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Art Theft

The now you see it, now you don’t, James Stunt “art collection”


Fake: false, copy, imitation, mock-up, dummy, phony, punked, dodgy, forged, or in art world parlance “not right”

Screenshot 2020 03 18 at 21.14.58Left, British bad boy James Stunt Right, London art dealer Philip Mould, the BBC’s well-known Fake or Fortune hunter

The story broke in a British tabloid, the Mail on Sunday 15 Feb 2020, that a London loan company were looking for downtrodden British “billionaire” James Stunt’s art collection. Valuable paintings worth £6 million, it was stated, had been pawned as collateral leading up to 2019, and are now missing. The loan company had already seized Stunt’s posh £13 million London residence a few days before this report, throwing Stunt into the gutter where most people might think he rightly belongs.

The news seems as fake as the paintings

The problem with trying to follow any of this story is Stunt’s art collection is fake, so why bother looking for it? Just last December the Daily Mail (MailOnline), the Mail on Sunday sister journal, quoting the “respected art market expert and author” Georgina Adams, reported that Stunt hadn’t been able to borrow money on his paintings leading up to a bankruptcy charge in June 2019, because, well because he was Stunt (and the paintings were fakes).

Adams (The Art Newspaper), quoting the Mail on Sunday in November 2019, had said that a Monet, a Picasso and a Dalì belonging to Stunt, and on display at Prince Charles’s Dumfries House in Scotland, had been offered to secure loans, but were all fakes executed by convicted American forger Tony Tetro. The loan requests were turned down, therefore, she said.

Confusingly however, it is now reported a loan company had lent money on the security of Stunt paintings around 2019, and this company is consequently on the look-out for a “genuine” Stunt Monet and a “genuine” Stunt Chagall, which are said to be missing (Mail on Sunday 16 March 2020). This report has been made despite that around December 2019 the Daily Mail (MailOnline) reported Stunt’s “Chagall” was fake, as was his second “Monet”, which was also fake. So according to previous Daily Mail articles, Stunt doesn’t have any genuine Monets or a genuine Chagall.

A stew of lies

This is surely all a stew of lies and ignorance. The Art Newspaper editor Georgina Adams was up at Dumfries House in May 2019, it would appear oblivious of the Stunt fakes that were already hanging there. (Otherwise surely she would have reported it then?)

Along with specialist Bendor Grosvenor, who calls himself an “art historian” and uses the title “Dr” incorrectly in this regard, they were busy in a nearby marquee erected in the gardens of the house for the annual Boswell Book Fair. But they didn’t look at any paintings despite they were billed by the organizers as art specialists, ready to talk not just about paintings, but the dark side of the industry.

Bendor Grosvenor pimped for the BBC’s well-known “Fake or Fortune?” hunter Philip Mould back in the day, and Philip Mould was tight with “art collector” James Stunt, so Grosvenor knows James Stunt. But he had no interest, I am told, in the now disgraced bad boy’s “collection” on show at Dumfries House (that is while he and Adams were right there at Dumfries House in May 2019 before the collection was “outed” as fake).

Flash and cash Rogers, and Prince Charles

The mystery of how this dreadful fake collection ended up in Scotland in Prince Charles’s Dumfries House in the first place was revealed this year in February in the American Vanity Fair. It was vetted and proposed to Charles by Boston Museum of Fine Arts ex-director of twenty years Malcolm Rogers, also a supposed Van Dyck expert. He has been called a “flash and cash” director by the Boston Magazine (2015). It was he who showed Charles the collection early in 2017.

Screenshot 2020 03 18 at 21.18.21Left, Charles, Prince of Wales. Right, Malcolm Rogers pictured just before he left Boston in 2015

Charles and Rogers stood together admiring Stunt’s paintings lined up for the prince at his Clarence House residence, Mark Seal reports, and it is said Charles went into raptures, especially over Stunt’s “Van Dycks”. Neither the prince nor Rogers noticed anything amiss with any of the reported seventeen paintings, which is odd as both style themselves art luvvies if not connoisseurs. At that introduction James Stunt himself was absent.

But like everything in this story reported in Vanity Fair it only goes half-way to the truth. Indeed, Malcolm Rogers and James Stunt were old buddies at that point in early 2017, having been closely acquainted as early as 2014, when Rogers facilitated five of Stunt’s “Old Masters” to go on display at the public Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, United States.

