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F R A U D

Common Fraudulent Practices in the Art Trade

Photograph of a painting by Canaletto.

Giovanni Antonio Canal 1697-1768
The Piazza San Marco, Venice: Looking West from the North End of the Piazzetta. Oil on canvas 50x58 inches

A simple definition of fraud is given in the Oxford Dictionary as: “Wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain”.

On the 11 September 2010 we received an email from Ralph Ahern offering a Canaletto painting for sale. The terms of the offer were quite specific: “All documentation is included; the asking price is €11 million; my contact is willing to put us in direct contact with the owner's exclusive representative”. The terms clearly offered direct access to the painting and the seller but we soon discovered that Ahern could not deliver on either front. His contact did not even know the identity of the 'representative' and the only document he had was a bogus condition report. Ahern’s attempt to sell the Canaletto painting was illegal under British law.

We soon discovered that Ahern was involved with an illicit underworld gang engaged in sourcing high value paintings from unsuspecting sellers, which they would tout on the international market in the hopes of finding a buyer. If they succeeded, they would secure a contract for sale from the buyer, which they would then sell back down the chain to the owner of the painting. This particular scam is common in the art trade but it has received very little publicity.

The owner's representative was a London dealer trading as Charles Beddington Ltd. It appears that the gang received details of the Canaletto painting through another London dealer working in tandem with Beddington. He had been given access to the painting by Beddington under the pretence of having a buyer for it. The painting started off with a price tag of £6 million but by the time it reached Ahern, the price had increased to €11 million with each operator in the gang adding on his cut.

When we challenged certain members of the gang in 2010, one of them got cold feet and supplied us with numerous documents and information on how the gang was organised. Much of the information recorded here is extracted from these documents. It appears that there were at least seven traders involved. According to Beddington, the only one of them who had a right to offer the painting for sale was a colleague of his by the name of Peter. However, Beddington has consistently refused to identify him and claims that Peter had duped him into believing that he had a buyer for the Canaletto. Whether he had or not is unknown to us but Beddington suspects that having failed to find a buyer, he hawked the painting on to a Dutch dealer in Eindhoven. From there it found its way into the underworld where it was taken on by the Ahern ring led by Federico Menez, a Mexican national living in Paris. Next in line was a small time New York dealer by the name of Ron Cayen. The Canaletto then found its way to Thomas Chenoweth in Long Island City, New York before being turned over to Gayle B. Tate in Laramie, USA; and finally to Ralph Ahern, an Irish national operating a small antiques business in Germany.

Photograph of Federico Menez and Ron Cayen.

Menez and Cayen: New York, 2012

The documents handed over to us describe how the sale proceeds were to be distributed amongst the Menez gang by a Swiss company, Via Mat Artcare AG, a major warehousing and shipping business, which is now part of the multinational Loomis Group. All five members of the Menez gang had signed up to an even share of the proceeds (see below and notes at bottom of page). According to our calculations, each one of the chain would have gained €500,000 or so if the scam had succeeded. However, the Menez document allows only for the distribution of €1 million with €200,000 allocated to each one in the chain. So what happened to the remaining €2.75 million? Was this to be split between Peter and the Eindhoven dealer or were there others involved in the scam and in line for a payout?

Photograph of a document; art fraud.

The Menez Agreement

We have no hesitation in describing the five dealers in the Menez chain as a gang. Each one was fully aware of the involvement and status of the others in the chain. The scam involved a clear attempt to profit from the sale of goods belonging to another party without the knowledge of that party. In Britain, the Sale of Goods Act states that anyone involved in the sale of goods must have the right to sell them. It would appear that the Menez gang had no such right. However, on the 27th September 2010, Cary Scott Goldinger, a New York lawyer, wrote to Ahern describing the Canaletto painting and stating that he represented Federico Menez in connection with the sale of the painting. Goldinger states in his letter: “This will confirm that Mr. Menez is the official representative of the owner of the painting and has full authority and consent to sell the above referenced painting.” In a second letter sent two days later, Goldinger states that: “we have no intention of disclosing to you (Ahern) the particulars of Mr. Menez’s arrangement with the owner”. We have since written to Mr. Goldinger requesting details of the grounds on which he made his declaration and any supporting documents he might have. We are still waiting for a reply.

