Ben Hills investigates

There is silence in court 8D as the man in the witness box unrolls a length of heavy, white paper and peers intently through his glasses at the crudely graphic charcoal drawing of a naked couple having sex. In the corner is the monogram BW, the hallmark of the late Brett Whiteley, the enfant terrible of Australian art and one of the country’s most widely known and highly priced artists.

Eventually William Blundell turns to the judge. “There’s no doubt I did it,” he says. “It’s one of those crude Whiteleys. Some of them you have to be in the mood for, and I’m not into heroin or [other] drugs.”

For the next hour, Blundell examined painting after painting, an honour roll of Australian and international art of the past century. There were works bearing the initials or signatures of William Dobell, Arthur Boyd, Sidney Nolan, Lloyd Rees, Arthur Streeton, Russell Drysdale, Charles Blackman – even Picasso, Jackson Pollock and the godfather of Impressionism, Claude Monet.

Eventually, as night fell and the street lights came on in the surrounding Phillip Street legal precinct, Blundell completed his appraisal. Of 161 artworks brought to the court, he could certify that all but 23 were the work not of the artist whose name appeared on the painting, but of William Blundell, aged 52, furniture dealer and amateur painter extraordinaire, of Elizabeth Bay.

The until now unreported denouement that began with that Supreme Court case earlier this month is certain to rock the Australian art industry to its foundations. It can now be revealed that for more than 20 years works of art for which investors and collectors have paid thousands of dollars, believing them to be genuine, have in fact been copies knocked off for $200 or less in a tiny studio overlooking Sydney Harbour.

Blundell calls them “innuendos” and colours with anger at any suggestion that he was mass-producing fakes – the paintings were, he says, never intended for sale as the genuine article. They were given away or sold for next to nothing, intended to be used only “for decorative purposes”, not to deceive collectors.

But, somehow, many of those works have found their way onto the market – mostly through small, uncatalogued sales. But at least one “early Australian Impressionist work” Blundell says he painted was sold through the Melbourne branch of the international auction house Christie’s.

Another Blundell creation – a beach scene attributed to Arthur Streeton – was acquired for the collection of the late West Australian merchant banker Laurie Connell. A doctor paid $30,000 for 11 “Brett Whiteleys” Blundell thinks it “highly likely” he drew. Literally hundreds of other Blundell “innuendos” hang undetected in corporate art collections, dealers’ premises and possibly even art galleries.

Since he began painting more than 30 years ago, Blundell’s output has been prodigious – he claims he has done between 3,500 and 4,000 paintings and drawings. “The Whiteleys are easy,” he boasts. “I can do 20 or 30 sketches in a couple of hours.” Now the Australian art world faces the herculean task of sorting out the Blundells from the Nolans, Drysdales and Dobells – and the possibility that so many “innuendos” are in circulation (Blundell admits to having turned out more than 200 “Whiteleys” alone) that the reputation of some important artists may be irreparably damaged, not to mention the confidence of buyers in the integrity of the entire art market. AS SHE lay dying of breast cancer in St Vincent’s Private Hospital, Germaine Curvers turned to her old friend Will Blundell. “The only mistake I made,” she said in her throaty French accent, “was I sold too many, and I didn’t charge enough.”

The late Germaine Marie Françoise Toussaint Curvers is the other main figure in this saga, which saw Australian art collectors shell out hundreds of thousands – perhaps even millions – of dollars for works by an unknown artist painting in an unvisited attic.

For more than 20 years “Germaine”, as her friends called her, was a larger than life figure around the Australian art world. An effusive, gangling woman usually dressed in a vivid blue or green pants suit, with a glass of champagne in one hand and a cigarette smouldering in a holder in the other, she would gush “Dahling!” to all and sundry.

Born in Belgium, she migrated to Australia in 1950 and married John Curvers, now aged 77, who made a multi-million-dollar fortune in real- estate development. They lived in a mansion in swanky Woollahra, and had a son, Patrick, now aged 46, and a daughter, Sabrina McMahon, 41.

Blundell, who knew her for 24 years, describes Curvers as a “a lovely person, a very alert, very shrewd businesswoman”. As well as her Australian art dealing, Blundell says she spent several years overseas and was involved in ventures including attempts to sell meat to the Middle East, chateaux in France and a painting she said was a Rembrandt which formed the centrepiece of an exhibition she once staged in Sydney.

