It’s no secret that the art market can be a lucrative one. But while many buyers pay top dollar for the real thing, there are those who have found success in deception and fraud. Take, for example, the husband-and-wife team of Ely Sakhai and Rosalyn Goldberg, who made millions by forging works of art and selling them as originals. In this blog article, we take a look at their story—from the secrets they kept to the clues that eventually exposed their grift. Whether you’re an art enthusiast or just curious about con artists, this is an intriguing tale that highlights what can happen when greed takes over.
A single careless act brought the Beltracchis’ deception to light after decades of painting fakes, fabricating evidence, and diligently covering their tracks.
For years, the Beltracchis managed to fool the art world with their fake paintings. But their scheme began to unravel in 2011, when they tried to sell a forgery of a painting by Max Ernst. The painting was exposed as a fake, and the Beltracchis were arrested.
Since then, the couple has confessed to fabricating evidence and painting dozens of fake works of art. They have been sentenced to prison, and their story is a cautionary tale for the art world.
An inconsistency surfaced the following year when one of Wolfgang’s creations, “Red Picture with Horses,” was sold at auction for a record 2.8 million euros (currently $3.6 million), posing as the work of expressionist artist Heinrich Campendonk.
An inconsistency surfaced the following year when one of Wolfgang’s creations, “Red Picture with Horses,” was sold at auction for a record 2.8 million euros (currently $3.6 million), posing as the work of expressionist artist Heinrich Campendonk. The painting had been included in a 2006 exhibtion at the Kunstmuseum in Bern, “Campendonk and His Time,” and was acquired by an unidentified private collector. But questions about its authenticity began to circulate after the auction, when art historian Bendor Grosvenor pointed out that the work bore a striking resemblance to another painting in Wolfgang’s oeuvre, “The Red Horse.”
Although the Campendonk painting has not been definitively exposed as a forgery, the incident raised suspicion about other works attributed to the artist in recent years. In particular, four paintings that were included in a 2012 exhibition at the Städel Museum in Frankfurt, “Heinrich Campendonk: Rediscovered Masterpieces,” have come under scrutiny. These works were all acquired by German art dealer Bernhard Koehler from Hildebrand Gurlitt, son of Nazi-era art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt, who is known to have amassed a large collection of looted and stolen artworks.
Given the dubious provenance of these paintings, and the fact that they appeared on the market only after being hidden away for decades, it is possible that they too are fakes. If
Wolfgang and Helene were both sentenced to six and four years in prison, respectively, in 2011, after more than 30 years in business.
In 2011, Wolfgang and Helene were both sentenced to six and four years in prison, respectively, after more than 30 years in business. The couple had been convicted of tax evasion, money laundering, and forgery.
The two had been running a successful art forgery operation for over three decades, deceiving the art market and making millions of dollars in the process. Their scheme was eventually uncovered by authorities, leading to their arrest and eventual imprisonment.
Despite their lengthy careers in crime, the couple only received relatively short prison sentences. This is likely due to the fact that they cooperated with authorities and provided information that helped lead to the arrest of other individuals involved in the art forgery market.
Wolfgang created hundreds of original works rather than copying paintings that were already in existence. He skillfully imitated the styles of deceased European artists like Max Ernst, Fernand Léger, and others.
Wolfgang created hundreds of original works rather than copying paintings that were already in existence. He skillfully imitated the styles of deceased European artists like Max Ernst, Fernand Léger, and others. His forgeries were so convincing that they fooled experts and sold for millions of dollars.
Wolfgang’s ability to perfectly imitate other artists’ styles was what made his forgeries so successful. He would study an artist’s work extensively before creating a replica, making sure to capture every minute detail. As a result, his forgeries were often mistaken for the real thing – even by experts.
It is estimated that Wolfgang and his wife Annemarie created over 1,000 fake paintings, which they sold for millions of dollars through galleries and auction houses. While their scheme eventually came to light, they managed to deceive the art world for years and amass a fortune in the process.