The big trial started on the 1st of September and was planned to last until March 2012 (40 days of trial, more than 100 witnesses), but the sentence was pronounced on the 27th of October: Six years for the maindefendant, Wolfgang FISCHER-BELTRACCHI (60), four years for his wife Helene BELTRACCHI (52), one year and nine months for her sister Jeanette (54), and five years for the accomplice Otto SCHULTE-KELLINGHAUS (67). This was the result of a so-called deal between the parties and based on an extensive confession of the main defendant: “Alle Bilder habe ich allein gemalt” , “I alone painted all the pictures”. “All” means 14 that were subject of this trial. (For a gallery go here, but do not miss to scroll down for a list of 53 titles the investigators could connect with the forgers.)
The story they told was simple. Helene and Jeanette brought pictures to auctioneers and galleries claiming they were out of the possession of their grandfather Werner JAEGERS (Ger. only), a merchant and industrialist in the Rhineland, who died 1992. He would have bought them from the famous collector Alfred FLECHTHEIM (Ger. only). The partner in crime SCHULTE-KELLINGHAUS also sold pictures from his grandfather’s collection, the tailor Wilhelm KNOPS from Krefeld, who died 1957 and would have been a good friend of JAEGERS. The legend was proofed by the sign of the Flechtheim gallery on the back of the paintings. This was as forged as the paintings themselves, we have here complete falsifications. Indeed these signs were identified as forgery by the Flechtheim-specialist Ralph JENTSCH, what nailed the case. The brake-through for the forgers came with “Rotes Bild mit Pferden” allegedly by the expressionist Heinrich CAMPENDONK (Ger., Eng.), sold via the auctioneer LEMPERTZ for 2.4 million Euro in 2006.
But suspicion arose. Further investigation and scientific examination proofed the use of modern paints and pigments not available at the time when this (and other) paintings were created. The rest was police work and investigation. The three main suspects were arrested and came into pretrial detention in September 2010. The convicts came free after the sentence was proclaimed, they will serve their sentences im freien Vollzug, what means that they visit the can over night. BELTRACCHI said the money would be gone, just a single million left on a Swiss account; this will be transferred back to the Staatskasse for legal costs, maybe for one or another wronged party a small reimbursement is possible.
But there are seemingly not many people queuing up for compensation.
Most of the paintings FISCHER-BELTRACCHI produced and sold, be it via his wife and her sister or his mate Otto, are gone, vanished. The other 49 paintings wer not subject of the trial because the investigations were not finished yet, water tight was only the case of the 14. BELTRACCHI & Co. seemingly slammed on the brake, accepted the inevitable and so stopped investigations into the other paintings, those that were already known. The known damage is quantified with circa 16 million Euro.
Some interesting questions remain unanswered.
How many paintings were forged? How were they sold? Who produced the “Expertise”, the evaluation of each single work of art – and signed it? Where ARE they?
Paintings are seen as store of value, as something that will keep its value regardless of the name of the currency, be it Euro, Dollar or Mark. And often they are paid with Schwarzgeld, illicit money. Original BELTRACCHIS will show up over the next twenty or thirty years in auctions and galleries, maybe some are already in museums – ah, the museums … The fooled will stay silent, wounded vanities will be kept secret, people will forget.
It’s all make-believe.
Paint it black feat. Karel Gott.
(Articles in SPIEGEL, Zeit, Handelsblatt; on Bloomberg, Businessweek.)