The cases are due to be heard later this month, one in the Port Elizabeth branch of the Specialised Commercial Crimes Court and the other in the Randburg Magistrate’s Court in Johannesburg.
The pensioner, Tiny de Beer, claims one of his Pemba paintings was sold for almost double the amount he received from art dealer Harriet Hedley. He suspects the same may be true of two other paintings he entrusted to Hedley.
In January 2008, De Beer contacted Johannesburg art dealership Gilfillan Scott-Berning, who sent Hedley to view the Pemba paintings. In an affidavit submitted to court, De Beer says Hedley valued the paintings and agreed to sell them on his behalf. At the time Hedley was a consultant for Christie’s auction house, based in London.
Hedley valued all three paintings at De Beer’s Port Elizabeth home and left with them, promising to consult him before selling them, says De Beer. He was told later that all three had been sold for between R35440 and R79740.
His suspicions were raised when his son saw one of the paintings, At the Chief’s Place, advertised on the internet for R420000.
This prompted him to make enquiries about the original sale. The family then found that the painting had been sold to the Old Auction House in Durban for R136735.
“Just prior to me finding out that the painting was sold, I had spoken to Hedley, who told me that she had not sold it yet. After I had discovered that the painting was sold, I phoned her and asked her to send my painting back. She only then told me that the painting was sold,” De Beer said in his affidavit. “I am of the opinion that Hedley defrauded me in understating her invoices to me … she should have sold the paintings for the best price, and she was entitled to 10% of the selling price as commission.”
Further inquiries by De Beer revealed that the painting was resold to Lewellyn Kruger, an independent art dealer in Port Elizabeth, for R165000.
Kruger, who spoke to the Sunday Times last year when the row first surfaced, has confirmed buying the painting for that amount. He then sold it to a private customer in London. He said he was ashamed to discover the painting’s origin – and that the owner appeared to have been short-changed.
According to the charge sheet before the court, Hedley faces a charge of fraud and an alternative charge of theft.
Pemba was, in his day, one of South Africa’s top artists. His work depicted scenes from everyday life. Born in 1912, he was posthumously awarded the Order of Ikhamanga.
Legal representatives for De Beer and Hedley declined to comment this week.
De Beer’s lawyer in the civil matter, Angus Bailey, confirmed he had been instructed to seek a default order against Gilfillan Scott-Berning on the basis that his client had been defrauded to the tune of R50000.
De Beer is still trying to track down his other paintings, which he believes were also sold for substantially more than he received.
Leigh-Anne Pillay-Selahle, senior state advocate in the Commercial Crimes Court in Port Elizabeth, confirmed the trial would begin next week. “Gilfillan Scott-Berning cc and Harriet Hedley (as representative of the cc and in her personal capacity) are charged with one count of fraud, alternatively theft, in the amount of R50347.21,” Pillay-Selahle said.
E-mail correspondence between De Beer and Christie’s in 2009 shows the auction house distanced itself from Hedley since she collected the Pemba paintings.
“The sale that you complain of took place after the termination of our relationship with Hedley,” said Christie’s legal representative, Martin Wilson.