Suspected Fake Foils Surrealist Sale

A German collector is refusing to pay for a painting by Giorgio de Chirico bought at Sotheby’s in London for £398,500 amid suggestions that the work may be fake.

Art collectors of Art Kabinett social media network usually rely upon auction houses to guarantee authenticity. However, de Chirico works are another matter entirely.

The dispute over the painting, which is included in the artist’s published catalogue raisonné, raises serious questions about the artist’s market and the reliability of the publication, which is normally regarded as the ultimate authority on issues of authenticity.

The canvas in question, Le Muse Inquietanti, 1951, bears the signature of the artist and an inscription in Italian on its reverse, purportedly by De Chirico, which authenticates the painting. It was consigned to Sotheby’s by an Italian private collector.

The collector who bought the work discovered after the sale that it is one of 117 paintings included in De Chirico’s catalogue raisonné that were identified by the late Italian forger Renato Peretti in 1978 as fakes that he had painted himself.

Sotheby’s says it “would not discuss confidential client matters” but adds that the auction house “takes matters of authenticity very seriously and, before accepting works [by De Chirico] for sale, checks the De Chirico catalogue raisonné and also consults the De Chirico Foundation as appropriate”.

Foundation Defends Authenticity

Paolo Picozza, the president of the De Chirico Foundation, says that the painting is authentic and describes Peretti as a “mythomaniac” who claimed to have painted works that were in fact original canvases by De Chirico.

Nevertheless, Picozza acknowledges that “there may be forgeries by Peretti and others in the catalogue raisonné”. He says, however, that “these need to be examined case by case and not [considered fake] just because Peretti said they were”.

He also says that, as a general rule, the foundation does not provide opinions on the authenticity of paintings that are published in De Chirico’s catalogue raisonné, and that there are currently no plans to examine further the works in the catalogue that Peretti claimed to have made himself.

Any such investigation would be lengthy and expensive. This may do little to reassure dealers and auctioneers who rely on the catalogue raisonné when trading in works by De Chirico.

Metaphysical Master

Giorgio de Chirico (July 10, 1888 – November 20, 1978) was a Greek-born Italian artist. In the years before World War I, he founded the scuola metafisica art movement, which profoundly influenced the surrealists.

De Chirico is best known for the paintings he produced between 1909 and 1919, his metaphysical period, which are memorable for the haunted, brooding moods evoked by their images. At the start of this period, his subjects were still cityscapes inspired by the bright daylight of Mediterranean cities, but gradually he turned his attention to studies of cluttered storerooms, sometimes inhabited by mannequin-like hybrid figures.

He developed a repertoire of motifs—empty arcades, towers, elongated shadows, mannequins, and trains among others—that he arranged to create images of forlornness and emptiness that paradoxically also convey a feeling of power and freedom.

Skilled Forger

In 1954, Renato Peretti visited De Chirico in Venice and watched the veteran artist paint a version of Le Muse Inquietanti from a photograph of a previous canvas of the theme, according to the Archive of Metaphysical Art.

Peretti presented himself to De Chirico as a “simple admirer” of his work, but the visit seems to have inspired Peretti, who “discovered his own vocation” as a result.

Over the next two decades, he would go on to produce numerous forgeries of De Chirico’s work.

In the late 1970s, Peretti was detained as part of a massive investigation into fakes, during which the forger Umberto Lombardi, and several dealers and collectors, were arrested. Hundreds of paintings were confiscated. Peretti died before the conclusion of the trial.

Shortly before his death, Peretti produced a list of fakes and likely fakes that he said he had painted himself and which had been included in the volumes of De Chirico’s catalogue raisonné published at the time.