Steve Martin’s a very rich man and a longtime art collector, so his spending $850,000 on a painting shouldn’t be too big of a deal. However, spending $850,000 on a forged painting is a big deal, especially when it turns out you’re a victim of the largest art-forgery scheme in German history. A painting Martin bought in 2004, ostensibly by the artist Heinrich Campendonk, turns out to have been a fake. Martin auctioned it at a 200,000-euro loss (it cost about 700,000 euros, so all in all, he sunk about a million dollars into the thing). Wild and crazy guy, indeed.
Martin bought “Landscape with Horses,” supposedly a 1915 work by the Dutch-German artist, from Cazeau-Béraudière gallery in July 2004. He sold it in 2006 at auction to a Swiss collector, absorbing a loss, but at least getting rid of a totally fraudulent painting. The Cologne public prosecutor has brought charges against four people implicated in the forgery ring, including a married couple. The wife, Helene Beltracchi, sold paintings she said were part of her grandfather’s collection hidden during World War II. As it turns out, her husband Wolfgang is probably the one who painted them.
The group is accused of selling fake works by Campendonk, Max Pechstein, Fernand Leger, and Max Ernst. 14 paintings originating with them have been tested and shown to be fake, and 33 more await testing. I don’t know much about the art market, but that seems like a shockingly high number. Shouldn’t buyers have all of this stuff tested if they’re going to drop a cool million on an item?
Anyway, Steve Martin seems to be the only household name so far to have been punked. At least he wasn’t left holding the bag, or painting, as it were.