Considering that law firms and respectable companies such as Charles Beddington Limited and Via Mat Artcare AG were involved in this affair in one way or another, one might ask why it is reported here under the heading of fraud. The answer might be that this is a risk any company runs if they do not exercise due diligence to a sufficient degree. When we were first presented with details of the Canaletto, a condition report on the painting was supplied as part of the description of the painting. The condition report was dated July 2010 but it was unsigned. It opened with the following statement: “This report is necessarily brief since the abovementioned picture is in a condition that can best be described as perfect." It also claimed that: "Under ultra-violet light there are no notable losses or in-painting whatsoever”. Considering such a report, we concluded that the painting was worth further investigation. Works of this calibre in the condition described are rare and carry a premium. We arranged to inspect the painting but found that although it was in exceptionally good condition for its age, it did not stand up to the glowing description that accompanied the offer for sale. The condition report we received states that there is no in-painting “whatsoever”, but we found that this was not the case. The description could not have been clearer: 'there was no in-painting at all or of any kind'. Contrary to the report, our examination under ultra-violet light disclosed that numerous paint losses and blemishes, however small, had been in-painted. We found also that the varnishing of the top section of the painting was inconsistent with the main body of the work. Various stretcher marks were also visible and disturbing to the eye, especially when viewed from certain angles. The Canaletto was far from the perfect painting that had been described to us.

Our inspection of the painting was organised by Federico Menez at Martin Speed’s warehouse in London. We had been told in advance that: 'All documentation is included'. However, when we asked to see the documents during the inspection procedure, they were not available and no valid explanation was given. In matters such as this, it is unheard of for the seller of a painting of this calibre to arrive without valid documents. It became clear that we were not dealing with the owner’s representative. The rat was out of the bag.

During our inspection, we noticed a small label on the back of the frame, which led us to Charles Beddington. He confirmed that he was the actual representative of the owner of the painting. We were back on course; or so we thought. However, in no time at all, we were out of the frying pain and into the fire. We discovered within days of opening negotiations with Beddington that the Amsterdam lawyer representing a buyer was part of an even more elaborate scam. Kees Kroon had contacted us by telephone just a month or so earlier and said that he was a lawyer who acted in his professional capacity on behalf of a number of wealthy collectors. The sale of another painting was under discussion when the Canaletto came up. Kroon said that he had two clients who would be interested in the painting; one a Portuguese and the other a Swiss collector. It was agreed that the painting would be offered to one of these only and to no other party. Kroon reported that he had chosen his Swiss client who responded within twenty minutes with a request for copies of all documents for vetting by another lawyer. This turned out to be Dieter Psotta who we soon discovered was just as crooked as Kees Kroon and Federico Menez. It became obvious that Kroon and Psotta were engaged in a scam organised along the same lines as the Menez operation. When challenged, Psotta brazenly admitted that he was indeed a lawyer although he had not practised for ten years and was in fact a full time art dealer. As soon as Psotta got his hands on the Canaletto documents, he sent details of the painting to collectors in Russia, China and Brazil. Kees Kroon’s so-called Swiss client turned out to be just another tout and it soon became clear that we had identified yet another gang of crooked traders.

There is one final twist to this particular saga. We strung along many of the players involved for as long as possible to see what might develop. On the 9th October 2010, we received a phone call from Ralph Ahern. Incredibly, he told us that he had just found the Canaletto painting. It was still for sale and was under the control of a Swiss lawyer. He said the painting was still in Martin Speed’s warehouse in London with a reduced price of £8 million. We requested documents from the Swiss lawyer and asked for verification of sale rights from the owner of the Canaletto. We also requested a written statement that the transaction was a private sale with no middlemen, dealers or galleries involved. Ahern replied: >>This is the letter from Mat Art # they have the permisssion direct from owner to facititate the sale. # The price of the painting is direct from owner. <<

The letter was in fact an Escrow document from Via Mat Artcare AG, Switzerland, signed by Vinicio Cassani, a director of the company. They were to act as agents in the sale of the painting. The price however had dropped again and was now  on offer at £6.8 million. The Swiss lawyer never materialised. However, with so many millions at stake, we were not surprised when we received another email from Ahern on the 5th November 2010. It read: >>”This is the last piece that i was waiting for on the Canaletto. # Mr. Cassani is directly in touch with the owner. # He sent the photo to mr. Cassani yesterday to prove the point , # he's standing in front of the painting at home. # He has contacted Mr. Cassani and the the 6,8 Million british pounds sterling is confirmed as the selling price. # So i do not think we have anymore in-betweens' or hangers on, if your client wishes to purchase the painting the offer can be sent to me or direct to Mr. Cassani and he will send it direct to the owner. # Ralph”<<

