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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Art World Hit By Hundreds of Fakes

bloombergRoschin with one of the books cataloging Russian fraudulent art works.
Russian art experts have listed as a fake a painting that Christie's International sold as a $3 million work by Boris Kustodiev.

The picture is on the latest installment of a list of 900 works identified as fraudulent by a Russian government culture agency.

The 100 new additions include three allegedly by Russian masters sold by Christie's and rival Sotheby's over the past decade. Christie's said it had returned money for a second work. Sotheby's said it had heard nothing from the buyer of the third.

For the past 18 months, Russia's art market has faced its worst crisis of confidence in the post-Soviet era as five volumes of "The Catalog of Fraudulent Art Works" were published, said dealers. Some experts say fakes now comprise the majority of artworks they are asked to evaluate.

"Every month, I'm asked to look at 10 paintings, and nine are fakes," said London-based Russian art dealer James Butterwick. "Many Russian collectors buy without asking competent experts. If a work is credible, then it has a provenance that can be easily checked out."

Prices have also tumbled as the financial crisis cuts collectors' appetites for art. Combined sales at Russian art auctions in New York at Sotheby's and Christie's in April were about 40 percent of the volume sold in 2008.

Rosokhrankultura, the government's cultural watchdog, released the latest issue of the fakes catalog last month. It contained the most expensive item sold at Christie's November 2005 auction of Russian paintings in London. It was listed as "Odalisque," painted in 1919 by Kustodiev.

"There's no doubt 'Odalisque' is a fake, and that's why we included it," said the catalogue's co-author Vladimir Roschin.

Roschin didn't identify the current owner of the painting, which features a nude woman reclining in bed. The painting is signed in Cyrillic, "B. Kustodiev, 1919." It had an estimated value of 180,000 pounds to 220,000 pounds, and sold for 1.69 million pounds ($2.93 million at the time).

for MT
Sold for almost $3 million at Christie's, experts say this painting is a fake.

"I have expert conclusions saying it's a fake from the leading authorities: the State Tretyakov Gallery, the State Russian Museum, the State Grabar Art Scientific Restoration Centre and a private expert, Vladimir Petrov," said Roschin.

The Christie's catalog for the sale says "Odalisque" "appears to have been based on a charcoal drawing, 'Reclining Nude,' dated 1915." It also said the painting came from the collection of Leo Maskovskii, a Russian refugee who bought art while living in the 1920s in the Baltic countries.

Christie's gives a five-year authenticity guarantee on works that it sells. Within that time, if the buyer presents the conclusions of two experts acceptable to the buyer and to Christie's, then the auction house is willing to annul the sale.

"We are aware of the reports of the Grabar Art Scientific Restoration Center and Vladimir Petrov prepared for the Buyer," Christie's said in an e-mailed statement. "We wish to conduct our own investigation but, to date, we have been denied access to the painting. Once we have the opportunity to do so, we will carefully review all the evidence that is available and reach an objective conclusion."

Many of the works listed in the fakes catalog are 19th- century Western European paintings doctored by criminals to look like 19th-century Russian artworks. Over the past decade, the latter have been fetching much higher prices as Russian collectors snap up items from their national heritage.

The frauds in these volumes were compiled by Vladimir Petrov, who admitted in 2005 to having inadvertently authenticated 20 fraudulent paintings. He called on his colleagues to admit their mistakes.

Such errors are possible because many Russian realist painters followed European trends, said Roschin. They used the same techniques and subject matter and sometimes had the same teachers.

The Confederation of Art and Antique Dealers, a Moscow- based association, says the catalog and its sponsors are "destabilizing the market" and "destroying consumer confidence."

The latest catalog also includes "Winter Light in the Evergreen Forest," attributed to the Russian landscape painter Andrei Schilder, which sold at Christie's in July 2000. Christie's said it has already settled this matter. "Shortly after the sale, concerns about its authenticity were raised," Christie's said in an e-mailed statement. "The matter was resolved on 30 May 2001 with a cancellation of the sale."

The new catalog also lists an artwork sold by Sotheby's in May 2002, "Summer Fishing in a Forest Lake," allegedly by the Russian painter Ilya Ostroukhov.