Two of these Stunt paintings were recycled, already widely known by experts at best as studio copies. For the Boston display they had nevertheless been generously upgraded by new owners. One of the paintings was said to now be a Van Dyck, a portrait of a printer as a musician, that Rogers himself did the expertise for when it went on sale at Christie’s, upgraded to an expensive “original” in November 2018. It sold to some mug for $1.8 million, having been bought in 2012 for $350K as a studio copy by a London dealer Fergus Hall, someone who has close associations with Philip Mould.

The Old Master model

It was this same model that was used at Dumfries House – hang the dodgy painting(s) in a public museum to mature for however long was needed or could be achieved, then fling them back onto auction and flog them on for huge profits. The London art luvvies and dealers who orbited around “collector” James Stunt in those days, like flies hovering around cow manure, developed the model for him. Between 2013 and 2017 Stunt’s “collection”, or at least pieces of it, were shown in public with all the attending publicity at the Huntingdon Library in Los Angeles (2013), the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (2014,) and then at Dumfries House in 2017.

Screenshot 2020 03 18 at 21.20.26Dodgy I, Dodgy II and Dodgy III

Another dodgy Old Master offer to Stunt came directly from Philip Mould. Mould bought a painting that had long been considered a copy for £8.5 million at a Sotheby’s auction in 2009 (then upgraded to an original) and was offering it to Stunt for £12.5 million. This was as early as 2012. It was a supposed Van Dyck Self Portrait, which now bizarrely hangs in the London National Portrait Gallery courtesy of the British public and its generous patrons who donated £10.5 million to Philip Mould to keep the work in the United Kingdom. This extrapolated as a situation as Stunt withdrew his offer when he couldn’t get an export license to take the painting to America, which is what he said he wanted to do.

The paintings and the money lenders

Georgina Adams, when she later in 2019 reported on the Stunt loan requests (the ones that she said failed), claimed the loan companies who blabbed about Stunt’s attempts to secure multi-million-pound loans couldn’t be named due “to confidentiality agreements”. I remain mystified how the loan companies could keep their own names confidential but could blab about a client, even if it was the much-vilified Stunt. That aside, the amount Stunt was said to be looking for in November 2019 seems to tally with the amount the loan company, West One Loan Limited, is looking for now, the loan remaining unpaid and the reason they could seize Stunt’s home in March this year, and the reason, it is said, they are looking for paintings.

Stunt seemed on a mission late last year, it would appear if Adams is to be believed, to borrow from Peter to pay Paul, as West One Loan Limited, who last week evicted him from Belgravia, was a loan company that had lent Stunt money. This company must surely be the same one that the Daily Mail (MailOnline) reported on anonymously in January 2019. The Daily Mail (MailOnline) claimed a loan company had lent Stunt £6 million, secured on this very home, and together with a single painting the loan company took away as a “pawn”. That £6 million loan was undoubtedly secured at the maximum interest rate, and as his life spiraled out of control Stunt couldn’t repay it on time, so his bum is now on the streets.

Enter the Old Masters (and the Cheeke of it)

Significantly, the Daily Mail (MailOnline) reports this March that West One Loan Limited is looking for more than just one painting, that is, apart from the one they already took away as security in January 2019. “Creditors owed millions of pounds by disgraced tycoon James Stunt are urgently hunting for a number of Old Master paintings  …”. The Daily Mail (MailOnline) gives a clue that at least one of these “Old Masters” is a “Van Dyck”.

I would take a flying guess and say the supposed “valuable” Van Dyck painting that was taken away for pawn in 2019 was likely therefore a Philip Mould upgrading, the proposed Cheeke Sisters. As Christie’s New York recently in 2018 “valued” that piece at around $2 million, and the value quoted in January 2019 was £2 million, and the painting seems to have disappeared, likely that’s it. I won’t digress too much at this juncture, but what I can say to West One is “good luck with that one”. That painting is riddled with uncertainties, and was bought by London dealer Mould in 2004, when Christie’s valued it as a “Studio” painting at around $40,000 (if that is even the same work). Mould hammered it down for $130,700.

Notably, already in 2014, AAD alerted the artworld to this burgeoning potential Old Master art scam, reporting on a dodgy “Gainsborough” also then in Stunt’s collection, one that had been supplied to him again through Philip Mould. Mould paid around £10,000 for the piece in 2011 at a New Orleans auction, but by 2014 Stunt was punting it for £1.5 to £2 million at a Sotheby’s London summer sale.

This mock Gainsborough Cottage Door, which had been on display at the Huntington Library along with the Cheeke Sisters in 2013, is clearly a fake upgrade. There is a strong likelihood that every “Old Master” painting James Stunt has in his “collection” falls into this suspect category, as we’ve already counted to four, and there are undoubtedly more. The loan company is on a futile mission, therefore, if their mission is to recover “valuable” Old Masters from James Stunt, because the truth is there likely aren’t any.