Attached was a copy of an email from Cassani, pasted here comma for comma: >>From: Vinicio.Cassani@VIAMAT.COM # To: ralphahern@live.de # Date: Thu, 4 Nov 2010 18:52:23 +0100 # Subject: AW: Ralph Ahern # Dear Mr. Ahern # Please find enclosed a photo with the painting and the owner holding a PC showing the today ‘’Times online’’ # The owner/seller expects to be informed about your decision as soon as possible. # Thank you fro you reply. # Best regards # Vinicio Cassani<<

Photograph of an interior with a Canaletto painting in the background.

Ahern's 'private owner' in his house with the Canaletto on his wall.

The photo appears to show Charles Beddington sitting in his Savile Row Gallery in front of the Canaletto painting. We don't know what led to this photograph and what exactly Beddington was asked to provide. We have sought explanations from Ralph Ahern and from Charles Beddington on a number of occasions but to no avail. We have also asked Charles Beddington who commissioned the condition report which led us into this expensive wild goose chase. We have asked him if he had made the painting available to whoever wrote the condition report and why he agreed to send the painting to Martin Speed’s warehouse for inspection. We asked if he ever had any direct contact with Federico Menez. We have asked him if the inspection of the painting at Martin Speed’s warehouse was arranged by his colleague, Peter, or by Federico Menez. However, he has refused to answer any of these questions and he still refuses to identify Peter,  the first dealer in the chain.

NOTES
The refusal to identify 'Peter' is extremely unfortunate as there are a number of highly respectable London dealers who are known by this name.
In May 2011, Via Mat Artcare stated that they had been contacted regarding the sale for the fiduciary function only and that they did not know who was involved in the process of selling or purchasing. They said that as far as they knew, the person who appears in the photo is the owner. However, when we set out and questioned the veracity of the information given to us by Ahern regarding the status of the seller, they replied: “We have been informed that the person on the picture is the owner”. They contradicted Ahern and stated that the seller had not been known to ViaMat for a number of years and they could not confirm Ahern’s claim that the person in the photo was a private collector who buys and sells on his own account nor could they confirm that he was not a dealer.
Loomis Group:  We have contacted the Loomis Group in the UK and in Sweden but they have not responded.

Copy of Menez Agreement: >>Agreement for Payment of Commissions: September 16, 2010
Subject Artwork: GIOVANNI ANTONIO CANAL, IL CANALETTO (Italian, 1697 - 1768)
“Venice: The Piazza San Marco”, Oil on canvas, 128.5 X 148.5 cm
From: Federico Menez (Email: fmenez@gmail.com)
To: Ron Cayen (Email: roncayen@aol.com)
Thomas Chenoweth (Email: tchenoweth@nyc.rr.com)
Gayle B. Tate (Email: gbt@gbtate.com)
Ralph Ahern (Email: ralphahern@live.de)
The five agents named here are those involved in the sale of the Subject Artwork. Each has previously agreed by email to the equal share and distribution of the commissions on the sale of the Subject Artwork... namely the following terms:
1. That the total commission due from the sale of the Subject Artwork is 1,000,000 Euros (one million Euros), as negotiated by Federico Menez.
2. Each of the agents involved will receive an equal share (1/5th or 20%) of the sale price for his commission, or 200,000 Euros apeice. In like manner, each agent will share equally in the expenses of handling the funds associated with this sale. Each agent will submit in writing his wire transfer information and/or instructions for the transfer of his commission to Federico Menez asap.
3. The sale of the Subject Artwork will not be complete until each of the agents has acknowledged in writing the receipt of his share of the commission. An email will be sufficient for this acknowledgment.
4. The receipt of the funds for the Subject Artwork as well as commissions will be made by Federico Menez and distributed through ArtCare (Via Mat), a duly authorized service agency of Switzerland, who is bound by Swiss laws regarding such transactions.
5. Federico Menez is acting as a fiduciary in the handling of funds and providing instructions for distribution by ArtCare, and will see to it that each of the agents above receives his share of the commission.
I accept this responsibility to handle the commissions of the above named agents, including myself. I make this acceptance by an email acknowlegement to each of the agents named above.
Federico Menez<<



