MANHATTAN (CN) - A collector claims the Knoedler Gallery sold him a forged Jackson Pollack painting, Untitled, 1950, for $17 million, and he found out it was bogus the day before the 165-year-old gallery closed for good last Wednesday.
Pierre Lagrange, a Belgian citizen and London resident, says he bought the painting through his trust, G&S Trustees Limited, in November 2007.
"Representing that the work was owned privately by a collector who had inherited it, the defendants warranted that the work is an authentic painting by Pollock, the famous American artist," the complaint states. "In reality, the work is a forgery and the provenance is demonstrably false. The work is neither authentic nor saleable."
Lagrange claims Knoedler's director Ann Freedman was directly involved with the sale.
"At the time of the sale, the work was not included in the Jackson Pollock catalogue raisonné," which the 2nd Circuit defines as "a definitive catalogue of the works of a particular artist," the complaint states.
According to the complaint, courts have come to understand that "inclusion of a painting in a catalogue raisonné serves to authenticate the work, while non-inclusion suggests that the work is not genuine."
Lagrange said the gallery downplayed the matter by falsely stating that the Pollock catalogue raisonné was being updated.
"On information and belief, Knoedler had the work in its possession for over seven years and was unable to sell the work during that period for this very reason," the complaint states.
Lagrange says the gallery lied to him, claiming it had shown the painting to 12 "leading Pollock scholars" who expressed "positive opinions" about it, when in fact "nearly all the scholars who viewed the Work did not express any opinion about it at all."
Finding the painting "impossible to sell," Lagrange says, he offered it to Sotheby's on Oct. 29, 2010, but the auction house rejected it.
Months later, he says, he offered it to Christie's, which sent him a rejection letter stating that "'[i]t is our belief, and generally agreed in our industry, that Pollock paintings not listed in the catalogue raisonné, are rarely accepted in the marketplace.'"
Lagrange said he hired "a preeminent materials-analysis and consulting firm" to examine the painting.
"Test results confirmed plaintiffs' fears that the work is a fake: 'Examination and analysis of materials used to create the [work] revealed physical evidence that certain materials are inconsistent and evidently irreconcilable with the claimed attributes that Jackson Pollock painted the [w]ork in 1950 - or any other date,'" the complaint states.
"Remarkably, just one day after plaintiffs provided defendants with a copy of the written report declaring the work to be a forgery, Knoedler announced its permanent closing after 165 years in business."
A Nov. 30 article in The New York Times quoted Art Dealers Association of America president Lucy Mitchell-Innes saying of Knoedler's closing: "Goodness me, that's pretty stunning. ... This is a very venerable institution that provided great art to a number of the great collections and great institutions in this country."
In a follow-up story on Saturday (Dec. 3), the Times reported that federal authorities are investigating whether "a parade of paintings and drawing sold for years by some of New York's most elite art dealers" are fakes.
Lagrange and G&S Trustees sued Knoedler and Freedman for breach of warranty, fraud, unjust enrichment and unilateral mistake.
They seek at least $15.3 million and punitive damages.
They are represented by Judd B. Grossman of The Dontzin Law Firm.
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.