November 11, 2010

German Forgers May Have Used Catalogs of Jewish Art Dealer


by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

German forgers may have used the records of a long-dead Jewish art dealer as provenance for as many as 35 second-tier French and German expressionist paintings sold through auction houses in Cologne and London which may have defrauded art collectors of more than 15 million Euros over the past two decades.

The alleged forgery activities of a German couple and their extended family and friends are detailed in a report in Der Spiegel with additional analysis by Mark Durney at Art Theft Central in October. Although only one painting has been confirmed as a fake, according to Der Spiegel, all of the paintings from two fictitious collections that claim to have been purchased through the same art dealer in Germany in the 1920 are now suspect. Many of the paintings are stamped with a fraudulent sticker trying to identify the artworks as from the Galerie Flechtheim.

Provenance of these suspected paintings may have been lifted from sales and exhibition catalogues from a Dusseldorf art gallery owned by the Jewish art dealer Alfred Flechtheim who fled Nazi Germany when his business was confiscated in 1933. Der Spiegel reported that parts of his collection and documents from his business were lost. Flechtheim, who died in London in 1937, represented Pablo Picasso, George Braque, Paul Klee, George Grosz, and Max Beckmann and other painters in the 1920s who were later deemed by Nazi officials to have produced “degenerate art”. Galerie Alfred Flechtheim held exhibitions of works by André Durain, Juan Gris, Max Ernst, Paul Klee, and Paul Cézanne in 1929; and Edzard Dietz, August Renoir, Fernand Léger, Max Beckmann in 1928. A 1926 portrait of Alfred Flechtheim by Otto Dix hangs in the Neue Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (see image above).

Flechtheim’s heirs have tired to recover about 100 paintings by artists such as Picasso, Juan Gris, Fernand Léger, and Vincent van Gogh from German and American museums. In July 2010, the Fleichtheim heirs claimed a portrait of the actress Tilla Durieux by Oskar Kokoschka from the Museum Ludwig in Cologne (Zeit Online, translated, “He Was His Own Best Client Client,” July 8, 2010). Flechtheim’s gallery was taken over by the Nazis in 1933. Alex Vömel, the new ‘owner’, sold the Durieux portrait from Flechtheim’s private collection in 1934 for a price below the 1931 insurance value, according to the heirs’ lawyer, who also claim that there’s no record that Flechtheim received any proceeds from the sale.

In another litigation news, the heirs of George Grosz are pursuing the restitution of paintings they claim Grosz left on consignment with Flechtheim before Grosz also fled Germany in 1933.

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