We often talk about provenance, in relation to looted artefacts, being later sold on – and the fact that without provenance, it is hard to really know what the artefact is – where it really came from & whether it is genuine or not. What is sometimes overlooked is that such issues of provenance can sometimes have just as much effect on far more recent art works.
The message is clear – all artwork needs a full provenance, to be certain of its authenticity. The people who buy works which do not have one are encouraging the market in looting & fakes, while at the same time possibly purchasing worth a tiny fraction of what they paid for it.
Vanity Fair 
A Question of Provenance
By Michael Shnayerson
Ann Freedman had come to Knoedler one last time.
On a mid-February day, she approached the mansion at 19 East 70th Street, where New York’s most venerable art gallery used to be, before its sudden, shocking closing last fall amid forgery allegations. “It’s amazing to think that this institution never stopped for 165 years,” she said. “It didn’t stop during the Civil War, World War I, World War II … I kept it open on 9/11.”
Now the doors were locked, the building cleaned out. The new owner was about to take possession. Knoedler’s former director had wangled a walk-through: a chance, as she put it, to be the last one in and the last one out of this gallery that had once sold Raphaels and Vermeers to Mellons and Fricks. She seemed not to wonder whether she was part of the reason these rooms were now empty.
Freedman is 63 now; tall and gaunt, with silver corkscrew curls and round wire-rimmed glasses, she is given to stylish pantsuits and dramatic belts. She’s genial but somehow remote, the sort who seems to talk mostly to control the airspace.
“The significance of this institution,” she declared, “will not rest on the David Herbert collection.”
But it will.
The e-mail that brought the art world’s latest scandal to light came to Knoedler last November 29. It disclosed the results of forensic tests done to a Jackson Pollock painting, Untitled 1950, that the gallery had sold in 2007 for $17 million to Pierre Lagrange, a London hedge-fund multi-millionaire. Done in the painter’s classic drip-and-splash style and signed “J. Pollock,” the modest-size painting (15 inches by 281 1/2 inches) was found to contain yellow paint pigments not commercially available until about 1970. This was discouraging, since the painter’s fateful car crash had occurred on August 11, 1956.
Lagrange wasn’t just discouraged. He was furious. Fiftyish, given to long brown locks and blue jeans, he had startled London society in 2011 by leaving his wife and three children, only to take up with a 42-year-old male fashion designer named Roubi L’Roubi. Selling the painting had been part of his effort to divide assets in connection with a divorce settlement that might be one of the largest in British history. Now he was giving Knoedler 48 hours to agree to reimburse him or face a lawsuit. To the art world’s astonishment, the venerable gallery simply pulled its brass doors shut. (Knoedler has said that the closing was a business decision unrelated to the Lagrange suit.)
The Pollock turns out to be just one of roughly 20 paintings with the same sketchy backstory, sold for tens of millions by Knoedler on Freedman’s watch: the so-called David Herbert collection. All are purportedly by the giants of 20th-century Abstract Expressionist painting: Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Clyfford Still, Franz Kline, in addition to Pollock. According to Freedman, all came from Glafira Rosales, a Long Island woman virtually unknown in the art world. She claimed to represent an anonymous owner Freedman calls “Mr. X Jr.” Rosales is now a subject of investigations by the F.B.I. and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which has impaneled a grand jury. And all the works may be fakes, although no one can yet say, with absolute certainty, whether any are: even forensic tests can be flawed. Freedman, whose lawyer claims she’s not a subject of the investigations, is determined not only to salvage her reputation but to prove she has discovered the greatest unknown trove of modern masterpieces. “The works are of a five-star quality,” she says. “Maybe a few are four-star, but mostly five-star, which is why they’ve stirred such attention.”
The story Freedman tells of how the paintings lay undetected for as long as 60 years is a potpourri of gay art-world connections, art sold for cash on the sly, and a closeted tycoon. True or not, it marks a bizarre end for what was, not so long ago, one of the world’s best-known art galleries.
