A recent court case has exposed a sneaky “bait-and-switch” scandal, bringing to light the risks of conservation. According to the case, Abbott Laboratories, the US medical giant, came to learn that at least two, and probably many more, works from their massive art collection are forgeries. One of the most interesting points is that when they were purchased, the paintings were authentic. At the heart of the case is Maine Flowers or Roses from Hispania (1936-37) by Marsden Hartley that was purchased by Abbott in 1960 from the Associated American Artists Gallery in New York. The piece was sent to a conservator in Illinois for cleaning in 1987 and returned to the collection. Unfortunately, what is being alleged is that the conservator reproduced the work and sent Abbott back the reproduction and sold the original. Carol Feinberg of New York, the current “owner” of the Hartley, is being sued for the return of the work by Abbott. Feinberg’s husband purchased the painting in 1994 for $351,000 from Berry – Hill Galleries. Neither side knows how the gallery ended up with the painting, but Abbott’s name was removed from the provenance. Lawyers representing Fienberg claim that the work was purchased in “good faith,” and in September filed a suit in Illinois for a declaratory judgment to confirm her ownership of the work, asking at least $100,000 in damages for Abbott’s “slander of title”.
Another work from the Abbott collection, La Boite a Chapeau Polychrome by Fernand Leger, purchased in 1944, has also been found to be a forgery. The work left the collection in the 1980s for conservation and the original turned up in Louise Leiris Gallery, then Waddington Gallery and again at Christies in NY and London, though it went unsold in those appearances. Today, the work is believed to be in a European collection.