Paul Henry Drawings

Photograph of a drawing by Paul Henry

'The Shepherd Boy', charcoal on paper
Provenance: Bought in a charity shop, New Zealand, 2003;
Gifted to a friend; thence by descent

Under normal circumstances, these drawings would have moved from our Recent Acquisitions page to the Paul Henry page. However, to explain why they have found their way onto our Fraud page, we must remind ourselves of the definition of fraud given at the top of the Canaletto article: “Wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain”.

New Zealand
We purchased these drawings in December 2014 in New Zealand and were taken aback when we read details of a bogus provenance in an Irish Times article on the 5th September, 2015. The article appeared on the Fine Art and Antiques page, which featured the sale of the drawings by the Skibbereen auctioneer, Morgan O'Driscoll. We sold these drawings soon after purchase to another dealer who sold them on again to a 'collector'. Such activity firmly establishes the drawings as ‘trade lots’, which meant that they were likely to be shunned by the market at the O'Driscoll auction if the true provenance of the drawings was disclosed.

The Irish Times
The copy supplied to the Irish times by Morgan O’Driscoll was fraudulently misleading, whether he was aware of that at the time or not. We informed him of this as soon as we read the article and he failed to deny that anyone reading the Irish Times report could only conclude that the drawings were sent directly from New Zealand to Skibbereen for sale. As can be seen below, the Irish Times heading, sub-heading and text clearly give this impression. The report implied that the drawings were fresh to the market. In a futile attempt to defend his position, Morgan O’Driscoll claims that he was misinformed by his client. However, his argument does not stand up. He was well aware that he was not dealing with a New Zealander and he failed in his duty as a licensed auctioneer to conduct proper enquiries. He deliberately misled the Irish Times, their readers and potential buyers. We contacted the Irish Times who said that if it was established that they had been misinformed, they would print a clarification and correction. Despite delivery of the true provenance of the drawings and supporting documentation, the Irish Times has done nothing at all to rectify the situation. We have had no response from them apart from a receipt for our initial email.

Photograph of an article from the Irish Times 5th Sept 2015

The Irish Times: 5th September, 2015

Not only did the Irish Times not take the opportunity in their Fine Art page on the 12th September 2015 to print a correction of the previous week’s misinformation, they added insult to injury by reminding their readers that these drawings were coming up for sale the following Monday. We wrote again to the editor and described this standard of reporting as deplorable and reminded him that there was still plenty of time before the O'Driscoll auction to publish a correction. We also wrote to the reporter, Michael Parsons in the following terms:

>>Further to my email of Wednesday last, you might be surprised to discover that the Paul Henry drawings were seen by the public just twelve years ago when they were displayed in a charity shop. The drawings were not bought directly from the artist seventy years ago as your article claims and a tiny little bit of journalistic nouse would have uncovered the fact that there is a one-hundred-year gap in the provenance of these drawings. But how could I have forgotten; you don’t believe at all in investigative journalism. Much handier not to upset your lucrative advertising revenue stream and print word for word any type of drivel supplied to you as ‘copy’ by your advertisers.

I have no doubt that you have also been supplied with misleading documents, which suggest that our New Zealand clients sold the drawings through an agent. They did not. The drawings were offered to just about everyone engaged in the Irish market over a seven month period and we bought them directly from the owners. We sold them to a dealer who sold them on again to Morgan O’Driscoll’s ‘private collector’.<<

Photograph of a drawing by Paul Henry

'The Stick Gatherer', charcoal on paper
Provenance: Bought in a charity shop, New Zealand, 2003;
Gifted to a friend; thence by descent

The O’Driscoll Catalogue
The 'Auctioneer’s Notes' attached to each lot in O'Driscoll's catalogue is also misleading. He describes the drawings as rare, which they are not. Brian Kennedy lists one hundred or so of these drawings in his catalogue [Yale 2007]. Similar examples appear regularly in the auction rooms. Moreover, drawings made to illustrate journals are generally regarded as the least desirable category of any artist's output.

