Hours before a trial was scheduled to start in London’s High Court over the sale of a possibly fake Frans Hals painting, UK dealer Mark Weiss announced that he had reached an “amicable” settlement with Sotheby’s, which sold the work on his behalf in 2011. Weiss has agreed to pay the auction house $4.2 million “without any admission of liability.” The terms of the settlement are otherwise confidential.
Sotheby’s brokered a private $11.2 million sale for the painting Portrait of a Gentleman in 2011. The previous year, Weiss paid $3.4 million for the work in a joint purchase with Fairlight Arts Venture, a London-based company run by collector David Kowitz. They bought it from French dealer Guiliano Ruffini, who has sold numerous Old Master works since revealed to be fakes.
In 2016, after the painting’s authenticity came into question, Sotheby’s repaid the buyer, Richard Hedreen, the full $11.2 million and has been trying to recoup the loss from Weiss as well as from Fairlight ever since.
Fairlight has argued that it shouldn’t have to return funds to Sotheby’s because it wasn’t a party to the auction house’s deal with Hedreen. “Nobody has proven that the piece is either genuine or a fake,” Fairlight attorney Nigel Rowley told Bloomberg. Sotheby’s refunded Hedreen “without proper evidence” and this “was not a decision that contractually they were required to take,” Rowley said.
Weiss says he remains convinced that the painting is authentic based on the scientific testing of an expert he hired as well as “the overwhelming support of connoisseurs since the discovery of the work in 2010,” he said.
The dispute between Sotheby’s and Fairlight Art Ventures is still going to trial. Weiss also has ongoing legal claims with Fairlight, but declined to comment on them in his statement.
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