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collecting art

The article below should serve as a wake-up call to anyone purchasing investment quality fine art. The sum involved in this case was approaching seven figures, however, this type of thing can happen at any price level. Obviously, the more money involved the greater the temptation to commit fraud, and as we see here, even a well-heeled professional with a big reputation can (allegedly) succumb to greed.

Any knowledgeable dealer, let alone one as prominent as Guy Wildenstein, knows that an authentic Alfred Sisley work should be accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity from the Comite’ Sisley, and/or be listed in the Sisley catalogue raisonne. Is it possible that Wildenstein had his own opinion about the work, and doesn’t respect the Sisley Comite’? If so, he would also have to be okay with the work in light of the fact that it is was not listed in the raisonne. Either way, improprieties were committed, but with proper diligence the buyer could have avoided being victimized.

It’s unfortunate to see things like this occurring in the art world, especially at such a high level. The Wildenstein family spans five generations and founded the worlds most important research center on French art. Guy Wildenstein is the pre-eminent authority on all things Impressionist, so it is hard to believe that he would sell a Sisley painting without knowing something was amiss.

Art collecting should be both rewarding and fulfilling. The last thing a collector needs is to find out that they were sold a forgery. The sad truth is that many collectors don’t find out they were duped until they try selling their art, which can be decades later by them or their heirs.

There are some basic things a collector can do to ensure that this doesn’t happen to them. For one, hire a knowledgeable and trustworthy advisor, AND make sure they are acting as an objective third party….that they have no connection to the seller and are not receiving any third party fees. A knowledgeable advisor will know if the artists’ work you are purchasing requires a Certificate of Authenticity from a governing body. They will also consult the catalogue raisonne of the artist (if one exists) and ask questions pertaining to provenance and condition.

Learn more about how to buy smart by reading PRINCIPLES OF ART INVESTING.


O.C. woman discovers her $875,000 painting isn’t authentic

By Kelly Puente

April 23, 2016. An Orange County woman says she paid $875,000 for a painting by one of the founders of French impressionism, Alfred Sisley, only to learn that the work isn’t authentic.

In a lawsuit filed Friday, Karen Rabe said she bought a signed Sisley titled “Branches d’arbes (sic) au bord du Loing (Tree Branches on the Banks of the Loing)” from international art dealer Guy Wildenstein and his New York-based Wildenstein & Co. Inc.

But when she tried to sell the painting in 2013 through Sotheby’s auction house, she received a letter from the Comité Alfred Sisley, an organization that tracks works by Sisley, saying her painting was not authentic, the lawsuit says.

Wildenstein, 70, is head of a family-owned art dealership that has been operating in New York and Paris for generations. A representative of the Wildenstein Co. could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

Rabe, in the lawsuit, said she initially planned to display the painting in her home and that she believed the painting was authentic in part because of Wildenstein & Co.’s reputation.

The sale also included a handwritten note of authenticity, dated 1989, from Francois Daulte, a well-known art expert, who was preparing a catalog with the official collection of works by Alfred Sisley, according to the lawsuit. Daulte died in 1999.

Rabe could not be reached for comment, and her attorneys, at Newmeyer & Dillion in Newport Beach, declined to comment.

The painting’s value now isn’t clear. In a letter to Rabe, the Comité Alfred Sisley said that because it believes the work is not authentic it will not be included in the Catalogue Raisonné, a comprehensive listing of all the known works of an artist.

Paintings by Sisley have sold for more than $2.8 million, and his work – which includes about 900 oil paintings – gained in value at a rate of about 3 percent a year from 1995 through 2014, according to a survey by artNews.

The case is pending in Orange County Superior Court.



Art Dealer Should Go to Jail for Tax Fraud, Prosecutor Says

by Gaspard Sebag, October 13,2016

  • Guy Wildenstein should pay $276 million fine, prosecutor says

Guy is on trial over suspected art-inheritance tax fraud. Art dealer Guy Wildenstein should get a four-year prison sentence and pay a 250 million-euro ($276 million) fine for concealing paintings in an attempt to avoid taxes, French prosecutors said in their closing speech at a month-long fiscal fraud trial.

Guy Wildenstein fraudulently hid assets worth hundreds of millions of euros in offshore trusts to underestimate inheritance taxes, prosecutor Monica d’Onofrio said Thursday at the Paris criminal court. Two years of the prison sentence should be suspended, she said.

“This is the most sophisticated tax fraud” seen in France for many decades, d’Onofrio said. “It’s thanks to the Wildenstein fiscal fraud we’ve learned the impressionist art of defrauding the tax collector.”

The Paris trial, which will last until Oct. 20, has provided insight on the family’s business secrets, which were so fiercely held that Guy Wildenstein said he didn’t learn of many of the financial machinations until the death of his father Daniel in 2001.

According to a banker who has intricate financial knowledge of the clan’s dealings, the Wildensteins sold more than 600 pieces since the turn of the century, generating around $300 million in cash to fund their lifestyle. The family has works worth nearly three times that much in storage.

Daniel Wildenstein created an offshore trust in the Bahamas in 1998 to lodge about 2,500 works from his collection. A Royal Bank of Canada unit managed it, and a representative told a Paris court last month that its sole purpose was to provide funds for the family.

The assets held in trusts weren’t legally Daniel’s, Guy’s lawyers have said. Instead, they belonged to the trusts and therefore shouldn’t count for estate taxes. French prosecutors argue that the trusts aren’t truly independent, pointing to evidence that the Delta Trust became a source of bounty for Guy and his brother Alec, who died in 2008.

“The purpose of the trusts has been perverted and they became piggy banks,” d’Onofrio said. Her colleague, Mirelle Venet, argued that Guy’s nephew, Alec Junior Wildenstein, had a marginal role in the tax fraud and should therefore get a six-month suspended sentence.

The Wildenstein family entered the art world in the 1870s in Paris when Nathan Wildenstein, Guy’s great-grandfather, helped a client sell some paintings while he was working as a tailor. Nathan opened his own gallery the same decade. His firm, Wildenstein & Co., has been family-run since then.

Five generations later, the art-dealing tradition continues through Guy, in charge of the Wildenstein Institute, whose ‘catalogues raisonnes’ for the most important artists of the 19th and 20th centuries are so exhaustive that a work by Monet would be worthless without a so-called Wildenstein index number.


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