A huge scandal has rocked the Paris art market following the arrests of two of its main representatives suspected of having sold fake pieces of furniture, notably to the royal chateau of Versailles.
the news caused panic among French antique dealers and dismayed donators as if the police suspicions prove founded France's antique furniture market would be ruined while many museum curators would be laid open to ridicule.
The French art fraud office OCBC held for questioning on June 7 two antique dealers, Bill Pallot, a chair specialist for the famed Galerie Aaron, Laurent Kraemer, owner of the Kraemer gallery founded in 1875 and a well-established restorer
Police investigations started after the arrest of Jean Lupu, a 86-year old dealer accused of having produced scores of fake 18th Century furniture sold at high prices and a had a new turn when Charles Hooreman, a specialist in antique chairs, sent letters of denunciation to the chateau's curators.
Over the past 20 years, Versailles bought several pieces, including 4 chairs made by Louis Delannois after he received in 1769 an order from Madame Du Barry, Louis XV's official mistress, for a set of 12 plus one larger version for the King, now lost.
Hooreman said he began to have doubts about two of these chairs considered as national treasures bought in 2009 from Kraemer for a huge sum as he realized that too many were in circulation as 14 of these were known to be in existence in museums, notably 10 in Versailles and 4 in private collections.
Set free after being charged with fraud, like Mr Pallot who was remanded in custody, Mr Kraemer claimed there was nothing wrong with the chairs he sold, especially that they had been classified as national treasures after undergoing after being studied and analysed before they were accepted by a commission.
Regarding this question, Versailles' curators first declared that these chairs were utterly genuine but later back pedaled cautiously by saying they would wait for the results of the ongoing investigations.
Most antique dealers however knew that some of their respected colleagues were taking the liberty of using well-experimented restorers to produce pieces of furniture looking as authentic which were sold during many decades while some cunning dealers entertained journalists to induce them to write laudatory articles about certain pieces presented as rediscovered with the result that they became highly sought.
It was a known fact that at the turn of the 20th Century, many fine copies of 18th Century pieces of furniture were produced for the market while André Maillefert created in 1904 a firm specializing in the making of hundreds of fakes. Maillefert later admitted he tricked many antique dealers and collectors after realizing that using the same techniques, the same materials and tools of the time as well as a special patina applied on pieces in order to make them look old prevented most expert to detect a fraud.
Such rather immoral method was pursued by many of his likes throughout the years while genuine pieces became rare at the turn of the 21st Century. In fact it was often rumored that some dealers were taking the liberty of producing fakes but one dared to reveal such trafficking.
It was easy for the most experienced forgers to find old wood and assemble pieces to make chairs, cabinets, commodes, consoles and other pieces in using subtle techniques to look authentic. As a result, the Versailles curators fell themselves into the trap by acquiring at least 10 dubious pieces while Mr Hooreman said that the top of the chairs given as by Delannois are faulty notwithstanding the fact that the wood on their underside does not seem to bear the mark of time and that the paper labels glued are mostly forgeries.
Mr Hooreman accused Bill Pallot of having acted as an intermediary between a Parisian forger and prestigious dealers who seemed respected enough to be beyond reproach. Denying such claim, the latter accused him of trying to ruin his reputation with a view of taking his place in the market and decided to sue him for false allegations.
Police questioned several other people including an expert acting at the Drouot salesrooms, now living in Australia after the sale of his collection at Sotheby's which totalled some 10 million euros in 2015, with whom Bill Pallot was said to have been in contact in order to sell several pieces.
Meanwhile, many patrons who donated pieces to museums in exchange of tax rebates expressed worries about certain of their gifts, especially Mrs Maryvonne Pinault, the wife of Christie's owner François Pinault, who reportedly said she had been flabbergasted in hearing the arrest of Mr Pallot who had advised her for many purchases of pieces she offered to Versailles.