2013/10 The Auction houses, The Fondazione Giorgio e Isa de Chirico and Peretti’s forgeries

Between 1954 and 1976, Renato Peretti (known as "Reni") worked as one of the most skilled forgers of Giorgio de Chirico. Peretti himself admitted to having produced more than a thousand forgeries of paintings by different artists, and in particular, of many works by de Chirico, who was not only his favourite artist, but his works were also the most valuable and the easiest to sell.
In 1954, Peretti visited de Chirico in Venice as a simple admirer, during which time he witnessed the artist painting one of the many replicas of the "Muse Inquietanti" from a small colour photograph attached to his easel, and thus discovered his own vocation.
Peretti's forgeries followed the model of de Chirico's more commercial paintings and targeted the slightly vulgar upper-middle class citizens of the nouveau riche society that had been created by the economic boom. However, the circumstances that would favour the distribution of these forgeries were actually provided by de Chirico himself, as he repeatedly created countless variants of the same subjects: Metaphysical subjects of all kinds, horses and horsemen, nymphs, ephebes, panoramas of Venice and still life subjects in landscapes and interiors, to name but a few.
Having come into possession of first hand information regarding the materials and techniques used by the Master, Peretti became highly skilled, to the extent that in works from his best periods it is extremely difficult to distinguish between his paintings and the original works by de Chirico which he had copied.
By the time a large-scale police investigation by the Italian Carabinieri brought Peretti's activities to an end in 1976, he had painted a huge number of forged de Chirico paintings. It would later be discovered that some of these forgeries had been shown to de Chirico as photographs and authenticated by the painter himself, only to be published in the artist's Catalogue Raisonné.
By the time of the artist's death in November 1978, this scandal and relative trial had already occupied the pages of many daily newspapers. Peretti would collaborate with the investigators and provide them with valuable information, perhaps only for the thrill of a moment of unexpected fame, but also because he was ill with cancer and knew he had little time left to live. In fact, he even allowed himself to be photographed in the act of finishing a copy of "Le Muse Inquietanti", surrounded by works by masters of Italian Twentieth Century art such as Rosai, Casorati and Carrà, which were naturally all forgeries.
Amongst all of Peretti's statements, one declaration was particularly significant and would be published by many newspapers, and not only the tabloids. Indeed, after he had carefully examined the first six volumes of Bruni's Catalogue Raisonné, which had been released by that time, Peretti identified sixty of the published works as paintings that were undoubtedly his own, and another fifty-seven paintings that he stated were very likely to be his, but reserved the right to examine the paintings in person before stating this as fact. "La Domenica del Corriere" (7 December 1978) would publish Peretti's confession, while the weekly tabloid "OP" (26 December 1978) and "Bolaffi Arte" (No. 91 of 1979) - the best Italian art journal of the time - published a complete list of the suspect works with all relative photographic documentation.
The resulting scandal would be further exacerbated by the fact that during the trial in Florence, which was still in course and involved a great number of forgeries by both Peretti and Umberto Lombardi - a Florentine forger of inferior ability -, it was discovered that some of these forgeries had even been published in the Catalogue Raisonné. The possibility that another hundred forgeries may also have been published in this catalogue would have blown the market apart, damaging both the dealers working in this field and the artist's heirs. The Magistrate of Florence, who was already grappling with the consequences created by the first group of forgeries, did not have the courage to order the sequestration of the second group of works, as many belonged to well-known and powerful collectors. Thus, the situation would be allowed to sink silently into the recesses of time until it was forgotten.
If one considers that at the conclusion of the trial in Florence very few of the works were formally declared forgeries [1], it is probable that many of Peretti's works are still in circulation, including the paintings published in the Catalogue Raisonné that were declared forgeries by Peretti, those which had managed to avoid judgement by slipping through the loopholes and complex anomalies of the Italian judicial system, and finally (and these are the most numerous) those which Peretti would never denounce for personal reasons, even if they had been included in the Catalogue.
Once upon a time, the Fondazione Giorgio e Isa de Chirico advised its internal committee to keep Peretti's lists be kept on hand at all times because the paintings he had indicated - with few exceptions -, were all forgeries, and that the illustrations included could serve as models of comparison in the verification of the difference between de Chirico's "Baroque" brushstroke and "Reni's" masterful, if messier, imitation of this pictorial technique. To make mistakes is human, but at times it can be diabolic. It is not certain whether Claudio Bruni, or the various Authentication committees that succeeded him after 1986 [2], inadvertently allowed some of Peretti's works to be passed as authentic paintings by de Chirico as a result of distraction or tiredness, but concrete examples - some of which are very recent - prove that this did indeed happen. In fact, works authenticated by the De Chirico Foundation which we believe to have been painted by Peretti have often come up for sale at auction in recent years.
However, this is not the most pressing problem, and we do not believe that the infiltration of a few of Peretti's forgeries of de Chirico's serial, and for the most part mediocre production of the Fifties and Sixties into the market could ever alter the artist's public image or value, or compromise his historic standing.
The real problem is another. Is it correct that the directors of the De Chirico Foundation pretend to ignore the issues created by Peretti, or when the subject is brought up, even go so far as to state that this problem does not exist and that the paintings are all authentic?
Those who follow our research know that when we visited the 2009 retrospective exhibition of de Chirico's oeuvre held at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville in Paris, we realised that two of the works - which frankly speaking, were downright ugly - came from the "Peretti group". One of these paintings, entitled Venezia (Bruni, III, 3, No. 419), depicted a view of the Grand Canal, and even if Peretti had not indicated this work as his own, such an ugly piece would have made anyone suspect its origins. The second work, a Muse Inquietanti of 1961 (Bruni VI, 3, 949), was exhibited as a painting from 1924 with an inaccurate bibliographic caption that carefully omitted any reference to the Catalogue Raisonné so as to avoid the possibility of tracing this piece back to Peretti.
We denounced this fact to the newspapers, but the president of the Fondazione Giorgio e Isa de Chirico, supported by the president of the association that represents Italian art dealers, Massimo Di Carlo, retorted with a statement that declared the paintings to be authentic in that they were published in the Catalogue Raisonné, "which is a bit like the bible of all that regards the painter from Volos" (sic!); while the same Judge who had handed down the verdict of the trial in Florence did not deem it necessary to address the issue nor order the seizure of the paintings (see http://www.archivioartemetafisica.org/home-en/opinioni).


