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The dark arts

Two aspects of art that intrigue me, and both are linked, are forgery and the contemporary art market. Recently a museum exhibition in Ghent of Russian modern art was questioned by experts for its authenticity. The Russian modern art market is notoriously prone to forgers.

Another is the painter Modigliani.

It’s relatively easy to forge a Modigliani with his predilection for almond eyes, extended necks and thickly covered pubis.

It’s been estimated that only 20% of “Modiglianis” on the market were actually painted by him.

Even a lesser-known artist like Ken Howard has found pictures coming on the market similar to his contra jour light with the signature KH.

This is one of the attractions of a honourable dealer who will check provenance carefully, especially where the painting was between 1930-45 as the Nazis were great looters, notably Goering.

There was a fascinating discussion on many aspects of the modern art market on Andrew Marr’s Start the Week Radio 4 programme.

It began with  a biographer Leandra de Lisle of Charles 1 explaining  that he built up a fine collection so valuable that Cromwell would not sell it although the Puritans were opposed to art. This is to be shortly exhibited at the Royal Academy

Andrew Graham Dixon, the critic, gave his views. He had attended Maastricht where the great and the not-so-good of international art dealers gather.

He was staggered to see a Peter Doig on sale there for £28m whilst High Renaissance painting, of which there is but one other example by the painter (I did not catch his name) only for £1.2 million.

Art economist and writer Don Thompson developed the theme by saying modern art had become high finance.

When asked why billionaires buy art, Thompson said it was a form of ostentation that when a guest entered a room he/she would be blown away to see a Damien Hirst on the wall.

However, not every expensive piece finishes on a wall. Art depots the size of 18 football pitches house in their vaults as many as 1.1 million paintings that never see the light of day.

This resulted in a spectacular scandal when a dealer acting for a Russian oligarch acquired a Modigliani for supposedly £120 million. In fact the dealer knew of the picture in the art vault in Geneva and acquired it for £90m. The dealer is now in jail.

The art market is not regulated. The economist said, for example, that auction prices are exaggerated – by bids from those who own art by that painter in order to maintain value – and there is a practice of inducements for bids to a certain level.

Dealing cost sare relatively high, there is insurance to pay, so any aspiring collector would do better to put a painting on the wall that he/she likes and worry not too much what viewers think or how good an investment they are. Your chances of buying a Peter Doig are about as likely  as one of the 40,000 artists in London becoming one.

About Alice Mansfield

A graduate of the Slade, Alice has painted and written about art all her life. With her children now having now grown up and departed the nest, she recently took up sculpture. More Posts