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Meetings with Remarkable Forgeries (British History)
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Boreades


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Mick Harper wrote:
Not surprisingly they follow the trail of breadcrumbs carefully provided by people who are professional confidence tricksters.


That reminds me ..

Cunning Stunts

The paintings delighted Prince Charles. They had arrived at Clarence House, his royal residence in London, in February 2017: a collection that would eventually comprise 17 magnificent works, including pieces by Picasso, Dalí, Monet, and Chagall, that humbled the prince with their power and provenance. A supreme arbiter of art, as both a lifelong collector and an artist himself, Charles listened eagerly as Malcolm Rogers, former curator of the National Portrait Gallery in London and retired director of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, explained the significance of two paintings by Sir Anthony van Dyck, England’s leading court painter in the 17th century, that were propped up against the royal residence’s wall. The prince, Rogers recalls, seemed “enthusiastic” to hear their glorious histories.


All these little old paintings, just for little old me? Too kind!

Rogers was well acquainted with the source of the paintings. They were on loan from James Stunt, the 38-year-old gold tycoon who has come to define decadence in contemporary London. The ex-husband of Petra Ecclestone, heiress daughter to Formula 1 billionaire Bernie Ecclestone, Stunt was known to buy 200,000 pounds’ worth of Cristal Champagne in a single evening at Tramp, London’s infamous members-only nightclub.


That should have set the the royal alarm bells ringing straight away. What was Malcolm Rogers (former curator of the National Portrait Gallery in London and retired director of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts) doing hanging around with gold dealers and wheelers?

His (James Stunt) godfather was an alleged mob boss, his business partners’ offices had recently been raided by the police, and he traversed the city in a traffic-stopping fleet of luxury cars—part of his collection of 200 Rolls-Royces, Bentleys, Ferraris, and Lamborghinis—that made even the queen’s motorcade seem modest by comparison.


That should have set the the royal alarm bells ringing even louder. What was Malcolm Rogers (former curator of the National Portrait Gallery in London and retired director of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts) doing hanging around with dodgy dealers?

Stunt had also assembled a staggering collection of private art. In 2014, after he loaned five exceptional British paintings to the Boston museum, he told Rogers of his ambitions. “He wanted to put a collection together for his daughter to inherit, with a view to lending things to museums,” Rogers recalls. “He always presented himself as a very charitable and positive person, and he was wanting to support the Prince of Wales.”


Noblesse oblige? Hurry up with the honours will you.

With his latest gift, Stunt had succeeded in gaining the prince’s attention. Charles, thrilled with the paintings, knew that art of such stature deserved to be hung in a place of supreme honor. The pieces were soon dispatched to the destination closest to the prince’s heart: Dumfries House, the sprawling mansion on 2,000 acres in Scotland that Charles had renovated at a cost of more than 45 million pounds and turned into the headquarters for his personal charity, the Prince’s Foundation.


Precious. Too precious to go on display to the hoi polloi. My precious. They need protection.

“Dear James,” the prince wrote Stunt. “It was with a great sadness that you were unable to come to Clarence House the other day when Malcolm Rogers appeared with your marvelous pictures.” The prince expressed his excitement over the artworks, “especially the two van Dycks,”and his pleasure at displaying them at Dumfries House. Thanking Stunt for his generosity, he added that the paintings would “provide us with much needed security as an asset for the charity if things ever get tough.” Stunt framed the letter and displayed it in his office.


Sniff, sniff : Is HRH planning to pawn them already?
Sniff, sniff : Why does it remind me of a letter from HRH to Jimmy Saville?

But the paintings turned out to be more of a liability than an asset. Last November, in a front-page story that touched off a royal scandal, the Mail on Sunday reported that 4 of the 17 paintings were fakes.


But you knew that was going to be the punchline didn't you?

According to the paper, the works by Picasso, Dalí, Monet, and Chagall—insured by the Prince’s Foundation for 104 million pounds—were actually cheap imitations by Tony Tetro, a California artist known as “the world’s greatest living art forger.” Citing their display at Dumfries House, which seemed to confer a royal seal of approval, Stunt had valued the paintings at 217 million pounds and had tried to use them to secure massive loans to pay off his equally massive debts. Prince Charles, it appeared, had been scammed.


