The final Knoedler Gallery forgery case, over a fake $5.5 million Rothko, has come to a close.

Wallace Ludel
Aug 29, 2019 4:40PM, via artnet News

Courtroom illustration from a previous 2016 settlement regarding fakes sold by Knoedler Gallery. Illustration by Elizabeth Williams. Courtesy of Elizabeth Williams Studio.

The case is finally shut on one of the biggest forgery scandals to hit the art market in recent years, as the tenth and final federal lawsuit against Knoedler Gallery has come to a close. Knoedler Gallery in New York City, was founded in 1846 and closed in 2011 amid reports of potential forgeries. This last case was first filed in 2013 by the Lichtenstein-based Hilti Family Trust, who purchased a $5.5 million fake Rothko from Knoedler in 2002.

After hearing of the past accusations against Knoedler, the Hilti Family Trust sent a paint sample from one of their pieces of art for forensic testing, which proved it to be a fake. Forensic testing for previous paintings in the Knoedler cases revealed that the works were made with paints that were not commercially available during the time the works were purportedly made.

According to past settlements, the gallery reportedly hired Pei-Shen Qian, a Queens-based Chinese painter, to forge works by leading Abstract Expressionists, including Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, and Willem de Kooning, then sold the paintings off as never before seen works that had come from the private collection of a fictitious Swiss collector.

According to artnet News, the presiding judge declared in mid-July that “all claims herein have been settled” and that the case would be dismissed “with prejudice.” Adding that “if the settlement is not consummated within 45 days of this order,” either party could apply for “restoration of the action.” The presiding judge issued follow up orders earlier this month, though they gave no further detail about the settlement.

This case named a litany of defendants, including Knoedler Gallery, former gallery owner Michael Hammer and his company 8-31 Holdings, former gallery president Ann Freedman, dealer Glafira Rosales, and her former partner Jose Carlos Bergantiños Diaz. Bergantiños Diaz fled to Spain and has avoided extradition. Pei-Shen Qian, who painted the works and was typically only paid a few thousand dollars despite the works selling for millions, was also charged in another case before fleeing to China.

Wallace Ludel