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Christie’s sued by private Russian art collection over “fake” painting sale

Aurora Fine Art Fund claims it has conclusive evidence that £1.69m work is not by Boris Kustodiev

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Aurora Fine Art Fund, one of the largest private collections of Russian art, has launched a lawsuit against Christie’s, claiming that the auction house sold it a fake £1.69m painting in November 2005 in London.

Odalisque, allegedly by Boris Kustodiev, one of the most prominent Russian artists of the early 20th century, features a nude woman reclining in bed, and is signed in Cyrillic, “B. Kustodiev, 1919”. It was sold to Aurora on behalf of a client for £1.69m (est £180,000 to £220,000).

Aurora first approached Christie’s with its suspicions in mid-2006, but says that the auction house did not react. In May 2009 Rosokhran-Kultura, the Russian government’s cultural watchdog, released the latest issue of its catalogue of fraudulent paintings, which included Odalisque. Aurora has expert conclusions from leading Russian art authorities, shown to The Art Newspaper, stating the painting is a fake. These include testimony from the State Tretyakov Gallery, the State Russian Museum, the State Grabar Art Scientific Restoration Centre, and private expert Vladimir Petrov.

According to their catalogues, Christie’s provides a five-year guarantee of authenticity on works that it sells. During that period, if the buyer presents the conclusions of two experts that are accepted by the buyer and by Christie’s, then the house will annul the sale.

“Christie’s have been provided with four reports, signed in total by eight very well qualified experts in the field of Kustodiev, all of whom came to the conclusion that the painting is a forgery and that Christies’ attribution was therefore wrong,” said Andre Ruzhnikov, managing partner of Aurora, in a court statement.

“The most recent of these reports was issued by the Tretyakov Gallery, which Christie’s regards as the key source of scholarship on Kustodiev,” said Ruzhnikov. The report concluded that: “The authorship of Kustodiev is not borne out by the stylistic and technological features in the painting under investigation. This Odalisque belongs to the brush of an unknown artist and represents a deliberate reproduction of a favourite Kustodiev theme.”

Ruzhnikov said: “Christie’s has not provided a single report which suggests that the painting is by Kustodiev. Instead… Christies’ response has been to delay and prevaricate.”

Christie’s denies any wrongdoing. “Any question surrounding the authenticity of a work of art which has been sold at Christie’s is taken extremely seriously and we investigate any matter thoroughly,’’ said Christie’s in an email statement. “We are in the process of conducting detailed and comprehensive investigations now that the picture has been returned to us. We remain confident of our position.”

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as ‘Christie’s sued over “fake” painting sale'

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