In the aftermath of the second world war, allied soldiers recovered paintings of great value that the Nazis had looted from museums during their conquest of Europe. Among these was a most remarkable work by the eminent Johann Vermeer, The woman taken in adultery, found in the stash of Hermann Goering, Hitler’s second-in-line. Tracing its acquisition records pointed to a certain Han van Meegeren as the dealer in Amsterdam and a potential traitor to the Netherlands. Faced with a charge of collaboration for selling a Dutch national treasure to the Nazis, van Meegeren wrestled with a dilemma: stand trial for this act of treason, punishable by death, or confess to forgery?

Van Meegeren had forged The woman taken in adultery, as well as a handful of other artworks, attributing them to Dutch golden age painters Vermeer and Pieter de Hooch. This arose out of a desperate need for income due to his failing artistic career as well as a personal vendetta against the art historians and museum curators who denied his talents. 

Van Meegeren was a unique forger, in that he created ‘original forgeries’ – paintings made to resemble the style of a particular artist but which had never been created by them. He imitated the styles of the masters so convincingly that he was able to dupe both the Nazis and well-regarded art historians. He accomplished this with a number of duplicitous tricks, including purchasing genuinely aged canvases and using the expensive ultramarine blue pigment that artists would have exclusively used for blue in the 17th century.

One trick involved mixing bakelite into paint pigments and baking completed canvases in the oven – the resulting hard paint layer gave the appearance of authentic age. Bakelite is the common name for a resin, a thermosetting plastic synthesised from an elimination reaction between phenol and formaldehyde.

Unfortunately, his clever sleight of hand was eventually seen through. A key witness to the trial was Paul Coremans, a Belgian chemist. To disprove van Meegeren’s work, he conducted x-ray radiography on the forgeries. The radiograph revealed damage marks from van Meegeren’s modification of the canvases he had obtained to fit his new paintings, detecting traces of the old paint layer’s white lead residue he had scraped away and showing that the craquelure of the underlying primer layer did not match that of the painted surface layer, which van Meegeren had artificially induced. Another anachronism was that the ultramarine blue pigment van Meegeren had used contained traces of cobalt blue, a cheaper synthetic alternative that would have been unavailable during Vermeer’s time.

Read full text at: A veneer of Vermeer | Chemistry World

October 4th, 2015

Posted In: fakes and forgeries, Ton Cremers

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In the aftermath of the second world war, allied soldiers recovered paintings of great value that the Nazis had looted from museums during their conquest of Europe. Among these was a most remarkable work by the eminent Johann Vermeer, The woman taken in adultery, found in the stash of Hermann Goering, Hitler’s second-in-line. Tracing its acquisition records pointed to a certain Han van Meegeren as the dealer in Amsterdam and a potential traitor to the Netherlands. Faced with a charge of collaboration for selling a Dutch national treasure to the Nazis, van Meegeren wrestled with a dilemma: stand trial for this act of treason, punishable by death, or confess to forgery?

Van Meegeren had forged The woman taken in adultery, as well as a handful of other artworks, attributing them to Dutch golden age painters Vermeer and Pieter de Hooch. This arose out of a desperate need for income due to his failing artistic career as well as a personal vendetta against the art historians and museum curators who denied his talents. 

Van Meegeren was a unique forger, in that he created ‘original forgeries’ – paintings made to resemble the style of a particular artist but which had never been created by them. He imitated the styles of the masters so convincingly that he was able to dupe both the Nazis and well-regarded art historians. He accomplished this with a number of duplicitous tricks, including purchasing genuinely aged canvases and using the expensive ultramarine blue pigment that artists would have exclusively used for blue in the 17th century.

One trick involved mixing bakelite into paint pigments and baking completed canvases in the oven – the resulting hard paint layer gave the appearance of authentic age. Bakelite is the common name for a resin, a thermosetting plastic synthesised from an elimination reaction between phenol and formaldehyde.

