The $7 Million Fake: Forgery Scandal Embarrasses International Art World – SPIEGEL ONLINE – News – International
After he arrived for questioning at the State Office of Criminal Investigation (LKA) in Berlin, Werner Spies started off by telling investigators that he was the world’s only expert on the works of the artist Max Ernst. Spies, an eminent German art historian, said that he first met the great surrealist in 1966, and he remains in close contact with Ernst’s widow, the 100-year-old artist Dorothea Tanning. He was then questioned for a total of six hours.
That was on Oct. 5 of last year. On that day, LKA investigators must have fully realized the enormity of the case surrounding the— and that they were dealing with a huge scandal that extended far beyond the German art market and had international ramifications.
German artist Wolfgang Beltracchi, who has been in custody since last August, allegedly led a group that sold forged paintings by minor German expressionists, like Heinrich Campendonk. At the same time, the group circulated forgeries of works by the world famous surrealist Max Ernst (1891-1976). These paintings found their way, via galleries in Paris, to New York and the world’s top international collectors.
Thanks to certificates of authenticity that were apparently far too gullibly issued by Max Ernst expert Spies, and which transformed forgeries into originals, Beltracchi and his accomplices were able to internationally place at least five paintings supposedly by Ernst. One of the buyers was New York publisher Daniel Filipacchi, who is one of the world’s foremost collectors of surrealist art. According to investigators, he paid $7 million (4.9 million) for the forgery “La Forêt (2).”
This would make this painting the most expensive forgery that the Beltracchi group ever put into circulation. The public prosecutor’s office in Cologne recently brought charges against Beltracchi and three alleged accomplices in connection with the sale of 14 forged canvases. Authorities estimate that the sale and resale of the artwork resulted in total losses to the art community amounting to nearly 34.1 million. Lawyers representing Beltracchi and his wife Helene have declined to comment on the charges against their clients.