When he purchased a reclining nude attributed to Marc Chagall 20 years ago for £100,000, Martin Lang of Leeds, England, hoped the painting would provide his family with a nice nest egg down the road; now his investment has proved worthless, and it’s about to go up in smoke.
Lang, 63, bought “Nude 1909-10,” which was “attributed to Chagall” in 1992, on the advice of a Russian art dealer who was employed by a major auction house.
Citing the painting’s reproduction in an art book by an expert on Soviet art and friend of Chagall, Lang recently volunteered his piece to the experts at “Fake or Fortune?” a British art program aired by the BBC.
His decision to purchase the painting turned out to have been a terrible error in judgment.
A complex paint analysis revealed that the blue and green pigments found in the painting were too modern, having been developed only in the 1930s, Britain’s Daily Telegraph reported on Sunday. Moreover, the reference to “Nude 1909-10” had been removed from a later edition of the Soviet-era publication. After the analysis, the work was submitted to the Chagall Committee in Paris, which, headed by the acclaimed artist’s two granddaughters, is the only authority with the power to definitively declare the authenticity of works associated with Chagall.
The committee determined that Lang’s painting was an imitation of the 1911 reclining nude.
To make matters worse, Lang signed a contract stating that “Marc Chagall’s heirs could demand the seizure of the work, and/or any other measures stipulated by law” upon handing over his painting for examination. According to an archaic French law, forgeries can be destroyed in front of a magistrate, and the committee, which was expressly set up to defend Chagall’s legacy, appears determined to follow through.
Philip Mould, an art expert for “Fake or Fortune?” condemned the move to destroy the painting, scheduled for this week, referring to it as “barbaric.” He added that the Chagall Committee seems “hell-bent” on following through, despite the fact that fakes are often kept and used to determine the genuineness of other works.
According to Mould, the painting would have fetched as much as £500,000 ($821,000) if it had turned out to be genuine. But that is unlikely to be much consolation — according to “Fake or Fortune?” 90% of the Russian art market is composed of fakes, and Chagall’s works are a favorite of counterfeiters.
Lang said he had no intention to seek a refund on his original purchase, saying, “I lack confidence in the system to give me the results I would be seeking.” He has, however, requested that the committee compensate him if evidence ever surfaces to prove the painting’s authenticity.
“There’s nothing definite in life,” he reflect. “There’s always room for error.”
Chagall, the Jewish painter famed for his mystical shtetl scenes, was a Russian-French pioneer of modern art. He died in 1985.