Painting Auctioned for £1.7 Million ‘Probably a Fake’ Judge Rules

Posted: 27th July 2012

An art collector has triumphed in his High Court fight to prove that a painting he bought for £1.7 million at a Christie's auction is probably a fake.

A judge's ruling that the painting - entitled ‘Odalisque’ - is unlikely to have been painted by prominent Russian artist, Boris Kustodiev, means that the auction house must repay collector, Viktor Vekselberg, the purchase price.

During a 22-day High Court hearing, Mr Vekselberg had argued that the painting of a nude woman reclining on a bed that he bought through his company, Aurora Fine Arts Investment Limited (Aurora), in 2005 could not be by Kustodiev.

Mr Justice Newey ruled that the weight of ‘connoisseurship evidence’ given in the case pointed to ‘Odalisque’ not having been painted by Kustodiev.

The judge ruled: ‘I do not think certainty on the point is possible, but my task is to determine authenticity on the balance of probabilities and the likelihood, in my view, is that ‘Odalisque’ is the work of someone other than Kustodiev.

‘It follows that Aurora is entitled to cancel its purchase of the painting and to recover the money paid for it.’

The judge was earlier told that the same painting had been sold for £19,000 - also at Christie's – in 1989. Despite a pre-sale estimate of £180-220,000, it was hammered down for almost ten times that sum to Aurora at the 2005 sale.

Christie's lawyers insisted that ‘Odalisque’ was authentic and the auction house could not be blamed if the painting was no masterpiece.

Less than a year after the sale, Aurora began to raise doubts about ‘Odalisque’'s attribution to Kustodiev but Christie's insisted that, whatever a connoisseur might have to say about its quality, it had a ‘reliable provenance stretching back 80 years’.

Christie's argued that, despite the battery of forensic tests that were performed on the canvas prior to the court hearing, the painting could still be firmly attributed to Kustodiev if it were auctioned again today.

However, Mr Justice Newey was unconvinced by Christie's case.

Although allegations of negligence and misrepresentation against the auction house were dismissed, the judge said the painting was probably not by Kustodiev and Aurora was entitled to cancel the purchase and have its money returned.