Fake or Fortune: on the Issue of Forgery of Russian Avant-Garde Art


Fake or Fortune: on the Issue of Forgery of Russian Avant-Garde Art

Wednesday, 2 December 2015. Gallery of Russian Art and Design, GRAD, London.

GRAD, a relatively new London gallery which is backed by the long arm of Peter Aven of the Alfa Group (on him see Putin’s Russia. The dangerous illusion of independent and western oligarchs, 19 June 2015,  Delfi. The Lithuania Tribune: en.delfi.lit/) is to be congratulated for taking this initiative to organise a talk on the complementary work of scientific analysis and art historical research into works of art. For while collectors and museums are in support of the contribution of science to art history, auction houses are generally diffident if not dismissive since they are candid that research is not their concern, while the ability of science to detect fakes or establish historicity is slow in coming into their realm of consciousness.

The speakers were the Russian cultural journalist and historian of Soviet photomontage 1935-1980s, Konstantin Akinsha, and the English conservator, Nicholas Eastaugh. The gallery’s announcement paired the two components stating that “scientific and historical analysis of works of art is becoming an increasingly necessary part of the due diligence process.” The assumption would be that the two aspects would be integrated in the presentations and responses to audience questions. In fact, Akinsha’s talk presented a list of asserted or implied cases of “fakes”, “pastiches” and “questionable work” reported on in the press, while Eastaugh set out how his science is used in the authentication process and in support of art history.

Akinsha was the first to speak. He began by showing slides of works that he compared with officially accepted works from museums in order to demonstrate the case for fakes. Using stylistic analysis, he pointed to spelling mistakes, misappropriations from sources (such as an early 20th century typewriter), or inept “twins” of a known work in order to assert that the comparative works were fakes, or forgeries. He did not take into account that they could be student works, for example, and he did not make reference to any of his own research into a particular artist, nor did he ever consider scientific reports that may have been carried out on the works he challenged. He mentioned the names of major and smaller London and German auction houses who have sold “fakes”, he said, as well as museums in Russia and the West who have exhibited and reproduced them in their catalogues. Nor did he hesitate to cite the names of published art historians whom he considers to have been “sloppy” and perhaps even guilty of “criminal work” – on what grounds? – in certifying art. He went on to make the audience cluck with disapproval about a current court case involving works accused of being fakes by the German police. About a Swiss collection, which he said was “under police investigation”, he did not reveal that all the some 400 works have been subjected to in-depth scientific analysis by highly esteemed and reputable and experienced scientists who have found NO FAKES.

How dangerous is a little or but superficial if not unreliable information taken from second-hand sources when such hearsay is used as if it represents the truth. How disturbing his proposal that some of his colleagues should be subjected to “criminal investigation”.

Nicholas Eastaugh was the second to speak. He touched lightly on the purpose of scientific investigation into works of art and its forensic role to establish authenticity through knowledge of techniques and material structures. Eastaugh mentioned the tools used to analyse pigments, supports – canvas, wood, etc. – as well as the practice of the laying in of paint in various layers by different artists and in different historical periods. All of this contributes to attribution and authenticity, he said, the “correlation of science and views of art history integrated and inclusive”. Being a new field since the 1990s, he noted, the scientific means of investigating the material aspects of works of art are continually evolving, and he discussed more recent methods involving carbon 14 dating for example. However under-proved this particular technique may be, scientific analysis of works of art is “here to stay”, Eastaugh asserted, because of the extensive information it provides in order to identify authentic works and detect modern copies. Eastaugh gave examples from the recent case in which a German painter, Beltracchi, analysed old materials and pigments and imitated techniques, but whose mistakes were detected by scientists.

The interaction of science and art history are “here to stay”, then, but there was little evidence that this interaction was appreciated in the responses from the speakers and the moderator, dealer James Butterwick, to questions put by the audience. The scholarly work on Russian Avant-Garde painters by known and responsible art historians was glibly trashed despite the contributions of scientists into the historicity of materials and methods in their books. But there was no acknowledgement of this or enquiry into it.

Are there Russian Avant-Garde fakes?

