Before the publication of the joint open letter of 15 January—signed by me, other dealers, collectors and scholars—regarding the works attributed to the Russian avant-garde currently on display in the Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent, I wrote to Catherine de Zegher, the institution’s director, on 7 November 2017. I made no judgement as to the authenticity of any work on show; I merely wanted to advise her why, as a dealer, I would not accept the Ghent paintings for sale in the unlikely event that they were offered to me, according to three criteria that I also apply to the vast majority of Russian avant-garde art:

– Could I resell the work on the primary market, i.e. through Christie’s or Sotheby’s?
– Is the work acceptable for resale by any major dealer?
– Is the work acceptable for a major museum exhibition?

Imagine the scenario. A client buys a painting from me and wishes to resell it at auction a few years later, only to be told that the auction house cannot accept the work as it is unable to “guarantee authenticity”. The client’s next port of call would be a top dealer, but they also refuse. Where does this leave the seller?

Many of the paintings I decline are accompanied by “certificates of expertise”, signed by certain academics who, unlike myself as a seller, are not financially liable. When I have crossed swords with such figures over the years, they have frequently been amazed that I would quibble with their learned opinions. Perhaps they would like to explain to buyers who have bought paintings with their certificates why these have been rejected for resale and not accepted for any major museum show? Read more