Christian Rosa, the Fallen Art Star Accused of Selling Forged Pettibon Paintings, Has Reportedly Been Arrested in Portugal

After going into hiding abroad, an Instagram post by the artist’s girlfriend may have given his location away.

Christian Rosa at CFA Photo: Maxime Ballesteros, courtesy Gallery Weekend Berlin

Christian Rosa, the former rising art star who was indicted this year on charges of selling fake Raymond Pettibon paintings, has reportedly been arrested. 

Rosa, 43, was picked up in Portugal and is currently in the process of being extradited to the U.S., according to Vanity Fair. In October, shortly after charges were brought against him by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the magazine pointed out that a picture posted on the Instagram page of the artist’s girlfriend, Austrian model Helena Severin, featured a water bottle bearing the label “Mil Fontes,” suggesting that the couple may be hiding out near Portugal’s Vila Nova de Milfontes.

The Vienna-based newspaper Der Standard further reported that an Austrian citizen—possibly Severin—was also detained by Portuguese authorities. However, the paper did not disclose a name.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office declined to comment on the reports. When asked about the next steps for Rosa following extradition, the representative explained that “the indictment charging the defendant is pending, so if and when he is in U.S. custody, [he] would be presented and arraigned in federal court here.” 

Rosa’s scheme allegedly took place between 2017 and 2020. During that time, he’s believed to have stolen four unfinished ink-and-watercolor works on paper from the studio of Pettibon—a friend and former mentor—then completed the artworks himself, creating fake certificates of authenticity for each. Rosa subsequently sold the forgeries on the second-hand market.

However, discerning collectors raised doubts about the legitimacy of at least one of the paintings, pointing to an uncharacteristic green tint found in the waves of an otherwise typical Pettibon surf scene. The artist’s text atop the paper also seemed unusually mannered. Alerted to the discrepancies, Pettibon’s studio reached out to authorities. 

He “swindled buyers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and risked a New York artist’s legacy, through his forgery scheme,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement upon filing charges against Rosa in October.  

The artist faces one count of wire fraud conspiracy, one count of wire fraud, and one count of aggravated identity theft. The wire fraud charges come with a maximum prison term of 20 years, while the identity theft charge carries a mandatory two-year sentence

Rosa’s supposed actions were first publicized by Artnet News in January of this year. A day after the article went live, the artist told an unidentified coconspirator in an email that “the secret is out,” according to documents quoted in the indictment. He fled the country in February. 

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