The issue of the Proceeds of Crime Order

The overlooked point in this latest round of reporting on the James Stunt art saga is the paintings were surely restrained from sale or pawning anyway, under a Proceeds of Crime Order taken against Stunt at the end of 2018. This order is the very reason he is, as he claims, a “poor” billionaire. He would need permission to sell these paintings, even to pay creditors, as along with all his other woes Stunt is now also a declared bankrupt (June 2019). But no one is any longer talking about this. It is as if the media are all caught up in the web of lies and deception.

However, in a recent Instagram video James Stunt made it clear that a Crown Prosecution Services ruling prevented him from selling any of his paintings. The reality is the CPS already knows such would be futile exercise anyway as no one in their right mind would buy any of them. The collection is fake. The Proceeds of Crime Order appears to still be in place, and will remain in effect until/or if the CPS decides to prosecute, or finally drops the possibility.

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Links (in chronological order)

“Studio of Sir Anthony Van Dyck The Cheeke Sisters ” (23 January 2004) Christie’s New York Sale Catalogue

“Sir Anthony Van Dyck Self Portrait” (9 December 2009) Sotheby’s Sale Catalogue

“Cheek to Cheek” (22 March 2013) The Huntington Library

“Revisiting the Cottage Door: Gainsborough’s Masterpiece in Focus” (1 June 2013) The Huntington Library

“Van Dyck ‘Selfie’ update” (17 February 2014) Art History News

 “Britain closer to keeping van Dyck Self Portrait” (28 March 2014)

“Collector James Stunt lends major British paintings to Museum of Fine Arts, Boston” (2 April 2014) Boston Museum of Fine Arts

“Thomas Gainsborough, R.A. The Cottage Door” (9 July 2014) Sotheby’s Sales Catalogue

“Changing Mould: where to the super-sleuth?” (26 September 2014) AAD – Art Antiques Design

“Malcolm Rogers has left the building” (25 August 2015) Boston Magazine

“Two Cottage Doors” (7 October 2015) AAD – Art Antiques Design

“17500 – 17 Stunt v The Mail on Sunday” (20 December 2017) Independent Press Standards Organization

“Sir Anthony van Dyck François Langlois, called Ciartres” (19 April 2018) Christie’s New York Sales Catalogue

“EXCLUSIVE James Stunt ‘borrows £6 million and pawns artwork’ against Mayfair home in dramatic money raising move – as his gold bullion firm faces bankruptcy” (25 January 2019) Daily Mail (MailOnline)

“Claimant ordered to pay £460,000 as security for defendant’s costs, despite having assets frozen” (19 February 2019) Matrix Chambers (Online)

“Boswell Book Festival” (10–11 May 2019) Dumfries House, Ayshire

“James Stunts £2m fleet of supercars collecting parking tickets” (9 June 2019) BioReports

“News: Stunt vs. Associated Newspapers, Data Protection Reference to CJEU withdrawn” (29 October 2019) Inforrms Blog

“Bankrupt ‘playboy’ James Stunt attempted to borrow £40m against works of art claimed to be forgeries” (27 November 2019) The Art Newspaper

“Exposed: how playboy James Stunt used the fake art he lent Prince Charles to try to borrow millions … as it is revealed a FOURTH painting hanging on the royal’s wall was created by a forger” (7 December 2019) Daily Mail (MailOnline) 

“Fake or Fortune? The astounding saga of James Stunt” (10 December 2019) Gateway Gallery

“The Prince, the Flash and the Forger” (20 February 2020) Vanity Fair

“Prince Charles couldn’t spot the fake artwork – could you?” (6 March 2020) Town & Country

“‘You’ve made a billionaire homeless!’ Ex-husband of Forumla 1 heiress Petra Ecclestone, 38, James Stunt goes on bizarre tirade after bailiff’s repossess his three multi-million pound luxury homes” (12 March 2020) Daily Mail (MailOnline)

“Creditors are hunting for £6 million worth of paintings which have ‘gone missing’ after James Stunt was evicted from his £13 million Belgravia House” (15 March 2020) Mail on Sunday

About the Author

Dr Susan Grundy

Dr Susan Grundy

Dr Susan Grundy, D Litt et Phil, University of South Africa   Susan Grundy is an independent Art Investigation Consultant, patron and collector of fine art, specializing in Seventeenth Century ...