The Stockholm Malevich: nothing illegal or unethical occurred

Ulf Holmbäck sheds light on the truth surrounding Malevich paintings


I am writing on behalf of a client of mine, Mr Folke Dage, who is referred to in The Art Newspaper No. 34, January 1994, p.13 in an article signed Olga Rumyantseva with the headline “Malevich heirs claim back works”. The article, among other things, describes certain events in Sweden and it is claimed that Swedish authorities “are trying to unravel a complicated affair concerning two of the artist's pictures”.

This “affair” came to an end two months ago when the authorities found that nothing illegal or unethical had taken place. The public prosecutor closed an investigation started on account of accusations directed against Professor Hallstroem since “no crime could be proved”.

The “art dealer” mentioned is my client, a well known Swedish art collector. The purchase by Mr Dage of the painting referred to is in fact well documented and it is my opinion that his title is perfectly valid. Mr Dage paid for it through his bank, after having obtained permission from the Bank of Sweden under the currency regulations, to the account of the Russian restorer, Mr Gennadi Kalinichenko with Credit Suisse at Montreux on 6 June 1991. Mr Kalinichenko then for two years made no mention of the purchase.

The collection of the restorer was brought to Sweden in the 1980s and contained a great number of Russian paintings and drawings, all of which were for sale. I am informed that the particular unsigned painting bought by Mr Dage has been identified by a Russian expert in an official position and, according to a handwritten document, sold to the restorer in 1982 by its former owner, a Moscow lawyer. It was quite legally brought out of the former Soviet Union.

As regards Professor Bjoern Hallstroem, for whom I am also authorised to speak, there is little in the article that is correct. The Institute of Materials Science, which is led by Professor Hallstroem, does not undertake valuations - their investigations are aimed at revealing falsifications. The Institute has accordingly not suggested any price for the paintings. The charges mentioned in the article have not been imposed in respect of the two paintings mentioned but have reference to more than three years' work with identification and restoration of a great many of the works of art included in the collection of Mr Kalinichenko. The charges are not, of course, emoluments of Professor Hallstroem personally, but received by the Institute. And it is perfectly in accordance with Swedish law when the Institute exercises a right of retention on one of the paintings until the charges are paid.

The material used in your newspaper seems to have been based on an article initially published in the Swedish newspaper the Dagens Nyheter on 11 July 1993. The paper refuses to reveal its sources, but there is reason to believe that they are not all of the purest.

Ulf Holmbäck

Advocate, Stockholm