Monday, 7 May 2018

Eastbourne auctions has too many hidden treasures

Eastbourne auctions, from England, has a "Two day fine art sale" on 10 and 11 May 2018. It includes 360 paintings and prints.

What is amazing is the number of poorly described works, with unrecognised signatures, which, if genuine, would make this one of the best modern art sales of the year. How unlucky that both the owner(s) of the works, and the "Auctioneers & Valuers of Fine Art, Antiques & Collectables" (as they describe themselves) had so much trouble deciphering the signatures and attributing the paintings.

Unless of course they knowingly are selling fakes and are careful not to attribute the fakes to actual artists, hoping that the poor description and low estimate will dupe people into thinking they have uncovered some sleepers, some hidden gems, which the stupic auctioneer and seller didnt recognise. Could it be? No, of course not, knowingly selling fakes with such malicious intent would be criminal, so it must be that the auctioneers are simply extremely incompetent.

Some examples (the list, sadly, is not exhaustive).

Lot 1435 is "bearing a signature Goldbeg", estimated £100 to £200. Michael Goldberg, American abstract expressionist, comparable real works sell for $50,000.

Lot 1467 is "bearing a signature Kurt Schwithing", estimated at £150 to £250. Obviously signed "Kurt Schwitters". His abstract works fetch £100,000 and more.

Lot 1657 is "bearing a signature A L Hote", estimated at £50 to £80. You really have to make an effort not to see A Lhote (André Lhote) in this signature. No idea what this one would fetch if it was real, I haven't really found comparable works during my short search, but other works fetch 10s of thousands and more.

Lot 1648 is "bearing a signature A Han '59", estimated at £50 to £80. Hmm, could this be Jean-Michel Atlan (French, 1913-1960)? Value £20,000 to £30,000 (for a real one, that is).

Lot 1632 is "bearing a signature Marie", estimated at £80 to £120. It is made to look like a painting by Picasso from 1937 of his muse Marie-Thérèse Walter. While I can imagine an auctioneer not knowing Atlan or at a stretch Lhote, I have a hard time seeing a "valuer of fine art" not knowing this style or being unable to make the link. Another portrait of Walter from 1937 was the leading painting in a Sotheby's sale in February of this year, with an estimate "upon request" and a sale price of just shy of £50,000,000...

Lot 1627 is "bearing an indistinct signature Misse" and estimated at £200 to £300. The "indistinct signature" is rather clearly "H. Matisse"... A standing nude by Matisse starts at £500,000 or thereabouts.

Lot 1617 is  "bearing a signature De Komina", estimated £80 to £120. It is supposedly by Willem de Kooning, and worth some 100K for a real one.

Lot 1595 is "bearing a monogram Muntn" and estimated at £200 to £300. The signature is of Gabriele Münter, and if she really had pâinted something like this, it should be worth £100,000 or more.

If you want to, you can create your own blog post describing their "Carelle" (Corneille) "Bouher" (François Boucher, demonstrating that a major old master is more obviously a fake at first sight), "Feining" (Feininger), "Stilan" (Steinlen), "" (Von Jawlensky), "a signature" (Chashnik),...

For some reason, they didn't bother to "misread" the signature on their "Munch", "Nolde", "Magritte" or "Jorn".

Misreading or not recognising an artist or signature happens at many auctions, and especially with older works the addition of aprocryphal signatures afterwards is commonplace. But I have never seen such a display of misreading signatures from truly major modern artists in one auction; if these were real, you would get a very, very nice start towards a museum of modern art for a few thousands pounds in total.

An auction house which claims to have fine art expertise but is this incompetent should probably just close its doors, as both buyers and sellers would be best advised to stay away from it at all costs.

It's also weird that some works which have been sold at the previous auction, are now again for sale. Like a "Louis Wain" (right...) sold for £220 in March, and now again for sale with the same description for £150 to £250.

