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“Beware the Four F’s-Fakes, Forgeries, Flops and Failures” by Warwick Henderson

“Beware the Four F’s-Fakes, Forgeries, Flops and Failures”

In Chapter 5 of the book ‘Behind the Canvas’ the three F’s were discussed – Fakes, Forgeries and Flops[1].

I will now mention the fourth “F” – Failure – specifically failure to obtain up to date valuations, failure to keep good records, including photographs and failure to insure against theft, loss or damage.

These four F’s have all been dramatically highlighted in the last 14 days.  Two valuable Gottfried Lindauer portraits were stolen in an Auckland art heist and two valuable New Zealand contemporary artworks purchased at auction in England are most probably fakes.  As a result of both circumstances, there was quite possibly a fifth “F” word flying through the ether.

In the case of the two Lindauer’s stolen from International Art Centre Auction House, there is not too much you can do if someone is intent on destroying part of a building to obtain the goods in question.  The event has been well publicised and excellent photographic and cctv records are in existence.  It is extremely hard to sell or fence stolen artworks in New Zealand, largely due to the fact New Zealand is a small market in comparison to the international art market.  Someone will know something and the carrot of a reward  or retribution sometimes flushes out a nark.  There could be serious damage to at least one painting which will complicate matters for robbers looking to cash in on their heist.  This is not the first time this has happened in New Zealand and in fact Ferner Gallery in Parnell ,since closed, lost a valuable Francis Hodgkins painting from their Parnell road gallery window after a rock was lobbed through the window by the robbers .The Auckland Art gallery’s Tissot theft was another dramatic art heist where a shotgun wielding robber ripped “Still on Top” out of the frame  virtually destroying it at the same time.[2] Much the same fate  could have occurred to the two recently stolen Lindauers from looking at the aftermath earlier this week. Watch this space and let us hope the paintings are returned soon. This spectacular incident is also a reminder to all art collectors to ensure that valuable artworks are well recorded with up to date valuations, photographs, and insurance is in place.

‘Fakes, Forgeries and Flops’ were highlighted by the New Zealand Herald on 25th March 2017 with an expose’ on two paintings purchased at auction recently in England[2] .As stated earlier, we are fortunate the New Zealand market is relatively small, but also more importantly, consumer protection is robust and the retail market upholds a sound reputation.  I know of no art dealer or auction house in New Zealand with commercial premises who would knowingly sell a fake or forgery.  That should be comforting news for any New Zealand art buyer and, as mentioned, the Consumer Guarantee Act and the Fair Trading Act provide a firm level of protection if an unhappy situation does eventuate.

Lindauer paintings have been in the news for some time now since the Auckland Art Gallery, who hold the most significant collection of Lindauer’s in the world, celebrated this by mounting a major exhibition in 2016/2017.In less celebratory moments, two Lindauer’s have since been appraised as fakes in other public institutions.  One which was purchased by the National Library (Turnbull Library) for around $80,000 appears to be of dubious origin.  I travelled to Wellington to view this work and, as I said to the new curator, the best part of the painting is the signature.  Heads rolled over the purchase of this painting, particularly after a curator at Te Papa Museum, Roger Blackley had warned the library staff of its dubious quality.  The painting remains in the collection, unsaleable, but possibly – as Mr Blackley suggested – useful for study purposes.

Unfortunately, there have been a number of fake paintings produced in New Zealand, the most by infamous art forger, the late Mr Karl Sim (1923-2013).  He changed his name by deed poll to ‘C F Goldie’ but he was certainly no Goldie[3].  He completed many Goldie fakes although these were mainly drawings.  His work in the main is amateurish and is easily detected by an experienced secondary market art dealer or art valuer (with knowledge and experience of works of this genre and period).As stated in ‘Behind the Canvas’, if I had my way, all fakes and forgeries should be put in a pile and burned – destroyed basically – and I still believe this, despite a contrary opinion by Roger Blackley[4].The problem which occurs is that fakes and forgeries and of course copies, can languish like skeletons in cupboards for years, even centuries, and the people who were originally involved in the production and primary selling and buying transactions, are no longer around. This was exactly the situation in the case of a  Lindauer which was purchased by another NZ public institution at auction.  This Lindauer was originally painted as a copy “after Lindauer”, many years ago.  It was at some stage stolen from a residence and much later turned up at a reputable auction house, but catalogued as a genuine work.  From there it was purchased by a public gallery but later recognised and exposed as a fake.  Even the experts can be fooled and history holds a long and sordid record of these situations internationally[5].