There is the case of the nearly 200 works on paper attributed to Mikhail Larionov which, following collaborative scientific analyses and art historical research, were declared by the Geneva Penal Court in April 2001 to be fakes. There is/was also the case of a Tel Aviv gallery called “Authentic Fakes” whose painters may produce a blue Kandinsky or a pink Picasso to match their clients’ sofas. In the first case, the intent was to deceive, to make modern works be taken for historical ones. In the second case, the works were clearly labelled and there was no intent to deceive. The first are fakes, or forgeries, the second are modern copies.

So before declaring a work of art to be fake or genuine, it must be proven by the combined contributions of experienced and reputable scientific and art historical methods. Since this collaboration has been being practiced over the last 20 years or so, it is therefore not possible to say, as Akinsha declared in his opening words, that there has been an “avalanche of questionable works on the market”, a “pollution”, even, a claim reiterated by dealer Butterwick. Rather, modern works have been detected by scientists and an impressive number of authentic historical works have been identified, complemented by the research of serious scholars.

It is a great pity, even a tragedy, then, that such an excellent initiative at GRAD – and one that was the foundation of InCoRM in 2007 and the exploration and application of which is found in all the articles published in the JOURNAL OF INCORM since 2009 – appears to have been largely a cosmetic affair.

Patricia Railing, PhD

10 December 2015

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• • • InCoRM Remarks

Regarding Andréi Nakov’s claims in his Right of Reply, he says that he has been a “university professor since 1970”. Based on its research, InCoRM can assert that the university positions held by Andréi Nakov were the following:

— 1969. City College, New York, Teaching Assistant, 6 months approximately. Contract not renewed.

1970-71. University of Montreal, Visiting Lecturer, 1 year. Contract not renewed.

In 1980s. Université de Paris VI, for 6 months, approx. Contract not renewed.

Regarding the “chair” he says he “recently obtained”, Mr Nakov refused to supply to InCoRM details of the date of the appointment and the university. InCoRM learned directly from the Foundation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme that such a chair would be an invitation for one year to give lectures at a designated institution, funded by the Foundation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, where no teaching takes place. An email letter from the Fondation de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme of 23 May 2014 reads: “Je fais suite à votre appel à l’instant et vous confirme que M. Andréi Nakov n’a pas de chaire au Collège d’études mondiales de la FMSH.” / “I follow up your telephone call and confirm that Mr Andréi Nakov does not have a chair at the College of World Studies at the FMSH.”

InCoRM was unable to find any mention of Mr Nakov “on the website of University of Paris-Diderot”.

According to information obtained by InCoRM, the ruling of “non lieu” / “dismissed” refers to a Geneva Court ruling of 1995. In a subsequent ruling of the Penal Chamber, Geneva, 27April 2001, not mentioned by Andréi Nakov but implied by his reference to “14 years of proceedings”,it is stated that an exhibition devoted to the Russian painter, Mikhail Larionov, was organised on the initiative of Andréi Boris Nakov and shown at the Museum of Art and History of the City of Geneva from 10 March to 24 April 1989. As of the date of 2001, the Court ruled that “183 works listed under consideration were falsely attributed to Mikhail Larionov”, therefore “a stamp in indelible blue ink of 5.5 cm. x 4 cm.” should be placed on the back of each of these works and should read as follows: “This work appeared in the exhibition, “Mikhail Larionov : La voie vers l’abstraction” in Frankfurt, Bologne and Geneva, 1987-1988, and was declared fake on the dates of 24, 28 and 29 March 2001 by the experts Stern, Von Wiese and Venturelli, named by the Penal Chamber of the Court of Justice of Geneva”. Further, a website was ordered to be created on which 187 works were to be reproduced front and back with this statement shown on the backs of the works and the penal procedures described. This website has not been published to date. The court “condemns” the “costs of the procedure, which comprises the costs of the expertise” to be paid by the defendants in the sum of 80,783 Swiss francs.

Stated in the ruling of 25 June 2013, the Court of Appeal in Paris withdrew the moral right from the Alexandra Exter Association due to the withholding of information from the judge and so having obtained the moral right over the work of Alexandra Exter “in a fraudulent manner”. The “artist’s archives” consist of less than 10 letters between Alexandra Exter and Simon Lissim, Y. Anziani and Simon Lissim, and Simon Lissim and Andréi Nakov, a copy of the last will and testament of Alexandra Exter, and transport documents of works shipped to Simon Lissim. This case is again in litigation.