At the time of her death in April last year at the age of 71 she had amassed what is undoubtedly one of the largest private art collections in Australia. On the walls of the Woollahra house where her widower is confined with emphysema hang more than 1,000 paintings – in her gallery, the now-closed Windsor Gallery in Windsor Street, Paddington, and in storage, were at least another 1,000.

What broke this story open publicly was a bitter dispute over Germaine Curvers’s estate – principally those paintings. Many of them are “innuendos” by William Blundell and of little value, but at least one is the genuine article, a huge, dark seascape in a massive golden frame by the Melbourne-born Emanuel Phillips Fox, which Curvers apparently bought 10 years ago for $90,000, and which may be worth twice that now.

Four days before her death, Curvers summoned Blundell to her bedside and dictated a will that he typed up and that she signed in front of witnesses. That will leaves nothing to her husband and her son – Blundell gave evidence that was her intention – appoints Blundell executor, and directs that the estate be divided between other relatives and friends, including Blundell, and the Cancer Council, the Salvation Army and the AIDS Foundation.

Blundell told the court it had been a deeply unhappy marriage for many years, and Curvers had told him before her death that “John doesn’t care; he would not be interested in my money”.

Blundell has applied to have the will probated as he says she dictated it. John Curvers is contesting this – he says the beneficiaries should include himself and his son, and claims that his wife was not of sound mind, memory or understanding when she signed the will, and was under the influence of Blundell. The case stands adjourned until November.

It was in the lead-up to the case that John Curvers began to have doubts about the authenticity of some of the paintings hanging on the walls of his house. He called in a number of art experts, and produced to the court a list of almost 200 works which he claimed were, unknown to his wife, “forgeries”.

Far and away the most valuable, if real, were three abstracts signed Picasso and one by Jackson Pollock – the National Gallery in Canberra recently paid $3 million for a “tiny” Picasso, one art expert says. There were 124 oils and drawings with Brett Whiteley’s initials on them: the going rate for an authentic Whiteley drawing is $15,000 to $25,000.

Then there were works apparently signed by the following famous Australian artists: Charles Blackman, Russell Drysdale, Emanuel Phillips Fox, Fred Williams, Arthur Boyd, William Dobell, Jeffrey Smart, Sidney Nolan, Lloyd Rees, John Peter Russell and Arthur Streeton.

Court 8D came to resemble an untidy auction room as oil paintings were piled against the walls and chairs and drawings were stacked on the bar table. At one stage in the proceedings there was a loud crash as a “Monet” fell over, breaking a piece off the frame of a “Picasso” with a sticker on its back proclaiming it to be Le Faune 1934. (A Monet “water- lilies” painting brought a record $52 million at auction in London earlier this month.)

But what no-one on John Curvers’s side knew, until that dramatic evening when Will Blundell confessed, was who had really painted them. “Well, I did,” Blundell told the court. “They are not Brett Whiteley, full stop. They are impressions and innuendos [and] they were done on consignment for the deceased [Germaine Curvers] for decorative purposes. She was quite aware they were copies.” STUART Purves, an art expert from Melbourne who knew Whiteley for more than 20 years, found it hard to control his outrage as he examined the paintings from the witness box. “They are appalling fakes,” he said when shown some of the “Whiteleys”.

“People who don’t know about these works of art could be fooled by the name … I am particularly concerned as the Whiteleys are so appalling, because if they were on the market it could be damaging for Whiteley and the public at large.”

Of a “Jackson Pollock” he said: “It’s nothing short of a joke … Jackson Pollock is a major figure in the art world of America. This is insignificant doodles.”

Of a “Picasso”: “It’s hopeless. It’s appalling. It’s kindergarten … this is [done by] someone who should give up.”

Of a “Monet” painting of haystacks: “Leaden and heavy and has none of the magic that makes great art.”

“I hope you’re getting the point,” he told Justice William Windeyer. “I think they are terrible. It’s unfair to culture that they exist – they could fool the uninitiated and do a disservice to society.”

If they are so bad, one might legitimately ask how anyone would be stupid enough to pay thousands of dollars for one of Blundell’s “innuendos”, believing it to be the real thing – because there is personal and documentary evidence that this is just what many people did. The answer to that question goes to the heart of the relationship between the painter and the dealer.

Blundell was at first reluctant to talk outside the court about this relationship; he said his lawyers had advised him not to. However, he later relented and invited me to two long interviews at his flat, during which, over coffee and sandwiches, he disclosed more and more of the story, finally throwing caution to the wind and knocking off from memory a Brett Whiteley drawing of Whiteley’s wife, Wendy, pregnant with their daughter Arkie.

