London dealer pays $4.2 million settlement to Sotheby’s over ‘fake’ Old Master dispute

Sotheby’s has reportedly received a $4.2 million (£3.2m) settlement payment from London-based art dealer, Mark Weiss, against whom Sotheby’s issued Court proceedings in February 2017, after discovering that the Old Master painting it had sold on his behalf was a forgery.

The case concerned the disputed Frans Hals painting, Portrait of a Gentleman. A few hours before the trial was due to begin in the High Court, the case settled “without any admission of liability.” The precise terms of the settlement remain confidential.

In 2011, Sotheby’s privately sold the Old Master painting on behalf of Weiss. Richard Hedreen, an American collector, subsequently bought the purported Hals in good faith for an impressive $10.75 million (then £6.7 million).

At the time, the painting’s attribution to the 17th-century Dutch master was supported by expert opinion. Yet James Martin, then independent, now chief science officer at Sotheby’s, soon cast doubt on this attribution. Following analysis of the paint pigments, he discovered that the portrait was painted centuries after Hals’s death in 1666.

David Foxton, a representative of Sotheby’s, commented that Martin had reached an “unequivocal finding that the painting was a modern fake” and Sotheby’s subsequently reimbursed the buyer in 2016.

Despite these findings, Weiss still insists that the painting is genuine due to “the overwhelming support of connoisseurs since the discovery of the work in 2010.

Weiss originally bought the painting in partnership with the company Fairlight Arts Venture in 2010. For $3 million (then £2 million), they purchased the alleged Hals from French dealer Guiliano Ruffini, who has sold numerous Old Masters that have transpired to be forgeries.

Unlike Weiss, Fairlight Art Ventures has so far refused to return payment to Sotheby’s, arguing that it was not directly involved in the sale.

A lawyer acting on behalf of Fairlight also strongly denied claims that the painting is fraudulent. He argued “nobody has proven that the piece is either genuine or a fake,” and that Sotheby’s should not have refunded Hedreen “without proper evidence.”

In response to Fairlight’s comments, Sotheby’s recently made the following statement: “Clients transact with Sotheby’s because they know we will keep our promises if problems arise: we did so in the case of the painting Portrait of a Gentleman, which Sotheby’s concluded was a fake and not by Frans Hals.”

The dispute between Sotheby’s and Fairlight continues.

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