Unfortunately, his clever sleight of hand was eventually seen through. A key witness to the trial was Paul Coremans, a Belgian chemist. To disprove van Meegeren’s work, he conducted x-ray radiography on the forgeries. The radiograph revealed damage marks from van Meegeren’s modification of the canvases he had obtained to fit his new paintings, detecting traces of the old paint layer’s white lead residue he had scraped away and showing that the craquelure of the underlying primer layer did not match that of the painted surface layer, which van Meegeren had artificially induced. Another anachronism was that the ultramarine blue pigment van Meegeren had used contained traces of cobalt blue, a cheaper synthetic alternative that would have been unavailable during Vermeer’s time.

Read full text at: A veneer of Vermeer | Chemistry World

October 4th, 2015

Posted In: fakes and forgeries, Ton Cremers

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Knoedler fakes case will go to trial, judge orders

In a forgery scandal that shook the art world, the now-shuttered Knoedler Gallery and its former director Ann Freedman will have to go to trial in two cases involving the sale of fake Abstract Expressionist paintings, Manhattan’s federal court ruled on Wednesday, 30 September.  

In his three-page order, Judge Gardephe denied the gallery’s and Freedman’s motions for summary judgment in the lawsuits brought by the New York collector John Howard and Sotheby’s chairman Domenico De Sole and his wife, Eleanore. The judge said that his reasons for denying the motions “will be set forth in a forthcoming Memorandum Opinion and Order” but did not specify when.

The order also dismissed Knoedler’s owner Michael Hammer and the former gallery employee Michael Andrade from both cases. Hammer’s holding company 8-31 remains in the cases, although the judge dismissed certain claims against it.

Freedman, Knoedler, and Hammer have consistently denied they knowingly sold fakes.  Freedman’s lawyer Luke Nikas says: “This case is about integrity, and as much as we may respectfully disagree with the decision, it has an important silver lining: Ann Freedman will now have the full opportunity to tell her story and prove her good faith.” Knoedler and Hammer’s lawyer had not responded to requests for comment by the time of publication.

“The ruling recognises that the De Soles have mounted compelling evidence that they were defrauded. It shows the art world that this is a massive fraud that took place for over a decade,” says their attorney Gregory Clarick.

Around $60m worth of fake Abstract Expressionist paintings passed through Knoedler gallery, according to the Manhattan US Attorney’s Office. All the fakes were brought to Knoedler by the Long Island art dealer Glafira Rosales, who pleaded guilty to money laundering and federal tax evasion, and is now awaiting sentencing.

The scandal broke in late 2011, when the London hedge funder Pierre Lagrange filed a lawsuit charging that Knoedler sold him a work supposedly by Jackson Pollock that turned out to be a fake. The forgery ring ensnared Christie’s auction house, other art dealers such as Richard Feigen and Manny Silverman, who served as intermediaries in some sales, and noted collectors such as Jack Levy.

In all, ten lawsuits were brought against Knoedler and Freedman, four of which have been settled. The judge issued a separate opinion covering three of the other cases, dismissing certain claims and upholding others, but it has not been decided if these will go to trial.

Source: Knoedler fakes case will go to trial, judge orders

October 2nd, 2015

Posted In: fakes and forgeries, Ton Cremers

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A company used four fake Goya paintings to raise funds to build a medical center specializing in spinal cord injuries west of Madrid, the public prosecutor has said.Inversión y Explotación de Activos, SL produced an expert appraisal placing the collective value of the artwork at over €10 million, which was enough to persuade local authorities in the town of Villaviciosa de Odón to change its zoning plan to allow a former hotel to be converted into a specialized health center.But the police launched an investigation after suspecting that the paintings might not be the work of the great Spanish artist. Four people are now under court investigation in connection with the case.

more: Goya art forgery: Judge probes use of four fake Goyas to fund Madrid hospital | In English | EL PAÍS