Will Blundell is a lean, suntanned man with close-cropped hair whose nickname is Panther, and who has an identical twin brother named John. He has gold teeth cappings and loves gold jewellery, loading himself up with earrings, necklaces, bracelets and four or five knuckleduster- sized rings for a photograph, quipping, “I hope this doesn’t make me look like a shirt-lifter”.

He has lived alone for many years in “the penthouse”, a small flat with wooden floors and beams and powder-blue walls perched on the roof of an old apartment block near historic Elizabeth Bay House. It has harbour views to die for, all the way to the Heads.

On the walls of his flat are some of his works – a young woman carrying a parasol, a beach scene and a Cairo mosque all in the style of Streeton, and a version of Tom Roberts’s famous The Flower Seller, which attracted attention some years ago when it proved to be good enough for five of the six galleries to which it was taken for appraisal to pronounce it genuine. Above the lavatory is a detail from Tom Roberts’s Adagio, a woman playing the violin, the original of which hangs in the Art Gallery of NSW.

Blundell said he studied art for 10 years under James Ranalph Jackson, a noted Australian who painted harbour scenes in the impressionist style. Jackson had a studio above a butcher’s shop in Blues Point Road, McMahons Point, and Blundell would take him a bottle of rum to warm him up.

He has never tried to make a secret of his love for copying the Australian impressionists. In fact in 1989 he staged an exhibition, Homage to the 9x5s, to mark the centenary of a famous impressionist exhibition, in which he mimicked more than 100 works of Streeton, Roberts and Charles Conder, painted on wooden panels the size of cigar box lids.

Blundell had been doing his so-called innuendos, copying some in art galleries, some from the stacks of art books that litter his studio, almost since he started painting. It began as a hobby – he says he gave many of his early paintings to friends – and then one day in the early 1980s Germaine Curvers visited his rooftop studio.

She was struck by a “Sidney Nolan” Ned Kelly he had been painting on commission, and asked Blundell whether he could also do some copies for her. It began with one or two – Curvers would “sling me a quid or buy me a meal” – and then built up to substantial commissions.

“She’d ask me to do some Whiteleys, and she’d say `I don’t like the size of that particular boob, can you make it larger or whatever’. I became pretty good at breasts,” he boasts, proudly producing a genuine “Will Blundell” of Susan Renouf with the Sydney Harbour Bridge over her left shoulder, a frangipani flower in her hair and her right breast fetchingly exposed.

Blundell says some of his early “innuendos” were unsigned or contained clues that they were not by the hand of the artist. He would weave the code words d’après into the hair of his figures, indicating that the work was “after”, not “by”, the artist. “If Germaine wanted 20 Blackmans I’d do them and sign them `Blackman’ not `Charles Blackman’.”

As time went by, however, Blundell became more skilled and began to put the signature of the artist on the painting. He insists that Curvers was “perfectly well aware” the paintings were by him, and he made no attempt to pass them off as originals. “She’s six feet under now, so they will have to take my word for it,” he says, when asked for evidence.

Clive Evatt, the barrister and noted art collector whose paintings (including a genuine Whiteley) hang on the walls of the Supreme Court, confirms that, unlike copying a banknote, there is no crime in copying a painting. “Go to the Louvre or the Art Gallery of NSW,” he says. “There are always artists around with easels copying paintings. They are not forgers.”

He says it is “much more problematical … a grey area … sailing close to the wind” to paint an “original” work in the style of an artist and put that artist’s name or monogram on it.

It becomes illegal when anyone tries to pass off a copy as the genuine work of the artist; that amounts to attempting to obtain money under false pretences, a breach of the Crimes Act that would render the perpetrator liable to imprisonment. The auctioneer – even if he did not know the painting was a fake – would be legally obliged to return the buyer’s money. BARRY Pearce, the head curator of Australian art at the Art Gallery of NSW, remembers well the time 20 years ago when Will Blundell and his brother used to bring him works for appraisal. “They used to come in with a `Tom Roberts’ or something that looked like the Heidelberg School just to see if we could tell they were not by the artist,” he says.

Pearce would point out the reasons the painting could not be genuine – the paint handling was not right, they did not look old enough, the white was too white because there was titanium in the pigment instead of old-fashioned lead. “Inadvertently I was coaching them,” he says. “After a while one of our curators said, `You had better button up – you are telling them how to improve their copies’, so we stopped giving them advice.”