Now, whoever enters the website of the Fondazione Giorgio e Isa de Chirico, will read that the website was created in order to "protect and promote the artistic and intellectual oeuvre of Giorgio de Chirico" and that one of its main aims and objectives is that of "countering the phenomenon of forgery". If one then opens the page entitled "Fakes", one is confronted by a barrage of inaccurate and erroneous historical reconstructions and debatable opinions, all of which are aimed at supporting the theory of the "Surrealist conspiracy", which culminated with the debacle surrounding the Piazza d'Italia acquired from the Galleria del Milione by Dario Sabatello in 1946, and the subsequent trial. Our readers know that these reconstructions are unfounded and that the "evidence" used to underpin them continues to crumble, day by day. In fact, the Foundation is forced more and more often to recognise the authenticity of "historic" paintings that de Chirico had himself declared forgeries, and which formed the basis of the conspiracy theory and forgery of works from the artist's greatest period (see the next news entry 2013/9 November 2013, which illustrates the story of Le printemps). Nevertheless, it is astounding that in the same section of the website dedicated to the "Fakes" there is no mention of the prolific falsification of de Chirico's works during the Fifties and Sixties or of the protagonists involved (rather, the names of the dealers and galleries responsible have actually been deleted from the documents published).
The motive behind this action is simple, but has serious implications. The forgeries created after the Second World War have scarred the Catalogue Raisonné irreparably and the consequences have not yet been overcome, as - notwithstanding the deaths of those responsible -, the number of forged works was so high that many are still in circulation, and some are even accompanied by certificates of authenticity. Neither Isa de Chirico nor Claudio Bruni - the founders of the Fondazione Giorgio e Isa de Chirico -, can be considered exempt of responsibility in relation to the release of counterfeit paintings onto the market, be they works by "studio assistants" or by true forgers (and detailed reports drawn up by the Italian police support this statement with documented proof); and although it could be said that the Fondazione de Chirico inherited these problems - unresolved or unsolvable as they may be - from the artist and his wife, and can therefore only be held responsible indirectly for the consequences, the nature of this inherited burden makes it far more convenient for the Fondazione to go along with and further embellish and concoct fanciful theories about the cunning Surrealists and the "Breton gang", than to confront the distinctly real problems like the subject in hand.

