Although it would seem obvious that one should call on the official dedicated committee before buying or selling a piece of that artist’s work, some honestly think they can consult with other entities whose names appear to offer complete confidence or that they can talk to experts who claim total authority regarding Georges Mathieu’s work. Sure, they are easy to get into contact with. Unfortunately, such a decision can lead to really terrible consequences, as we will show you in a few examples presented below.
1) You need a single, authoritative contact
In the case of Georges Mathieu, by definition and by force of law, the official committee is the sole entity with authority to exercise its expertise and claim use of its moral rights. It is also alone in its access to the personal archives of the artist. We would like to remind everyone that the Georges Mathieu Committee can always be reached at the following address: https://georges-mathieu.fr/en/contact/
The Georges Mathieu Committee cautions collectors to exercise extreme prudence as there are private enterprises acting as parasites and usurping the role of committees and public organizations, and offering no guarantee of authenticity.
One example in the area of proof of authenticity is Art Experts, Inc, a website that claims it can provide “certificates of authenticity”, in any country and for any artist, and illegally substitutes itself for the heirs, the legatees, and the committees (for those artists who have them) solely endowed with moral rights to such work. This is exactly the case with works by Georges Mathieu, since it is only the Georges Mathieu Committee that can provide proof to validate their authenticity. It is also the committee alone which is able to prepare and publish the artist’s catalogue raisonné.
Some works by Georges Mathieu are sometimes presented accompanied by certificates or guarantees issued by galleries, auctioneers, and archivists. These documents have no official value and should be replaced, because the only reliable ones are those issued by the Committee or signed by the artist himself, provided they are indeed authentic. Because fake Georges Mathieu pieces are in circulation, the Committee can also authenticate original certificates and issue a confirmation that will be the equivalent to a certificate of authenticity.
Auction houses and galleries that persist in presenting worthless certificates open themselves up to condemnation because they are failing to provide accurate information. They may even be guilty of willful misrepresentation because they are misleading the buyer regarding the certified nature of the work in question. They can’t claim they don’t know about us, since any Internet search engine will bring our name right up.
2) Avoid buying (or selling) a fake
Statistics that prove the need for vigilance
The Georges Mathieu Committee, which strives both to authenticate works presented to it as well as oversee those that move around the art market, was recently shocked by the number of fakes in circulation.
In terms of verification of authenticity, on average over the last 12 months, 30% of collectors asking for certificates presented fakes, and 20% of all works were fakes, and that number is 40% if you’re looking at pieces coming specifically from Italy (some were coming from the same counterfeit studio).
Alongside this, there were a number of fakes and counterfeits we detected in our efforts to monitor public auctions and online sales. This is particularly true on eBay where we have to annul sales every single month.
These elevated statistics suggest that potential buyers can easily be shown fakes, both in the private and public art markets, and it’s best to be vigilant. However, it also means that the Committee is fighting with great resolve against counterfeiters and forgers in order to clean up the market and protect the value of Georges Mathieu’s work.
The issue of counterfeit work is indissociable from the very notion of artistic success, but there are ways to respond. Our effectiveness in this arena will only grow as potential buyers consistently require sellers, whether they are individuals, galleries, or art dealers, to provide them with a certificate from the Committee itself.
On a positive note, we can also imagine that these statistics are beyond doubt higher than the reality in the art market, since forgers must be in a hurry to get a certificate from us in order to try to appraise and then resell their fake as fast as possible.
A couple of textbook cases
Sometimes someone who has just purchased a piece seeks a consultation. Now, in instances when a piece is determined to be a fake, there is a cascade of consequences that ensue: the buyer has to ask the dealer or gallery to cancel the sale, and it then has to go back to the seller to denounce the sales contract, and the Committee has to ask the Artprice and artnet databases to take down any misleading images and information. So you’ll be better off asking for the Committee’s opinion as early on in the process as possible.
In a true, albeit rare case, the Committee was consulted by a potential buyer and detected a fake for sale online. Then the dealer, which was based abroad, did not even deign to respond to our efforts at communication, claiming that all personnel was unavailable. As it turned out, the sale went on and the winning bidder wound up with a worthless fake without suspecting a thing.
When we visited a Parisian gallery, among a dozen or so authentic Georges Mathieu pieces, we discovered an obvious fake on paper, and what’s more it seemed to belong to a series of fakes circulating in Paris. Since then, this gallery has broken off contact with us. So we haven’t gotten any information concerning the origin of the fake, nor have we gotten any assurance that the work was taken off the market.
All of the problems described above could however have easily been avoided if the seller, whether it’s an art dealer, a gallery, or an individual seller, sought a certificate of authenticity from the Committee, allowing of course for reasonable lead time. As a potential buyer, you can also require the seller to provide you with the official certificate.
