New court documents reveal how a former Franklin Pierce University professor and her son say they obtained valuable works of art. Those paintings, by the New York-based artist Leon Golub, were then sold to a collector who claims they are forgeries.
This story first broke last year, centering the art world’s attention on an unlikely location: Rindge, New Hampshire. NHPR’s Todd Bookman joins Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley for an update on the case.
(Editor’s note: this transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.)
Big money, contemporary art, Rindge, New Hampshire...Todd, remind us of the accusations.
The art collector in this case is a hedge fund guy named Andrew Hall. He made a fortune in oil commodities trading, and, with his money, has taken an interest in fine art.
He owns a gallery space in Vermont, and at that space, he was planning to exhibit some of the paintings he owns by a now deceased New York-based artist named Leon Golub.
Between 2009 and 2011, Hall purchased 24 of these Leon Golub paintings from a New Hampshire mother and son, Lorettann and Nikolas Gascard. Lorettann was an art history professor at Franklin Pierce, where she also ran the on campus gallery. Nikolas was a dean’s list student at Keene State College. According to records, the family lived in both Peterborough and Rindge, and most recently, in Keene.
So Andrew Hall buys these paintings from the Gascards. Then, as he’s preparing to exhibit them, he finds out they’re fakes?
That’s what Hall is alleging, yes. In court documents, he claims that when he was preparing this exhibit, he reached out to the estate of Leon Golub to confirm the exact titles and years of these paintings. And they basically said, we don’t recognize any of these 24 paintings. A former assistant of Leon Golub told Hall that he thought the paintings, in fact, didn’t look quite right.
That’s why Hall is calling them ‘clever forgeries.’ He’s seeking his money back [upwards of $700,000], filing a civil suit in New Hampshire’s Federal Court. For several months last fall, the Gascards seemed to have vanished, but they finally did respond to the allegations in court.
And how do the Gascards claim they acquired these paintings?
According to court documents, the Gascards allegedly told Andrew Hall that Lorettann had in fact been a student of Leon Golub’s in the 1960s, and that the two maintained a friendship, and that’s how she came to possess some of these paintings. She also said that she inherited some Golubs following her sister-in-law’s death.
When you sell paintings of this value, don’t you have to prove their provenance, their authenticity?
Sure, when you buy through an auction house like Christie’s or Sotheby’s, the seller generally has to prove or document in some form how he or she acquired them. The Gascards, who sold these paintings to Andrew Hall through both auctions houses and through direct sales, claimed that they got the Leon Golubs directly from artist himself, which would explain why there weren’t any receipts or other documents certifying the paintings.
And has the Gascard’s story changed?
I don’t know if it has changed, but in excerpts released from their depositions, we are learning a bit more of their side of the story.
Under oath, both the mother and the son tell the same basic anecdote: they were in Germany, this was in 2005 after the sister-in law’s death, they were cleaning out her apartment….and that’s when they opened a hallway closet door and, boom, rolls of paintings by Leon Golub where just sitting there. Paintings, again, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
So still no proof, no documents that these were actual Leon Golubs?
Well, right, that’s the argument Hall’s lawyers are making. But even more interesting are statements made by Nikolas Gascard about the names of these paintings.
According to the transcripts, Nikolas states that when he went to sell these paintings, rather than simply sell them as “untitled works,” which is certainly common in the art world, he instead, apparently came up with his own names for the paintings. He would research actual named paintings by Leon Golub, and then derive his own titles for these paintings.
This, however, was apparently never disclosed to either the auction houses or Mr. Hall.
Naming the paintings yourself...I imagine that is frowned upon in the art world.
You pay that much money, I suppose in private, you can call them whatever you want. But it doesn’t seem like good form to name the unnamed.
So what’s next for Andrew Hall and the Gascards?
Well, it’s going to take a court of law to figure out who is telling the truth here. After representing themselves initially, Lorettann and Nikolas Gascard have hired an attorney. Andrew Hall has commissioned a world renowned scholar of Leon Golub to do his own analysis of these paintings. And a full trial in the case is scheduled for March.