Gone, along with the gallery, is the blue awning, which had graced Knoedler’s eighth home, the end of an uptown migration that mirrored the city’s own restless, northward drive. So little were New Yorkers acquainted with art in 1852 when Bavarian-born Michel Knoedler came to manage a shop at Broadway and Duane Street started by his French employers, Goupil, Vibert & Co., it wasn’t even called an art gallery. The shop sold frames, art supplies, prints, and engravings. Even from the start, though, Knoedler had ambitions with American art: he sold a full-size engraving of Washington Crossing the Delaware, the monumental new painting by Emanuel Leutze, at $20 per copy.
Then came the gold rush, and the first oil tycoons. By 1859, when Knoedler moved up Broadway across from Grace Church, he was selling Barbizon School landscapes to a new generation of mansion dwellers. Knoedler was more than a gallery now. It pretty much was the New York art scene, there before any of the city’s major art museums. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art opened in 1872.) Its reputation only grew after Michel’s son Roland took over after his father’s death, in 1878. If Michel was the art-world pioneer, Roland was its reigning prince.
The robber barons who started flocking to Knoedler—from railroad builder Jay Gould and banker J. P. Morgan to oil monopolist John D. Rockefeller, real-estate speculator John Jacob Astor, and sugar refiner Henry O. Havemeyer—snapped up old masters that became the core of several key public collections: the Frick for one, the National Gallery for another. But Knoedler’s real brilliance was in taking chances on contemporary art, one era to the next, from Degas and Manet to John Singer Sargent and William Merritt Chase. It did miss the Abstract Expressionists when they emerged, and came so close to bankruptcy that in 1971 industrialist Armand Hammer could buy it for a mere $2.5 million. But Hammer hired, as Knoedler’s director, a well-connected art-world figure with a discerning eye named Lawrence Rubin, who brought in Frank Stella, Richard Diebenkorn, and other prominent contemporary artists, and so began the gallery’s last golden phase. Inclined to long lunches with his artists, Rubin tended to leave the business of actually selling their work to a young, ambitious assistant named Ann Freedman.
The Art of Selling
The daughter of a Scarsdale real-estate executive, a B.F.A. painting major at Washington University in St. Louis, Freedman had started as a receptionist at the André Emmerich gallery—a rival of Knoedler—before going to Knoedler in 1977. She lacked Rubin’s expertise, but she sure could sell.
“I had never seen anything like it before or since. She could sell the proverbial snow to Eskimos,” says Will Ameringer, who worked with Freedman in the 1980s and now has his own gallery. “Once the client was in her office/showroom, there was no getting out [without buying a painting].”
As Freedman rose to become Knoedler’s director, she drew her share of admirers. “She ran Knoedler with great panache,” says Roger Kimball, editor and publisher of The New Criterion. “She is a woman who cares passionately about art and artists.” Other gallerists had their qualms. “I think for her it was always about making it rain,” says Michael David, a former artist with Knoedler. “I think that was how she defined herself. She was great at what she did, [but] she had an edge, she took no prisoners, and she could be vindictive.” In her defense, Freedman says, “Being vindictive is not on my radar screen in my personal life or … as a serious dealer for close to four decades.” Ameringer calls her a fabulist who believes her own stories. “She could point to the blue sky and tell you it was red, and she would believe it.” Freedman responds: “I talked to the best people I could. I would get opinions from some of the most credible experts.”
Odd couple though they were, Rubin and Freedman worked well together until 1994, when Rubin decided to leave, but on his own terms. Knoedler would be run by two co-directors, he announced: Freedman and an outsider named Donald Saff, a publisher of Robert Rauschenberg and Roy Lichtenstein. “I thought Don would run it,” recalls Rubin, “and with luck Ann would go on being the salesperson she was.”
Freedman was furious. She demanded a meeting with Michael Hammer, who had eventually taken over after his grandfather’s death, in 1991. Hammer gave in: Freedman was named the gallery’s sole new director. Freedman says that “a few clients convinced me that I should not just sit back and let something happen I then met with Michael and he made an immediate decision to have me run the gallery.”
Soon after, Rubin was escorted out.