The notes also claim incorrectly that the drawings had been unseen by the public. We first made an offer to purchase these drawings in May 2014 and over the following seven months, they were offered to various parties in Ireland and elsewhere. The drawings were not "Acquired directly from the artist" as is described in the catalogue. They were in fact bought in a charity shop in New Zealand in 2003, which renders the auctioneers description of the drawings leaving Ireland in the 1940s open to utter ridicule. There is a ninety-nine-year gap in the provenance of the drawings and it is a fraudulent misrepresentation for anyone to claim that they were taken to New Zealand seventy years ago.

Hackneyed Works
A number of collectors contacted us and reported that the auctioneer was describing the drawings as very fine examples. They are not. The drawings are mundane in many regards. O’Driscoll relies heavily on Brian Kennedy’s cataloguing of the drawings. However, had he undertaken even the most basic research, he would have discovered that, in Kennedy’s view, the drawings are not as successful as earlier work, being inevitably (as illustrations of this type) somewhat hackneyed. [Yale University Press, 2000]. O’Driscoll rejected Brian Kennedy’s view when we discussed this aspect of the drawings with him. The arrogance he displays in suggesting that he knows better than this highly regarded academic, whose research has been published extensively, is alarming.

Whyte’s Sale, 2013
Morgan O’Driscoll admitted that he researched recent prices for Paul Henry drawings before he arrived at his absurd estimates. If this is true, he could not have missed a number of closely related drawings sold by Whytes, Dublin, in 2013. The most germane of these, ‘Figures in the Woods’, is an extremely fine drawing of the same date and far more commercial than either of the current examples. It was sold for a hammer price of €2,900 yet; O’Driscoll claimed astonishingly that each of the drawings in his auction was fine enough to make as much as €25,000, a total of €60,000 or so for the pair when the buyer’s premium is included. To suggest that either of these lots is worth ten times more than the standard is simply ridiculous. O’Driscoll claims the right to his own opinion. However, the prices realised for the various drawings at Whyte’s auctions in 2013 and elsewhere are matters of fact, not opinion.

Saleroom Notice
When we first spoke to Morgan O’Driscoll about the Irish Times report, he said that he would post a saleroom notice to correct the misinformation as soon as we sent him proof that we had purchased the drawings in New Zealand. We sent him a copy of our Commercial Invoice, which was used for the export of the drawings from New Zealand. The document clearly identifies Milmo-Penny Fine Art Limited as the exporter. We also pointed out to him that our bank statements and account ledgers show the purchase and the sale of these drawings by our company.

We pointed out that posting a saleroom notice would be entirely inadequate as the extent to which the misinformation published by the Irish Times had influenced prospective buyers was by then outside of the auctioneer's control. We suggested that the best option was to withdraw the drawings and offer them at a future sale with full and proper information. However, when we visited Morgan O’Driscoll’s view at the RDS just hours before the auction was due to begin, we discovered that the drawings were still in the sale. The promised saleroom notices O'Driscoll had undertaken to post had not materialised. Instead, saleroom notices displayed beside each drawing claimed that the drawings had been acquired directly from the artist and had passed by  descent to a private collection. These notices were displayed as an enticement to potential buyer’s in the full knowledge that the provenance contained in them was a fabrication.

Photograph of a Morgan O'Driscoll saleroom notice.

Saleroom notice six hours before the auction advertising a bogus provenance.

At 12.15 on the 14th September 2015, we served Morgan O’Driscoll with a notice informing him that should the sale of the drawings proceed, we would open a formal complaint with the Regulator. His response was: OK. No problem.
MPFA/14th Sept.2015

Sale Results
Considering the scale of the Irish Times coverage, we were not at all surprised to see that The Stick Gatherer sold for €17,444 and that The Shepherd Boy sold for €18,690. Ironically, when we bought the drawings in December 2014, we paid three times less for the latter due to it's imperfect condition.

There is nothing worse in any market than malpractice, especially when it is combined with profound ignorance. Here, we have a seller who believes, according to Morgan O'Driscoll, that simply because they paid VAT on the drawings when they entered the UK, they are entitled to claim that no dealers were involved in the various transactions as the drawings changed hands from one to the other. We have a dishonest auctioneer who promises to rectify the misinformation he supplies to the press by posting saleroom notices and then does the opposite. We have a gullible reporter who appears to believe that once his copy is provided by another party, it is fit for publication without question. And to make matters worse, we have an editor of a leading national newspaper who is aware of the ramifications of the misinformation published by his newspaper but does nothing to rectify the situation.

