Paint it black

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.)

Picture it – 17th century

Sorry, Orson has left the building.
Being ill can have advantages. For example one can read through all the books that lie around, unnoticed now, once it was so important to get this by library or “Fernleihe” … as “Bildwelten des Wissens”, Kunsthistorisches Jahrbuch für Bildkritik, Band 2,2, Berlin 2004. Titel of this volume: Instrumente des Sehens, edited by A. Fischel. Here i found a small article that grabbed my whole attention: Vermeer and the Problem of Painting Inside the Camera obscura by Philipp Steadman (76-86).

Jan Vermeer is a Dutch painter of the 17th century (1631-1675), who lived in Delft. The English wikipedia-article is not as detailed as the German one, and omits in the description of his life the small but important fact, that Vermeer was elected Dean of the St.-Lucas-guilt for several times in the 1660s and 1670s. The guilts were an important tool for the bourgoise self-administration in a medieval and early-modern town. They did not elect an unimportant poor “Hansel”, but it was an authoritative position and the keeper surely was expected to represent from his own means, and not on the costs of his fellow-masters. We re in a fully developed capitalist society here. Nevertheless he died poor and his widow had financial troubles, maybe the war between France and the Netherlands 1672-1679 played a role. He seemingly did not sell very much pictures on the marked but worked for customers and patrons.
His oeuvre is small, not more as 37 (some say 35) pictures are today adscribed to the master’s hands. He is famous for his small, detailed interiors. You have the feeling you could step in and have a talk and a glass of wine with the people. On this site you can dive in Vermeer’s world. And if you want to fly over the 17th century Delft, have a look here.

Of course the old masters used tools, and the knowledge of the camera obscura is old. But until now I did not know that Vermeer’s use of such a construction is not just a strong suspicion, but has to be seen as a fact. Here is an interview with Steadman about his book and the reactions on his theses and finds. And as I can see now there is no clear rejection by the “specialists”. In the small article that started my search Steadman says that Vermeer could have handeld color within the camera, directly on the canvas. It would be possible to do it, he built the thing and tried it out. There is picture of an elderly man inside the camera booth. I would like to know whether Steadman was able to reconstruct or give details about the lens Vermeeer used.

Writing about Vermeer is incomplete without at least mentioning Han van Meegeren, the master forger, again the German article being much more detailed.
Today van Meegeren’s work is a collectible for itself and he was honoured with retrospectives of his oeuvre, like Konrad Kujau later, who came to fame because of the Hitler diaries, but was an excellent painter and master-forger in his own right. Ironically forged “Kujau’s” were sold on e-bay some years ago … I liked Konny, he died 2000. Oh, and Orson: Here.