If they were cheap imitations by Tony Tetro, I'd love to know what Malcolm Rogers' excuses were.

The queen was said to be highly upset, and the paintings were swiftly taken down. “It is extremely regrettable that the authenticity of these particular paintings, which are no longer on display, is now in doubt,” a spokesperson for the Prince’s Foundation tells Vanity Fair.


Charles, what were you thinking? (or not). If only Sir Anthony Blunt had been on the case.

Art experts asked: Who is vetting the royal art?
Followed by another question: Who the hell is James Stunt?

Quite.

https://www.vanityfair.com/style/2020/02/the-prince-charles-art-forgeries-royal-scandal
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Boreades


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My goodness, he's got his own website.

https://tonytetro.com/

Tony Tetro is a renowned art forger. In a career spanning over 40 years, Tetro forged works by old and contemporary masters in every genre. From Chagall to Rembrandt to Dali to Rothko, his extraordinary talent was to create works so real, so plausible that they passed even the closest scrutiny of the most discerning eyes. Tetro’s works were regularly passed off as legitimate works in museums, galleries, and auction houses around the world.


Mange tout, Rodney!

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7643225/Prince-Charles-hit-major-counterfeit-art-scandal.html
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Mick Harper
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Borry, you've been promoted to Hatty's under-assistant West Coast promo man. I was more diverted by the van Dyk's (he says, knowledgeably). Surely these must be just about the best known, best provenanced paintings of all time? What happened to them? You (or they) are strangely silent.

PS We have been working on the 'gave them to the nation' dodge from every angle but still haven't cracked it. This is an excellent contribution to the genre.
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Boreades


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Mick Harper wrote:
Borry, you've been promoted to Hatty's under-assistant West Coast promo man.


Thank you, that's good news. Expense claims to the usual PO Box address?

Mick Harper wrote:
Surely these must be just about the best known, best provenanced paintings of all time? What happened to them? You (or they) are strangely silent.

The silence on that aspect is intriguing. It seems like the kind of silence that comes from embarrassment, or saying nothing to incriminate yourself.

Mick Harper wrote:
PS We have been working on the 'gave them to the nation' dodge from every angle but still haven't cracked it.

Obviously the HRH scam is just one example, so perhaps any attempt at analysing how this particular scam worked might not hold true for all previous scams. In fact, probably guarantees that it doesn't. We will need to proceed in an orderly direction (m'lud), one step and one case at a time.

From what I can see, it was carefully constructed as a "long game" that took five years (2012 to 2017) to come close to the jackpot.

Another account of HRH and Rogers puts it like this:

Charles and Rogers stood together admiring Stunt’s paintings lined up for the prince at his Clarence House residence, Mark Seal reports, and it is said Charles went into raptures, especially over Stunt’s “Van Dycks”. Neither the prince nor Rogers noticed anything amiss with any of the reported seventeen paintings, which is odd as both style themselves art luvvies if not connoisseurs. At that introduction James Stunt himself was absent.

One of the "Van Dykes" had originally

been bought in 2012 for $350K as a studio copy by a London dealer Fergus Hall, someone who has close associations with Philip Mould.

I'd not really noticed the significance of the phrase "studio copy" before. Is it a bit like the Scottish legal verdict "not proven"? Neither innocent nor guilty.

Another "Van Dyke" was the Cheeke Sisters.
https://www.huntington.org/verso/2018/08/cheeke-cheeke

bought by London dealer Mould in 2004, when Christie’s valued it as a “Studio” painting at around $40,000 (if that is even the same work). Mould hammered it down for $130,700. Christie’s New York recently in 2018 “valued” that piece at around $2 million, and the value quoted in January 2019 was £2 million, and the painting seems to have disappeared

It's worth mentioning as a slight detour that Philip Mould is the presenter of the BBC’s “Fake or Fortune?” TV programme. Also a bit of a dodgy dealer in his own right.

a dodgy “Gainsborough” Cottage Door
https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/the-cottage-door/egHVWjpiXaBrIA

also then in Stunt’s collection, one that had been supplied to him again through Philip Mould. Mould paid around £10,000 for the piece in 2011 at a New Orleans auction, but by 2014 Stunt was punting it for £1.5 to £2 million at a Sotheby’s London summer sale.