In reference to Mr Nakov’s last sentence, InCoRM asks: If he hadn’t or didn’t, how could Mr Nakov declare that there are “works falsely attributed with invented provenances and deceptive certificates” or, in Andréi Nakov’s own translation from his French text, “Andréi Nakov, is not the author of all claims related to incorrectly attributed works, with false provenance, and misleading certificates.”

Admin., 19 June / 22 July 2014



On the InCoRM Forum, “German Raids of June 2013” was published on 31 January 2014. Mentioned was Andrei Boris Nakov who, through his lawyer, presented the following as his Right of Reply. It is published here in full. The English translation of his Reply in all its details is provided by Andréi Nakov.

“Monsieur Nakov entend utilser son droit de réponse:

“Monsieur Andréi Nakov entend répondre aux allégations le concernant relayées sur le Forum de INCORM association fondée en 2008.

“Andréi Nakov est bien professeur d’université et ce, depuis 1970. Il a obtenu récemment une chaire à la Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme dont il est membre associé.

“Monsieur Nakov n‘a jamais été condamné par les Cours Européennes, sa probité est intact. Après 14 années de procédure, les oeuvres attribuées à Larionov ont été restituées à leurs propriétaire, tandis que lui-meme a obtenu un jugement de non lieu. En revanche Monsieur Nakov a fait condammer le journal qui l’avait accusé d’avoir organisé une exposition de faux Larionov.

“Monsieur Nakov déplore qu’une association d’experts telle que l’INCORM diffuse une information tronquée sur cette affaire.

“L’Association Alexandra Exter, fondée et présidée par Andréi Nakov, existe depuis 2000. C’est l’Association Alexandra Exter qui est désignée par la Justice pour défendre le droit moral de l’artiste Alexandra Exter depuis 2012. Son mandat a été renouvelé en 2013 et encore en 2014. Monsieur Nakov agit à ses côtés car il détient toutes les archives de l’artiste Alexandra Exter.

“L’arrêt rendu par la Cour d’Appel de Paris le 25 juin 2013 a fait l’objet d’un pourvoi devant la Cour de Cassation, l’INCORM a omis de le mentionner. En dépit de l’arrêt rendu le 25 juin 2013, l’Association a vu son mandat renouvelé le 7 janvier 2014 et l’action conduite contre le mandat obtenu en 2013, rejetée le 16 janvier 2014 par décision du Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris.

“L’action de l’Association Alexandra Exter perdure.

“Si l’Association Alexandra Exter suit scrupuleusement le marché des oeuvres attribuées à Alexandra Exter, son Président, Monsieur Andréi Nakov n‘est pas, pour autant, à l’initiative de toutes les saisies ou plaintes concernant les oeuvres faussement attribuées, avec des provenances inventées et des certificats trompeurs.”



“Mr Nakov intends to use his right of reply.

“Mr Andréi Nakov intends to respond to the allegations about him, related to the Forum of InCoRM, association founded in 2008.

“Andréi Nakov is an university professor since 1970. He recently received a professorship at the Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, University Paris-Diderot to which he belongs as stated on the website of this school.

“Mr Nakov has never been condembed by any European Court, his integrity is unspoiled. After 14 years of litigation, the works attributed to Larionov were returned to their owners, the case has been dismissed. However, Mr. Nakov did condemn the newspaper which had accused him for organizing an exhibition of fake Larionovs.

“Mr Nakov regrets that INCORM association of experts continues to diffuse false information about this case.

“Alexandra Exter Association, founded and chaired by Andréi Nakov exists since 2000. In 2012 the Alexandra Exter Association was designated by the French Court to defend the moral rights of the artist Alexandra Exter. This mandate was renewed on 2013 and in 2014. Mr Nakov acts within the moral rights because he is entrusted with custody of the artist’s archives.

“INCORM failed to mention that the judgment of the Paris Court of Appeal of June 25, 2013 was subject to an appeal before the Court of Cassation which was dully filed. Despite the judgment of June 25, 2013, the Association’s mandate has been renewed by the Court of Paris on Junuary 7, 2014 and the action against the madate obtained in 2013, has been dismissed on January 16, 2014 by a decision of the Tribunal de Grande Instance of Paris.

“The Alexandra Exter Association’s action continues.

