Germany: Con artist sentenced over fine-art forgeries

Sep 26, 2023 12:30 PM IST

An employee of a museum in Munich replaced several paintings with fakes. After auctioning off the originals, he bought a luxury car.

A museum employee in the German city of Munich confessed to replacing several paintings from a depot with forgeries and putting the originals up for auction. The Munich District Court found the 30-year-old guilty of three completed and one attempted case of illegally selling cultural property and sentenced him to a suspended prison term of one year and nine months, the court announced on Monday. (Also read: Horror: Deathless muse of the arts)

A museum employee replaced the original painting "Das Märchen vom Froschkönig" by Franz von Stuck with a forgery (Fine Art Images/Heritage/IMAGO)
A museum employee replaced the original painting "Das Märchen vom Froschkönig" by Franz von Stuck with a forgery (Fine Art Images/Heritage/IMAGO)

The court also ordered the confiscation of more than €60,000 ($63,500) in compensation.

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Which paintings were replaced?

The defendant was a technical employee from May 2016 to April 2018 at the museum and had access to the storage room where paintings were kept. According to the court, he replaced the painting "Das Märchen vom Froschkönig" (The Fairy Tale of the Frog King) by Franz von Stuck with a forgery.

Pretending that the painting had belonged to his great-grandparents or grandparents, he offered the original for auction at a Munich auction house, which sold the painting for €70,000 ($74,000) to a gallery in Switzerland. He was left with €49,127.40 in cash after the deduction of auction costs.

He also stole the paintings "Die Weinprüfung" (Tasting the Wine) by Eduard von Grützner and "Zwei Mädchen beim Holzsammeln im Gebirge" (Two Girls Gathering Wood in the Mountains) by Franz von Defregger from the museum's storage. The paintings brought him a further total of around €12,000.

Forgeries fund luxury lifestyle

In total, the defendant collected €60,617 euros for the pictures. He spent the money to pay off debts and finance a luxurious lifestyle. According to the court, among other things, the man bought himself "a new flat, expensive wristwatches and ... a Rolls Royce."

In court, the man had reportedly not only confessed but also shown "sincere remorse and insight."

"He stated that he had acted without thinking. He could no longer explain his behavior," the court reported. The verdict is final.

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