Dorchester fine art auctioneers Duke’s has been fined more than £18,000 for misleading customers about the authenticity of works of art on sale.

In February 2016 the partnership, based in Brewery Square, was offered the chance to sell artwork purportedly by the Cornish artist Alfred Wallis (1855-1942), a court heard.

Wallis began painting in his 70s and was well known for painting and drawing on any available material and for giving these works of art away. It was only after he died that his skill was recognised and genuine works by him became valuable.

The auction was planned for September 2016 but in the intervening period doubts were raised with Duke’s as to the provenance of the artworks. They failed to take reasonable steps to follow-up these doubts up.

Dukes---painted-chestJust prior to the auction Dorset County Council Trading Standards Service were informed of issues with the paintings and they were seized, preventing a significant loss by any prospective purchaser.

The lots included a drawing on a cigarette packet and paintings on various household items, as well as a blowtorch and a tea chest (pictured). The expected price range for all the items, as indicated by Duke’s, was £64,500 to £115,500.

Trading Standards had the cigarette packet examined by an expert who stated that the logo design was approved for use by John Player & Sons in 1956,14 years after the artist’s death.

The painted lots were sent for chemical analysis and forensic examination by independent experts who stated that they found:

  • The presence of false patinas on six of the objects
  • Paint materials that belonged to a period other than that being portrayed
  • Extreme softness of the paints.
  • Misled customers

They concluded that this suggested “that these works were produced with deceptive intent, in relatively recent times, in order to resemble authentic pieces by Wallis”.

Appearing before Weymouth magistrates, Duke’s 1823 LLP (trading as Duke’s Fine Art Auctioneers) admitted eight charges of misleading customers about the authenticity of artworks. The court ordered that they pay £18,275 in fines and costs.

Counsel for the defendant Tim Bradbury said the partnership had been wanting in their due diligence but they had now improved their policies. Duke’s had been the victim, suffering for the fraud and dishonesty of others.

Cllr Deborah Croney, Dorset County Council cabinet member with responsibility for trading standards, said: “Our Trading Standards team acted promptly to intervene in this unusual case when alerted to these suspected fakes being put up for auction.

“Businesses applying claims and descriptions to items they are selling need to take reasonable steps to ensure they are true.

“Where they fail in these responsibilities and the financial consequences are significant we have a duty to investigate further, and formal action will be appropriate in the more serious cases.

“This is another example of where a good intelligence network and links with trading standards authorities across the South-West has helped enormously in preventing buyers being misled.”

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