Monday, April 25, 2016

Fraud and Deceit At One Of The Oldest Art Galleries In the U.S.

For a large part of the late 19th century the dealers were Knoedler in New York; Agnew's in London and Duveen in both.
France had a few but not on the scale of the big three.

A major piece from ARTnews:

Ann Freedman and her defense team. ILLUSTRATION: VICTOR JUHASZ
Ann Freedman and her defense team.
Domenico and Eleanore De Sole live most of the year in Hilton Head, South Carolina. Domenico is originally from Calabria, and he grew up in a military family, moving all around Italy. He got a law degree from Harvard in 1972, but he’s no longer a member of the bar. He made his fortune in the fashion industry, first as the CEO of the Gucci Group, and then as a cofounder of Tom Ford International with the label’s namesake. Eleanore describes herself as “Domenico’s unpaid secretary.” They are collectors and major patrons of the arts. Domenico currently serves as the chairman of the board of directors at Sotheby’s, but when it comes to their art purchases, Eleanore makes all the decisions. Still, they would not describe themselves as art experts per se. Domenico is more comfortable talking about handbags.

On a trip to New York in November 2004, the De Soles visited the Knoedler & Co. gallery on the Upper East Side of Manhattan for the first and last time. They went there to inquire about buying a work by artist Sean Scully, who had been represented by Knoedler off and on for years, and met with Ann Freedman, the gallery’s president. She told them she did not have any work by Scully available, but she did have a painting—right there in her office—that she said was by Mark Rothko.

Freedman explained that a private Swiss collector had owned the work, and that his family wanted to remain anonymous. After short deliberations, the De Soles wanted to buy the painting. They paid Knoedler $8.3 million, the most the couple had ever spent on a work of art by a wide margin. The invoice for the Rothko lists the buyer as Laura De Sole, the couple’s oldest daughter, so that it would be clear that the painting would go to her after the De Soles died, and not her younger sister, Rickie. “They fight,” Domenico said of his daughters. (Eleanore was slightly more morbid. After the couple was dead and buried, she said, “I didn’t want to roll over in my grave.”) The family planned on owning the work for a long time.
More than a decade after that meeting at the gallery, and two years after their Rothko was revealed to be a fake, the De Soles would tell a jury that Freedman and Knoedler had knowingly conned them out of seven figures. But, Domenico would testify, back in 2004 he and his wife had “no reason to believe someone was lying” to them. After all, they were dealing with Knoedler—“the most trusted, oldest, most important gallery,” he said.
Knoedler & Co. opened in New York City in 1846 and ran more or less continuously until closing abruptly at the end of 2011. Knoedler went into business almost a quarter of a century before the Metropolitan Museum of Art was founded. When the gallery started, California was not yet a U.S. state. Knoedler would become a leading supplier of Old Master paintings to the robber barons of the Gilded Age, counting among its clients Cornelius Vanderbilt, J. P. Morgan, and Henry Clay Frick. For years the business was described as a framer and “picture manufacturer”—its existence predated the very idea of a storefront business that sold art. The gallery weathered 165 years of American history and changing tastes.
But in the second half of the 20th century, as the market for contemporary art expanded dramatically, Knoedler suffered. In 1970, after spending a large sum on a town house at 19 East 70th Street, the gallery was nearly bankrupt. In 1971 Armand Hammer, the oil magnate who eventually founded his own private museum in Los Angeles, purchased the business for $2.5 million. Knoedler survived, mostly on the strength of one of its greatest directors, Lawrence Rubin, who shifted the business’s focus to more contemporary fare, bringing on artists like Richard Diebenkorn, Frank Stella, and Scully. Rubin also hired Freedman, then a 29-year-old receptionist from a rival gallery, who quickly rose to the position of president, and, in 1994, became Knoedler’s director.
By all appearances, the gallery prospered under Freedman—she was a natural salesperson, and her Rolodex included David Geffen and the Taubman family, as well as every imaginable museum director—but the year she took over was also the beginning of Knoedler’s ultimate downfall; it was the same year a woman from Long Island no one in the art world had ever heard of, named Glafira Rosales, came to the gallery and met with Freedman for the first time. Between 1994 and 2008, the year before Freedman quietly resigned, Rosales, with the alleged help of her boyfriend, Jose Carlos Bergantiños Diaz, his brother Jesus, and Pei-Shen Qian, a Chinese immigrant living in Queens, conducted an $80 million forgery ring through Knoedler, selling or consigning 40 expertly crafted counterfeits—the De Soles’ painting among them—that Rosales claimed were by Abstract Expressionists, including giants like Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock, and Rothko....MUCH MORE
 Another Day, Another Multimillion Dollar Art Forgery Scam

See also, if interested:
The Greatest Salesman in the World: Duveen Buys and Sells Gainsborough's "Blue Boy"
Wildenstein: The Art World's Most Powerful Dealer Family