Master Forger Wolfgang Beltracchi Gets a Gallery Show

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

Art forger Wolgang Beltracchi might still have a decent chunk of time left on his prison sentence, but he’s already preparing for life outside the slammer. And in his new career, it’s his name he signs at the bottom of the paintings.

Last week, a show of Germany’s infamous fraudster opened at Galerie Christine Brügger in Bern. According to the Local, the exhibition gathers “Picassos,” ‘Ernsts,” “Matisses,” and, well, quite a few pure Beltracchis too.

Gallery owner Christine Brügger told the Berner Zeitung she was “fascinated” by the forger’s technique, and explained how she drove to his Cologne jail to offer him a show.

“I thought that was very brave,” the forger told the Swiss newspaper, “I spontaneously said yes.”

Beltracchi and his wife forged an estimated 300 works over a 35-year period (see “What You Need to Know about Master Forger Wolfgang Beltracchi’s Latest Antics”). He was found out when experts spotted anachronistic pigments in one of his forgeries and was sentenced to six years in jail in 2011.

Beltracchi hopes his new career will help set his life back on track, after he is released next January. So far things are looking pretty good: according to the Berner Zeitung, one of the collages in the show comes with a $148,151 price tag.

He wouldn’t be the first forger to successfully go legit. Once uncovered, several high-profile fraudsters have made a career out of their artistic skills. John Myatts—once dubbed “the biggest art fraud of the 20th century” by Scotland Yard—is now producing “legitimate fakes,” which can fetch up to £15,000 a pop. And recently bidders fiercely fought over drawings by forger Eric Hebborn (see “Master Forger’s Drawings Spur Bidding Frenzy”).

Gallerist Brügger is convinced of Beltracchi’s talent. “Such a painting belongs in a museum,” she said of the aforementioned collage. The irony, of course, is that, in all likelihood, several of his masterpieces already are in museums, lying unsuspected.


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