Why not destroy this fake? A defence of the Chagall Committee

6 March 2014

In the March issue of Apollo, Aaron Rosen argues that it is never justifiable to burn a fake, in response to the Chagall Committee’s seizure of a suspected forgery from the British businessman Martin Lang and subsequent move to have it destroyed. Now Sofia Komarova, director of Artvera’s gallery in Geneva (who were instrumental in uncovering the notorious Beltracchi forgeries), writes in defence of the Committee’s decision:

Why not destroy this fake?

I am startled that the discussion is so focused on the Chagall committee and their decision. They are actually doing their job. If they are certain that the painting is a fake, what is the problem with cleansing the art market? What happens to fake items like LVs or Rolexes withheld at airports? They are destroyed.

We know when Martin Lang purchased the forgery and for how much, but I wonder why there is no information regarding where and from whom he purchased it. As the director of an art gallery specialising in the modern masters – and dealing with Chagall artworks myself – it is obvious that a professional (gallerist/auction house) ought to have asked the Committee about the authenticity of the work, before the painting was sold.

Regarding paintings by others artists, research on the provenance of works and information held in catalogue raisonnés, for example, might be enough. But for Chagall it is another story: he produced around 10,000 works and relatively few of them were displayed, so the Committee plays an essential role.

Huge amounts of money are exchanged in the art market. Hence, if one wishes to purchase an importance piece, s/he should ask for advice at a serious gallery or auction house. If this doesn’t happen, it’s like going to the flea market, gambling on the value of an item, and purchasing it with no guarantee. When buying a car, a certificate is naturally included and you also have special insurance. It is the same in the art world: you ask the advice of a professional. You will pay a little bit more for that service, but if the work turns out to be a fake, you don’t risk losing all your money.

It is truly bewildering that this process might sound unusual.

Is it justifiable to destroy a fake painting? Let us know what you think in the comments…

Related Articles:

Forum: Is it ever justifiable to burn a fake? (Aaron Rosen)

Unfortunate Fake (Maggie Gray)


  1. Isaiah Sullivan Jun 25 2014 at 5:59 pm

    I do not think that it should be destroyed, it should be marked a fake, copy of, or inspired by Chagall (on the back). The same way the Stradivarius copies have been labelled, or thousands of art pieces inspired by the greats and used as studies. To destroy art for the sake of destroying art, is criminal.

  2. This is no way to encourage anyone to send in a work of art for verification of authenticity. Who would want their painting, fake or genuine, compulsorily destroyed?

  3. David Webster May 10 2015 at 12:19 am

    The destroying of a painting is wanton vandalism; fake or otherwise. The question has been asked: is the committee certain it is a fake or are they protecting the value of the works that they own? The Warhol committee are at least writing on the back that they are fakes like Stradavarious fakes are marked. The motives of the Warhol committee are argued by some to be questionable. Dali it is said signed many sheets of blank paper so that his legacy machinery could continue printing his works and make money. Art at its worst is an investment money making business for men, women or businesses who have no interest in art only in protecting their money and this includes artists who make no bones about ‘we are only in it for the money’.

  4. Regardless of whether it’s a fake it is still the property of the owner, the committee has all the power to declare it a fake which makes it worthless, I don’t see any greater benefit in them destroying it. My second point is that there are countless examples of works of art being refused recognition only to be subsequently recognized as autograph when holes in the provenance are subsequently filled through new information or new technological means confirms it, when such errors or revised decisions are possible compulsory destruction of the work by anyone other than the owner is outrageous. Fourth I would say that the retention and study of hoax works is vital to combating such fraud in the future. Finally I would point out as Adrian has that this simply creates a huge disincentive to any efforts to authenticate works which runs the risk of driving an underground market over transparency and academic investigation.
    Overall I would say that it is ethically wrong and counterproductive to what these bodies are trying to achieve. Shortsighted and vengeful with the risk of a catastrophic error.

  5. These Committee folks are simply thugs. Tramping on a mans individual rights and destroying his property without his consent is a blatant criminal act. The French Law allows it therefore its legal you say ? ..hmmm that sounds to me like 1940s all over again. Is there a Bastille I can storm? Is there a guillotine in the house!?

    Wait .. I have the answer . Just paint another copy and hang it on the wall.. hell , make 1000 copies . How’s that MC Committee? 🙂

  6. I was surprised by the outcome, but Sofia Komarova is absolutely correct.

    Martin Lang bought a painting of unknown provenance, without a certificate of authenticity, passed off as a Chagall. Really, it was a fake until proven otherwise – and the value he paid likely reflected this dubious fact.

    Lang also knew or should have known the result of a negative ruling by the Chagall family. Remember also that, if proven genuine, the painting would have escalated in value from what he paid. So it was a gamble if he knew the consequences but still one worth taking – probably better than “double or nothing”.

    Finally, please cut out the craptastic British chauvinism, Joe. Lang made similar awful comments. It only makes you and your countrymen look worse.

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