A scandal broke out in the capital of Belarus following the sale of a previously unknown painting by Marc Chagal at auction in Minsk. The painting was purchased for $650,000 by an individual who remained anonymous.
Lyudmila Kononova, executive director of the auction company Paragis, said to Interfax yesterday that reserve price for the painting was set at $450,000. Details relating to a new location of the painting will be agreed upon within the next 20 days. The painting will be kept in a storage room of the auction company during that period. Then it will become clear whether the painting will remain in Belarus or it will be moved abroad.
The painting had been kept in Russia for the last 80 years. The auction house representatives are reluctant to give away any details as to the painting's previous owner. They just say the painting is a heirloom. They claim the authenticity of the painting was verified by a private expert. They reportedly expected to get an opinion from experts of the Tretyakov Picture Gallery. The painting has no title. It was allegedly painted by Marc Chagall while he was in the town Vitebsk sometime during 1915 to 1920.
Lyudmila Khmelnitskaya, director of the Chagall Museum in Vitebsk, had earlier expressed her doubts about the painting's authenticity. According to her, it is highly unlikely that genuine paintings by Chagall can be found in Belarus these days. "But anything can happen," adds she. Mereth Meijer-Graber, a granddaughter of Chagall's, sticks to a similar opinion. She believes her grandfather has nothing to do with an untitled painting bought by the anonymous bidder. "This is a fake, and a terrible one," said she to Belarusian TV on Monday. According to Mrs. Meijer-Graber, experts at the Chagall Committee have already examined the painting for three times. For three times they found it to be a forgery. Notwithstanding the results of those examinations, the auctioneers quoted the opinion of some private expert and declared the painting a highly valuable work of art.
"The works of famous painters sold at an action should have special certificates proving their authenticity," says Lyudmila Khmelnitskaya. She says that only a special group of experts with Paris-based Chagall Committee is authorized to authenticate paintings ascribed to Marc Chagall. Mereth Meijer-Graber is a vice-president of the Chagall Committee.
Although Marc Chagall's paintings are not forged as frequently as those of other famous Russian arstists e.g. Kazimyr Malevich or Anatoly Zverev, art crooks are no strangers to his works. The media spread the news last year about counterfeit involving the owner of a well-known New York art gallery Exclusive Art Elai Sakhai and a manager of the above gallery. FBI conducted a 3-year investigation into the activities of Iranian-born Elay Sakhai and his accomplice who had been making forgeries of paintings by Marc Chagall, Paul Gogin and other famous artists for 12 years. Collectors in Japan, Taiwan, and Poland paid Mr. Sakhai handsomely for the forgeries. He sold a false Chagall called "The King David in the Green Landscape" to a Taiwanese collector for $200,000.