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What if your painting or collectable is not the genuine thing?

Turns out you have been ‘sold a fake’, or worse still, purchased ‘stolen property’.  What does this mean to you?  Well, unfortunately its not great news.  In recent time, there have been some very interesting articles about our National and State Galleries, which raise a range of risks that you need to be aware of.

Case 1 – provenance:

In 1940, the National Gallery of Victoria acquired a Van Gogh “Head of a Man.” It was since valued at about $5m.  Following doubts over authenticity, in 2006 the painting was sent to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam for tests

After an X-ray and pigment analysis, experts concluded the portrait was not a Van Gogh. It was not considered a forgery, but rather an anonymous contemporary who was influenced by the same artists as Van Gogh.

The NGV has since had to revalue the artwork at much less than the $5m value.

Case 2 – legitimacy:

This has two examples:

Example 1:

The first case relates to the same painting mentioned above (the NGV is not having much luck with this one!).  It’s a long tale, but in layman’s terms artwork sold under duress during the Nazi era should be returned to the original owners.  In fact, any works found to be stolen must be returned to their country of origin without compensation.

In this case the links look tenuous (but I’m no legal expert). However, in raises a further question for you – whilst you made a legitimate purchase, what if you have to give back your artwork because it was the taken from the original owner under some type of Crime or duress?

Example 2:

You may have seen a high profile case recently where artwork purchased through a disgraced New York dealer Subhash Kapoor that were likely to have been smuggled out of India.  He is on trial for looting and wanted in the US for masterminding large-scale antiquities smuggling.

It turns out that our National Galleries have bought works through Mr Kapoor.  The Galleries are now being called upon to return the artwork to the original owners.

There is a pending request from India’s government for the return of a dancing Shiva statue bought by Canberra’s National Gallery for $US5 million ($5.4 million) in 2008 from Subhash Kapoor.

India has also demanded the return of a stone sculpture of the god Ardhanarishvara, bought for $300,000 by the Art Gallery of NSW from Kapoor’s Art of the Past gallery in 2004.

It may not even end there as the holding of artwork purchased through Subhash Kapoor may be significantly larger.


If this happened to you would your Art insurance policy respond?  Unfortunately the answer is ‘no’ not under the standard Art Insurance policies we offer.  Our policies cover physical loss, destruction or theft, not ‘loss’ from market forces (ie fall in value) or provenance issues or return of stolen property.

I have heard of extensions of cover available to cover this type of situation – but they are not readily available and I suspect they would be expensive.  The Insurer would undoubtedly require extensive independent Provence checks before taking the risk.

So if you have a loss of this type are you on your own?  It may be cold comfort but remember that if you acquired the artwork from a Gallery or Art Dealer you may have recourse to them (they can’t sell you stolen works or false works).  The question really comes down to this “Who is saying the artworks are legitimate and what checks have they undertaken”.

On this occasions Insurance isn’t your solution (not as standard anyway).  Good risk management is your best course, and effective use of independent Art Experts.