But by then Will Blundell’s technique had improved enough to fool at least some of the experts some of the time. He told me some of his secrets – how Germaine Curvers provided him with old materials, including cedar panels to paint on, how he mixed brown colouring into the varnish and used old-fashioned colours like madder for flesh tones to make the paintings look older and more authentic.

He says he studied the technique of the English forger Tom Keating (see panel), who used zinc powder mixed with egg yolk in his paint to simulate craquelure, the fine surface crazing characteristic of old paintings. He even experimented with baking his “innuendos” in a microwave oven to artificially age them, but “it didn’t work – there were hundreds of little holes like blisters in the work”.

By now, says Blundell, “behind my back”, Germaine Curvers had begun infiltrating his “innuendos” onto the Australian art market. She used to haunt smaller auctions hunting for customers, often “stacked house” auctions where dealers handling a deceased estate “fill the house with fake paintings and Victorian antique furniture which are reproductions made of Indonesian rainforest timber which crack and fall to pieces after a few months”, according to the Sydney auctioneer Tim Goodman.

With hindsight, says Blundell, he realises that Curvers was making a note of the under- bidders at the auctions, then approaching them afterwards to invite them to visit her Paddington gallery, where she said she had works similar to those they had been bidding for. They were, in fact, often Blundell’s “innuendos”.

Records left by Curvers indicate that she also sold “innuendos” through local and interstate auction houses, where they were listed as the genuine works of the artist. One such auction house is Isles Love in Brisbane, where records show Curvers sold dozens of “Australian impressionist” paintings, many of them by Will Blundell.

Ross McBean, who is in charge of the auctioneer’s fine arts division, confirms that in the 1980s and early 1990s Curvers would fly to Brisbane several times a year with “five to seven works in a bag” which would be auctioned by Isles Love. The total number of paintings sold may have been 200.

The records, which McBean does not dispute, show many entries along the lines of one from July 1992 which shows that Curvers paid Blundell $120 for a “Brett Whiteley pastel wash `nude lady’ on board” that was auctioned at Isles Love four months later, and for which Curvers received $3,900, less 12.5 per cent commission.

McBean says that the auction house rejected a number of paintings because they were “not right”. Asked how anyone could tell the paintings were not the real article, he said: “If someone wants you to sell a Rolls-Royce for $5,000 you should know something’s not right.” Finally, in 1992, there was a “fairly large barney” after which an employee of Isles Love left, and Curvers was told her paintings would not be accepted for auction any more because of doubts about their authenticity. Asked what Isles Love would do if people demanded their money back as a result of this article, McBean said it would be dealt with “on a case-by-case basis” – the auction house normally had only a 14-day deadline for forgeries to be detected and returned.

Curvers’s closest call came two years later, in 1994, when a Paddington doctor who lived nearby saw some “Brett Whiteleys” in her gallery. The doctor, a first-time art buyer, eventually agreed to buy 11 of them for $30,000, having called in one “expert” who pronounced them genuine, and valued them for insurance purposes at $85,000.

But they were not, and after two other experts pronounced them fakes – simply removing the frames revealed the paper was fresh and the ink had not aged – the police were called in. No charges were laid, however, after Curvers agreed to refund the money, protesting to reporters that she had bought them “in good faith and from a good source” whom, of course, she would not name. Blundell is pretty sure they were his.

Around the same time, Nicholas Eddy, a Woollahra solicitor who had been representing Curvers in one of her numerous court cases, got a judgment against her for some fees he was owed. She was unhappy about paying an additional $1,200 or $1,500 in interest, says Eddy, and asked him whether he would accept “a Brett Whiteley” (he is positive that is what she said it was) in lieu.

“It was the characteristic sort of Whiteley nude, big bum and tits with that distinctive Japanese-style `BW’ in the corner, so I decided to accept it,” he says. Later, he realised he had been had and invited the artist’s widow to sign the back of the painting, “This is a FAKE – Wendy Whiteley.”

“She wanted me to destroy it,” Eddy says, “but I thought it was funny. I got a kick out of it.” The drawing, which Blundell says he is “pretty certain” was one of his “innuendos”, is still hanging on the lawyer’s wall. THE smaller auction houses, of course, were eager for business – some of them too eager to delve too deeply into the proven- ance, or history, of a painting. Blundell tells of detecting one of his “innuendos” listed as a work of Charles Conder in a Sydney auction in the early 1980s. “I went to the auctioneer to tell him that it was my work, and he said, `Piss off, mate, I’ll sell what I want’. It’s about making money – the whole art world is a racket.”

