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A VERY DISTURBING CASE OF FAKES FOR THE FRENCH ART MARKET by Adrian Darmon
09 May 2016
Category : MARKET

On April 27, 2016 artcult indicated that following the scandal of forged 18th Century pieces of furniture sold by Jean Lupu, a famed Parisian dealer, a greater one likely to disrupt the French art market was about to emerge, notably concerning certain acquisitions made by the Château of Versailles.
 
Less than 10 days later, the Website of the magazine Connaissance des Arts revealed the existence of a workshop situated in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine compound which specialized in the making of forged pieces of furniture on behalf of restorers, antique dealers and experts who were implicated in the selling of chairs and armchairs to Versailles.

According to Connaissance des Arts, Frédéric Castaing, while presiding over a conference of the Compagnie Nationale des Experts (CNE) in 2014 had already referred about a deranging case of forged furniture to which certain dealers were suspected of being linked. A year later, French police arrested Jean Lupu on suspicion of selling numerous fakes made partly with pieces of wood dating back to the 18th Century.

Police hence interrogated many actors of the French market and are about to expose what is likely to become a greater scandal regarding the pieces sold to Versailles, two folding stools by François Foliot bought in 2012 from the Galerie Aaron, Mme Elisabeth's wingchair by Boulard bought at auction in Paris from the de Maigret group, a chair by Jacob acquired privately with the assistance of Sotheby's and four chairs by made by Louis Delannois in 1769 sold by the Galerie Kraemer which all seem suspicious.

The curators of Versailles however dismissed such claim by saying that all these pieces were duly verified by a scientific committee and several highly competent experts before they were bought but it is now essential for them to aleviate fears for good.

The Lupu scandal rocked the French market deeply but police investigations tend to prove that something bigger is in the offing. As a result, many collectors might ask serious questions about some of their lavish purchases, notably the Gulf Sheikh Al-Thani, the Axa insurance company and others like Frédérick Fermin, who nurtures a passion for 17th and 18th Century pieces of furniture who has alerted the French press in vain for years about the suspicious pieces he bought.

At war with some antique dealers and auction groups, Fermin said he was determined to denounce what he called a Mafia after he was tricked more than once with some of his acquisitions. "I am a true passionate of French antique furniture but craving for such pieces can sometime prove risky," he said adding that on the advice of an expert he labeled as "corrupt" he bought in 2007 a pair of green lacquered corner tables by Dubois at the Se... Galerie in Paris for quite a lot of money. A few years after his purchase he had them examined by a specialist who determined that only the case was from the 18th Century while the lacquered parts and gilt bronzes were fakes. He was eventually reimbursed but had to sign a confidentiality clause which prevented him from publicising such bad deal.

He also bought a Boulle decorative clock from a famed antique dealer, a major exhibitor at the Paris Biennial whose name was mentioned by Connaissance des Arts before discovering that his console was partly composed with old elements. After obtaining a verdict from a judicial expert, he was reimbursed but again had to sign a confidentiality clause.

"On the advice of Alexandre Pradère, a specialist for Christie's, I bought in 2008 a chest of drawers and a Regence console at this auction house. After receiving that chest of drawers, I had it examined by a judicial expert who discovered that the backs had been changed, the sides replated and that the marquetry top was nothing but new. All this changes had not been signalled in the catalogue nor in the condition report. Regarding the console, I asked Christie's to reexamine it before effecting my payment but I met a blunt refusal and was sued for not paying the 93 000 euros requested for that piece. Christie's eventually lost the case and decided to place it in another sale with a 25,000 euros estimate but found no buyer", he indicated.

Asked whether specialists were corrupt and auction houses incompetent, Fermin said the art market was truly rotten with experts being too lenient with big antique dealers, intermediaries acting as figure-heads and auction houses which did not want to displease major dealers and described such phenomenon as a vicious circle enabling certain actors to benefit from it at the expense of many collectors.
 
Fermin said he could give many examples among his accusations but only mentioned a few. Thus, a big dealer sold to the Axa insurance company a pair of Boulle cabinets for 60 million francs more than 15 years ago which in his view are fakes, only composed of old pieces of wood. An analysis of these was not a solid proof of their authenticity, he said adding he knew who made them. He indicated that the same dealer presented at the last Paris Biennial a pair of Louis XIV bronze flares tagged at 10 million euros, which he asserted were fakes made recently by a specialist." I denounced such fact to the National syndicate of antique dealers, which did not bother to react, while police went on to investigate that matter". This dealer also had a mounted Celadon vase given from the Louis XV period which Sheikh Al-Thani bought for 5 million euros, a good buy if this piece had been authentic and not from the 19th Century. The latter also bought a pair of Boulle coffers for 1,6 million euros at Christie's during last November 5 and 6 sale, which according to Fermin, were assembled with old pieces of wood to make them look as genuine and also acquired a lacquered table by the maker BVRB, which seemed dubious", he went on to say.

Fermin claimed the Lupu scandal was nothing but a tree masking an entire forest and added he had contacted the police to investigate into these new cases. "I think the French state must react promptly to put an end to the activities of such a Mafia and restore the reputation of the art market. I am asking collectors who have been tricked like I was to contact me at my Email box fermin@free.fr so as to give their testimonies. The Château of Versailles is therefore not the only one concerned  while I can assure you that the disclosure made by Connaissance des Arts is totally true. In that respect, I have been in contact with many respected specialists who are in a position to confirm my assertions about  some furniture makers and intermediaries who have already taken refuge abroad after sensing  the scope of the incoming scandal . It is therefore essential  to know what to do when experts at the Paris Biennial are turning a blind eye on fakes while acting as intermediaries for antique dealers in getting forged pieces from some forgers.  The problem is also how to deal with the French advisory board regulating auction sales, which I have alerted in vain while it seems ludicrous it has no expert at its disposal", he indicated.

"It is also essential to incite dealers and auction houses to publish clear listings regarding pieces of furniture so as to indicate their authenticity or the degree of their restoration. There is a formal decree in that respect and I feel it's necessary to create an independant body regrouping experts, restorers and collectors so as to verify all pieces offered for sale which should also be empoyered to launch penal actions against those guilty of fraud. Meanwhile, I am baffled  when I discover fake results published by certain auction houses, notably for a BVRB Boulle commode said to have been sold for 4 million euros whereas it was not never paid and returned to its owner who eventually entrusted a gallery to sell it. I thus claim that the extent of the fraud is enormous and it also involves off-shores screen companies which are laundering money deriving from these illegal activities"

Fermin added that he issued several complaints now under investihgation by police with the hope that was he asserted would be fully proved so as to protect the French market from illegal pratices. He said he intended to publish a serie of articles on fakes sold at auction as well as to create a Website where fakes would be denounced before being sold. He is also in the process of publishing a book titled " The Art Market, the Mafia" uncovering dishonest dealers and signalling forgeries sold at auction.
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