Fine Art works at the Museum
Twenty-four Russian modernist works at the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent have been removed from sight after the publication of an open letter from 10 leading experts in the field signed and a 3,000-word exposé in the Art Newspaper demand their authenticity.
Belgian Museum removes show of disputed Russian Avant-Garde works after embezzlement of Exposé
The suspicious works are from the Dieleghem Foundation of Igor and Olga Toporovsky.
The works were on loan from the Dieleghem Foundation, a registered charity owned by the Brussels based Russian businessman and art collector Igor Toporovsky and his wife Olga. But they had no exposition history or traceable sales records and had never been reproduced in scientific publications before, according to the experts.
After the open letter was published on January 15, the museum announced plans to create a commission that would examine a handful of works in the exhibition. But the majority were expected to keep looking until the findings of the committee were released next month.
The investigation accelerated yesterday, when a copy of the Art Newspaper article was delivered to the Flemish Minister for Culture, Sven Gatz. Hours later almost all of the works on the display – 24 of the 26 – were removed from view. The presentation, ‘Russian Modernism 1910-30’, which was opened in October, contains works that seem to come from artists such as Wassily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, Alexander Rodchenko and Vladimir Tatlin.
A statement by e-mail to artnet News of the museum acknowledged that the paintings “caused quite a stir”, but urged the institution to “follow the usual procedures for incoming loans and a thorough art-historical and comparative study of the works from In addition, the advice of various international art historians was sought. ”
Instead of using a technical investigation, the museum explained, “it reviews loans based on confidential information from the lender on authenticity and origin.” The museum added that the Dieleghem Foundation had issued two certificates of material analysis in France, “confirming the authenticity of the artworks of Kandinsky and [Aleksandra] Exter.”
The Toporovskys have previously fought against art scandal. A former prosecuting lawyer ran into their name in 2005 when he investigated a counterfeit scandal known as the Preobrazhensky affair. He discovered that Igor and Tatiana Preobrazhensky, who had been convicted for the sale of false Russian paintings, had sold two works that according to Malevich and Kandinsky on behalf of Toporovsky.
The lawyer, Nikita Semyonov, met the couple again in 2013 when he was approached by an artist who claimed to have sold 50 paintings that the Russian avant-garde brought to Toporovsky and a Russian art dealer. Semyonov told TAN: “If I compare the photographs of these paintings with photographs of the Ghent exhibition, I see similarities.”
Although the Toporovskys offered many origin points for their collection, TAN has systematically countered every claim. The publication even challenged a museum catalog provided by the couple, which reportedly produces an exhibition history for two of the questionable works. The director of the museum in question told TAN that the show never took place and claimed that the document was Photoshopped.
In a statement to artnet News, Olga Toporovsky repeated the position of the museum. She noted that the foundation consulted experts and had an “intense dialogue” with the museum before the loans were approved, but agreed to submit the works for further investigation.
The commission charged with the investigation of the works will be set up by Sven Gatz, the Belgian Minister of Culture; Annelies Storms, the Ghent alderman for culture; and Catherine de Zegher, director of the MSK Gent.
Fakes have long plagued the market by Russian avant-garde art. In 2009 the auctioneer William MacDougall estimated that half of the works in the category offered to his auction house were not authentic.
The letter that first questioned the Ghent exhibition was signed by dealers, curators and collectors, including James Butterwick, Richard Nagy, Ivor Braka, Natalia Murray and Alex Lachmann.
In a statement, Butterwick said to Art News: “We support the decision of the Flemish Minister for Culture and look forward to access to the documents that support the authenticity of the Ghent collection.”