Is Leading Art Expert Actually a Master Forger?

According to a story in the Sydney Morning Herald, Melbourne art expert and conservator Muhammad Aman Siddique, 62, has been charged with forging paintings purported to be by Brett Whiteley, one of Australia’s leading artists, whose works have fetched as much as $3.7 million ($3.9 million in Australian dollars, AUD) at auction.

The report employs some unusual language to describe a total of four charges against Siddique; one says he “obtained a AUD$2.5 million financial advantage by deception for himself and others by producing a purported Whitely painting—Lavender Bay—and then fraudulently selling it as a genuine work.” Similar charges leveled at Siddique involve another purported Whiteley, Orange Lavender Bay, which is valued at AUD$1.1 million.

One charge says he “dishonestly obtained…a financial advantage by deception of AUD$950,000” for dealer Peter Gant, who has also been named in all four of the same charges. The offenses Siddique is charged with allegedly took place between 2007 and 2010, and involved paintings dating from 1998.

Prosecutors say Siddique “manufactured” the works at his home and then “falsely marked” and promoted them as the work of Whiteley, resulting in a substantial boost in value for the works. Pieces that were seized were examined by an expert at the University of Melbourne who had chemical analysis performed on them.

However, there seems to be some discrepancy about whether or not law enforcement officials were authorized to seize artworks. An attorney for Siddique argued that search warrants executed earlier this year by police were “unlawful.”

According to one media report, police at one point agreed to return an artwork worth AUD $1 million to Siddique after investigators had seized work by other prestigious Australian artists including Charles Blackman, Arthur Streeton, and Fred Williams. Judge Lance Martin heard testimony that descriptions in the search warrants did not match those of the seized items.

Martin has ajourned the case until September 9 for his decision.

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