The Ex-Wife of Disgraced Art Dealer Helge Achenbach Must Pay $1.2 Million to the Heirs of a Major Supermarket Chain

Dorothee Achenbach has been found to have negligently sold unauthorized copies of artworks as originals.

Dorothee Achenbach, the ex-wife of art consultant Helge Achenbach. Photo: Rolf Vennenbernd/dpa/picture alliance via Getty Images.
Dorothee Achenbach, the ex-wife of art consultant Helge Achenbach. Photo: Rolf Vennenbernd/dpa/picture alliance via Getty Images.

A German court has ruled that art historian Dorothee Achenbach, the ex-wife of formerly jailed German art fraudster Helge Achenbach, must pay €980,000 ($1.2 million) in damages to the heirs of the Aldi supermarket chain.

The decision was made yesterday, February 2, in Düsseldorf’s higher regional court.

In 2009, Dorothee Achenbach sold four life-size sculptures purportedly by Spanish artist Juan Munoz to Aldi co-owner Berthold Albrecht, who died in 2013, for a total of €1 million. The court has found that the four works were unauthorized replicas worth a mere €20,000.

Achenbach claimed during the trial that the four sculptures were a gift from her then-husband, saying she did not unpack them “for years and knew nothing about their exact origin.”

Munoz created 22 original works and had them reworked, selling the group of four replicas from the original casting to Helge, who gifted them to his wife, who later re-sold them to Albrecht.

According to the ruling, Achenbach was aware of a conversation between her then-husband and the artist establishing that the works were replicas, and that it was her duty to inquire whether the figures she received from her husband were originals before she sold them.

Achenbach tells Artnet News that she is being held liable for a transaction for which her “ex-husband was solely responsible,” adding that she feels “victimized” by the ruling.

“Due to the longstanding friendship between the artist and my ex-husband, I had no reason to distrust him or to doubt the authenticity of the sculptures in question,” she says.

“An expert opinion from two proven experts who examined the works in detail confirms the professional stamping of the bronze figures by both the artist and an internationally renowned art foundry,” she adds.

She says she will explore the possibility of an appeal with her legal team.

The Achenbachs and Albrechts paths have crossed before. Heirs of Albrecht sued Helge Achenbach for allegedly defrauding Berthold Albrecht of €16 million in hidden price markups on artworks and collectible cars.

The defendant was sentenced in 2015 to six years in prison for 18 counts of fraud. He was released early in 2018, and was sentenced to repay Albrecht’s heirs €16 million in damages. His properties were also seized. He and his wife had since divorced.

In 2016, Dorothee Achenbach published a book, Everyone Now Knows My Dirty Laundry, about the fall of her famous husband. Helge Achenbach published his own memoir, Self-Destruction: Confessions of an Art Dealer, in 2019.


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