A Price on the Truth?
The Irish Times is a very well resourced and competent organisation. They were more than capable of discovering that those engaged in the sale of these drawings were involved, wittingly or unwittingly, in fraudulent trading. When we spoke to the Irish Times on the 9th September, 2015, they reminded us that they had a policy of printing corrections and clarifications whenever they discovered that their reports were wrong. Despite this, they have ignored the issue. In the absence of a correction, one can only conclude that the price the Irish Times puts on the truth is based on a simple formula: 10cmx3columnsx87.40x2, Morgan O'Driscoll's €5,244 bill for his two advertisements with them for the sale. However, with a tally of €47,718 for the advertisements in today’s issue, we doubt if the Irish Times is going to do anything at all to upset this little goldmine.
MPFA/19th Sept.2015

NOTE:  According to our New Zealand clients, the drawings were purchased in a charity shop 2003 and were given as a gift by the purchaser to a friend when it was discovered that the artist was Irish. The drawings were subsequently gifted to family member. The history of the drawings during the previous ninety-nine years is unknown.

Link: http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/homes-and-property/fine-art-antiques/paul-henry-drawings-unseen-for-decades-1.2340293


Le Brocquy Forgery

With the ink hardly dry on the Paul Henry saga, we find The Irish Times promoting the sale of a fake ‘Louis le Brocquy’ drawing through another Morgan O’Driscoll auction. However, on this occasion, the Gardai seized the forgery before the auction. The drawing was a very poor attempt to mimic le Brocquy’s early style. It had previously been in circulation in Dublin and rejected as a fake. We have called on the editor yet again to make it clear to their readers that their Art and Antiques page is an advertisement feature with the copy written to all intents and purposes by the advertisers. The Irish Times report of the 23rd April 2016 read as follows:

“Lot 34 is a watercolour dated 1947 entitled The Hurlers by Louis le Brocquy. According to Dr Róisín Kennedy’s catalogue note, ‘this very rare painting of a sporting event by Louis le Brocquy depicts a group of boys playing hurling’ and was made the year after the artist moved to London in late 1946. She writes: ‘the fluid depiction of the entangled limbs and the highly expressive faces of the players convey the complexity and skill of the game of hurling as well as their individual determination. Their bare feet suggest that the match is being played in a remote West of Ireland landscape, possibly on a strand, the only place where boots would not have been worn. Le Brocquy stayed in Achill and visited Mayo extensively during the war years, where he may have seen such games.’ He clearly picked the wrong county. His painting is more like a Cubist choreographer’s sketch for the Ballets Russes than a credible depiction of the national game. The estimate, €15,000- €25,000, seems remarkably steep given the plunge in prices for le Brocquy’s work since 2008.”

The episode was exacerbated by the inclusion of a very convincing text, copied below, written by the University College Dublin academic, Dr Róisín Kennedy. However, to give Dr. Kennedy her due, she unhesitatingly admitted to being duped by the forgery as soon as it was drawn to her attention.

“This very rare painting of a sporting event by Louis le Brocquy depicts a group of boys playing hurling. It was made the year after le Brocquy moved to London in late 1946. He quickly established a substantial reputation in the British art world for his original and highly expressive paintings of tinkers and of aspects of rural Irish life. Like The Hurlers, these relied on a novel modern style that combined a familiarity with the work of Pablo Picasso and le Brocquy's own instinctive sense of sinuous line and earthy colour. The fluid depiction of the entangled limbs and the highly expressive faces of the players convey the complexity and skill of the game of hurling as well as their individual determination. Their bare feet suggest that the match is being played in a remote West of Ireland landscape, possibly on a strand, the only place where boots would not have been worn. Le Brocquy stayed in Achill and visited Mayo extensively during the war years, where he may have seen such games. The soaked in wash of the landscape and the bright colours of the uniforms contrasts with the lively energy of the black ink which captures the physicality of the encounter in a direct and humorous manner. Le Brocquy was aware of the ancient heritage of hurling, a sport that is believed to date to pre-Christian times in Ireland. Many of the artist's subjects, especially those of the 1940s, sought to retrieve archetypal themes from aspects of contemporary life. His major subject of the period, the tinkers, enabled le Brocquy to connect these timeless nomadic figures with the refugees and displaced peoples of modern war torn Europe. Similarly his interest in hurling may well have been sparked by his knowledge of the Táin Bó Cualinge. He was commissioned to paint a scene of Cúchulainn and Queen Medb, the main protagonists of the saga, for a public house in Tullamore during the Emergency. Later in 1969 le Brocquy produced his acclaimed illustrations for Thomas Kinsella's translation of The Táin, one of which depicts a figure playing hurling. In The Hurlers le Brocquy seems, however, to be more interested in the youth and vitality of the players rather than in exploring any epic aspects of the game. His fascination with childhood and adolescence was soon to become the main preoccupation of his work, as evidenced by the Family paintings of the 1950s.”

