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A gallery and auction house owner, and eBay seller trading under the tag sambuca914, defrauded dozens of people in sales of bogus artworks, according to a civil complaint filed by the New York Attorney General's Office.

A genuine Kokoschka? Hardly. This painting is by Doris Kurtz of Queens, New York

A genuine Kokoschka? Hardly.
This painting is by Doris Kurtz
of Queens, New York

The allegation charges that Jerry Schuster and his wife, Jill, who operate the Antique & Design Center in New Windsor, New York, and antique-connection.com, sold art for $75,000 by claiming it was by artists such as American Ash Can painter George Luks, California Impressionist Guy Rose, and Austrian Expressionist Oskar Kokoschka, among others. The paintings sold for prices ranging from $770 to $10,000.

"The types of consumer and business scams that we used to see off line have now moved on line," said New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer in a statement. "So our best advice to consumers in this new Internet age is probably the oldest: let the buyer beware, and if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

According to a court filing submitted by Assistant Attorney General Kenneth M. Dreifach, the Schusters sold one painting supposedly by Southwest artist Joseph Sharp, whose images of Indians lit by campfire sell for $70,000 or more three times. Titled Indian Encampment, it sold first to a collector who returned the work. The second sale went to a man from St. Louis for $3,289.55. He, too returned it, and the Schusters then sold it for $1,200 to an unknown bidder.

New York appraiser and dealer Robert Simon, who filed a statement that the work was not by Sharp, said, "The painting was, in quality, impoverished. If you've seen any works by Sharp, it's not believable. But it had a signature of JH Sharp, which is how he signed some of his works."

A still life purportedly by Kokoschka turned out to be a student work. Assistant Attorney General Dreifach brought the alleged Kokoschka to Jane Kallir, co-director of the Galerie St. Etienne, in New York City.

"Generally speaking, there are two ways to tell that something is fake," says Kallir. "One way is subjective, where you say, 'He just didn't paint like this,' which can be difficult to describe to someone not familiar with an artist's work. Then there's the objective way. The back of this painting was sealed and I convinced Mr. Dreifach to open it. It was on American canvas board. So it was certain that it was not of the type that Kokoschka would have used. In fact, there was a label on the back that read, 'Doris Kurtz,' who it turns out lived in Queens. She had done this in some kind of art class."

Still, the painting had sold for $6,101.00 on eBay.

A source close to the investigation noted that the Schusters refunded money when buyers complained. Yet they continued to offer the works of art time and again, even when aware that the works were inauthentic, without advising buyers that the authenticity of the works were in question. Some works had forged signatures, according to Dreifach's complaint, and in some cases the Schusters fabricated bogus provenance to make the artworks seem more legitimate.

Martha Fleischman, president of the Kennedy Galleries in New York, also cooperated with the Attorney General's office and debunked a purported Charles Burchfield watercolor. "A dishonest person can send things out onto the Internet if the values are low enough to stay under the radar. These paintings were not half a million dollar paintings that would draw a lot of attention. They were selling for $2,000, $5,000, $10,000. What's strange is that the people who bought them were hunting for bargains they were thinking that they know more than anyone else, and more than the millions of people scouring Ebay."

On becoming aware of the allegations, eBay suspended the sambuca914 account.



These books are available online through Amazon for worldwide delivery:

Introduction to Object ID: Guidelines for Making Records That Describe Art, Antiques, and Antiquities
by Robin Thornes

Old Masters Repainted: A Detailed Investigation into the Authenticity of Paintings Attributed to Wu Zhen (1280-1354)
by Joan Stanley-Baker

The Art Forger's Handbook
by Eric Hebborn

The Commissar Vanishes: The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin's Russia
by David King

The Fake
by Sandor Radnoti

Detecting Forgery: Forensic Investigation of Documents
by Joe Nickell

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More Amazon books:

Kokoschka (Great Modern Master Series)
by Oskar Kokoschka

Oskar Kokoschka Memorial Exhibition
by Johann Winkler

Oskar Kokoschka
by Klaus Albrecht Schroder