Whether Da Vinci, Picasso or Van Gogh, he could do them all. No, he didn’t just paint them, he forged them. With his clever trick, he fooled the entire art world, and did so for years without being discovered. Over a period of about 36 years, Wolfgang Beltracchi forged works by more than 50 painters, sold them as missing works and thus earned several million euros. In 2010, he was caught. Through a tiny, but serious, mistake, a buyer was able to expose him.
Sounds like a Hollywood movie? In fact, it was filmed, but is once again reality.
Wolfgang Beltracchi, artist, husband and father…But behind this artist’s façade, for years there was much more hidden than most people knew. An art forger who earned between 20 and 50 million euros through his criminal activities.
He practically lived the American dream in Germany. From hippie to multimillionaire. But then the dream also stops again, because after his exposure in 2010 he lost all the money again. A very diverse story, of which no one knew anything except his wife. Not even his own children, who lived with him under one roof. Beltracchi only forged when they were out of the house.
But, who is this Wolfgang Beltracchi actually? He was a completely normal person, attended a high school and later studied. Not quite successfully, though, as he was expelled from high school and dropped out of his studies at an art school, preferring to travel the world. At that time, however, he also began to sell his first own works, even with quite good success, but not good enough for him. To improve his income, he began to forge works of world-famous painters. This is how his forgery career started.
After marrying his wife, she became his accomplice and supported him in every way, which later became her undoing.
Beltracchi was not stupid, no, he was very clever in the way of forgery. For he did not copy the works, but proceeded in a much more sophisticated way: He added new images to the catalogs of the painters’ works. Many originals of these works that Beltracchi forged have been lost, the names could be found in old documents, but nothing more. At least not until Beltracchi became aware of them. Well, the names were there, signatures could be forged…. was missing only the picture and an interested buyer who does not ask too many questions.
In this way, more than 300 forgeries were created, until today most of them have not been revealed, only 53 forgeries were unmasked during his trial. The damage caused: 20 million euros, until now….
For years, the couple did everything not to be exposed, no road was too rocky for them. They once faked old family pictures, claiming to have found a work believed lost in the attic of their deceased grandfather. The buyer wanted to check this to make sure it was not a fake and asked for an old family photo showing the painting in question. But of course, this did not exist, so Beltracchi, together with his wife, costumed and unrecognizable, recreated the photo…with a photocopy of the forgery in the background.
That such a thing could not remain undiscovered forever was to be foreseen, but Beltracchi in no way expected it. In 2010, he sold a forgery of an alleged Campendonk work to Malta for 2.88 million euros. The buyer there had the painting checked for authenticity, and traces of titanium white were noticed in the painting. Titanium white…a color pigment that did not exist in Campendonk’s day. After that day, he and his wife, who knew about everything, were arrested. After a year in pre-trial detention, he was sentenced to 6 years in prison and his wife to 4 years.
After his release last year, he seems to be willing to pay back the money, but to this day he does not see himself as a forger, at most when it comes to forging signatures, according to Beltracchi. Nor could the long prison sentence take away his self-confidence. “I can do them all,” he said in an interview when confronted with such a question.
Further falsifying, however, he does not want to, would also not be very smart.
Instead, he now sells his own works under his own name.
his own name. This, however, causes real horror in the art world.
horror in the art world. How can you let a deceitful
forger continue to sell art?
Well and something else he has learned, besides the fact that forging is not exactly the English way to get money….He no longer uses titanium white when painting!