Photograph of a forged le Brocquy drawing.

Forgery: ‘Le Brocquy’
Morgan O’Driscoll catalogue description:
'Louis Le Brocquy HRHA (1916-2012)
The Hurlers (1947) watercolour signed lower right & dated '47
27 x 40¾cm (11 x 16in) Private Collection'

Apart from the forged signature and the bogus ‘Private Collection’ provenance, two spurious gallery labels fixed to the back of the drawing suggest that the presentation of this work was an elaborate and deliberate fraud. The alien Dawson Gallery label showing a five digit telephone number was used to give the impression that the drawing was sold or framed by the Dawson Gallery soon after the 1947 date incorporated in the fake signature. The addition of a second bogus label from a well regarded Belfast gallery with a reputation for dealing in genuine le Brocquy works was added to complete the deception. The proprietor of the Belfast gallery is well known to the auctioneer and we have asked Morgan O’Driscoll why he did not contact the Belfast gallery to check the authenticity of the drawing before the auction. We are still waiting for a reply.

A report on the forged drawing in the ‘Irish World’ states that: “The Cork-based auctioneer said that he got the painting from a ‘respectable’ woman from Belfast, who he convinced to sell him the painting.” If this statement is true, it raises a number of additional questions, which we have put to Morgan O’Driscoll.

MPFA: According to press reports, this item was bought by you from a Belfast woman. Please correct if that is not true;
Where in the catalogue did you indicate that you were auctioning your own property?;
How many other lots in the sale did you or your company or any of your associates, employees or directors own?

We received a reply from an employee who it appears had no first hand knowledge of the transactions. Subsequently, we asked Morgan O’Driscoll for a personal account of the events and to confirm the accuracy of the various press reports relating to the seizure of the painting by the Garda fraud unit. We also asked Morgan O’Driscoll to address a number of other questions not covered in the media reports:

MPFA: Is the frame shop mentioned in the press reports in Belfast or in Skibbereen?
Did you ask the ‘respectable’ lady where her boyfriend got the drawing from?
Do you understand what is meant by the term ‘due diligence’?
Do you operate a business in Belfast?
Why so many Northern Ireland dealers bypass the Belfast, Dublin and London auction houses to sell their paintings in Skibbereen?
Is it true that 80% of your auction lots come in from Northern Ireland dealers?
Why do these vendors opt for sales in Euros rather than GB Sterling Pounds?

We received the following reply from Morgan O’Driscoll: “What action you may take because I may choose not to reply to any or all of your emails is a matter for your good self.”

See also our Blog page for further comment.

If you have an interest in exposing malpractice in the art market, you can help by adding a link on your website to our fraud and forgery pages.


EXPERTISE AND AGENCY SERVICES
We offer a fully comprehensive service for European buyers in the United States and for American buyers in Europe.

FINDING YOUR WAY AROUND OUR SITE
The Site Map and Artist Index will help you find your way around our pages.

Go to the Sales pages on the menu bar to the left of this page for details of paintings currently available. The Archive pages illustrate paintings we have sold in the past, and indicate the type of paintings we are interested in purchasing. Please note that some of the paintings in the archive may be available. Please enquire.

Milmo-Penny Fine Art Ltd. issues a written guarantee of authenticity and a condition report with every painting sold.
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Private Dealers in Fine European Paintings
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