The result of this indifference is that a year after the closure of the exhibition in Paris, the forged "Venezia" (measuring 65 x 81cm) would be flown to Vienna, where Dorotheum would sell it at auction on the 20th of May 2010 (lot 122) for the princely sum of €329.300. Who knows if the buyer would have spent this sum as willingly if he had known that this work was included in the list of Peretti's self-confessed forgeries.
Now, it is perfectly understandable why the Foundation tries to avoid the legal complications and complex problems posed by de Chirico's own errors, made over forty years ago, even when, in reality, de Chirico himself had asked that the Catalogue Raisonné project be suspended [3], but did not denounce the forgeries that were discovered over the years for fear that he may be held liable for damages by the work's owners. It is equally clear that it would be impossible to identify a legal solution to the problem as even if the suspected forgeries by Peretti were seized, no one could be accused as all of the protagonists are dead, and it would be almost impossible to prove that the works are forgeries (as we know, this judgement relies on the opinions of the so-called expert witnesses) or attribute the relative responsibility. To this end, the Fondazione has always been careful to officially declare the falsity of around 117 works published in the catalogue.
This said, we do not believe that the best solution to "protecting and promoting de Chirico's ouevre" is that of ignoring the problem and allowing works on Peretti's famous list to keep passing through the auction houses. The Foundation can continue to state that Bruni's catalogue is "the collector's bible", however for the sake of correctness, it should also advise that collectors avoid the works named in Perettti's list. Indeed, the auction houses should do the same, instead of going ahead regardless, except when they find themselves in a diplomatic pickle, as will be outlined below.

 

Peretti's Metaphysical forgeries put up for sale in international auctions of recent years

 

Here we will limit ourselves to mentioning only a few examples, all of which are Metaphysical paintings published in the Catalogue Raisonné that Peretti declared to have painted himself:

 

Piazza d'Italia, Bruni IV, 3, 589, sold by Sotheby's in Milan on the 21st of November 2006 (lot 246) for € 260.840;

Piazza d'Italia, Bruni IV, 3, 568, put up for auction by Christie's in London (The Art of the Surreal) on the 6th of February 2007 (lot 135) with a reserve of £200.000 / 300.000 (GBP) (unsold);
Muse Inquietanti, Bruni III, 3, 404, sold by Sotheby's in Milan on the 22nd of November 2011 for €1.016.750 (the same painting, put up for auction a year later, would go unsold: could it be that the truth came out ?);
Muse Inquietanti, Bruni VI, 3, No. 843, sold by Sotheby's in London (The Italian Sale, lot 26) on the 17th of October 2013 for £398.500 (GBP) (circa €472.000).


This last painting would go to a foreign collector, who only a few days after the auction and before he had effected the full payment, came to learn that the work featured in Peretti's list as a painting that was probably a forgery. A heated discussion would ensue, to which Sotheby's responded saying that they were in possession of a certificate of authenticity issued by the Fondazione and signed by the President, Paolo Picozza (this is hardly credible, as the Foundation does not give its opinion of works published in the Catalogue Raisonné). The buyer asked to see the certificate, which turned out not to be a true certificate of authenticity, although the ambiguous phrasing of the document could easily be misconstrued by an amateur as a declaration of authenticity. In fact, the lawyer Paolo Picozza writes:

 

The painting, Muse inquietanti, 1951, oil on canvas, reproduced on the rear of this photograph, is published in the Catalogo Generale/Giorgio de Chirico (edited by Claudio Bruni Sakraischick, Electa, Milan 1983), under No. 843 of Vol. VI, Tome III. In the abovementioned volume, one finds an error in relation to the measurements of the painting. In fact, in the caption, the measurements are erroneously recorded as "cm. 80 x 60" instead of 90 x 70cm.

 

Rome, 26 September 2013.

