Steve Martin Victim in German Art Forgery Scandal

1:00 PM PST 05/31/2011 by Scott Roxborough

German police believe Martin bought forged painting for around $850,000 in 2004.

COLOGNE, Germany -- German police believe actor Steve Martin may be among the victims of one of the biggest art forgery scandals in the country's history. The comedy star, an avid art collector, is thought to have bought a painting forged by a team of swindlers under suspicion of selling dozens of such forgeries over the past decade.

According to investigators quoted by news magazine Der Spiegel, in 2004 Martin bought what he thought was Landscape With Horses, a colorful 1915 work by German-Dutch modernist painter Heinrich Campendonk from the Paris gallery Cazeau-Beraudiere. He paid around $850,000 (€700,000) for the painting, a bargain for an original Campendonk. A Campendonk expert had confirmed the painting's authenticity before the purchase. Martin resold the work for a major loss in 2006, with Christie's auction house selling it to a Swiss businesswoman for €500,000.

In an interview with the New York Times' arts blog Arts Beat, Martin said he wasn't aware the painting was a forgery when he bought it nor when he resold it. “It wasn’t clear that it was a fake until after Christie’s had sold the picture, it was a long time after that, that it became known,” he told the Times. He added that the forgers "were quite clever in that they gave it a long provenance and they faked labels, and it came out of a collection that mingled legitimate pictures with faked pictures.”

It is unclear whether Martin will bear any legal liability resulting from the sale of the painting. The actor told the Times that “the gallery that sold me the picture has promised to be responsible to me, if I’m responsible, but it’s still unclear.”

Martin, who has made reference to his love of modern art in films such as L.A. Story and has written a novel -- An Object of Beauty -- set in the New York art scene, is only a minor player in the forgery scandal, which investigators believe could turn out to be the biggest in German history.

Police caught the suspected forgery gang, alleged mastermind Wolfgang Beltracchi, his wife Helene, her sister Jeanette and accomplice Otto Schulte-Kellinghaus, last year. Investigators believe the group sold at least 44 apparently forged paintings over the last decade or so. Almost all of the paintings were forgeries of artists from the first half of the 20th century, including Campendonk, Max Pechstein, Max Ernst and several others.

Beltracchi concocted a story that the paintings were part of two collections saved during the Nazi years: one from Helene and Jeanette's grandfather, Werner Jagers, the other from Schulte-Kellinghaus' grandfather, a tailor called Knops. Several of the forged paintings were sold to French galleries, including the one where Martin bought the forged Campendonk. The forgeries were remarkably good, fooling several top experts in the field.

The Cologne public prosecutor's office, which has brought charges against Beltracchi and his accomplices, have said total losses to the art community from the sale and resale of just 14 of the forged paintings totaled nearly $50 million (€34.1 million).

 

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