Still Life with Basket of Fruit, a painting done by the French artist Pierre Bonnard in the early 19th century, was bought by the highly respectable art gallery Wildenstein & Co. for $275 000 in the mid 1980s. This painting was placed in a trust in 2017 which named Neil Wallace as the trustee.
Neil Wallace and his brother Monte bought several pieces from galleries such as Lefevre, Acquavella, and Wildenstein & Co. in the 1980s. They consigned these to Christie’s Impressionist and Modern sale in London in February of this year, a collection valued at around $100 million.
Greenway II, the Trust handling the case, sent the painting to be authenticated by Guy-Patrice Dauberville, an expert on Bonnard’s work. According to Dauberville, the painting was a fake. It wasn’t listed on the catalogue raisonnè and it was Wildenstein’s responsibility to review the catalogue. If they neglected to do so, then failing to inform Greenway would be seen as a material omission which deceived the Trust.
The French government investigated Guy Wildenstein, son of Daniel Leopold Wildenstein, for money laundering and tax evasion in 2011, and he was required to fork over a half-billion dollars to pay his tax bill. This was one of the largest tax fruad trials France had ever seen, yet he was cleared of all charges in 2017 and 2018. Wildenstein & Co. have been in court several times after this incident.
If the court’s finding is in favour of Greenway, Wildenstein will have to pay the original price of the painting, $275 000, plus legal fees and tax rates, as well as other compensation. According to Wildenstein’s attorneys, the Bonnard “was consigned to Wildenstein & Co. for sale by a prominent collector in 1984, has an impeccable provenance, which was well-known at the time. The allegations in the complaint are baseless, and Wildenstein will respond to them in court”.