Greenwich, Connecticut-based collector, Richard McKenzie, is suing Forum Gallery owner Robert Fishko for $390,000, over a purported Pierre-Auguste Renoir painting, Girl with a Hat, that he purchased in 2000, and which he claims he recently learned is a fake.
McKenzie, who filed suit in Superior Court in Stamford last week, alleges that Fishko convinced him that his source for the painting was a woman in Paris who was in financial trouble and needed to sell her work immediately, and therefore at a lower price, of $325,000, rather than the $500,000 purported fair market value. According to McKenzie’s claim it was “a scene right out of the ‘Bourne Supremacy’ movies. Fishko and McKenzie first had to ‘rendezvous’ with Fishko’s French contact, who led them through the back-alleys of Paris to a dimly lit apartment. Once at the apartment, they were met by a woman who supposedly had a treasure trove of valuable art that was heretofore not known to be available for sale.”
Asked for comment, Mr. Fishko emailed a statement to artnet News: “The allegations in the current action are completely false, and the scenario set out in the complaint is pure fiction. We vehemently deny the allegations, and we have documents that disprove what Mr. McKenzie says.”
McKenzie says at various points starting in 2004, he expressed interest in selling the work but was informed by Fishko that “it was not the proper time to sell,” according to the complaint. Mr. McKenzie eventually approached major auction houses on his own, but was told by Christie’s that the house “would not consider placing it for auction at all.” Meanwhile Sotheby’s specialists told him they would consider the painting “but only if it was authenticated by the Renoir Committee, the recognized authority on authenticating works by Renoir” according to court papers. Late last year, McKenzie had the painting shipped to Paris for review but was advised by the Renoir Committee that the work “was not by Renoir, in other words it was a fake and/or a forgery,” according to his claim.
The collector’s attorney, Eric Grayson, told artnet News “Mr. McKenzie is extremely upset not only over the fraud and forgery with respect to the painting but with the entire matter.” Clearly the dispute extends beyond this particular work.
According to Mr. Fishko: “I was forced (for my gallery) to sue him several years ago because he took a painting on approval and then refused either to return it or pay for it. I got a judgment and then had to have a State Marshal go to his premises to retrieve the painting as, even with the court order, he didn’t return it. This lawsuit is one of two he has brought since then. The first is in federal court in New York, where a judge is deciding whether to dismiss the suit.” In the interim the judge issued a stay of proceedings, during which Mr. McKenzie has now brought this case, Mr. Fishko says.
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