MANHATTAN (CN) – A man who shelled out $1 million for Wayne Thiebaud’s 1969 painting “Lollipop Tree” says in a federal complaint that the auction house sold him a forgery.
Represented by the firm Patterson Belknapp, art collector Adrien Meyer says that 97-year-old Thiebauld himself authenticated the work sold by Nadeau’s Auction Gallery only to retract his seal of approval in May 2018 after the legitimate “Lollipop Tree” surfaced at another auction house.
A oil-on-board painting that measures 13 by 10 ¼ inches, “Lollipop Tree” belongs to Thiebauld’s colorful confectionery works associated with the Pop Art movement and the First Generation Bay Area Figurative School of artists in the 1950s and 1960s.
Meyer, a French citizen who lives in the Upper West Side, bought the piece from Nadeau’s on New Year’s Day 2018 for $1.08 million, surpassing presale estimates of $400,000 to $800,000.
The painting was sold with a 1970 label from the Allan Stone Gallery; Stone was Thiebaud’s longtime New York gallerist from 1961 to 2006.
Meyer and his agent, Connery & Associates Fine Art International, seek to recover $1,092,500, representing the full purchase price of $1.08 million along with $12,500 in expenses incurred in establishing the authenticity of the painting.
Thiebaud first viewed the Nadeau’s “Lollipop Tree” in person on Feb. 1, 2018. He said at the time the piece was authentic, but that the signature on the bottom-center of the canvas was not his.
Connery & Associates Fine Art International worked at that point to have the existing signature removed and to have Thiebaud sign the painting as his own.
On Feb. 15, 2018, Thiebaud authenticated the piece by signing it twice — on the canvas’ stretcher and on the Allan Stone Gallery label affixed on the back.
The Nadeau Gallery agreed to defer distribution of the sales proceeds subject to Thiebaud’s signature of the painting.
Connery & Associates notes meanwhile that its suspicions were piqued again on April 11, 2018, when the auction house advised it of a work similar to “Lollipop Tree” that it had told in 1987.
On May 11, 2018, in New York City, Thiebaud personally viewed the Nadeau’s painting alongside high-resolution photographs of the other similar work and concluded that the Nadeau painting was a forgery and that it was not authentic.
Meyer says the Nadeau Gallery has refused to rescind the sale or return the purchase price.
According to the complaint, Thiebaud’s assistant had tipped his current gallery concerning authenticity issues she had raised with the Nadeau Gallery in mid-December 2017, writing in email that she corresponded that month with Eddie Nadeau to inform him “that the work did not appear to be ‘right’ and the provenance was questioned.”
“I also told him the signature does not bear any resemblance to Wayne’s typical signature,” the painter’s assistant wrote, as quoted in the complaint. “Basically, the piece was questionable.”
Meyer says the auction house’s prior knowledge of the piece’s dubious provenance could change the charges he is leveling.
“If the Nadeau Gallery was not apprised of these authenticity issues before the sale, this is a straightforward action for rescission due to mutual mistake, breach of warranty and/or timely revocation,” the complaint states. “If the Nadeau Gallery was so apprised, it has engaged in egregious fraud, and is subject to punitive damages.”
The suit also names a John Doe defendant, representing the individual or entity that consigned the painting to the Nadeau Gallery and who possibly holds the majority of the funds paid for the piece.
Nadeau’s listing for “Lollipop Tree” is still live on its website as of Tuesday afternoon.
Represented by the Cahill Cossu Noh & Robinson law firm, Nadeau’s Auction Gallery brushed off Meyer’s lawsuit as baseless.
“The buyer — an offshore entity that had apparently hoped to flip the work — is reportedly owned by former auction house executive Stephane Connery, who had the painting authenticated before allowing the consignor to be paid,” Cahill Cossu attorney Megan Noh said in an email Tuesday evening. “Whatever the source of this buyer’s remorse, it is not enough for it to wiggle out of its legal obligations. The idea that a sophisticated art dealer was somehow duped by this auction house is nonsensical and flatly rejected by our client.”