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Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Back issues
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Can’t Tell the Chagalls Without a Program

PHILADELPHIA (CN) - An insurer claims an art collector rolled it for tens of thousands in a claim for a purported Marc Chagall lithograph that he learned was bogus, then left evidence of his fraud by suing a Beverly Hills gallery that allegedly sold him the artwork, according to two federal complaints.

Both lawsuits were filed in Philadelphia Federal Court.

In the new complaint, Great Northern Insurance claims that Matthew Wax submitted a claim in 2009 for several items that he said were damaged or missing from a storage facility.

One of them, the insurer says, was a Chagall lithograph, "In the Land of the Gods," valued at $25,000. The other was Auguste Renoir's "Le Jugement de Paris."

After extended negotiations, Great Northern says, it agreed to pay $60,500 for a general release of all claims.

That same month, Great Northern claims, it learned about an email correspondence between Wax and A. Henry, a representative from Freeman's Auctioneers & Appraisers, neither of which is not a party to the lawsuit.

"Wax confirmed that Ms. Henry had, upon inspection of the purported Chagall lithograph, advised Wax that the Chagall 'is not a lithograph,' and that she questioned its authenticity;

"Based upon her conclusion that the Chagall was not authentic, Ms. Henry told Wax that Freeman's would not accept it for auction;

"Freeman's advised Wax that had it accepted Chagall for auction, 'it would bring $12-13,000'; and

"While Freeman's did not examine the Renoir lithograph, Freeman's advised that if it were authentic, Wax could have expected to receive approximately $2,500 at auction," the complaint states.

Wax sent Henry an apologetic reply stating "that he thought he had purchased the Chagall 'from a top gallery with a tremendous reputation' (Galerie Michael in Beverly Hills, California)," according to the complaint. (Parentheses in complaint.)

Galerie Michael is on Beverly Hill's tony Rodeo Drive, according to Wax's complaint.

Great Northern claims that Wax told it about the email exchange with the appraisers, but lied about and omitted key details.

For instance, Wax indicated that Freeman's inspected photographs of the Chagall, rather than the work itself, the insurer says. Wax also declined to mention that he learned the Chagall was not a lithograph, was not authentic and would not be inspected for auction, according to the complaint.

"Great Northern learned after it finalized the claim in June 2011 and rendered payment for an authentic Chagall lithograph that four (4) months later, Wax suedGalerie Michael in this district for selling him a fake Chagall," the complaint states.

Great Northern seeks a judgment voiding the policy and awarding treble damages of more than $587,000, alleging breach of contract and fraud.

It is represented by Cynthia Bernstiel, with Nelson Levine Deluca & Horst.

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