Looking at the results from that previous comparable sale, I note that luckily most items fail to sell (well, "sell" for £40 or so, no idea if any real sale happened then); but some works seem to have fooled a buyer anyway. A "monogram CK" (which aims to be a work of Cal Kylberg, but fails) sold for £5400, which is £5350 too much. They also sold 2 "Kurt Schwitters" (hey, they knew the name then) at £380 each.

In January they sold quite a few things using this tactic, including another André Lhote (then read as "Alha O?", whatever) for £1200. Oh, and another one, this time signed "A Chote", for £2,200. They must be laughing their pants of cataloguing  these things. Mind you, you could just as easily have fooled your self into buying an "E B-J" drawing (no, they had no idea who that could be, never heard of Edward Burne-Jones, sorry!) for £3200, or a fake Alechinsky for £680 (which is now again for sale for £100 to £200, or are the fakers simply making multiple copies of the same work?).

Looking through my older blog posts, I notice that I have highlighted some Eastbourne works in the past, sometimes with reservations, sometimes just as a bargain. In retrospect, this was stupid, as those sales all had more or less the same problems as this current one does (athough this one seems to be the most blatant and featuring the biggest names). My advice from now on is never deal with Eastbourne auctions in any way.


  1. To add to your list:
    - lot 1620: A.H. = Adolf Hitler?
    - lot 2260: Jane Sobet = Janet Sobel?
    - lot 2167: E. Palthasl = Edward Potthast?

    1. Thank you! Yes, quite a few others can be found (though I hadn't noticed these).

  2. Thanks for yet another interesting post!
    But I cannot see what the auction house is doing wrong. They are not making any untrue claims or adventurous attributions (unlike most of their colleagues). The misreading of signatures is not misleading (quite the opposite), and not even the prices suggest the authenticity of the works. Take, e.g., lot 1632: It is not described in any way as by Picasso; to my knowledge it is not even a copy of a known work, whilst it shows some similarities with portraits of MTW from about that time; it appears to have some age to it (if I read the photos correctly, one can see the difference between darkened varnish and the cleaner one near the edge); and it comes in a nice cassetta frame. So if nothing else, it is a very decent replica or re-imagining of a Picasso. Seems a bargain at £80-120. The same is true of many of the other works you pointed out. If anyone suspects more behind these, they are free to view, investigate, and speculate. As always at auction: caveat emptor!

  3. Either they don't know that they are selling fakes, and they really can't decipher these signaturs and recognis these styles and subjects. Which means that they are a terrible fine art auctioneer and valuator, and no one should do business with them. Or they have no problem deciphering these signatures and know fully well that they are selling fakes, but instead of telling the buyers this (the best would be not selling these at all, but at least they could tell us that they are selling a "nude with an apocryphal Matisse signature" instead of what they are doing now).

    What they are doing now is either incredibly incompetent, or very immoral (not a lawyer, so no idea if it is technically criminal in that case or not). Speculating on the lack of knowledge and the greed many art buyers may have, and knowingly selling forgeries (en masse, month after month) is being misleading for financial gain.

    The "Picasso" has some age to it, for values of age counted in months.

  4. I know what you mean. Immorality or incompetence (but not criminality - I once checked with the Scotland Yard Art Department!) may play a role. But in that case, most auction houses are either incompetent or immoral. Why would 'with an apocryphal signature X' be so much better than 'signed X' or 'indistinctly signed X'? Others would call it 'after', 'in the manner of', 'follower of', or 'school of' - equally meaningless and at least as misguiding, but it happens everywhere, and generally buyers seem to be aware of what these terms mean.

    In Eastbourne's defence: I once sold something through them of which I was convinced that it was 'by artist X'; but they had their doubts and catalogued it as 'after artist X'. In the end, the sale price suggested that the bidders agreed with me. So, in this case I found Eastbourne Auctions overly careful, but it really does not matter, because buyers will decide for themselves what a painting is worth.
    I also wonder how many of these doubtful works will appear a week later as 'by' with a huge price ticket - I don't just mean on Ebay, but also in 'respectable' galleries in Mayfair where their authenticity is seen as a given. If you have investment bankers as customers who will pay £100000, it is worth buying the painting at Eastbourne for £10000 ...

