Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg listed by Forbes as the 64th wealthiest person in the world is suing Christie’s over the purchase of a painting by Boris Kustodiev titled Odalisque purportedly painted in 1919. The painting was purchased in November 2005 at a sale in London for $2.9 million. Bloomberg writes in May 2009,
Rosokhran-Kultura, the [Russian} government’s cultural watchdog, released the latest issue of the fakes catalog last month. It contained the most expensive item sold at Christie’s November 2005 auction of Russian paintings in London. It was listed as “Odalisque,” painted in 1919 by Kustodiev.
“There’s no doubt ‘Odalisque’ is a fake, and that’s why we included it,” said the catalogue’s co-author Vladimir Roschin.
The main evidence and point of contention is the artist’s signature in the lower left corner. Vekselberg’s people contend that the signature was painted over cracks on the paintings surface and that it used and aluminum pigment that was not available until after the artist’s death. The Telegraph has reported,
At the start of a costly 19-day hearing, Henry Legge QC, for Aurora Fine Arts, said careful analysis of a tiny signature in Cyrillic script, said to be that of Kustodiev and dated 1919, showed it “running over” cracks in the paint and indicated it was not written until the late 1940s.
Kustodiev died in 1927. He also said the aluminium-based pigment on the canvas was not commonly used by artists until after Kustodiev’s death. Mr Vekselberg, who is believed to be worth more than £7billion and is rated 64th richest person in the world, will call on a number of leading art experts to argue Odalisque is by an unknown artist.
Christie’s are standing firmly by the attribution they made before the sale and will call on their own experts to establish the work as Kustodiev.