The London Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court ruling requiring Fairlight Art Ventures, a co-vendor of a forged painting to return its share of the profit from the sale of the painting. The painting at issue is that of an unknown man and is signed with the initials “F.H.” The painting was listed in the sale as the work of Frans Hals (ca. 1582-1666), a Dutch artist noted for his portraiture. In 2010, Fairlight became a co-owner of the painting with the Marc Weiss Gallery, purchasing it from one Giuliano Ruffini—Ruffini has since become a major suspect in a large-scale art forgery scheme.
Fairlight and Weiss then worked with Sotheby’s to sell the work privately to American collector Richard Hedreen. Fairlight and Weiss split the profits from the sale evenly. Hedreen had the painting evaluated, where it was determined that it was a modern forgery. As part of its sales contract, Sotheby’s fully refunded Hedreen. Sotheby’s then sought the return of the profits from Fairlight and Weiss.
Both Fairlight and Weiss argued that they were not a party to Sotheby’s decision to return the payment to Hedreen. However, before the case was heard before the court, Weiss signed a settlement agreement with Sotheby’s, leaving Fairlight to litigate. The lower court found in favor of Sotheby’s, stating that Fairlight and Weiss were “committed as principals to the consignment of the property to Sotheby’s” and therefore bound by Sotheby’s ability to rescind the sale in the case of a forgery.
The appellate court upheld the lower court’s ruling, adding that the painting was newly discovered with poor provenance, had never been in an exhibition, and its authenticity had not been determined. According to the court, the “law has to fall on someone”. Fairfield had not done its due diligence. The lesson here is that those who wish to make a quick profit from the sale of art or antiques must make sure that the item in question has a solid provenance or they may have to disgorge the profits. The only remedy left Fairfield at this point is to track down Mr. Ruffini and attempt to get their money back from him.