After the arrest of a little-known painter in Italy last week, a warrant is out for a French art dealer who has sold dozens of Old Master paintings, including several that some experts say are fakes.
The painter in question, Lino Frongia, was arrested in northern Italy last Tuesday and will be transferred to Paris to be interviewed by investigators. The Art Newspaper reported that an arrest warrant has been issued for art dealer Giuliano Ruffini in connection to the fakes, though Ruffini told TAN that art experts had attributed all the paintings he sold. According to artnet News, the alleged forgery ring may have made up to €200 million ($221.4 million) in sales of forgeries.
According to artnet News, Frongia’s arrest came after a painting, titled San Francesco, was seized from an El Greco exhibition in Treviso. Frongia has reportedly denied accusations that he forged the artwork. In 2008, former Italian Under-Secretary for Culture Vittorio Sgarbi, who is a friend of Frongia’s, said Frongia had painted a head of Christ that was sold by Ruffini as a work by Correggio. Frongia denied painting that piece, though he did say he had reproduced works in the style of Correggio that he did not sell.
Institutions including the Louvre, the National Gallery in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Sotheby’s have been caught up in the forgery scandal centering around Ruffini’s sales. In 2017, Sotheby’s declared a painting of Saint Jermone a fake after it said the Orion Analytical lab found modern pigments unrelated to restoration work in the piece. Sotheby’s then reimbursed the buyer of the painting, which had been auctioned in 2012, $840,000. A case in London’s Commercial Court is still underway regarding a Sotheby’s private sale of a portrait attributed to Frans Hals, which Orion also deemed a forgery.
Frongia, a graduate of the Fine Arts Academy of Bologna, creates works in a modern style influenced by magical realism, in addition to copies of Old Master paintings. Sgarbi has called Frongia the “greatest living Old Master.”