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Lauraine Diggins, an expert in the work of the late Albert Tucker, said she ‘”did not like” Faun and Parrot, an allegedly fake painting by the artist, when she saw it before an auction by Christie’s in May 2000 and had thought “there was something odd about it”.
“Intuitively the look of the painting did not sit well with me,” Ms Diggins told the NSW Supreme Court on Thursday.
For the first time, the allegedly fake painting was unwrapped in court and shown to Justice Patricia Bergin, who is hearing the case brought by barrister Louise McBride against Christie’s, art dealer Alex Holland and her own art adviser, Vivienne Sharpe.
Ms Diggins, who dealt in Mr Tucker’s later works and was executor of his will, said when she viewed the painting before its sale to Ms McBride, she was immediately suspicious. But she did not raise her concerns with Christie’s until after the auction, even though she was present at the sale.
“You don’t go to Christie’s unless you have proof,” she said.
“I advised another auction house that a picture was not right around the same time, and they still sold it.”
Pressed by Justice Bergin, she said the auction house was Deutscher Menzies and that the matter was subject to litigation.
After the Christie’s auction, Ms Diggins was approached by Fiona Heywood of Christie’s, who said she was worried about paintings coming from a single source. Ms Diggins said these occurred soon after the May auction and before the August auction, when another suspect Tucker painting was sold.
A meeting was convened at the Ian Potter conservation centre in Melbourne. Experts including Ms Diggins and Tucker’s widow, Barbara, viewed five works; these included Ms McBride’s Faun and Parrot and another that was due to be auctioned by Christie’s in August. Ms McBride was not told of this meeting.
Christie’s has since recompensed the buyer of the Tucker at the August sale.
Ms Diggins said she made her views known to Ms Heywood after the meeting. “It was our view that both pictures were suspect,” Ms Diggins said. ”I made it clear that neither of the works were correct and were suspect.”
For Christie’s, Ed Muston said: ”You said the pictures could not be supported.”
”That says that they are suspect pictures,” Ms Diggins replied.
Mr Muston asked whether it was Ms Diggins’ opinion that dealers should check the provenance independently because it was unsafe to assume that auction houses had done so.
”Yes,” she said.
Ms Diggins also gave evidence that Ms McBride’s adviser, Ms Sharpe, should have done more to check the provenance of a Tucker bought after auction for $75,000. Ms Sharpe’s counsel asked her how Ms Sharpe could have suspected it was a forgery if Ms Diggins, an expert, was initially unsure.
❏ In Thursday’s report of the case, the Herald stated that Ms Sharpe had received $42,000 commission for the sale of a Jeffrey Smart painting owned by Ms McBride. She has not yet been paid the commission, which is being held in trust until the case now before the court is resolved.
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