The first is in Le Journal des Arts to the French journalis Vincent Noce, who first broke the story in The Art Newspaper. The other is to the online magazine called Roadsmag. Both are in French, and worth reading in full. There is a lot of stuff in the latter about the financial dealings between the various parties who sold the Cranach Venus (seized last month by a French court amid allegations that it was a fake) to Colnaghi, the London dealers who then sold the picture to the Prince of Liechtenstein. These are allegations that I don't want to get involved with, for the main interest for AHNers is in whether the pictures are genuine or not. 

So, here are the headlines from Ruffini's interviews. First, the Journal des Arts. My thoughts, for what they're worth] are in square brackets.

  • Through Ruffini's hands passed works by, or described as being by; Bruegel, Hals, Gentileschi, Correggio, Van Dyck, El Greco, Velazquez, Parmigianino, Bronzino, Grimmer, Coorte, and others. [The Correggio AHN readers will be aware of - that picture was on the market with Borie provenance. The Van Dyck I have not heard of, the Velazquez may be the same picture referred to already on AHN (see below). Rumours have been circulating in the London art trade about a Coorte for some time. Whether it is associated with this discussion I do not know.] 
  • The Hals (sold to the London dealer Mark Weiss) was, Ruffini says, not from the Borie collection, but bought in 2000 in France from the 'friend of a Duke, who was ambassador to the Netherlands for just €7,000 or €8,000. [This is new information - previously it appeared that the Hals came from the Borie collection.]. Ruffini says he showed the picture first to Diaz Padron (formerly of the Museo Prado) who said it was not by Hals. Then he showed it to Christie's in Paris, who said it was by Hals, and that they could sell it for him. The Louvre then tried to buy the picture, for €5m, but failed. It was then sold in 2010 to Weiss, with, Ruffini says, 'no guarantee of authenticity'.
  • The Gentileschi did, Ruffini says, come from the Borie collection, though he bought it 'indirectly'. Again, Ruffini himself did not believe the picture was genuine - other experts declared it so. Weiss acquired it in 2012.
  • The Cranach also, it appears from this interview, comes from the Borie collection. He had it since 1973 (which is when, we have been told previously, Ruffini acquired a number of pictures from Borie's daughter). Again, Ruffini says he did not think it was genuine, but other experts declared it so.
  • The Velazquez of Cardinal Borgia Ruffini also says was a copy, and that he never wanted to sell it as an original. This was apparently consigned to Colnaghi for a while, but is now back in Ruffini's possession. [This may or may not be the same Velasquez of Cardinal Borgia which a Velasquez scholar told me was, in his view, 'a recent fake'.]
  • Andrée Borie died in 1980. She had previously sold some works from her father's collection [where are they?] but others she gave to Ruffini. There is no paperwork, and it was says Ruffini a private transaction. He says he had many photographs, but his wife threw them away.
  • He reiterates, finally, that he at no time said his pictures were genunie.

Now, onto the Roadsmag interview.

  • This begins with reference to a novel by the French author Jules-Francois Ferrillon about a forger. This forger happens to sell a fake Cranach of Venus, and indeed a photo of the Liechtenstein Venus appeared last year in a You Tube video about the book. Ferrillon in interviews has so far been vague about any connection between the two cases, but now Ruffini says that he discussed the whole idea with Ferrillon. 
  • He says he was qualified to discuss these matters with Ferrillon because he knew about how forger's make copies, and discusses some of the techniques (such as being heated in an oven).
  • Ruffini says in this interview that he bought the Gentileschi in 1995. He does not say from where. He says he thought it was a later copy, perhaps 19th Century.
  • Ruffini says he sold the Hals for €3m 'without warranty' for the attribution. 
  • He says he never said the Cranach was genuine. There is a great deal of allegation about the people he says cheated him out of money on the Cranach.
  • In his youth Ruffini was an artist.

So, what to make of all the above? I need to digest all this further, and must now dash off to a speaking engagement at the Bowes Museum. But first, it seems to me that Ruffini has been extraordinarily lucky, to find or buy or be given a succession of previously unknown Old Masters which are unusually well preserved.

Second, I am struck by the repeated insistence that he never himself thought or claimed that his pictures were genuine. He thought they were all copies - it was other people who declared them so. And yet at the same time he is now claiming he has been swindled out of the proceeds of the sale of a genuine Cranach.

Is Ruffini the luckiest collector in history?

Update - here is a follow up piece in Le Quotidien de L'Art which has a photograph of a 'Pontormo' apparently connected to the affair. It also reports that the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna is involved in analysing the Cranach. I heard independently, but cannot verify, that the Louvre had apparently refused to be involved in testing the Cranach.

Update II - further provenance for the Hals can be found in the Weiss Gallery's catalogue here, no.20, which states that it came from the collection of the 4th Viscount Mablas (1893-1985) of Spain, and that it then passed to a private collection in Biarritz, from where it was sold in 1994.  

Update III - something about that photo is puzzling me.

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