Into Knoedler, sometime later, wafted the well-dressed and cultivated Glafira Rosales, then about 40. She and Freedman had met through Jaime Andrade, whom Larry Rubin had brought to Knoedler decades before. The Ecuadoran-born Andrade did everything from hang paintings to schmooze with collectors; in courtroom testimony, Freedman would call him an ambassador for the gallery. Freedman says Andrade told her that Rosales had art to bring in.
That first time, she came bearing a Rothko work on paper. Freedman was dazzled. After consulting experts, she felt it was clearly authentic, though its story was, admittedly, sketchy. Rosales said she had a friend who wanted to consign the work to Knoedler. The friend wanted to stay anonymous.
As Freedman remembers it, Rosales said Mr. X Jr.’s Philippines-based parents had known Alfonso Ossorio, an Abstract Expressionist painter and onetime owner of the Creeks, the East Hampton waterfront estate that now belongs to billionaire Ronald Perelman. Supposedly Ossorio brought the couple to artists’ studios, where they purchased paintings from the artists directly. The paintings remained in storage until their son—Mr. X Jr.—inherited them, so none appear in the catalogues raisonnés of the now dead artists.
According to Freedman, Rosales consigned the works one at a time, in each case for an agreed-upon flat price: whatever Knoedler could make over and above that price it could keep. The potential was huge. But profit was just part of it. “I always felt that each time I got a work in, and I was able to place it or sell it, that that would enable me to meet ‘Mr. X Jr.,’ ” Freedman says, “that he would trust me more, and that I would do anything to protect his privacy, but could I get on a plane to meet him?” Rosales never said never; she just said, “Not now.” (Rosales’s attorney, Anastasios Sarikas, citing pending litigation, declines to discuss details of the case, but says, “The statements about Glafira Rosales’s peregrinations are very fanciful, as is much of what Ann Freedman claims to remember.”)
One day early on, Freedman says, Rosales called her with terrible news. A car accident had occurred with a Clyfford Still painting she had planned to bring in. Only a fragment had survived the engine fire. Freedman showed the fragment to David Anfam, a leading Still scholar; he admits that the fragment was “visually very convincing,” but says that he took a cautious approach nonetheless. Freedman had the paint pigments tested; one, she says, turned out to be a pigment the reclusive painter often used.
For Freedman, that wasn’t the only proof. “Every time we got a painting from Glafira, we’d hang it in the [Knoedler’s] booth at the [Park Avenue] Armory,” she says of the annual show hosted in New York by the Art Dealers Association of America (A.D.A.A.), which nearly all top dealers attend. Hour after hour, colleagues would stop to examine her shining stars, as she called the paintings. “Had anyone found anything wrong, meaning they weren’t ‘right,’ ” says Freedman, “believe me, I would have been told, ‘Take that down off the wall.’ No one ever did that.”
Three well-known dealers take exception to that logic. “Everyone would say, ‘Huh?’ ” says one. “You’d look it up, and there wouldn’t be any record on it.”
“They didn’t feel right,” says a second. The Pollocks in particular “were too perfect, too symmetrical.” But like the first dealer, this one just kept mum. “The pros don’t say anything—they just turn their backs,” he explains.
“There was always incredulity among dealers,” says a third. “ ‘What the fuck is that?’ ” (Freedman responds: “Professional jealousy is not charming.”)
Nevertheless, Freedman saw the armory shows as a building block toward authentication. She was on a mission. And, in the process, selling a lot of art.
A big score came in late 2001, when Jack Levy, Goldman Sachs’s co-chairman of mergers and acquisitions, agreed to pay $2 million for a Jackson Pollock, the first of four Rosales would bring in, according to Freedman. She says she did tell him that the work, Untitled 1949, wasn’t in the Pollock catalogue raisonné and that its provenance “was yet to be fully sourced … the owner’s identity unknown.” But Freedman said she had no doubt it was genuine. The banker set one firm condition. The work would have to be vetted by the International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR).
