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Christie’s to return money for fake art

Photographers take pictures of the painting "Odalisque in Red Pants" of French painter Henri Matisse on January 30, 2003 at the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Caracas Sofia Imber (MACCSI) in Caracas. (AFP PHOTO / Felix Gerardi)

LONDON: A High Court judge has ruled that Christie’s auctioneers should return 1.5 million pounds ($2.4 million) paid by a wealthy Russian art collector for a painting that was probably fake.

Mr. Justice Newey concluded the painting, “Odalisque,” which shows a nude woman asleep on a bed, was probably not painted by Boris Kustodiev, a Russian artist who has been compared with English painter L.S. Lowry.

The judge ruled that Christie’s had not been negligent, but should return the money that Viktor Vekselberg’s firm Avrora Fine Arts Investment paid for the painting at a Christie’s auction in London in 2005.

“It follows,” he said, “that Avrora is entitled to cancel its purchase of the painting and recover the money it paid.”

Kustodiev (1878 to 1927) was much better known within Russia than outside, the judge said, adding one art expert had suggested Kustodiev was “to the Russians what Lawrence Stephen Lowry is to the English in terms of affection in which he is held.”

The work had been described in the sale catalogue as “one of the best examples of Kustodiev’s idea of the provincial merchant class,” and displayed the inscription “B. Kustodiev – 1919.”

Avrora took legal action against Christie’s when an art dealer expressed doubts that the painting was genuine. An expert called by Christie’s thought the painting was authentic, although “not one of Kustodiev’s best works.”

Christie’s lawyers insisted that Odalisque was authentic and the auction house could not be blamed if the painting was no masterpiece.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 31, 2012, on page 16.

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