The Summer issue of ArtNews is all about art crimes. One article read like an episode of “Law and Order” in any of its many permutations. It told the story of a couple, the De Soles, who paid $8.3 million to the Knoedler & Co. gallery for a fake Rothko. Knoedler & Co., a famous New York City gallery began selling European Masters to self made captains of industry know as robber barons in 1846. The gallery had a stellar reputation until the fraudulent sales forced them to close their doors. The article spends outlines the history of Knoedler, how Ann Freedman rose from receptionist at a rival gallery to president then gallery director.
The couple being experienced collectors and patrons of the arts. They dealt with the president of the gallery who said the work came from a very private Swiss family. She never produced a letter of provenance. Instead this story of the explained its absence. For those who don’t know, a letter of provenance chronicles the owners, date of sale and purchase price of a work of art, not unlike a family tree.
The painting and 40 other expertly crafted counterfeits over a 14 year period came to Freedman through a woman named Glafira Rosales. If the De Soles hadn’t gone to court, the details of this counterfeit ring might never have come to light or how easily even experienced collectors can be duped.
As the article progressed, I would see Sgt. Munch in all his intellectual cynicism, interrogating the players. Finally putting the dealer in cuffs. ArtNews went on to detail the events of the trial including lawyerly dramatics and strategies from both sides. Although I did not imagine Alexander Cabot nailing the culprits, I was horrified at the ease with which art world luminaries were used to bolster bogus claims. About this time in the saga, I thought to myself tis is a great argument for buying art directly from living artists. Living artists who provide a letter of provenance and your name heads the list.
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