Knoedler Gallery Shuts: 165 Years Selling Art

Antiques and The Arts Online 6 December 2011
By David S Smith

NEW YORK: Long establishing the climate for tastes among elite art collectors and institutions in and around Manhattan, Knoedler & Company took many by surprise when it locked its doors for the final time on November 30. Considered to be one of the oldest art galleries in the country, it had been in operation for the past 165 years.

Knoedler listed institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Louvre and the Tate as clients. The closing was noted by major newspapers, including The New York Times.

A simple piece of printed paper with the words "Gallery Closed" was posted on the inside of the glass doors at the firm's 19 East 70th Street location.

"It is with profound regret that the owners of Knoedler Gallery announce its closing, effective November 30, 2011. This was a business decision made after careful consideration over the course of an extended period of time. Gallery staff are assisting with an orderly winding down of Knoedler Gallery," declared a statement posted on Knoedler's website on Wednesday evening, November 30.

At least one client was observed at the gallery on December 2; a gentleman reported he was there "hoping to collect a valuable painting that [he] had consigned to the gallery." After ringing the bell at the gallery, the gentleman was observed speaking with a woman who stepped outside of Knoedler's door to converse on the sidewalk. He left a short while later empty handed.

The closing comes in the aftermath of accusations that fakes had been sold by Knoedler, reported back on July 11 by New York Post reporter Bruce Golding. "Explosive court papers allege that Ann Freedman — who left Knoedler amid questions about the paintings' authenticity — and Julian Weissman, a former Knoedler salesman, claimed the works came from 'secret' and 'private' collections, with one supposedly owned by a Kuwaiti princess and another 'acquired directly from Motherwell,'" the Post reported.

The case revolved around a painting that had been sold by Knoedler Gallery to a European gallery and was later deemed a fake by the Dedalus Foundation, which owns the copyrights to Robert Motherwell's works. That case was settled in the European gallery's favor on October 11.

Additionally, a collector identified as Pierre Lagrange, a Belgian citizen and London resident, alleged that he was sold a fake Jackson Pollock painting by Knoedler Gallery for $17 million, according to a report printed on the Courthouse News Service website. Lagrange has stated in court documents that he bought the painting through his trust, G&S Trustees Limited, in November 2007.

Lagrange claims Knoedler's director Ann Freedman was directly involved with the sale. Initial concern arose on Lagrange's part because "at the time of the sale, the work was not included in the Jackson Pollock catalogue raisonné," according to a report on the Courthouse News Service website. Lagrange further stated in court documents that the gallery "downplayed the matter by falsely stating that the Pollock catalogue raisonné was being updated."

Lagrange's suspicions regarding the authenticity of the painting arose after it was rejected for consignment by a major New York City auction house. Court documents indicate that Lagrange then had tests conducted that "confirmed plaintiffs' fears that the work is a fake."

Lagrange and G&S Trustees has filed suit against Knoedler and Freedman for breach of warranty, fraud, unjust enrichment and unilateral mistake. Their suit seeks at least $15.3 million and punitive damages, according to Courthouse News Service.

Knoedler reportedly closed its doors the day following the submittal of the Pollock painting's test results report to the court.

Knoedler Gallery sold the 19 East 70th Street property where the gallery resided for more than four decades for $31 million this past February; it was placed on the market approximately two years ago with an asking price in excess of $59 million.

Knoedler Gallery could not be contacted for comment. An answering machine at the number listed for the gallery advised clients "with pending business" to leave a message. A Knoedler representative referred all further questions to the publicity firm Rubenstein Associates, which merely provided a copy of the statement that appears on the gallery's website.
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