In late 2003, IFAR said it couldn’t be sure the work was by the hand of Pollock. The problem, recalls Freedman, was that story about Ossorio. He was no longer alive to confirm or deny it, but Ted Dragon, his longtime companion, was. “Ted Dragon went crazy,” says Freedman. “ ‘Ossorio would never have hidden anything from me.’ ” So, the provenance started to affect IFAR’s view. A spokesperson for IFAR says that the Ossorio story was only one reason, and that, “despite extensive research, we could not substantiate any of the limited provenance provided.”
Levy returned the painting and got his money back. The whole business stayed very hush-hush.
The Mr. X Files
Then, Freedman says, the story changed—or perhaps broadened. Ossorio and Ted Dragon had been part of a gay art-world circle in the 1950s that had included a gallery assistant named David Herbert. Rosales supposedly had gotten it wrong: Herbert was the key character, not Ossorio. Mr. X had indeed come to New York from some faraway place—Switzerland, it seemed, not the Philippines—though not with his wife. In fact, Mr. X Sr. was gay and quite wealthy. He embarked on a romantic relationship with Herbert, who steered him to studios, where he bought a lot of paintings. Herbert had worked at two of the most important galleries of the 1950s, Betty Parsons and Sidney Janis. According to Freedman, he had a penchant for selling works by the galleries’ artists out the back door: either from their studios or his own apartment, for cash.
But then the romance ended. “Mr. X Sr. was in a closeted gay world: he had a wife and two children. He had to decide: would he give up the gay world in New York?” He did, apparently returning to Switzerland with the paintings in hand.
“The fear was that, if the paintings came out while Herbert was alive, he might have been extremely upset, and revealed the identity of the owner,” says Freedman. “There’s no question that the paintings would have been paid for with cash, taxes not paid, assets not declared, and you can go to jail for that.”
Even after Mr. X Sr. died, Freedman says, the paintings stayed hidden, in the hands of his son—Mr. X Jr.—until David Herbert died, in 1995. Only then, she believes, could they be sold—quietly, one by one, to overcome the weak provenance.
Herbert had existed—that much was for sure. “He was a gadfly around 57th Street,” recalls veteran dealer David McKee. Herbert had indeed worked at the Betty Parsons and Sidney Janis galleries in the 1950s; he was part of a gay art-world circle; he left Janis in 1959, briefly to manage a new gallery for Richard Feigen, the now prominent dealer—“no managerial skills at all,” recalls Feigen—before slipping into a long decline.
Herbert would dine with an aging circle of art-world friends, recalls a former Knoedler employee. The circle included Jaime Andrade. (Andrade declined to talk to Vanity Fair.)
Whatever the links from Herbert to Andrade to Rosales, suggests Carroll Janis, they don’t prove anything about the paintings. Janis, who worked at his father’s gallery in the 1950s and remembers Herbert well, says the story of Herbert’s selling major works on the side is hard to swallow. Sidney Janis kept careful records; so did his artists. Paintings didn’t just disappear. “Even if artists sold works from their studios, they would keep records of what they sold, especially of major paintings, which were few and far between,” Janis says.
Yet no records exist for any of the David Herbert paintings—not from galleries or artists’ studios. “I mean, maybe three weren’t catalogued,” says one dealer. “But 20?”
Curiously, Freedman never sought to learn more about the well-mannered woman who brought her such dazzling, newly discovered pictures. Nor about José Carlos Bergantiños Diaz, Glafira Rosales’s companion. (Freedman says, “I had nothing to do with [him] I found her to be a believable, decent person.”) They are, in fact, almost under the radar. But not quite.
Rosales, 56, lives with Bergantiños on a winding street in Sands Point, an enclave on Long Island’s North Shore said to have been the inspiration for East Egg in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Their house is hardly a Gatsbyish mansion, but at 6,210 square feet, it’s sizable: a Mediterranean-style, white-stucco-walled, red-roofed contemporary bought for $2,365,000 in 2005 and now valued at $6 million. And Rosales dresses well, at least to judge by the partial view of her afforded when she opened the red front door to me a foot or so this past January.
