In June 27, 2012, Justice Guy Richard Newey of the High Court in London ruled that the Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg was entitled to recover the £1.7 million his Aurora Fund had paid for the painting Odalisque at Christie’s London on November 30, 2005,” Artnews reports. “The judge agreed with Vekselberg and his experts that the work was not by Boris Kustodiev, the important Russian painter, as Christie’s and a number of other experts had claimed. Christie’s was also ordered to pay court costs.
The ruling ended a battle that began on December 18, 2006, when Vekselberg’s Aurora Fund associate, Andrei Ruzhnikov, sent a letter to Alexis de Tiesenhausen, international head of Russian art at Christie’s, demanding that the sale be cancelled. Attached to the letter were two expert opinions casting doubt on the work’s authenticity. In response, Christie’s called on another set of experts who vouched for the work, and the matter ended up in court, where a judge had to choose between the competing expertises.
The judge decided against the painting, but his decision wasn’t greeted with universal approval among art historians and other experts on Russian art. A number of them believe the work is genuine, and they ask whether the courtroom is the best place to decide whether an artwork is authentic or not.
The question looms large as the quantity of fakes entering the art market grows and the controversies increase. The situation of Russian art is particularly complicated, experts say. Fakes of every kind, from icons and Fabergé objets d’art to 19th-century realist paintings and avant-garde canvases, flooded the market in the 1990s. Catalogues raisonnés for Russian artists are virtually nonexistent. The level of expertise is poor, according to observers, and experts are often corrupt. The leading auction houses are not immune from mistakes; in recent years, a number of “major” works have been removed from the lineup a few hours before they were scheduled to be sold.”