    Finally, if all these works were recent forgeries, someone would have gone to a lot of trouble in ageing them, sourcing and attaching old gallery labels, etc. - a lot of effort for £100 or even £1000. When someone in my uncle's shop asked whether something was an antique or a replica, he used to answer 'if it was a replica, I could not sell it so cheaply' :)

  5. "Why would 'with an apocryphal signature X' be so much better than 'signed X' or 'indistinctly signed X'?" Because it wouldn't be lying? Claiming that you are selling a work signed A Lhote but that the work isn't actually BY Lhote, is selling a fake (or at least a work with a fake signature), but not trying to deceive anyone about it; selling three works with a Lhote signature but each time "failing" to recognise the signature and giving three fanciful different readings is deceiving your customers into thinking that you (the auction house) are incompetent, that you failed to recognise a genuine valuable painting, and that therefor the customer has the chance to buy a good work at bargain prices.

    Auction houses making errors is normal, it's what my blog is largely based on (adding plenty errors of my own at the same time!); but auction houses deliberately making many errors in the hope that they can deceive buyers is not normal, and this is the only fine art auction house in the UK (or in Western Europe) which seems to do this on such a scale.

    1. Well, claiming that a painting is signed 'A Lhote' whilst it is actually signed 'A Lhote' is not lying, but simply describing it. As long as they don't suggest, either in their description or through the estimate, that is is a genuine work when it is obviously not, I can't see anything wrong with it. I prefer that to an 'attributed to' with an estimate of 50% of the value of the real thing.
      Mind you, without examining some of the works at Eastbourne 'in the flesh', I could not say with any certainty whether they are genuine or not - but then I would not bid £5000 unless I had done so.

      I would not want to speculate on the level of ignorance at provincial auction houses, but they are 'experts' on anything from secondhand TV sets to African tribal art. How deep is their knowledge in all these areas likely to be? And their business model relies on bulk; i.e., selling 1000 items every month with an average commission of £30. In this model, it is better and safer to play (or be) stupid and let the market decide than having to research each lot and back up claims about its authenticity - never mind if one or the other masterpiece goes unnoticed that way. By contrast, I have one lot going under the hammer at Sotheby's soon, and I am amazed at the time and energy which they are pouring into their research - no problem if one only holds two sales of about 100 lots each year! And still, even among the 'big boys', faith plays a major role: The very same department at Christie's that straightaway turned down some pieces as inauthentic when I sent them in through their online platform, was entirely convinced of their authenticity when a little later I brought them in person and with the recommendation of a major gallery. So which one is it?
      I think what Eastbourne is doing is a combination of the bulk-selling model and the principle of safety in ignorance. That does not mean that all the works they sell are forgeries or that they are consciously deceiving anyone. I have bought quite happily from them, but - as with any auction, big or small - I know that I need to make up my own mind about a piece and its value, do my research, and get advice where necessary.

    2. "Well, claiming that a painting is signed 'A Lhote' whilst it is actually signed 'A Lhote' is not lying, but simply describing it. As long as they don't suggest, either in their description or through the estimate, that is is a genuine work when it is obviously not, I can't see anything wrong with it." yes, but that is what decent auction houses do: Eastbourne claim it is not signed A Lhote but something else (each time something different though), and they do this with nearly all their fakes. They are not doing "safety in ignorance", they are deceiving people in either their expertise (they don't claim to be a country auction house which sells everything, they specifically claim to be a fine art auctioneer and valuator) or in what they sell. They charge 20% seller costs, and 24% buyer's costs: for that price, one may expect more expertise and honesty, otherwise they are just a very expensive variation on Ebay and the like, where you also get zero guarantee and zero expertise.