 

The President
of the Fondazione Giorgio e Isa de Chirico
Prof. Paolo Picozza


Apart from the error made by Professor Picozza in his indication that the VI volume of the Catalogue Raisonné was published in 1983 - when in fact it was released in 1976 (otherwise, how would Peretti have been able to denounce the numerous forgeries in 1978?), the date of the declaration (26 September) permits us to reconstruct the facts: Sotheby's received the work on consignment on occasion of the Italian Sale scheduled for the 17th of October, only to become aware of the fact that the measurements reported in the Catalogue (80 x 60cm) did not correspond to the painting's real measurements (90 x 70cm). The auction house then asked the Foundation to rectify this error. The Foundation's President, in full knowledge of the fact that the painting was one of the works on Peretti's lists, drew up and signed the document cited above, which to Sotheby's and anyone else, may well have read very much like a certificate of authenticity. In other words, if the painting was published in the Catalogue Raisonné and the President of the Fondazione Giorgio e Isa de Chirico had not raised any doubts, the painting had to be authentic!
Ironically, this seemingly obvious, logical affirmation highlights a subtlety that emerges in all situations of this kind: in any attempt to conceal the truth, it is essential that one confirm only those things that are actually true.
Thus, it is true that this painting is published in the Catalogue, while it is also true that there is an error in the catalogue and the painting's measurements are incorrectly transcribed.
But the rest goes without saying.


[1] At the end of Volume VIII, (Tome 3), a note reports the details of the five works printed in the Catalogue Raisonné which were officially declared as forgeries by the Appeals Court ruling in Florence (Vol. IV, 3, No. 468; Vol. II, 3, No. 161 and No. 190; Vol. III, 3, No. 386; Vol. VI, 3, No. 975). The other paintings declared forgeries by the same court ruling were not included in the Catalogue Raisonné.
[2] Claudio Bruni, Maurizio Calvesi, Giovanna Dalla Chiesa (1986 - 1989); Pia Vivarelli, Paolo Baldacci, Antonio Vastano (1993 - 1994); Paolo Baldacci, Antonio Vastano (1994 - 1997); Paolo Picozza, Jole De Sanna (2000-2004); Anonymous committee (2004-2008); Paolo Picozza, Antonio Vastano (2008-2013).
[3] In a letter (dated 21 April 1977) from the Lawyer, Mr. De Luca to Carlo Bruni, de Chirico and his wife motivated their request that the Catalogue Raisonné project be suspended due to the fact that " a number of forgeries had been identified [therein]", cf. Carlo Accorsi [Antonio Vastano], Ecco l'elenco dei falsi riprodotti in Catalogo. Peretti ci ha detto: Questi li ho fatti io, "Bollaffiarte", Milan. No. 91. 1979, pp. 28-33.


A list of Peretti's forgeries


To give our readers a fixed point of reference here follows a list of the paintings published the Catalogue Raisonné of Giorgio de Chirico's oeuvre that Renato Peretti indicated were certainly his, followed by a list of those works which he indicated as his, with the reserve that he verify this statement by examining the paintings in question.


PUBLISHED WORKS DECLARED FORGERIES by PERETTI


Vol. I
Third part, 1951 - 1970
No. 34; 109; 111; 112; 117; 132

 

Vol. II
Third part, 1951 - 1971
No. 144; 160; 161; 185; 190; 221; 238; 244; 265; 266; 268; 269; 271

 

Vol. III
Third part, 1951 - 1971
No. 341; 361; 378; 379; 385; 393, 397; 399; 403, 404; 409; 411; 415; 419; 422

 

Vol. IV
Third part, 1951 - 1972
No. 466; 468; 485; 495; 517; 521; 524; 526; 529; 550;565; 568; 571; 572; 579; 580; 583; 585; 589; 593

 

Vol. V
Third part, 1951 - 1974
No. 708; 709

 

Vol. VI
Third part, 1951 - 1974
No. 949; 972; 975; 978


PUBLISHED WORKS SUSPECTED TO BE FORGERIES

 

Vol. I
Third part, 1951 - 1970
No. 35; 70; 102; 106


Vol. II
Second part, 1931 - 1950
No. 99

 

Third part, 1951 - 1971
No. 141; 154; 248; 252

 

Vol. III
Third part, 1951 - 1971
No. 323; 325; 340; 354; 360; 372; 390; 391, 394; 405; 408

 

Vol. IV
Second part, 1931 - 1950
No. 312

 

Third part, 1951 - 1972
No. 418; 472; 477; 484: 494; 499; 512; 515; 516; 520; 552; 559; 569; 586

 

Vol. V
Third part, 1951 - 1974
No. 665; 668; 670; 675; 676; 696; 698; 708

 

Vol. VI
Second part, 1931 - 1950
No. 461; 522; 523; 532

 

Third part, 1951 - 1974
No. 843; 906; 909; 915; 930; 935; 947; 950; 974; 990