Icarus Films is teaming with the KimStim Collection on Nov. 17 for the DVD debut of documentary filmmaker Arne Birkenstock’s Beltracchi: The Art Of Forgery.
Earlier this year (Jan. 27), Oscilloscope released Art and Craft, which told the story of artist Mark Landis and his seemingly endless stream of forged paintings. Not only could he mimic the greats, put he would pull off elaborate schemes to get unsuspecting museums to take and display his donated works. Technically-speaking, Landis never committed any crime since all of his paintings were donated free of charge.
This was not, however, the case with art forger Wolfgang Beltracchi. Over a forty year period he sold over $45 million worth of French and German masterworks “created” by such artists as surrealist Max Ernst, cubist Fernand Léger, modernist Heinrich Campendonk, fauvist André Derain and expressionist Max Pechstein.
The 20th Century artists were all of different disciplines, but they all had one thing in common. They all died after World War II, which meant that Europe was in chaos from before 1939 and up through the early 1950s. Museums were raided (Nazis), paintings stolen, priceless masterpieces lost, destroyed or in the hands of private collectors.
Beltracchi, like Mark Landis, is a gifted artist (and also an art historian) in his own right, but his confidence scheme used the chaos of the war years and the demise of these famous artists to fill in the gaps of their collective works. Think about it, there are no witnesses, so if suddenly a “missing” Max Ernst painting is found, who is to say, “I didn’t paint that!!!”
Indeed, his wife, Helene became part of his elaborate hoax. She convinced the world that her grandfather had hidden many of the German painters works from the Nazi onslaught. Museums, curators and even the renown Sotheby's auction house fell for it.
He was finally undone when a rare work of modernist Heinrich Campendonk, that he had “envisioned,” contained paint that did not exist prior to World War I.
Wolfgang Beltracchi ended up doing six years in prison and owes millions in fines. Filmmaker Arne Birkenstock was able to get Beltracchi to sit down and talk about his “work.”
There remains a great irony to his collective “work,” many of those who bought such paintings remain in denial that they are actually forgeries. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, then it must be a duck!!!
Beltracchi: The Art Of Forgery is presented in German with English subtitles. Bonus features include separate video sessions with Wolfgang and Helene Beltracchi and filmmaker Arne Birkenstock, plus the featurette titled, “Art Authenticators Visit Beltracchi’s Studio.”