Wolfgang Beltracchi: Behind Worlds Famous Art Forgery Scandal

famous art forger art forgery scandal

Wolfgang Beltracchi: The Most Famous Art Forger in the World

The 14 year old Wolfgang Fischer was sitting in front of an artists board. His father, a church painter, gave his son the task to copy Picassos “Mother and Child” from 1901. Only one day later, the young Wolfgangs first “official” copy left his father speechsless. He gave Wolfgang his paint box and became more and more unsociably. Now, he knew, that his son was a better duplicator than him.

35 years later. Wolfgang Beltracchi made millions with art, was living in a villa in Freiburg-Herdern together with his wife Helene Beltracchi and enjoyed his life. Then, suddenly, the bubble burst. On August 27, 2010, the police arrested the married couple in their own villa. The reason: Wolfgang Beltracchis art was actually not his own. He copied the style of famous painters, created new “not yet found” masterpieces and signed them with their signature. One of the best art forgers since now was found. Wolfgang Beltracchi.

Behind the Biggest Art Forgery Scandal since World War II

The case Wolfgang Beltracchi shakened the worlwide art scene. He copied the typical “handwriting” of around 100 painters from different genres and times. Beltracchi himself said, that he is able to copy any artist. Since now, around 55 people or gallerists are in posession of a Max Ernst, Johannes Molzahn, Matisse or Max Pechstein, which are actually from Wolfgang Beltracchi. Beltracchi and his wife however, earned an estimated amount of 16 million Euro through the selling of these paintings.

How did he and his wife manage it to sell the art forgeries throughout years and earned millions with it?

Its a long story until Beltracchi started making millions with his paintings. According to the couple, first of all, Beltracchi checked, which type of works in an artists d’oeuvre could be missing – what did he do, with whom was the painter living together plus he also studied the art history of that time. Sometimes, the research for a new painting took around six months before he started drawing. After that, his wife Helene Beltracchi sent photos to art experts, who – after the first look – usually showed interest and visited the couple at their home to take a closer look at the painting. For every big artist there is mainly one expert, who can tell, if the specific painting is an original or fake. Where does this painting come from? Simple answer: family. Helene Beltracchi named her grandfather Werner Jägers, when someone asked about the origin. Werner Jägers was a friend of the famous Jewish art collector Flechtheim and Helene Beltracchi inherited her grandfathers collection. A simple, but perfect story.

One of the proofs for the originality of a Max Ernst painting was a photo. Helene Beltracchi simulated her grandmother, who was sitting in front of a table. On the same picture, Wolfgang Beltracchis painting from “Max Ernst” was hanging on the wall behind Helenes grandmother amongst others. It was taken with an old camera, the photograph developed in the early 20th century-style. Wolfgang Beltracchis Max Ernst was sold for 1,8 million Euro and for 7 million Dollar to the last distributor.

Former Art Forger Wolfgang Beltracchi Now: Successful on His Own

He didn’t forge paintings, but only the signatures. Thats what Wolfgang Beltracchi affirmed in a German tv show, when he was still in open jail. He would have probably kept on doing what he did, when there wasn’t the painting “Rotes Bild mit Pferden”. The painting, through which he finally got discovered: Beltracchi was using a zink white with a small proportion of modern titanium white.

In 2011, Beltracchi and his wife received six and four years in prison. Wolfgang Beltracchi was suspended in early 2015. During their time in custody, both wrote hundreds of letters to each other, which later on got published in a book called “Einschluss mit Engeln” (Inclusion with Angels). Not only that. An autobiography called “Self Portrait”, interviews, a documentary, art exhibitons and his own tv show –  finally, the former art forger became a brand on his own. One painting, signed by Wolfgang Beltracchi is now worth up to 62.000 USD. Beltracchi and his wife are aware of the fact that what they did was wrong. Still, Beltracchi mischievous once commented on the question, what was the biggest mistake in his life: “Using this white colour”. His restrained manner, his sense of humour and openness made him to be a superstar of the art scene for all the people, who had nothing to do with art. The Beltracchis did nothing else than tricking the elite. An elite, that would never buy an original Beltracchi rather than a fake Max Ernst. Still, most probably some of “his” paintings are hanging in these persons houses. “We contacted of all of them, but some didn’t respond. Maybe they just don’t want to know it”.

Picture image: 20080615_0082Dhruv Kapoor flickr – CC BY 2.0
February 8, 2017
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