  6. "Finally, if all these works were recent forgeries, someone would have gone to a lot of trouble in ageing them, sourcing and attaching old gallery labels, etc. - a lot of effort for £100 or even £1000." The Goldberg has a rather stupid label (and reuses a title he really used in 1958 fo a 1960 work) and a cheap frame, the Feininger has no labels or frame...

    Forging something like the Lawrence Alma Tadema study for "the siesta" from the Prado (sorry, I mean lot 1556 "bearing an indistinct signature Stla...lad?", which they couldn't decipher even though the reverse has a clearly readable "Tadema" on it?? really doesn't take that much effort, no matter if it was done today or fifty years ago. Getting so many modern fakes together every few months, and still not knowing anything about the most obvious modern masters, now that does take a lot of effort.

    1. Incidentally, assuming for argument's sake that the Alma Tadema is definitely a forgery: It is nicely done! I would happily have it for £50, but I would be surprised if it went for less than £400.

      I just checked for an ok handpainted reproduction in oil of a Munch, 50 x 70 cm in an off-the-peg frame: $700 - and not nearly as convincing as some of Eastbourne's £100 lots!

      Anyway, I will be watching the auction with great interest.

      Keep up the good work - I always enjoy your posts!

    2. Opinions may differ on how convincing the Eastbourne fakes are, I haven't really seen any in the current auction that would please me. But thanks for the kind words, I'll continue posting, mostly about old masters though!

  7. Fascinating post, thank you. I just took a look at the sale results...Oh my! Would be very interested to hear your take on the prices achieved especially lot 1632.

  8. There is another sale coming up at Eastbourne with many 'hidden treasures', with quite a few unrecognised (?) works from the early 20th century Munich school (Marc, Liebermann, Jawlensky, Corinth et al.).

  9. I know this auction room well and have seen these 'modern masterpieces' arrive in bulk at their premises.They are painted by one person and are all,without exception,unconvincing pieces of rubbish.

  10. So you are also not convinced by their portrait of Jane Austen, where they just failed to see all the clues of the national treasure they had? Their greed knows no bounds, it seems.

  11. Eastbourne Auction Rooms have been peddling these spurious artworks for too long - it is so sad that there are sufficient new incoming purchasers into auction rooms that they can continue to get good prices for paintings which are clearly set out to deceive the unwitting bidder. Every dealer now knows not to touch 80% of their picture lots - its just a shame the auction room hosting sites dont investigate this activity and strike them off. Both them and Crows Auction Galleries are continually getting this 'modified' stuff in and should be avoided in my opinion.

  12. I haven't looked at Crows Auction Galleries yet, thanks for the tip! But yes, sites like The Saleroom should simply remove this auction house as being unreliable or having too low standards compared to what they pretend to be.

  13. An interesting example, with no artist name in the description but a picture of the back where a suitable aged label gives the mysterious clues

  14. Just looking at the November 2018 Eastbourne selection of mostly duff paintings,
    good for a laugh, but a shame if people waste their money
    (as I did when I first started).
    I suspect the same dealer(s) are taking advantage of the
    auctioneers lack of knowledge and regularly putting in
    dozens of copies, perhaps even made to order....buyer beware.

  15. Description:

    Man with a bicycle, watercolour, bearing a signature possibly Trolelyon and label verso, mounted and framed, 48cm x 32cm

    one photo even shows the back of the frame 'Trevelyan'

    protecting themselves or down right theft? just remember how much they earn on fees from selling these fakes - as bad if not worse than those who forge the artwork as this auction house perpetuates it and allows for it. Such pretending to not notice is criminal and should be treated as criminal.

    oh come on.....…
    or a Keith Vaughan anyone??

    from Saturday Collective Auction 10th Nov 2018

    Tantamount to theft - this auction house cannot be respected or trusted.

  16. Why do people think they are experts;I have been fooling the grownup ones for years yours billy the brush mumford