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DocFilm

The Great Bluff - Making Money with Art

The story of Wolfgang Beltracchi is a fascinating account of a remarkable swindle and the biggest art forgery scandal in postwar Germany.

He was never interested in money – all he ever wanted to do was paint. That’s what Wolfgang Beltracchi said in court when he was sentenced. He loves art, and as a master forger he simply held a mirror up to the gullibility and greed of the international art market.

In fall 2010, Beltracchi was sentenced to six years in prison for counterfeiting 14 paintings that sold for about 16 million euros and were estimated to have caused around 35 million in financial damage. But the court case seems to have been only the tip of the iceberg – he’s suspected to have passed off an unknown number of other fakes since the 1980s. Even today, some of his counterfeits are still said to be in circulation.

How could the art world have been so deceived over decades, even though clues hinting at a major fraud emerged early on? Was it greed and vanity that drove art experts and dealers to declare his paintings as genuine? Beltracchi says the international art market was only too happy to be duped – after all, doubts about the authenticity of a painting are bad for business. Could a fraud of this magnitude still happen today?

Wolfgang Beltracchi painted a fake of expressionist Heinrich Campendonk.

Wolfgang Beltracchi painted a fake of expressionist Heinrich Campendonk.

Wolfgang Beltracchi’s strategy was to paint fake versions of paintings by famous artists. In 2006, he delivered a lost painting by expressionist Heinrich Campendonk to auction. The “Landscape with Horses” caused a sensation and fetched the highest-ever price for a Campendonk painting – it sold for 2.88 million euros through the Lempertz auction house, with around 2 million euros of that going to Beltracchi. The vast profits at stake in the art market suggest at least one answer to the question of how fraud on this scale could be possible.

Art journalist Stefan Koldehoff published book about Wolfgang Beltracchi and the art market.

Art journalist Stefan Koldehoff published book about Wolfgang Beltracchi and the art market.

The art world is a world unto itself, one in which avarice and greed are powerful motivators, says journalist Stefan Koldehoff. With moneyed collectors ever on the hunt for a prestigious new trophy and extremely lucrative deals at stake, the art market is only too willing to be taken in by fake provenances.

For Wolfgang Beltracchi, the hype proved too much a temptation. The son of a church muralist and conservator from the town of Höxter in central Germany, he knew how to exploit the weaknesses of the art market. Despite his high-minded claims, Beltracchi was every bit as greedy as the experts and art dealers he accuses.

“The Great Bluff” takes a look behind the scenes of the art fraud coup of the century, exposing the self-anointed master counterfeiter as a master criminal.

Broadcasting times:

DW


SUN 30.12.2012 – 22:15 UTC
MON 31.12.2012 – 06:15 UTC
MON 31.12.2012 – 13:15 UTC
MON 31.12.2012 – 17:15 UTC
TUE 01.01.2013 – 04:15 UTC
TUE 01.01.2013 – 10:15 UTC

Cape Town UTC +2 | Delhi UTC +5,5 | Hong Kong UTC +8
San Francisco UTC -8 | Edmonton UTC -7 | New York UTC -5

DW (Europe)

MON 31.12.2012 – 04:15 UTC
MON 31.12.2012 – 17:15 UTC
TUE 01.01.2013 – 06:15 UTC
TUE 01.01.2013 – 13:15 UTC

London UTC +0 | Berlin UTC +1 | Moscow UTC +4

DW (Arabia)

MON 31.01.2012 – 13:15 UTC
TUE 01.01.2013 – 04:15 UTC
TUE 01.01.2013 – 11:15 UTC

Tunis UTC +1 | Cairo UTC + 2 | Dubai UTC +4

DW (Asien)

SUN 30.12.2012 – 22:15 UTC

Delhi UTC +5,5 | Bangkok UTC +7 | Hong Kong UTC +8

DW (Amerika)

MON 31.12.2012 – 06:15 UTC

Vancouver UTC -8 | New York UTC -5 | Sao Paulo UTC -2