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Art Theft

More on retired Boston museum director Malcolm Rogers, disgraced art collector James Stunt and the Prince Charles Dumfries fakes 

 

Screen shot 2020 03 25 at 17.54.37

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

It is now known that late in 2017 retired museum director Malcolm Rogers showed Britain’s Prince Charles seventeen paintings, including two “Monets”, belonging to bad boy James Stunt. The purpose to encourage the Prince to display the works in a public venue. Rogers now claims he didn’t know a number of these paintings were actually forged, and that Stunt had taken him in. But Roger’s job (he was at the MFA for twenty years and before that at the London National Portrait Gallery) was to know what original paintings should look like. Indeed, in 1998 he oversaw an exhibition specific to Monet. But the Modern forgeries were not the only fakes.

Screen shot 2020 03 25 at 17.59.33Lord Candyland and the dodgy Monet

Background

At the end of 2019 a bankrupt British multi-millionaire and playboy, James Stunt was asked to remove around seventeen paintings that had been on loan and on display for around two years at Prince Charles’s open-to-the-public Dumfries House in Scotland. The reason? It is said the Royal had given wall space to what turned out to be a string of forgeries. But back in 2017, when Stunt lent this collection to the Prince, he couldn’t have been the one to recommend it. He had no background in art, and to those borrowing his artworks it was surely clear he was a novice as he had been “collecting” for only a few years. An expert was therefore needed to facilitate the deal.

At first the Daily Mail (MailOnline) reported that it was Prince Charles’s aide Michael Fawcett who had organized the loan (2 November 2019). But Fawcett knew no more about masterpieces than James Stunt did. When questioned about who really advised Prince Charles to take this “collection” on loan, representatives at Dumfries House refused to comment. It was only in February 2020 that a journalist at American Vanity Fair managed to provide a name, identifying the “expert” who had indeed advised Prince Charles. It was Boston Museum of Fine Arts ex-director Brit Malcolm Rogers (20 February 2020). 

Although journalist Mark Seal cites Charles as a “supreme arbiter of art”, neither Charles nor Rogers saw anything wrong with James Stunt’s “art collection” at the time. Seal reports Charles and Rogers stood together at Clarence House late in 2017 admiring two of James Stunt’s “Van Dycks”. Rogers indeed bills himself as something of a Van Dyck specialist. Prince Charles accepted the loan and the paintings were shipped to be displayed at Dumfries House in Scotland.

Screen shot 2020 03 25 at 17.48.02Left, Prince Charles’s private Clarence House in London Right, Dumfries House in Scotland

The artworld is now clear. The expert who convinced Prince Charles the Stunt collection was a good deal was Malcom Rogers (C.B.E). What is not clear is who, two years later, called at least some of the paintings out as fakes. All that is known is that around the time the news broke that there were fakes at Dumfries House (October 2019), it was reported that a number of “Modern” pieces had actually been painted by convicted American forger Tony Tetro. 

Tetro told the Daily Mail (MailOnline 2 November 2019) he didn’t want to get into trouble by association, so he had contacted Dumfries House late in 2019 to say that three of Stunt’s paintings were in fact his very own recent elaborations. But confusingly Tetro says he already knew in 2017 that Stunt was loaning paintings to Dumfries. What Tetro hasn’t explained is why he waited two years to speak up if he was worried some of those on display at Dumfries might be his. Tetro wasn’t the “whistle blower”. For now, it is not publicly known who was.

Rogers in the frame

Director Malcolm Rogers seems to have done some great things for the MFA, but it was said in 2015 he left a community divided by the results. Stories from America are Rogers also fancied himself a bit of a King of Bling. It was likely his Achilles Heel. Patti Hartigan reported in the Boston at the time that the museum had increased attendance and was more accessible, but that this had been achieved “in part by staging exhibitions that were more about flash and cash and less about artistic standards”. 

Screen shot 2020 03 25 at 18.05.32The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston owns a number of genuine “Monets”  © Image Shutterstock

In the article in February 2020 Seal gave the impression ex-director Rogers was easily duped by Stunt’s rotten collection, including a dodgy Tetro “Monet Water Lilies”, more aptly “Floating cabbage leaves”. But notably, what Seal failed to report was that in 2017 it wasn’t the first time Rogers and Stunt had become acquainted. In April 2014, through the facilitation of this very same Malcolm Rogers, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts announced they would be exhibiting five portraits by considered British Old Masters on loan from no other than James Stunt of the United Kingdom.

A pattern emerges 

An uncomfortable pattern emerges, as these five paintings Rogers funneled through the Museum of Fine Arts in 2014, that is, for James Stunt, in terms of authenticity were no better than the ones that were on display at Dumfries House from 2017. Two of the works attributed to the more visible Old Masters, that is, a “Van Dyck” and a “Reynolds”, were notably already well known second (or even third) versions. At best these “wannabe masterpieces” from Stunt’s “collection” in 2014 were workshop productions, or more likely they were just plain old copies now posing as something more. In short, the authentic Van Dyck and Reynolds originals already hung in museums elsewhere. 

