The plot has thickened in the ongoing forgery scandal engulfing the once-blue chip Knoedler Gallery. Yesterday, the now-defunct Upper East Side gallery and its former director, Ann Freedman, were slapped with a $25 million lawsuit from a couple that believes the gallery sold them a fake Mark Rothko painting for $8.3 million, according to a report in the New York Times.
This is the second multi-million dollar civil suit filed against Knoedler over a painting the buyer now believes to be fake. The day after the gallery abruptly closed its doors in December, London collector Pierre Legrange filed a lawsuit over a Jackson Pollock painting he purchased for $17 million in 2007. Meanwhile, the FBI is currently investigating a trove of allegedly forged paintings by Modernist masters including Rothko, Pollock, and Willem de Kooning that were supplied to Knoedler by a Long Island dealer named Glafira Rosales. One of those works, a canvas purported to be the work of Robert Motherwell, was conclusively labeled a forgery as part of a court settlement last year.
Domenico De Sole, the 67-year-old chairman of Tom Ford International, and his wife, Eleanore, commissioned forensic analysis of the painting they purchased from Knoedler in 2004 and found some of the materials were “inconsistent and irreconcilable with the claim” that the painting was done by Rothko, according to the Times. (It's unclear whether the De Soles sought forensic analysis before or after Knoedler became publicly linked to a forgery scandal.)
The De Soles allege that Freedman, Knoedler’s former director, misled them on several counts: she indicated that the painting, “Untitled 1956,” would be included in Rothko’s catalogue raisonné and also told them she personally knew the Swiss owner of the Rothko. Freedman has testified that she did not know the identity of the collector supplying the Modernist works to Rosales, who in turn supplied them to Knoedler. It is not yet clear, however, whether the Rothko work in question was supplied to Knoedler by Rosales.
A representative and a lawyer from Knoedler both denied the gallery defrauded the De Soles, noting that the authenticity of the painting was not questioned by any of the experts the gallery consulted.
Now we’ll just have to wait and see if any other disgruntled buyers come out of the woodwork.
UPDATE, 5:20 P.M.: ARTINFO has received the following statement from Freedman's lawyer, Nicholas Gravante, Jr. of Boies, Schiller & Flexner: "The complaint filed against Ann Freedman is nothing more than a copycat lawsuit. It is notable only for the short shrift it gives to the compelling fact that the Rothko painting, before it was sold, was affirmed by leading Rothko scholars. Furthermore, this Rothko was shown prominently to the international art public, and so documented in one of the series of focused exhibitions "Mark Rothko Rooms" at The Beyeler Foundation, in Basel Switzerland. We continue to believe in the authenticity of this painting, and look forward to proving that this tag-along complaint is meritless."