Our plan of action
First off, publishing this article should help educate collectors and players in the art market about the necessity of calling upon the Committee.
Although the major players in the French market already know the Committee (the example of Sotheby’s here), we are going to put out a new series of ads soon to increase our visibility, following our appearance at the beginning of this year in the French and International editions of La Gazette Drouot, and we’ll continue to be in touch with as many of these market players as possible.
In order for fakes that have been discovered to be permanently taken out of the market and for fraudulent supply lines to be identified and then dismantled, we are going to provide all the information we gather to the authorities concerned, by working in concert with the OCBC (Central Office against the Trade in Cultural Artifacts) and therefore indirectly with INTERPOL as well as specialized local authorities (like Italy’s Nucleo Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale).
3) Appraise a work that has been put up for sale
The best ways to appraise a piece are to authenticate it and to provide a good description of the work. There’s no more compelling argument in favor of proper appraisal than to consider the following situation in which the opposite happens.
In September, 2015, a Danish dealer exhibited in Drouot and put a 1957 Georges Mathieu piece up for sale. After a potential buyer contacted us regarding the authenticity of the work, we went to perform a physical examination. This canvas was indeed authentic — in fact it’s listed in our own archives — but our surprise in this instance was for completely different reasons.
The first thing we discovered was that the work was presented without a title: as “Composition” (Untitled). Now, this work has a title, which was confirmed both by our archives and by the inscriptions penciled on the back on the stretcher. The work was “Clisson nommé Connétable” (Clisson named Constable), referring to Olivier V de Clisson, named Constable of France by Charles VI, who was one of the greatest captains in the 100 Years’ War, and a great and wealthy feudal lord and contemporary of Du Guesclin. It was no mere coincidence that this canvas was produced the same year as “L’assassinat du Connétable Clisson” (the Assassination of Constable Clisson, René Drouin Gallery). Omission of the title, which was also omitted in the Quotidien de l’Art, constitutes a serious breach of the right to respect of the work which is part of the artist’s and the rights holders’ moral rights. It also devalues the piece by depriving it of one of the distinctive elements that are an integral part of Georges Mathieu’s body of work.
Second discovery, the dealer had already put this work up for sale in December, 2014, putting it on the sales catalogue cover… the wrong way round. The error was repeated inside the catalogue, despite the obvious presence of a signature, visible to the naked eye, on the lower right of the canvas. Once again, this is a serious breach of respect for the work, and even though the error was corrected in September, 2015, the old catalogue remains accessible online and continues to disseminate an erroneous image of this work.
Are these errors due to inattention rather than a lack of professionalism, given that they could have easily been avoided? At a minimum, even if a certificate of authenticity wasn’t being sought, a request for authorization to reproduce the work for the cover of the catalogue should have been solicited. Informing the Committee would have resulted in the Committee being able to correct errors of the image and the text, to ensure respect for the work and to contribute information on its history.
4) Seek help when trying to locate stolen artwork (or get help to keep from buying one)
In the case of disappearance or theft of a Georges Mathieu piece, please first file a complaint with your local law enforcement authority, but then contact us to to get our assistance free of charge. We monitor public sales and receive requests for certificates of authenticity, so we may be able to identify when a piece that has been declared stolen is going to be resold.
The Art Loss Register is a private enterprise, regardless of its generic and official-sounding name, and it is very actively involved in the declaration of disappeared or stolen artwork. Its activities consist of providing buyers or sellers who ask for it with a “certificate” (for a price of course) that guarantees a work is not stolen. So this company resells information that is supposed to be declared and available for free with official services like the OCBC in France, and worldwide on INTERPOL. To the degree that dealers call upon them and collectors make a declaration when works of art are stolen, this system tries to replace official organizations with their own profit-making venture in the faith that over time it will be seen as an essential service.
In reality, The Art Loss Register is just content to say that a work hasn’t already been declared stolen in its data base, which is information provided by victims of art theft anyway. A scandal recently broke (article 1 and article 2). The Art Loss Register had delivered certificates to vendors of stolen work, believing them at their word with respect to the art’s origin. Their use of the word “certificate” is therefore deceptive: the information provided is partial because it is the result of unverified declarations and because it demonstrates in no way the authenticity of a work. Their management team recently rejected our request (citing “infrastructure” reasons) to simply add our contact information on the bottom of the “certificates” they may issue for the works of Georges Mathieu.
It’s up to you whether you use their service or not, but we can also share the following example with you. The Committee was recently informed of the disappearance several years ago of a Georges Mathieu piece from a public institution, and the theft wasn’t reported to the police for reasons yet unknown. If someone had been offered this stolen work for sale and if this person had contacted The Art Loss Register, they would have certified that the work was not stolen (since it wasn’t in their database or in the INTERPOL database either). So, they would have allowed the resale of this piece and its removal from the country.