A Spanish collector is facing prison time for allegedly forging at least 15 works by artists including Edvard Munch (1863-1944), Saul Steinberg (1914-1999), and Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997). Guillermo Chamorro, 67, was a respected collector who consigned artworks to auction houses across Europe.
His alleged deception came to light in 2019, when an Austrian collector named Tomas Weber purchased an Eduardo Chillida (1924-2022) lithograph for €3,900 (£3,400) that Chamorro had offered for sale at Hampel Fine Art Auctions in Munich. Weber soon realised he had been duped, but Chamorro refused to give him a refund. Weber then discovered several forgeries in the Setdart auction house in Madrid.
Following a series of raids, Spanish police have accused Chamorro of fraud and intellectual property theft relating to the falsification of 15 artworks by Munch, Steinberg, Lictenstein, Chillida and José Guerrero (1914-1991). Investigators recovered 10 of the artworks – seven attributed to Chillida, two to Lichtenstein, and one to Munch. It is still unclear if the owners of the remaining 5 pieces have been told about the fraud.
In 2017, Chamorro also sent 29 artworks to Hampel Fine Art, which he valued between €250,000 and €300,000 (£219,000 – £263,000) as a whole. The works were sent to a local police station due to questions over their legitimacy, but their whereabouts is currently unknown as well.
Several experts gave evidence during Chamorro’s trial, including Francisco Baena, the director of the José Guerrero Center in Granada. Baena believes the paper and materials of the alleged fakes do not correspond to those used by the artist and that “Guerrero was always firm and sure, but in the ones that the police showed me, the painter hesitates, as if he knew he was forging.”
Chamorro denies any allegation of wrongdoing, maintaining that Guerrero personally gifted him the artworks. “The works were legitimate because he gave them to me himself, since I have participated with him in different projects,” claimed Chamorro.
All the works were examined by the expert José Manuel Lara from the Reina Sofía Museum, who guaranteed that, if they were not false, “at least they are manipulations of authentic pieces.” A hard pencil was used to make the signatures, whereas a softer pencil would have typically been used. The type of printing method was not consistent with the artists’ techniques either.
Chamorro began acquiring artwork when he was only 14 years old and he himself makes “little collages as a hobby” that he exhibits. Madrid’s prosecutor’s office is seeking six and a half years of prison time for the dealer.