Christie's forced to repay £557,500 over `forged' art

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The Independent Online
Fine-art auctioneers were last night studying a High Court ruling which forced Christie's to repay £557,500 to the buyer of a "forged" painting and appears to suggest that dealers have a greater responsibility to customers than has been assumed, writes Mary Braid.

Marie Zelinger de Balkany, a wealthy Swiss art dealer, bought Youth Kneeling Before God The Father at Christie's in Geneva in 1987. In court she said she fell "head over heels in love" with the painting, described as being by the Austrian Egon Schiele and as signed by him.

But in 1991 a book by Jane Kallir, a Schiele expert, threw doubt on the painting's authenticity and Ms de Balkany sued Christie's. Yesterday, after hearing from experts, including Ms Kallir, Mr Justice Morison said the original painting was probably by Schiele, but had been overpainted after his death so that only 6 per cent of the original was visible. The overpainter had put new initials on the work but ultra-violet examination revealed the deception.

Sotheby's and Bonhams said they were also studying the judgment. One art expert said dealers would be worried by comments by the judge which appeared to suggest Ms de Balkany was entitled to expect more care from Christie's, who were paid £57,500 commission.