“Boy, do I have a story to tell,” Rosales agreed. “One day it will all be clear, and I’ll tell it. But right now I cannot talk.” Petite and polite, she smiled apologetically at her unexpected visitor.
Both Rosales and Bergantiños have dabbled in the art world, though very much at the margins. Rosales reportedly operated for years as a dealer in the nearby Great Neck area. Bergantiños had a second-floor commercial space in Manhattan at 8–10 West 19th Street that he called King Fine Arts, selling artists’ supplies and materials. King Fine Arts was also a gallery, though an Internet search suggests its most recent show, of three Cuban-American artists, was in 2003.
Bergantiños’s activities as a dealer go back at least to 1990, when he sold a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting through Christie’s for $220,000. But his relations with the auction house soured in 1995, when he made a winning $85,000 bid on a 19th-century Spanish painting, then failed to pick it up and pay for it, causing Christie’s to sue him.
Why did Freedman not look into the couple’s background when so much was at stake? “I don’t do that,” Freedman says. “I thought the scholarship was more important than hiring investigators.” Kristina Olitski, widow of Jules Olitski, a longtime Knoedler artist and a good friend of Freedman’s, offers one explanation. “She’s a straight arrow, an innocent person,” Olitski says.
For each subsequent painting, says Freedman, Rosales would go to Mexico or Switzerland, the two places where Mr. X Jr. lived. When Rosales returned with another work under her arm, the two women would celebrate over lunch at a restaurant. Rosales loved ballroom dancing; she talked about that. She talked about her daughter, a serious violinist. One summer, the daughter worked at Knoedler’s famous art library as an intern. Rosales herself came to gallery openings. “There was nothing covert about it,” Freedman says.
Though Mr. X Jr. remained a mystery, he did relay his satisfaction, says Freedman, with how the works were selling. “She would say, ‘He’s happy with you, Ann, with what you’re doing,’ ” Freedman recalls Rosales saying.
Rosales remained almost as mysterious as Mr. X Jr. But when she brought in other dubious works, from a different source, she left a bit of a trail. These works, seven in all, were ostensibly paintings by Richard Diebenkorn from his “Ocean Park” series: gorgeous, geometrical abstractions of the Santa Monica landscape, where he’d gone to live in the mid-1960s. On the back of each painting was a label from the Vijande gallery, in Madrid, Spain.
Richard Grant, the late artist’s son-in-law and head of the Diebenkorn Foundation, recalls learning as early as 1995 of suspicious “Ocean Park” Diebenkorns at Knoedler. Both Diebenkorn’s widow and daughter say they met with Freedman at the gallery and advised her they had no records of any of them. Yet one after another of the paintings began popping up elsewhere, suggesting Freedman had sold them.
When Grant learned in 2006 that Knoedler had sold one of the paintings to the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, in Kansas City, Missouri, he went first to Freedman, out of courtesy, since she was the one who’d sold it. He found her uncooperative. (Freedman says that Knoedler’s legal counsel advised her not to respond directly.) So he contacted the museum. Soon after, the painting was quietly retired and another “Ocean Park”—this one with clear provenance—put in its place, a gift from Ann Freedman and her husband, Robert, a real-estate developer.
In what must have been a tense time with the Kemper, Freedman turned to Rosales for help in shoring up the provenance of the Vijande-gallery Diebenkorns. Rosales interviewed one Cesareo Fontenla, a Spaniard from Madrid, who answered a series of questions from Rosales about how he came to acquire the paintings from Vijande before they went to Knoedler.
Fontenla declared he had a restaurant called Taverna César, located on Fleming Street, near La Castellana Plaza, in Madrid, from the late 1970s until 1985. It was an artists’ hangout: everyone from Francis Bacon to Andy Warhol had come through its doors. Many were brought to the restaurant by gallery owner Fernando Vijande. In 1981 and 1982, Fontenla said, he acquired the Diebenkorn works from Vijande, “some as part of a trade for a work by Dalí, and some in payment for Mr. Vijande’s account at the restaurant.”
