New York gallery owner Alex Komolov has emerged victorious in litigation against antiques dealer Jack Shaoul arising out of the sale of a fake Renoir.
Komolov, owner of the Alskom Gallery, sued Shaoul in 2013 for unjust enrichment, conversion, and fraudulent misrepresentation, claiming that the dealer sold him a forged Renoir painting for $1.1million in 2010. After trial, a jury awarded Komolov the full purchase price plus interest. According to Komolov’s attorney, Shaoul previously served 40 months in prison for mail and wire fraud and conspiracy, including misattribution of a painting.
According to Komolov’s complaint, Shaoul fraudulently represented the fake Renoir painting to be an original, and even produced a certificate of authenticity. Komolov did not have the work inspected or authenticated until after taking possession of the work, at which point it was determined it to be a fake. Here, and in another federal-court case, Shaoul unsuccessfully attempted to raise the defense that plaintiffs were sophisticated buyers. Universe Antiques, Inc. v. Vareika, 826 F. Supp. 2d 595 (S.D.N.Y. 2011). But neither court was persuaded that plaintiffs were the “kind of sophisticated business entity” that would be required to undertake independent research beyond the gallery’s representations.
Komolov’s victory this month may very well boost his confidence in another pending case against Shaoul, as well as his pending case against former business colleagues David Segal and Mohamed Serry, who stand accused of tricking Komolov into purchasing other fraudulent artworks and antiquities.
While Komolov’s judgment represents another victory for victims of art fraud, buyers should continue to be mindful of the prevalence of frauds and forgeries in the market. As we have advised before, buyers would be wise to conduct pre-sale due diligence with respect to the work’s provenance and authenticity, and to engage counsel to draft necessary contractual warranties protecting the buyer’s interest in the work.