Russian oilman and art collector Viktor Vekselberg is demanding a £1.7 million refund from auction house Christies. Vekselberg – worth over £7billion and the 64th richest person in the world – believes that he was sold a fake painting and is taking the case to the High Court.
The painting in question is entitled as Odalisque, and was billed as a work by major Russian artist Boris Kustodiev. But, after buying the work, Vekselberg now believes that the work dates decades after the artist’s death.
The case rests on the analysis of the miniature signature purporting to be that of Kustodiev. Close-up imaging apparently revealed that the signature ‘ran over’ the cracks in the painting, suggesting that the signature had been added to the work at a significantly later date – perhaps the late 1940s. Kustodiev died in 1927. Hence the stench of rat. Furthermore, analysis of the paint has shown the pigment to be aluminium-based – a form of paint that was not commonly in use until a date after Kustodiev’s death.
Christie’s deny the validity of the findings, and have reaffirmed their belief in its authenticity on the grounds of typicality of technique and subject matter. They argue that aluminium-based pigment was indeed in use by artists in 1919, and object to further cross-sectional tests on the grounds that they are ‘extraordinarily invasive’. These tests would determine whether or not there was a layer of dust between the painting and the signature.
Follow ArtLyst on Twitter for breaking art news and latest exhibition reviews