The gallery did exist, until Fernando Vijande’s death, in 1986. But Rodrigo Vijande, the late dealer’s son, finds Fontenla’s story incredible. “I would say I know at least 90 percent of the artists who went through the gallery,” he says when reached in Spain. Diebenkorn wasn’t one of them. Nor has Rodrigo ever heard of the Taverna César. “Both galleries that my father owned in Madrid were right where he lived, in front of his house, on Núñez de Balboa, in the center of Madrid,” Rodrigo notes. “Fleming Street is about two or three miles away.” Not, perhaps, an implausible distance except, says his son, that the gallery owner didn’t drive. That was why he lived some 50 yards from his galleries.
“Father had a magnificent cook,” Rodrigo adds, “and so he never ate out of home. He brought his clients to his home to eat.” (Fontenla could not be reached for comment.)
Of the works that came in from Rosales, Freedman and her husband bought three for themselves. At FreedmanArt, the gallery she opened after her abrupt departure from Knoedler, in 2009, she shows a small Robert Motherwell. The others are at her home, a short walk away. Paintings cover the walls of the apartment she and her husband share, amid them a small Pollock and a Rothko. “I believed in the works then; I believe in them now,” Freedman declares. But the prices she reportedly paid were way below market: $200,000 for the Rothko, $300,000 for the Pollock, and, most remarkably, $20,000 for the Motherwell. In 2007 a similar Motherwell went for $1 million. Freedman says she bought her painting at “a quiet time” in the late painter’s market and paid a dealer’s rate.
Freedman chose not to buy the two larger Pollocks from the David Herbert collection: the greenish one Goldman Sachs’s Jack Levy had returned, and a silvery one Rosales brought in around 2002 that would eventually be sold to Lagrange. But she did have Knoedler become a part owner of each, and Freedman herself bought a one-third share of the Levy Pollock. If Freedman and Knoedler could sell those works three or four years after investing in them, both would make a killing.
In November 2007, the silvery one did sell to Lagrange, through middleman Jaime Frankfurt, a longtime New York dealer and man-about-town. He says he’s clear on what Ann Freedman told him when he saw it: “ ‘There’s going to be a supplement to the catalogue raisonné. I’m actually in touch with the people at the Pollock-Krasner, who are going to be taking over the reins of the foundation.’ ” According to court documents, Tim Taylor, Lagrange’s English dealer, is equally sure that at a subsequent meeting in London Freedman told him the same thing.
Freedman denies that. She admits lobbying the foundation to update the catalogue raisonné. But, she says, she never suggested to Frankfurt or Taylor that this was a done deal, or that Lagrange’s Pollock would be in it. After all, Frankfurt had merely to call the Pollock-Krasner Foundation to learn that the foundation had stopped authenticating Pollocks in 1995, when it published the supplement to the 1978 catalogue raisonné. Frankfurt agrees he should have made that call. But he’d worked with Freedman for years with, as he puts it, “zero problems.”
Whatever Freedman said or didn’t say about a new catalogue raisonné, she definitely included a slip of paper meant to shore up the painting’s credibility. In small type, it listed the names of 12 art scholars who had “viewed” Untitled 1950.
None of the scholars, it turned out, had come to Knoedler in order to examine, much less authenticate, it. “I can’t just cold-canvass an art historian and say, ‘Would you please come in and look at my Pollock?’ ” Freedman explains. Instead, when a scholar wandered into Knoedler for some other reason, she would lead him upstairs to see her Pollocks. She says the scholars seemed to like them. They said nice things. Surely they had viewed them. And so, when it came time to pitch Lagrange, Freedman put all their names on the list.
Only one of the scholars appears to have known his name was being used this way: E. A. Carmean, a former museum director who also has been a paid consultant to Knoedler, on retainer since the early 2000s. Others say they had no idea until they got a call from the F.B.I.—or Vanity Fair. “I was very surprised,” says Pepe Karmel, associate professor of art history at New York University, especially because he hadn’t declared the painting was right. “I said what I always say, ‘Send it over to IFAR. They’re the only ones authorized to have an opinion.’ ” Also on the list were the two top officers of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, Charles Bergman and Samuel Sachs. “They definitely have not expressed an opinion on the authenticity of this work,” says a representative for them.
