Oligarch Vikselberg Plans Suit Against Christie’s Over Alleged Forgery
Published: July 28, 2010
MOSCOW— Billionaire tycoon Viktor Vekselberg, owner of a massive collection of Russian art, has initiated a lawsuit against Christie’s auction house through his off-shore investment vehicle Aurora Fine Art Fund, demanding repayment of the £1.69 million ($2.6 million) spent at a November 2005 London sale on a Boris Kustodiev painting, plus damages. “Odalisque,” as the work is titled, depicts a nude woman reclining in bed, framed by golden curtains and partially draped with a vibrant blue duvet. It is signed “B. Kustodiev” in Cyrillic script.
As reported in The Art Newspaper, the Aurora Fund originally expressed concern over the legitimacy of the piece in 2006, but received no response from the auction house when it sought assurance of the work’s authenticity. Then, in 2009, Rosokhrankultura — the Russian federal service tasked with protecting the nation’s cultural heritage — published a catalogue of fraudulent works, which included “Odalisque.” Vekselberg’s organization then began its quest for confirmation of the piece’s fraudulent attribution, taking the work to the Tretyakov Gallery (a leading institution in Kustodiev scholarship), the Russian Museum, the Grabar Art Scientific Restoration Center, and private expert Vladimir Petrov.
“Christie’s have been provided with four reports, signed in total by eight very well qualified experts in the field of Kustodiev, all of whom came to the conclusion that the painting is a forgery and that Christies’ attribution was therefore wrong,” managing partner of Aurora Andre Ruzhnikov said in a statement. But Christie’s remains firm in its defense of its original claim of the work’s authenticity, and a spokesperson for the auction house told Forbes that it would combat Aurora’s claims that the work was fraudulent, stating: “Given that Aurora has chosen to issue proceedings before allowing us the opportunity to complete our investigations, we have no option but to defend them.”