The prosecution accused two Melbourne-based men of a joint criminal venture relating to the sale and creation of the paintings. They also alleged that a third painting called Lavender bay through the window, whose whereabouts are unknown, was involved.
After three days of deliberations, the jury last week found both men guilty on two counts of obtaining a financial advantage through deception, and one count for attempting to gain an economic benefit through deception.
Both men’s defense barristers have said they will appeal.
The judgment also calls into question current processes for art authentication on the secondary market of Australia.
Who authenticates artwork?
First, there is no certification system in Australia. Certificates of authenticity are often provided by art galleries, dealers, or estates who have a financial interest in the outcome.
A conservator can be hired to conduct a materials analysis of a work of art that is suspect. However, this costly option is only used when there are legal implications.
In Australia, there is no requirement for certification. Therefore, anyone could write a certificate. In practice, the secondary art market generally accepts opinions from experts who have done the research for a catalog raise.
Different countries have different approaches to authentication. In America, there are artist foundations that consist of family members and experts who are the authorities on a particular artist. In recent years, a growing number of these foundations, such as The Andy have stopped authenticating artworks for fear of litigation.
Art forgers can exploit these gaps to their advantage.
Some committees or artist estates in France hold moral rights to an artist’s works and can challenge attributions legally.
While the system is beneficial in that it defines the person or organization who has the final say on authenticity, this power makes it difficult for a challenge to be mounted when there are differing opinions.
They can also destroy works they deem unauthentic. A collector found this out when the Chagall Committee declined to return a painting that he had asked them to evaluate. A recent court case failed to prevent the destruction of an artwork for which the owner paid PS100,000.
This action could discourage collectors from attempting to authenticate artworks and limit the introduction of fakes into the art market. This could lead to the destruction of works that were later found to be genuine. It is important to note that the Van Gogh Museum’s rediscovery of Sunset at Montmajour was previously dismissed as a forgery but was confirmed as a real Van Gogh after re-examination with modern technology.
A body can have a great influence on the authenticity of a work, even if it does not hold definite Morals.
If the work were to be sold, the price would have been significantly higher if it had not been included in Wildenstein’s catalog.
The authenticity of artworks has fluctuated due to other artist authentication committees. For example, the Rembrandt Research Project reduced the number of authentic Rembrandts to approximately 250.
The National Gallery of Victoria has downgraded one of three Rembrandt works in its collection from a self-portrait to a from Rembrandt‘s studio.
The Melbourne trial shows that Australia must get its act together. There is no simple solution to the authentication problem. The Australian government certifies the valuers that examine donated works from private collections. The Australian government insures valuers who read works presented to the public from private collections.
The money involved in this case is small change compared to the other international art fraud scandals (Knoedler’s art dealer Glafira Roseles’ forgery scheme was valued at US$80,000,000, and Wolfgang Beltracchi forgeries sold for US$22,000,000). Still, the Australian art market will feel the ripple effect unless they are able to resolve the issue of art authentication.