Your Diego Giacometti may well be a fake: Massive fraud network between Besançon, Geneva, Paris, London and New York

It is estimated that between 65-80% of Giacometti furniture and sculpture offered at auction since 1986 is fake


At the last estimate, between sixty-five and eighty per-cent of the Diego Giacometti furniture and sculpture offered at auction since 1986 is now thought to be fake. Twenty-five people have appeared before Dominique Martin-Saint-Léon, Instructing Magistrate at Besançon, charged with fraud and forgery. The trial is the culmination of two year’s investigation by Inspecteur Denis Vincenot of the Dijon Regional Police Service which led from a Besançon body-building centre to Paris, Dallas, Geneva and New York. The verdicts, which are expected to include prison sentences and fines, were to be announced on 20 December last. The heirs of Diego Giacometti are demanding FFr120,000 million in damages which the President of the Tribunale will divide between those parties found guilty. This sum is to be used to establish a Diego Giacometti Foundation.

Routine phone-taps on the gymnasium, whose owner, Michel Gaiff, was suspected in dealing in anabolic steroids, indicated a surprising interest in bronzes on the part of the characters under observation. As a result two van deliveries were intercepted, one containing fake Animalier bronzes in the manner of Bugatti, Pompon, Bonheur, Rodin and Bayre, the other entirely made up of Giacometti furniture. Police arrested Didier Redoutey, nephew of Jacques Redoutey, Giacometti’s official bronze founder, and Patrick Guillaume, an employee at Redoutey’s foundry at Port-sur-Saône. The Animalier bronzes were, it seems, the work of Bruno Redoutey, the founder’s son, destined for local auction houses at Autun and Toulouse. The Giacomettis led the police to Jacques Redoutey himself. An investigation of his premises revealed a room filled with prototype moulds and thousands of pieces of unfinished sculpture. Before he died, Giacometti had requested the destruction of all the moulds of his pieces, distributed among various foundries. Redoutey claimed that the objects in his workshops were produced before the death of the artist in 1985, awaiting collection by his heirs, but Patrick Guillaume, desperately seeking to lessen the gravity of his own involvement in the local fake Animalier trade, told the police that for years he had been employed by Redoutey at the foundry to produce nothing but fake Giacomettis which he then delivered to a Paris gallery run by Madame France Lehé. Another name mentioned in the foundry records was that of Gabriel Tortella, correspondent for the Gazette de Genève who had recently written an article for that paper encouraging his readers to invest in the Giacometti furniture appearing in an Geneva auction of 30 November 1986 organised by Chayette-Calmels. Tortella, it transpired, was the consigner of the pieces in question, all of which he had purchased from Redoutey.

Aware that they had touched the tip of an iceberg, the police needed the cooperation of the auction rooms to establish the main sources of supply to the major houses. With the greatest reluctance names of consigners were supplied by the French auction houses and by Christie’s and Sotheby’s to Judge Martin-Saint-Léon and the Dijon police. Police could now complete the chain from Madame Lehé in Paris to gallery owner Tony Lorenzo in New York, a major consigner of Giacometti pieces to the auction rooms. Another name was that of Angelo Pittiglio, proprietor of a Paris gallery who supplied works to the Panamanian-registered Worms Corporation in New York, another auction room supplier. Alarmingly, the bronzes with the Pittiglio-Worms provenance were not from Redoutey’s studio, but were produced by a mysterious Roger Delagarde, a skilled forger of Roman coins, Pre-Columbian and African art. Unlike many (although not all) of the Redoutey pieces, his “Giacometti’s” were not cast from the original moulds but were straightforward reproductions, made from moulds taken from original pieces (surmoulages) and differing slightly in size from the originals.

Speaking to The Art Newspaper, Inspecteur Vincenot condemned the major auction houses for their lack of interest and failure to cooperate fully in his investigations. The question of auction house expertise and the failure of their experts to distinguish between true and fake are certainly central to the present issue although the sale rooms are not under examination at Besançon. Given the artist’s insistence on patinating his pieces himself, the difference between a lifetime and a posthumous piece is more than technical. However Giacometti’s free approach to the production of his work (“he didn’t give a hoot for money”, a collector recalled, “and would sell your order to a pretty girl”) has contributed to the present situation. Asked about the Redoutey pieces, a Christie’s, London, expert said that during the artist’s lifetime there was no such a thing as an authorized chair, citing the artist’s failure to edition or record his work. “It’s an art market problem”, he said, neatly shifting the responsability onto the purchaser. In the light of Inspecteur Vincenot’s discoveries, this may not prove to be an adequate response.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Your Diego Giacometti may well be a fake'