What happens when a ‘Chagall’ is sold and turns out to be a fake?

When she complained to Sotheby’s, the auction house said there was little it could do as its guarantee of authenticity was only valid for a certain amount of time. The company has offered her $18,500 in credit toward future sales of artwork she owns, a gesture she says is insufficient.

“I’ve trusted them all these years,” Clegg, 73, said in an interview. “They should be serious experts and I relied on their expertise.”

Now Clegg is at a stalemate. Through her attorney, she has asked Sotheby’s for $175,000. The auction house says there is no legal basis for this request, and the discount it granted on future sales would match the fee it earned from the sale of the painting in 1994.

“Given that the first sale occurred well over 20 years ago, we are well outside the period when Sotheby’s would have guaranteed authorship of the work and had recourse to the seller,” an auction house Clegg executive said in a letter 2020

One of the quirks that make the art world such a compelling, if risky, marketplace is that a change in attribution can decrease the value of one work or increase the value of another. Case study: The Salvator Mundiwhich reportedly fetched $1,175 at auction in 2005 when it was thought to be a nobody, then skyrocketed to $450 million in 2017 after several experts decided it was the work of Leonardo da Vinci acted.

Auction houses have attempted to reduce their vulnerability to unfavorable attribution changes by limiting the time they guarantee a work is genuine. In the case of Sotheby’s, it tells buyers that it guarantees the work for five years.

Clegg claims Sotheby’s bears more responsibility for the situation in which it finds itself than it admits, given its extensive involvement in the painting – as original auction house, later appraiser, and most recent adviser on its possible resale. In a letter, her lawyer Carter Reich accused the auction house of “breach of contract, fraudulent misrepresentation, negligence and breach of duty of loyalty”.

Sotheby’s lawyers have dismissed all of these allegations, arguing that the auction house acted responsibly and in accordance with its standards and procedures.

Clegg captured the page from the 1994 Sotheby’s catalog promoting the work, a signed watercolor and gouache on paper titled Le Couple au Bouquet de Fleurs. According to the catalogue, Chagall had created it around 1950 and the previous owners of the painting were L. Praeger, Galerie Pétridès, both Paris; a private collection; and then Achim Moeller Fine Art Ltd. in NYC.

In an email, Achim Möller said he had no recollection of being involved in this work, but added through his attorney that he would research his gallery records.

Sotheby's auction catalog identifying the page from the 1994 catalog on which the work was advertised, a signed watercolor and gouache on paper entitled Le couple au bouquet de fleurs.

Sotheby’s auction catalog identifying the page from the 1994 catalog on which the work was advertised, a signed watercolor and gouache on paper entitled Le couple au bouquet de fleurs.Recognition:New York Times

Sotheby’s noted in a statement that, while rare, there are instances where new and revised scholarly work will result in works being deemed inauthentic, although the auction house makes no representations.

“Sotheby’s respects and maintains the confidentiality of its consignors and buyers and does not comment on matters that are not public knowledge,” the statement said, adding, “This particular work was well known to the market and traded several times prior to the 1994 auction .”

The Chagall hung on the wall of the bedroom Clegg shared with her husband Alfred John Clegg for years before being put into storage when she moved to a smaller home. It was, she said, when Sotheby’s suggested in early 2020 that her Chagall could do well if she were interested in selling it. The work was sent to the Comité Marc Chagall, a body of experts established in 1988 to determine the authenticity of works attributed to the artist.

At the end of 2020, the panel published its findings on their work. In a letter to Clegg, Meret Meyer, one of Chagall’s granddaughters and a member of the jury, reported that she unanimously found the work inauthentic, adding that it was a mixture of several other works, including “Le Couple au Bouquet “. from about 1952 and “Les amoureux au cheval” from 1961.

Clegg’s painting contained “recurring iconographic elements from Chagall’s work,” including a bouquet of flowers, lovers, a horse profile, a rooster profile, a village silhouette, and a crescent moon, the committee wrote, but these lacked “real presence,” according to a provided translation. by Clegg’s attorney. The letter goes on to say that Chagall’s heirs requested “judicial seizure” of the painting “so that the work may be destroyed.”

In France, courts have recognized the power of expert panels to destroy works deemed counterfeit.

Nearly a decade ago, the Chagall Panel moved to destroy a work, “Nude 1909-10,” that a British businessman, Martin Lang, bought for £100,000 in 1992, believing it to be by Chagall, the reported BBC. Lang disagreed, but then tweeted in early 2014: “I have decided not to fight this expensive lawsuit! These committees lack human compassion!”


Several authentication boards have been sued after deciding a work is not genuine, and boards that officially reviewed the works of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock have disbanded. Clegg’s attorney, Reich, declined to comment on the possibility of suing the Chagall Committee.

Clegg went after Sotheby’s instead. In a letter to the auction house, Reich wrote that she had been “falsely and recklessly assured” that the committee rarely confiscated works and that she had nothing to worry about. He also wrote that Sotheby’s had informed Clegg that “additional investigations would be made” before the painting was sent to the committee, but that no investigations were made.

In rejecting the claim that it was responsible for Clegg’s situation, Sotheby’s is not solely relying on the fact that the auction house’s guarantee of authenticity has expired. Sotheby’s, through its attorneys, has also said it has written to Clegg about the risks of a referral to the committee. They added that any statements made to Clegg about the likelihood of a Chagall Panel seizure were merely expressing expectations, and noted that they had signed a release letter releasing Sotheby’s from any claims related to this filing .

For Clegg, it boils down to a simple formulation.

“I bought this painting at Sotheby’s as an authentic painting at an authentic price,” she said. “I think they should stand by it.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

https://www.smh.com.au/culture/art-and-design/what-happens-when-a-chagall-is-sold-and-it-turns-out-to-be-fake-20220707-p5azqb.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_culture What happens when a ‘Chagall’ is sold and turns out to be a fake?

Jaclyn Diaz

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