In 2012, Sotheby’s sold an Old Master painting of Saint Jerome cataloged as “the circle of Parmigianino” for $842,500. By 2016, pigment analysis performed by Orion Analytical (a materials analysis firm founded by James Martin in 2000) had shown the work contained Phthalocyanine Green, a modern green synthetic pigment, in over 20 areas. The work was deemed a 20th-century forgery and Sotheby’s refunded the buyer and subsequently sued the consignor – Luxembourg based dealer Lionel de Pourrières, who refused to refund his proceeds.
Shortly before this, Sotheby’s refunded an American collector almost $10 million for a Frans Hals that Orion Analytical proved was a fake. Both the Hals and Parmigianino works (along with many others) “passed through” the hands of Giulano Ruffini – a French art dealer at the center of several Old Master forgery cases amounting to as much as $255m worth of possible fake art, including works by Lucas Cranach the elder and Orazio Gentileschi.
But let’s get back to the story at hand. Lionel de Pourrières decided to hire Maurizio Seracini, another scientific investigator to test the work and prove its authenticity. Instead of testing for the modern green pigment, Seracini took a different approach and found a synthetic resin, developed after 1930, that was used throughout the layers of paint – this did not help de Pourrières’s case. Then Sotheby’s case gained further support when de Pourrières’s lawyer withdrew from his defense since he had not been paid.
Sotheby’s has filed a motion for a default judgment based “on two expert reports and what is as good as an admission from the defendant that it is a forgery.”
By the way, Sotheby’s purchased Orion Analytical in 2016 … not a bad move on their part!