Gallery Owner Arrested Over Allegedly Fake $1.9 Million Versailles Chairs
The reputation of one of Paris's oldest galleries is on the line.
An alleged antique forgery scandal at Versailles has led to the arrest of antiques dealers Laurent Kraemer, head of Paris’s venerable Kraemer Gallery, founded in 1875, and chair specialist Bill Pallot, reports the Telegraph.
The French art fraud office, the Office Central de Lutte Contre le Trafic des Biens Culturels (OCBC), has been investigating the pair since 2012, on a tip from another French antiques dealer, Charles Hooreman, a expert in 18th-century chairs.
The Kraemers have been mainstays in the antiques dealing business for generations, with a 2007 Forbes profile on the gallery noting that “many 18th-century pieces in the Louvre, the Metropolitan and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts have passed through the hands of one Kraemer or another.”
Part and parcel of that business was secrecy: “Kraemer is over-the-top discreet; one is always being reminded that one is never supposed to talk about the things one buys,” a longtime client told Forbes.
Kraemer and Pallot sold Versailles a set of four medallion back chairs in 2009, claiming they were Louis Delanois originals. Investigators now suspect at least two of the chairs, purchased for €1.7 million ($1.9 million) may be copies.
On a page detailing recent acquisitions, Versailles explained that the chairs are “National Treasures” and were among a group of 13 created for the Palace living room in 1769, where they belonged to countess du Barry, Louis XV’s last mistress. Over the last 20 years, Versailles has bought back 10 of the original set of chairs, plus one known 19th-century copy.
However, Hooreman came to suspect there were too many reported chairs in the set floating around for some to not be fakes, as there should be 12 extant chairs. (Louis XV’s personal chair, which was slightly larger, is thought to be lost.)
“Versailles has 10, [a] Swiss collector two, and I know another that is impeccable belonging to a Parisian collector,” he told Le Monde. “That’s a lot.” Hooreman has examined Kraemer’s chairs, and claims to see evidence they were made more recently.
Because furniture-making techniques underwent few changes up until World War II, said one antique furniture restorer to Le Monde, it is sometimes difficult to differentiate true antiques from more recently-built pieces and outright forgeries.
The Kraemer Gallery is adamant that he sold the Palace the genuine article. “The Kraemer Gallery has never produced any kind of fake furniture of any sort,” a gallery representative assured artnet News in a phone conversation. “We have never have sold something we had doubts on.”
If the chairs do prove to be copies, he added, “of course we are victims… we considered them to be authentic, like the French authorities.”
In a press release translated by artnet News, Versailles noted that it was following the case “with the greatest attention” and “reserves the right to take legal action.”
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