Russian tycoon Viktor Vekselberg has filed a case with the Supreme Court of Great Britain against the world's leading auction house, Christie's, over an alleged fake painting his company bought in 2005.
The businessman is demanding a refund of $3 million from Christie’s for the phony copy of Russian painter Boris Kustodiev’s "Odalisque."
The painting, also known as "Nude in the Interior," was created in 1919 and was sold on November 30, 2005 at an auction of Russian art in London. The final price was $2.9 million, seven times more than expected.
Russian experts from the Moscow Grabar All-Russian Art Restoration Center, the St. Petersburg Russian Museum and the Moscow Tretyakov Gallery have confirmed the painting is a fake. This information was made public last year when the painting was featured in the “Fake Paintings Catalogue,” published by the Federal Cultural Heritage Protection Service. However, the name of the owner of the painting wasn’t then revealed.
According to Kommersant Daily, auction house experts pay extra attention to paintings by those authors whose fakes have appeared on the art scene in the past. However, Boris Kustodiev was never among those artists and experts can’t recall any significant fraud cases connected with his name. Moreover Kustodiev’s "Odalisque" had already been sold a first time by the same Christie’s in 1989. At that time there were no complaints about the authenticity of the painting.
“In my opinion it’s not the authenticity of the picture that will be discussed in court,” Tatyana Markina, columnist for Kommersant newspaper told RT. “There's a problem of whether the auction house could have guessed its origins. The painting had been in their collection for several years by that time and there were no suspicions among its owners – if Christie's prove that they only had the information which backed the authenticity of the painting, then it’s likely that the appeal will be rejected.”
The racket around this case is also connected with the present legislation, according to which the auction house’s responsibility term for the authenticity of their art works is limited to five years from the moment they go under the hammer. In the case of "Odalisque" this term expires in November 2010.
“The scandal won’t put Christie’s out of business, but it will certainly have a knock-on effect on how credible they are in this market,” Andy Potts, senior editor of Moscow News website told RT.
James Butterwick, Russian art collector and dealer, is also skeptical about the possibility of serious aftermaths of the case for the famous auction house.
“First, this was a picture from a reasonably well-known collector… And he had other pictures in his collection which were sold through Christie’s which were entirely genuine. So I think the likelihood is that Christie’s thought it was genuine and I don’t think it’s going to affect their reputation. I think that if you look at the auction results over the last 45 years, they are very strong, especially Christie’s,” says the collector.