“Whereas the Alexandra Exter Association strictly follows the market of works attributed to Alexandra Exter, its President, Andréi Nakov, is not the author of all claims related to incorrectly attributed works, with false provenance, and misleading certificates.”

19 June 2014

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InCoRM learned last week that the raids on Russian Avant-Garde collectors and galleries in Germany by the Federal Criminal Police (BKA) on 12 June 2013 were instigated on the basis of allegations supplied to the German authorities by the Paris-based art historian, Andréi Boris Nakov, according to an officer of the BKA. This would now explain why State Prosecutors and the BKA have been taking the advice on paintings from Mr Nakov who, to date, is known to have declared over 30 paintings to be “fake”, mostly on photographs only. According to a letter of January 2014 from the office of one of the State Prosecutors to the owner of a seized work, the “case is closed” due to “insufficient evidence” and the work will be returned. In apparent contradiction to this, a letter from the BKA, also of January 2014, takes as sufficient evidence “the opinion of Prof. Dr Nakov” (a misnomer since he has no professorship) who pronounced this same work as “obviously fake” and as a consequence states that the work will be posted on their database as “dubious”. This decision is in flagrant disregard for the fact that the work has scientific and art historical opinions from recognised experts and an excellent provenance. In addition and known to them, the German authorities are relying on the opinion of someone who has been condemned by European courts. Mr Nakov authenticated and organised an exhibition in three public museums of nearly 200 fake works which he attributed to Mikhail Larionov (Geneva, Cour de Justice, PS115/95,  ACJP 121/01, 27 April 2001), and he was also accused by the French courts of making “fraudulent claims” to having  the moral right over the art of Alexandra Exter (Cour d’Appel de Paris, Arrêt du 25 June 2013 No. 421, Numéro d’inscription au répertoire général 12/21691). But Mr Nakov does not just have the ear of German authorities, he also caught those of a few individuals, who wish to remain anonymous, when he is reported to have said about the fine and well known Russian Avant-Garde collection of Moscow banker, Piotr Aven, that “it is full of fakes”.

Admin. 1 February 2014

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Return to Sender

The Paris art historian, Andréi Nakov, took part in an interview, together with the German art historian, Hans Peter Riese, the German scientist, Erhard Jägers, and others broadcast on the German radio station, HRinfo, on 25 June 2013. Responding to a question about fakes, Mr Nakov said that he had “become so tired of photographs of fakes being sent to his email address that he no longer even bothered to look at them and simply pressed, ‘Return to Sender’.” Is this really a professional approach to the work of art – to pass judgement on works from computer photographs in the best case or not to look at the image at all in the worst case? Is Mr Nakov attempting to establish credibility by an appeal to his authority, expecting the world to just believe him, no proofs needed? Every museum in the world requires art historical documentation, with scientific analyses becoming increasingly demanded, before they consider buying a work of art. So is “no proofs needed” an attempt to give credence to a counter culture proclaimed by an individual in order to discredit the historical and scientific documentation in which lie the real proofs, not to mention the authority of the work itself? Would any truly professional person in the world deny these fundamental requirements as the basis for assessing the work of art? Would any truly professional person in the world pass over these requirements and pronounce on a work of art? To slander a work of art is no different than slandering a person and in particular those who have investigated it and whose expertise is professional and informed.

Admin. 5 July 2013  


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Andréi Nakov Loses Moral Rights Over Alexandra Exter

The Cours d’Appel de Paris / Appeal Court in Paris ruled on 25 June 2013 (Order 12/21691) that the Alexandra Exter Association and its President, Andréi Nakov, would not hold the moral rights to Alexandra Exter. The order was made in favour of the plaintiff, Igor Toporovsky, of Brussels, who had loaned several of his canvases to the exhibition, ALEXANDRA EXTER, held in the Chateau Musée in the city of Tours, January-March 2009. The order states that Mr Nakov had originally obtained the moral right over the art of Alexandra Exter “in a fraudulent manner” and that as a result the court ordered that the Alexandra Exter Association and its President, Mr Nakov, to each pay 5,000 euros to Mr Toporovsky as well as all court costs. In addition, a decision of the court in Tours on 10 June 2013 officially recognised the authenticity of Mr Toporovsky’s paintings, together with their provenances, and ordered their restitution to the collector.

Admin 28 June 2013

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