Jury Must Decide What's Real In Art Forgery Trial

Nov 27, 2018

A painting by Leon Golub.
Credit Creative Commons

A unique legal case is playing out in a Concord courtroom this week. Andrew Hall, a prominent art collector, has accused a Rindge mother and son of selling him fake paintings.

The defendants say the paintings are in fact real, leaving a jury to decide who is telling the truth. NHPR’s Todd Bookman, who attended the first two days of testimony, joined All Things Considered Host Peter Bielo to talk more about the case.

(This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity)

This isn’t a run-of-the-mill New Hampshire story….

That’s fair to say. This case involves a well-known art collector, it involves modern art, it involves prominent auction houses like Christie's and Sotheby’s, and it also involves this family in Rindge, New Hampshire.

The modern art here consists of 17 paintings by a deceased painter named Leon Golub. Andrew Hall, the collector, is suing because he believes the paintings aren’t actually by Leon Golub.

Correct, in 2011, Andrew Hall bought these paintings from a 36-year old man named Nikolas Gascard. Nikolas’s mother Lorettann was an art history professor at Franklin Pierce University at the time. In the late 1960s, she was a student of Leon Golub’s.

Leon Golub isn’t a household name. He made these large scale, very intense paintings. He scraped at the canvasses. Some of the images were violent, including scenes of torture and police brutality. Today, they can sell in the range of $20,000-$30,000 a piece.

Hall already owned other paintings by Golub. He was drawn to these works, and ultimately spent nearly $500,000 buying them from the Gascards.

And so when did it emerge that these paintings may not be actual Leon Golubs?

In 2015, Hall was in the planning stages of an exhibition. He runs an art foundation and gallery space in Redding, Vermont, and he was going to have a public showing of the Golubs that he owned.

But when his assistants attempted to verify the names and dates of the paintings with the people who run the estate of Leon Golub, which is apparently standard practice, they responded that they didn’t recognize some of these paintings, and that some of them didn’t even look like Leon Golub paintings.

And all the ones they determined to be likely frauds were the paintings that Hall had purchased from the Gascards.

Hall testified in court yesterday explaining this to the jury. What’s he like?

Well, Hall is a wealthy man. He was a very successful commodities trader. His nickname on Wall Street is the ‘Oil Bull.’ He’s tall, thin, and British. He was fairly concise on the witness stand.

He says when he questioned the Gascards back in 2015 about where in fact they acquired the paintings from, he was told that they were found in a closet in Germany. A relative had passed away, and as Nikolas and Lorettann Gascard were cleaning out the apartment, poof, these 40 or so Leon Golub paintings were found rolled up in a closet.

It was then revealed that Nikolas, as he prepared these paintings for auction and private sale, made up his own names and titles for them. He also guessed what years they made have been painted...not standard practice, to be sure.

Hall says if he had known this story of how the Golubs came to be, if he had known that the titles were basically conjured up by Gascard, he never would have purchased them.

And what did Nikolas Gascard have to say?

Nikolas spent yesterday afternoon and most of today on the witness stand. He’s well-spoken, and at times it was certainly tense between him and Hall’s attorney.

He admits that there is no formal documentation that these are authentic Leon Golubs, but he says Hall never asked for such documentation. He also testified that his own father as well as his aunt, both of whom are deceased, were also fan of Leon Golub, and in fact hung some of his paintings in his childhood home.

Gascard really worked to make the connection between his family and this painter, Leon Golub. If there is a deep family connection, well, that would explain how so many of them were later found in a closet.

So he testified that these paintings are authentic?

Yes. Despite the fact that Golub’s studio assistant and a scholar on Golub have both seen the works and describe them as likely frauds. They just don’t look right, according to these experts.

Well, okay, if Mr. Hall believes Leon Golub didn’t paint these, I guess the question is...who did?

That’s an interesting undercurrent to this whole case. Hall, in his deposition, stated that he believes Lorettann Gascard painted them. She is herself an artist, and she was a student of Golubs. She’s accused by Hall of very much taking part in this scheme.

In court today, Nikolas was asked point blank: did your mother paint these works?

He let out a loud laugh and said “No,” unequivocally.  

Has Lorettann Gascard taken the stand yet?

Yes, she was called late this afternoon. Her testimony is expected to continue tomorrow, and the Leon Golub expert is also flying in from London to testify.

Witnesses should wrap up Thursday, and then the fate of Hall and the Gascards will be with the jury. There’s more than $500,000 on the line.

(You can find NHPR's previous coverage of this story here.)