Actor Steve Martin scammed by art forgers

Steve Martin

In July, 2004, Steve Martin purchased a purportedly 1915 painting, Landscape with Horses, by the German painter Heinrich Campendonk, to add to his extensive collection of modern art, which includes works by Pablo Picasso, Edward Hopper, and Roy Lichtenstein. He purchased the painting in Paris at the Cazeau-Béraudière Gallery for €700,000. He then consigned the painting to auction at Christie’s London, where it sold two years later for €500,000, a loss of €200,000.

The fake Heinrich Campendonk painting Landscape with Horses

The scam was uncovered only last year, when Wolfgang Beltracchi, was arrested together with three accomplices – his wife, his sister-in-law and another accused forger named Otto Schulte-Kellinghaus. They were accused of creating and selling at least 35 forgeries of famous artists, including Fernand Léger and Max Ernst, starting in the early 1990s. Beltracchi painted the forgeries and then the gang concocted elaborate stories and labels that traced the paintings back through various owners, including his wife’s grandfather, Werner Jägers. Apparently Beltracchi is quite a talented guy, as his paintings fooled many experts, both private and at prestigious auction galleries like Christie’s. So here’s my question. Why would such a talented artist paint forgeries? Yes, yes, I know. I’m not naive, but what a waste! He couda been a contenda! Now he’ll wind up in a German pokey. But he will have plenty of time to paint and maybe now he’ll sign his own name. With his new notoriety, perhaps you’ll want to own a Beltracchi one day. It’s got a nice ring to it.

Mr. Martin has stated to the New York Times that he doesn’t know if he has any legal liability, but that the Cazeau-Béraudière Gallery has accepted responsibility. French law is quite strict about the sale of forgeries, so it’s quite unlikely that Mr. Martin will have any personal liability.

In my one personal dealing with Mr. Martin, he was quite the gentleman. After having my gallery deliver three Handel lamps to his apartment on Central Park West in Manhattan in 1989, he called to say that he and his wife couldn’t make up their minds, so they were going to pass on the lamps. When I personally went to his apartment to collect the lamps, he had left a bottle of champagne and a signed note of apology. (I wish I could find the note, but somehow it got lost in the shuffle. Oh well!)

Check out my new acquisitions. This week I listed several fine Daum vases, a Daum lamp and several Galle vases. Soon I’ll be listing a wonderful Tiffany Studios 7-light lily lamp with beautiful shades and a fine patina. Also coming soon will be several wonderful European ceramic items by Clement Massier, Zsolnay and Amphora. Here’s the link.