Eighteen years after his death, Elmyr de Hory's name has arisen in connection with a Matisse which, with its initial estimate of dollars 7m (pounds 4.75m), would have been one of the stars of Sotheby's New York sale next month. However, in preparing their catalogue entry for Woman in an Interior, 1943, the auctioneers have found documents dismissing the painting as a forgery.
Matisse was one of the artists De Hory did best. De Hory was a master of deception who faked modern painters, posing as an impoverished Hungarian aristocrat with an art collection to sell.
The Sotheby's 'Matisse' was attributed to Matisse when the New York collector, Harriet Weiner Goodstein, and her first husband, Leon Munchin, a lawyer, bought it in 1956.
Sotheby's suspicions were raised when it began researching the Matisse and other paintings from the estate of Mrs Goodstein, which it is selling next month. David Nash, director of Impressionist and modern art for Sotheby's world-wide, said: 'I did think it was strange that the painting had never been illustrated in books or in exhibitions, which is unusual for a late Matisse.'
Sotheby's approached the Matisse archive in Paris, which has a photograph of the picture and a 1959 note registering it as a fake. That note was written by Marguerite Duthuit-Matisse, the artist's daughter. Claude Duthuit, Matisse's grandson and an executor of his estate, expressed doubts that it is De Hory's work, dismissing him as 'a very bad forger'.
Mr Nash, however, remains to be convinced that it is not by Matisse. As he put it, 'the jury's still out'. More research is being done.