Germany’s biggest art forgery case comes to a close
The defendants in the case of Germany’s largest art forgery trial in which at least $22m worth of bogus art was passed off to unsuspecting buyers including the actor Steve Martin has ended with light sentences being passed down to the four suspects. Judge William Kremer relayed the guilty verdict on Thursday in the Cologne District Court. 60 year old Wolfgang Beltracchi the ringleader was sentenced to only six years in jail. His wife Helene, 53, received a four-year term, her sister Jeanette, 54, was given a suspended 21-month sentence and Beltracchi’s accomplice Otto Schulte-Kellinghaus, 67, was sent down for five years. Lenient sentences for Beltracchi and his accomplices were handed down in exchange for full confessions. The case highlighted 14 forged paintings, although up to 100 works are suspected to have been passed off in a 30 year period many too old to prosecute as they fall after the 10 year stature of limitations. Works by Expressionist artists “like Campendonk, Pechstein, Nauen, Mense and Max Ernst as well as French painters Braque, Derain and Raul Dufy were sold from collections with bogus provenances as originals.
At one point in the trial Beltracchi said his motivation was out the “Absurdity of the Art Market in which paintings by famous artists are traded almost always as speculative investments”. He stated; “It is not the aesthetic value of a painting which decides whether it is worth millions, but the question of whether it was produced by a known and fashionable artist”. Beltracchi also demonstrated how experts and art dealers driven by greed and vanity could declare forged paintings genuine without hesitation.