Why was the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston upgrading Stunt’s works? In the museum’s press release at the time of the “exhibition” the Stunt “Van Dyck” had top billing. But the facts of this painting’s new upgrade were nowhere apparent. Indeed, the press release claims the painting was definitively a first version kept by the sitter, while a second version went home to England with Van Dyck (stated as fact). Actually, this is not fact, only supposition.

Screen shot 2020 03 25 at 18.07.42The Langlois “Van Dyck” in multiple versions

The so-called “Langlois Van Dyck” shown in Boston is long recorded as a copy (or perhaps studio version). The Boston Museum of Fine Arts did not make this clear. London art dealer Fergus Hall acquired the studio version in 2012 for $350K. But this was a version sold on to James Stunt, it is now claimed, and was in 2014 being displayed at the Museum of Fine Arts as the real deal (on the word of that very dealer it was now genuine although he had bought it as a studio copy). By 2014 Fergus Hall had sold a Langlois studio copy to James Stunt likely for a handsome profit of somewhere around £1 million. 

There are a number of versions of the “Langlois Van Dyck”

The plan was surely for the fake upgraded “Van Dyck” to sit in the Boston museum for a few years, and then to be sold on in another round of profit taking. Unsurprisingly, the very same “business” model had been used even before this, when the Huntington Library in Los Angeles in 2013 had on display a dodgy Stunt “Van Dyck” (the so-called Cheeke Sisters) and an equally dodgy Stunt “Gainsborough” (see AAD links below).

Indeed, by early 2018 the “Langlois Van Dyck” was on auction at Christie’s New York, with an asking price of $2 million. Startlingly the painting was being auctioned by the very same auction house that had sold it six years earlier as a studio copy. The mark-up was x5. It was a type of “100% interest rate” that normal people can only dream of. It went for $1.8 million. And in a total conflict of interest one of the experts supporting the fake upgrading of this painting was Malcolm Rogers, said to be a “Dr” his philosophy degree is confusingly in English Literature, not in painting attribution or even in general art history.

A burnt collection and a Proceeds of Crime Order

British James Stunt’s “art collection” is well and truly burnt, as the industry phrases it. He’ll never resell any of it. He won’t even be able to find a museum to take it from him for free. But this is not just because he was “doing” Tetro fakes. The Tetro fakes were only a few. Stunt’s “art collection” was smoldering long before 2017 because the vast majority, from when he started “collecting” in 2012 onwards, was basically everyone else’s left-over rubbish, nevertheless sold on to him at greatly inflated prices.

Works were passed on to Stunt by a cartel of unscrupulous London dealers and operators who then facilitated an arrangement to parade these dodgy upgrades before an unsuspecting public by involving equally unscrupulous museums prepared to give wall space to Stunt’s “loans”. A clear example was the “Langlois Van Dyck” hung at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston from 2014 until it sold again at a vastly inflated price early in 2018. Another scam was a “Gainsborough” bought for a song by Philip Mould in 2011 in New Orleans and suddenly on offer at Sotheby’s a few years later for millions, courtesy of a short stint at the Huntington Library, and again funneled through James Stunt.

This buy low, exhibit for a while, and sell huge “art business model” which Stunt was shown by the London cartel was a vehicle to give a veneer of credibility to the fake works being “right”, that is, by the time they hit the second auction round. But by late 2018 Stunt’s “collection” had got caught up in a Proceeds of Crime Order taken out by the Crown Prosecution Services, and it was surely from this moment the easy-peasy money model behind his “collection” started to become apparent to those in authority, when it was realized a court order against the sale of Stunt’s “collection” was a meaningless as the “collection” itself.

Links (in chronological order)

“Malcolm Rogers announces future plans to retire after nearly two decades as Ann and Graham Gund Director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston” (27 February 2014) Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

https://www.mfa.org/news/rogers-retirement

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

https://www.mfa.org/news/stunt-loans

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

https://www.art-antiques-design.com/art/441-changing-mould-where-to-the-super-sleuth

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

https://www.bostonmagazine.com/arts-entertainment/2015/08/25/malcolm-rogers-mfa-boston/

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

https://www.art-antiques-design.com/2015-archive/310-two-cottage-doors-2

“The £50million conundrum: Where IS the ‘fake’ Monet painting that hung at Prince Charles’s Dumfries House?” (2 November 2019) Daily Mail (MailOnline)

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7643229/The-50million-conundrum-fake-Monet-hung-Prince-Charless-Dumfries-House.html

“A former billionaire attempted to borrow $51.7 million against alleged forged artworks” (2 December 2019) artsy.net

https://www.artsy.net/news/artsy-editorial-billionaire-attempted-borrow-517-million-allegedly-forged-artworks

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

https://www.vanityfair.com/style/2020/02/the-prince-charles-art-forgeries-royal-scandal

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 ...