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  • Writer's pictureVan Weyenbergh Fine Art

Fake art discovered through scientific analysis.


Sold five years ago for nearly £ 8.5million, a magnificent 17th-century portrait of a man given to Dutch artist Frans Hals was reimbursed to its buyer by Sotheby's after an analysis revealed that 'it was a skillfully executed scythe.

The specialists of Dutch painting were stunned by the result of this analysis. It shows that the author is probably the greatest plagiarist of all time, so much he was inspired by the style and verve so typical of Frans Hals .

It was following the seizure a few months ago in France of a 16th-century painting by Lucas Cranach representing Venus belonging to the collection of the Prince of Lichtenstein denounced as doubtful in an anonymous letter sent to the police that the analysis of the painting attributed to Hals was performed.

The scandal would, in fact, involve 200 million euros of fake paintings which deceived reputed experts now ridiculed before it was realized that the portrait signed Hals came from the same source as Lucas Cranach's Venus seized by the French police, namely collector Giuliano Rufini who owns several works whose origin remains unclear.

Hals' painting had been considered as a major rediscovery that interested the Louvre Museum in 2008, but it was unable to raise the 5 million euros requested by Christie's on behalf of its seller after he had passed a battery of tests at the French Center for Research and Restoration.

The work was finally bought for 3 million euros by the London dealer Mark Weiss who sold it privately via Sotheby's to the American collector Richard Hedreen who paid 10 million dollars.

Oddly, neither Weiss nor Sotheby's had questioned the lack of provenance of this painting before the auction house, worried about learning that the Cranach was a fake, dared to contact the Orion company. Analytical based in Massachusetts to study it more closely and then discover that it contained synthetic pigments from the 20th century. Sotheby's was obliged to reimburse the painting to its purchaser, but Weiss, still convinced of its authenticity, has still not returned the 50% he had received on its sale by demanding new analyzes. However, it should be remembered that in the case of the fake modern paintings sold by the Knoedler Gallery in New York, it was the Orion company that drove the point home in a resounding lawsuit by proving that they had nothing genuine.

Therefore, specialists in the antique painting market are now afraid of being confronted with a large-scale scandal, all the more so as 25 suspect works have left Ruffini's collection, which would mean that the experts would be called upon once again.

Like Hals' painting, Cranach's has been subjected to extensive analyzes which showed that it was far from dating from the 16th century when its surface had been artificially aged. Besides, two other paintings from the Ruffini collection, "David with the head of Goliath" supposedly painted by Orazio Gentileschi and a "Saint Jerome" attributed to Parmeggiani, presented respectively at the National Gallery in London and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, are now considered suspects.

Also belonging to Ruffini and sold in New York by Sotheby's in 2012 as a work of the Parmesan circle, the "Saint Jerome" now exhibited as attributed to the Metropolitan Museum painter will soon also undergo a thorough analysis.

Described as rediscovered in 1999, this work was considered an authentic Parmeggiani by specialists to the point of being exhibited at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna in 2003.

Now, it remains to be seen how Ruffini acquired so many now dubious paintings. However, it would be the work of a hyper-gifted forger who would have made detectable errors now in the cracks and lines found in them and by creating compositions that are too good to be true.

Obviously, other fakes will appear on the market while we still do not know who would have made them, a genius plagiarist capable of perfectly copying the styles of great masters as different as Hals or Cranach and to produce high-quality interpretations knowing how to age them with art.

However, these plagiarisms have shown their limits thanks to scientific analyzes because their author failed to find the period pigments, which will ultimately bring him back to the same level as the famous van Meegeren who cheated the experts of the 1930s and 1940 with his pastiches by Vermeer which now exude such glaring flaws that no longer a licensed specialist can be fooled.

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