$8.3m Rothko forgery brings misery to Manhattan

The Chairman of Sotheby’s Board of Directors, Domenico de Sole, has told a Manhattan courtroom that his wife Eleanore is so devastated by being sold a worthless forgery of a Mark Rothko work that she cries every night.

Mr De Sole was speaking under cross-examination by a lawyer for the Knoedler Gallery after he took the stand in federal court last Wednesday (27 January) during the first week of a forgery trial.  

The De Soles purchased the fake work for $8.3 million (£5.8 million) in 2004. They are seeking $25 million (£17.5 million) to cover the cost of the purchase as well as damages for alleged fraud and racketeering by Knoedler.

When asked why he failed to verify the authenticity of the work with experts, Mr De Sole said he trusted the Knoedler gallery’s reputation “1000%” and the word of its former president, Ann Freedman, who was “very aggressive” in urging him to purchase the painting.

“I went to the best gallery in America. I had absolutely no reason to believe that I wasn’t being careful,” De Sole told the court.

The Knoedler Gallery forgery scandal shook the art world when it first broke in 2011. It is alleged the gallery knowingly sold up to $60 million (£42 million) worth of forgeries of Abstract Expressionist artworks by Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and others.

Knoedler and Ann Freedman claim they had no idea the works were fake when they purchased them from Long Island art dealer, Glafira Rosales. It later transpired that they were created by a man in Queens.

On the opening day of the De Sole trial, attorney Emily Reisbum who is representing the De Soles told jurors Freedman had ignored several “red flags” which should have led her to question Rosales’ credibility and the authenticity of the works she produced. In spite of these warning signs, it is alleged Freedman knowingly supplied false information to the De Soles.

“Did she know that what she said was false? Yes. This was not an accident. She was lying,” Ms Reisbaum said.

In December last year, Knoedler reached a settlement with art collector and Irving Place Capital co-managing partner, John Howard, over the sale of a fake Willem de Kooning painting, which he purchased from the gallery for $4 million (£2.8 million).

Becky Shaw, Art law and litigation specialist at Boodle Hatfield, explains here what to do if you discover you have bought a forgery.

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