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The French art dealer and collector Giuliano Ruffini, who is suspected to be the mastermind behind a series of forged Old Masters that shook the art world, is seemingly nowhere to be found, according to sources close to the investigation in Italy and France. Ruffini, aged 77, has a warrant out for his arrest in Europe, launched in 2019 by Parisian judge Aude Burési who has led a seven-year investigation into a series of allegedly forged Old Masters paintings sold over recent decades for tens of millions of euros.

But the arrest of the French art dealer had been delayed after the Italian high court ruled it could only be executed following the finalisation of a fiscal procedure against him. The Italian tax office had sought a €12m fine for undeclared business deals, but Ruffini, who claimed he was a fiscal resident in countries like Belgium or Malta, was cleared by the court. The prosecution did not appeal the judgement, opening the way for his arrest and transfer to France. However, according to our sources, law enforcement authorities were not able to find him in his home in the mountains near Reggio Emilia, he had disappeared and has not responded since to police summons.

Police seems to have no idea of his whereabouts or even if he is still in Italy. The Art Newspaper found that his phone lines have been disconnected, and Ruffini has not replied to emails asking if he would be ready to defend himself before the French judge or if he was indeed on the run.

One of Ruffini’s lawyers in Paris tells The Art Newspaper that his client “is free to come and go and is not restricted by any legal control or disposition”. But neither Ruffini, contacted by mail, nor his lawyer confirm whether he will defend himself before the French judge.

Giuliano Ruffini has always claimed his innocence, arguing that it was up to the experts to make attributions. Over the past several decades, he sold dozens of paintings including a Venus owned by the Prince of Liechtenstein and attributed to Cranach, and a Saint Cosmas belonging to the New York Alana Collection, given to Bronzino. Both paintings were returned to their owners after being judged as fakes by legal scientific examinations that found common characteristics with the other panels seized in Paris, attributed to Brueghel or Greco, all of which have an allegedly forged provenance.

Sotheby’s, which sold a Saint Jerome painting as the work of Parmigianino’s circle and a portrait then-attributed to Frans Hals, on behalf of the British dealer Mark Weiss, reached the same conclusions when James Martin’s laboratory found traces of a 20th century pigment under the paint layers. Both buyers of the paintings were refunded. Beforehand, the Louvre, the Jacquemart André Museum in Paris, the National Gallery of London, the Metropolitan Museum of New York, the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, as well as dealers and curators throughout Europe, had all endorsed the authenticity of works sold by Ruffini.

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