Saint Jerome painting
‘Saint Jerome’, an oil on panel that was catalogued as ‘Circle of Parmigianino’ and sold at Sotheby’s New York in 2012 for $800,000 (£509,650). Following technical analysis which, according to the auctioneers, confirmed the work was a modern forgery, Sotheby’s have now launched legal action against the vendor.

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The complaint filed today in a New York court against the consignor of the painting Saint Jerome was lodged today after the auctioneers said they had “no other option than to pursue legal action” after concluding that the work was “undoubtedly a forgery”.

The vendor is named in the complaint as Lionel de Saint Donat-Pourrieres who is believed to be resident in Luxembourg and has refused to return the proceeds of the sale according to Sotheby’s claim. The vendor could not be reached for comment.

The lot was catalogued as ‘Circle of’ the Italian mannerist Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola, known as Parmigianino (1503-40). Offered at a New York auction in January 2012, the unframed oil on panel was estimated at $ 500,000-700,000 and was knocked down for $800,000 (£509,650).

Last year, Sotheby’s learned the picture may have originated from the same source of other Old Master paintings whose authenticity has been questioned. These include a ‘Frans Hals’ portrait that sold to a US collector in a $10m private deal brokered by Sotheby’s in 2011.

Scientific Case

As with the Frans Hals painting, Sotheby's informed the purchaser of Saint Jerome of potential problems with the work’s authenticity last year and began conducting technical analysis.

The analysis included technical imaging and molecular analysis which, according to the auctioneers, “established that the work was undoubtedly a forgery”.

A central plank of the case involves the presence of the pigment ‘phthalocyanine green’ which the company said was revealed “throughout the paint”. Since this pigment was first used in the 20th century, Sotheby’s believes this confirms the work was created nearly four centuries after Parmigianino and his contemporaries died.

In a statement, the auctioneers said: “Sotheby's honoured its guarantee and fully reimbursed our purchaser. We have also exercised our contractual right to cancel the sale, which requires our consignor to reimburse us. While we would have preferred to settle this matter out of court, our consignor has refused to abide by his obligations and we have been left no other option than to pursue legal action.”

Provenance

The catalogue for the 2012 auction states that the work had provenance to a French private collection.

The picture is known to have once been owned by Giulano Ruffini, the Frenchman who also handled the ‘Frans Hals’ as well as Venus with a Veil, a painting attributed to Lucas Cranach which has been subject to an investigation in France.