Notorious Forger Wolfgang Beltracchi Is Making Millions since Going Legit

The unrepentant painter is making big money with originals now.

Wolfgang Beltracchi and his lawyer Reinhard Georg Birkenstock on the first day of his trial. (Photo: Henning Kaiser dpa/lnw)
Wolfgang Beltracchi and his lawyer Reinhard Georg Birkenstock on the first day of his trial. Photo: Henning Kaiser dpa/lnw

Few people in the art world polarize opinion quite like Wolfgang Beltracchi. To some, the German master forger is a genius, but to others he’s the most infamous criminal in art history.

There are certainly plenty of people who have a problem with the fact that, since turning legitimate, the convicted criminal is still making millions of dollars off the notoriety he has gained from his 36-year career in art forgery.

The BBC reported that Beltracchi’s first solo exhibition since being released from prison in January opens this week at Munich’s Art Room 9 Gallery (see Master Forger Wolfgang Beltracchi Released from Prison).

Collectors paid millions for falsely attributed works by the likes of Pablo Picasso and Fernand Léger painted by Beltracchi. He duped experts, auction houses, museums, and even Max Ernst’s widow, that his creations were genuine (see Master Forger Wolfgang Beltracchi Claims He Saw His Painting in Albertina Museum).

Beltrachhi’s wife Helene sold the works to collectors and auction houses claiming she discovered the paintings in her family’s collection. The couple even created vintage-style photographs to fool specialists, in which Helene posed as her grandmother with the paintings hanging in the background.

The scam was eventually uncovered when the British expert Dr. Nicholas Eastaugh discovered the pigment titanium white in a forensic analysis of a painting purportedly by the Dutch artist Heinrich Campendonk. Titanium white did not exist in 1915, the year the painting was supposedly created. In 2011 Beltrachhi was sentenced to six years in prison and Helene, to four.

Explaining the exhibition title Freiheit (freedom), Beltracchi told the BBC “The first meaning is I am free now. I am free and I must not go back to prison. The Second is I am free to paint, not exactly in the handwriting of other artists. I can do whatever I want.”

DW reported that the exhibition–which includes 24 paintings–already attracted international interest before it even opened. The most expensive work reportedly costs €78,000 ($88,500).

In December 2014, while he was still serving his sentence, a Swiss gallerist sold out an exhibition featuring Beltracchi’s work, netting over €650,000 ($737,000). The gallery was subsequently expelled from the Swiss art dealer’s association (see Master Forger Wolfgang Beltracchi Gets A Gallery Show).

However, his Munich gallerist, Curtis Briggs, is not concerned about the exhibition having similar consequences. “I believe in democracy and Wolfgang has done his time,” he told the BBC.

“Whoever criticizes me just wants revenge—or they are jealous,” Beltracchi told DW.


Follow artnet News on Facebook:


Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.
  • Access the data behind the headlines with the artnet Price Database.

Share