And another...

Another dodgy Old Master offer to Stunt came directly from Philip Mould. Mould bought a painting that had long been considered a copy for £8.5 million at a Sotheby’s auction in 2009 (then upgraded to an original) and was offering it to Stunt for £12.5 million.

Back to the Van Dyke: by 2017, "studio copy" wasn't mentioned ...

when Rogers facilitated five of Stunt’s “Old Masters” to go on display at the public Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, United States.


Just one year later...

Rogers himself did the expertise for when it went on sale at Christie’s, upgraded to an expensive “original”. It sold to some mug for $1.8 million

Surely someone must have asked Malcolm Rogers about the provenance? And yet: it looks like the Charlie scam was carefully constructed in a very precise and clever way. Meaning that nobody needed to ask awkward questions about provenance.

The Old Master model (the business model)

It was this same model that was used at Dumfries House – hang the dodgy painting(s) in a public museum to mature for however long was needed or could be achieved, then fling them back onto auction and flog them on for huge profits. The London art luvvies and dealers who orbited around “collector” James Stunt in those days, like flies hovering around cow manure, developed the model for him.

Being on show in a famous museum doesn't give it 100% provenance, but it does give it credibility (for the gullible).

Between 2013 and 2017 Stunt’s “collection”, or at least pieces of it, were shown in public with all the attending publicity at the Huntingdon Library in Los Angeles (2013), the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (2014,) and then at Dumfries House in 2017.

And so, with the "art" carefully arranged in Dumfries House, we get close to the end of the long game.
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Boreades


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A lot of people (including me) could easily make a mistake and assume that paintings in a major museum, or a HRH collection, *belong* to the museum or HRH.

Not so. It's like the "registered keeper" of a car isn't necessarily the owner. But if you can "park" your artwork in a major museum, or a HRH collection, its credibility goes up. Way up. Especially when the "registered keeper" takes out a huge wodge of insurance.

loan agreements between Mr Stunt and Dumfries House for the three 'fake' paintings ... complete with purported insurance valuations for a total of £104 million.

The Prince's Foundation was quick to wash its hands...

It is understood the three 'fakes' were all accepted in good faith and that The Prince's Foundation was not responsible for verifying the authenticity of the paintings.

Yeah right. No authenticity asked for, no authenticity provided. No need when vanity and avarice take care of that.

And yet, as soon as they've been insured for £104 million, Stunt could nip round to his favourite merchant bankers, and in all truth, with a straight face, say that HRH's Foundation has valued them at £104 million, and use them as security for loans that have gone missing.
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Mick Harper
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That's certainly a nice one. It's like that famous phrase in Antiques Roadshow, "Have you had it valued for insurance purposes?" "Yeah, the bloke said 'What, for a fiver?' but I begged him to take a premium for five 'undred and 'e said, all right, seeing as it's you." Didn't Philip Mould cut his teeth on that?

Though the big stuff is always the bequests. It's that we haven't sussed. It doesn't seem entirely a death duties avoidance scam. See my 'Oxus Treasure -- The Augustus Franks Years' below, tomorrow, for some further non-enlightenment.
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Hatty
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With bequests, the usual condition attached is to insist the collection be kept together. That could be interpreted as having been amassed over many years, it'd be tantamount to vandalism to break it up. But it could be interpreted as safety in numbers. It's always easier to spot a fake on its own than part of a whole and the idea of the whole being fake is, as we know, intolerable.
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Mick Harper
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Plus, if it was Turners and the Tate, you'd have to close the whole gallery. That's a really good point though. I had always assumed it was just vanity but it happens so often it could be something else. Me, I'd wann'em spread throughout the country, each one having a discreet but flashing sign 'Given to a grateful nation by Air Commodore Sir Michael Harper GCVO' or else they go to the Americans.
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Boreades


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Perhaps more digging is required on what "given to a grateful nation" really means.

Stunt could say he had "given" his collection of Tetro "studio copies" to Dumfries House.

All 17 of Stunt's pictures were on a ten-year, free lease to Dumfries House, with the loan agreements signed by Michael Fawcett, Charles's former valet who is now the £95,000-a-year chief executive of the Prince's Foundation.
.

