Bankrupt Art Investor Accused of Hiding $31 Million JMW Turner Painting From Authorities

Jonathan Weal used to work at an art investment fund. Photo: The Times

Jonathan Weal, a British former banker who filed for bankruptcy over £290,000 ($452,000) in unpaid debt, was seen discussing his £20 million ($31 million) J.M.W. Turner painting on English television, the Telegraph reports.

Unfortunately for Weal, Choy Mooi, the insolvency examiner assigned to his bankruptcy case, happened to be watching the program.

Weal casually told ITV News that he had bought Turner’s Fishing Boats in a Stiff Breeze (1805) for £3,700 ($5,700) at auction in 2004, and that the painting was close to being authenticated.

JMW Turner Fishing Boats in a Stiff Breeze (1805) Photo: The Telegraph

JMW Turner Fishing Boats in a Stiff Breeze (1805)
Photo via: The Telegraph

Prosecutors allege that, in 2012, as Weal declared his insolvency, insurers valued his painting at £400,000 ($620,000). The insurance value, moreover, increased to £20 million ($31 million) when it emerged that the artwork could be a long-lost Turner (see New World Record for J.M.W. Turner).

The former art investor now faces two charges of fraudulent non-disclosure of property in relation to his bankruptcy proceedings.

“On that very program the defendant was being interviewed with Fishing Boats in a Stiff Breeze, saying there was expert opinion that this was a painting by the famous Turner and possibly worth £20 million,” Mooi said (see Tate’s J.M.W. Turner Blockbuster Dazzles).

“Mr. Weal admitted he had believed the painting was a Turner since he first bought it in 2004 but said it was a ‘work in progress’ rather than an asset,” Mooi added.

The court also heard that Weal’s collection contained nine other potentially valuable works, including a pencil sketch by Pablo Picasso.

“[Weal’s] explanation that he believed the paintings had zero value and were disclosed by telling the official receiver that he owned only ‘second hand furniture’ is simply absurd,” Mooi declared.

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