The Hippy and the Expressionists
May 26, 2012 4:42 PM   Subscribe

Confessions of a Genius Art Forger — In one of Germany's greatest art scandals, former hippie and talented artist Wolfgang Beltracchi forged dozens of paintings over a period of 35 years, earning millions and fooling top collectors and museums. In a SPIEGEL interview, he reveals how he did it and why he eventually got caught. Photo Gallery. Background...

Investigators Zero in on Massive Art Forgery Scandal — Over the past 15 years, the art world has been amazed at the number of lost expressionist masterpieces from the early 20th century that have found their way to auction. Investigators now believe that many of them could be forgeries. An ex-hippy, his wife and an art fan from Krefeld may be behind the scandal.

Germany's Mega-Forgery Scandal Gets Even Bigger — It was already thought to be the biggest art forgery scandal in Germany since World War II. Now, documents show that Wolfgang Beltracchi may have been copying early 20th century expressionists since the mid-1980s. He may even have sold one forgery to the artist's widow.

German Art Forgery Scandal Reaches Hollywood — The scope of what is believed to be Germany's biggest art forgery scandal since World War II has reached as far as Hollywood. American actor Steve Martin bought one of the fake paintings in 2004 and later sold it at a loss of some 200,000 euros.

Forgery Scandal Embarrasses International Art World — More details are emerging about what is thought to be Germany's biggest postwar art forgery scandal. The affair casts an unflattering light on a leading German art historian who authenticated a fake artwork supposedly painted by German surrealist Max Ernst. The piece was sold for $7 million to Daniel Filipacchi, a top New York art collector.

Art Forger All Smiles After Guilty Plea Seals Deal — The trial in the most spectacular case of art forgery ever seen in Germany is over -- and ringleader Wolfgang Beltracchi can be happy with the outcome. Because of his confession, the millionaire fraudster has been given a virtual slap on the wrist, while the truth has been sacrificed for a deal.

Ringleader Reveals He Faked Many More Works — In one of the most spectacular art forgery cases in German history, fraudster Wolfgang Beltracchi was sentenced to six years in prison last autumn. Set to begin doing time in March 2012, he tells SPIEGEL the scope of his counterfeiting was far greater than previously known, including works by some 50 artists.
posted by netbros (20 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

 
I wouldn't call six years in jail "a slap on the wrist."
posted by layceepee at 5:09 PM on May 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


"the couple to prison terms of six and four years" ...so many other people deserve jail time more that this guy. Rupert Murdoch, for instance.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:17 PM on May 26, 2012 [10 favorites]


I love stories like this.

It's art in its own way.
posted by ZipRibbons at 5:18 PM on May 26, 2012


Peak snippet:

Werner Spies, the former museum director at Centre Pompidou in Paris and an expert on Max Ernst, who declared seven Beltracchi fakes to be genuine.

The gotcha was a painting that had some modern paint on it but the tube he used was counterfeited old paint; poetic justice!
posted by bukvich at 6:22 PM on May 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I love stories like this.

So do I. f for fake about Elmyr de Horry is interesting and was a possible influence for Exit Through the Gift Shop, which I loved.
posted by Golden Eternity at 7:02 PM on May 26, 2012


One thing forgers do is buy old paintings from the region and period that were painted on canvas of the appropriate type and stretched and prepared in the way the a real one would have been. Then they clean off the old paint before painting their forgeries. The thing that kinda bugs me about this is that a painting that meets these criteria that has survived and been well kept is at minimum a historical document in its own right, even if the painter is obscure. It's probably stupid to care about this on the overall scale of things but I can't help hoping they're being careful to destroy only truly nasty period schlock work preserved in the homes of people who didn't know any better.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:02 PM on May 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


I wonder if he could do a Tracey Emin.
posted by mrhappy at 9:21 PM on May 26, 2012


From the second image in the galleries link:

>"I took a zinc white from a tube, a Dutch product, but unfortunately it didn’t say that it contained a small amount of titanium white," Beltracchi told SPIEGEL. "In other words, the whole thing was discovered because of an incorrectly labeled tube."