September 17th, 2015

Posted In: fakes and forgeries

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A company used four fake Goya paintings to raise funds to build a medical center specializing in spinal cord injuries west of Madrid, the public prosecutor has said.Inversión y Explotación de Activos, SL produced an expert appraisal placing the collective value of the artwork at over €10 million, which was enough to persuade local authorities in the town of Villaviciosa de Odón to change its zoning plan to allow a former hotel to be converted into a specialized health center.But the police launched an investigation after suspecting that the paintings might not be the work of the great Spanish artist. Four people are now under court investigation in connection with the case.

more: Goya art forgery: Judge probes use of four fake Goyas to fund Madrid hospital | In English | EL PAÍS

September 17th, 2015

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It was supposed to be a day of festivities at a world-famous art museum out in the desert of western Uzbekistan. Instead, the stench of scandal sullied the occasion.

As dignitaries assembled in the region of Karakalpakstan on Sept. 4 to celebrate the centenary of Igor Savitsky, the founder of a museum housing a stunning collection of Russian avant-garde paintings, Uzbekistan’s art world is embroiled in a scandal featuring charges of forgery and embezzlement and suspicions of political machinations.

At the center of the controversy stands Marinika Babanazarova, the redoubtable hitherto director of the museum and the woman to whom Savitsky entrusted his life’s work when he died in 1984. By that time, the intrepid Soviet archeologist-turned-art-collector had amassed thousands of artworks that would otherwise have faced destruction, condemned by Soviet authorities as “decadent” and “bourgeois.” Savitsky hid the works far from Moscow’s prying eyes in Karakalpakstan, an arid autonomous region in western Uzbekistan, to preserve them for posterity.

Over the three decades since Savitsky’s death, Babanazarova has not only lovingly preserved his bequest, she has brought the Karakalpak State Art Museum to world prominence, casting reflected glory on Uzbekistan in the process.

But the 59-year-old former director now stands accused of plotting to forge paintings in the collection with the aim of selling off the originals for personal profit.

A report broadcast on Uzbekistan state TV news on Sept. 2 claimed that five paintings worth half a billion Uzbek som ($225,000) are missing from the museum and have been replaced with crude forgeries.

The report did not name Babanazarova, but it upped the ante in a war of words under way since late August, when she resigned. Babanazarova has since rescinded her resignation following public protests from her staff — an extraordinary show of support in a country where dissenters routinely end up behind bars.

Her departure also caused an outcry among art lovers abroad, prompting Uzbekistan’s Culture Ministry to step in to say that it “appreciates the former director’s contribution” but “urges the public to respect her decision to retire.”

By that time, Babanazarova had been summarily dismissed by the local authorities in Karakalpakstan.

Her resignation on Aug. 21 was made “under pressure and in a state of nervous stress,” she said in an open letter to Uzbekistan’s culture minister, Bahodir Ahmedov, posted on her Facebook page on August 29. The note prompted outpourings of support on social networks from local and foreign art lovers.

Pointing out that she would hardly damage an institution that has been her life’s work, she hinted at political machinations behind her troubles.

Babanazarova said she wrote to Uzbekistan’s Culture Ministry in Tashkent 12 times in recent weeks to seek support in the face of pressure from the Karakalpakstan local authorities, but that the minister had “thrown the museum to the wolves of small-time swindlers.”

Babanazarova did not name the “swindlers,” but appeared to imply that local officials wanted to get their hands on the valuable artworks.

Telephone calls to Uzbekistan’s Culture Ministry in Tashkent and the local Culture Ministry in Karakalpakstan went unanswered on Sept. 4.

As Babanazarova fights allegations of forgery and embezzlement in the Karakalpakstan museum, authorities claim to have uncovered art theft rings at other museums.

An official at the State Museum of Arts in Tashkent is under arrest on suspicion of selling off $18 million worth of paintings and replacing them with forgeries, Uzbek TV said on Sept. 2. A similar ring has been reported at a museum in the town of Angren.

