Russian Art Historian Elena Basner Faces Fraud Charges

The controversial trial of St Petersburg art historian Elena Basner is now underway, the Art Newspaper reports. Basner is accused of being involved in the sale of a forgery of In the Restaurant (1913) by Boris Grigoriev to Russian art collector and dealer Andrei Vasilyev. Vasilyev claims that Basner, and the State Historical Museum, which owns the original, both knew the work he bought was a fake.

Elena Basner is considered an authority on Russian avant-garde art and her arrest has been described as “an insult to the entire Russian intelligentsia.”

The knotty history of the alleged fraud started in May 2009, when Basner was approached by Estonian Mikhail Aranson to check the authenticity of a Grigoriev gouache. Basner examined the painting and told Aranson the picture was genuine.

During her examination, as rusartnet.com reports, Basner visited Leonid Shumakov, an expert on Grigoriev, to see if the gouache was was listed in Shumakov’s landmark book on the artist (it was not).

Shumakov expressed an interest in acquiring the hitherto unknown work for resale, and bought it from Aranson for $200,000. In July 2009, Shumakov sold the gouache to Vasilyev for $250,000, presenting Basner with $20,000.

But several months earlier the gouache had been examined by Yulia Rybakova who deemed it a forgery. Unawares, Vasilyev loaned the work to the Kournikova Gallery in Moscow, where Rybakova recognized the painting.

According to TAN, Vasilyev accuses Basner of telling him that the fake was at the State Historical Museum, where she previously worked, and claims that the museum offered to provide a certificate of authenticity.

Basner had previously said she believed the Russian art market was flooded with fakes. She stated she did not realize the painting was a forgery. She accused Vasilyev of trying to distract from the fact that he subsequently sold the painting for almost a million dollars to a Moscow financier.

For more on forgeries of Russian avant-garde art, see New Details Emerge in Russian Avant-Garde Forgery Ring Case.


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