But it wasn’t just the small out-of-town auctioneers and first-time buyers who were fooled by the “innuendos”. Blundell grabs a glossy Christie’s catalogue of a December 1994 Melbourne auction from a drawer and proudly points to lot number 38, a splashy blue, white and purple painting described as “John Peter Russell (1859-1930). Fisherman – Belle Ile, gouache on paper, 24 x 22.5 cm.” “That’s one of mine,” he says, pointing out that Christie’s accepted it as an original, although it was not signed. The painting was sold for $4,830 to a Victorian buyer whose identity Christie’s will not disclose, and presumably still hangs undetected on his wall.

Roger McIlroy, the managing director of Christie’s in Australia, says that if the buyer can prove it is a fake – he will need to produce two certificates by “acknowledged experts”, not just Will Blundell’s word – then Christie’s will refund the purchase price any time within five years of the auction.

He says fakes “very rarely get through the major [auction] houses.” Asked whether scientific tests could be done, he says: “You do that with a Van Gogh because it’s worth $120 million. John Peter Russell is not in the same league.”

Other “innuendos” have brought even higher prices. A “Streeton” beach scene on a cedar panel Blundell believes was really painted by him somehow got into Laurie Connell’s collection. Tim Goodman says he was approached recently by a dealer trying to sell it for $120,000.

“I wouldn’t touch it because in my humble opinion it was not a genuine Streeton and it reminded me of a number of things I had seen by Will Blundell,” he says. “I’m not saying he [Blundell] did anything wrong – he’s a very colourful character, and the world would be a sadder place without the likes of the Will Blundells.”

Blundell says other paintings by him hang in the collection of Sir William Keys, the former chief of the RSL, and in private and corporate collections around Australia and New Zealand he is reluctant to identify. He is especially proud of a series depicting San Francisco before the 1906 earthquake which were sent to the United States for sale and from which “someone made a lot of money”.

Blundell says some of his best “Whiteleys” hang on the walls of I.S.P. Law in Elizabeth Street, Sydney. He was unable to settle a bill with the firm, and offered them some works in the style of Brett Whiteley instead. “They wanted six very large images, no nudes, so I painted a series of Olgas and palm trees.”

But the person who made the serious money out of the “innuendos” was not Blundell, the painter, but Curvers, the dealer. Her records, produced to the court, show that over 10 years she paid Blundell – always by cash or cash cheque – only about $40,000, typically $100 to $200 per painting.

Her profits were extraordinary – often, just by adding an old $50 frame, she could make a 2,000 per cent profit. “I nearly shit myself when I saw this – she never revealed the prices she was getting to me,” says Blundell, poring with a magnifying glass over a photocopy of a ledger in Curvers’s fine, crabbed handwriting in which she records how she disposed of the “innuendos”.

A “Brett Whiteley” called Weekend at Lavender Bay for which she paid Blundell $40 was sold for $1,600. A $100 “Lloyd Rees” pastel and watercolour went a few weeks later for $1,760. A $300 “William Dobell” oil brought $1,800. In 1994 she sold three “Brett Whiteley” ink drawings worth a total of $90 for $3,850. A $100 “Sidney Nolan” gouache auctioned for $2,100.

On and on and on goes the list until it should send shudders down the spine of every collector in the country. There is hardly an artist Blundell has not copied at some stage in his career, hardly a dealer Curvers did not approach.

Barry Pearce says the Art Gallery of NSW occasionally detects such “wrong ‘uns” at appraisal sessions it conducts for the public. “There is usually a stunned silence,” he says. “It often turns out that they have bought it at a little shop or a minor uncatalogued auction, though there are some shady types who mutter something about inheriting the work.”

He has been arguing for years that Australia should have a national electronic database on which fakes can be registered, “so you can go into a gallery or a police station and push a button and up come digitised images and you can say `Oh, yes, someone tried to sell that fake Whiteley in Adelaide a few years ago’.” The gallery does take photographs of any it detects “but we are not policemen – we can’t arrest the people who bring them in”.

He thinks some art forgers are motivated by the tall poppy syndrome and “get some fun out of fooling the experts”. But, he cautions: “It is not so funny when you think that people will get burnt who have spent their savings on what they thought was an investment.”

As for Will Blundell, he feels he owes no-one an apology. “My intentions were honourable. She [Curvers] was very manipulative and clever. She was interested in money and I think she got fun out of conning people – she had no regard for the dealers and so-called experts.”

