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Caveat Emptor – Let The Buyer Beware!

December 31, 2021

The number of auction sales that include art has skyrocketed through the pandemic. In the good old days, most people who wanted to auction a work of art consigned it to a saleroom in a major city – New York, London, Paris, etc. Today, it is a free-for-all.

Works appear in hundreds of sales each month, and there is very little control over what is offered. Many of these salerooms have little regard for the quality, condition, and, most importantly, the authenticity of the works. Their stance is Caveat Emptor – let the buyer beware.

We try to follow as many sales as possible, and I can assure you that is no easy task. Very often, one sale is taking place while another is going on. Online bidding platforms can be challenging to navigate. Sometimes, they crash while people are bidding (which is bad for the seller) or postponed due to outages. There are even sales where all the lots close simultaneously. So, if you were interested in purchasing several works at one of those sales, how can you watch all the lots simultaneously? Not easily. Again, the seller is the one who suffers.

screen shot of the fake Cortes - Caveat EmptorNow let’s get back to the lack of caring about authenticity that some of the auction rooms seem to have. Earlier this month, we were scrolling through one of the online platforms and came across a painting with the heading – Edouard Cortes (French Scene) Oil/Canvas V$55,000 (image featured here). Just a glance at the photo was all we needed to know that this is not a painting by Edouard Cortes (1882-1969). What was more amusing is that the work carried an estimate of $45,000-$55,000, and when you read the description, squashed between MINT CONDITION and Edouard Léon Cortès are the words “in the style of.” So, the header conveniently omitted the phrase “In the style of,” and the high estimate might make someone think this is the real deal. After the sale, I checked the results, and the painting did sell for a whopping $375!

A fake Edouard Cortes - Caveat EmptorOk, so now someone has a decorative painting on their wall. However, an unsuspecting individual could have ended up buying this work for a lot of money, thinking they were getting the real thing. Thankfully, that did not happen, but I wonder if the buyer assumes they got the bargain of a lifetime? If you happen to be reading this, I am sorry to burst your bubble.

All auction rooms must be held to a higher standard. When offering a work of art, they should be required to seek advice from true experts so that fakes are not being bought and sold. And one more thing, when you read the terms and conditions of a specific sale, you often see that all property will be sold “AS IS” and there are no guarantees to the correctness of the catalog or the authenticity or description of the items. Always keep the phrase Caveat Emptor in mind when looking at an auction.

My favorite phrase really resonates here – The art world is a jungle, so find the right guide before you become someone’s next meal! Happy hunting!!