Even as Lagrange hung his new, $17 million painting in his lavish Kensington home, a series of other Knoedler works, by Robert Motherwell, was coming under fire.
By the summer of 2009, the F.B.I. had issued subpoenas to Freedman and others, curious to know more about the David Herbert collection. On October 16 of that year—a date Freedman remembers well—she was escorted out the front door, just as Larry Rubin had been 15 years before.
The urgent calls from Frankfurt and Taylor came one year later. Lagrange had offered the Pollock to Sotheby’s; Sotheby’s had declined. Where, Frankfurt and Taylor wanted to know, was the new supplement to the catalogue raisonné?
Hearing Lagrange would be in New York, Freedman suggested a drink at the Carlyle. She arrived first and picked a nice table. In came Lagrange with his lawyer, Matthew Dontzin. This was the first time Freedman had met Lagrange: the two had been kept apart by the middlemen. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you,” said Freedman brightly.
“I want my money,” Lagrange growled.
“Let’s see what we can do to help one another in this,” Freedman replied, “because I don’t know how to predict timing.” “I want my money,” Lagrange said more loudly. “And I want it now.”
In fact, the middlemen dealers would give back their 10 percent commission. But that left $15.3 million. Freedman says Lagrange started pounding the table. Lagrange has a different recollection. “I wasn’t banging my fist on the table,” he says. He was more shocked than angry. “It’s quite extraordinary to hear her version of the truth. She contradicts herself; then, even when you point it out, she doesn’t waffle.” Lagrange recalls Freedman saying, “The painting is perfect.” “I said, ‘It’s so perfect I can’t sell it.’ ”
Most outrageous, to Lagrange, was her suggestion she find another buyer. “You can’t sell it pretending there’s no problem,” he says he told her. “Even if I get my money back, it’s completely unfair to the other collector. And in the end I’m going to get sued.” (Freedman says that she believes the Pollock to be genuine—for Lagrange, or any other collector.)
With the threat of a lawsuit in the air, Knoedler agreed to give Lagrange his money back. There was just one problem. The gallery owned only 50 percent of Untitled 1950. Freedman had off-loaded the other 50 percent to a Canadian collector named David Mirvish, who had almost certainly made a big profit when the painting sold to Lagrange. He preferred not to give his half back.
“Mirvish was a stunner,” says Dontzin. On the invoice the painting’s provenance was stated as “the artist (via David Herbert). Private collection. By descent to present owner.” It failed to mention that the present owners were Knoedler and Mirvish.
(A Knoedler spokesperson says that it is common and appropriate to sell art from gallery inventory, and that any relevant information was disclosed to the buyer.)
The F.B.I. and U.S. Attorney’s Office are exploring criminal charges regarding the “David Herbert collection,” but pinning any on Freedman will be hard. “If you catch the forger, you can prove he committed the crime,” observes one well-known art-world lawyer. “But someone selling the forgery? Harder. You have to show that he knew he was doing it.”
“Ann believes the paintings are authentic,” insists Freedman’s lawyer, Nicholas Gravante, of Boies, Schiller. “No one who has seen her research could ever seriously claim she acted in bad faith.”
In early March, Freedman tried one more time to answer the question: Why take on paintings with no provenance?
“Because we haven’t yet sorted out the provenance doesn’t mean there’s no provenance,” she said.
Freedman says she showed the paintings to experts, some of the best. She felt she’d done all she could do. If she then put their names on a list as having “affirmed” the silver Pollock, it was, she said, “a private memo. I regret that anyone’s name had to be put on the list without any forewarning.”
The forensic tests, said Freedman, were meaningless: artists of the 1950s were often given experimental paints long before those paints hit the market.
“Thank God that I didn’t just let these paintings die because no one had the courage of their convictions,” she said. “There are mysteries in life, mysteries that last a long time and then get solved. But no one is going to tell me that something isn’t right until it’s proven.
“When all this comes out to be true,” Freedman added, “I’ll be thanked. That’s what I believe.”