And, what does a "bequest" mean? How do we know any of the bequests were genuine bequests?

If a private collection is "given" to a museum, who now owns the collection?
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Mick Harper
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Theoretically 'the trustees'. We must not avoid acknowledging that most bequests are kosher and British law is very hot (too hot, say many trustees) on ensuring donors' wishes are carried out punctiliously. This is all part of 'what is the point of art?'. A question nobody has yet satisfactorily answered. Important though, that is one answer. And why so much jiggery-pokery goes on.

I ought also to point out that we here are not much interested in 'art' only in the academical industries (most of all, history) that are founded on the jiggery-pokery.
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Boreades


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Mick Harper wrote:
Given to a grateful nation by Air Commodore Sir Michael Harper GCVO'


Your "bequest" is going to need a back story.

First, one would have to acquire a collection of "studio copies". As Hatty's under-assistant West Coast promo man, I propose a trip to Los Angeles to invest a little of the AEL Pension Fund in some Tetro Originals.

Clients may commission works of art by Mr. Tetro in a wide range of media, genres and artists. In over 40 years of experience, Tetro has created hundreds of pieces that met the very highest standards. His extraordinary talent was to create works so real, so plausible, that they appeased even the closest scrutiny of the most discerning eyes.

https://tonytetro.com/own-a-tetro-art-work/

Next, put them on display in some minor gallery open to the public (Covid-19 lockdown permitting).

I've had a look at the works of art on the walls of Château Boreades. The best stuff was sold off years ago. All we have left now are pictures of ten generations of pedigree dogs, landscapes of M'Lady's favourite vineyards, and #1 Son's picture of Tennis Girl. Well, he says it's artistic. I'd even give the elbow to M'Lady's collection of JAGs - that's paintings by John Atkinson Grimshaw.

According to Wiki:
Moonlit views of city and suburban streets and of the docks in London, Hull, Liverpool and Glasgow also figured largely in his art. His careful painting and his skill in lighting effects meant that he captured both the appearance and the mood of a scene in minute detail. His "paintings of dampened gas-lit streets and misty waterfronts conveyed an eerie warmth as well as alienation in the urban scene.


According to me, bloody dreary. But here's the key to the payload:

Grimshaw left behind no letters, journals, or papers. His reputation rested on, and his legacy is based on, his townscapes.


So who knows how many more JAGs might be "discovered"? Anyway, no problem making space for a few Tetro paintings. As Château Boreades isn't open to the public at the moment, we've been doing some maintenance, exploring the attics and guest wing, and finding all kinds of forgotten rubbish, sorry, valuable antiques. So there's part of the "provenance", the silly old duffers didn't realise what they'd got.

We've just dusted off the first old picture. It's got a label on in that says "On loan from Air Commodore Sir Michael Harper".
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Mick Harper
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More on Grimshaw, please! Slightly reminds me of the head of the Professional Footballers Association (a very minor union at the time) getting a Lowry for his office back in the day. It is now worth millions and the head of the PFA (aged 76) is sticking to office like grim death. Watch that basket when he finally clears his desk. Wartime rank, hostilities-only, by the way Borry, not a substantive one. The Luftwaffe are sticklers about that sort of thing.
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Boreades


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Next, some astute networking.

As Sir Rodney Trotter explained:

“You see, Abdul’s cousin’s girlfriend’s brother’s mate’s mate, right, he’s a gamekeeper down at one of those private zoos! And Monkey Harris’s sister’s husband’s first wife’s stepfather, right, he works for an animal food company. So put the two together and what you got – a nice little earner”

In this case, it's our neighbour who works for BBC News. She knows Fiona Bruce, she used to be a newsreader, right, and she's close to Philip Mould, right, so we invite Antiques Roadshow to do a show in the grounds, right, then we invite Fiona for tea in the left wing with all the artwork, right, and when the moment's right, before she's left, right, we just drop it into the conversation we don't know if they are worth anything, does she know any experts?

Philip Mould will be round in a flash, gasping with delight.
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Boreades


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Mick Harper wrote:
More on Grimshaw, please! .


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Atkinson_Grimshaw
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Mick Harper
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I was rather hoping for some more personal insights. It's the one area we are sorely lacking -- any actual experience of the art market.
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