Fool. He trusted the label and didn't mix his own paints from raw pigments? Deserved to get caught if he couldn't bother to find reliable sources of genuine materials. :)
posted by Listener at 11:57 PM on May 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


"the couple to prison terms of six and four years" ...so many other people deserve jail time more that this guy. Rupert Murdoch, for instance.

bonobothegreat, he's a con man that defrauded innocent people. It's not really meaningful to pretend that there's some tradeoff between jailing him and Rupert Murdoch; I'm pretty sure there's room in our jail system for both men.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:00 AM on May 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nothing is easier than a Pollock

Nice to get the forger's take on this
posted by iotic at 2:42 AM on May 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I love stories like this.

What you want then is to read William Gaddis' _The Recognitions_.

Mr. Beltracchi sounds like a 21st century Wyatt, right down to having painted "the gaps" in the work of renowned artists - the work they should have done.
posted by chavenet at 3:52 AM on May 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Beltracchi Villa in Freiburg.
posted by quoquo at 4:59 AM on May 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


"The Van Buren Super Nova!!!!"
posted by RavinDave at 5:48 AM on May 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's a series of "art mysteries" (novels) by Nicholas Kilmer that might interest those who like this.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:25 AM on May 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


His compositions and his colors aren't bad. Anyone who buys paintings with no real provenance is taking a risk, and usually getting a discount, but in this case the buyers got something of value. That it was not a value growing far quicker than current interest rates is beside the point. In time, these too will be collectible.
posted by Scram at 7:08 AM on May 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fool. He trusted the label and didn't mix his own paints from raw pigments? Deserved to get caught if he couldn't bother to find reliable sources of genuine materials. :)

From the article: I had always used a zinc white, which was completely normal in Campendonk's day. Usually I mixed the paints myself, but I was missing some pigments. So I took a zinc white from a tube, a Dutch product, but unfortunately it didn't say that it contained a small amount of titanium white. In other words, the whole thing was discovered because of an incorrectly labeled tube.

So it seems that he usually did mix his paints from raw pigments but took a shortcut and paid for it. Very interesting man. And I love some of his paintings, forgeries or not.
posted by peacheater at 8:19 AM on May 27, 2012


I like the interview, and the Campendok's and Peckstein were pretty good. The Leger is pretty good, too, but perhaps feels just a tad weak and uncommitted? I thought he did a nice job filling in the Max Ernst gaps, and his Von Dogen's were good but also a tad heavy and, er, extra-terrestial. After looking at his production, this idea that he was quite confident come through strongly. But many of these forges look a little thick and muddled to me. He says he can pull off - easily - a Pollock - but a Da Vinci too? If he was doing the Robert Motherwell... well that was also over-reach.

Still, a likable, if complicated, fellow.

btw, Franziska seems to be doing ok on $FB.
posted by wallstreet1929 at 9:22 AM on May 27, 2012


It's probably stupid to care about this on the overall scale of things but I can't help hoping they're being careful to destroy only truly nasty period schlock work preserved in the homes of people who didn't know any better.

From the article: "What was really complicated was finding old canvases and frames. Sometimes they could be had for €30 and sometimes for €5,000. Some of them were really beautiful paintings, and I still have them in my head today. If I couldn't get the old paint off, I incorporated details of the old image into the new one."

It sounds like he was aware of the loss. . . though participating in it anyway. Something in me does like the idea of elements of the old "true" painting being incorporated into the new, "false" painting.
posted by endless_forms at 10:50 AM on May 27, 2012


> Usually I mixed the paints myself

Good to know. Seems the sensible course. I was really surprised to read how he got caught, but I didn't read much of the rest of it.
posted by Listener at 12:48 PM on May 27, 2012


It's so Surreal... the artist who forged himself. Also see John Myatt
posted by adamvasco at 12:59 PM on May 27, 2012


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