Painters Who Forged a Place in History

ALCEO DOSSENA (Italian 1878-1937): Known as the “king of forgers”, he executed sculptures in styles ranging from ancient Greece to the Renaissance. From his studio in Rome he flooded the world with works buyers believed were by Giovanni Pisano, Simone Martini, Vecchietta, Donatello and Mino da Fiesole. After he sued his dealers, who he claimed had bilked him of millions of dollars when they sold his work as the real thing, Dossena enjoyed brief celebrity with an exhibition at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art before dying a pauper.

HAN VAN MEEGEREN (Dutch 1889-1947): The most brilliant of modern forgers, executed dozens of works seemingly signed by the 17th-century master Jan Vermeer of Delft. Using old pigments and a bakelite-type medium that acquired centuries of hardness after a few hours in the oven, his forgeries were so good they fooled all the experts, and hung in the Boymans Museum in Rotterdam for years. He was eventually caught and charged with selling a “Vermeer” to Herman Goering for Hitler’s collection and died in jail after being convicted of fraud.

ELMYR DE HORY (Hungarian 1906-1976): The most prolific and versatile of forgers, faking every important artist from Picasso to Renoir, Modigliani, Matisse, Vlaminck, Derain and Dufy and fooling art galleries around the world for 20 years. Between 1961 and 1967 alone he claimed to have forged $US60 million worth of paintings, which he sold to art galleries and Texan oil millionaires. Up to 90 per cent of his forgeries are still hanging undetected in museums and galleries, according to his biographer, Clifford Irving.

TOM KEATING (British 1917-1984): A jolly, bearded cockney house painter turned artist, Keating was caught in 1976 and eventually jailed for fraud when he tried to pass off 13 drawings as by the visionary British painter Samuel Palmer. He later confessed to having painted 2,000 “Sexton Blakes” (fakes), including works by Goya, Rembrandt, Constable, Sisley, Degas and Modigliani.

When Oils Ain’t Oils

Stephen Scheding had owned the painting for only a couple of days when he began to have doubts that what he had bought was really a bargain, a previously unknown oil by the Australian Impressionist Charles Conder he had discovered gathering dust in a suburban auction room.

He had paid just $820 for the scene of two girls playing on an ocean beach at the now-defunct Newells, an auction house in Neutral Bay, around 1980. If the work was genuine, says Scheding, it could have been worth $100,000.

True, the painting was not signed by Conder, but it was dark and dusty and painted on an old piece of plywood, on the back was the date April ’90, and scratched into the paint was the inscription “To Smike from Charles”.
Scheding, an art sleuth and keen collector, thought that this clinched it – “Smike” was the nickname of Conder’s friend the artist Arthur Streeton, and April 1890 was when Conder left for England. It was obviously a farewell present.

He had not really had time to examine it thoroughly before “with a rush of blood to the head” he made the winning bid and the painting was knocked down to him. When he got it home he discovered a fairly obvious clue that the painting was of more recent origin – on the back was a rough sketch of a girl with a parasol in paint that was still soft.

“Now if I turned it up I would just laugh – I look at it and wonder how I could possibly have believed it was a Conder,” Scheding says. “I was very disgruntled at the time, but the way you acquire expertise in art is you risk your money.”

Scheding did not discover until this week, when I took the little painting to Will Blundell. Blundell studied the work carefully. “Look at those brush strokes,” he said. “Very Heidelberg. It’s definitely one of mine; in fact, it was the very first one of mine sold at Newells.”

Blundell said he had given the painting to a friend. He said he didn’t know how the inscription got on the front, and there was definitely no intention on his part to deceive anyone. “It’s one of my innuendos,” he says.
With nearly 20 more years of experience in the art world behind him now, Scheding has a few tips for buyers who want to avoid similar pitfalls.

You could simply stick a pin in a corner of the painting to see whether the paint is hard, though Scheding would not recommend this. You could check the provenance, though this can be difficult if the dealer or auctioneer refuses to disclose the vendor’s identity.

You could hire an expert consultant, who for a fee (typically 10 per cent of the purchase price) will give you an opinion on the authenticity of a painting. And you should buy at a catalogued sale by an auction house that offers a money-back guarantee if forgery is detected within five years of purchase.

Stephen Scheding is the author of A Small Unsigned Painting (Vintage, $19.95).

Publishing Info

Pub: Sydney Morning Herald Pub date: Saturday 9 March 1991 Edition: Late Section: Spectrum Sub section: Page: 39 Word count: 2907 Picture: John Krutop Caption: Justice Phillips … won\’t admit the agency\’s crime-busting record is poor.