London Dealer Mark Weiss Pays Sotheby’s $4.2 Million to Settle a Dispute Over an Allegedly Fake Frans Hals

The purported Hals came from French dealer Guiliano Ruffini, who has sold numerous Old Masters that turned out to be fake.

Frans Hals, Portrait of a Man, one of a series of Old Master works sold by a French dealer that authorities now believe may be forgeries. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Hours before a trial was scheduled to start in London’s High Court over the sale of a possibly fake Frans Hals painting, UK dealer Mark Weiss announced that he had reached an “amicable” settlement with Sotheby’s, which sold the work on his behalf in 2011. Weiss has agreed to pay the auction house $4.2 million “without any admission of liability.” The terms of the settlement are otherwise confidential.

Sotheby’s brokered a private $11.2 million sale for the painting Portrait of a Gentleman in 2011. The previous year, Weiss paid $3.4 million for the work in a joint purchase with Fairlight Arts Venture, a London-based company run by collector David Kowitz. They bought it from French dealer Guiliano Ruffini, who has sold numerous Old Master works since revealed to be fakes.

In 2016, after the painting’s authenticity came into question, Sotheby’s repaid the buyer, Richard Hedreen, the full $11.2 million and has been trying to recoup the loss from Weiss as well as from Fairlight ever since.

Fairlight has argued that it shouldn’t have to return funds to Sotheby’s because it wasn’t a party to the auction house’s deal with Hedreen. “Nobody has proven that the piece is either genuine or a fake,” Fairlight attorney Nigel Rowley told Bloomberg. Sotheby’s refunded Hedreen “without proper evidence” and this “was not a decision that contractually they were required to take,” Rowley said.

“We are pleased to have resolved this litigation with Mark Weiss and we remain confident in our position against Fairlight Art Ventures LLP,” a representative for Sotheby’s told artnet News in a statement. “Clients transact with Sotheby’s because they know we will keep our promises if problems arise: we did so in the case of the painting Portrait of a Gentleman, which Sotheby’s concluded was a fake and not by Frans Hals.”

Weiss says he remains convinced that the painting is authentic based on the scientific testing of an expert he hired as well as “the overwhelming support of connoisseurs since the discovery of the work in 2010,” he said.

The dispute between Sotheby’s and Fairlight Art Ventures is still going to trial. Weiss also has ongoing legal claims with Fairlight, but declined to comment on them in his statement.

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