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Art fraud: High court legal battle continues over Christie's 'fake'

A Russian oligarch is suing the renowned auction house Christie's after claiming that they sold him a 'fake' painting for £1.7m in 2005.

The painting in question is Odalisque and was believed to be the work of Russian artist Boris Kustodiev. The painting was bought at an auction in 2005 by Viktor Vekselberg, 56, who is head of Renova Group and worth an estimated $12bn.

Counsel for Mr Vekselberg, Henry Legge QC, claims that the painting cannot be by the artist as the signature on it was signed several years after his death, and as a result they believe that their client is due a refund.

Mr Vekselberg also claims that analysis of the paint used shows it to be an aluminium-based pigment, something which was not commonly used by artists until years after Mr Kustodiev's death in 1927.

The costly 19-day hearing at the High Court will hear evidence from a range of art experts from around the world. Christie's for their part are standing by their assertion, and are prepared to call on their own experts to establish the work as an original.

So far the court has heard argument over custody of the painting, which Mr Vekselberg wishes to retain as he would like to commission further cross-sectional testing of the signature. This test would display whether there was a layer of dust between the painting and the signature, supporting the claim that it is a fake.

Christie's have objected to the test, saying it would be extraordinarily invasive to the painting. They claim that they can prove it to be an original work, and that they can also demonstrate works from 1919 using aluminium-based paint.

Philip Mould, owner of a Mayfair gallery and expert on the subject of fakes believes that cases like this could be set to grow in number:

"I'm not saying anyone will ever seriously doubt that the Mona Lisa was painted by Leonardo da Vinci," he said.

"But I have no doubt that over the next 100 or so years, paintings currently accepted as authentic will be downgraded," he added.

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Read more on the story (The Telegraph)