Sotheby’s wins court case over a disputed €10m ‘Frans Hals’ painting

The disputed Frans Hals painting, 'Portrait of a Gentleman'.

Auction house Sotheby’s has won its case against the former business partner of Old Master picture dealer Mark Weiss over a Frans Hals (1582-1666) painting that Sotheby’s now deems is a fake.

Extracted from Antiques Trade Gazette | Laura Chesters

The disputed Frans Hals painting, ‘Portrait of a Gentleman’.

Sotheby’s first filed its claim in London’s High Court against Weiss and his business partner Fairlight Art Ventures in February 2017.

Weiss settled out of court in April but today a High Court judgment handed down by Justice Robin Knowles determined Fairlight was liable to Sotheby’s.

The judge did not determine whether the picture is by Frans Hals or not.

The court case related to a Hals painting, Portrait of a Gentleman that Weiss bought in 2010 with backing from Fairlight. It was subsequently sold, through Sotheby’s in 2011, to a US buyer in a $10.75m private deal.

After doubts were raised about the picture, in 2016 Sotheby’s reimbursed the US buyer the cost of transaction and, in 2017, the auction house said it had completed “in-depth technical analysis which established that the work was undoubtedly a forgery” with traces of a green pigment invented in the 20th century found in the picture.

Sotheby’s had been due to begin a trial with Weiss on April 1, 2019 but the parties settled out of court with Weiss paying $4.2m to Sotheby’s without any admission of liability.

Today’s decision concludes Sotheby’s action regarding the picture and court will now issue an order to Fairlight following this judgment.

In a statement the judge said the payment will be “a matter of discussion” but there could be an “agreement between the parties”.

“Intrinsic qualities”

Justice Knowles said: “Whether by Frans Hals or not, it is to be hoped that its intrinsic qualities will not be ignored, and that it may be enjoyed for what it is, a fine painting.”

Weiss has always denied the claim that the picture was fake and in a statement issued following the April settlement, he said he “remains convinced of the authenticity of the work based on his own expert’s independent scientific testing to that effect, which would have been produced in evidence at the trial had it proceeded and the overwhelming support of connoisseurs since the discovery of the work in 2010”.

The Hals painting is thought to have been previously owned by Frenchman Giulano Ruffini who has been linked to a number of paintings that have had their attribution questioned.

They include a picture sold as a Cranach to the Prince of Liechtenstein in 2013 and an oil attributed to Parmigianino, sold at Sotheby’s in 2012.