The $7 Million Fake Forgery Scandal Embarrasses International Art World

Art expert Werner Spies (seen here in a 2007 photo), who authenticated a fake Max Ernst painting.
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Art expert Werner Spies (seen here in a 2007 photo), who authenticated a fake Max Ernst painting.

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Part 2: Painting Increased in Value


Over one year later, the painting surfaced at the Galerie Cazeau-Béraudière in Paris, which immediately lent it to the Max Ernst Museum in Brühl, Germany, the town where the artist was born. There, the forest painting hung from March to August 2006 and was considered one of the museum's main attractions.

Spies was responsible for the presentation. The painting's value increased. In September 2006, the Galerie Cazeau-Béraudière put the painting up for sale at an art show in Paris for €6 million -- and found a prominent buyer. According to the state prosecutor, two companies, Diva Fine Arts and Hanna Graham Associates, brokered the sale of "La Forêt (2)" for $7 million (some €5.5 million at the time) to Daniel Filipacchi.

Born in 1928 in Paris, Filipacchi, who could not be reached for comment last week, is a major mover and shaker in the publishing world. A typesetter by trade, he made a name for himself after World War II as a photographer for the glossy French magazine Paris Match. As a recognized jazz expert, he acquired a music magazine, later bought Paris Match, purchased the then-struggling Elle magazine, and published the French editions of Playboy and Penthouse. After making his company into one of the world's largest magazine publishers, he retired from the business. Filipacchi has been an avid art collector since the 1950s.

A few weeks after Filipacchi purchased "La Forêt (2)," the Max Ernst Museum in Brühl received a generous donation from the Galerie Cazeau-Béraudière in Paris: The museum was presented with a self-portrait by Max Ernst. "For my esteemed work," says Werner Spies of the gift today, "my publications, my commitment to surrealism." Spies is the director of the foundation that runs the museum, and he sits on the board of trustees. Writing in the Frankfurter Allgemeine at the time, he compared the gift to a kind of nest in which the first egg had been laid.

Legal Problems in France

While the German justice system merely sees Spies as a witness in the current case, the art historian now faces serious legal problems in France -- due to another allegedly forged Max Ernst painting originating from the Beltracchis, which he had declared to be genuine, and which has also become the subject of an investigation by the LKA in Berlin.

The work, "Tremblement de terre," which was supposedly painted in 1925, was sold in 2004 by the Galerie Cazeau-Béraudière to a company called Monte Carlo Art S.A. in November 2009 and auctioned by Sotheby's for $1.1 million. Now, Monte Carlo Art has filed charges against gallery owner Jacques de la Béraudière and Werner Spies, and is suing them for damages in a civil court in Nanterre, near Paris. An initial hearing was held on Monday of last week, and a spokeswoman for the court has confirmed the lawsuit.

Last August, when Berlin LKA investigators searched the home of Otto Schulte-Kellinghaus, the man who had informed Spies about the existence of "La Forêt (2)," they found a scientific report on the painting from 2003. Schulte-Kellinghaus had commissioned an expert in Paris to examine the artwork.

The results showed that "La Forêt (2)" could not have been painted in the year 1927: It contained pigments that were not yet in use at the time.

Translated from the German by Paul Cohen

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