Art Market: Painting withdrawn from sale after artist declares it a fake

A PAINTING which Christie's in New York estimated at dollars 500,000 ( pounds 330,000) for its Latin American sale on Monday evening was withdrawn after the artist dismissed it as a fake.

The Dancers 'by Fernando Botero', is not by Fernando Botero, according to Mr Botero himself. The Colombian artist, best-known for his caricatures of social, religious and political figures, described it as a 'very vulgar copy'.

Christie's had, rather embarrassingly, placed the grotesquely fat, yet graceful, couple on the front of a separate catalogue devoted to 11 works by Botero. In fairness to them, the picture was a last-minute addition to the sale: meeting a catalogue deadline, they were judging it only from a colour transparency. However, Sotheby's had been offered the slide last summer, and, according to one source, they felt there was 'something odd' about it.

A Christie's spokesman said that the mistake was realised once it had seen the actual picture. Its size, slightly larger than the original, raised suspicions. He said that the Wall Street Journal had identified three groups of forgers - based in Miami, Paris and Caracas, Venezuela - who are believed to be specialising in painting Boteros.

For the artist, the forgers' activities further confirm his international status: such is Botero's popularity with collectors that his auction record, set in 1992, stands at dollars 1.54m ( pounds 1.02m). Paris recently lined the Champs Elysee with his monumental sculptures. Ironically, however, only four of the Boteros found buyers at Christie's on Monday. Among them, his Familia de Perros, which fetched dollars 211,500 ( pounds 138,235).

Christie's picture came from a respected Mexican private collection; the original from which it was copied is in a private collection in Florida, but has been widely published. However, as the artist pointed out, the forgers had changed a number of features, including moving the signature.

However, despite this dampener, Christie's did achieve two record- breaking prices for Rufino Tamayo, one of Mexico's greatest 20th-century artists. America, his monumental 1955 mural, sold for a record dollars 2.58m ( pounds 1.69m). His previous record was dollars 1.48m, set last November.

The dramatic work, in which the artist expressed his utopian vision of the Americas, spans more than 45 feet in width. It was commissioned by the Bank of the Southwest in Houston, Texas, which needed something to fill its lobby - at more than 11 2 acres, the largest in the United States. The mural - strictly speaking not a mural as it was painted on canvas rather than directly on plaster - was bought by an anonymous buyer. Another Tamayo, Mujer con Mascara Roja, 1940, made dollars 1.54m ( pounds 1m).

Christie's said that despite strong pre-sale interest from the trade, private individuals and institutions, bidding was erratic: half the items in this auction failed to sell.

(Photograph omitted)

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