This classic situation appears to be exactly the case where both Colin McCahon and Gordon Walters paintings of doubtful origin have been purchased in England from a provincial auction house.  Often thieves, fencers or forgers will farm works out to overseas provincial auction houses where they could be purchased by unsuspecting dealers, speculators or collectors.  Often it is not until they arrive back in the country of origin that they are exposed.

The forger Karl Sim boasted in his book ‘Good as Goldie’ (an oxymoron if ever there was one) that he had faked many New Zealand artist’s paintings, including those of Colin McCahon (p.58).In his egocentric chapters, he mentions over 100 artists, including famous masters such as Constable, Degas, Rembrandt, and the Australians William Dobell and Russell Drysdale.  He did recount however that he had never forged a living artist’s work, so Gordon Walters would probably have still been alive when Sim was at his forging peak between 1970 and 1990. Walters died in 1995In 2013 his sister stated in the New Zealand Herald that Sim had not painted much in the years before his death “as he had developed arthritis which had prevented him from painting.”[6] Most of his fakes and forgeries would be easily recognised by a knowledgeable dealer, but not so much by an unsuspecting or inexperienced buyer or those unfamiliar with the artist’s work. 

The subject of Fakes Forgeries and Authenticity can be a grey area however and is an issue often fraught with litigation and claims both legitimate and some not so. This is where “Provenance “is so important .[8] International art experts remain at odds and still argue today over the authenticity of many valuable artworks which are either held in Public institutions or are primed for the market. A convoluted provenance can often raise alarm bells, none more so than a case recently settled in court in the USA. The court decision this week in New York regarding a fake Renoir, ordered Antiques dealer Jack Shaoul to pay 1.1 million dollars to a Manhattan gallerist. Part of the provenance Shaoul provided was the claim he had bought the painting off someone who had died, was briefly brought back to life, and then had died again. To most learned Judiciary’s knowledge the Good Lord has not been sighted for some time , had never owned a Renoir and even Easter remains at least a week away .The legal proceedings were drawn out over 7 years, despite the fact Shaoul was actually a convicted art Forger.

In summary to avoid the possibility of any of the 4 “Fs” and the subsequent possibility of a  5th  , the best option is always to buy a valuable or secondary market artwork from those knowledgeable in the trade with established premises.  You could also get a second opinion from an experienced art dealer or art valuer.[7]

© Warwick Henderson  4th April 2017

 1 “Fakes,Forgeries and Flops”[1] Behind the Canvas , An Insider’s Guide to the NZ Art market p.101 – Warwick Henderson, Pub New Holland 2012

[2] “If it’s too good to be true…”NZ Herald ,Kim Knight 25/3/2017 p A15

[3] ‘Good as Goldie’ – Tim Wilson/Karl Sim  Pub Hodder Moa Beckett 2003

[4] Behind the Canvas, p.106 – Warwick Henderson.  Pub New Holland 2012

[5] ‘Stolen “ Jonathon Webb , Pub Madison Press 2008

[6] ‘Good as Goldie’, Tim Wilson/Karl Sim Pub HMB p.58 – Tim Wilson

[7]  “Final Sign Off for Goldie Imitator” – NZ Herald 25/10/2013

8 “Behind the Canvas, An Insider’s Guide to the NZ Art market”,p101 pub New Holland 2012

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