The General Prosecutor’s Office repeatedly hung up on EurasiaNet.org’s calls for clarification on the investigations on Sept. 4.

More: Uzbekistan: Scandal Descends on Jewel of Avant-Garde Art | News | The Moscow Times

September 15th, 2015

Posted In: insider theft, Museum thefts

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It was supposed to be a day of festivities at a world-famous art museum out in the desert of western Uzbekistan. Instead, the stench of scandal sullied the occasion.

As dignitaries assembled in the region of Karakalpakstan on Sept. 4 to celebrate the centenary of Igor Savitsky, the founder of a museum housing a stunning collection of Russian avant-garde paintings, Uzbekistan’s art world is embroiled in a scandal featuring charges of forgery and embezzlement and suspicions of political machinations.

At the center of the controversy stands Marinika Babanazarova, the redoubtable hitherto director of the museum and the woman to whom Savitsky entrusted his life’s work when he died in 1984. By that time, the intrepid Soviet archeologist-turned-art-collector had amassed thousands of artworks that would otherwise have faced destruction, condemned by Soviet authorities as “decadent” and “bourgeois.” Savitsky hid the works far from Moscow’s prying eyes in Karakalpakstan, an arid autonomous region in western Uzbekistan, to preserve them for posterity.

Over the three decades since Savitsky’s death, Babanazarova has not only lovingly preserved his bequest, she has brought the Karakalpak State Art Museum to world prominence, casting reflected glory on Uzbekistan in the process.

But the 59-year-old former director now stands accused of plotting to forge paintings in the collection with the aim of selling off the originals for personal profit.

A report broadcast on Uzbekistan state TV news on Sept. 2 claimed that five paintings worth half a billion Uzbek som ($225,000) are missing from the museum and have been replaced with crude forgeries.

The report did not name Babanazarova, but it upped the ante in a war of words under way since late August, when she resigned. Babanazarova has since rescinded her resignation following public protests from her staff — an extraordinary show of support in a country where dissenters routinely end up behind bars.

Her departure also caused an outcry among art lovers abroad, prompting Uzbekistan’s Culture Ministry to step in to say that it “appreciates the former director’s contribution” but “urges the public to respect her decision to retire.”

By that time, Babanazarova had been summarily dismissed by the local authorities in Karakalpakstan.

Her resignation on Aug. 21 was made “under pressure and in a state of nervous stress,” she said in an open letter to Uzbekistan’s culture minister, Bahodir Ahmedov, posted on her Facebook page on August 29. The note prompted outpourings of support on social networks from local and foreign art lovers.

Pointing out that she would hardly damage an institution that has been her life’s work, she hinted at political machinations behind her troubles.

Babanazarova said she wrote to Uzbekistan’s Culture Ministry in Tashkent 12 times in recent weeks to seek support in the face of pressure from the Karakalpakstan local authorities, but that the minister had “thrown the museum to the wolves of small-time swindlers.”

Babanazarova did not name the “swindlers,” but appeared to imply that local officials wanted to get their hands on the valuable artworks.

Telephone calls to Uzbekistan’s Culture Ministry in Tashkent and the local Culture Ministry in Karakalpakstan went unanswered on Sept. 4.

As Babanazarova fights allegations of forgery and embezzlement in the Karakalpakstan museum, authorities claim to have uncovered art theft rings at other museums.

An official at the State Museum of Arts in Tashkent is under arrest on suspicion of selling off $18 million worth of paintings and replacing them with forgeries, Uzbek TV said on Sept. 2. A similar ring has been reported at a museum in the town of Angren.

The General Prosecutor’s Office repeatedly hung up on EurasiaNet.org’s calls for clarification on the investigations on Sept. 4.

More: Uzbekistan: Scandal Descends on Jewel of Avant-Garde Art | News | The Moscow Times

September 15th, 2015

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August 30th, 2015

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August 17th, 2015

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October 4th, 2014

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September 18th, 2014

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