Forged Painting Was Once in Collection of Steve Martin, German Police SayBy DAVE ITZKOFF
Sandee Oliver1:28 p.m. | Updated
In addition to his talents for creating comedy, writing books and playing the banjo, Steve Martin possesses an eye for art. But he apparently did not detect a forged painting that was in his collection for almost two years and was probably created by a ring of criminals who have been duping art buyers for decades, according to the German police.
In a report in Der Spiegel, the German newsmagazine, investigators for Berlin’s state criminal police office said the painting, called “Landschaft mit Pferden” or “Landscape With Horses” and said to be the work of the modernist artist Heinrich Campendonk, was authenticated by an expert before it was sold to Mr. Martin in July 2004 by the Cazeau-Béraudière gallery in Paris for 700,000 euros (about $850,000 then). Mr. Martin sold the work in February 2006 at a Christie’s auction, where it was purchased by a Swiss businesswoman for 500,000 euros.
But the German investigators said that the painting was probably created by Wolfgang Beltracchi, the accused leader of a multimillion-dollar forgery ring, who with his wife, Helene, and her sister, Jeanette, and another accused forger, Otto Schulte-Kellinghaus, are suspected of selling dozens of fake paintings attributed to Campendonk, Fernand Léger, Max Ernst and others. The ring, which sold paintings it said came from the collection of Werner Jägers, a Cologne businessman and the grandfather of the two sisters, has been operating since the 1990s, and its members have been charged with fraud.
Mr. Martin, who is not accused of any wrongdoing, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday that he was not aware his painting was a forgery when he purchased it nor when he sold it. “It wasn’t clear that it was a fake until after Christie’s had sold the picture, it was a long time after that, that it became known,” he said.
Though Mr. Martin was unsure if he had any legal liability resulting from the sale of the painting, he said, “The gallery that sold me the picture has promised to be responsible to me, if I’m responsible, but it’s still unclear.”
Mr. Martin said he had purchased forged artworks “once or twice in my life” previously, “and each time you become more and more cautious.”
“You always have to guard against it,” Mr. Martin said, adding that in this case, “The fakers were quite clever in that they gave it a long provenance and they faked labels, and it came out of a collection that mingled legitimate pictures with faked pictures.”
With a mordant chuckle, he added: “Of course, they’re all in jail now.”