Venus by Lucas Cranach the Elder
‘Venus’ by Lucas Cranach the Elder which is part of the Prince of Liechtenstein’s collection. French authorities seized the work earlier this year in connection with an investigation which brought into question the authenticity of the picture.

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It had entered the Prince of Liechtenstein’s collection in 2013 after being acquired from London dealers Colnaghi (run by dealer Conrad Bernheimer at the time) for a reported €7m.

A judge in Paris had ordered the seizure of the oil on panel back in March in connection with an investigation that began in 2015 and brought into question the authenticity of the picture.

While there is no suggestion that Bernheimer or the London gallery knowingly sold a fake, it was this development that brought to light a possible fakes scandal and the Old Master art market is now bracing itself as further details are set to emerge.

“Biggest art scandal in a century”

Paris and New York dealer Bob Haboldt was quoted in this week’s Mail on Sunday saying that rumours in the trade indicate as many as 25 works may be listed as fakes when the results of the French investigation become public.

“This is the biggest art scandal in a century,” he said. “The careful marketing of these highly sophisticated forgeries using primarily older materials has caught the market by surprise. The implications will be that buyers will insist on more guarantees, scientific and financial.”

Many of the works are believed to have passed through the little-known French dealer Giulano Ruffini. While he has admitted to owning the ‘Cranach’ and other works which at some point have been ascribed to historically important artists, he has denied deliberately selling fakes claiming he never offered pictures with such attributions.