The scope of what is believed to be Germany's biggest art forgery scandal since World War II has reached as far as Hollywood. American actor Steve Martin bought one of the fake paintings in 2004 and later sold it at a loss of some 200,000 euros.
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Highly Convincing Forgeries
The accused allegedly attributed almost all of the forged works to artists from the first half of the 20th century, including Campendonk, Max Pechstein, Fernand Léger, Max Ernst and others. Most of the works were sold with now 60-year-old Beltracchi's story that they were part of the art collection of Cologne businessman Werner Jägers, who was the grandfather of the two female suspects in the case. Jägers was said to have bought the works from the renowned art dealer Alfred Flechtheim and hidden them on his estate in the Eifel Mountains of western Germany during the Nazi years. Schulte-Kellinghaus allegedly used a similar ruse, claiming the paintings, which were supposedly lost, originated from the collection of his grandfather, the master tailor Knops from Krefeld.
A number of the expertly forged paintings from the group were sold to French galleries like the one where Martin bought the forged Campendonk. Some forgeries of Max Ernst paintings were so convincing that even Werner Spies, an art historian and Ernst expert, gave them his seal of approval. When the true origin of the paintings emerged last year it caused a commotion in the art community, where trading works by classic 20th century artists is a lucrative business.
The Cologne public prosecutor's office recently brought charges against the four main figures in the affair. Their files indicate that total losses to the art community from the sale and resale of just 14 of the forgeries reached nearly €34.1 million ($48.6 million).